522 Silly Hamster
Li Xueyue did not know what the Emperor meant. She had a lot of questions in her mind but she stood by his side and allowed him to hold her hands as he confessed his sins to her. Why was he telling her this? What was his purpose? Was there an underlying message to his words?
"I was not the best father," he admitted.
Li Xueyue rapidly blinked. She already knew that.
"I did not treat my sons with kindness…" he breathed out. "For I never received compassion from my father."
Li Xueyue did not know that.
"I did not become the father I've always wanted as a child…" He let out a small cough and patted at his chest.
"Now that I am approaching death, a-and welcoming him with open arms," he murmured and took a deep gasp of air before he continued on, "I've realized, in the process of making rulers out of them… I lost my sons."
Li Xueyue patiently listened to his words. He released her hands and gestured for her to take a seat, where Yu Lingluo sat earlier. She quietly did so and allowed him to continue the story.
Li Xueyue could not shake the feeling of deja vu as she recalled the Empress also shared stories of her youth.
"My oldest is fine, but my second…" The Emperor turned his head and faced the canopy ceiling. The curtains of red and black were drawn to the side, but he remembered the good nights shared with his wife before she lost her sanity.
"He took the blunt end of the stick for his mother did not cherish him as she did with Shisheng."
Li Xueyue noticed how well the First Prince's name rolled out of the Emperor's tongue.
Li Xueyue gripped her hands tighter. The Emperor said Yu Zhen's name with great hesitation. It was as if the Emperor was not familiar with saying his name.
She was angered by this, but could not voice it. The Emperor was a dying man. He had always smiled at her. Even so, he was not as kind of a man as she believed.
"He did not receive much love," the Emperor quietly whispered out. His breathing stabilized a bit, but the words were difficult to utter.
The Emperor's heart stung with memories of the past—unchangeable and set in stone. He wished to go back to the days when he beated his sons, and comfort them afterward. Maybe then, things would turn out much differently.
His eyes glazed over. He could not change what had already happened.
"Maybe I'm old, but I've learned to regret everything," the Emperor confessed.
The Emperor would never tell this to anyone but his closest friends, like Chancellor Wu. When Yu Lingluo was not in the room, the two would converse and reminisce about their youth. The memories were growing more vague by the day, but Chancellor Wu would help to sharpen the images.
"My heart has softened with age," the Emperor mumbled.
Li Xueyue noticed his eyes had moistened just a bit. It was barely noticeable, so she thought it was just the flicker of lanterns reflecting on his face.
Despite the Emperor's illness, and his weak breathing, there was still an intimidating air around him. He was not a man to be trifled with.
"I've lived long enough to become what I despised."
His story and thoughts were all over the place. Li Xueyue realized that, but did not say anything. She was just appreciative of the truth.
"I'll admit, Yu Zhen's grandfather was a horrible man…" he slightly coughed. "And I've walked in the same footsteps as him."
Li Xueyue did not know much about the previous Emperor. No one spoke of him. No one uttered his name. Then again, she did not ask much about the deceased. It was not her place to ask, nor did she want to know.
The Emperor's eyes became glazed over, as if reminiscing of the past. He was the epitome of the saying, 'You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain."
The Emperor turned his head in her direction. A painful smile graced his face, though it was not from the illness.
"If only I can return to the past, and stand up against my father," the Emperor softly sighed. "Perhaps, I wouldn't have inflicted trauma on my own sons."
Li Xueyue couldn't say she agreed with him. The butterfly effect was a strange thing. "The past can't be changed, but the future certainly can."
The Emperor's smile widened to his eyes. It softened and mellowed out with fondness. "Wise words from a witty woman."
Li Xueyue wryly smiled. She did not think so.
"What do you suggest I do?" the Emperor humored her. "Speak to my son and hope everything will be swept under the rug?"
Li Xueyue wished she had not spoken so quickly. But her emotions had rushed at her. She was eager to help her husband, to protect him, and make him happy.
"I meant, it would be best if you spoke to Yu Zhen, but nothing can be swept under the rug. Wounds can only be healed when we speak of it and learn to accept what has happened can't be changed."
Li Xueyue straightened her spine. "Only there's acceptance can one learn to move on from the mistakes."
- - - - -
Yu Zhen returned to his estate at midnight. The servants were deep asleep, and the guards' senses were heightened. Not a single sound could be heard in the ominous silence. Not even the crickets dared to sing, and the wind dared to howl.
Everything was deathly still. His nonchalant gaze was set ahead and his footsteps were quiet. A leaf falling was louder than the silent hallways.
The atmosphere was chilly and dreadful. Even so, the moon was brilliant tonight. Glowing euphorically in the sky, the moon took its rightful place amongst the stars.
The stars were its subjects, whose beauty could never outmatch their ruler. She commanded the night, proudly and unforgiving.
"Hm, she would've enjoyed this view."
Without a sound, Yu Zhen set foot into his estate. Then he opened the doors to their bedroom. The moonlight danced through the windows, pouring down on the mahogany floors. The tips of tree branches could be seen, creating a lovely canvas for the darling moon.
It was a scenic view. But he could not admire it with his lovely wife, who was nowhere to be found.
"Where the hell could she be?" he growled.
Yu Zhen spun around, ready to turn the palace upside down just to find her. But then, his eyes landed near the tables. She was seated there, with her cheek resting on a propped up arm. Her other hand was on a page, her fingers tucked underneath it.
In a snap of a finger, his wrath washed away.
"Silly Hamster," he muttered.
With a shake of his head, he continued to observe her for a split second. Finally, deeming she was truly asleep, Yu Zhen closed the distance between them. He instantly noticed the untouched dinner surrounding her as if she had waited all night to have dinner with him.
Placing his palm on the table, he peered down at her book.
"The Art of Seduction."
Yu Zhen's eyes narrowed. She was already seducing him, even in her sleep. Every breath she drew was a tortuous seduction.
The rise of her chest when she was startled, the widening of her eyes, everything about her enthralled him. His throat would tighten when she smiled, his heart would race when she laughed, and his groin would tighten when she giggled.
What gibberish was she reading? There was no need for it.
"You must enjoy teasing me," he hissed out.
Even so, Yu Zhen bent down. He scooped under her knees and placed an arm on her lower back. With great fluidity, he lifted her into his arms. She stiffened. Just as her head hit his shoulders, she stirred.
Yu Zhen peered at her. Her eyes were slowly opening, but she registered it was him. Without another word or hesitation, she nuzzled her face into his shoulders.
"You're back late," she complained.
Yu Zhen's grip tightened. Her drowsy voice enticed him. Her lips were pulled into a little pout. He wanted to devour her right then and there, like the little prey she was. But she wrapped her arms around his neck and snuggled into him.
"I missed you," she tiredly said.
Yu Zhen decided this prey was too adorable to be eaten…for now.
"I'm sure you did, with the book you were reading."
Yu Zhen settled her onto the bed. She slipped under the blankets and let out a small yawn. When he straightened up, she immediately grabbed onto his sleeve.
"Where are you going?" she mumbled out, like a lost child.
Yu Zhen slowly turned back to her. He needed to take a cold bath or else he would be too rough with her. He needed to clear his thoughts.
Li Xueyue wanted one too. She had fallen asleep waiting for him. She had patiently waited for him to return for dinner, after sending a servant out to notify him. She read a book but unknowingly fell asleep in the process.
"Let's take one together," she offered.
Li Xueyue sat up from the bed and groggily rubbed at her eyes. Her entire afternoon was spent with the Emperor. She wasn't able to ride Heiyue today, but was still dressed in well-fitted robes.
Once her vision cleared, Li Xueyue stiffened. Her face paled, and her eyes narrowed. What happened to Yu Zhen?!