"Perhaps," Li Xueyue finally said.
In an instant, everyone's attention latched onto her—like mosquitoes on flesh. It was almost comical that these women were attempting to insult her. Her thick skin was too tough to be cut by their words.
"You have trauma after the Crown Prince kicked you out from this estate yesterday," Li Xueyue commented.
She placed a hand upon her chest as her brows came together in worry. Her eyes softened and she nodded in understanding.
Li Xueyue watched in satisfaction as Xu Jiaqi stiffened, her eyes snapping upwards.
"N-no, the Crown Prince doesn't frighten me—"
Li Xueyue offered the quivering woman a gentle, sympathetic smile. "Then, were you worried about people finding out that you were last night even though you weren't summoned?" she added on.
Xu Jiaqi's throat went dry at Li Xueyue's words. Truthfully, she wasn't scared of anything.
She was in this estate just this morning but these women didn't know that. Most certainly, the Empress also didn't, whose gaze sharpened at the newfound knowledge.
"What were you doing here yesterday, Xu Jiaqi?" the Empress questioned, turning to the shivering woman. Her lips curled upwards in encouragement.
"Your Grace…" Xu Jiaqi trailed off, her voice dying off towards the end.
What was she supposed to say? She couldn't remember much about her drunken night, except begging for the position as a concubine—a title that every lady-in-waiting wanted.
Xu Jiaqi's attention briefly drifted to Li Xueyue. She could do nothing but gawk at the unwavering woman. A white lotus. That was exactly what the Crown Princess was.
"I wanted to…" Xu Jiaqi paused, unable to come up with a response that wouldn't put her in jeopardy. She pressed her lips together and stared at the floor.
Li Xueyue raised a brow. She expected more of her opponent, but it seemed Xu Jiaqi was just a small fish. She was instantly bored of this conversation. Her time could've been spent elsewhere.
"But, Crown Princess," a woman quickly spoke up. "How did you know our Lady Xu was excused from the estate? Were you also there?"
Li Xueyue tilted her head. Why did it matter? She was the Crown Princess. Did she need a reason to visit her soon-to-be husband? Her face said it all. Disappointment reflected in her eyes.
She merely gave the woman a look and kept her mouth shut. Her silence must've made them nervous for they quickly spoke up.
"Of course, I assume your presence is always welcomed here, Princess," the woman stated. "It's just… we wouldn't want illegitimate heirs running around the estate."
Li Xueyue pressed her lips together. These women were brazen. It was broad daylight and they were in a public area. Anyone could overhear this conversation.
She merely crossed her arms and kept quiet. Her attention shifted back to the Empress. Li Xueyue noted the Empress had been watching her for a while now.
As another woman of high power, Li Xueyue hoped the Empress understood the meaning of her actions.
"There is no need to stand around here," the Empress lightly commented. "The sun is high above us. Let's enjoy tea in the gardens."
The Empress decided this conversation would go nowhere. Li Xueyue remained unprovoked to all of the shameless comments. She wanted to know why Li Xueyue refused to fight back. In high society, words were weapons. Did she come unprepared to argue?
But then, she saw it.
The smallest lift of her lips. For a split second there, the Empress saw a genuine smile.
"Thank you for your generous offer, Your Grace," Li Xueyue answered without hesitation. "I'm afraid I will have to refuse."
The Empress was shocked by her outright refusal. "And why is that, Crown Princess?"
Li Xueyue briefly glanced at all of the ladies-in-waiting. Her intentions were clear. She didn't want to dine with these blabbering women.
"Too many voices in a discussion will drown out the purpose," Li Xueyue explained.
The Empress fondly smiled at her words. She knew the real reason why. It was the rules of etiquette. Masters do not dine with their servants. Nor, do the higher class answer to the lower ranks.
It seemed her predictions weren't off. Li Xueyue exhibited great decorum. She was wise with her words, responding only to people she had to.
The Empress realized Li Xueyue had purposely refused to say anything to these rotten women. She concealed her amusement. The Crown Princess was bold and reminded the Empress of her younger self.
"Very well," the Empress stated in a light, airy voice. Her anger was long soothed, and she nodded in approval.
Li Xueyue felt relieved. It seemed the Empress had not misunderstood her intentions.
"I look forward to conversing with you again," the Empress commented.
Li Xueyue simply smiled. She folded her hands to one side and dipped in a curtsy, bidding the Empress goodbye.
The Empress hid her amusement and turned on her heels. She walked off, knowing exactly who had won this fight.
On the surface, it seemed the ladies-in-waiting had done the most damage. But in reality, these jabs didn't even faze Li Xueyue. The Crown Princess answered to no one but her higher-ups.
- - - - -
Li Xueyue waited for them to all leave before she went in the other direction. She didn't want to run into them again. Well, the Empress seemed fine. But those ladies were irritating.
Li Xueyue finally knew what irked these women. Silence. When she didn't respond, these women were forced to scramble for something else to say to prolong the conversation and keep it going. They had expected her to argue back and make a fool out of herself.
But she didn't.
Li Xueyue had purposely let the argument die down. It forced them to rethink their words and realize the stupidity of their actions.
They had spoken directly to a Crown Princess, someone ranks above them and hoped for a response? It was a foolish thing. They had forgotten their place in the social hierarchy.
Nothing was better than making someone doubt themselves. By then, they would be arguing with their subconsciousness and not the intended target.
"That was interesting, wasn't it?" Li Xueyue commented, mainly to Yanxi who was a step behind her.
Yanxi concealed a smile. She had never served anyone, but had witnessed how vicious these women could be.
There were many women who had lost their prestige and reputation when they vied for the position of the Empress's ladies-in-waiting. There were even more who had lost their identity chasing after an unattainable dream.
So many have tried to win the Crown Prince's heart, but none have succeeded.
It took more than beauty to please the Empress. Wits were also important. As well as knowing your place.
"You did very well, Princess," Yanxi warmly said.
Yanxi was reassured today. She hadn't served the wrong Master. It seemed this Crown Princess was here to stay—for good.
"Shall we report this to the Crown Prince?" Yanxi questioned.
The Palace was cold to people without backings. It would benefit the Crown Princess if she had the ultimate support system.
Some would say the Emperor was the most powerful man, and the Empress was the most influential woman, but they had all forgotten who called the final shots.
"It's fine, I can handle it, " Li Xueyue said.
Today was a small victory. She didn't need Yu Zhen to intervene unless it was necessary.
She glanced towards her left. Flowers bloomed before her eyes, large and beautiful. The morning sun reflected off the dewy petals as a sweet, floral scent filled the air. The flowers were a whirlwind of beauty, but there was no one to appreciate it.
"I assume this is only the beginning of my troubles," Li Xueyue murmured.
Li Xueyue he was fine with that. In the end, she had pleased the only woman that mattered—the Empress of Hanjian.
Everyday would be a battle, but she wouldn't go down without a fight.
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