20 Smooch Some Tea and Breakfas
Xueyue stood there, puzzled by his words. Her eyebrows drew together as she stared at the closed wooden doors.
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She had never seen the man once in her life except for today and they've barely talked for ten minutes, yet, he already seemed to like her. What a strange man...
Suddenly, the sound of loud thumping rang throughout the wooden corridors. "Xiao Yue, I'm finally let out from hell-oops, I meant classes!" Li Wenmin shouted from the other side of the hallways.
Xueyue turned around to see an energetic Wenmin bounce his way towards her, a bright smile on his face. In one hand he held a sword, while the other hand was clasped around a helmet. Xueyue realized he had just came out of swords practice.
Without waiting for her reply, Wenmin took her by the wrist and dragged her down the halls and into the open-field behind the Manor.
Shaking her head at the energetic child, Xueyue had a small smile on her face as she followed after him. Today was going to be another long and tiring day of practice...
In Duke Li's study...
"This tea seems...quite interesting." The old man commented after placing the tea cup onto the table.
Duke Li leaned back in his chair and chuckled in amusement. "Your sister made it." Duke Li said while leaning his cheeks on his propped up arm.
Although Duchess Li was very good at any skill she decided to learn, making tea was her worst skill. She was always curious about the mixing different tea leaves, petals, and even herbs together, then force her loving husband to sample it.
There were multiple occasions where he would get sick because of her tea. But Duke Li was simply too doting to reject his wife's adorable pouts.
And today, Duchess Li made a tea from a weird combination of rose petals, star anise, and cinnamon.
"Because you came so unexpectedly, I couldn't notify a servant beforehand to prepare a new batch of tea, your Majesty." Duke Li nonchalantly said. It was half of the truth. The latter was false, but he was annoyed at the fact of Xueyue being alone with him.
The man was known to be scheming and surrounding his sons with beautiful flowers, or in this case, girls. And Duke Li was determined that Xueyue didn't suffer like those palace women.
"Again with that tone, you simply don't care for your standing, do you?" The man mused, taking another sip of the oddly tasting tea.
Duke Li scoffed, rolling his eyes. "I beg your pardon, Your Majesty. This humble man does not understand what you're trying to imply." Duke Li boredly said.
The man laughed.
If Duke Li was a simple man, the Emperor would've ensured he suffered in prison for offending the crown. Or even worse, a beheading without trial. No one dared to bluntly insult the Royal Family, especially the Great Emperor of Shenzhou.
"What did I say about the extravagant titles?" The old man said with an amused smile.
Duke Li resisted the urge to roll his eyes again. "I'm not going to call you brother-in-law."
The Emperor laughed as he leaned back in his seat.
"You should take off your disguise, it's awful to look at." Duke Li suggested.
He disdainfully eyed the fake mustache, blotches of dirt make-up on his face, and random specks of dots on his face.
The Emperor rolled his eyes, but took off his make-up. His pale skin, the color of fresh snow, and high cheekbones were finally revealed.
The Emperor was a very handsome man, especially with his high nose, and sharp jawline. He had the spoiled face of royalty, except, his forehead had creases from the years of stress.
Now that his true form was revealed, Duke Li sat up straighter in his chair. His nonchalant expression became serious, and his lips were pulled into a thin line.
"Why did you come here? I'm sure it's not to smooch some tea and breakfast off of me." Duke Li said.
For the Emperor to come in person and without his advisers and ministers, was a very rare sight.
The Imperial Court was hard to manage. If the situation wasn't important, why would someone as pristine as the Emperor leave his throne?
The Emperor kept his reason very brief and short, "We need you back in court."
Duke Li's lips tilted downwards until it formed a scowl.
There was a glint of annoyance and irritation in his eyes. His relaxed fingers pulled into a tight and unbearable fist.
Through clenched teeth, he asked, "Why?"
The Emperor coldly smiled. "Do I need a reason to summon the Prime Minister back into court?"
"You will need a good reason to summon a RETIRED Prime Minister back into court." Duke Li resorted with a snarl.
He hated the court life and the scheming people that nearly got himself killed.
As much as they displayed to the public, the court life was vicious and horrendous. You'll never know who your real friends were and who were the leeches that are trying to steal your position.
As the Prime Minister, Duke Li was one of the most powerful men in the country.
But the job took a toll on his sanity and he had nearly lost his wife and children in the process of securing his position.
Besides, it wasn't like Duke Li needed the income. He was wealthy on his own from owning a good portion of the trade routes.
"If the situation wasn't dire, would the Emperor come in person to summon you back into court?" The Emperor sniped back.
Though he had a calm, serene expression on his face, his eyes revealed hostility and anger.
Duke Li was surprised to see the ferociousness in the Emperor's eyes.
They were long-term friends who had grown up together. Knowing each other since they were babies, the two had watched each other fall and then rise more than they could ever fall.
When Duke Li saw how serious and humorless the Emperor was, he reluctantly asked, "How long will I be back in the capital for?"
"As long as I need you." The response was very curt and revealed no specific timing.
Duke Li could only guess he would be in court for a very long time.
"I cannot be away from my wife, who is also your beloved sister, and my children for a very long time." Duke Li said.
He tried his hardest to not frown, but his lips tilted downwards anyways.
He didn't want to leave his wife and children behind. Duke Li knew the minute he stepped foot in court, he'll never find the time of day to leave it.
The Emperor raised a brow at his excuse. "You don't have to be away from them. You have a house in the capital that's also very close to the Palace."
Duke Li thought about the house that didn't belong to him, but instead, to his lovely wife.
The Empress Dowager had gifted the house to Duchess Li when she got married, in hopes the two would remain in that house in the capital for a very long time.
But both Duke and Duchess Li had very different plans in mind.
They wanted a life far away from the capital and Imperial Palace, which is why they moved to Lanbei — a city that was at least a week worth of travel.
"My beloved sister has already been informed of the change. I'm surprised she hasn't consulted you." The Emperor commented.
Duke Li frowned.
He remembered a few days ago, Duchess Li wanted to tell him something, but he was too busy tending to the paperwork and had brushed her off.
He had an inkling feeling he would regret it later, but he didn't think it would come true so soon.
"When Minghua died, you've seen how she is. In this palace, she birthed and raised Minghua. Every living memory of Minghua is within this dreadful house." The Emperor said.
He always had a very soft spot for the quiet Minghua who seemed so obedient and silent, he wondered if she even had a voice of her own.
In a quiet and gentle tone, the Emperor said, "Staying in this house a few weeks after the death of your daughter is not good for my sister. Everywhere she walks, she's reminded of Minghua."
Duke Li tiredly sighed.
He knew the Emperor was speaking the blatant facts.
Before the arrival of Xueyue, his wife would refuse to leave their room because every corner she turned, she would remember the memories she had shared with Minghua.
The garden that was newly rearranged, the hallways she'd sit and stare out from, the pavilion she'd sit and read from, every furniture and part of this house had painful memories of Minghua.
Staying in this house was beginning to slowly, but surely suffocate Duchess Li.
Duke Li knew she didn't want to be a burden and request for a house-change, which would require too much work.
He felt foolish for thinking she could easily move on from Minghua's death.
Reluctantly, Duke Li asked, "What does my lovely wife have in mind?"
The Emperor inwardly smiled. He had won this battle.
"My beloved sister wants to move back to the capital. Mother would also want to see her, it's been years since she's last seen her daughter." The Emperor smoothly commented.
He watched Duke Li's expression shift from annoyance to reluctance and finally, acceptance. "Fine, I will move back to the capital."