Li Xueyue glanced down at the satin box in her hands, closed and flat as before. She passed it to Xiao Hua and smiled at Marquis Qin one last time. Then without another word, she walked out of the pavilion, and headed down the hallway that led to her estate.
She could barely contain her victorious smile. Her lips twitched, and she worked hard to maintain her composure. Biting down on her bottom lip, her mouth still curved into a satisfied smile.
Wordlessly, everyone entered the estate. Li Xueyue took a seat near one of the tables which had a vase made of glass with fresh flowers in it.
"Hydrangeas?" she murmured, touching the petals.
Suddenly, Li Xueyue was glum. Her high spirits fell to the ground, her attention drifted elsewhere. These hydrangeas reminded her of her mother. She missed the Li Family dearly, so much so, that her heart ached a bit at the thought of them. She wished to see them soon, but there were too many social repercussions.
Yu Zhen would probably say "To hell with them, let's go to Wuyi," but she had to be mindful of the rumors. After all, if she were to visit Wuyi, he would surely want to tag along, despite her protests. And if she went alone, people would think something happened to their marriage.
'It's not good for wives to visit home so early…' Li Xueyue let out a sigh.
"Princess, shall we place this box near the vanity?" Xiao Hua piqued, noticing the Princess's glum face. She hoped to distract the Princess from her melancholy, even if it was for a split second.
The Crown Princess's attention snapped to the box. For a brief moment, Xiao Hua saw confusion in her eyes, as if the Princess was unsure where she was.
"Are you feeling alright, Princess?" Xiao Hua whispered. She took a step closer to the kind woman. "If needed, the Imperial Physician is one command away, Princess."
Li Xueyue pressed her lips together. She had been lost in thought and forgotten where she was. She didn't know why, but the thought of the Imperial Physician irritated her. Everyone treated her as if she was a fragile flower. Sometimes, she did not mind it, but other times, she felt suffocated. So many people were watching her, even though their eyes were glued to the floor.
She pulled at her collar a bit, suddenly wanting to be alone. It was strange. She generally preferred to be near people, since it was less lonely.
"No need," she finally said.
Li Xueyue rose from the chair. She turned her back to the hydrangeas and proceeded to the bedroom. Abruptly, she halted. Her gaze briefly landed on the box.
"Xiao Hua," she mused.
"Yes, Princess?" Xiao Hua instantly said.
Xiao Hua rapidly blinked her eyes out of shock. Her friends behind her gaped in response, their mouths falling open in disbelief. Everyone looked at each other, wondering if they were to believe their ears.
Xiao Hua peered down at the fancy box in her hands. Suddenly, the item felt heavy, much like her shoulders.
"Princess, I couldn't possibly accept this—"
"You acted well very early on when I was struggling," the Crown Princess complimented.
"It's a gift for your wits and quick thinking. I hope you like it," the Crown Princess calmly
added on in a light and airy voice. She gingerly opened the doors to the shared bedroom.
"No one is to bother me unless I call for Xiao Hua," she softly commanded before shutting the doors behind her.
A few seconds of pure silence passed before Xiao Hua's friends quickly hounded her. They excitedly crowd around her before pulling her out of the doors, and into the hallways, where the Crown Princess wouldn't be disturbed by their excitement.
"Oh my goodness, Xiao Hua, you are so lucky!" her friend rushed out, grasping her hands out of awe. "You're always so quiet, who would've thought it was to hide your intelligence from us?"
Another quickly chimed in, "Now that you have gained the Crown Princess's favor, don't forget about us!" she joked with a large grin. "You must tell us your secrets, Xiao Hua."
"Ah-Ting is right! What did you do to make the Crown Princess like you so much? It seems like she speaks to no one but you nowadays. Well, she used to converse with our Head Maidservant Tianxi a lot…"
Xiao Hua was overwhelmed with their endless questions. Her palms became clammy, as a cold sweat broke out. She was unnerved by their behavior. All of them were her peers, but it wasn't like she was particularly close with them.
She glanced down at the box in her hands, wondering if this was more than a simple gift. It had to be, right? Which aristocrat would give their servant something as expensive as this?
Xiao Hua nervously licked her lips, which were suddenly dry and parched. She was a lot smarter than the majority of her friends who only cared about climbing the social ladder, instead of focusing on the job they were blessed to have.
When Xiao Hua looked at the satin box again, she instantly understood. By giving away this priceless gift in front of so many servants, the Crown Princess was setting an example. Loyalty, intelligence, and diligence will be rewarded with gifts.
"Don't get so mesmerized by this gift, Xiao Hua! Come, come, you must tell us how you won our Crown Princess's heart! We've served her all this time, but she never acknowledged us to this extent."
Xiao Hua's thumb brushed on the tiny, golden lock of the box. She lifted her eyes from the item.
"It seems like the Crown Princess is resting," she finally said in a low, collected voice. "It's best for us to keep our voices low to not wake her."
Her friends moaned and groaned their complaints. "Don't be so unfair, Xiao Hua. We are friends, we should help each other. Remember when I nudged you during the bathhouse incident?"
"Yeah, I even helped take over your chores for half a day when you had to urgently visit your family…"
Xiao Hua felt burdened by the Crown Princess's generosity. She couldn't even force a smile, much less, address their whines all at once. They made it seem as if she never helped them before, whether it was lending her ribbons out, or covering for any sick servant.
Now that she had a small taste of success, everyone was suddenly reminding her of every little deed they did for her.
"Well…" she trailed off, unable to speak when their eyes snapped to her. All of them looked so eager, they reminded her of baby chicks.
"You just have to serve the Crown Princess with earnesty and sincerity, instead of dreaming beyond your position," she eloquently said.
Murmurs arose at her words as they whispered amongst themselves before their lips broke out in gigantic smiles.
"Xiao Hua, it seems you've grown a lot wiser these days! We remember when you were shy and scared of everyone in this palace."
Xiao Hua nodded her head. And before she could say anything else, the servants hurriedly conversed amongst themselves, digesting and breaking down her advice.
Xiao Hua tuned out their chatter. All of them were talking to each other, finding ways to serve the Crown Princess even better than they've already been doing. The thing was, no one dared to slack on the job, especially after the public torture of Xu Jiaqi. Thus, it was difficult for everyone to come up with ways on being even more diligent.
However, Xiao Hua didn't want to contribute to their conversation. Whilst everyone talked amongst themselves, busy as bees, she worriedly glanced at the closed doors of the estate.
"I'm worried…" she whispered to herself, not even bothering to open the box. "The Crown Princess slept so well, why is she suddenly retreating into the bedroom?"
Xiao Hua tucked the box under her arms, and wondered if it would be wise to enter the room, just to check up on the Crown Princess. ��She's all alone in there…"
Xiao Hua knew it would be difficult for the Crown Princess to call for one of them if it was only her inside of the bedroom. Should something happen to her, and she couldn't climb out of bed, what then? The Crown Princess would be forced to yell for someone…it would hurt her throat.
"I will be punished for this, but it's better to take my chances…"
Xiao Hua slipped away from her friends and towards the doors of the estate. The guards exchanged glances with each other before letting her through without any difficulties. She wondered why…but didn't have to think for long.
It might've been because everyone was now aware of Xiao Hua's position. She wasn't just a simple maidservant that served the Crown Princess. Xiao Hua was now one of the Crown Princess's people.
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