Li Xueyue had never engaged a stranger in a swordfight before. All of her matches were either with the twins or her instructor. Well, there was also Yu Zhen…but he was too tough of an opponent.
Aside from that, she didn't have much experience in the sport.
It was unnerving to grasp the sword tightly in her hand. Her desire for victory was strong. But her anxiety was hard to ignore.
"Focus," she told herself whilst advancing forward.
Li Xueyue got into position. She drew in a breath, and Princess Mengjie charged forward. The sword used by Princess Mengjie resembled an enormous butcher knife, except the tip of it was split.
It was a wonder how Princess Mengjie managed to wield such an exotic weapon. A loud clash could be heard when Li Xueyue blocked the attack. She gritted her teeth, surprised by Princess Mengjie's strength.
"Give up, Princess," Princess Mengjie said with a chuckle. "You'll never be able to win against me."
She was met with silence.
To Li Xueyue, not giving a response was also a response. Her arms trembled under the weight of Princess Mengjie. There was no fairness in this competition—the words ran through her mind.
It was precisely why Li Xueyue suddenly side-stepped, watching as Princess Mengjie nearly fell to the ground.
Princess Mengjie caught herself at the last minute. But as she raised her body, a foot reached out. She couldn't react in time as a kick was delivered straight to her chest.
Martial arts. It was something that Princess Mengjie would've never expected, not even in her wildest dreams. She choked at the impact, her feet faltering.
"You let your guard down," Li Xueyue murmured as she swept her leg under Princess Mengjie.
To Li Xueyue's surprise, Princess Mengjie jumped. It gave her a leverage as she swung her sword down.
Li Xueyue met the weapon with her own. She was surprised by the raw excitement in the foreign Princess's eyes—wide and manic. As if this competition gave her a thrill.
"What an interesting person you are!" Princess Mengjie laughed as Li Xueyue threw her off.
Li Xueyue avoided the sword when it swung for her head. She was surprised by this direct attack, but quickly recovered by striking her sabre forward. It grazed Princess Mengjie's clothes, but didn't draw blood.
"Who would've thought you knew martial arts?" Princess Mengjie lunged at her opponent but was met with defense yet again.
"Is this the best you can do?" she demanded, striking again and again.
Li Xueyue blocked all of the attacks, whether it was aimed at her head or her torso. Princess Mengjie was adamant on injuring her.
This didn't come off as a surprise to anyone. Until Li Xueyue slipped. Her foot was caught on her long dress. The sky came to view as she fell backward, her eyes widening.
She didn't have time to moan over the pain spreading through her back. Li Xueyue quickly dodged the sharp point of the sword that aimed for her neck.
Princess Mengjie didn't give her a chance to recover. She continued attacking Li Xueyue, forcing the latter to remain on the ground.
Li Xueyue decided to forsake grace. She quickly rolled to the side and got to her feet. Everything was going according to plan.
"Look at you," Princess Mengjie scoffed. "All dirtied and a mess. If you had just allowed me to—"
"Less talking, more fighting."
Princess Mengjie was beyond infuriated. She narrowed her eyes. She didn't tolerate disrespect—especially interruptions. Aggravated, she jumped at her opponent, swinging her sword down.
Li Xueyue had already predicted her opponent's move. She had memorized Princess Mengjie's tactic. She stepped to the side and Princess Mengjie followed after her.
Their swords met in another clash, but this time, the impact wasn't as great.
'She's growing weak,' Li Xueyue thought to herself. She hid a smile and threw her opponent off, smiling in satisfaction.
Princess Mengjie was panting. Sweat trickled from her forehead as she struggled to maintain her energy level. Right when she sucked in a breath, her opponent finally attacked.
Li Xueyue raced forward and swung at her opponent. Their weapons clashed loudly, but she didn't mind.
"As I said," Li Xueyue mused. "Your guard is lowered."
Li Xueyue twisted her body, throwing Princess Mengjie off, yet again. This time, the foreign Princess didn't have time to compose herself quick enough. She was too tired.
Princess Mengjie tripped forward a bit and choked when a sword came swinging at her feet. She could do nothing but roll onto the ground, protecting the vital limb.
Li Xueyue had her pinned. Before Princess Mengjie could stand back up, a sword was pointed at her throat.
"Another movement, and I'll cut through you."
Princess Mengjie stared up at Li Xueyue, wide-eyed at this defeat. She still had her weapon in hand, but it would be futile. The tip of the Crown Princess's sword was too close to her neck. She had to stretch her neck to the side to prevent a cut.
Li Xueyue smiled at this. She relaxed her grip on the sword, lowering it to the side. Without warning, she offered a helping hand to Princess Mengjie.
"Here," Li Xueyue stated, surprising everyone.
After the foreign Princess's spoilt behavior and her horrid treatment towards the Crown Princess, the latter was still being compassionate?! They were highly impressed by her magnanimous act, though a few viewed it as a weakness.
"Don't pity me," Princess Mengjie spat out as she slapped Li Xueyue's hand away.
"It's courtesy," Li Xueyue deadpanned. "Also, something that you lack."
Princess Mengjie glared at the Crown Princess but kept her mouth shut. She got onto her feet, ignoring the tears that burned her eyes. She had suffered not one defeat, but two—back to back.
"Keep your husband, I didn't want him in the first place." Princess Mengjie stormed off, refusing to say another word to the Crown Princess. Despite that, a sense of appreciation bloomed in her chest.
Instead of relying on her skills, the Crown Princess had also employed strategy. It was something that the Emperor of Nanhui always taught his daughter, but she always forgot.
"Consider the peace treaty signed and set in stone."
Li Xueyue instantly turned around. She didn't expect Prince Zhaoyuan to present himself personally. Her attention drifted to the item in his hand—a scroll.
"I apologize for my sister's poor behavior," he softly stated. "Princess Mengjie is still a child at heart. Everyone in the Imperial Family favors her, thus, she thinks the world spins for no one else but her."
"You shouldn't create excuses for a spoiled child. It'll only further indulge them."
Prince Zhaoyuan smiled at her words. They sounded insulting, but he believed she meant no harm. Especially when her disposition was calm, like blades of grass on a sunny day.
"Please," he warmly said. "Let Nanhui make it up to you."
Prince Zhaoyuan reached into his sleeves and pulled out an envelope. "This is a formal invitation to the Imperial Palace. With this, everyone will view you as an honorable guest."
Li Xueyue could feel Yu Zhen's pressing glare before she saw him. Before she could even react, a shadow loomed over her figure.
"Thank you," Yu Zhen gritted out. He snatched the envelope and crumbled it in one hand.
Prince Zhaoyuan's friendly smile disappeared. "Your temperament is like that of my younger sister."
Yu Zhen let out a laugh. He wrapped an arm around his woman and pulled her against his chest. "Insulting your own sister. Very wise decision for you."
Li Xueyue looked down at his arm. It was wrapped around her waist, holding her in place.
"Nonetheless," Li Xueyue softly said. "Hanjian will value this treaty with Nanhui. I expect the feeling will be reciprocated."
Prince Zhaoyuan straightened up. A smile formed on his face. "Rest assured, Princess Li, I will do everything in my power to ensure nothing can ever come between Hanjian and Nanhui. Especially after the spectacle my sister made."
Li Xueyue nodded her head. He struck his hand out, giving her the scroll. She reached for it, but at the last moment, his fingers brushed against hers. She jolted in surprise.
Prince Zhaoyuan's smile widened, much like her eyes. "And Princess, if you ever feel lonely, Nanhui is but a week of travel. We will always welcome you with open arms."
A cold, cunning chuckle could be heard. Li Xueyue shivered at the sound, so intense, she felt her fingertips turn blue.
"You can rest assured. All of my wife's needs will be met," Yu Zhen stated as he took her other hand and brought it to his lips. His eyes flashed.
Prince Zhaoyuan's smile became forced. The meaning was clear. This rare gemstone belonged to no one else but the cruel beast.
Prince Zhaoyuan curtly nodded his head and walked off, irritated by the arrogant Crown Prince. Nonetheless, there wasn't anything to be done.
The treaty was set in stone. Prince Zhaoyuan was a man of his words.
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