Li Xueyue didn't realize it, but she had fallen asleep yet again. The second time she woke up, it was to an empty bed.
Tiredly, she sat up, bewildered and confused. How long had she slept for? Subconsciously, she touched the spot beside her. It was slightly warm, which meant Yu Zhen had left only just a while ago.
Li Xueyue let out a yawn and stretched her limbs whilst laying on the bed. She noticed there was no one in the bedroom except her which wasn't a surprise. Yu Zhen always made everyone wait outside of the bedroom.
"Hmm, what time is it?" Li Xueyue asked when she lazily strolled out of the doors.
Her usual maidservants lined against the wall. Everyone instantly perked at the sight of her. They had been standing there for a while now with not much to do.
"It is quite late in the morning, Princess, but not quite the afternoon," a familiar voice said.
Li Xueyue stiffened. Her gaze landed upon Xu Jiaqi. What the hell was she doing back here?
"Who sent you here?" Li Xueyue said. She did best to keep her voice down. There was no need to be agitated so early in the day.
"Princess, the Crown Prince himself had assigned me to serve you. Did you forget already?"
"And where were you the past few days?"
"Training to serve you better, Princess."
Li Xueyue narrowed her eyes. She noticed Xu Jiaqi certainly seemed more obedient. Though, someone needed to teach her how to speak better. Even now, Li Xueyue could still hear the slightest attitude in Xu Jiaqi's voice.
"Shall I begin by drawing you a bath, Princess?" Xu Jiaqi whispered whilst lifting her eyes.
Li Xueyue didn't bother responding. She shooed Xu Jiaqi with a wave of her hand as one would to a pet. She saw the flare in Xu Jiaqi's eyes. Controlling a glare must've been hard.
Xu Jiaqi lowered her head. "I will be back soon, Princess. Please wait." With that said, she quickly left the room.
Li Xueyue pressed her lips together. She hoped Xu Jiaqi never returned.
"Prepare the morning meal," Li Xueyue told the other maidservants. She preferred eating first. Sending Xu Jiaqi out was just an excuse.
When it came to meals, Li Xueyue preferred it to be delivered by someone else.
A handmaiden came forward with a porcelain bowl of water, tea, and a variety of other things meant to help Li Xueyue freshen up. Li Xueyue performed the routine without any problems, and soon, her morning meal was served.
Li Xueyue sat down as the maidservants placed a large variety of dishes onto the table.
"Did the Crown Prince have his meal yet?" Li Xueyue asked one of her maidservants.
"Yes, Princess. His Highness had his meal while you were still asleep."
Li Xueyue nodded. It seemed his morning must've been busy if he didn't wake her up to eat together.
When a bowl was settled in front of her and uncovered, Li Xueyue stared at it in confusion. She thought the herbal tonics were no longer being brewed.
"Princess, the Empress herself specifically requested this soup to be made for you. It is made with the highest quality of ingredients, all of which are difficult to source."
Li Xueyue instantly knew what the maidservant meant. It was likely a nutritious soup meant for boosting the body's immune system or something along those lines. It was very similar to the tonic tea from a few days ago, bu this time, there were things she had to consume instead of drink.
She held back a sigh.
Gestures like this were kind, but it felt very pressuring. It seemed the Empress wanted to see grandchildren as soon as possible.
Li Xueyue wondered if there was any other motive. Could the Empress actually be on her side? Perhaps having a child first would secure the marriage?
She couldn't pinpoint the exact reason.
"I should express my sincere gratitude to the Empress, then," Li Xueyue spoke out. She decided to drink the soup first. After all, who knew how many of her maidservants were the Empress's people?
Li Xueyue lifted the spoon to her mouth, but paused. Was it truly from the Empress? Could there have been a possibility that her food was poisoned?
Dread filled Li Xueyue. She eyed the drink, suddenly losing her appetite. But there were simply too many servants in this room.
"Everyone is excused," Li Xueyue said.
Uncertainty filled the room. Was there something wrong? The Crown Princess rarely excused them during a meal.
"Every servant here has worked hard. Please take a break outside, to stretch your legs, and sit down. It must've been difficult to wait that long for me to rise," Li Xueyue gently explained. She wore a soft smile on her face, her eyes flashing with serene understanding.
No one could deny her now that she had spoken such kind words. One by one, everyone exited from the room.
Li Xueyue waited until they were all gone. Once she was certain no one else was in the room, she stood up and approached her vanity. As always, the accessories were neatly organized and thoroughly cleaned.
Li Xueyue picked up a silver hairpin. She went back to the table and dipped the end of it into the soup.
"If I recall correctly, Jiangsu always did this…" Li Xueyue pulled out the hairpin and examined the color. The silver was still shiny. There wasn't a hint of black.
The soup was not poisoned.
Li Xueyue was still uncertain. Silver detected arsenic. But she shouldn't continue to doubt the Empress like this.
"I should inform Yu Zhen about the soup," she finally decided.
Li Xueyue headed back to her vanity drawers and pulled out a handkerchief. "I'm too paranoid," she chided herself.
Nonetheless, Li Xueyue began to individually take out all of the visible ingredients in the soup. She placed it onto the handkerchief, mindful to even pour a bit of soup onto it. That way, the smell would stick.
Afterwards, Li Xueyue was left with nothing but the liquid. She picked up the bowl of soup and hairpin, then approached a plant. Midway there, she halted.
"The bedroom would be better." It was a place that no servant dared to snoop in.
Li Xueyue headed into her bedroom and found a small plant in the corner of the room. She poured the soup onto the soil, and watched it sink down.
"Next…" she trailed off, heading back to the dining table where she tied the ends of the handkerchief together.
Li Xueyue loosely picked up the handkerchief and wrapped it in another one. Next, she approached one of the bookshelves in the bedroom.
"This should be fine," Li Xueyue stated, stepping back to see if the item looked out of place. It certainly did. She adjusted the position of the pouch, deciding to hide it behind one of the decorative pieces.
"A tiger paperweight of gold… It must've been a gift." Li Xueyue wondered out loud. She picked up the item, examining it, before putting the tiger back into place.
Afterwards, Li Xueyue headed back to the table. By now, the food was cold. But she didn't mind. So long as she would be safe.
"It's partially my fault as well," she added on.
Li Xueyue realized her habit of talking to herself. She let out a sigh and picked up the chopsticks.
Her horrible habit was the result of not having many friends.
"If only I was better at socializing…" she trailed off.
Li Xueyue had lived the majority of her life being locked up in the Bai Manor. She didn't have frequent opportunities to have human interaction. It was difficult for her to even think of something to discuss, much less, have the guts to make friends.
By now, Li Xueyue was too used to her life of solitude. However, having a friend or two wouldn't have been such a bad idea.
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