Li Xueyue heard the protests before she saw the commotion. A knock echoed in their room, followed by a curt response from Yu Zhen.
The doors opened as a group of men in black entered. Her eyebrows shot up at the sight of them, large and intimidating, much like their Commander.
"Your Highness, we have found the woman you've requested."
Li Xueyue thought only one man was sent out. Seeing the handful of them caught her off guard. She eyed the small circular sigel on their chest. It was unlike anything she had ever read or seen.
"Who are they?" she whispered.
"My personal soldiers."
Li Xueyue tilted her head. Like private guards? She couldn't imagine someone like Yu Zhen needing any protection. Then again, he had more foes than friends.
It put her heart at ease that taking his life would be much more difficult than people would've predicted. That is, if they dared to raise a sword against him.
"Good job. You are dismissed." Yu Zhen nodded in approval.
The men placed a hand upon their chests and deeply bowed. Not a second later, they closed the door and disappeared.
"Can she even hear us?" Li Xueyue muttered.
A black cloth covered Xu Jiaqi's eyes, a ball of dirty linen was placed into her mouth, and something seemed to be stuffed into her ears.
Unsurprisingly, her hands were bound behind her, much like her knees and ankles. She was forced into a kneeling position, leaving her lost and bewildered.
Despite that, Xu Jiaqi still managed a way to complain. She was saying or screaming something.
Li Xueyue took a step forward, then another, until her quiet footsteps stopped in front of Xu Jiaqi. In one rough yank, she pulled off the blindfold.
Xu Jiaqi seemed the least bit surprised by the sight of Li Xueyue. It was almost as if she had expected this.
"You've looked better," Li Xueyue commented.
Xu Jiaqi flinched at her words. She lowered her head as tears pooled in her eyes. She had noticed the Crown Prince who always had a soft spot for her.
Something about Xu Jiaqi's behavior intrigued Li Xueyue, much more than it angered her.
Then, without warning, Li Xueyue struck Xu Jiaqi upon the cheek. The smack echoed inside the room, loud and clear. Xu Jiaqi's face turned to the side, her jaw going slack from the force.
"Mmmph!" Xu Jiaqi cried out, her voice muffled by the disgusting linen. It tasted sour and bitter upon her tongue. She couldn't even grit her teeth to suppress the pain.
"It hurts, doesn't it?" Li Xueyue whispered.
"On the first day of your servitude, my scalp was also in pain when you yanked my hair and jabbed me with hairpins. And my skin? It was scalded by the boiling water you used to bathe me."
Xu Jiaqi vigorously shaking her head, denying everything. Her eyes were large and frantic as she pleaded for mercy. She was so good at acting that for a split second, Li Xueyue almost felt bad.
Xu Jiaqi jolted when Li Xueyue grabbed her chin. A hand stroked the left side of her face, where it burned bright red.
"Where do I even begin with the wrongdoings you've committed against me?" Li Xueyue mused.
Xu Jiaqi cringed back, hoping to escape from the dreadful touch of the Crown Princess. There was something terrifying about the Princess... Her eyes, they were too calm. Much like her hands, caressing the stinging cheek. The featherlight touch should've soothed the pain, instead, it heightened it.
Before Xu Jiaqi could react, another strike landed upon her the same exact spot as before. She cried out in pain, her body shaking with each sob.
Li Xueyue tilted her head. Her hand was burning. But she couldn't even register it inside of her mind.
"You believe Wuyi women are weak, so why are you crying like this?" Li Xueyue eerily asked.
Xu Jiaqi trembled. She whimpered and cowered back, purposely trying to appeal to the Crown Prince. He was watching all of this go down. Surely…he'd react to the cruelty of the spoiled Princess.
When their eyes met, it was fire against water. Tears stained her vision, but even then, she saw the raging flames that burned within him.
He was disgusted with the Crown Princess. Xu Jiaqi was certain of it.
"I'll ask you just this once," Li Xueyue calmly explained. "Who gave you those bathing oils?"
Xu Jiaqi tensed. So, the Crown Princess knew. Hah, look at this white lotus…
Xu Jiaqi would bet her life that the Crown Princess willingly allowed the miscarriage to happen. It seemed she knew the dangers of the bathing oils, yet didn't protest. Not even a single bit.
'This crazy woman. She is willing to sacrifice her firstborn child just to get back at me because the Crown Prince showed me an ounce of affection.' Xu Jiaqi could not believe how petty this little brat was.
Suddenly, the cloth was taken out of her mouth. Xu Jiaqi instantly began to beg. "I do not understand what you're saying, Crown Princess! Please, I did nothing wrong. I've served you with every fiber of my body, there is a misunderstanding here!"
Xu Jiaqi lowered her head until it nearly touched the ground. "You must believe me, Crown Princess. How could I dream of harming you? You are the apple of the Crown Prince's eyes. The entire palace adores you. Who could be so foolish to go after you?"
"Lavender to relieve stress. Peppermint to soothe the skin. Jasmine and Rosemary from Nanhui… Who gave you all of these?"
Xu Jiaqi narrowed her eyes. Her predictions were right. This Crown Princess was insane!
"T-the maidservants suggested it… We are all worried about you, especially after your failure to conceive, thus, we believe such a treatment would make you happy!"
Li Xueyue let out a long, tired sigh. She ran a hand through her hair.
Xu Jiaqi relaxed a bit, believing the Crown Princess had given up. Not a second later, she was smacked in the face again. This time, the force was so strong, she nearly toppled to the ground.
Her eyes widened at the pain. By now, her skin was tender and bruised. One more slap, and ruby dews of blood would form.
But Xu Jiaqi did not have to suffer anymore.
A dark, chilling voice echoed in the room. "That is enough."
Xu Jiaqi remained in her position, with her head hung in respect, and her body trembling in fear. She could feel her heart leaping with hope and joy.
The Crown Prince had come to her aid again. How many times has it been already?
Certainly, it was far more than the times that he had shown compassion to Lady Gu Beining… Or any other woman for the matter.
"Y-your Highness…" Xu Jiaqi whimpered. She sounded so terrified, and sweet, any man would bend backward to help her.
She didn't even lift her gaze. Instead, she kept her head bowed, to hide her crying face. But droplets of tears landed upon the wooden floor, staining it dark brown. One could tell how hard she held in her sobs.
"How horrendous of you," he coldly said.
Xu Jiaqi slowly lifted her chin to sneak a peek. The Crown Prince had said such words to the Crown Princess, his wife. He was reprimanding his own woman in front of someone else.
Just the thought of this made her lips twitch. This foolish Princess… She had revealed her true, disgusting nature to her husband. And no man would want somebody so horrid.
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