"Your Grace," Lady Ge Beining shakily whispered. "Have I offended you so deeply that you must get rid of me?"
The Empress was confused. She turned to Lady Ge Beining with a questioning stare. "You've indeed offended me, but my punishment was not to see you for a while, that is all."
The Empress looked down at the scroll again, wondering what went wrong. The first tray contained paintings of the best Princes that this entire continent had to offer, for example, the Crown Prince of Nanhui.
The Crown Prince of Nanhui was an eligible bachelor who was just three years older than Lady Ge Beining. Though he was ranked above her in status, Lady Ge Beining's years as a lady-in-waiting would count for something.
Because Lady Ge Beining was the closest woman to the Empress out of everyone in this palace, her unofficial rank was equivalent to that of a Princess. After all, she was raised like one, even if the Emperor did not grant her an official title.
"Is he that ugly for you to react like this?" the Empress asked.
She looked down at the painting of the Crown Prince of Nanhui. He was quite the looker if she did say so herself. Of course, his Kingdom was a lot more savage for the likes of the conservative Lady Ge Beining, but she might complement him.
"No, Your Grace," Lady Ge Beining said. "I just…" she trailed off with uncertainty in her gaze. "I just didn't think you would want me to depart from your side so quickly, Your Grace. I was under the assumption I'd serve you for my entire life, for that is something that brings both of us joy."
The Empress gently smiled at this. She had also thought the same thing, but knew it would be too selfish. She, too, wanted to keep this little canary beside her for as long as possible, but life was not that sweet.
"It seems you have outgrown the walls of the palace, Lady Ge," the Empress said. "This is your home, and the place that you have grown up in, but it is not the place I envisioned your future to be."
The Empress reached a hand out and pointed at the title written on the portrait. "He is the Crown Prince of Nanhui. You will wed him as an Imperial Consort, but if you play your cards right and I know you will, for you are intelligent and strong, you can eventually become the Crown Princess."
Lady Ge Beining's face turned even paler, like the first fall of snow. With great velocity, she shook her head. "This offer is greatly appreciated, Your Grace, but I—"
"Hmmm, it seems you are too humble to reach beyond your status, my child," the Empress murmured. She rolled the scroll up and grabbed another one from the tray.
"If you are hesitant about becoming the Empress of a foreign Kingdom, much like I have done, then you can become the First Wife of a Third Prince. The politics will be equally as rough, but the weight will be much lighter upon your shoulders."
The Empress grabbed another scroll from the tray, laying both of them onto the table. "Or, if you're not interested in the politics of the palace, which I would not blame you, then you can marry a Duke, who is someone of your pedigree, but slightly above you in status."
Lady Ge Beining suddenly found it suffocating to be here. The Empress was so excited to list out the potential suitors, that she could not help but be repulsed.
In the past, even when many men begged for Lady Ge Beining's hand in marriage, the Empress had denied them all, declaring that it was not the time.
But now, out of all times, was the right time? It was too suspicious. Unfortunately, she could voice this thought, no matter the circumstances.
"Your Grace," Lady Ge Beining whispered. "I do not want to wed the Crown Prince of Nanhui, a Third Prince, or even a Duke…"
At this, the Empress's warm expression turned freezing cold. Her smile flipped into a deep scowl. "Ge Beining," she viciously addressed in an unforgiving voice. "You can't have him."
Lady Ge Beining flinched as if she was slapped for the second time today. "Why not, Your Grace?" she whispered as her voice cracked towards the end.
"Isn't this what I was raised for?" she pitifully said. "Ever since I came under your care, I was raised to become a Princess. I was taught the duties of a wife, the duties of a woman in power, I—"
"You were taught to become a Princess, but not the Empress," the Empress reprimanded. When Lady Ge Beining's expression crumbled and her eyes watered, the Empress was forced to look away.
"I know, I know," she sighed. "You thought your fate would be entwined with the Second Prince. We all thought it would, and that your red string of fate were tied to his pinky, but alas, it was not."
The Empress could not forget the expression her son had for his wife. During the Round Table Discussion, he looked absolutely awestruck by her words and performance. It was as if no one else existed in the room but her. He watched her with a gentle gaze, filled with pure love and adoration.
The Crown Prince was smitten by his Wangfei. Conquered, even. His heart was so filled with feelings for her, there was no room for anyone else.
"The Crown Prince has eyes for her alone and no one else. The sooner you realize it, dear child, the better," the Empress declared.
"Although His Majesty does not have a harem anymore," the Empress began, "we all thought my second son would have one, despite his lack of emotion for women."
She let out a small sigh. "I believed he would've considered what was the best course of action for the betterment of Hanjian and marry for the benefit of this country. But then he went along and fell head over heels in love with his Wangfei, so much so, that he smiles for no one but her."
The Empress could not help but laugh a bit. How nice it must be to be young and in love… She had forgotten how it felt like, for her heart had long frozen over from the Emperor's years of neglect. When she was a young maiden herself, she had dearly loved the Emperor with her heart.
At first, she was captivated by his great looks, but then, she was enthralled by his rare, occasional smiles.
He had her completely wrapped around his fingers during the first month or so of their marriage. That is, before he tossed her into the lion's den and told her to survive on her own.
"I thought my son would be like his father," she concluded. "But they are worlds apart, despite being raised the same way."
The Empress looked Lady Ge Beining in the eye. "You are the dreams of many men. The famed Beauty of Hanjian. Whoever you set your eyes on, you shall have. But the Crown Prince is not one of those men."
Lady Ge Beining, for the first time in her life, showed a defiant gaze to the Empress. She remained in her seat, hands clenched on her lap, as she slowly shook her head.
"The Crown Prince is the only man I am willing to wed."
Please go to https://www.qzxyzy.com/The-Rise-of-Xueyue/
to read the latest chapters for free