"M-Master are you certain of this?" the servant frantically whispered, his eyes wide as a hunted deer, and shaky as a trapped rabbit. He nervously licked his bottom lip, wondering what could've caused his Master to behave like this.
"If you're not going to use these ears, just cut them off!" Marquis Qin roared at his useless servant, his face twisted into a deep scowl. His heart was set ablaze, his blood boiling with impatience. What a bunch of incompetent fools he had raised!
His servants flinched back in fear, despite being accustomed to his rage-fueled remarks.
Everyone knew their Master was a tender-hearted man. But when his temper got the best of him, he could think of nothing else but ruin everything in sight. Roaring like a lion, cursing like a sailor…these things didn't come out that often, but when it did, he was scarier than the monsters that hid under the bed.
"Even if it will cause me an arm and leg, I will make sure to get it for her," Marquis Qin growled out. He stormed down the hallways of his estate whilst grinding his teeth.
"And once I do, I will make certain to get my payment. My hard work will not go in vain, or else…"
- - - - -
Lady Ge Beining glanced around the empty hallway. Suddenly, she did not know where to go. Her place had always been by the side of the Empress—quiet and obedient. It had been her spot for years.
Lady Ge Beining still remembered her days as a child, where she sat on a chair too large for her tiny frame. There were many aristocratic women gathered, all powerful and influential, but none of them were seated as close to the Empress as she was.
"I was just a child then…" she murmured to herself. It was one of her favorite memories. She was years younger than those women, but none of them would ever come close to the prestige she bore.
"I miss you, Mother," Lady Ge Beining said wistfully. She glanced up at the sky, wondering if her mother's sacrifice was truly worth it. Maybe if her mother was still alive, then she would know what to do in a situation like this.
"I've been by Her Grace's side all of my life, but I had forgotten it was a given spot… not an earned one."
It was precisely why Lady Ge Beining did not know what to do. It seemed the spot, reserved solely for her, was now "occupied". The seat wasn't taken by anyone, but no one dared to approach it anymore as if terrified of touching the spot.
"Her Grace is neglecting us again," she whispered under her breath. It had been days since the Empress called for her ladies-in-waiting, and everyone was eager to meet her.
Lady Ge Beining glanced around the hallways that she had found herself standing in. Her fingers reached out to stroke the golden pillars, bright and dazzling, a sharp contrast to the Crown Prince.
"Is this how it is from now on?" she sighed, her shoulders sagging in disappointment. "Now that Your Grace realized none of her well-bred ladies-in-waiting will catch the eye of His Highness, we are all abandoned?"
Lady Ge Beining was not distraught by this idea, for she had a bright future. Even so, she couldn't help but drop her head a bit and observe the smooth wooden floors.
"I can marry the wealthiest and powerful suitor knocking at my doors…" Lady Ge Beining tried to imagine such a future. She would be happy, rich, and free from the shackles of the palace.
Lady Ge Beining shakily revealed her palms, flushed pink with life. "But my hands are already tainted in blood, and there is no going back."
She tucked her hands back into her sleeves and decided to try and find her way out of here. "Where is this place?" she asked herself.
Lady Ge Beining had nothing to do the entire day, so she had decided to blindly turn the corners, one after the other, and walk down paths that were semi-familiar but not really.
"A life away from the palace…" Lady Ge Beining nearly gagged. It was a repulsive idea. All of her life, she had walked down these corridors, smelled the flowers in the air, and breathed in the extravagance. All she had known in this lifetime was the Imperial Palace.
"I was born here, I grew up here, I was educated here." Lady Ge Beining ground her teeth. She refused to part from this place, all because someone else had taken her spot in his life.
"Why should I let a foreign weed overgrow me?" Lady Ge Beining's heart clenched with hatred. She could feel her melancholy wash away as her anger surfaced.
"I refuse to live anywhere else but here," Lady Ge Beining decided. She refused to eat in a house lesser than the palace, sleep under a roof lesser than the golden tiles of the palace, or seek shelter in anywhere but these familiar red walls.
Lady Ge Beining spun on her heels, taking in every nook and cranny of her surroundings. These corridors were unfamiliar, but she knew it like the back of her palm. The palace was her home, her birthplace, and her entire life.
She refused to part from it. Refused to give up this fight, refused to yield, for it was never in her nature to do so.
"No matter what," she whispered to herself. "I will reside within the palace walls and nowhere else."
With that said, Lady Ge Beining stormed down the hallways. She continued onwards, even if she was not sure where she was going. Eventually, she came to a familiar place. It was then she knew, her foot had done the walking, but her head had done the leading.
In the far distance, she saw an unmistakable silhouette. Lady Ge Beining's heart skipped as her body hummed.
There he stood, proud and confident, a complete parallel to the child he used to be. His shoulders were broad and strong. It was a place her head desperately wanted to rest on, and her hands to hold onto… Yu Zhen had embraced her before as a child, when she wept for her mother. It was the first time he had ever comforted her and the last.
A numb little boy with careful, tender hands patting her little back. Even then, he did not know what compassion was, yet he comforted her in a time where everyone expected her to smile.
The Empress's favorite. Everyone expected Lady Ge Beining to be the happiest person in the entire palace, for she had the protection of the most powerful woman in the entire Kingdom. But it was difficult to be happy when there was so much pressure upon her shoulders.
"I should've known," she whispered. "That I would have arrived here."
Lady Ge Beining wished her eyes did not latch onto him. Whenever he was present, the world was a blur, and she saw no one but him.
"What changed?" she asked. "Why did you stop looking my way? Why did you stop seeing me? Why did you stop caring about me?"
Thousands of needles pricked at Lady Ge Beining's chest. Her heart threatened to rip apart. She did not want to hear the answer to these questions. She already knew.
From the corner of her eyes, something flickered. She turned her chin in time to see an unwelcome figure walking down the hallways. Mindful of her footsteps, mindful of the watchful eyes, was the Crown Princess herself.
"I gave you my heart, hoping to fill the void in your chest, but you gave it to someone else. How can you be so cruel?"
Lady Ge Beining watched as he glanced to the side. She watched as his frown slowly pulled into a smile. Watched as he wrapped his arms around a woman who stole her spot. He tenderly touched her face, bending down to whisper something into her ear. She laughed, her eyes crinkling, as she held onto his upper arms, a bright carefree smile on her face.
Lady Ge Beining's vision blurred. Heat flushed on her cheeks, as her fingers trembled. Something wet trickled down her face. It was warm, like her boiling blood, and thin like her patience.
"Soon," she whispered to herself. "Soon, my spot will not be the Empress's side, but the Crown Prince's."
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