Hu Dengxiao blinked a few times before letting out an awkward laugh. He waved his hands in front of him and cupped his ear. "I apologize, Your Highness, but what did you just say? Silly me, I thought I heard something strange."
"Did I stutter?" Yu Zhen asked as he began to walk down the hallway leading to his side of the grand palace.
Hu Dengxiao hurriedly chased after his Commander. Yu Zhen was now the Crown Prince of Hanjian. But the idea of calling him by that new title felt strange. It was a difficult selection that surprised everyone, but not his supporters. There were many people in court who had always supported the Second Prince over the First.
"But Your Highness," Hu Dengxiao exasperated. "She's an outsider from Wuyi. The Ministers of the Courts might be open-minded, but they're still conservative."
"Hanjian's peace treaty with Wuyi is straining," Yu Zhen said.
"I agree, Your Highness," Hu Dengxiao said with a nod. "They still refuse to finalize the trade routes with us. Wuyi possesses an ample amount of resources too, all of which they refuse to sell."
"A political marriage always resolves issues between countries," Yu Zhen responded. His voice was light as if he was talking to a child instead of a grown adult.
"But what can Xueyue do for us? It's not like she can convince the Courts of Wuyi to change their decision. She's only the daughter of a Prime Minister and a Princess. I mean, she's also a Princess but it's a title bestowed to her, not an inherited one."
"You answered your own question," Yu Zhen muttered. With a shake of his head, he turned a corner only to hear the rapid footsteps of a puppy eagerly chasing him.
Yu Zhen pressed his lips together and swiveled around. "Are you going to join me in my chambers or what? Go home."
"But Your Highness!" Hu Dengxiao exclaimed. "We haven't finished discussing the important thing at hand. Yes, marrying the daughter of Wuyi's Prime Minister will be beneficial, but wouldn't it be better to marry an actual Princess? Like someone who has an influence in the courts."
"I have a suspicion," Yu Zhen said. He leaned against one of the pillars and crossed his arms, much to his strategist's envy.
"Stop looking like a damn painting every time you move. It's so annoying," Hu Dengxiao grumbled under his breath.
It was no wonder the Crown Prince, Yu Zhen, was popular with the ladies. When one behaved and appeared as he did, there was no such thing as a competition.
But Hu Dengxiao's concerns weren't attracting other girls. He only wanted Lu Tianbi. However, she'd never look his way… He let out a sigh. What a complicated life he lived.
"The Prime Minister of Wuyi is undoubtedly the ruler behind the curtains," Yu Zhen said.
Hu Dengxiao tilted his head. "Yes, I believe the same thing. Are you implying we can convince the Prime Minister through Xueyue?"
"You're implying I'm using her," Yu Zhen deadpanned. "I've already said it before, I won't."
"Then why are you bringing this up?" Hu Dengxiao asked.
"I would've ignored stupid questions like yours, but you're too persistent to not take no as an answer."
"Hehe, thank you," Hu Dengxiao bashfully said.
"It wasn't a compliment."
"Oh..." Hu Dengxiao pouted as he began to sulk near the walls. With a finger, he started to draw tiny circles on the wall, like a pitiful child abandoned by his parents.
"Of course that wasn't a compliment for me, because who would like me?" Hu Dengxiao mumbled as he purposely sniffled.
Yu Zhen rolled his eyes. Sometimes he wondered if he was talking to a grown man or a child.
Hu Dengxiao snuck a peek at Yu Zhen and noticed zero reaction. Angrily, he squatted to the ground and traced circles on the floor. He hugged his knees and grumbled under his breath.
He perked up when he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. The Crown Prince angrily stomped to him. "Zhenzhen, I knew you'd come around—ow! Why did you kick me?!"
Hu Dengxiao cried out as he toppled over, "How can you knock your strategist to the ground like this. This is abuse!"
Yu Zhen scoffed in response. "You're going to wake up the entire palace with your screaming."
"Good!" Hu Dengxiao scowled. "And then everyone will see the Crown Prince for what he really is—a bully!"
Yu Zhen crossed his arms. "They already know."
"W-well, then...t-then, uhm," Hu Dengxiao rattled his brain for another provocation.
There wasn't a need to expose Yu Zhen's true colors. Everyone knew how heartless their Second Prince was, yet they ruthlessly supported him to be appointed the Crown Prince. It was because they knew he would get things done, no matter the methods it would take. Such a tactic was a double-edged sword, but many people took the risk.
Hu Dengxiao wondered if the Crown Prince even had human emotions aside from sadistic anger. He glanced up at the quiet Crown Prince whose attention was now elsewhere.
'What was he looking at?' Hu Dengxiao wondered as he watched Yu Zhen stare outside of the open hallways. A calm breeze circulated the floor, dancing and swaying as it pleased.
The Crown Prince was yet again staring up at the sky.
It was a poetic scene that irritated Hu Dengxiao. Who was Zhenzhen even posing for?!
"There isn't a single person to admire your beauty." Hu Dengxiao scowled. "Go to bed, Your Highness. What are you doing outside?"
Hu Dengxiao gasped as a visible offense flashed across his features. "I'm not a baby."
"I didn't say it was you, but if the shoe fits…"
"You're a bully," Hu Dengxiao exclaimed. "I'm going to tattle on you to Tiantian."
"She'll kill you if you call her that."
"Heh, but it's cute when she punches me… it hurts a lot though," Hu Dengxiao retorted. Subconsciously, he rubbed his upper arms even though the area didn't hurt.
Hu Dengxiao got to his feet and dusted off his clothes. He stretched his tense muscles and let out a quiet yawn. "When do you plan to bring Princess Li to Hanjian?"
"I don't know," Yu Zhen truthfully answered.
"I see," Hu Dengxiao said in understanding. His tone was soft and gentle because he knew the Crown Prince's struggle.
The politics in court was still turbulent. There was still the opposing faction who favored the First Prince. Additionally, Yu Zhen hadn't finished weeding out the moles and corrupted officials.
It would be horrendous timing if Xueyue was to step foot in Hanjian. She would have many enemies left and right, specifically, in the form of women who'd envy her relationship with the Crown Prince.
"I heard she was intelligent," Hu Dengxiao abruptly spoke up. "Wasn't that the reason you visited her? To see the candidate that talked her way out of Hanjian."
Yu Zhen silently nodded.
"I think she'll do well in Hanjian. It will be rough for her here, but I feel like she can handle any problem that comes her way. A sharp tongue can get someone very far."
"Until it's cut off," Yu Zhen deadpanned.
"If she's going to become the Empress, she'll need to learn how to curb her tongue then," Hu Dengxiao answered. "Or else her emotions will get the best of her and she'll fail every obstacle that comes her way."
"I just want her to live blissfully."
"Then she shouldn't become the Empress," Hu Dengxiao said. "She should just become a concubine or your second wife. The Emperor is allowed to take two or three wives, you know. I hear the Emperor of Wuyi has half a hundred concubines."
Yu Zhen didn't respond. He merely observed the infinite sky. It was the only thing that connected him to Xueyue. They were all under the same moon.
"The higher we climb, the harsher we fall," Hu Dengxiao explained. "If she wants to rise to power here, she'll have to maintain that position for the rest of her life."
"Go to bed," Yu Zhen finally answered in a low voice.
"I'm just looking out for you."
"I know," Yu Zhen grumbled.
"Have you made up your mind? I saw you were lost in thought," Hu Dengxiao said.
"I have." Yu Zhen nodded.
"And what is it?"
"You're still going to bring her to Hanjian?" Hu Dengxiao asked. "Even after what I said?"
Yu Zhen merely smiled in response. He tore his eyes away from the moon that reminded him of her.
Hu Dengxiao sighed. There was no point in changing the Crown Prince's mind. He was simply too stubborn.
"Fine then," Hu Dengxiao said. "I will respect your decision, but you should get ready to announce it."
"I've always been ready," Yu Zhen responded. "Ever since I met her."
Hu Dengxiao let out a deep laugh. "Save this mushy talk for her. I almost gagged."
"Just go to bed," Yu Zhen retorted.
"Fine, fine. I will, you mother hen," Hu Dengxiao huffed. "You too. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow."
Yu Zhen nodded. He watched as Hu Dengxiao bowed his head before sauntering off. "Don't wander to Lu Tianbi's bedroom."
"I-I wasn't!" Hu Dengxiao said. "But you know, it's a shortcut to my bedroom and—"
Yu Zhen threw a pointed look.
"Fine!" Hu Dengxiao huffed. "I won't check on her to see if she's asleep," he angrily bit out before stomping off like a child throwing a tantrum.
Yu Zhen shook his head in amusement before retreating to his own bedroom. As he walked down the dark hallways illuminated by the moonlight, he couldn't help but think of her. Li Xueyue had always shrouded his mind.
Yu Zhen continued walking down the dimly lit hallways. He stepped into the darkness and disappeared within it.