The Empress settled her teacup down. She was pleasantly surprised by Li Xueyue's attire. The simplistic hairstyle paired with her flowy white and light blue clothes truly enhanced her natural features.
"Ah yes, the Crown Princess and I will be having a discussion," the Empress explained, even though she didn't have too. Lady Ge Beining was many ranks below her, but for the sake of that woman's sanity, the Empress gave a simple explanation.
"I-I see," Lady Ge Beining stuttered out. She didn't want to just stand there and gawk. Thus, she turned upon her heels and approached the entrance, which served as the only exit to this place.
Unfortunately for her, she was forced to cross paths with the Crown Princess. Lady Ge Beining strained her lips for a forced smile. She bowed her head in greeting, "Greetings Crown Princess. Everyday you seem to glow brighter."
Li Xueyue wasn't sure if that was an indirect insult. Didn't they say pregnant women had a healthy glow to them? Nonetheless, she responded with a genuine smile of her own.
"Such a good morning to run into you, Lady Ge," Li Xueyue pleasantly said. "Now, if you'll excuse me…"
Li Xueyue brushed past Lady Ge Beining without another look in the ethereal woman's direction. She wondered what type of food Lady Ge Beining consumed to be so pretty. When all of the ladies-in-waiting must still be frantic and traumatized by what happened this morning, Lady Ge Beining was as calm as a drifting leaf riding the wind.
"Your Grace," Li Xueyue cupped her hands to one side and dipped into a curtsy.
"You've requested my presence?"
"Please, have a seat," the Empress gestured to the chair beside her.
Li Xueyue took a seat. She admired the pavilion erected in the center of his magnificent garden, filled with flowers that she had never seen before. She was certain these flowers weren't native to Hanjian.
"How are you feeling?" the Empress asked. She poured a cup of tea for the Crown Princess but paused. The teapot was cold as ice. She turned the lid to its side, signaling for her maidservants to bring a new batch of tea.
The maidservants hurriedly came forward, taking the teapot away to make a fresh batch of tea. They were bewildered with the task, for Lady Ge Beining always brewed the Empress's teas. Did something happen between them? Perhaps a fallout? It would make for great gossiping content.
"I feel a lot better than yesterday," Li Xueyue said.
"Even after the events from earlier?"
Li Xueyue blinked a few times. She wasn't sure if the Empress was targeting her, or just asking a genuine question. Perhaps, she was overanalyzing everything again.
Li Xueyue smiled a bit. "The events from this morning did not bother me at all."
"Hah," the Empress laughed. She shook her head in amusement. This was the first time she had heard someone say they were able to tolerate the Crown Prince's cruelty.
"Even though he had punished your servants without warning by having them kneel and watch the torture? Even though you had to see the mangled body of lady-in-waiting who once served you?"
Li Xueyue admitted she was not happy her people were punished without a warning in advance, but it was just kneeling and watching. At least they weren't subjected to the same torture as Xu Jiaqi.
Xiao Hua who was usually shaken and easily scared didn't seem the least bothered. Except, her eyes and hands would tremble when she made the smallest of mistakes.
Li Xueyue supposed the public viewing of the torture had a huge impact upon the maidservants, who seemed to work extra hard to ensure everything was perfect.
"Even with everything I witnessed," Li Xueyue confirmed with a nod of her head.
"What a dutiful wife you are," the Empress murmured. She was certain the Crown Princess did not have a timid heart, but also, not a strong one. There was truly no woman in this country who could tolerate the Crown Prince's cruel methods. Some people even called him a sadistic monster…
"I would've complained about my husband, even if he was the Emperor of this country. Yet, you sit here, smiling at the horrific deeds of my son." The Empress let out a small sigh and shook her head.
"You know, you're welcome to complain about my second son to me. I know he does not favor me, so whatever we talk about here shall stay between us."
Li Xueyue felt the Empress's words were genuine. It was true that Yu Zhen didn't like his mother.
Even so, Li Xueyue truthfully didn't have much to complain about Yu Zhen. Well, except the fact that he always took away the satisfaction of revenge from her hands. He wanted to help her, but she didn't like that.
Surely, this complaint would sound vain and selfish. Thus, Li Xueyue curbed her tongue and widened her smile.
"If there is a complaint, it is that he's eager to see a son or daughter," Li Xueyue coyly said.
At this, the Empress let out a peal of delighted laughter. She had understood the double meaning of the Crown Princess's subtle words.
"All men are impatient," she mused.
Li Xueyue slowly nodded her head, grateful that the Empress had understood the underlying message. But then, why did the Empress suddenly seem so upset with the world? Her brightened eyes had a dull glimmer to it, concealing the melancholy drowning her.
"I would know…" the Empress added on with a somber sigh. She turned her attention towards the garden. Despite the gruesome event that occurred in the morning, the sun was high in the sky, glistening brighter than ever.
A warm glow drifted through her garden. Everywhere that the sunlight touched, sparkled, and gleamed. The freshly watered flowers were like gemstones under the morning sun.
The Empress couldn't help but think about the troubles she went through to acquire all of these exotic flowers. She had to meet up with Marquis Qin and the two had to work out how to bring the foreign flowers to Hanjian.
The long journey would've damaged the flowers, whether it was lack of sunlight from being placed in a carriage, or over-watering since traveling merchants did not know how to properly take care of flowers.
In the end, it was all worth it. The exotic flowers were always complimented and praised for its beauty, much like the Empress. Everyone had believed she would be too much trouble, and that there would not be enough benefits for the Emperor in marrying her.
How wrong they were…
Suddenly the Empress spoke up. "Would you like to hear a story, Crown Princess?"
Li Xueyue was curious about this question that came out of nowhere. It was abrupt, but she didn't mind. There wasn't anything in her schedule anyway.
Besides, was this going to be the main topic of their conversation? As in, was this the reason why Li Xueyue was called to this garden?
Li Xueyue noticed the Empress's attention wasn't upon her. The Empress was fixated on the flowers closest to them, her eyes glazed over.
Before Li Xueyue could even respond, the Empress added on, "It is a very interesting one that will benefit you to hear."
Li Xueyue tilted her head. She was instantly curious about what it could be. Thus, she smiled and said, "Of course, Your Grace, I would be delighted to hear your story."
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