371 Prepare Yourself
Days trickled by, and eventually, the day of the Round Table Discussion approached.
Li Xueyue had woken up earlier than usual but Yu Zhen was one step ahead of her. For the first time since their wedding night, she had woken up alone.
Li Xueyue touched the other side of the enormous bed. It was cold. It seemed Yu Zhen had been awake for a while. It was a wonder how he had the energy to be up so early, especially after how many times they've made love the night before.
"Where does he get all of that stamina from?" Li Xueyue grumbled under her breath. She struggled to get out of bed, her legs shaking.
No matter how many times they did it, her body was still unused to his pure strength.
Li Xueyue was certain there were bruises on her inner thighs. He loved to grip there, his thumb pressing into the sensitive skin whenever he had a meal from her.
Even now, she could remember his burning gaze when their eyes met. She'd blush red, and he'd only tease her further.
"G-good morning, Princess Li," the maidservants greeted. They bowed their heads, hoping to conceal their reddened face. They too, couldn't get used to the sight of the love bites on the Crown Princess.
It seemed the Crown Prince simply couldn't get enough of his wife. By now, rumors have spread like wildfire. They spoke of the Crown Prince's affections towards the Princess.
The majority of gossip was about his stamina. There were talks of the candles in their room being lit until the next morning. It was a miracle that the Crown Princess could even walk afterwards.
"Draw the baths," Li Xueyue instructed. Even though Yu Zhen had cleaned her the night before, she still felt sticky.
"As you wish, Princess," the maidservants responded. Two of them left the room to fulfill her command.
Li Xueyue was unfazed by the absence of Xu Jiaqi. After the incident a few days ago, the lady-in-waiting had surprisingly disappeared. Without a doubt, it was the doing of Yu Zhen or the Empress.
"Is that the morning tea?" Li Xueyue asked when one of the maidservants carried a tray forward with a teapot and teacup.
"Princess, this is a gift from the Empress," the maidservant said in a soft, meek voice.
Li Xueyue didn't need any further explanation. It was most likely tea meant for boosting fertility. Yesterday, the Imperial Physician came along to examine her.
She couldn't forget the disappointment on the Empress's face when he announced the Crown Princess wasn't with a child.
The Emperor on the other hand seemed unbothered by the news. There was a flash of patient understanding in his eyes when he reassured her that everything would be fine.
"Very well," Li Xueyue responded.
She took a glance at the freshly poured tea. Steam rose from the teacup as an unpleasant scent reached her nose. The tea smelled medicinal. It was difficult to ignore the strong herbal smell.
Li Xueyue held her breath and drank the tea in one gulp. She winced at how bitter it was. But it was a good thing for it was a testament to its quality—high quality medicines usually taste bitter.
The Empress must've really wanted grandchildren.
Li Xueyue took a bite of the dried plum that accompanied the tea. However, the drink was so bitter that it was overpowering. Even the sweet and sour juices of the dried plum couldn't wash the bitterness away.
"There's more?" Li Xueyue said when the maidservant poured her another cup.
"Yes, Princess," she responded.
Li Xueyue held back a grimace. She didn't dare to complain even if the maidservants were loyal to her. The Empress was doing this for her own good.
Just as Li Xueyue finished the last drop of the tea, the maidservants from earlier entered her room again.
"Princess, the bath has been drawn."
Li Xueyue nodded her head as she placed the teacup back onto the tray. She hoped the pungent taste would go away or else breakfast would taste horrible.
- - - - -
After Li Xueyue was thoroughly cleaned, she was rushed off to be dressed.
"Keep it simple today," Li Xueyue instructed the maidservants. They were perplexed by her words.
"No fancy gold or jewels," she added on when someone approached her with hairpins.
Despite their initial bewilderment, the maidservants obliged with her command. They didn't dare to disobey the Crown Princess, especially when she had the strongest backing in the palace.
Who else could be more powerful than the crude Crown Prince?
Li Xueyue sat there patiently as the maidservants dressed her in a more humble attire than usual. She ensured the theme would be elegance and nothing more. There was no need to show off today.
"Yes, the silver is fine," she said when the maidservants presented her with two options.
"No, this rogue is too red," Li Xueyue stated. "Remove it. The makeup should be more natural."
Li Xueyue smiled when the maidservants presented her with a peachy pink. She allowed it to be applied. Minutes went by, and soon, she was all dressed.
Li Xueyue stood up to check on her appearance. In contrast to the other days, she felt much lighter. It was mainly because her jewelry was kept to a minimum.
Her clothes were airy and lightly colored. She was dressed in all white, except for the light blue ribbon on her waist, and the peek of color under her sleeves. The edges of the hanfu were rimmed with the cerulean blue, adding yet another touch of grace.
Li Xueyue nodded in satisfaction. "This is perfect," she said.
Surprise filled the maidservants' faces, yet again. This was one of the rare times the Crown Princess complimented them. It was short but they treasured it. The rarity of such a thing made them work harder, to hear more of it.
Perhaps… there could be a favourable outcome to her words.
- - - - -
Li Xueyue hadn't seen Yu Zhen all morning, but it was fine. He had prepped her the day before of what was to come. Despite that, she felt her heart beating faster with each step. The closer they approached the meeting room, the more nervous she felt.
From what she was told, the most important people of the country would be gathered in that room. There would be a representative from each faction and sector of the country, ranging from trade to military to agriculture.
"Just breathe," she reminded herself in a small voice that only she heard.
"You've prepared yourself for this," she added on.
Turns out, the first draft of ideas was found in the meadow. It was handed back by the servants who were sent out to retrieve her fallen hair accessories.
Li Xueyue was worried that someone else might have read what was written on the parchment before it was handed back to her.
Even if the servants swore they brought it here without showing anyone, Li Xueyue was still uncertain. She was just glad that everything written was vague and her handwriting resembled chicken scratch.
"It'd be a miracle if someone could read my messy handwriting," she whispered to herself.
Yu Zhen said the same thing. He had taken one glance at her first draft and returned it. He couldn't read a single thing she wrote. He thought back to the letters he received from her and wondered how many times she had rewritten them just so that they were legible.
It might've been more than five times… but that wasn't the point was it?
"Princess, we have arrived," the maidservants informed her.
Li Xueyue snapped back to reality. She was now standing before two sets of looming doors that were much taller than her. They were painted a bright red, warning trespassers to turn the other way.
Guards lined both sides of the hallway.
The Eunuchs pushed the doors open, revealing the loud argument taking place around the enormous table.
"Announcing the arrival of Crown Princess Li Xueyue of Wuyi!" he announced.
Every pair of eyes darted to Li Xueyue.