Marquis Qin's excitement died down. His smile slowly slipped away. W-what?
The Crown Princess widened her smile, seemingly innocent and harmless. But her gaze was filled with disgust and irritation. Without warning, she stood up.
"W-wait, Crown Princess," Marquis Qin hurriedly said as he also stood up, worried she was going to leave just like that.
Marquis Qin could not let her go like this. If so, she would be his first unhappy customer. He might've worked all his life to build his current reputation, but all of this could come tumbling down if the Crown Princess was dissatisfied.
"If you are unable to give me what I want, then there is no use for you," she coldly said.
Marquis Qin cursed himself. He had come off as too eager to please her. And now, she most likely thought it would be easy to take advantage of him. He narrowed his eyes.
Marquis Qin reminded himself that he served the Emperor, his prized customer. He was one of the two merchants that supplied the Emperor's expensive and heavily researched medicine.
"Please do not be so hasty, Crown Princess," Marquis Qin quickly said. "Let us sit down and have a better discussion."
The Crown Princess considered his words. She paused a bit, and cast a glance. His heart soared, hoping she would take her seat. But she didn't.
The Crown Princess waved her delicate hands in front of her, and a dainty maidservant came forward. The servant was pretty, her fingers thin and nimble.
Marquis Qin licked his bottom lip. The hands of a maidservant were hard and calloused, adding an interesting texture when touching him.
"Wait, Princess, what are you doing?" Marquis Qin snapped out of it. He finally saw what the maidservant was doing. She was wrapping a muslin blue cloth around the Crown Princess's shoulders.
"Leaving." The Crown Princess did not cast him another glance as she approached the bridge leading to the pavilion.
"S-so soon?�� Marquis Qin questioned as he remained by the foot of the table. If he chased after her now, he would look like a desperate dog. And Marquis Qin was no starved animal. His pockets were heavy, his belly full, and his house lavished.
Marquis Qin was conflicted about what to do. On one hand, he did not want her to go, but on the other, he did not want to swallow his pride. 'Hmph! Fine, she can leave as she pleases!'
Marquis Qin made up his mind. He sat down, wondering where exactly she would even find a merchant as knowledgeable and powerful as him. Anything was obtainable, as long as it was commissioned by him.
The Crown Princess was just too greedy, that was all. Plus, impatient… He licked his bottom lip, bitter from the tea. Greedy and impatient. Who would've thought the docile woman possessed these traits?
How could he have forgotten? The prettiest of faces hid the cruelest of hearts.
"And here I thought…"
Marquis Qin perked his ears, eavesdropping on the words she passed to her maidservant.
"The merchant would not disappoint me," she sullenly sighed.
Marquis Qin glared down at his tea. It was tempting to stand back up and convince her not to leave. But his pride was too big for it to be trampled by a customer, much less, a woman.
"Princess… I hear the Emperor is a frequent customer of the Marquis."
Marquis Qin quietly nodded to himself, basking in the compliment. It seemed the servant was a lot wiser than her Master.
"Oh no," the Crown Princess suddenly gasped.
Marquis Qin flinched. He nearly turned around in curiosity, wondering what could've disturbed her. Nonetheless, he lifted the teacup and took a drink.
"I must inform the Emperor then."
"O-of what, Princess?"
"That his merchant is getting incompetent."
Marquis Qin spat out his tea.
He hurriedly stood up, as if the furniture had burned him. He spun around in disbelief, his eyes growing wide with horror. T-this Crown Princess, she was also in favor with the Emperor?!
If she truly had access to that closed-off room, then it would be dangerous for Marquis Qin and his entire business. He prided himself on the fact that the Emperor was his customer. It made every aristocrat and merchant jealous of him. This was the leverage he had amongst all of the aristocrats.
Even Duke Han was envious of Marquis Qin. The biggest contributing factor to Marquis Qin's booming business was having the Emperor on his side. His customers trusted him because the Emperor trusted him. His customers brought from him because the Emperor brought from him.
If Marquis Qin was to lose the Emperor's favor…he could not fathom the issues that would arise.
"Please, wait a minute, Crown Princess!"
Li Xueyue's lips curled in satisfaction. Her tactic had worked. He was panicking now, wasn't he? She turned her chin the slightest bit, giving him no more than a glimpse of her side profile. It made her seem reluctant to listen, but she did so for his sake.
"It would be difficult to find a dagger that's shaped like a moon, especially from that country. It's overseas, and their citizens are extremely reluctant to trade with us."
Li Xueyue raised a brow. A merchant who can't trade overseas? What good was his title then? She let out a mellow sigh, shaking her head.
"It's alright, Marquis Qin," she lied. "A task like this is too difficult for the likes of you to handle."
Marquis Qin twitched at her words. Difficult? For the likes of him? He was one of the best merchants in this country! The only one who had risen so high in his ranks. What was the Crown Princess babbling about?
You see, this was why women shouldn't speak. Only foolishness and stupidity came out of their mouths. He missed the women who entertained him in Wuyi. They kept their mouths shut and did as they were told.
The Crown Princess was from Wuyi. Why couldn't she follow the standards of her birth country?
His admiration of her was beginning to diminish… He thought back to the other beautiful women of Hanjian, like Lady Ge Beining for example. Lady Ge Beining was worldly, but at least she knew how to speak to men.
"It seems this discussion has come to an end," Li Xueyue pointed out, in a tranquil and composed voice. She turned on her heels and took a step forward.
"Princess," Xiao Hua whispered. "How upsetting that you were not able to find your exclusive merchant."
Marquis Qin's eyes widened a bit. Exclusive merchant?
"I suppose I'm too picky, Xiao Hua…" Li Xueyue purposely trailed off whilst touching the side of her face in dismay. "I only wanted to find a capable merchant that I will keep by my side for a while…"
Keep by her side? Capable merchant? Marquis Qin's head snapped to her. He was tempted by this offer. Did that mean she would use no other merchant upon choosing one to her liking?
A big customer who would always buy from him was one he was willing to make sacrifices for, even if it meant straining all of his resources and having his men die at sea.
Marquis Qin swallowed his pride and dignity for the sake of money. "Please spare me a few minutes more of your time, Princess. I will help you!"
He perked up a bit when she fully turned around this time. She raised a brow, an interested look on her face.
"Truly?" the Crown Princess gushed, clasping her hands in front of her chest, revealing her concealed accessories.
Marquis Qin's eyes were glued to her hand. How had he not seen it sooner? The wealth upon her hands was enough to buy his current house, his ancestral home, and beyond. At this, excitement filled him. She wore the gold, silver, and gemstones with elegance, almost as if wealth did not faze her. Which meant, she must've been used to this life of luxury...
If she had this much money, surely, the Crown Princess would not be stingy with it…
And before he knew it, Marquis Qin blurted out, "I will sincerely fulfill your request, Princess, this I swear!"
"P-pardon?" Marquis Qin whispered, his brows tugging together.
"You swore…" the Crown Princess trailed off, almost bewildered by his confusion.
"Yes, I did," Marquis Qin said with heavy reluctance, finally registering the meaning of her words. Goodness, what kind of situation was he getting himself into?
"On what?" she asked again.
"Uhm…" he trailed off, thinking it was a joke. "My life!" Then, Marquis Qin loudly laughed, his body shaking with the motion. But when his laughter died down, he saw that she wasn't following suit.
Instead, there was something presented to him. An unrolled scroll spread wide between the pretty maidservant's hands. Marquis Qin hesitantly glanced down, his eyes shaking upon seeing the scroll and contract.
"I will believe your sincerity if you sign this with your thumbprint."
Marquis Qin looked back at her, wondering if she was crazy. But there was a pleasant and friendly smile on her face, her eyes crinkling as if she was close to laughing. So, she was holding back her laughter.
It was just a joke.
Marquis Qin chuckled at her strange humor. She went this far for a joke? Just to entertain her a bit more, he pressed his thumb upon the ink box offered to him, then stamped his thumbprint onto the scroll.
Not a second later, Xiao Hua rolled it up and approached the Crown Princess.
"Marvelous," Li Xueyue mused, clasping her hands together. "You swore on it, Marquis Qin. There is no going back now."
Marquis Qin's smile was beginning to slip, like his sanity. He felt like the rug was yanked from underneath his feet. He had been waiting for her to chuckle and conclude this was just a joke. But she didn't laugh.
Marquis Qin's heart stopped right then and there, for he had literally signed his life away.
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