"You'll be introduced as Hanjian's Crown Princess before the entire Imperial Court tomorrow," Yu Zhen explained to her. "Afterwards, my parents will want to see you."
He carefully examined her expression. "But if you don't want to see any of them, that is also fine with me. It's your choice."
"I think we should stick to tomorrow's plans then since I didn't formally enter the Palace as expected," Li Xueyue stated.
Yu Zhen nodded. He was impressed that she wasn't planning on taking the easy way out. Tomorrow would be an eventful day and surely, she would be exposed to all sorts of people. But that was expected, wasn't it?
The position of the Crown Princess wouldn't be easy. She would either be a painting in the background or an active member at the political table. Whatever she chose, he would stand by it.
"I had your carriage checked," Yu Zhen stated. "There was a broken wheel, and it didn't look like there was foul play."
Li Xueyue slowly nodded. "The townspeople bordering Hanjian's territory are starving. There must be a reason why every man in the town chose to become bandits. They had no choice."
Yu Zhen pressed his lips together. "After the war, Hanjian had been focusing on rebuilding the military and strengthening the cities surrounding the Capital."
"That's understandable, but there should be a budget set for rebuilding the cities further away from the Capital as well, especially those near the borders of Hanjian's territory," she said.
Li Xueyue shifted her gaze to meet his eyes. "If those towns were strengthened, then they would be able to fend off any attacks from foreign forces and weaken them first before they could even proceed further towards the Capital."
Yu Zhen raised a brow at her words. It had been less than three days since she came to this country, but she already had plans of reforming it. He reached a hand out and pushed strands of hair behind her ears.
A small smile formed on his lips. She was as impressive as he had last remembered her. Perhaps the Palace Courts would be where she thrived.
"Let's bring this discussion to the Round Table tomorrow," Yu Zhen stated.
Li Xueyue tilted her head. She had never heard of the term before. "What is the Round Table?" she asked.
"It's where Hanjian's most influential members of society are gathered to make plans for the country," Yu Zhen explained. "Representatives from every sector—military, agriculture, trade and so on would gather to meet every week."
Li Xueyue nodded. She supposed Wuyi also had something like this. It was just the Li Family had never included her in any of their discussions, Minghua included. She assumed it was because they didn't want to burden the women with such a task.
In Wuyi, women were flowers meant to decorate the room.
"Will you be interested in that?" Yu Zhen asked.
Li Xueyue offered him a pointed smile. "You're offering me such a great opportunity, how can I say no?"
Yu Zhen's smile widened at her words. "You'll do well there."
"I hope so," she stated.
- - - - -
Li Xueyue knew life in the Palace would be mundane. Shortly after their morning meal, Yu Zhen was excused for his political duties.
Before leaving, he promised to have dinner with her, because he had a prior lunch engagement elsewhere. She didn't mind, so long as he would accompany her for one meal a day.
Li Xueyue wondered if she was being needy, or if the Li Family had instilled the mentality into her. Wouldn't it be better to eat with your family? The food tastes better that way.
"Oh, I wonder who's that," Li Xueyue spoke up.
She had finished exploring the Crown Princess's estate in the palace. Each room was fully furnished and well-kept. But she had grown bored of it and decided to explore the outskirts of her residence.
Just then, Li Xueyue saw the side profile of a woman in the far distance. The woman was not dressed like a maidservant, but her outfit wasn't lavishing either. It was a perfect balance of humble beauty.
The woman seemed to be looking around as if she was lost. A troubled expression was on her face. She continued to survey her surroundings.
"Yanxi," Li Xueyue stated. "Where are we right now?"
"Answering the Princess's question, we're currently near the path that leads to the political courts of the Palace," Yanxi explained.
"Then who is that woman?" Li Xueyue asked. She jutted her chin in the young lady's direction.
Yanxi lifted her gaze from the ground. She observed the woman that caught the Princess's attention. Her blood went cold at the sight of the woman. It was not a good time for either of them to meet.
"She is the eldest daughter of a fallen aristocratic family, Princess Li," Yanxi responded.
Li Xueyue raised a brow. That sounded a lot like her. Minus the eldest daughter part. "If she's from a demised family, what is she doing in the Palace?"
Yanxi pressed her lips together. She stared at her hands—its skin was tough from years of working on chores. How was she supposed to tell the Princess that Xu Jiaqi held the favor of the Crown Prince? After all, he had saved her life and even spared her the time of day sometimes.
"Well?" Li Xueyue asked. She continued to watch that woman. Either the woman was lost, or she was waiting for someone.
"The woman is Lady Xu Jiaqi. She was a servant a couple of weeks ago, but after helping the Crown Prince, her rank was moved up."
Li Xueyue's brows shot up. "Help the Crown Prince? What do you mean?" she questioned.
Yanxi was reluctant to say more. It would be wrong of her to explain this situation without the Crown Prince's approval.
Yanxi wasn't present when the political marriage discussion had occurred in the Palace Courts. But she had heard rumors of what happened.
The Crown Prince had proposed to marry a mere servant, which caused an uproar in the courts. But then he countered with a much better proposal—marriage to the favored Princess of Wuyi, the daughter of a Prime Minister, and Duchess who were now the new ruling family of Wuyi.
"I deeply apologize, Princess Li, but this is a question reserved for the Crown Prince to answer himself," Yanxi responded in a low, sullen voice.
She was fearful of her life for disobeying the orders of her immediate authority, but she couldn't risk a seven-generation elimination if she angered the Crown Prince by overstepping her boundaries.
Li Xueyue's brows scrunched together. How could it be so secretive that not even a maidservant can explain it?
Li Xueyue decided to question Yu Zhen during dinner, but then she suddenly realized exactly why the woman was standing there. She wasn't lost. She was waiting for someone.
A formidable man strode down the hallway. His resting face was stormy and threatening. The people he passed by all bowed to him respectfully. His walk was powerful and eye-catching. He had the ability to attract people without even lifting a finger.
It wasn't difficult to tell who he was.
He was accompanied by two people. A man and a woman.
"Well, this is a surprise," Li Xueyue said, much to Yanxi's terror.
Li Xueyue vaguely remembered their names. After all, they had tried their best to make her feel at home during her time with them in the forest in Wuyi where they had set up camp. If she recalled, the man was Hu Dengxiao and the woman was Lu Tianbi.
Who else would they walk with? Other than Yu Zhen.
Yu Zhen had stopped in front of the woman. Her face visibly lit up with joy, a smile rested upon her lips. She glanced up at him. Even from afar, one could see the appreciation and adoration she had for him.
Li Xueyue's eyes narrowed into slits when she saw the woman reach for the Crown Prince's sleeves and how Yu Zhen didn't push her away.
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