"Look, mommy! That woman just fell on her face!" a little kid loudly said, tugging at the skirts of his mother whilst pointing at Bai Tianai.
"My, isn't that Earl Zheng's son? What was his name again?" a quiet whisper speculated.
"Who's that with him?"
"Oh dear, I think that's Viscount Bai Sheng's daughter, Bai Tianai!"
"Ohh, isn't she the girl who got kicked out of her friend's banquet? How shameful. Look at what it did to her beauty and grace."
Bai Tianai felt dizzy and nauseous from their taunting whispers. They rang in her ears and burned her face a fiery shade of red from embarrassment. She struggled to properly stand up in her restraining hanfu, her head snapped from left to right, searching desperately for Zheng Leiyu. He was gone.
Her eyes widened in realization that he had just abandoned her here to rot and be laughed upon. When people saw her struggling to stand, laughter howled among the nearby crowd and vendors. Some tried to hide their amusement behind their sleeves, but it was hard to not laugh. She was making a fool of herself by sitting still on the ground, numbed with shock.
"This is so humiliating to watch, I can't bear it anymore!"
"I pity Viscount Bai for having such a shameful daughter. Look at her, what a pathetic little thing she is!"
"If that was my eldest daughter, I'd be too embarrassed to show my face. Luckily, he has a second daughter."
"Who's the other daughter?"
Bai Tianai felt her heart race with anxiety. That's right. Her father had accidentally let slip that he had another daughter!
Bai Tianai needed something to distract the crowd and Li Xueyue would be the perfect thing!
Bai Tianai shot a dirty glare into the stables, expecting the crowd to follow her gaze. She expected them to see Li Xueyue in there and hoped that in doing so would cause a bigger spectacle than this. But to her horror, there was a man in there whose frame covered Li Xueyue from the public's view. When she saw the color of his clothing and the familiarity of his back, she felt her entire world begin to spin.
Zheng Leiyu had left her for Bai Xueyue—literally of course—but it was enough for Bai Tianai to panic. Instantly, she scrambled to her feet in an attempt to grab him back, but to her delightful surprise, he was already leaving Li Xueyue.
"Leiyu, there you are…" she trailed off when she saw his disgruntled expression.
Resentment flashed on his face and disgust marred his eyes when he saw her. He walked past her as if he didn't know her.
Li Xueyue pressed her lips together. She had gone too far in taunting Zheng Leiyu. She had expected him to simply want to be friends with her, nothing more. But he had asked her something she didn't expect.
"Is there a man courting you?" he had asked her, only for her to vaguely respond with, "I think it's best that you help your friend up."
Li Xueyue wanted to heave a loud and heavy sigh that would lift some weight off of her shoulders. She didn't think he'd be so brazen with his approach. She needed to carefully plan out her next approach at home.
She turned to her horse, an aggrieved expression on her face. She still didn't have any money to take Heiyue out of his stable. She knew she should've brought her own servants and guards with her! She left her house with nothing but the clothes and jewelry on her.
Li Xueyue slipped deeper into the shadows, contemplating her next move. She was grateful for the dimly-lit stable, or else the crowd outside would be able to see her.
Li Xueyue silently watched as Bai Tianai made herself the laughing stock of the town.
Bai Tianai struggled to get on her feet and when she finally did so, her face was bright red. She was too embarrassed to even show her face. Sniffling, she fled off in the direction that Zheng Leiyu walked off to. No one was mocking her anymore, but their taunting laughter rang in her mind, chasing her down the block until her figure disappeared into the distance.
Finally, the crowd dispersed and everything resumed to normal.
Li Xueyue tried to wipe the satisfied smile off of her face. Bai Tianai–0, Li Xueyue–2. This was such an effortless victory, she couldn't believe how well things carried to her favor.
Now, the only problem was, what was she going to do with her horse?
Aggravated, she turned to Heiyue who had patiently waited for everything to unfold. When he heard the soft jingle of her hairpins and the familiar scent of her approaching body, his ears perked up. He stomped the ground, eager to be with her. When he detected she was close enough to touch him, he let out an excited neigh, happily walking to her.
Li Xueyue wished she could take him out of this stable, but she couldn't. Not with this stubborn stable boy who refused to take jewelry as an exchange for payment.
Finally, she sighed and turned to the stable boy. She was surprised to see he was pale-faced and staring at her as if she had grown two heads. He nervously gulped whilst wiping his forehead with a handkerchief. He didn't think this well-dressed woman was a Princess! Had he gravely offended her in any way? He didn't want his head to roll so early in life!
"O-on second thought, I-I will accept your hairpin as payment," he stuttered out, pointing with a shaking finger to the topaz hairpin. Even with the lack of proper lighting in the stable, the hairpin dazzled and glistened.
Li Xueyue touched her hairpin, suddenly feeling regretful to have to pawn it off. Heiyue abruptly neighed for attention before turning in circles, confusing both of them. He threw his front legs up, startling both of them.
"What's wrong?" Li Xueyue worriedly called out, approaching his stable gates but the stable boy stopped her.
"Princess, it's dangerous! Watch out!" he shouted, attempting to shield her from the powerful kick of the horse but Heiyue simply trampled at the gate door, growing irritated.
He could smell and hear her, but couldn't touch her. He was aggravated that she was this dense. He snorted, showing his side to her.
Li Xueyue was confused by his reaction until she suddenly noticed the saddle and the small satchel attached to it.
Her eyes lit up. "Heiyue, you're a genius!" she gasped, easily sliding the gate door open.
Before she could even head inside, a voice called out, "Xueyue?"
Li Xueyue froze at his voice. She didn't want to turn around. She didn't want to face him. Not after the incident at the banquet. She didn't want to see him ever again.
"What are you doing in the Capital…? I thought you were bedridden," Wen Jinkai pointed out. His eyes wandered from her dainty back to the black horse. It was surely his woman.
"Are you feeling better now? How is your back, did you use the cream I brought for you?" Wen Jinkai worriedly asked, approaching her. He didn't expect to see her here!
Li Xueyue cursed the Heavens for her rotten luck. Reluctantly, she turned around to face him with a tight smile. "Commander."
A smile graced his face upon seeing her. "How are you?"
"I've been better," she retorted, sliding through the stable gates and towards her horse.
Wen Jinkai noticed she was reaching for something in the satchel bag. "I'll pay for you," he said, approaching the stable boy with his pouch of coins.
"No!" she shouted, but it was too late.
Wen Jinkai had already handed a shining gold coin to the boy whose eyes widened.
"S-sir, this is significantly higher than the price—"
"Keep the rest for tip," Wen Jinkai interjected, his eyes never once leaving Xueyue. "I've been meaning to visit you as soon as I heard you were sick, but you seem fine and dandy now."
Li Xueyue didn't answer him. She lingered closer to Heiyue, seeking comfort in her large horse. Heiyue could sense fear in her. His tail began to swish behind him as he perked up his ears.
Wen Jinkai's lips thinned at the sight of her disgruntled horse. What was it going to do? Attack him when he was the one who paid for the stable?
"Take a walk with me, Xueyue," Wen Jinkai said, handing the ropes of his horse to the stable boy.
"It's getting late. I have to go home," she firmly said, her lips tugging downwards. His suggestion sounded like a command.
"You're afraid of missing dinner," he pointed out. "In that case, I will treat you to a reputable restaurant that many aristocrats fancy."
"My family is expecting me."
"I'll send one of my guards back to inform them. Don't worry, Little Fawn."
"Are you that dense?" Li Xueyue snapped, her patience thinned by him. Why couldn't he just understand that she didn't want to accompany him?! Especially after what he had done to her!
Wen Jinkai's face softened upon seeing her displeasure. "I didn't mean to offend you."
Li Xueyue struggled to maintain her composure when her chest pricked with guilt. Maybe she was overreacting? She shook her head. No. He was just manipulative.
"I'm going home. Thank you for helping me," she sniped, taking out the coin pouch from the bag.
She took the gold coin from the stable boy's still outstretched hand, slipped her money into it and then stormed to Wen Jinkai and placed his money onto his palm. "Thanks, but no thanks."
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