317 Only You
Li Xueyue wasn't surprised to see the wide variety of dishes laid out before her. The maidservant was polite and courteous, never once saying a word.
The food came in all shapes, colors, and aroma, but Li Xueyue wasn't hungry. She drank the soup but lacked the appetite to try the other dishes. It was so strange. She likely hadn't eaten anything substantial since the bandit incident.
"Princess Li, if I may speak," the maidservant in her late forties requested.
Li Xueyue felt strange that someone so much older than her was showing this much respect. She had been telling herself to get used to it for a while now, but it was difficult to do so, even in Wuyi.
"What is it, Yanxi?" she asked while lifting one of the leafy greens into her mouth. It was salty with a hint of sweetness that brought out the taste of the vegetable.
Li Xueyue wanted to know Yanxi's family name, but it seemed like the servants didn't have one.
She had come to learn Yanxi had grown up in the palace and lived here all of her life. Yanxi didn't have a husband or kid but would help to take care of the children of the palace servants or cooks.
"The Crown Prince had requested you must finish at least three dishes here, Princess Li," Yanxi respectfully said.
She wondered if it was a new trend amongst young ladies to starve themselves despite being so skinny.
The Princess in front of her was stunning, and it was easy to see why the Crown Prince chose her. An air of humble kindness floated around her. The Princess was graceful and elegant without even trying.
"Is the food not to your taste, Princess?" Yanxi worriedly said.
The only problem nagging at Yanxi was how thin the Crown Princess seemed to be. The beauty standards in Hanjian were very different. Women here were raised to be strong and sturdy. They were allowed to become soldiers, and many women prided themselves on their strength.
"The food is good," Li Xueyue quietly said. "But my appetite hasn't been great lately. Even when I was in Wuyi."
Yanxi's expression softened. She thought the lack of appetite was because the Princess felt homesick.
"Shall the Imperial Physician be called then, Princess Li?" she asked.
Li Xueyue shook her head. She picked up her chopsticks and began to eat again. This time, taking a slightly bigger bite than the previous one. Even so, the amount of rice on her chopsticks was smaller than half a pinky.
She ate in silence, chewing everything with care. It was a technique to make it look like she was eating when she didn't feel like it.
The food was warm and well-prepared. There wasn't a problem with the food. She just felt… lonely.
Suddenly, the doors to the dining room opened without warning, startling her. She lifted her head from the barely-touched rice bowl.
"Yu Zhen," she addressed, surprising Yanxi who had never heard someone call the Crown Prince by his name.
Yu Zhen shot her a warning glare. The Head Maidservant better not step out of line. No one should have the guts to correct Li Xueyue.
"What are you doing here?" she asked him, settling her chopsticks down.
"To join you for a meal, what else, Sunshine?" Yu Zhen mused with a slight smirk. He strolled towards her and pinched both of her cheeks. He wanted to pull it, but found nothing to tug on. His expression darkened. Was she starving herself?
Yu Zhen's gaze landed on the food. Nothing here looked touched. She had taken the smallest nibble out of the rice bowl. What happened to his Little Hamster that shoved buns into her mouth?
"Is the taste not to your preference, Little Hamster?" Yu Zhen questioned whilst releasing her cheeks. He cupped her face and stroked her cheeks with his thumb.
Yanxi's eyes grew larger than the moon. She had watched the Crown Prince grow up.
Never once had he spoken to someone in such a warm voice. Never once had he touched someone with this much affection. His rigid expression had softened just for the Princess.
"The taste is fine, it's just…" Li Xueyue trailed off, unable to voice her problems with him. It would be strange to say she felt lonely. This palace was so large and occupied by many people.
Yanxi had to hold back a sharp gasp when the Crown Prince bent down and pressed a chaste kiss upon the Princess's forehead.
"Don't hold in your troubles, Sunshine," Yu Zhen murmured. "Tell me about your concerns."
"I feel lonely," Li Xueyue confessed. She didn't even realize her hand had tightly grabbed onto his sleeves until he slightly shifted his body. She was scared to let him go. Scared not to have a companion in this place.
"Everyone in the Li family made me feel welcomed, and I had a good appetite. But after their daughter returned, I don't know why but I lost it," she added on.
"It's because you're unhappy," Yu Zhen deadpanned. He was sure of it. The Li family's long lost daughter had finally returned. Without a doubt, the daughter would've caused a ruckus that made Li Xueyue feel unwelcomed.
Yu Zhen frowned. "You've lost the light in your eyes."
Li Xueyue didn't want to accept that fact. The Li Family worked so hard to make sure she was comfortable with them.
But she was depressed from not having friends. The twins were always at work, the Duchess was always occupied with Matriarch duties, and the servants never talked to her.
"It'll be different here," Yu Zhen told her. He chuckled when she innocently tilted her head, like a lost bunny.
"I will visit you everyday. You will make friends here. Perhaps that will uplift your frown," Yu Zhen stated.
Li Xueyue blinked at his words. How did he know?
"Your face is an open book when it comes to me," Yu Zhen explained. "All of your desires are written on your forehead, Sunshine."
"It's not big enough to have so much written on it," Li Xueyue mumbled.
"I beg to differ," Yu Zhen snickered whilst placing his fingers together and putting it on her forehead to measure it.
"See, it takes this much to cover your forehead," he lied, showing her his five fingers.
"They say a big forehead brings prosperity," she said.
"That's just a lie made up to comfort people like you," Yu Zhen teased. He smirked in amusement when she glowered up at him.
"Just sit down and eat your food," she demanded with a cross of her arms. She was well aware that this was a losing fight for her.
"The Prince doesn't just sit down for anyone," Yu Zhen mused. "You will have to do me a favor."
"Then nevermind," Li Xueyue started with a shrug of her shoulders. She hadn't noticed the surprised stare of Yanxi or her pale complexion.
'Princess, you are forgetting his title again! And this time, you've offended him!' Yanxi screamed inside of her head. She lowered her chin and tried to not weep for the Princess. Poor thing… She was surely going to be executed.
But then, Yanxi heard an unfamiliar sound. Loud, confident, and warm. The Crown Prince had just laughed. It was a genuine one. Nothing like the ruthless, humorless chuckle people heard in the court.
Yanxi swallowed. Had she misheard it? She dared to raise her head for the briefest moment. A large smile was resting on the aloof Crown Prince's flawless face. It was true. The Crown Prince had laughed. It was something that rarely happened.
"Only you would be this bold," Yu Zhen chuckled. He pulled out a chair and sat down beside her. He ignored the maidservant who rushed forward with a bowl of rice and utensils.
"Will it get me killed one day?" Li Xueyue asked. It was a genuine question, but he had the audacity to laugh at her again. The sound tickled her stomach. It was comforting to see him this carefree and all smiles. She had truly missed this sight.
"Never," he firmly said.
Yu Zhen reached out and fondly stroked her chin with his thumb. He pulled her closer and revealed a dark, wicked smile.
"Whoever dares to touch my Wangfei, will lose their hand."
Li Xueyue wasn't sure if he was joking or not. But she hoped so. Was he truly that mean?
"Okay," was her simple response. She smiled a bit to show him the harsh words didn't affect her. Not even the slightest bit. Especially after she had committed murder—with her own hands.
Li Xueyue wondered if this fact would bother him. But then she thought back to the torture tent in the forest. Death didn't faze him. She wondered what would...