Lu Tianbi slowly nodded. "Very well, Your Highness."
"D-don't forget about me…" Hu Dengxiao whined. He felt like a neglected child interrupting the adults talking. His sagged shoulders straightened up when Lu Tianbi flashed him a smile.
"You heard the Crown Prince," she stated. "Go gather the Ministers and aristocrats. I'll run this errand." She waived the folded parchment to indicate what she was talking about.
It was a tiring chore to organize so many people at once in such a short notice. Hu Dengxiao reluctantly accepted the task since it was his duty in the first place. Tch, where was the sly Chancellor's son when he needed him?
"Also," Lu Tianbi spoke up. She shifted her gaze towards Yu Zhen. "Your Highness, remember the last time I spoke to Uncle and Wu Xiang?" she asked.
Yu Zhen vividly recalled it. He was in the courtyard, gazing up at the moon, reminiscing of Xueyue.
Hu Dengxiao was borderline throwing a tantrum because he had believed Lu Tianbi was having the time of her life discussing plans with the Chancellor's son.
"Well, Wu Xiang shared something interesting with me, Your Highness," she said. "Uncle is planning to retire soon. Now that Wu Xiang has children for him to play with—"
"I know," Yu Zhen stated.
Wu Xiang had previously spoken of it before. Wu Xiang would soon take over the Chancellor position from his father. It would be a smooth transition. The man had been training for the title ever since he could talk.
"That will be all then, Your Highness," Lu Tianbi stated whilst dipping into a bow. Despite the years she had spent with him, the rules of etiquette had been instilled into her.
"Oh, Your Highness" Hu Dengxiao quipped. "Who is the main maidservant who will serve Xueyue?"
Lu Tianbi's attention shifted back to Yu Zhen. That was a good question. Who exactly would be attending Xueyue?
"The Head Maidservant," Yu Zhen responded.
Lu Tianbi's eyes grew wide. Not even the Empress, Yu Zhen's mother, had the privilege of being served by the Head Maidservant. The Head Maidservant wasn't assigned to anyone in the palace mainly because the Emperor was the one who'd give the order.
And since the Emperor's relationship with his wife was strained…
Lu Tianbi shook her head, dispelling the thought from her mind.
"That's fantastic news, Your Highness," Lu Tianbi said with a proud smile. The Head Maidservant would be the perfect person to guide the Princess.
Yu Zhen silently nodded. "You're excused," he said to both of them. They bowed in response and began to head off.
Yu Zhen watched as Hu Dengxiao attempted to get closer to Lu Tianbi, but she brushed him off. He shook his head at their antics before heading into his private study to finish up last night's papers.
- - - - -
Yu Zhen finished the remaining paperwork in record time. He had completed the majority of it last night anyway. Rising from the chair, he headed out of the door and down the corridors.
By now, Xueyue's morning routine must've finished. She was likely being served her breakfast right now. He had to see her to make sure she was comfortable with the new cuisine.
Yu Zhen noted the different variety of food between Wuyi and Hanjian. Whilst Wuyi's dishes were light and simple, Hanjian's dishes were stronger in flavor, and many dishes were cooked with spices. The country's soil was always fertile enough to grow all sorts of herbs, spices and crops. Hence it resulted in dishes with more flavor.
"Would it be too much for her?" he wondered out loud.
Yu Zhen was worried that she wouldn't be able to stomach the new food. He had specifically instructed the servants to make sure she had more than one simple dish so that it would be easier on her stomach.
As Yu Zhen embarked the length of the hallway, he was spotted by someone—the only other woman in his palace who was allowed to call for him, aside from Lu Tianbi.
"Your Highness…?" came a timid, hesitant voice.
Yu Zhen came to a halt. He was not in the mood to entertain her today. Xueyue's first meal in the palace shouldn't be taken alone. She was so used to having her meals with her family. It would be lonely for her to sit in that room and have a meal all by herself.
Yu Zhen didn't respond to the woman who rose in ranks because of her intelligence and luck. He had given the fallen aristocrat another chance at life.
"Good morning," she greeted. "Have you eaten your meal yet, Your Highness?"
Yu Zhen turned his chin to glance at her briefly. Unlike most women who dressed themselves to the nines, she was dressed in a simpler outfit.
There were only two hairpins in her hair. They were the ones given to her when she successfully tricked the courts that morning.
The woman's hope soared. Her eyes widened a bit. Her lips curved into a pleasant smile. Her smile had captured the hearts of most men.
They offered her a helping hand, in hopes of keeping her as a mistress. But Yu Zhen wasn't like most men. She knew that better than anyone else.
"Would you care to join me for a meal then, Your Highness?" she asked in a hesitant voice.
"I… I used to enjoy cooking before the fall of my family. I've been honing my skills, and I've cooked extra food, Your Highness."
Yu Zhen raised a brow. He had nearly forgotten how neglected the eldest daughter of the Xu Family was. She didn't seem like a neglected daughter at all. Her voice was sweet and gentle, but she carried herself with confidence.
"Enjoy your meal," was his cold response.
He walked off without another word.
Xu Jiaqi was not surprised by his behavior. The Crown Prince was heartless and nonchalant. She had opened her heart to him, hoping he'd take it. Nonetheless, she was pleased with this conversation. At least he had addressed her by her name.
She smiled towards the floor and tucked strands of hair behind her ears. It was better than their last encounter where he barely looked at her. Today, he was in a better mood.
"Progress," she reminded herself. "I must be patient," she wondered out loud.
The Crown Prince was likely not used to expressing his emotions. She recalled the rumors of his apathetic glares.
His rare smile forced others to vie for his attention and approval. Everyone wanted to be the one to make him happy. Everyone wanted to appease him. So many people fought to see that tiny lift of his lips.
Xu Jiaqi vowed to see it for herself.
"After all, the Crown Prince was the one who chose to save me from a generation of servitude. There must be a reason behind his intentions," she said.
Xu Jiaqi glanced out of the hallway where a large peach blossom tree could be seen. Its branches were filled with flower sprouts.
Soon, summer would approach, and the flowers would bloom for her. The Crown Prince's palace was always serene and beautiful. Everything here was meant to elude tranquility. Not many people had the luxury to walk here as they pleased.
"I hope to see that smile myself," she whispered to herself. Staring down at her hands, she let out a small, sullen sigh.
"What will make you happy, Your Highness? What will bring you joy?"
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