Li Xueyue didn't know how it happened, but she had fallen asleep in his arms. There was something about the way he soothed her… His words were like a lullaby. He had stroked the back of her head whilst hugging her close and reassuring her that nothing was her fault.
But why did she sit up in an empty bed in a daze with a hand upon her empty belly? If it wasn't her fault, why did guilt prick her heart. Her shoulders caved in as she dropped her head.
The room was quiet except for her shaky exhale. She had already cried enough upon his sturdy chest. She had promised him that there would be no more tears. But hot tears still filled her eyes, blurring her vision.
"Since when were you a crybaby?" she chided herself, rubbing her suddenly stuffy nose.
Li Xueyue touched the empty spot beside her. It was cold. When did he leave? She wiped at her eyes, slowly at first, before angrily doing so when more tears threatened to slip down her cheeks.
"It's going to be alright…" she whispered the words he had repeatedly told her.
Li Xueyue gripped the collar of her loose robes, hoping for anything to distract her. Unfortunately, what replaced her despair was rage. Even now, she was still furious at Xu Jiaqi's actions.
'I can't be like this,' she thought to herself.
Li Xueyue irritably ran a hand through her hair, angrily gripping it at the roots. "If you let empty hatred fill your heart, you'll wither with malice," she chided herself.
A sigh escaped. Li Xueyue didn't want to throw a pity party in an empty, desolate room. She slipped out of the bed without any numbness in her legs. Sometimes, they'd wobble and tremble when she tried to stand up, no thanks to her insatiable husband.
Li Xueyue pushed the windows open. "It's morning."
The sun peeked through the horizon, but the day was still young. Seeping in the shadows were traces of the night sky, refusing to part.
"Did I sleep from last night till now?" Li Xueyue ran her hand through her hair again. She was surprised she had a peaceful night of sleep despite the tragedy that happened.
Li Xueyue wrapped the robes tighter around her body. It was strange. She hadn't lost any weight, but a part of her felt hollow. She glanced down, noticing it was his clothes she was wearing. The navy silk brushed upon her skin, cold yet smooth, much like Yu Zhen's touch.
"When did this happen…?"
She vaguely recalled that he had woken her up in the middle of the night to change out of her clothes that had already dried. He seemed to have told her that he preferred if she slept in fresh, clean clothes, so that it would be more comfortable—or something along those lines.
"I should find him," Li Xueyue told herself. She quietly trudged towards the doors of the bedroom. Pushing it open, she wasn't surprised to be met with grim silence.
"It's too quiet." Li Xueyue opened the doors of the estate, turning her head left and right in confusion. She saw the usual guards who took the morning shift, but something was different.
The air was eerily still. There wasn't a single soul roaming the hallways for as far as the eyes could see.
"Where are my maidservants?" Li Xueyue asked the guards. She knew the servants woke up even before the sun did. The second it was twilight, they would slowly rise, one by one.
When none of the guards answered her, Li Xueyue shifted her body to face them. A dreary expression was on their faces.
At this, Li Xueyue straightened up more. "Don't make me repeat myself."
"Princess…" a burly guard spoke up. "The maidservants are currently under the watchful eye of the Crown Prince."
"Pardon?" Li Xueyue was confused. She thought Yu Zhen had left for his morning training, or to attend to some urgent business.
Li Xueyue tightened the silk belt of his robes. A chill crawled up her spine, goosebumps rising at the guard's words. There was something ominous in the air but she couldn't pinpoint it. What exactly was going on?
"Take me to him."
The guards stiffened.
Li Xueyue suppressed a sigh. How many times must they have this conversation? By now, they should be used to her bizarre commands. Was it so strange for a wife to look for her husband?
Without another word, she closed the doors and entered their bedroom. Li Xueyue grabbed the nearest cloak she could find. Luckily for her, it was thick and heavy. She was thrown off by the black but didn't notice the golden tiger that roared from the bottom of the cloak.
Not a minute later, she opened the doors of the estate again. "Lead the way." Li Xueyue stepped out of the estate whilst tightening the first button of the cloak. It was warm and smelled familiar.
"C-Crown Princess, u-uhm—" the same muscular guard stuttered out. He wondered if the Crown Princess had permission to wear something like this.
The skinnier guard next to him stomped on his peer's toes. It wasn't their business whether or not the Crown Princess broke the rules. Besides, how stupid was his friend? Was there a single thing that the Crown Prince's wife couldn't touch or take?
"If that is your wish, Princess, then it shall be gladly granted," the thinner guard spoke up. He bowed his head and true to his words, began to direct her.
However, he was mindful of the rules of the palace. Even if he was the one guiding her, he remained two steps behind the Crown Princess. Not only was it the rules, but the Commander would be furious if any lone man approached her.
"It's suspiciously quiet today," Li Xueyue murmured her breath. She was surprised by how cold Hanjian was. Autumn was quickly approaching, but the temperature was much lower than Wuyi.
"Did the Empress come yesterday?" she asked the guards.
The lanky guard bowed his head and nodded. "Indeed, Princess. Her Grace had requested entrance to the estate but the Crown Prince had refused to let her inside."
"Did…they at least have a little discussion?" Li Xueyue asked. She couldn't remember Yu Zhen leaving her side, it must've happened when she was too deep in sleep.
"I am afraid it did not reach the ears of us guards…"
Li Xueyue heard the remorse in his voice. He was hurt by failing to carry out his duties. "That's fine," she gently reassured.
"I will find out for myself." Li Xueyue adjusted the cloak upon her shoulders. It was large, the collars brushing upon her jawline.
Li Xueyue pulled it closer when a strong wind howled through the open hallways. For some reason, the cloak felt comforting, and not because of the protection it offered from the freezing weather.
With each step closer to their destination, her heart wearily sank to her stomach. The air was crisp and cool, but it stung her throat. Her fingers trembled without a reason. She had to grip the cloak to keep her jitters at bay.
Each step felt heavier than the previous one. And when they finally reached the courtyard, Li Xueyue knew exactly why.
Blood drained from her face, her eyes shaking from the sight. What exactly was going on here?!
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