Li Xueyue didn't realize how much emphasis Hanjian placed on skincare until she started living here. The night prior to her wedding, she went through another intensive round of skincare routine when she had already gone through it once not too long ago. She could do nothing but silently go through the entire process again.
The next morning, she was awakened just as the sun began to rise in the sky. Hordes of maidservants entered her room and she was barely awake as they started to dress her up for the wedding.
A traditional wedding headdress rested on her head with strings of beaded gold that dangled in front of her eyes, concealing her features. Her vision was blurred by it.
"This is tradition, Princess," one of the maidservants explained as they placed another hairpin into her hair designed like the feathers of a phoenix. Golden flowers bloomed upon her head, as all sorts of jewels adorned each piece.
Li Xueyue didn't ask anymore questions afterward. She had lost track of time, as she resigned herself to a lengthy preparation session to get her ready.
Time went by, and eventually, the festive music could be heard in the air. Finally, when the sun was high in the sky, she was fully dressed.
"Oh my…" A few maidservants sucked in sharp breaths as awe filled their faces. They had never seen anyone more beautiful than the Crown Princess.
Li Xueyue stood up, and she too was mesmerized by the woman in the mirror. Her lips were painted ruby red as kohl rimmed her eyes, sharpening the edges into a fierce, but compassionate stare.
The hanfu she wore was a passionate red. Golden flowers bloomed upon the edges of her sleeves, as chrysanthemums branched upon the bottom of her long dress. Rubies were strategically placed which glistened every time she moved.
When Li Xueyue turned, she could see it: the fluttering feathers of a phoenix opening its wings, preparing to take flight. It was embroidered onto the back of her dress.
"The finishing touches," one of the maidservants stated as three came forward.
A long, sheer cape was draped over her shoulders. It touched the floor and created a train of fabric behind her.
Rings of golden leaves lined the edges, like swirls of fire. It gathered at the center of the cape and climbed its way up, creating a dazzling design.
"This dress is clearly made for you, Princess," a handmaiden exclaimed.
Li Xueyue merely smiled in response. She was too overwhelmed with emotions to comprehend all of this. As a little girl, she didn't dare to dream of marriage. But look at her now; she was soon to be wed.
- - - - -
A long, red carpet lined the pavement leading to the Throne Room. Many servants and Eunuchs were all gathered there and together, they bowed at her arrival. Some held up long umbrellas that shielded her from the glaring sun.
A sheer veil was placed over the Crown Princess's head so no one was able to see her face. But everyone knew—she was a great beauty. From her confident footwork, and the gentle sway of her clothes, she was a vision to behold.
Despite the excited murmurings, the festive music, and the background noises, Li Xueyue heard nothing but the loud thumping of her rapidly beating heart.
Firecrackers went off in the streets of the Capital to celebrate the wedding. The palace walls were also lined with red wedding decorations.
But the beauty couldn't be admired by Li Xueyue. The red veil over her head made everything blurry. She couldn't even see ahead of her.
"One step… two step," Li Xueyue whispered to herself, terrified of tripping and making a fool out of herself.
A long trail of fabric followed behind her, so much so that the end of it barely touched the bottom steps when she was already halfway up the staircase.
Suddenly, a rough wind picked up, and her cape caught flight.
"How could this be?"
Murmurings and astonished gasps could be heard from the guests composed of Ministers of the Courts, influential aristocrats and elites of their society. There were even foreign envoys who had traveled from all parts of the country to bring forth exotic and expensive gifts as a diplomatic gesture.
For a split second, people thought they saw wings of fire, like that of a soaring bird. And if only these people knew… the little sparrow had finally learned to take flight.
It didn't take long for them to realize how auspicious that moment was. It was as if Heaven itself was declaring Li Xueyue as the next Empress of Hanjian.
Li Xueyue couldn't see much, but she could feel every pair of eyes watching her. It only added to her anxiety.
At a time like this, she desperately missed the twins. They would've whispered words of encouragement to her prior to this momentous event. Or perhaps, her mother would've reassured her that it is but a walk. And her father would make a small joke to ease her anxiety.
None of the Li Family members could make it, and she didn't blame them. She was finally an adult now.
And then, the unthinkable happened. As Li Xueyue neared the top of the staircase, her shoes were caught in her dress and she nearly tripped.
Her heart had never plummeted so fast. Miraculously, she didn't fall forward, nor did her knees buckle. Instead, a pair of sturdy arms grasped upon her elbows, steadying her.
"Yu Zhen…?" she whispered, unsure of who else it would be.
Her stomach churned when she heard a deep, mellow chuckle. He helped her with the final step.
"Who else would dare to touch you?" Yu Zhen mused.
Li Xueyue blinked. She heard the tremor of his voice, breathless and astonished. She didn't understand why until he stepped closer to her.
"I have never seen anything so stunning," he murmured.
"Well… I can't see anything," she mumbled.
"Pft," a small laugh escaped from his mouth.
A silence fell over the crowd of people. They had rarely seen the Crown Prince smile, much less grin like now. His eyes twinkled with mirth that many had never seen.
"A little longer," he reassured her with the gentle squeeze of her hand.
Li Xueyue slowly nodded. She was aware of the hundreds of pairs of eyes set upon her. Now that Yu Zhen was beside her, she was no longer nervous. He gave her the confidence she couldn't find.
"Announcing the arrival of His Highness, the Rising Sun of Hanjian, Crown Prince Yu Zhen and his Wangfei, Princess Li Xueyue of Wuyi!" a Eunuch loudly declared.
Li Xueyue's heart lurched. Her palms turned clammy and she knew it was time to embrace her new life. She tucked her hands in opposite sleeves until the edges of her sleeves met.
"I'm right here, Sunshine. Everything will be alright," he whispered as they took the first step forward, then another, and soon, they were in front of the throne.
Li Xueyue bowed before the Emperor and Empress at the same time that Yu Zhen did. Her heart prickled with the thought that neither of them would be able to bow to the Li Family. She was regretful that they couldn't come, but understood the reasons why.
Her mother and father couldn't just up and leave the throne all at once. Neither could the Crown Prince of Wuyi risk his life to travel to Hanjian. Li Wenmin was also occupied with his duties as the Military Head of Wuyi. They were all weighed down with their respective responsibilities and work.
"You may rise," the Emperor stated.
Li Xueyue did so.
And soon, the wedding ceremony commenced. First, they kowtowed to the Heavens, then the parents, and then, the Jade Emperor. Afterwards, the tea ceremony was performed. Tea was served with two red dates, dried longyan, and lotus seeds brewed in the cup.
Servants assisted in preparing the cups of sweet tea and they were brought forward in four individual trays.
"Breathe," Yu Zhen reminded her in a low murmur.
He was well-aware of how nerve-racking all of this must've been. He sensed her fear of making a mistake, especially in front of so many watchful eyes.
"Thank you…" she responded in an equally quiet voice.
Yu Zhen presented the Emperor with the first cup of tea. Once he finished it, Li Xueyue also presented the Emperor with a cup of tea. In a similar fashion, the tea was offered to the Empress.
Next, the Emperor and Empress gave their blessings to the newlyweds which included gifts of gold, precious jewels, rolls of silk, jadeite accessories, and the list went on. The worth of these gifts combined was equivalent to the ones that the Li Family had sent over recently.
"You're doing very well, Sunshine," Yu Zhen assured her after the tea ceremony was finished.
Li Xueyue nodded at his words, the beads of her headdress swayed with her small movement. His presence was comforting to her racing heart.
Once the most nerve-racking moments were over, the enormous celebration began. Music played as laughters and cheerful conversations filled the hall. Baijiu and a wide variety of dishes were served, from abalone, lobsters, sea cucumbers to bird's nest soup  and the list went on.
People came to congratulate her, all of whom were friends of Yu Zhen. There were also many aristocrats who stepped forward with compliments and well wishes.
"You look very beautiful today, Princess," Lu Tianbi stated.
"I agree! I wonder which realm of Heaven you escaped from to bless my brother," Yu Lingluo exclaimed.
Li Xueyue was grateful to see Yu Zhen's acquaintances. Without a doubt, if the Li Family were here, they would've been emotional.
She was deeply touched by everyone's words, but she couldn't focus. Why? The sun was rapidly setting in the sky, painting it with hues of orange and pink.
The wedding night was approaching.
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