328 An Obsession
The next day, Li Xueyue was dressed to the nines. Her hair was woven into an intricate style that resembled a blooming flower. Its beauty was enhanced by a variety of small hairpins ranging from emerald to pearls and larger ones in the form of flowers were shaped near the bun.
Her hanfu was a fluttering white, woven with silver and gold but the layers underneath her sleeves were cerulean blue. With each step she took, it gave people a sneak peek of her matching-colored shoes.
Li Xueyue felt her heart drum with anticipation. She took the first step upon the bright red carpet and advanced forward. Every step felt heavier than the one before. She was outside of the Throne Room but could feel everyone's attention on her.
"Announcing the arrival of Princess Li Xueyue of Wuyi," a Eunuch loudly announced.
Li Xueyue kept her head up and eyes forward—even when the Ministers scrutinized her from head to toe, searching for a flaw. She raised her chin and continued advancing towards the throne.
She met the steady gaze of Yu Zhen who revealed a smirk at the sight of her. She was stunning, even from afar—a vision to behold, one that mesmerized anyone who laid eyes on her. Without a doubt, the Ministers were awestruck. But she wouldn't have known that.
"Greetings to the Emperor and Empress of Hanjian," she stated with a bow of her head. She was mindful to bow at the right angle—neither too low or not low enough.
Li Xueyue was surprised to hear a slight cough but didn't raise her head.
"Rise, Princess Li," the Emperor of Hanjian stated.
He suppressed another cough but a small one slipped out.
Li Xueyue lifted her gaze from the floor to look up at him. Unlike her father, the Emperor of Hanjian seemed exhausted and unwell. His skin was darkened with sickness and his voice slightly cracked.
But Li Xueyue knew this man must've had a prominent presence in his youth. It must've diminished from whatever illness he was suffering with. Her gaze lingered upon his long beard that was well-kept.
"Oh my, I can see why the Crown Prince stayed longer than anticipated in Wuyi," the Emperor said and chuckled, but it sounded like a chortle.
Li Xueyue wondered if it was risky for him to be out here instead of resting in his bedroom. He seemed rather sick. From the corner of her eyes, she noticed someone standing at the end of the Throne Room. It was an elderly man dressed in humble attire. Perhaps the Imperial Physician?
"I've heard many things about you, Princess Li," the Emperor of Hanjian stated.
Li Xueyue's expression didn't change. It was calm and patient, waiting for his next words. But there was a slight curve to her lips—natural or not.
"I am curious, of course, of how a little lady such as yourself was able to speak her way out of becoming a candidate to be sent to Hanjian," he said.
"Why are you so silent?" he wondered out loud, offering an amused smile.
Li Xueyue could tell he was testing her. His comments weren't provocative but she heard the underlying threat from within it. The Emperor wanted to know if she was strong-natured enough to hold her tongue.
"Hmmm…" the Emperor hummed, observing the young woman in front of him. Indeed, her beauty was just as the rumors had stated.
But that wasn't her best feature. It was her eyes, clear and keen, like a reflective pond. She allowed people to see only what she wanted them to.
"Do you love the Crown Prince?" he abruptly asked, gauging her reaction. Not even a flinch.
Instead, she reacted with her eyes that softened at the mention of him. The smallest smile formed on her face. She didn't have to say it but it was written all over her forehead.
The Emperor smiled at this. "What type of relationship do you expect to have with the Crown Prince? Many women have said they have as much love for the Crown Prince as there are droplets in the ocean."
Li Xueyue was caught off guard by these unexpected questions. It felt like she was being tested for the role of the Crown Princess. She knew Yu Zhen had many admirers but who was courageous enough to make that statement? Nonetheless, she pushed the thoughts out of her head.
"Your Majesty, that is not love—it's an obsession. A love that drowns oceans is not my intent."
She was surprised by a loud laugh that rang throughout the Throne Room. The Emperor of Hanjian was amused, yet impressed by her words. It was the first time she had said something, yet it was poetic.
He observed the reaction of his Ministers who were taken aback by her words. A few even seemed captivated by her voice, powerful and sure of herself.
"As you know, Hanjian does not favor harems, but what if the Crown Prince takes another wife or two more after you, what shall you do?" he questioned.
Li Xueyue raised a brow. What else was she supposed to do?
"Are you willing to become a flower that innocently dies in the palace after being replaced by better ones?" he asked.
"A flower does not die. They simply wilt and wait to regrow."
The Emperor chuckled at her words. Now, he could see it; exactly what qualities made her shine.
"I am pleased that someone as wise as you will be joining the family," the Emperor declared.
Murmurs of agreement from the Ministers followed after. They quietly whispered amongst themselves. They were curious to see the limit of her wits.
Li Xueyue's eyes widened a bit. Did this mean he approved of her? Her gaze traveled to Yu Zhen who was the only one that read her expression. He gave her a nod so slightly, only she noticed it.
"I hope you bear lovely heirs for the Crown Prince," the Empress finally spoke up.
She scrutinized the woman in front of her. This girl was wise beyond her years as if she had experiences dealing with authoritative figures.
Li Xueyue's lips twitched. She didn't want to just become a birth giver. She wanted more than that.
"You seem hesitant," the Empress coyly said. "Why is that?"
"Your Grace, is that all a woman is worth…?" Li Xueyue's tone was gentle as if she was hesitant to question such a thing. Even her features showed her uncertainty.
The Empress saw beyond the act. She was stunned by the question, so much so, that she hadn't realized how audacious Li Xueyue was.
For some reason… this Princess reminded her of herself—wise, but washed away by the palace's cruelty.
The Empress's red lips tilted into a smile. She was interested in seeing Li Xueyue's capabilities.
If the young Princess properly used the weapon between her legs to get what she wanted… perhaps, Li Xueyue wouldn't have to live the same life as the Empress who wanted to rule Hanjian through her children.
"What a unique question to ask," the Empress stated.
Li Xueyue smiled and bowed her head. "You're too kind, Your Grace."
The Empress raised a brow. She had purposely made a jab disguised as a compliment.
Did the Princess truly not realize the insult? But then realization dawned on her. When Li Xueyue raised her head, there was a fiery glint in her eyes as if she was ready to accept any challenge thrown her way.
"I look forward to what you can offer besides heirs, Li Xueyue," she said.
Li Xueyue's smile widened. She slowly nodded her head and dipped into a curtsey, knowing the discussion had come to an end.