Li Xueyue was feeling as nervous as the first time she stepped into the spacious meeting room. The same table greeted her, round and large. No one was in attendance yet. She came together with Yu Zhen this time, unlike the previous time when she came alone and everyone had arrived earlier than the meeting time and was already seated.
"Don't be nervous, I'm right here," Yu Zhen said from behind her. He placed a hand on her lower back, and guided her to her seat.
"I thought this was Representative Wu Shiming's seat," Li Xueyue said when he forced her to sit down beside him. At the memory of the snarky man dressed in green robes, her lips twitched. He was difficult to read. His playful nature made it hard for her to gauge his true personality.
Were all of the people in the Wu Family like that? She recalled Wu Xiang, the Chancellor's son, was also very playful with Yu Zhen despite how dangerous it was.
"He's probably too worried about his agriculture plans to care about a mere seat," Yu Zhen said. He sat down at the head of the table which was directly beside her.
"You spoke too soon, Your Highness," a voice spoke from the door.
Li Xueyue shifted her head to see the Representative of Agriculture step through the entrance. As always, he was dressed in green, but this time, there were subtle yellow trimmings on his clothes.
"My favorite seat is usually one that's beside you…" Representative Wu Shiming trailed off, his eyes twinkling when it met with the Crown Princess's.
"But since such a beautiful backside is occupying it, I do not mind giving it up," he concluded. The Representative eagerly glanced at the Crown Prince, expecting a juicy reaction. But the Crown Prince merely scoffed whilst a Eunuch poured him a cup of tea.
"Aren't you going to show your possessiveness, Your Highness?" Representative Wu Shiming glumily said. He could've sworn his cousin, Wu Xiang had mentioned the Crown Prince was quite possessive of his wife. Evidence of that was showcased during the last meeting.
"Aren't you scared someone is going to charm your wife away?" he added on in a teasing smile. "Someone like me…?" he trailed off, placing a hand on his chest before winking in the Crown Princess's direction.
Li Xueyue responded by lifting the cup of tea to her mouth. She turned a deaf ear to his cheeky comment.
His lips twitched. Both of their reactions were so bland! He wanted to see some anger, some irritation, but alas, there was none! Why were both of them so calm today? It was boring.
"The tea is good," Li Xueyue said to YuZhen with a slight smile.
Representative Wu Shiming's mouth dropped open in surprise. Had both of them just ignored him?! He was quite offended by this.
"It's bitter," Yu Zhen pointed out with a slight frown.
Li Xueyue blinked in confusion. Wasn't he a fan of bitter teas? "Yes, but it's oolong, so that's not a surprise."
In a low voice, he muttered, "I know you do not enjoy oolong."
Li Xueyue's lips parted.
Before she could say anything, Yu Zhen turned to the same Eunuch and in a quiet voice, commanded, "Prepare chrysanthemum tea."
"I like chamomile more…" she told him in an equally low voice.
Yu Zhen firmly shook his head. "Chrysanthemum is healthier for you."
Li Xueyue couldn't figure out why. Don't they have the same health benefits? But something about his darkened gaze made her question her thought. Did he know something that she didn't?
"It'll also taste better," Yu Zhen told her. "Chamomile will make you sleepy."
Li Xueyue nodded her head, but she felt as if it wasn't the main reason. She turned her eyes in time to see Representative Wu Shiming had taken the seat directly opposite of her. When their gazes met, he winked again, but she ignored it.
Were all of Hanjian's men this playful? She noticed not many of the younger generation were stern…but maybe all of them were an expert at concealing their actual faces.
"You didn't get jealous this time," Li Xueyue whispered to Yu Zhen, realizing he hadn't lost his temper. "I like that."
Yu Zhen laughed at this. He brought the teacup to his mouth, enjoying the woody taste of the oolong.
"I know you only have eyes for me, there is no need to upset you with my jealousy," Yu Zhen mused.
Li Xueyue quirked a brow. That wasn't what happened last time. But she kept her mouth shut and focused her attention back at the door. It had opened again, this time, revealing Duke Han and Commander Zhang.
Duke Han bore his usual scowl that revealed the deep lines on his face. His eyebrows, bushy and white, shot up at the sight of her. It was almost as if he didn't expect her.
"Your Highness," Duke Han greeted with a bow of his head. Without another word, he walked into the room, only to freeze. The Crown Prince had a dark, threatening glower on his face.
Duke Han jumped at the sound of ravens. He looked behind him, wondering if he was hearing things. Upon seeing there was nothing there, he awkwardly cleared his throat. Whenever the Crown Prince seemed that irritable, it wasn't difficult for people to hallucinate of death, for it was not a threat, but a promise.
"Crown Princess," Duke Han finally addressed. She caught him by surprise when her lips pulled into a slight smile as she nodded her head.
Duke Han's lips twitched. He had expected for her to be childish and bratty by ignoring him and looking away. Somehow, it was a pleasant greeting, but he'd never tell anyone that.
"Hmph," he muttered under his breath before he reluctantly walked to his usual seat only to halt. Why the hell was that damn Representative Wu Shiming sitting next to him?! He could've sworn this man was always seated beside the Crown Prince!
But before Duke Han could protest, he earned a slight shove from Commander Zhang. "Don't just stand there, old friend, take your seat. It's not going to bite."
Duke Han's frown deepened. He grumbled unpleasant things under his breath and angrily pulled out the chair. He plopped himself down and glowered when Representative Wu Shiming leaned close.
"Trust me, you old hag, I also don't enjoy sitting here beside you. Had I remembered this was your seat, I would've moved," Representative Wu Shiming said.
"You can still move," Duke Han barked out. "There are no assigned seats here, even if people usually sat in the same spot."
"Ah, but knowing I can rile you up from directly beside you is too much fun to be ignored!" Representative Wu Shiming stated, with a clap of his hands. "But of course, old hag, you can sit somewhere else, though I doubt anyone would appreciate you taking their seat!"
"As if you aren't stealing someone's seat!" Duke Han shouted with a rough glare. Old hag? This brat was getting more and more gutsy by the day!
Representative Wu Shiming shrugged his shoulders. "People won't mind. You're the only one who likes to stick to your usual seat, as if it would bring you good luck or something."
"Just get away from me, you ugly rat," Duke Han barked.
Representative Wu Shiming snickered. "As if anyone would want to get close to you."
"Announcing the entrance of Her Grace!" the Eunuch loudly declared, startling everyone.
Li Xueyue's heart sank. What happened to the Emperor? Was he alright? Did his health worsen? She feared so… No one seemed surprised by the Emperor's absence, almost as if they had expected it. It was then she realized Yu Zhen was seated at the head of the table, which was a spot usually occupied by the Emperor.
Even Yu Zhen knew the Emperor would not be here. Li Xueyue pressed her lips together a bit, lost in thought. It seemed this time, the Emperor was truly too sick to come out of bed.
Li Xueyue nearly jumped when the Empress took a seat beside her. She was confused, but not repulsed. Shouldn't the Empress sit near her son?
"You seem to be glowing…" the Empress pointed out with a slight smile. "That is good to see, especially after the incident a few days ago."
Incident? Li Xueyue's brows lifted a bit. Did she mean the fever? Nonetheless, she smiled. "Thank you, Your Grace."
"The men are back at it again, aren't they?" the Empress mused whilst turning her attention to the bickering Duke Han and Representative Wu.
Li Xueyue laughed. "And they say women are too emotional to lead."
At her words, the Empress's smile widened, reaching her eyes. "Indeed."
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