Yu Zhen presented the scroll to his parents. There was a dark glint in his arctic eyes. "Another complaint about her, and that person will be disposed of."
Yu Zhen was tired of these petty political games. He didn't have the patience to deal with his problematic mother and aggravating father. If he could have it his way, both of them would've been long gone. But not dead, of course.
It'd be great for his children to have their grandparents. At least, someone would be able to have fond childhood memories—something that both Li Xueyue and Yu Zhen didn't have.
"Threatening your own father," the Emperor scoffed. "You've gotten bold."
Yu Zhen didn't even blink. He simply gave the scroll to the Eunuch who took it with two hands.
He then turned to his mother. His lips curled into a snarl. "You better keep your ladies-in-waiting in their place."
"What are you talking about?" the Empress gently asked, confusion laced her voice. She was bewildered that he was even aware of the ladies-in-waiting. But getting his attention was what they longed for all along.
"Don't make me repeat myself," Yu Zhen seethed. His mother knew exactly what he was talking about. "If you couldn't tolerate a harem, don't try to create one for me."
The Empress gaped at him. She sputtered over her next words, unable to find it in herself to refute him.
"I merely…wanted to keep the options open for you in case—"
"Father should've done the same for you," Yu Zhen spat out.
His mother visibly gasped, disbelief written all over her face. She could not believe her own son would turn on her like this.
"Making an enemy out of me is not the wisest decision, my son. I still hold influence in court."
"Not for long." Yu Zhen was well aware of the eyes watching him. A pair of soft, familiar ones. Coy yet innocent, sweet yet bitter. He knew who it was.
His fingers tightened into fists. His jaw clenched. His patience had already ran out from the morning stunt. Too many people were out to get his woman. He would no longer allow her to deal with the issue by herself.
Yu Zhen made plans to remove all the weeds in the palace. That way, his flower would bloom the brightest.
"Contrary to your beliefs," the Empress seethed. "I actually support your wife. She is a well-bred lady of fine background. There is not much to hate about her."
"Yet you place obstacles before her."
"Do you think I had it easily?" the Empress retorted. "The Palace life is not for the weak-hearted like many of those women from Wuyi. I needed to see if the Crown Princess was capable."
The Empress took the scroll from the Eunuch's hands. She unrolled it, not caring about her husband's glower. Obviously, he didn't like her intruding in court politics. But it was too late to feel disgruntled. She had already sunk her claws deep into this country.
"She performed well beyond my expectations today. Truly, you are my favorite son. How wise of your decision to provoke Nanhui."
If it was even possible, Yu Zhen's mood soured even further. Favorite son? Who was this crazy woman lying to? He wasn't even considered her son for the longest time. He was the legitimate child of the Emperor and Empress, yet he was treated worse than an illegitimate son.
"You seem so aggravated whenever I speak," the Empress lightly said. She let out a small sigh of disappointment whilst shaking her head. Her hairpins swayed with her, creating the illusion of raining gold.
"This was one of my final tests for her. And you already know the Crown Princess had passed with flying colors on almost all of them." The Empress rolled up the scroll and handed it back to the Eunuch.
True to the foreign Prince's words, the treaty was finalized. It ensured Nanhui and Hanjian would be on the best of terms, and neither country should wage war against each other. If one was to strike Nanhui, they were to strike Hanjian. And vice versa.
It was an alliance that the Ministers couldn't form with Nanhui, no matter how many times they've tried to convince the other. Yet, it took the simple actions of their Crown Princess to set everything in stone.
"The Crown Princess's actions today gained her many supporters. I'm sure you congratulated yourself more than her," the Empress mockingly said. There was a knowing look in her eyes as she took in his slightly disheveled hair.
Yu Zhen narrowed his eyes into slits, daring her to continue.
"Quit glowering at your mother," the Emperor sternly said. "As much as it aggravated me to say that, you need to start having respect for your parents. What happened to fulfilling filial piety?"
Yu Zhen laughed. It was a cruel, cold sound. One that trembled the heart of onlookers.
In particular, Lady Ge Beining whose heart fluttered. She feared him, yet admired him. How could she not? The Crown Prince was supposed to be hers… Before he departed for Hanjian, there were already talks of an arranged marriage.
"Your jokes have gotten better, Emperor."
Lady Ge Beining worriedly glanced at the Crown Prince. Such dangerous words he uttered…they were worthy of the most severe punishments. Yet, he stood there, unfazed, like a mahogany tree against a storm. How could he remain so calm in the midst of this tension?
"Hm, your foolishness has inspired me," the Emperor deadpanned. His attention drifted to the polished wooden tray. Emptied cups laid upon it. He had finally finished drinking his medicine.
"Now that we have all gotten what we wanted from this discussion," he said. "I expect no one to disturb me any longer."
The Emperor didn't wait for anyone's response. He didn't even spare Lady Ge Beining a glance before walking off, accompanied by his guards and people. He could feel the watchful eyes of his wife, hoping that he would drop dead right then and there. She should pray harder.
"Have you introduced the Crown Princess to your brother?" the Empress asked the minute the Emperor was out of the vicinity. The topic of their first son was always difficult to deal with…especially after the public humiliation that occurred on the day of the coronation.
Everyone had held their breaths in anticipation, waiting to hear the announcement of their Crown Prince. No one knew who would be crowned. Not even the people of the Round Table.
It was quite an embarrassing defeat for the First Prince whose grandiose outfit reflected the status of a true Crown Prince.
Yet, everything else about him was severely outmatched against Yu Zhen who had strutted in late. He had a bored expression the entire coronation as if it didn't concern him.
"As if he would want to see me." Yu Zhen couldn't care less. Though, he was quite suspicious of how quiet the First Prince had been.
"The First Prince is your older brother, of course, he would love to have your presence every once in a while. You know, he was the only Prince sent to Nanhui—"
"That is because you only birthed two sons."
The Empress held back a sigh. Must her second child be so stubborn? Talking to him was more difficult than her younger self in the palace. Things were much rougher back then, especially for her, who came from a foreign country. She, too, had to earn her worth.
"I dearly pray your wife can provide more."
Yu Zhen's eyes darkened. "Do not fret."
The Empress raised a brow.
"I will ensure she doesn't measure her self-worth by sons."
The Empress sharply gasped at his words. She opened her mouth, ready to reprimand him, but he turned his back and stormed off.
"This unfilial son of mine!" she scoffed.
The Empress crossed her arms, shaking her head in disapproval. Perhaps it would be better to speak to the Crown Princess about this. It seemed the young lady had the ability to tame a beast.
"If only I had babied him a lot more…" the Empress sighed again. She was severely disappointed in herself for showing favoritism. But a mother could never love another as much as she loved her first child.
The Empress shook her head. It was best not to think about the unchangeable things of the past. Everything had already happened.
"Do you think the Crown Princess is… infertile?" Lady Ge Beining whispered the last word as if it was a forbidden curse. Her eyes quivered with the thought, fear filling her body.
"Enough," the Empress snapped. The comment had hit a nerve. "Go make me tea. I wish for an afternoon nap."
Lady Ge Beining bit her tongue. She scolded herself for being so hasty. How could she have forgotten? The Empress had struggled to give birth to her first child.
Despite the Empress's cold treatment, Lady Ge Beining bowed her head. Before she could even excuse herself, the Empress walked off. Irritation hung in the air, stimulated by both women.
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