It's all about the manipulation

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My stay that was supposed to last an entire week, lasted about a month. Yuanji was held up on his duties at the manor with his master -- Lord Changi being called in the palace back and forth. Yuanji refused to send me back home without him. He didn't trust any of the Changi's guards, not with his youngest sister alone with them. He said he should be taking me back home himself.

And since his effort upon changing Jingam's mind about the marriage was unsuccessful, he didn't even bother asking the young lord to take his place. No matter how much I tried telling him, he never listened and my traveled had rendered us fruitless.

By the end of the month, Yuanji was able to free up from his duties and able to take me back home. For a young man still in his teens, my brother has a great head of patience. I expected a scolding for not living up to his expectation, but he only gave me his solemn stare. The kind of lingered stare he does when he has something on his mind but would rather not speak of it.

I tucked my head to my chest and apologized. "I tried to be as womanly as the possible eldest brother, but I couldn't fool anyone."

Yuanji smiled at me, "it's alright. You did your job as far as I'm concerned. You simply have to be patient with these things and the rewards will reap itself after a while."

I stared at him, lost at what he's saying. "What do you mean?"

Yuanji patted my head. "You got to meet him, and he got to spend a lot of time with you. You two bonded like siblings and had gotten pretty close during your stay. He might be much older, and you are yet in your teens, but as the time progress and the years passes -" He paused and regarded me. "you are going to turn into a woman, and he's going to see the changes in you."

I kept silent listening to the stream of his words.

"Consider this trip a taste, a tease of what he's going to crave and can't live without one day." He flashed me one of his weaselly grin, his perfect set of teeth showing. My only response was to grimace at him in return.

"What? You think he had fallen in love with me?" I inquired less than amused with my bother.

"Trust me little sister, a man from the house of Yi always knew what he was doing."

I dragged a long exhale and leaned on the back of the carriage. Yuanji had begun to sound much like our father, a little too much like our father, everything was a matter of business.

"Trust me, He Lian. I'm doing this for your sake." He said after sensing my dark mood.

Within the next couple of years, I will forget about this conversation, this trip, and Jingam would completely leave my mind

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Within the next couple of years, I will forget about this conversation, this trip, and Jingam would completely leave my mind. I would not think about him or the prospect of marrying him. At twelve, marriage is not the content of my mind.

Mother and father continued receiving offers for my betrothal, turning every one of them down since most of them are from generals searching for a young beautiful wife to treat themselves as a reward.

One can only imagine the disgusted look on my mother's face each time she received one of those offers.

"Disgusting old perverts!" She would mutter angrily beneath her breath. "To think I would give up my last daughter so they could treat her like a reward? Hah!" Mother crumpled the letters in her hand with great satisfaction and tossed them to garbage where they belong.

Father found her amusing whenever she did and laughed. No one seemed good enough to them these days, and the flow of princes offering marriage to lords dwindled down in recent years. The four kingdoms would rather marry their children to each other for the alliance, and benefits than to lesser noble houses.

A palace can always ask for a noble house's loyalty without marrying their children. It is part of a noble's duty to serve his king no matter what.

I continued my training inside the manor, my schedule is crammed with studies and training. There's no shortage of instructors and tutors streaming in the manor. But the thing is, I've become a better dancer, archer, played better instruments, and knew more about literature better than any of these instructors my parents paid to teach me. I didn't need any more learning even though my parents insisted.

One can never stop learning. Father told me once after I came and complained to him and sent me back to my studies.

I am now seventeen, a ripe age of marrying and I'd be lying if the thought of marriage hasn't crossed my mind.

Yuanji had taken a permanent position as one of the scholars in the palace quickly climbing steadily in ranks. Jungjie, my second oldest brother never comes home anymore. He'd been preoccupied on his way becoming a great warrior of the north, having married one of the general's daughters for himself.

Lin Lian had two children by now, both girls. By the time they're at the proper age, they will make a trip to our manor and stay here to be trained as the girls from the House of Yi. That was part of the bargain when the houses married them off and there's nothing the general could do to refuse it. I doubt he even cared too much for his illegitimate children anyway.

The eldest sister, Ying Yue, on the other hand, was the oldest. We haven't heard anything about eldest sister in years. No news or anything and the trip all the way to the far south was too perilous and dangerous. Especially to an isolated kingdom said to be amid the war with the underworld. We simply assumed she was doing great and stayed away from the area.

For my eighteenth birthday, Yuanji promised to take me to the palace and take me on a tour of the city. He said it's time for him to reap his reward and I'm suddenly reminded of our trip to the House of Changi half a decade ago.

I narrowed my eyes on him suspiciously, I knew he's a great scholar, but I never knew he sharpened as a weasel as well. "Isn't lord Jingam already married to the princess?"

He gave me his usual nonchalant shrug. "So?"

"What do you mean, so?" I said appalled. "Wouldn't the princess get angry with you?"

"Oh, I doubt she'll even think of me, it'll be her husband's eyes which will stray from her. That would hardly be my fault."

I stopped and glared at him. "But you're the one who set it up!"

"Nope, I simply took you on a trip with me when you were a little girl. I meant nothing by it. Jingam spent quite a lot of time with you when you were twelve, he was like a big brother to you, he can always use that as an excuse to get close to you again."

I loosened a breath. "I never knew you to be so manipulative."

He turned and grinned at me, Yuanji landed his hands on my shoulders and his touch had always been gentle. "Trust me, He Lian...I know what I'm doing. I have a better audience now than when I was an apprentice to lord Changi, I could introduce you to men with better status, noble houses richer than the house of Changi...I could even get you a prince if I want."

"So, why wouldn't you? I would like to be a princess."

"I want a good man for you, little sister." He lifted his hands and continued his slacken strides. "And Jingam is still the only man on my mind."

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