417 Practice Day and Nigh
Lady Ge Beining had lied. The Empress wasn't seeking her presence that urgently. Truthfully, she wasn't even sure if the Empress wanted to see her face today.
When miscarriages were involved, the Empress would be glum for a while. She would not smile or entertain anyone's presence. Nothing would bring her out of that dreary mood. Only time would heal.
"I don't blame her," she muttered. "After so many miscarriages, the Emperor didn't even bother comforting her. Instead, he comforted himself with a random concubine."
Lady Ge Beining's hands suddenly trembled. She would not forget the look of sheer terror on that poor concubine's face. Her skin had paled, her veins turning black, as foam started forming in her mouth.
The one and only concubine of the palace was poisoned to death, shortly after giving birth to a useless Princess—the one who had fled from the honorable position as a candidate of Wuyi.
"Now that I think about it, it is that damned exchange that started all of this mess," Lady Ge Beining glowered to the floor.
If the Crown Prince hadn't gone to Wuyi, perhaps they would be married by now. If only he hadn't set foot in Wuyi, everything would be fine. The puzzles would all fall into place, and her fate would have been entwined with the Crown Prince.
"If only that wretched Crown Princess was gone…" Lady Ge Beining trailed off. She let out a tired sigh, and hugged her stomach. What a dream it would be.
"Now, I can't even fathom such a thing with Xu Jiaqi gone. Ugh." Lady Ge Beining didn't want to indulge in such depressing thoughts anymore. She continued sauntering down the hallways, with one destination in mind.
The Empress's corridors.
Lady Ge Beining had no choice. She had nowhere else to turn to, nowhere else to go. Her life belonged to the Empress, just as the Empress's darkest secret belonged to Lady Ge Beining.
"That's right," she whispered to herself, suddenly paranoid. "The Empress will not easily discard me. After all, I got rid of her troubles—literally or figuratively. My hands are stained because of her. She would not simply abandon me."
Lady Ge Beining confidently stopped in front of the garden gates. This was the Empress's favorite place to pass time. There were many beautiful gardens in the palace, but no flowers would bloom brighter than the ones that the Empress had handpicked to be grown in this particular garden. The flowers here got to live because of the Empress, they got to bloom because of her graciousness.
"I will just have to tolerate her somber glares for a little while. Once all of this mess brews over, things will return back to normal," Lady Ge Beining reassured herself.
She sucked in an encouraging breath of air and took a step forward. The heavily armed guards parted for her. They had long known the protocols. No one could pass here but Lady Ge Beining wasn't just a nobody.
"Your Grace," Lady Ge Beining gently greeted.
She lifted the edges of her dress and dipped into her signature curtsy. Truthfully, she had given the Crown Princess's signature greeting a try, when conversing with Marquis Qin. But Lady Ge Beining did not like it, and her knees hurt.
"What are you doing here?" the Empress snapped in an impatient tone.
Lady Ge Beining's eyes widened out of shock. The Empress had never spoken to her in such a rough, irritable tone. She lifted her head, bewildered at what could've caused the Empress to act this way.
"I was just—"
"Oh nevermind," the Empress sighed. Her voice was airy and high-pitched, as she feigned normalcy.
"I didn't summon you, did I?" the Empress asked, before waving her hands. "Do not answer that."
Lady Ge Beining rapidly blinked her eyes. She glanced towards the table, wondering if there was alcohol somewhere. Maybe a baijiu or plum wine. Nothing at all. Except for an unfamiliar pot of tea.
Lady Ge Beining tried her best not to frown. It wasn't like the Empress had promised to only drink Lady Ge Beining's tea. But Lady Ge Beining was still irritated. Who the hell made that pot of tea? Why didn't the Empress call on her to make some?
Did something happen? Was the Empress no longer entertained by her presence?
"This tea is cold," the Empress suddenly said, gesturing to the teapot.
"I shall make you a fresh batch right away—"
"I actually enjoy the bitterness of this cold tea," the Empress finished.
She cast a frown towards Lady Ge Beining. Why was the lady-in-waiting so eager to please people today? It was usually not that obvious, but today, Lady Ge Beining seemed desperate.
Almost as if there was something upsetting Lady Ge Beining. But what could it be? Only two things came to mind, neither of which, the Empress wanted to think about.
"If you prefer cold tea, Your Grace, then I have a few recipes in mind, though they're mainly too fruity and sweet," Lady Ge Beining patiently said with a polite smile.
"Hmmm…" the Empress trailed off. For some reason, she wasn't that happy to see Lady Ge Beining.
"No need," she finally said. "It is best for you to return to your room and embroider something, or you could even practice archery."
The Empress examined the nail extensions over her delicate fingers. They were long and sharp, like the claws of a tigress. Life was so idle now…well, except the fact that her second son despised her, and her youngest daughter was in love with a peasant.
"And who knows? Maybe with enough training, you will not remain as weak as the Crown Princess, as you so lovely put it that day."
Lady Ge Beining wondered if there was actually alcohol in the tea. The Empress must be drunk out of her mind. Why else would she say something so insulting?
Lady Ge Beining thought she was already pardoned regarding the incident about the false report. The Empress wasn't usually this petty, so why did she suddenly bring this up?
"I will do as you wish, Your Grace, and practice day and night, until I master the arts of archery."
"You've already mastered it," the Empress abruptly said. She had changed her mind again, after suddenly feeling guilty towards lady Ge Bening. The Empress had raised this woman.
Lady Ge Beining was the elegant and dutiful daughter that the Empress always wanted, but never had. Her youngest was loud and loved to cause a ruckus. While her other two daughters were quieter in comparison, they had both already married off. They had found great, suitable partners, but none had visited her in a while.
"Oh nevermind, my brain feels so jumbled today. I do not know why," the Empress lightly said. "Well, despite how I feel, I still sent out a Eunuch to fetch her."
The Empress took a seat and poured herself another cup of the cold tea. She lifted it to her lips, fully aware of the blatant curiosity in Lady Ge Beining's gaze.
"You are excused, Lady Ge."
Lady Ge Beining tried not to focus on the fact that they've not had a long enough conversation, and it was the first time since that the Empress had properly addressed her since they started talking.
"Very well, Your Grace…" Lady Ge Beining reluctantly said. She performed her signature curtsy, then excused herself. But just as she turned around, her eyes widened.
Standing directly at the gates was none other than Li Xueyue.
Lady Ge Beining's head snapped back to the Empress. What was the meaning of this betrayal?!