Lady Ge Beining placed the wooden box down on the large table in her bedroom. There was an empty vase resting on the table, so beautiful that it could overshadow any flower placed in it.
"Lady Ge…" a small voice whispered from behind her.
Lady Ge Beining instantly turned around, covering the box with her body. She forced a smile, realizing it was just her loyal servants.
"What is it?" she asked in the same, patient and kind voice. Even so, the maidservants bowed their heads.
"Her Grace, the Empress, is requesting your presence."
Lady Ge Beining's heart soared. Did that mean the Empress had a change of heart? Had she finally gotten over the pain?
'Of course, she did, it was only a matter of time!' Lady Ge Beining thought to herself. It was just a small mention of miscarriages, that was all.
Many women go through it, so why was the Empress still lamenting about something that happened so long ago? What's the point of crying over spilled milk? There were already flowers planted in place of the children that she had lost. All that was needed to be done was done.
'If it was me, I'd cry for less than a week, and then move on with my life. After all, I would still have the opportunity to make more,' she added on.
"Lady Ge?" the maidservant gently called out.
Lady Ge Beining snapped back to reality as she smiled at the servant. "Give me a moment please, all of you," she said.
The servants bowed at her words. They slipped out of the room whilst closing the doors behind them.
Lady Ge Beining opened the wooden box and took out the item she had eagerly wanted to get her hands on for the longest time now.
Initially, she was hesitant about getting it, since it was not certain whether or not the item would be effective. It was pricey and definitely cost a significant amount of the inheritance she got from her mother.
"You better work so I wouldn't have stressed myself out for nothing." Lady Ge Beining walked towards her vanity, where different bottles of perfumes were on display. She settled the bottle onto the table, tucking it behind an unopened bottle of perfume. Then, she left the box on the table and left the room.
"Alright, let's greet the Empress," Lady Ge Beining informed her servants in a contained voice. Her face reflected her happiness, even when she didn't dare to show it too much. It wasn't her personality to do so.
As Lady Ge Beining walked down the hallways, she could not help but lament over the memories spent in this palace. When she crossed the circular entryway that led to the Empress's estate, a tiny smile began to form on her lips.
"I still remember running down this path, only to be scolded a minute later," Lady Ge Beining joked with the maidservant standing closest to her. "I always thought it was strange, considering other little girls of aristocrats were allowed to do it…"
Lady Ge Beining recalled a memory of the Empress catching her, and scolding her for behaving so unruly.
At that time, the Empress had said her future status did not allow her to be so wild. It was only after Lady Ge Beining grew up that she realized the Empress was hinting at her future as a lady-in-waiting.
"Her Grace always had my best interest in mind, so I always listened to her," Lady Ge Beining whispered. She stopped before the grand palace of the Empress's estate, with its golden roofs curved towards the high heavens, and its crimson pillars.
"It's so strange how quickly time has passed." Lady Ge Beining touched her chest that slightly ached with the remembrance of the past.
Lady Ge Beining had grown up without a mother. Thus, she had latched onto the only figure in her life who fit the role—the Empress. And the Empress did not seem to mind. During that time, the Empress had informed Lady Ge Beining that the more daughters, the merrier.
'Yet, she treats me a lot differently,' Lady Ge Beining bitterly thought to herself. Not a second later, she regretted harboring such malicious opinion towards the Empress.
'I was the one who requested to become her lady-in-waiting, as a way of getting closer to her,' she reminded herself.
Even so, Lady Ge Beining could not help but want to run back to her room. She chose that position because she thought it would come in handy in the future.
If the Crown Prince wanted her to, she could easily spy on the Empress for him. She was willing to sacrifice that much just to gain his affection.
"Well, let's not keep Her Grace waiting any longer now," Lady Ge Beining said.
She approached the small staircase and continued walking until she was near the garden where the Empress always held an audience with her. It was their little private spot, unbeknownst to any of the other ladies-in-waiting.
"There she is," Lady Ge Beining whispered upon seeing the familiar figure clad in emerald green with silver trimmings. Elegant and bold, as always. The Empress's maidservants outdid themselves each and every day in choosing her clothing.
Lady Ge Beining excitedly approached the gazebo. She loved the vines that swirled from the ground and up the wooden pillars. It added more depth and character to this place, regardless of how unkempt it seemed at first glance.
"Your Grace," Lady Ge Beining addressed in her usual voice, light and airy, like the soft caress of a feather.
Lady Ge Beining grabbed both sides of her hanfu and dipped into a curtsy. She had picked up this odd habit from a picture book she had read in her youth. It was a book gifted by the Emperor, after acquiring it from a merchant overseas.
"You have called for me, Your Grace?" Lady Ge Beining whispered whilst her gaze drifted towards the empty table. There wasn't a teapot or any teacups in sight.
"I apologize, Your Grace," she worriedly said. "It was such short notice that I wasn't able to prepare your favorite tea and snacks."
Lady Ge Beining's brows pulled together. "But if you will pardon me a few minutes, I will immediately do so, Your Grace."
Lady Ge Beining was often not in this much of a rush but it had been a few weeks since she had last seen the Empress, that all of her excitement came back at once.
"No need, Lady Ge," the Empress lightly laughed. She gestured towards the wooden chair in front of her. "Take a seat."
Lady Ge Beining blinked a bit. The sound of the Empress's laugh was less pleasant and gentle than it had been in the past. Her smile, though warm, never reached her eyes.
Did something happen?
It was then Lady Ge Beining noticed the abundance of maidservants today, more than usual. They carried wooden trays with them, each with three to four scrolls resting on it.
"Is everything alright, Your Grace?" Lady Ge Beining blurted out when she took her seat. The second she did so, the Empress waved her hand and the maidservants came forward with the first tray.
"Everything is splendid, Lady Ge," the Empress answered in an elated voice. She grabbed the first scroll. It was the color of the splendid sun, bright and yellow.
"You must be wondering why it took me so long to call for your presence," the Empress said. She settled the scroll in front of her and with a flick of the wrist, unraveled it. The ends of the scroll rolled down the table, stopping directly in front of Lady Ge Beining who's eyes widened in horror.
"Your Grace, I—"
"Hush now, I am speaking, child." The Empress presented Lady Ge Beining with a smile. She wondered exactly why her favorite lady-in-waiting's expression had paled.
"I was initially angry at your failures. Don't get me wrong, I am still infuriated, but what kind of mother would I be if I held this against you?" the Empress said and chuckled. She was not the type to hold a grudge against the people she favored.
"I have raised you as my own daughter, despite the lack of blood we share," the Empress slowly said. She smoothened down the flat parchment, her smile widening at the lovely memories of raising a wild child to the graceful maiden she was today.
"It is precisely why I decided to do this for you," the Empress said whilst gesturing towards the scroll. She lifted her eyes from the parchment and was astonished by the tears in Lady Ge Beining's eyes.
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