465 Bad News
The Empress was not surprised. She didn't even blink at the confession. She maintained her current posture and expression.
"Lady Ge, you are no longer a child. You can't expect to get everything that you desire at your whim and fancy," the Empress softly said. She reached a hand out and clasped it over Lady Ge Beining's hands.
The Empress's heart stung when she saw the tears in Lady Ge Beining's gaze. The lady-in-waiting rarely cried, and if she did, it was for an exceptional cause. "You can't have him, child."
Lady Ge Beining rapidly shook her head. She rose to her feet, her lips trembling like her watery eyes. "I'm so sorry, Your Grace," she whispered as she approached the Empress.
Not a second later, Lady Ge Beining dropped to her knees as she clasped her hands over the Empress in a desperate plea. "This heart of mine beats for no one but the Crown Prince, Your Grace! I do not want anyone but him—"
"Then, you will learn to." The Empress did not bother to help the young woman up. Lady Ge Beining knew better than to kneel and beg like this.
"I truly can't—"
"Then you will wed another man whether you love him or not."
Lady Ge Beining's eyes widened at the Empress's words. She tightened her grasp and blinked once, the tears trickling down faster than rain.
"Then you are sentencing me to a life worse than death and torture in itself, Your Grace!" she exclaimed.
The Empress let out a small sigh. She pulled her hand back and stroked the side of Lady Ge Beining's face.
"Why do all of my daughters yearn for a man that they can't have?" the Empress whispered, as she recalled Princess Yu Lingluo who had locked herself in her room. It had been nearly a week now, and she never stepped outside her palace. She even banished all the maidservants from the premises and refused to eat.
"Begging in a pathetic state like this does not work on me, you should know that the best, Lady Ge," the Empress sniped.
Lady Ge Beining's heart clenched. Even now, she could remember the deceased Imperial Consort kneeling, screaming, crying, and begging for mercy upon the only illegitimate daughter of the Emperor. In the end, the Imperial Consort died pitifully, without her only daughter by her side.
"And I should know that it didn't work because not a day later, she dropped dead under mysterious circumstances that can only be explained as heartbreak, Your Grace," Lady Ge Beining slowly said. Her words seemed light, but the intent was poisonous—and the Empress knew it.
The Empress shot out of her chair, a dark and fierce glower in her eyes. They burned brighter than ever, like the fire in her soul. "You dare to bring her up in front of me?"
"Yes, Your Grace," Lady Ge Beining whispered as she revealed her palms, pale and pink like cherry blossoms. "For my hands are too stained for the incident to be forgotten."
The Empress narrowed her gaze. She sharply turned to her servants. "Lady Ge Beining has lost her mind, have her stand up."
The maidservants immediately came forward but Lady Ge Beining shook them off. She stood up on her own, but still bent her head in obedience.
"Your Grace, for all of my life, I've served you and no one else. I've stood by your side, through the storm and hurricanes, with a smile. Never once have I asked anything of your benevolence," she slowly said. "But just this one, just this once, please give me the impossible."
Lady Ge Beining shakily grasped the Empress's sleeves. "And that will be all. I will ask for nothing else from you after this, Your Grace. I will never lower myself to this extent, never embarrass you, ever again. I will carry our secrets, from the smallest to the darkest, to my grave."
Lady Ge Beining sucked in a trembling breath. She felt her heart begin to rip open with pain. Even breathing was difficult. "S-so… can't I have the Crown Prince? Even if it costs me my freedom?"
The Empress's frigid expression melted. She let out a small, heavy sigh. "Even if it costs you your pride?"
Lady Ge Beining's throat tightened. "Y-yes—"
"Even if it costs you your dignity?"
"Then you are not worthy to become the Imperial Consort of the Crown Prince."
The Empress could see the light fleeting from Lady Ge Beining's eyes. Her heavenly gaze was replaced by malicious greed. Her heart, soft and beating, was slowly turning cold like ice.
Lady Ge Beining swallowed her sobs and sniffles. She wiped her tears away and hung her head lower, never daring to raise it. Slowly, and softly, she sank to her knees, like a dying flower. With her palms planted on the ground, she bowed her head.
"I understand, Your Grace."
- - - - -
"Princess, we mustn't delay the Imperial Physician any longer now!" Xiao Hua urgently whispered from two steps behind the Crown Princess.
"I'm walking back to my estate already," the Crown Princess said and lightly laughed. "It was a simple detour I took."
Li Xueyue glanced around her surroundings. The sun was high in the sky, but a large, gloomy cloud was slowly covering it. She watched as the light was eventually swallowed by the darkness until the afternoon was bathed in dreariness.
"Is he already there?" Li Xueyue asked Xiao Hua. Now that she had set foot in her estate, she felt at peace.
"Yes, Princess, he has arrived earlier than expected after being summoned by the Crown Prince," Xiao Hua responded in a small voice.
Li Xueyue nodded. Without a doubt, Yu Zhen had urged the man to wait outside, no matter how long it'd take for her to arrive. She pitied the Imperial Physician, but knew she was partially to blame.
When she turned the corner, Li Xueyue saw the young Imperial Physician. He was accompanied by an apprentice and a servant. Suddenly, she was hesitant and nervous. What if the Imperial Physician would bring her another piece of bad news?
"Princess?" Xiao Hua whispered when the Crown Princess came to an abrupt halt. All of the servants behind them also paused when she did so and nearly bumped into each other.
"Is everything alright, Princess?" Xiao Hua worriedly asked. She lifted her gaze to where the Crown Princess was watching. Her brows crinkled in confusion when she noticed it was just the Imperial Physician standing there and not some evil spirit.
"You're pale, Princess," Xiao Hua said. She wondered what could've been the cause of this. Not a minute ago, the Princess seemed just fine. In fact, she was in high-spirits the entire day, as she usually was.
"Nothing," Li Xueyue responded in a shaky voice. The Imperial Physician's examination did not hurt, nor did his questions seem malicious. But she always dreaded seeing him, for nothing good could come out of his visit.
"Let's not keep him waiting any longer now," Li Xueyue reluctantly said. She could feel the confusion amongst her maidservants and the concern from Xiao Hua.
Li Xueyue took the first step, then another, and then another until eventually she was approaching the Imperial Physician. Her footsteps felt heavy, much like her heart.
What bad news would he tell her this time?