The next morning eventually rolled around. After a breakfast shared with Yu Zhen, Li Xueyue decided to take a stroll in the palace in search of a private space to practice archery.
As promised, Yu Zhen had ordered a set of weapons for her, all of which would be delivered soon. Before that, she wanted to find the perfect spot to train.
"Is it this way?" Li Xueyue questioned one of the maidservants who was trailing behind her.
"Yes, Princess. It is said there is a private training ground located at the side of the palace."
Li Xueyue nodded her head and continued walking in that direction. She stopped before an enormous door with large and tall fences surrounding it. There were guards stationed outside.
"Crown Princess," they greeted with bowed heads.
The ground slightly rumbled when the door slowly opened for her.
Li Xueyue was astonished by the sheer size of this place. The ground was even and the wind was blocked off by the fences despite it being an open space.
'How come I've never heard of this place before?' she thought to herself whilst walking through the small passage leading to the training ground.
It was then she heard the familiar whizz of an arrow. Li Xueyue made it out of the passage in time to see the arrow strike the target—except, it was a little bit off the center mark.
"That was impressive," Li Xueyue couldn't help but said. She turned her head, wondering who had such a good hand.
To her bewilderment, it was Lady Ge Beining. Unlike most archers, she was wearing her regular hanfu. It appeared lighter than the normal attire, but nonetheless, there were still long, dangling sleeves. The bottom of her skirts fluttered when she turned around to see who it was that spoke.
"Oh, Crown Princess," Lady Ge Beining said with a smile. She curtsied in greeting.
"I didn't know you were also skilled in archery," Li Xueyue mused.
"I didn't think you practiced archery either, Princess," Lady Ge Beining commented. Her voice was airy, almost as if she was always breathless.
She placed a hand upon her chest. "Pardon me, but I had always thought Wuyi women were too… docile to lift a weapon."
Li Xueyue heard the hesitation in Lady Ge Beining's voice. It was apparent that another word could be uttered in place of 'docile'.
Li Xueyue didn't respond. She simply smiled and glanced around. She tucked her arms behind her and began to freely explore this place. Out of the corner of her eye, something caught her attention.
It was a heavily guarded tent.
"Ah, Princess, you shouldn't approach that area," Lady Ge Beining said upon realizing the Crown Princess was heading towards the forbidden area.
"Why not?" Li Xueyue called back whilst continuing onwards. She was curious about what could be inside such a place.
Lady Ge Beining opened her mouth but hesitated. The Crown Princess was already close to the tent. There was no point in warning her anymore. She saw no benefit in arguing with the Princess.
Thus, Lady Ge Beining stood to the side, watching with a frown. The same expression formed on the Crown Princess's face.
"I warned you," Lady Ge Beining softly said under her breath, knowing what was to come. Perhaps the Princess deserved it for not heeding caution.
Lady Ge Beining's frown deepened when she saw the Crown Princess searching her pockets for something.
"How stubborn," she grumbled before shaking her head in disappointment. Just another spoiled Princess, that was all.
Lady Ge Beining had seen her fair share of people on imaginary high horses. They believed their authority could grant them any wish.
"Well, it's not my concern," she added on.
Lady Ge Beining reached into the quiver slung across her back. She pulled out an arrow and positioned it. However, she was distracted by the sound of shuffling clothes. Or was it… the shuffling of curtains?
She lowered her bow and arrow. A peculiar sight happened. The Crown Princess was gone. And the guards? They continued to bow their heads in respect even after the Crown Princess was no longer in sight.
- - - - -
"Oh my," Li Xueyue breathed out upon seeing the impressive collection of weapons. The tent was much larger than it seemed.
"Now I know why there was more than one guard stationed at either side of this tent."
Li Xueyue ran her fingers upon a bow made of wood and gold. There was an enormous ruby embellished on either side of the bow's arch. The jewel was shaped to resemble flames. Without a doubt, when sunlight pierced the equipment, the gem would give the illusion of fire.
"This should be stored elsewhere instead," she wondered out loud. It was unwise to have something so expensive out in the open, even if the tent was guarded.
"How pretty," she complimented whilst lifting one of the arrows. She ran a hand over the red feather trimmed with yellow and orange. This too, would give an illusion of trailblazing flames.
Li Xueyue wondered if the bow would be heavy. She picked it up and examined it, and was surprised by how light it was.
"Hmmm, I wonder how—"
Li Xueyue glanced back and noticed a figure standing near the entrance of the tent. She pressed her lips together, knowing whose voice it was.
With the bow still in hand, Li Xueyue headed towards the entrance of the tent. Lady Ge Beining was standing there with a concerned expression.
"It is dangerous, Princess," she said. "If the Crown Prince finds out you've trespassed into this place, he will not spare you."
Li Xueyue shrugged at her words. What was the most that Yu Zhen would do? Punish her in bed? She'd look forward to it.
"Please, return to the training grounds with me," Lady Ge Beining warned. "You mustn't disrespect the Imperial Family like this…" she trailed off.
Lady Ge Beining sharply gasped. She finally noticed the weapon in the Crown Princess's hand.
"Oh no!" Lady Ge Beining exclaimed, stepping forward, only to be blocked off by the guards.
"Halt! Not another step!" they barked out.
Lady Ge Beining was irritated by them. No one would stop her if the Crown Prince was here. He'd let her do as she pleased. But he wasn't here right now, was he?
"You should put that back, Princess!" Lady Ge Beining exasperated, her eyes wide with fear. She shook her head to emphasize her point.
"What gives you the right to command me around?" Li Xueyue finally said. She was disgruntled to hear the scolding.
"What do you mean, Princess...?" Lady Ge Beining trailed off. "All I'm saying is that the Crown Prince will not take this offense lightly. Not everyone is out to harm you, Princess."
Li Xueyue ignored her words. It seemed the Lady was as stubborn as her. It wasn't rude, neither was it polite.
Li Xueyue returned deeper into the tent. She heard the aggravated sighs of Lady Ge Beining. Oh well.
"Let's see…" she trailed off, attempting to remember where she found the bow.
Upon seeing the fiery arrows at a corner, she approached it. Li Xueyue then hung the bow in the way that it was found.
"The guards mentioned this is Yu Zhen's private tent," Li Xueyue mumbled. "But this bow is too small for his frame."
Nonetheless, Li Xueyue shrugged her shoulders and continued exploring the tent, observing the various weapons around. Everything here was mainly designed for air combat. For example, throwing spears made from exotic materials, boomerangs crafted from the lightest wood, and the list went on.
"He sure is a fan of weapons," she commented. Everything here must've cost a fortune. Perhaps, enough to buy out a small kingdom.
All of that wealth could've gone towards funding the common people...
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