When the Emperor and the Empress finally left, Yu Zhen guided Li Xueyue back to her estate. They walked in comfortable silence, hand in hand.
"You didn't let out a sigh of relief," he pointed out.
Li Xueyue tilted her head. She turned to look at him and shielded her eyes. The sun shoneshined directly upon him. The light cascaded upon him, bright and blinding, until everyone was forced to look away.
Li Xueyue knew she would forever be awestruck of him. His prominent features were hard to ignore. He was truly a masterpiece.
"I wasn't anxious the entire time, so there was nothing to be relieved about…" Li Xueyue trailed off when he began to caress the side of her face.
She blinked in confusion. For a split second there, she thought he was mesmerized by something. But she brushed it off. It must've been a trick of the light.
"You look lovely, Sunshine."
Li Xueyue's head snapped up at his words. She rarely heard compliments like this.
"Pft," Yu Zhen let out a chuckle. He released her hand and pulled her close. "Why do you seem so surprised?"
Yu Zhen was worried when he saw her blank stare. He wanted to grab her attention but her mind was elsewhere. He gave a harsh tug until her palm was pressed against his chest.
"Are you just going to ignore me—"
"I've rarely been complimented…" Li Xueyue murmured.
Li Xueyue bit her bottom lip, hating the fact that she had to admit to something so embarrassing. And even if people did compliment her, she wouldn't believe it. The Bai Family had instilled those thoughts into her.
"That's impossible," Yu Zhen grunted. He grabbed her hand and pressed a small kiss against her fingertips.
"Every part of you is flawless. Don't you realize it?" he demanded.
Yu Zhen felt a strange ache in his chest when she slowly shook her head.
Li Xueyue was a vision to behold. How could she not see it? The way people stopped to stare and admire her beauty. The rush in men's eyes when she stepped into their line of sight. It was so obvious that even he noticed it.
"Well then, I'll remind you every day of your beauty and perfection until you finally realize it yourself," Yu Zhen vowed.
Li Xueyue's lips parted. She didn't believe he would burden himself with this task. And if only she'd know, he'd do just that.
- - - - -
When Li Xueyue returned to her room, it was already late in the evening. The audience in the throne room had taken up the entire morning and parts of the afternoon.
"Finally." She let out a sigh.
Yanxi removed the last piece of hair accessory and helped release the Princess's hair from the flower bun.
The other maidservants rushed to prepare the Princess's bath.
Li Xueyue's shoulder relaxed upon stepping into the large wooden tub. One handmaiden massaged her tense body whilst the others sprinkled the rose petals and ensured the temperature was perfect.
It didn't take long for her to be cleaned, thoroughly dried off and changed into a sleeping gown.
"Your dinner is ready, Princess," Yanxi stated just as the Crown Princess emerged from the bathing station.
The doors behind her were closed by a maidservant.
"The Crown Prince isn't joining me?" Li Xueyue asked.
She stepped forward and peered down at the dishes. Delectable scents filled her nostrils but she wasn't hungry.
Li Xueyue had a big lunch with Yu Zhen. Once they took a break for lunch in the afternoon, he ensured she was eating sufficiently. In front of him, she returned to her usual glutinous self.
But now that she was eating alone, it was different. She was no longer hungry.
Li Xueyue wondered exactly why. She thought back to the times she'd eat more than two bowls of rice.
A smile formed when she recalled fond memories of fighting Li Wenmin. Oddly enough, they shared the same taste in food and favorite dishes. She supposed eating with other people made the meal enjoyable.
"Unfortunately not, Princess Li," Yanxi responded.
Yanxi was worried for the Princess. She noticed the Princess always had a great appetite around the Crown Prince.
But when alone, the Princess would take small nibbles of food, then declare she was full.
Often, the Princess would tell the servants to take the dishes and share it amongst themselves. It was a kind and thoughtful gesture, but it made Yanxi fret over the Princess's wellbeing.
Tonightday was no different. A few minutes after eating, the Crown Princess settled down her utensils.
"I'm full," Li Xueyue stated. "There is still a lot of food left behind. Please have the maidservants enjoy it amongst themselves."
"Princess…" Yanxi trailed off. "This morning, the Crown Prince has ordered us to make sure you to finish at least one bowl of rice."
Li Xueyue's lips curved downwards. But she wasn't hungry. Her rice bowl was still full and she had mainly drank the soup.
"I'll speak to the Crown Prince about this," Li Xueyue said.
"Please, Princess, this bowl of rice must be emptied or else all of the servants will be thoroughly punished," Yanxi pleaded.
Li Xueyue scowled at this. Yu Zhen, that brute! She glared down at the bowl of rice, her stomach churning uncomfortably.
"Where is the Crown Prince?" Li Xueyue questioned whilst standing up.
"Princess, he's currently occupied with work," Yanxi responded with clasped hands.
She took a glance towards the slightly touched bowl of rice. Not even children ate that little.
Yanxi wasn't just worried about the servants' lives, but also the Crown Princess. Yanxi had always ensured everyone was well-fed, especially the children.
She felt like it was her duty to ensure the Crown Princess wouldn't go hungry, even if it was an unlikely possibility.
"Take me to him," Li Xueyue stated.
Yanxi hesitated. "The food—"
"It's alright, Yanxi, I'll make sure he doesn't touch my people," Li Xueyue comforted. She didn't know she had misunderstood Yanxi's concern.
"If we visit the Crown Prince, he will surely question whether you ate properly or not. Before we give him a reason to deny your request, wouldn't it be best to address the problem first?" Yanxi offered.
Yanxi knew her life was at risk for being bold with her words today. She had ignored the command of an authoritative figure.
Li Xueyue didn't want to argue any longer. She knew Yanxi would continue to fret and worry. She held back a sigh and sat down, finishing half the bowl of rice, plus another bowl of soup.
Yanxi wasn't satisfied by the amount of food consumed but didn't want to complain any longer.
At least the Princess had two bowls of the nutritious broth. Yanxi had specifically made sure the chef added all sorts of nutritious ingredients into the soup, hoping that it would replenish the Princess's strength.
"Alright, let's go and see him," Li Xueyue said after taking a sip of the Jasmine tea. It cleaned her palette until she tasted nothing but the sweet flower.
"Oh wait," she spoke up.
Yanxi was surprised when the Princess suddenly stood up and left the dining room. A minute later, she returned.
"Alright, lead the way," Li Xueyue said.
Yanxi reluctantly guided the Crown Princess to the Second Prince's private study. It was a place that seemed empty to the eye where only a handful of guards could be seen. But there was much more than what meets the eye.
Yanxi knew there were many more guards hidden in the shadows. Whether it was upon the ceilings, hidden in the darkness, or between the walls.
"No need to announce my arrival," Li Xueyue told the Eunuch. "I'll surprise him."
The Eunuch hesitated. He was supposed to knock first, then enter the room to check if the guest would be allowed in. Not many people were granted access to the Crown Prince's heavily-guarded private study.
"I apologize, Princess, but the protocol…" the Eunuch trailed off, his eyes growing larger than the moon outside.
He couldn't help his jaw from dropping in pure shock.
Dangling between the Crown Princess's fingertips was a prominent slab of obsidian. To be exact, the Crown Prince's pendant.
The Eunuch bowed as deep as his upper body would allow him to. Words couldn't describe just how powerful the item she possessed. The Eunuch didn't dare to deny her of the request to enter without permission.
After all, she possessed the Crown Prince's pendant. Not even the Emperor himself had given his nameplate to the Empress. Though Hanjian didn't have this tradition, it was still a momentous course of action.
"V-very well, Princess Li," the Eunuch stuttered out. He had always regarded her with respect, but seeing the pendant solidified it.
The Crown Princess was not someone to be trifled with. She wasn't the Crown Prince's fiancee in name.
Li Xueyue didn't think the pendant would come in handy but was grateful for it. Before leaving the room, she had a suspicion she'd need it. Thus, she had taken it from the drawers prior to exiting the room.
Li Xueyue glanced up at the enormous doors looming over her. There was a tiger head on either side of the door, meant for knocking.
"How pretty," she commented.
Pretty? The Eunuch was thrown off by her words. What could be so pretty about freightsome tigers? They were beasts who could tear the limbs off of people!
Nonetheless, the Eunuch bowed his head.
"Princess, let me help you open the doors," the Eunuch offered.
The Eunuch was mindful of his tone, never daring to raise it in fear of disturbing the Crown Prince or ruining the surprise.
After receiving a solid nod from the Crown Princess, the Eunuch opened the door. He was surprised when a loud thud was heard throughout the hallways. The pendant had slipped out of the Crown Princess's hand, falling onto the floor.
Li Xueyue couldn't control her face, nor her reaction. When your lover's face was close to another woman's, who could?
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