"This is bad," Doctor Xu gravely commented, standing to his full height. He shook his head in disappointment, turning to Duchess Wang Qixing with a grave expression.
"Although your maidservant did an excellent job with the bandages, this cut might leave a scar," Doctor Xu said, his face filled with pity. He turned to his apprentice who was carrying a tray filled with all sorts of items upon it.
"I've prepared an ointment to prevent scarring, but it might still leave a scar on her skin. It's not going to be a deep one, lucky for her. But if she's subjected to a thorough examination by one of the servants in the Palace, it will not go unnoticed."
Li Xueyue frowned at his words but kept her mouth shut. She was the one who foolishly ran without thinking about the repercussions.
"How serious is it? Is it going to be visible to the eye?" Duchess Wang Qixing asked.
Li Xueyue understood the Duchess's fear. A woman who bears a scar, regardless if she was a Princess, would never be able to marry a royal. It was an unrealistic expectation, but who could argue with rules and traditions built upon centuries of history?
"It will be visible to the eye if her body is examined by one of the Palace's specialized head servants who are trained to look for blemishes," Doctor Xu responded, casting a glance towards his tray. He picked up the small plain bottle.
"This is a generic ointment, and I'm sure you can find better ones in the market, Duchess Wang, but religiously applying it won't be able to guarantee a scar-free healing."
Duchess Wang Qixing nodded, accepting the bottle. "We will use this for now while I have my servants search for a better one."
Speaking of ointments, Li Xueyue's gaze snapped to the window, remembering the night that Wen Jinkai had snuck into her room like a rogue. The ointment he gave her was still there—untouched and basking in the sun.
She grinded her teeth, looking away from the window. She had refused his help that night. Would she swallow her pride and accept his helping hand? She could. He wouldn't even have to know she used it.
Duchess Wang Qixing had seen the small action from Xueyue. "That will be all, Doctor Xu."
"Very well, Duchess Wang." Doctor Xu and his apprentice bowed their heads. They efficiently packed up and the two left the room.
"Everyone is dismissed," Duchess Wang Qixing instructed. The servants exited the room, quietly shutting the door behind them.
Once it was only the two of them in the room, Duchess Wang Qixing approached Li Xueyue who was seated on the couch. She placed the ointment jar on top of the table in front of the couch.
"This is the consequence of that reckless chase." Duchess Wang Qixing didn't seem partially irritated, nor was she upset. She was just disappointed, but what could she do? What's done is done.
"There's no need to apologize, sweetheart." Duchess Wang Qixing sighed, seating herself down beside Xueyue. "What caught your eye earlier?"
Li Xueyue���s neck whiplashed to the Duchess. She couldn't help but wonder if the Duchess knew of Li Minghua's relationship with Wen Jinkai. If the Duchess was aware, why wasn't she bothered by the idea of Wen Jinkai courting her?
"What do you mean?"
"You were looking at something. What was it?" Duchess Wang Qixing curiously asked.
"N-nothing of importance," Li Xueyue stuttered out, averting her eyes when the Duchess pressed on.
"Are you sure?"
"You don't have to keep secrets from me." Duchess Wang Qixing pleasantly smiled, her face gentle and understanding. "I will always stand on the side of my children."
Li Xueyue reluctantly glanced at the window. "I received a present the night of Ning Huabing's banquet."
"Really now?" Duchess Wang Qixing turned her attention in the direction of Xueyue's gaze. A lone jar of ointment was perched on the window sill. She had nearly mistaken it to be a decor.
Duchess Wang Qixing stood up and approached the jar of ointment. "I see that the maidservants are aware of this jar since there's not a speck of dust on it despite being by the window."
Li Xueyue silently nodded.
"Who is it from?"
Duchess Wang Qixing paused, her smile slipping a bit. "He's persistent."
Li Xueyue stared at the Duchess, wishing desperately to understand what went on in her head. 'Why did Mother let Wen Jinkai approach me if she knew Li Minghua was once associated with him…?' she asked herself.
Li Xueyue thought back to what the diary entailed. Li Minghua stated the Duchess was not aware of the romantic feelings shared between the pair, but surely, Duchess Wang Qixing wasn't that oblivious?
'Unless… Mother has ulterior motives for turning a blind eye? But why? Did Mother want me to live the life of Li Minghua? To replace her in the arms of Wen Jinkai?' she thought to herself.
Li Xueyue shook her head at her foolish thoughts. Duchess Wang Qixing was not that type of person.
"Well, this is an ointment. Judging from the painting on the jar, it's an expensive gift." Duchess Wang Qixing uncapped the top, catching a whiff of the strong scent of herbs and other ingredients mixed into it.
"Wen Jinkai injured me that night. He sent this for the bruises. I'm not sure if this cream will work on cuts."
Duchess Wang Qixing immediately turned around, her face pale with shock and disbelief. "He did what?!"
"I didn't mean to keep it a secret. Chen-ge persistently asked me what went wrong that night when I finished having a discussion with him but I couldn't tell him the truth. I didn't want to ruin their friendship."
"Oh, sweetheart," Duchess Wang Qixing breathed out in shock, placing the jar back onto the window sill. She approached Xueyue and hugged her tightly.
Li Xueyue numbly sat there, prickled with guilt. She had kept her silence for far too long. She thought revealing the truth would've been satisfying, but it only hurts more.
"Why didn't you tell me sooner? I would've done something—"
"No one can stop him."
Duchess Wang Qixing squeezed her eyes shut, hugging Xueyue like her life depends on it. All along, she only wanted Xueyue to be carefree and happy. She didn't think her daughter was bearing this weight on her shoulders.
"You've ought to know, their relationship has been strained ever since he was rescued by you."
"What do you mean?"
Duchess Wang Qixing pulled back. It was time to explain what went down a year and a half before the Spring Tournament.
"A few months after Wen Jinkai disappeared from our house after his recovery, he showed up at our doors."
"What?!" Li Xueyue hissed in disbelief, her eyes wide. She had never heard of this.
"Wenmin was at the back of the house receiving his daily training and the only one free was Chenyang. Wen Jinkai was greeted by Chenyang. The two were good friends after all, but a-after what happened to my—" Duchess Wang Qixing breathed in deeply, squeezing her eyes shut. It had been two years since she had last said this name.
"After what happened between him and my precious Minghua, Chenyang's relationship with Wen Jinkai became strained. The two haven't spoken ever since the incident that took her away from me."
Li Xueyue was puzzled. "What incident?"
"Nevermind that." Duchess Wang Qixing shook her head, her voice cracking.
Li Xueyue's eyes widened in panic. Did her question trigger something? "I didn't mean to, Mother, are you alright?"
"I'm fine, sweetie, I'm fine," Duchess Wang Qixing softly responded, "Just a little bit choked up that's all, but I-I'm a lot better now."
Li Xueyue reluctantly nodded. She wanted to comfort her mother in any way she could but knew the Duchess was too proud.
"Well, Wen Jinkai said he wanted to see you, to thank you, but Li Chenyang knew there was more to it than meets the eye."
"What do you mean?" Li Xueyue asked, suddenly thinking back to what Li Chenyang had said on the day of her archery tournament—'Jinkai, I've already warned you once.'
"You see, Wen Jinkai was once affiliated with Minghua. He had helped her entry into the Palace, and I've suspected he was the reason why she left the house. I've always known there was something between Wen Jinkai and my precious Minghua, but I didn't want to make assumptions."
Li Xueyue already knew where this was leading. "Chen-ge didn't want history to repeat itself," she breathed out in shock.
"Yes, Chenyang knew if Wen Jinkai took an interest in you, then you will be guided into the Palace and live a painful life. He feared you'd return to us in tatters like what happened to Minghua."
"W-what was the conversation that took place?" Li Xueyue hesitantly asked.
"Are you sure you want to know?"
"Yes, please, tell me in detail if you can."
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