After Li Xueyue finished her meal, it was time for her morning bath. Surprisingly enough, Xu Jiaqi was more patient this time.
"Hmm, nevermind," Li Xueyue suddenly said as Xu Jiaqi entered the room with the hot water. All of a sudden, she felt queasy and touched her mouth.
She blamed it on the nauseating sight of Xu Jiaqi's irritable face and presence.
"I'd like to take a dip in the bathhouse," Li Xueyue stated. She could practically feel the irritation radiating off of Xu Jiaqi. By now, the lady-in-waiting could burn a hole through the ground.
"But, Princess, I specifically drew this water—"
Li Xueyue brushed past Xu Jiaqi. She sauntered out of the estate without another word, as maidservants hurriedly rushed after her.
She refused to be burned by the boiling water again.
Li Xueyue was certain that no amount of training would prevent this mischievous woman from playing dirty tricks. She turned her chin and saw Xu Jiaqi was pitifully trailing behind the group of servants.
Soon enough, they reached the enormous doors of the bathhouse. The doors were pushed open for her, as familiar steam rushed over them.
There was a woody scent in the air. It smelled like a forest, the day after it rained. The scent was quite musky… enough for her to feel the same urge to throw up her breakfast.
Li Xueyue didn't know why. She suppressed the sensation and tried to focus on something else.
"Princess, please allow me to check the temperature," a maidservant quietly said.
Li Xueyue nodded her head as the doors closed behind her.
She allowed another maidservant to help her undress.
"Hmm, the water is colder than usual, Princess. If you don't mind, the temperature must be adjusted," the same maidservant reported back.
"Very well." Li Xueyue only wore a thin layer of linen.
Li Xueyue hugged her body and curiously peered around the room, wondering how the system worked. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the maidservants were gathered around a long, heavy rope.
It took more than one person to organize everything.
She watched in amazement as a slot in the wall suddenly opened, revealing a square. Water gushed from it, so warm that there were wisps accompanying it.
But from the corner of her eye, she saw Xu Jiaqi with a woven basket.
"What are you doing?" Li Xueyue demanded as Xu Jiaqi began to sprinkle something into the water.
Without warning, she was overcome with a surprising wave of rage. Her fingers itched to snatch the basket out of Xu Jiaqi's hands just to personally examine it.
But then Li Xueyue blinked, and she was back to normal.
"This is lavender, Princess. It is supposed to help relieve stress and tension," Xu Jiaqi patiently explained as she held up the beautiful violet flower. Not a second later, she placed it into the water.
"Additionally, this is peppermint harvested from the Imperial Gardens. It will soothe the body and leave a cooling effect upon the skin." Xu Jiaqi lifted the bright green leaves from the basket.
Li Xueyue felt as if her worries were unwarranted. Nonetheless, she reached into the woven basket where three glass bottles could be found.
"That is lavender oil, to enhance the scent," Xu Jiaqi coyly said as the bottles were uncapped. Her lips twitched in amusement. How uncultured was the Princess to not know what the bottle contained?
"And that is peppermint oil, Princess."
Li Xueyue's brows crinkled. She felt like there was something amiss… What was it?
"Ah, how can I forget?" Xu Jiaqi perked up, reaching into the basket. "Among the presents from Nanhui, there was a rare oil not found in Hanjian."
Li Xueyue raised a brow. She was intrigued, for Yu Zhen didn't disclose anything about the gifts from Nanhui. Well, she didn't ask about it either, since jewels and silk never interested her.
"It is a unique blend of Jasmine and Rosemary oil. It is difficult to acquire, for the slightest mistake in temperature during production would ruin this fine bath oil, Princess."
Li Xueyue glanced at the bottle. The design of the bottle was exactly like the ones used in Hanjian. She supposed the similarities were a result of Nanhui's influence given their close proximity.
She took the bottle from Xu Jiaqi and uncapped it. Instantly, a heavenly aroma filled the air. The scent was sweet with undernotes of warm, oaktrees.
Li Xueyue resisted a gag. The smell was beautiful, but she didn't feel well. She brushed off the feeling. Maybe it was something she ate this morning. Perhaps the food was truly tampered with.
"The peppermint and lavender oils are meant to soothe the skin, whereas this oil can cleanse the skin. Isn't it fascinating, Princess?" Xu Jiaqi rambled.
Li Xueyue wordlessly nodded. She watched as Xu Jiaqi poured the first two bottles into the water. The scent was so fragrant, it tempted her into the water.
She reached into the pool and tested the temperature. "It's perfect," she murmured.
Li Xueyue saw the maidservants wiping their brows. They rolled their shoulders a bit, and let out sighs of relief. Adjusting the water must've been difficult for them...
Like a snap of her fingers, Li Xueyue suddenly felt sympathetic. She was worried about their health, even though it shouldn't have been her concern.
"Lady Xu will bathe me. I am curious about her training," Li Xueyue informed her maidservants in a louder voice that would reach the corners of the room.
The servants didn't dare to protest. They bowed their heads, grateful for the rare break. From a far distance, they were unable to indulge in the fragrant scent.
However, they watched with curious stares, wondering if Lady Xu Jiaqi's training was that different from the rest of the maidservants' lessons.
To become a servant of the Imperial Palace was no easy feat. The selection process was rigorous.
Every three months, thousands of commoners would try out, and only a handful would be chosen. Only the most beautiful of commoners were considered, and beyond that, were even more challenging tests to measure their worth and capabilities.
"Don't you think it's unfair that Xu Jiaqi's punishment was receiving more training?" a maidservant whispered amongst themselves. "If a normal servant had angered the Crown Prince, she would've been beaten and kicked out of the palace."
"Well, Lady Xu Jiaqi is a lady-in-waiting. She is one of the Empress's people. I believe the Eunuchs were more lenient on her."
"Hush," an older maidservant hissed. "If Lady Xu hears us, she will tattle on us."
The maidservants grumbled and reluctantly shut their mouths. They lifted their gaze and observed Lady Xu Jiaqi.
Xu Jiaqi helped the Crown Princess out of the final layer of clothing. Naked bodies didn't faze the maidservants. But everytime their gaze landed on the Crown Princess, the maidservants' faces would flush red.
The Crown Prince truly adored his wife.
The marks that used to be fading had now become prominent. Needless to say, he was thoroughly attentive in bed.
"A-are we even allowed to watch?" a timid maidservant squeaked out.
"Xiao Hua, we need to learn one way or the other, don't we? Wouldn't it be better to study Lady Xu's tricks?"
Maidservant Xiao Hua hesitatingly nodded her head. Everyone watched as the beautiful Princess slowly dipped into the water, her shoulders relaxing. Lady Xu Jiaqi sank to her knees as she poured something onto her hands.
"I don't see anything different from what we used to do…" Xiao Hua shyly whispered, noticing Lady Xu was massaging the Princess. She started with the shoulders before trailing up the neck. A different bottle was used to massage the scalp.
"Hmmm, it might be the way her finger moves," another commented.
"Notice how the Crown Princess's eyes are closed? She seems to be enjoying this more than usual…"
Li Xueyue didn't think Xu Jiaqi truly changed. But the technique employed on her sore body felt different. Her tense muscles slowly relaxed.
Suddenly, her brows were pulled together. She felt pain in her pelvic bone, as sharp, tingling sensations jolted upwards from her lower back. Her stomach uncomfortably churned, much like cramps from her cycle.
"When was my previous cycle?" the words slipped out of Li Xueyue's mouth without much thought.
Was her cycle starting soon?
"Xiao Hua," she called out to the maidservant. "When was my previous cycle?"
Xu Jiaqi sharply gasped. Her hand froze. Her lips parted.
"What is it?" Li Xueyue said as she grimaced in pain. Finally, she opened her eyes and horror filled her. Blood. Not a second later, it dispersed into the water, turning the herbal green water into a floral pink.
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