"You heard me," the Emperor coldly said. He spared his wife a glance before looking away.
After experiencing the same unfortunate thing in her youth, she had sympathy for the perpetrator? The extent of her hypocrisy was humorous.
Sometimes, the Emperor wondered if he married the wrong woman. She was so different in her youth, a refreshing breeze from a foreign land…
At the time, he had viewed her as an exotic treat, but now, he had grown bored of her, especially after marrying her for nearly three decades.
"The times have changed…" he whispered to himself.
When she was an innocent maiden, the Empress was much kinder and her smiles were ever so gentle. What exactly changed her?
When did her grins become smirks? When did her compassion turn into cunningness? Was it the brutality of the palace that changed her—a defenseless woman who lacked a benefactor and shoulder to rely on?
The Emperor would admit:he had neglected his wife when she first came to the palace. But that was because he was young and naive.
'I had to defend myself first,' he thought to himself.
Becoming the Emperor was not easy, he was solidifying his spot on the throne. There was not enough time to help someone else, even if it was his wife.
It was precisely why the Emperor trained his sons to be much wiser, crueler, and sinister than he could ever be. It was just a shame that the First Prince had a heart too tender to handle the brutality of the palace.
"It is excessive to leave my lady-in-waiting hanging there like a scarecrow," the Empress finally said.
She could not clench her hand into a fist, or dig her nails into her palm.
Today, the Empress wore long, golden talons upon her fingers, an accessory meant to showcase the wealth and status of a woman in high society. It was a symbol of a blessed life, that they didn't need to lift a finger.
"If you take her down, you're pardoning what happened in the past." The Emperor did not need to say anything more. He turned his back fast enough not to see his wife's face crumble.
His heart had long been hardened with hatred for her to care about her tears. It wasn't that he did not love her, but he was tired of the turmoil she stirred amongst the women of the palace.
His wife was well aware that harems were not tolerated, but she was creating one for her son. She didn't want a harem but considered one for the current Crown Prince. She was a warrior but placed down her sword to commit mischief. What had happened to the woman he chose as his wife?
"Even now, after I birthed you two sons, and three daughters, you still resent me for..." the Empress trailed off.
The Emperor halted. His glare softened. Turning around, he offered her a grimace of a smile.
"Crazy wife of mine, I never once blamed you for it…" He coughed, patting his chest. "But you had blamed yourself, finding so many faults with everything until you believed that other people were pointing fingers at you."
Her eyes glistened with tears. They weren't filled with sorrow, but hatred—much like the emotions reflected upon his heart of stone.
Despite his irritation, the Emperor waved for her to come closer. He accepted the hot tea offered by a Eunuch, drinking it in one gulp. It soothed his aching airways, the warm liquid quelling the pain.
"Come close," he commanded.
Fury danced upon her blazing glare. She hated to be commanded around. It wasn't in her fiery nature to obey. Such a shame, the flames had died with age. She was no longer stoking the fire within her, for the palace possessed the power to drown her.
She finally approached her husband. He leaned close, his voice coming out much gentler than she expected.
"You and the Crown Princess have so much in common. Instead of trying to push her around like a rag doll, perhaps you should consider becoming friends."
At his words, she gasped and took a step back. "What did you think I've been doing the whole time?" she demanded.
The Emperor sneered. "We have been married for more than two decades…" He patted his chest. "I see you for who you truly are."
The Eunuch brought him another cup of tea but he ignored it. He turned his shoulders and left for sure this time. Even when his wife glared daggers into his shoulders, praying for his death, the Emperor continued to trudge onwards.
Seeing the lack of love between the Emperor and Empress, Li Xueyue suddenly realized Yu Zhen didn't grow up in a warm and loving family. It was a miracle that he even knew how to love someone, much less, so tenderly.
"Your hands are growing colder by the second. Let's bring you back to our estate," Yu Zhen said.
Li Xueyue's attention was upon the Empress. The confident woman seemed to be on the verge of letting out a scream of frustration. She wouldn't blame her. All these years in the palace must've worn her out.
"Your Grace," she whispered.
The Empress snapped back to reality. She turned around, noticing the Crown Princess's attention was on her and not on that needy son of hers.
"Thank you for the tonics and nutritional soup that you've sent over in the past. It is a shame that the positive effects it had made to my body were probably nullified," Li Xueyue slowly said.
The Empress let out a small sigh. Even at a time like this, the Crown Princess knew the right things to say.
"Seeing as it worked so well, I will continue having it brought to you."
Li Xueyue held back a protest. This wasn't her intention. Perhaps her wording was off.
"There is no need," Yu Zhen stated. His mother had been giving his wife too much nutritious tonics. He could not be certain that they weren't poisoned.
Li Xueyue's grip on his hand tightened in warning. She knew he was going to say something cruel again.
"I'm healthy. You do not need to worry," Yu Zhen interjected. "You will see your grandchild soon. Just wait."
The Empress was surprised for the second time in the early morning. She didn't think her cold-blooded son would regard her as a grandmother. He didn't even see her as a mother.
Just that small thought from him was enough to wash away her anger. She revealed a small smile, pain, and joy reflecting in her eyes.
"Truly, I look forward to seeing them."
Li Xueyue didn't know what to say. Had yesterday's incident not happened…the Empress would be able to see her grandchild much sooner.
"But only when the Crown Princess is ready."
Li Xueyue's head snapped up, surprise written all over her face. She quickly composed herself, forcing a grateful smile.
"If the same mistake does not occur, then there is nothing to worry about," Li Xueyue hesitatingly said.
Li Xueyue was just glad that there was a small light at the end of the dark cave. This incident, didn't it prove her fertility? That she was able to conceive?
The Empress warily smiled at this. She glanced around her, where maidservants and Eunuchs yielded to her and waited on her every whim.
Today, the ladies-in-waiting weren't present because they were all still asleep. The only reason the Emperor and Empress had arrived was because a Eunuch had frantically ran to alert them, in fear they would be targeted next.
"I will ensure the same mistakes do not happen again," the Empress said. "This, you can rest assured."
Li Xueyue genuinely smiled. She believed the Empress had a good heart, it was just hardened due to the malice of the people around her.
"I believe in you, Your Grace," Li Xueyue truthfully said.
The Empress's smile widened at this. She nodded and swiveled on her heels, deciding it was time to have a small discussion with her ladies-in-waiting.
"Have them brought here."
The Empress paused at her son's voice. She turned her chin, raising a brow.
"Those pesky women surrounding you. I want them dragged here to see the effectiveness of my 'scarecrow.'"
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