Li Xueyue's mind went blank. Her smile froze and she stared at the child in utter disbelief. Did… did this little boy, no more than the age of three, declare Yu Zhen was his father? As in, Crown Prince Yu Zhen? As in, that brute of a Commander?!
She blinked—once, twice— before doing a double-take and letting out an awkward laugh. She was dumbfounded by the little boy's words. A
t what age would Yu Zhen have fathered a child? But he was older than her by five years. It wouldn't be surprising if he had a child this young.
"Uhm," she struggled to find her next words.
Li Xueyue didn't even know what to say. She could only force her smile and try not to overthink the situation.
Who was this child's mother? Was she still around? How come no one told her about this little boy? She was going to be his step-mother. Wouldn't it have been better to introduce this kid earlier to her?
"Are you alright?" the little boy sullenly asked.
Li Xueyue rapidly nodded her head despite the anxiety she felt.
"Of course, don't worry," she responded.
Li Xueyue cleared her throat. "W-well, why don't we take you to your father right now?" she said.
The little boy blinked at her words and squeezed hand in response.
Li Xueyue's lips felt strained from the smile. She wanted to frown but couldn't. It wasn't in her nature to blame a child for their parents' sins—especially when the same thing happened to her.
She held back a sigh and straightened up. Together, they walked down the stone pavement that led back to the wooden structure of the hallway.
They turned a corner and found a guard who pointed them towards the right direction back to the Crown Princess's estate.
The guard gawked at the child but said nothing. He even offered to take them back there himself but the little boy was terrified.
"No…" he whispered, clinging onto Li Xueyue's leg in fear.
Li Xueyue carefully reached a hand out to pat the top of his head, hoping it would soothe him.
"That's alright," she said. "I can get back on my own."
The guard bowed in response. "Very well, Princess."
Li Xueyue caressed the little boy's head again, assuring him that everything would be fine. He merely stared up at her with large eyes. It hurt to see such a young boy lose faith in the world.
She wondered exactly what happened to him.
It didn't take long for Li Xueyue to eventually spot a maidservant. The maidservant deeply bowed at the sight of the Crown Princess.
"Princess," the maidservant greeted in a respectful voice. But her eyes couldn't help but wander to the little boy accompanying the Princess.
"Guide me back to my estate," Li Xueyue instructed just as the child clung onto her legs again. His tiny hands grabbed at her clothes, wrinkling every part he touched.
But Li Xueyue didn't mind. The wrinkles in silk would always go away. She fondly stroked the back of his head again, brushing strands of hair out of his face. He seemed more comfortable with her now.
"Understood, Princess," the maidservant said.
Together, they walked to the Crown Princess's estate. Everywhere they walked, people stopped and bowed to show the Princess respect. A few even stared at the child. They were startled to see the little boy, for many recognized him. Who wouldn't?
"We're here, Princess," the maidservant stated.
Li Xueyue nodded in response. She was grateful to see the familiar layout in front of her.
"Let's go," she whispered to the boy as they walked hand-in-hand down the hallways.
His curious eyes took everything in, watching the grandeur with awe. Once upon a time, he, too, lived in such a place.
But he couldn't remember the specifics of it. Everything in his mind was a blur. He recalled the tender hands of a woman, but her face and name were long gone from his memory.
"Your father has a lot of explaining to do," Li Xueyue mumbled under her breath. Without hesitation, she walked in the direction of Yu Zhen's private study.
"Greetings, Crown Princess," the Eunuch said with a deep bow. "How may I assist you, Princess?"
Li Xueyue pressed her lips together. The pendant she had dropped last time was safely inside her pocket. That day, she had picked it up shortly before entering his private study.
Li Xueyue debated the idea of surprising Yu Zhen, but then again, what could be a bigger shock than seeing her with his child?
"Is the Crown Prince inside?" Li Xueyue asked.
The Eunuch slowly shook his head. "I'm afraid not, Princess. The Crown Prince hasn't returned here ever since he left moments ago."
Li Xueyue raised a brow. Did that mean Yu Zhen was still searching for her? She wondered if she should head back to her room.
But then, she saw him, out of the corner of her eye. She opened her mouth, ready to call out to him, but paused. Xu Jiaqi was making her way towards Yu Zhen.
Li Xueyue observed the encounter. Xu Jiaqi lowered herself into a bow but Yu Zhen walked past her. He treated her like air. The satisfaction of seeing that lifted the corner of her lips.
A moment later, she frowned. Jealousy was not a good color in her. She couldn't help it. He brought out the worst from her.
"Crown Prince," Li Xueyue coldly addressed when he was close enough to see her. She released the child's hand and placed her hands to one side, dipping into a curtsy of her own.
She could feel his glower before seeing it. He was furious at her greeting. But she didn't care. How could he have kept the existence of this child from her?
Li Xueyue raised her head, but his attention was no longer on her. It was on the child who clung at her legs and hid himself behind it.
"Get inside," he harshly said, gesturing to his private study.
Li Xueyue didn't need to be told twice. She glared back at him and placed an encouraging hand upon the child's upper back. She guided him inside with Yu Zhen closely following behind her.
The child jumped when the doors were loudly slammed shut. He let out a small whimper and clung onto her legs, hiding behind it.
"Whose child is that hiding behind you?" Yu Zhen demanded. He reached a hand out to grab the child's shoulder but she slapped it.
Li Xueyue turned around. She nearly stumbled as the child shifted to match her movements. He continued to hug her leg, using it as a barrier against the frightsome man.
"You mean to tell me you don't even recognize your own son?" Li Xueyue bit out.
"What the hell are you talking about?"
Li Xueyue narrowed her eyes. She gestured to the child behind her. "This little boy said you're his father."
Yu Zhen narrowed his eyes. "I have never fathered a child."
Li Xueyue crossed her arms. "Children do not lie."
"Children say whatever comes to mind," Yu Zhen gritted out. "You're mad at me again. Why?"
Li Xueyue couldn't believe he was asking such a foolish question. Why else wouldn't she be mad? First, he had a son, and secondly, he outright lied to her face.
Yu Zhen looked down at the child who hid himself behind Li Xueyue. A small little bean like that was causing him this much trouble? He would not have it. Without warning, he approached her and grabbed the child.
She gasped, reaching for his wrist. "You'll hurt him!" she exclaimed. She was too late.
Yu Zhen had pulled the child by his shoulders. The little boy cried in response, fighting against his hand.
"Stop it!" Li Xueyue scolded, rushing forward to the child's aid. She shoved Yu Zhen's hand away and kneeled to the child's height.
"Does it hurt?" she whispered, gesturing to his shoulders. Without warning, the boy threw his arms around her.
Li Xueyue blinked in surprise. She slowly patted his upper back as he wrapped himself around her neck.
"This isn't my child."
Li Xueyue scowled. "How can you handle him like that? Kids are fragile!"
Yu Zhen pressed his lips together. It was such an endearing moment for him to witness. She would be a great mother. But that wasn't the main point of this discussion.
"Do you know who that child belongs to?" he hissed.
"No, my little fool."
Her head snapped up at his words.
"The child in your arms belongs to Viscount Bai Sheng and Viscountess Mu Yihua."
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