The calm before the storm

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Hooney spoke nothing of his visit with his father, and based on how quiet he was, I assumed whatever they discussed didn't go his way. His father, the eighth prince, has a solid reputation. Feared in the nation, a powerful warlord himself. He works closely with the emperor (his brother), the third prince, and the nation's Ministry of Defense to ensure the power of the imperial army.

I had never met Hooney's father before and I'm not sure I even want to at this point. I knew very well he doesn't approve of me.

Hooney allowed me plenty of rest to heal in the next couple weeks. He pressed on with his work during the day and came to me in bed at night. This routine went on for a while, mindful of each other as the sadness we share took hostage of us still.

Hooney buried his nose on my head and tucked me closer to his chest. I found his warmth comforting, crying the first couple nights he held me.

"I love you, Hui." He murmured tenderly.

I haven't heard him spoke those words in a while realizing he's trying to make me feel better.

"I love you, too, Hooney." I murmured back.

Hooney had been eager upon impregnating me as soon as he can, thinking another pregnancy would help me heal faster. We tried, but my body had refused his seeds, uncertain of the reason for my sudden infertility. Perhaps my body had developed its own immunity as it warded off anything foreign that entered it.

I spent a great amount of time vomiting my guts out, unable to keep anything down. The healer was summoned once again to my bedside to find out what caused my body's dilemma.

"You're all out of balance." The healer said. "Too much iron in the blood, and too much fire in the soul...not good for having a baby!"

The healer sounded more of a fortune teller than anything, but I said nothing for he was right about the fire in my soul.

A series of sessions he performed with me, trying to get my imbalance right. "I have the remedy for you, it'll fix you right up!" His face went animated and shoved a thick mixture of liquid in a cup and forced me to drink it.

I gagged at the taste of it, feeling nauseated as the slimy liquid slid down my throat, to my chest, and to my stomach.

Most times, he had me drink herbs, and tonics to flush my system, and required a stern diet to help me balance my elements.

I followed his instructions and hoped for the best while Hooney tried the same. He's not one to believe in these things, but he did them for me anyway. He said, there's nothing wrong with his seeds at all, and his fire doesn't miss.

It must've have been all duds then. I told him playfully.

He glared at me with a challenge and took me to bed to prove I was wrong.

We made no progress, I was not able to get pregnant - just yet.

Within a few more weeks, I noticed Hooney had grown anxious and restless without telling me the reason why. When I asked him, he could never give me a direct answer and told me not to worry, he'll protect me from everything. None of this made sense until the time of Niang's return, Niang came back to the manor - much to my surprise.

When I demanded to Hooney what's going on, he said, It was his father's decision. "Forgive me, Hui." He stammered. "I didn't want her to come back. As a matter of fact, I went and begged my father to allow us to divorce. I knew what kind of woman she is and she'd been against the wedding to begin with. I told him the marriage was a travesty and Niang killed my baby and almost succeeded killing you."

Hooney trembled as he explained this to me, he looked at me dejected. "...but father said to suck it up and be a man about it." The marriage wasn't about the idea of romance, but for political alliance. Hooney was a mere subject of his father's ambition.

I found out later his father went ballistic during their meet. He told his only son that if he was to get his own wife pregnant, none of it would had happened. His father now pushed for Hooney and Niang to have a child.

My own agitation couldn't be masked. Niang's return caused a rift between our relationship. We argued and fought constantly, causing Hooney more stress.

Li He, on the other hand, remained supportive. But the return of Niang placed him in a darker mood. Li He was different, he became disturbingly quiet and unsociable. He was always out of reach, irritated and angry. Even his work suffered, but Hooney had not reprimanded him for any of his dereliction. Hooney understood what Li He was going through.

He rented a place outside the manor and stayed there instead of his quarter. All to avoid Niang from pestering him.

Li He hardly spoke to me anymore, he didn't come to my quarter, he didn't bring my favorite snacks, he never stopped by to bother me. I soon found out he rarely came home to Jiaying anymore either. He spent much of his time outside the manor on those hours he's not on duty, and sometimes, during his hours of duty as well.

I began worrying for my brother. Each time I saw him, the circles around his eyes grew darker. His body swelled with muscles. Lots of muscles. Li He had always been naturally slim, and now, he looked like he belonged in the army instead of politics. I felt there's something happening in his mind, and I should fear what's brooding inside him. I feared for my brother - that he isn't in the right mind anymore.

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