Li Xueyue could feel the scrutiny upon her. People were waiting for her to do something. Anything would be appreciated at this point. No one else knew how to deal with the ill-tempered Crown Prince.
But before she could say anything else, Princess Mengjie cut in. "Who is your wife?"
Princess Mengjie glanced around, ignoring his initial threats. Words were just words. Real men talked with swords. Someone caught her attention. There was a beautiful woman in lavender and cerulean blue sitting beside the Empress. She was effortlessly one of the prettiest girls here.
"I see, it must be that woman right there," Princess Mengjie declared, pointing a finger at the woman.
Li Xueyue's brows drew together. She was puzzled as her head turned to looked towards the far left, where Princess Mengjie had pointed at.
Princess Mengjie thought Lady Ge Beining was the wife.
Lady Ge Beining was seated besides the Empress, despite her lowly rank. The Empress' favoritism was blatant, but no one blamed her. One glance at the beautiful Lady Ge Beining was enough to make people hopeful.
A murmur fell over the court, as people pitied the Crown Princess. She was beautiful, but none could compare to Lady Ge Beining.
"Do not put my lady-in-waiting in an uncomfortable situation." The Empress chuckled with a smile. She shook her head at the young Princess's ruthless statement.
"She is not the Crown Prince's wife."
"The Crown Prince?" Princess Mengjie repeated, her eyes going wide with the information. The man who she had fallen in love with was the Crown Prince?
The news should've terrified her, for his wife must be the Crown Princess. But it didn't. She was overjoyed that her heart fell for someone like him.
"Well, whoever his wife is must be compatible with the Crown Prince in terms of status and capabilities," Princess Mengjie stated. She revealed a haughty smile and turned to the man in question.
"If I beat your wife, you'll marry me."
The Emperor frowned at this. What a ruckus! He had hoped the Princesses who were sent to Hanjian were not this embarrassing. Then again, this type of behavior was welcomed in Nanhui, where everyone spoke their mind.
"Princess Mengjie, this behavior of yours is quite disappointing," the Emperor commented, despite the amusement on everyone's face. The people were entertained by her words, believing it was a joke.
"Emperor, my younger sister means no harm," the foreign Prince quickly explained. "Nanhui naturally prefers strong, capable allies, whether it's at the present or the future."
The foreign Prince revealed a large smile. "Whoever is the wife of the Crown Prince will one day become the mother of Hanjian. We would be assured that Hanjian is a dependable ally if the Crown Princess is capable enough to win a match against Nanhui's youngest Princess."
It was a trap. The Emperor was able to see right through this man. Was this Nanhui's way of forging alliances? By embarrassing the future rulers of Hanjian? He refused to stand for it.
But his wife had other thoughts. The Empress cared about what other people thought of Hanjian. If the Crown Princess was weak, then the future of Hanjian was weak.
As much as the Empress was impressed by Li Xueyue's words, she wanted to see if the Princess was truly capable. 'If I recall correctly… Ge Beining was also worried about the Crown Princess's capabilities. She's horrible in archery.'
The Empress glanced at Li Xueyue who had failed to subdue the Crown Prince. "What match do you have in mind?" she spoke up with a welcoming smile.
Instantly, Princess Mengjie perked up. "Archery and sword fighting. As you know, Nanhui specifically trains their women in these, since our terrains are mountainous."
Lady Ge Beining couldn't believe her luck. She shyly smiled at the floor, her lips twitching with amusement. It would be her victory. She prepared to stand up, but the Empress stopped her.
"And who would you like to challenge?" the Empress asked.
"Whoever is the wife of my man."
Li Xueyue's grip on Yu Zhen tightened. She knew he would take a step forward and end it all.
"I'll accept your challenge."
Yu Zhen's attention snapped to her. He grabbed her hand that held onto him, squeezing it. He didn't want her to compete. It would be dangerous. She could get hurt. But the determination in her mellow eyes was difficult to ignore.
"Hah, I thought you were a concubine. Who would've thought you'd be the first wife?" Princess Mengjie sneered. "Do not mock me, I will not compete against such a tiny woman."
"Well, Princess," the Empress softly said. "This is the Crown Princess of Hanjian. If you wish to compete with anyone, it is her."
"Then what about that girl right there?" Princess Mengjie demanded, with her finger still pointed at the pretty flower beside the Empress.
"Is she the preferred concubine?"
Yu Zhen scoffed. "Only when the sky falls."
Lady Ge Beining glanced away, sorrow in her eyes. She knew he was harsh, but she didn't think he would embarrass her like this publicly. It truly hurt her that he'd never look her way anymore. But that was only because of the Crown Princess…
Princess Mengjie was satisfied with his words. Good. If the beautiful woman was truly his wife, it would make things complicated for her.
"Well, Princess Mengjie. What shall you do?" the Empress asked. "The Crown Prince will only take one wife."
Princess Mengjie glared at the Crown Prince's "wife". Why did he marry such a small little thing? Was this woman even capable of lifting a sword? She scoffed. This would be an easy battle.
"Fine, I'll fight with you."
Li Xueyue frowned. "Are you certain?" she gently asked.
"Of course I am. What? Are you that afraid to lose?"
"No, I'm worried you'd make a fool out of yourself. Well, more than you already have."
"Pft," the Emperor restrained his laughter. He didn't think the Crown Princess had such a sharp tongue. He always knew she was wise, but this? Who would've thought she was also petty?
The more he was in her presence, the more he liked her. She was unfazed by the foriegn Princess's remarks. Some saw it as a weakness, others praised her for it. Silence is a virtue. Her ability to compose herself was a remarkable trait.
"I'll make you swallow those words," Princess Mengjie snapped as she angrily turned around.
"Help me prepare my horse—" Princess Mengjie paused. For the first time in her life, she saw her brother awestruck by something.
Her older brother, Prince Zhaoyuan was mesmerized. Whilst the other woman beside the Empress was beautiful, this lady was something else. She was bold, yet beautiful. Two traits that he admired.
"Brother!" she hissed, grabbing his arm to capture his attention.
Prince Zhaoyuan snapped back to reality. He was met with the narrowed gaze of the Crown Prince.
"Y-yes, I'll come," Prince Zhaoyuan murmured. He allowed his younger sister to pull him away, but nothing could tear his eyes away. He glanced over his shoulders, but to his disappointment, she was hidden from view. What he saw was the Crown Prince's broad shoulders.
But when Prince Zhaoyuan walked down the steps, he saw her at a different angle—one that squeezed his heart. The Crown Princess had made eye contact with him, revealing a pair of sharp, clear eyes.
Not a second later, she looked away, smiling up at her husband.
"...And I will be using the sword that you gifted me for my sixteenth birthday. Brother, are you listening to me?!" Princess Mengjie demanded.
Prince Zhaoyuan wondered why he didn't see her sooner. He had heard her speak, but the sight of her was blocked by the Crown Prince.
"Brother!" Princess Mengjie whined.
"Yes, yes, I'm listening."
Prince Zhaoyuan was not. He couldn't look away from the Crown Princess. A strange emotion coursed through him when he saw the Crown Prince gently touch her face. Her smile became timid and hesitant as she leaned into his hand.
"Who are you looking at?" Princess Mengjie hissed, finally deciding to look in the direction that captured his attention.
"Oh, are you itching to spar against the Crown Prince? If so, don't do it. I won't want you to hurt my future husband," Princess Mengjie said.
Suddenly, a brilliant idea came to Prince Zhaoyuan's mind. "You must win."
"I know that." Princess Mengjie crossed her arms. "Do you think I am a fool?"
Prince Zhaoyuan shook his head. "You were always an excellent fighter, Xiao Mengjie. But this time, I don't want you to play dirty. Do you hear me?"
"What are you talking about, Brother?" Princess Mengjie mumbled.
"Don't hurt the Crown Princess. Make sure that you do not—"
"You like her," Princess Mengjie gaped up at him, a realization dawning on her.
"This isn't the important discussion at hand."
Princess Mengjie glared at him. Not wanting to talk to him anymore, she turned her back to him and stormed off. A fair fight? Not if she could help it!
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