Imperial Palace, Wuyi
"Any word of his reply yet?" a harsh voice demanded from the center of the throne room. A haunting silence echoed after him.
His eyes and lips thinned in dissatisfaction. Arms tucked behind him and shoulders squared, he carried himself regally as the Crown Prince of Wuyi.
"Fine then," Li Chenyang gritted out. He cast the ministers a final glare before turning towards his parents. The Emperor and Empress sat proudly on their newly forged throne of gold. It was polished and its gleam was brighter than the sun on a good morning.
"Hah, it's because you scowl like this that you are still single and no woman dares to approach you," a voice snickered from behind him.
Li Chenyang did not need to turn around to know whom the irritating voice belonged to. Cheeky and smug, Li Wenmin strolled into the enormous throne room filled with ministers and a few privileged scholars who had the opportunity to witness the Crown Prince's thin temper.
"I think you're going to develop wrinkles despite being only twenty-three years old," Li Wenmin lazily drew out. He stopped directly beside Li Chenyang. Cupping his fist, he slightly bowed before his parents.
It was a strange custom, one that he was not used to despite the months that had passed. The act of bowing to your parents was expected, but for the spoiled twins, it was still unnatural.
"Mother, Father," Li Wenmin greeted in a clipped voice, only to reveal his bright smile.
Dressed in his tunic and armor, it did not take a genius to figure out he had just returned from training. Despite his youth, the First Prince was steadily rising in military ranks.
It would not be long before he becomes a Commander.
"I suggest," Li Wenmin mused. He took a glance at his grumbling younger brother. "I suggest we declare war if that irritable Crown Prince does not give us Xiao Yue back."
At his words, the ministers jolted and protests arose.
"Y-Your Majesty, Your Grace, please have compassion! We can't afford to go to war with Hanijan—"
"Indeed, Minister Wei is right! If we go to war, then this upcoming winter will be the most bitter. Taking back a Princess after she has been wed…it will set a bad example for our country!"
Li Wenmin let out a loud, noisy yawn. He stretched his arms and cracked his neck from side to side. The ministers' protests quietened into small murmurs.
"Don't bother my ministers so early in the morning," Li Chenyang snapped at his older brother.
Li Wenmin simply shrugged "You seemed bothered, so I offered a solution."
Li Chenyang let out a loud, irritable sigh. His eyebrows twitched in irritation. The idea of war did not sound too bad, if it meant Xueyue's safety was guaranteed. First, it was the miscarriage and now this horrific incident!
"Besides, Yu Zhen swore to us he would protect our Xiao Yue. He has failed to keep that promise twice. It is time to take back our precious little sister," Li Wenmin added on. He confidently tapped the sword draped on his hips.
"I can head to Hanjian on the premise of checking up on our military bases near their borders, then—"
"Settle down, boys," Emperor Li Shenyang mused. His voice, deep and stern, hinted of amusement. His strict eyes glistened with mischief. He was entertained by his sons' conversation, but his wife was turning pale with disbelief.
"Violence this, violence that," Empress Wang Qixing muttered under her breath. She shook her head in dismay, wondering who taught them to be so violent. They were such obedient little boys…well, as obedient as their unruly and sardonic behavior could get.
"It would be to our best advantage," she said, "to patiently wait for his reply."
The ministers glanced at each other in confusion. They had known the Imperial Family had close ties to the Crown Prince of Hanjian. But what letters and replies were the Imperial Family referring to? They were not informed that such a thing had been exchanged.
"Besides, the messenger was sent out only three days ago. It would take some time for the messenger to return," she softly said.
Li Wenmin glowered towards the floor. He pouted to himself and sulked. He could never find it in his heart to go against his mother. She was strict, but always looked at him with loving eyes. It hurt too much to see her upset.
"I won't tolerate any more harm coming to Xiao Yue," Li Chenyang deadpanned. "If he can't fulfill his duties as a husband, then he does not deserve that position."
Emperor Li Shenyang grimly smiled. When had he raised such possessive sons? He could not recall the number of times Chenyang had shown this much worry for Minghua. But whenever the topic fell on the doe-eyed Xueyue, Chenyang would be the first to speak up.
Such prejudice... The Emperor did not know what to do.
It was not like he could discipline his son for caring about his younger sister—especially with Li Chenyang's vast achievements as the Crown Prince. He had personally sorted out the ledgers that were a mess due to the previous Wang Dynasty.
Then, Li Chenyang had strengthened the education system of the country and even implemented a new agricultural plan that would help to increase efficiency and yield.
Emperor Li Shenyang could not have asked for a better Crown Prince. The entire country looked up to the Crown Prince.
Finally, a pair of thudding footsteps sliced through the tension. A messenger hurriedly ran up the staircases leading to the throne room. At the sight of the Imperial Family, he dropped to his knees and kowtowed.
"That bag of his better contains our letter," Li Wenmin whispered to his twin. But Li Chenyang was not paying attention to him.
Li Chenyang's eyes were glued to the brown, leather bag. Was Yu Zhen's reply in there? It better be!
"Your Majesty, Your Grace," the messenger hurriedly blurted out. "Your Highness, General Li," he added on.
"I present to you, delayed letters of the Crown Princess of Hanjian!"
Silence fell upon the throne room. Letters from the Crown Princess? As in, their Princess, Li Xueyue?
"Delayed?" Li Chenyang sharply repeated. He stormed towards the messenger, but Li Wenmin was already a step ahead of him.
With two hands, Li Wenmin yanked the messenger to his feet. "What do you mean delayed?!" he bellowed out. For once, his happy-go-lucky voice was marred with rage and displeasure.
"This whole time, we thought she never wrote a single reply to us," Li Wenmin growled out. "And you're telling us, the letters were delayed?!"
The messenger let out a small yelp of fear. He whimpered and lowered his eyes. With shaking hands and trembling lips, he stuttered out, "T-that is b-because t-the messenger dove a-assigned t-to the Crown Princess was d-discovered dead near the b-borders."
Li Wenmin released the messenger. Confusion laced his expression. Why would the messenger dove die?
"I-it seemed t-the d-dove ate poisonous b-berries on his return from Hanjian…"
Li Wenmin cursed. Who the hell employed such a stupid bird? But he could not voice his complaints, for the bird was already dead and there was nothing they could do.
"Next time," Li Chenyang solemnly said. "Fetch her a falcon. We have no need for useless doves."
Li Wenmin frowned. If that was the case, they should've given her a falcon in the first place. Who was it that gave her a dove?
"Ahem," Emperor Li Shenyang cleared his throat. He clearly did not expect the dove to be such a fool. It felt like a slap to his face, especially when doves were a symbol of peace. For the small pet to be poisoned by Hanjian's fruits…what an ominous message it was.
"Was it deliberate poisoning?" he demanded.
"No, Your Majesty. From the juices lacing the fruit, it looked similar to a type of fruit grown here that birds enjoy eating. However, when the plant is grown in the warm climates of Hanjian, the fruit becomes poisonous."
Li Wenmin scowled. So there was no foul play. Damn it! He wanted to find an excuse to go to Xueyue! His heart was not at ease when danger lurked in every corner there and no one could aid her.
"No, you may not go," Li Chenyang angrily muttered to his older brother. He already knew what was running through Li Wenmin's mind.
If the First Prince of Wuyi, a General at that, was to set foot near Hanjian, it would look bad for both countries. Questions would arise, even if it was a casual visit. Unless there was an official business that requires negotiation, there was no need for such a highly ranked and dangerous Prince of Wuyi to head for Hanjian.
"In that case, just give me the damn letters," Li Wenmin huffed out. He snatched the letters from the messenger, only for Li Chenyang to yank it out of his hand.
"Hey!" Li Wenmin hissed. He didn't want to cause a commotion in court, but that was inevitable, with how stubborn they both were.
"It's a valuable piece of information reserved for the eyes of Mother and Father," Li Chenyang effortlessly lied. He turned to his parents and suppressed a victorious smirk.
"Oh, just give it!" Li Wenmin yanked the letters out of Li Chenyang's hands. He ignored his younger brother and hurriedly ran up the golden staircase leading to his parents.
"I'll read it for you," Li Wenmin cheerfully said to his parents.
Li Chenyang narrowed his eyes. That daft brother of his was crinkling Xueyue's precious letters! Even so, he could not be so brazen like his irritable older brother. The entire palace court was watching him with heavy scrutiny.
Li Chenyang was the Crown Prince of Wuyi. He did not have the privilege to act out as Li Wenmin did. But that was fine with him. It was unlike his nature to behave like a fool.
After all, that was not the reason she fell for him. The same could be said for Li Wenmin. It was just a miracle that someone had fallen for Li Wenmin despite his goofy stupidity.
"Whatever," he muttered under his breath. With a cross of his arms, he sternly watched from the bottom of the throne. Patiently, he read Li Wenmin's lips as the older twin quietly read the letters out to the Emperor and Empress.
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