542 Part Three

    In the six to seven years that Li Xueyue had spent in Hanjian, she had only seen the Li Family a few times. It was inevitable. With her position as the Empress of Hanjian, travel was practically impossible. It was the same for her parents. Whenever their children would travel to visit their maternal grandmothers, their carriage would always be heavily guarded.

    "Don't walk so fast," Yu Zhen demanded.

    Yu Zhen grabbed Li Xueyue's wrist before she could run off-as fast as a pregnant woman could. Her legs could easily get caught in her long skirt and she'd trip. Just the thought of that terrified him.

    Li Xueyue smiled up at him with amusement twinkling in her eyes. He had always been overprotective of her despite the years that went by.

    "Aunt Yueyue!" a loud voice called out, as she dashed away from one aunt to the next. The little girl ran forward, seizing the opportunity to see her.

    "My, if it isn't Xiao Xing!" Li Xueyue gushed, as she opened her arms for Chenyang's only child so far, Princess Li Yangxing.

    Xiao Xing's exhilarated run came to a halt upon seeing the bulge of her Aunt Yueyue's belly. She was confused, but cautious, for her mother also had the same thing. Something about a new sibling...

    "You're as cute as ever," Li Xueyue mused. Xiao Xing walked towards her with a spring in her step, grinning up at the aunt who always had snacks with her.

    "I have a present for you," Li Xueyue said whilst tapping her finger on Xiao Xing's button nose. Yangxing resembled her father very much, except her eyes were as gentle as Ning Huabing's.

    Li Xueyue turned to Xiao Hua who had been accompanying them this entire time. Xiao Hua took the tray from a female servant and brought it to the little Princess's level.

    "Hanjian's savory rice cakes!" Yangxing gasped, her eyes brightening at the sight of the food. She clasped her hands together and instantly grabbed one.

    "Now, Ah-Xing, what do we say to the Empress?" Ning Huabing lightly scolded whilst coming forward. She placed a hand on her daughter's small shoulders and flashed the Empress an apologetic smile.

    "Huabing, it's so good to see you again," Li Xueyue said. Her eyes flickered to Ning Huabing's belly that wasn't as large as Xueyue's.

    "Yes, Empress. So much has changed, don't you think?" Ning Huabing asked with a twinkle in her eyes.

    Each morning, when she woke up next to her husband, she couldn't believe the life she was living. Ning Huabing had married into the Imperial Family who were nothing but kind and welcoming. There wasn't a lot of trouble in her life, except for the occasional appearance of women attempting to seduce her aloof husband.

    Still, it was difficult to fathom how peacefully everything was going for her.

    "I agree," Li Xueyue mused. She recalled her first time meeting Ning Huabing. Back then, they were enemies, and highly wary of each other. Now, they were conversing like old friends.

    Whilst Li Xueyue conversed with Ning Huabing, she didn't notice the looks exchanged between Xiao Hua and the twins. Their eyes met for only a split second, but the air around them was clear.

    It was that of a master and servant, for Xiao Hua was not born in Hanjian, she was born in Wuyi. She had servde the Li family, before she came to Hanjian. The Li family was the ones who had sent her here to slowly climb her way up the ranks to be qualified to serve the Empress.

    "Mama, Mama, I want a rice cake as well!" Yu Chenjiang shouted.

    Xiao Hua's attention instantly drifted towards the First Prince. She warmly bent her head and held the tray a bit higher so that he could easily pick up a piece.

    "Me too!" Yu Minqi gushed.

    Soon, all three children were polishing off the tray of snacks. It did not take long for them to finish it all.

    "Xiao Hua made it," Li Xueyue said, gesturing to her beloved maidservant.

    "We have snacks for you as well, Xiao Yue!" Li Wenmin chirped. He ushered his people forward, and they instantly came with a book that confused Li Xueyue.

    "Mother's snacks would not survive the long journey, so she decided to write down the recipes of your favorite and your children's favorite pastries. You can pass the recipes to your chef or maidservant, and they should be able to prepare it!" Li Wenmin concluded.

    Li Wenmin grabbed the book and gestured for Xiao Hua to take it. In the meantime, he carefully watched her. She was always competent and did her job well as the secret spy of Wuyi. Her duty was to the Empress of Hanjian, but she would always report any wrongs their Xiao Yue suffered.

    "Mother shouldn't have." Li Xueyue lightly laughed. Despite that, her eyes widened with interest, as she took the book from the tray.

    Li Xueyue gingerly flipped through the hand-binded pages. They were indisputably written in her mother's perfect handwriting. She truly envied how graceful her mother was. Even after so many years of practice, Li Xueyue's handwriting was still messy.

    "Oh, sister-in-law!" Li Xueyue perked up whilst slowly closing the book. She passed it to Xiao Hua, who could bring it to the chefs and have a few pastries prepared.

    Liu Xingfei stepped forward and politely bowed her head. Despite marrying the First Prince of Wuyi, she was still the daughter of a mere General. She didn't want to disrespect the Empress of Hanjian, who was known for responding in kind.

    "No need for such a formal greeting," Li Xueyue said and gently laughed. "We're family, Xingfei."

    Liu Xingfei brightly smiled. "Please, you flatter me too much, Empress."

    "Gosh, seeing you act so elegantly is so strange." Li Wenmin snickered whilst throwing an arm around his wife. He met her gaze, where she irritably glared at him. He flashed her a bright grin, knowing he had ruined her act.

    Li Wenmin's smile did not last long. Soon, he let out a small, "Oof," as she subtly stomped on his toes.

    "Don't ruin my moment," she groaned under her breath.

    He let out a small wheeze of pain with a grimace on his handsome features. Even after being married for this long, she still roughhoused with him. It was a quality of hers that he dearly cherished. He could still remember sparring with her in the training camps. It was the first and only time he had ever lost to a girl apart from his younger sister, Xueyue.

    "Aunt Xingfei! Aunt Xingfei!" Yu Chenjiang chanted. At the sight of her, he made a quick dash towards her.

    "First Prince!" Liu Xingfei happily said. She caught the boy just as he threw his arms and hugged her dearly. She chuckled whilst spinning her heel, spinning him along with her as well.

    "You see, you see," he ranted, a bit out of breath from all the excitement and running. "Papa taught me a new sword fighting technique. Will you practice with me later?"

    Liu Xingfei gently pinched the First Prince's cheeks. It was round and plump like a freshly steamed meat bun.

    "Of course," she said and lightly laughed. "It would bring me the most joy."

    "Don't forget about me!" Li Wenmin said to his nephew. "I will be the final boss, once you easily beat your aunt."

    Yu Chenjiang's eyes widened. "Really?"

    "Of course!" Li Wenmin boasted whilst slapping his chest. "Your uncle only gets younger with each year that passed by! I can spar with you as much as you want."

    "Or maybe you should try studying with me," Li Chenyang said whilst stepping forward.

    Sometimes, he would worry that his only nephew would become as dumb as Wenmin. But he had heard Xueyue brag many times about how intelligent Yu Chenjiang was. Despite being so young, his vocabulary was expansive and his pronunciations were always perfect, just like Yu Minqi.

    "I'll study with you, Uncle Chen!" Yu Minqi instantly said with great excitement. Reading books was her favorite pastime. She enjoyed all genres, especially fables that were fortunate enough to be transcribed by traveling storytellers.

    "And that's why you're so much smarter than your Unce Wenmin," Li Chenyang praised Yu Minqi and snickered. He bent down and carried her, comforting settling her on his hip. Not a minute later, his daughter rushed forward, also demanding to be carried.

    "Me too!" Li Yangxing shouted whilst reaching her hands up.

    "I can't carry you both," Li Chenyang wryly said.

    "Hah, I might not be as smart as you, Chenyang, but I can definitely carry both girls in my arms!" Li Wenmin snided.

    Unlike his younger brother, who was all brains and no brawns, Li Wenmin had a strong and fit body. This was certainly a job for him!

    "Come here, children, Uncle Wenmin can carry you both!" Li Wenmin stated whilst opening his arms out for them. And instantly, the two flocked towards him. Soon enough, he truly carried both in his arms, though his face paled, and his eyes bulged a bit.

    "I-I see both of you ate a heavy breakfast," Li Wenmin slowly wheezed out, realizing he was getting older.

    "Hah," Li Chenyang laughed under his breath whilst looking away. "Keep on embarrassing yourself, you useless show-off."

    "Hmph, I heard that!" Li Wenmin bit back.

    Li Chenyang rolled his eyes. "You were supposed to hear it."

    The two made eye contact before they let out a large, "Hmph!" and glanced away. Even now, when they were older, they still consistently bickered like cat and dog. It was something that their wives were unfortunately used to by now.
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