458 Guilt Tripping
Li Xueyue continued walking down the hallways, her eyes briefly landed on the guards closest to Lady Ge Beining and Marquis Qin when an argument broke out between them. Not a second later, she looked away as if nothing about them interested her in any way.
"Oh no!" Xiao Hua suddenly gasped as she anxiously looked up at the Crown Princess. "I have forgotten to—"
"Go," Li Xueyue excused without another word. She continued walking even when Xiao Hua lagged behind and disappeared down the corner.
But Li Xueyue knew better. Xiao Hua was only carrying out their plan. Once every servant was out of sight, Xiao Hua would slip back into view and speak to the guards.
"I hope I didn't keep you waiting, Marquis Qin." Li Xueyue set foot into the familiar pavilion that she always saw him in.
Marquis Qin was standing beside a pillar at the edge of the open pavilion, watching the koi swim about the pond. It was so deep that he saw nothing but murky death beneath his feet. He gulped.
"Certainly not, Princess," Marquis Qin stated with a deep bow of his upper body.
Li Xueyue didn't bother responding. She approached the table where a maidservant had already pulled out a chair. Without another word, Li Xueyue sat down.
From the corner of her eyes, she saw Marquis Qin's servants lining the wall. She found it interesting that he finally came with his people, considering the fact that he was always alone when they met. She wondered what could be the reason until she noticed their bodies covered with bandages.
'A guilt-tripping tactic,' she realized.
They must've been the servants who had narrowly escaped with their lives with the dagger they managed to acquire from the foreign country.
"As you've requested, Princess," Marquis Qin said in an exhausted voice. He gestured for his servant to come forward with a slow flick of his hand. A heavy, silver box was placed on his worn out palms.
Li Xueyue saw the eye bags under his eyes. She wondered if he had worn himself out in fulfilling her request, or he was troubled by the argument that took place with Lady Ge Beining—or maybe a combination of both. Nonetheless, her enemy's unhappiness was her joy.
"It is quite amusing that people could create weapons out of something so beautiful, Princess," Marquis Qin muttered as he placed the box on the table. He wondered what inspired the foreign kingdom to shape this dagger in a curve, sharp and rounded, much like a crescent moon.
The Crown Princess merely smiled in response. "Open it," she commanded him.
A nerve ticked from within Marquis Qin. He hated these types of women the most—the ones who ranked above him, who thought they were far more superior just because of the power given to them by husbands or fathers.
Hmph, these arrogant women! They acted as if they had obtained this amount of wealth and status with their own two hands.
Alas, he forced himself to oblige, for she was ranked above him, and the future Mother of this nation.
Marquis Qin slowly opened the shiny box filled with swirls, a delicate design of a rose garden. It was truly a beautiful encasing for an equally dazzling weapon.
He set the lid beside the box, revealing a black dagger lined with gold and tiny, white beads of silver. There was a majestic bird embedded on the center of the sheath, with its wings spread wide open. But the most-eye catching detail was its deadly shape, curved like the fangs of a snake.
"It was with great difficulty that I was able to obtain this blade, Crown Princess. It belonged to a Prince and my men had to wager with their lives to obtain such an item, for they were nearly killed in the process of pleading for an audience with their royalty."
Marquis Qin looked up from the weapon, with hope in his eyes. He wanted to see her delighted smile, and her bright eyes. Maybe she would even swoon or breathe out in shock, for the beauty of this weapon had knocked the air out of her.
His heart raced at the idea of seeing a genuine smile from her. He had never witnessed it before, except for her cunning, sickening sweet expressions. He had heard great tales of her beauty, and how delicate she looked when she revealed an earnest smile.
But as always, she shattered his expectations. Her doe-like eyes were dull, her face bleak, and her lips taunt. She seemed to be suppressing a frown, for creases formed on her forehead.
"Princess, is there a problem?" Marquis Qin hoped not. He prayed to the High Heavens and every single deity he knew, across all of the different cultures he had come across.
This dagger had nearly cost the lives of one fourth of his men, and could've been even more.
But for once, his servants were smart, and fled the country the minute they got their hands on the weapon, instead of lingering behind for a day, only to be slaughtered in their sleep with their money robbed, and the dagger taken back by the same people who sold it to them.
"J-just for you, Princess, I had urged the boat to sail back as soon as possible. The foreign kingdom is at least a week's worth of travel, but for your sake, I purchased a faster, sturdier boat that cut the travel time short."
Marquis Qin's heart drummed against his chest. He broke into a cold sweat, his palms turning clammy and moist. He was so unnerved by her unimpressed expression that he literally felt his blood pressure rise. Why did she seem so disappointed?
Wasn't this what she wanted in the first place?!
"Why does it look like this?" she spat out.
"What?" he breathed out.
Marquis Qin rubbed his hands together and analyzed the dagger again. What did she mean by that? The weapon was flawless and expensive! It once belonged to the Royal family, thus, every detail about this was perfect.
"How many times will you disappoint me, Marquis Qin?" she demanded in an eerily calm voice. She didn't even sound angry, but more of, dissatisfied, like a mother scolding her child.
Marquis Qin ground his teeth. He tried his best not to shake with fury, his fingers digging into his palms. There should be a limit to how horrid a woman was! This one seemed like the worst of them all!
She was many years his junior, so young, that when her father was born, the Marquis would be older than him! How could she speak to him so impudently, even if she was the Crown Princess of Hanjian?
It wasn't like she was born in this country, raised with the food grown here, and played within Hanjian's grounds. She was just an exotic flower that captured the Crown Prince's fancy, and nothing else.
"What do you mean by this, Crown Princess? Isn't this exactly what you wanted, a dagger shaped like a crescent moon?"
The Crown Princess tilted her head and looked at him as if he was absurd and crazy. Her lips were curled in disgust. "Crescent moon? Whoever said anything about a crescent moon?
Marquis Qin gawked at her. "The first time you seeked an audience with me, Princess, you requested for a dagger shaped like the moon."
The Crown Princess slowly nodded, as if chastising him for how dumb he was. "And what is the shape of the moon, Marquis Qin?"
Marquis Qin rapidly blinked his eyes. Was she fooling him? "A circle—"
"And is this a circle, Marquis Qin?" The Crown Princess seethed whilst pointing at the dagger with a deep scowl.
"Then it is not the shape of the moon."
Marquis Qin's eyes widened. It was as if the rug was yanked from underneath him, and cold water was poured over him. This…this entire time, he thought she meant a crescent moon. But all along, she had never disclosed to him what phase of the moon she wanted. Alas, now he knew. It was the full moon.
Marquis Qin's head began to spin, his patience spiraling out of control. All this time, he had worked himself to the bone, stressing day and night, just to acquire this dagger, much less, one of such high quality.
His people died, his resources were strained, and he had to utilize his connections, owing favors along the way—all to fulfill her request.
All of his hard work, his worries, his rising blood pressure meant nothing at this moment. He had sacrificed so much, only for him to miserably fail like this.