Li Xueyue was numb. Her vision was suddenly blurry, as ringing began in her ears. A part of her knew. She knew what had happened. It wasn't the start of her cycle. It was much more than that.
An unprecedented wave of melancholy washed over her, threatening to drown her in the pool of her loss.
Something wet trickled down her cheeks, like water droplets falling from her wet hair. Her proud shoulders dropped as she hugged her lower stomach, mourning for a loss Li Xueyue didn't know she had.
Li Xueyue could not focus on her surroundings. Her heart hurt more than her lower regions. She could hear the initial confusion from the maidservants, believing her cycle had started.
But then it clicked inside of their heads. The Crown Prince's passionate love for his wife…every morning and night.
The possibilities were higher than ever.
"Call for the Imperial Physician!" a panicked voice called out in the background. But it sounded faint, like an echo in a cave.
"What are you doing, Lady Xu? Get the Princess out of the water!" another person demanded as shoes slapped upon the wet tiles of the bathhouse.
Xiao Hua couldn't focus on so many things at once. There was too much chaos in the room, as the maidservants frantically searched for the bathrobe. But to their horror, they had forgotten to bring it along.
Since the Crown Princess had abruptly left the estate, the maidservants quickly followed after her and no one remembered to grab a change of clothes. Thus, one of them had to rush out and fetch the clothes, whilst another hurriedly ran out to summon the Imperial Physician.
"Princess, the water is contaminated, please—" Xiao Hua could no longer continue.
Her voice was caught in her throat. She didn't want to believe it. None of the maidservants wanted to. It was precisely why they focused on different tasks at once, hoping to distract themselves.
"Princess…" Xiao Hua whispered, stepping towards their numb leader. There was a faraway look in her eyes when she turned her head.
Lady Xu Jiaqi was already helping the Crown Princess step out of the water. "T-the steps are this way…" she stuttered out.
The Crown Princess was guided out of the water. She was moving but her footing was strange. She was physically present yet mentally absent—a shell of a body.
"The Crown Prince s-should be on his way, Princess," Xiao Hua explained. She held a linen robe in her hands—the closest item of clean clothing she could find.
"Please, if you may… The clothes shall be put on now." Xiao Hua bowed her head as she slipped the clothes on the Princess.
Often, the Crown Princess would respond by moving her arms. But this time, Xiao Hua felt as if she was dressing a porcelain doll—lifeless and unmoving.
Xiao Hua was too concentrated on the Princess to care about anything else. All of the maidservants were doing other things. Most likely, they didn't dare to handle the Princess when she was in such a fragile state.
They lined the walls, ready to serve her at any moment's notice.
"Princess, w-we can have another bath drawn for you," one of the maidservants spoke up, hoping this would distract her.
The Crown Princess did not respond. She stared ahead, her attention on the door. Finally, she looked around, her eyes out of focus.
"I want to be dressed."
Lady Xu Jiaqi pressed her lips together. "The maidservants haven't come back with your clothes. You will have to wait, Princess."
Xiao Hua fiddled with her fingers. She didn't know what to do aside from frantically looking around. She was thrown off by the impatient voice of Lady Xu, but not surprised.
Everyone knew of Lady Xu's temperament. Her status as lady-in-waiting must've gotten inside of her head.
Xiao Hua suddenly decided it was better to lead the Princess away from the slightly pink water.
"If we can, this way, Princess," Xiao Hua gently asked. She guided the Princess to the other side of the enormous bathhouse, separated by a partition screen.
It was a lot warmer in this corner for some reason. But as Xiao Hua looked up, she realized it was because of the lanterns hung on the walls.
Not a second later, the doors opened again and the maidservant who left earlier returned. Xiao Hua quickly helped her peers. In no time, the Crown Princess was dressed and ready to head back to her estate.
The Crown Princess took the first step outside but tripped a bit.
"Lady Xu!" Xiao Hua frantically whispered. "You were supposed to guide the Princess over this step."
Xu Jiaqi glowered at the maidservant. She was many ranks above them. What gave Xiao Hua the right to speak like that?
"My apologies, Princess. The steps here are slippery," Xu Jiaqi explained. She helped the Crown Princess by her elbow.
"Don't touch me."
Xu Jiaqi narrowed her eyes. She was only trying to help. Without another word, she dropped her hand. Fine then. 'Trip all you want,' she sourly thought to herself.
Xiao Hua grumbled complaints inside of her head. She anxiously walked behind the Crown Princess, mindful of everything in their path. Luckily, the hallways were evenly paved, and there is nothing that could hurt the Crown Princess.
"Lady Xu, where are you going?" Xiao Hua asked when she saw the woman trailing behind.
"The maidservant who is seeking the Imperial Physician still hasn't returned to inform us that he is waiting in the estate. I will look for her and make sure she didn't get lost."
Xiao Hua didn't bother to ask another question. She didn't want to deal with the irritating lady-in-waiting.
"Please, allow us, Princess," Xiao Hua stated when they finally reached the doors of the main room in the estate.
Xiao Hua pushed the doors open. The Crown Princess stepped inside. Despite her wet hair and the clothes that stuck to her body, she headed straight to the bedroom.
"Princess…" Xiao Hua worriedly said. It would be disastrous if the Crown Princess fell asleep with wet hair and clothes.
"The Imperial Physician should be here soon." Just as she said that a small knock came at the door.
Xiao Hua perked up. She rushed to the door, opening it. But disappointment flooded her. It was just Lady Xu Jiaqi carrying a tray of freshly brewed tea.
"Where is the Imperial Physician?" Xiao Hua asked. She eyed the tea, as the sweet scent of chamomile filled the air.
"He is a few steps behind. That stupid maidservant. She was supposed to get the Imperial Physician and have him brought here immediately, but as he was gathering the supplies, she also went to fetch tea."
Lady Xu Jiaqi glared at Xiao Hua. "Why are you asking so many questions? Don't you know servants are supposed to be still and silent? You talk too much."
Xiao Hua's shoulders dropped. Lady Xu was right…
Xiao Hua averted her eyes to the ground. In a moment of panic, she had forgotten her place. She was simply too concerned about the Crown Princess.
"Close the door," Xu Jiaqi commanded. She placed the tray onto the table.
"You didn't let the Princess go into the bedroom, right?!" she hissed. "If she lies on the bed—"
"I tried to stop her. We're not foolish, Lady Xu. We understand going to sleep in with wet hair is not good."
"—No, I meant the bed. There is an envelope blessed by the highest monks of the temple placed under the bedding, and under no circumstances should it get drenched," Lady Xu Jiaqi snapped.
'Must I do everything around here?' Xu Jiaqi thought to herself.
All Xu Jiaqi wanted to do was go back to living a comfortable life. She hated serving someone. It was a lot more fun being around the Empress. She could not wait to fail her duties as the Crown Princess's servant.
Xu Jiaqi believed her pathetic attempts at serving would irk the Crown Princess enough for the latter to send her away.
'With enough frustration, the Princess will surely send me away. When that happens, I can return to the Empress and enjoy the frequent tea outings,' she thought to herself.
Just then, the door opened again, revealing the Imperial Physician.
"Well, what are you waiting for? Go greet him—" Xu Jiaqi stopped talking. Where did that tiny servant run off to? She looked around, and sure enough, the maidservant was gone.
Xu Jiaqi was startled to see the maidservant was now inside of the bedroom. Did that stupid woman not value her life?! She narrowed her eyes.
"Tch, she's finally drying the Princess's wet hair, but what good is that going to do now? The bed is already wet."
Xu Jiaqi held back an aggravated sigh. "Be patient… be patient…" she reminded herself.
Xu Jiaqi quickly glanced around. No one was watching her. Everyone's attention was towards the suddenly closed bedroom doors. It was then she realized the other maidservant was still inside.
With such a perfect opportunity, Xu Jiaqi scurried to the doors. She opened it, only to see nothing but black.
A chill ran down Xu Jiaqi's spine and her heart started racing faster than an arrow shooting across an open field. She lifted her eyes, only to come face to face with the love of her life.
The Crown Prince was here. A storm brewed over his head. The air was cold, much like his menacing eyes. His overwhelming presence filled up the entire estate.
"Y-your Highness…" Xu Jiaqi whispered, as she quickly bowed her head to greet him. She could feel her heart thumping wildly against her ribcage, like a wild horse galloping in the fields.
Likewise, the other maidservants quickly lowered their upper body into a deep curtsy. Everyone was terrified of breathing the wrong way for they had failed his commands. No one dared to raise their heads, even when the Crown Prince brushed past them.
The promise of murder dangled in the air. Despite his composed facial features, everyone knew…the Crown Prince was beyond the point of fury.
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