479 You“re Right.
Yu Zhen was the first to awaken. It was late in the afternoon, and the world outside was calm. He could see the setting horizon in the distance. A beautiful palette of rosy pink, pearl white, and vibrant orange.
He shifted his head and glanced down, noticing their position had shifted in their sleep. She was curled on her side, her head resting on his bicep whilst she placed a palm on his chest. Coincidentally, it was where his heart beat for no one but her.
Li Xueyue was sound asleep, her eyelids were softly closed shut. Throughout the entire morning, she did not toss and turn in his arms, but he was not relieved.
The nightmares would come to haunt her again. But Yu Zhen would not let her experience it alone. No matter how many times she'd wake up in tears—screaming, and crying—he would be with her. Even if his sleep had to be sacrificed, he would comfort her. They swore to each on their wedding day that they would stay together through thick and thin.
"Sleep well, Sunshine." Yu Zhen caressed the side of her face and pressed a chaste kiss on the crown of her head. She mumbled incoherent things before snuggling closer to him. She shifted her legs and slung it over his body.
It was difficult not to love her even more than he already did. Yu Zhen was a fool for her. He loved her enough to sacrifice the world for her. It was precisely why he detangled himself from her.
Yu Zhen gently lowered her face on the pillow. She grumbled something before turning to her other side.
"Such an endearing little thing you are." Yu Zhen caressed her cheek before leaning down to kiss it gently.
"All of your monsters…" he gently said whilst pushing the hair away from her face. "I will slay them all. One by one, until there is no more left."
- - - - -
The Empress could not bear to watch it any longer. She stared with wide eyes as three maidservants shoved Lady Ge Beining's head underwater. Lady Ge Beining gurgled and choked, screaming for mercy when she rose to the surface.
Lady Ge Beining reached for the Empress, but was pushed underwater again and again until her body was a shaking mess. Lady Ge Beining was drenched from head to toe in the large, wooden bathtub as maidservants crowded the sides, preventing her from escaping.
"Help me, Your Grace, help—" She was pushed underwater again.
"I can't, child," the Empress gently murmured from the corner of the bathroom. Her heart was threatening to be ripped to pieces by the sight of this horrific torture.
Lady Ge Beining was a well-bred lady from a prestigious background. This torture was beneath her. This punishment was sentencing her to hell. There was a possibility that she would die from this treatment.
The Empress's heart raced at the horrid thought. She could no longer tolerate this. "Enough."
The Empress approached the foot of the bathtub. The maidservants had taken a step back, with their heads bowed and eyes lowered.
"Is she still warm?" the Empress gently asked.
Lady Ge Beining was dripping wet. She coughed and choked, wheezing for air. Hitting her chest, she tried to force the air into her lungs.
Lady Ge Beining resembled a river ghost. Her wet hair clung to her face, and her pained expression did not help. Her chest was exposed, shivering and trembling like her fingers. Her skin, pale as snow, was turning blue and purple.
"I-it's cold," she whimpered out.
The Empress touched Lady Ge Beining's cheeks. It was cold as ice. She took a step back and gestured towards the bathtub.
"Pull her out."
"Yes, Your Grace," the maidservants obediently said. They came forward and helped Lady Ge Beining out of the bathtub.
Lady Ge Beining struggled to get out. The bathtub stopped a bit over her belly button, but her limbs were numb. When she tried to stand, her legs gave out. She sobbed in pain, as needles shot up her body. The ice was too much for her.
If the drowning did not kill her, the frostbite would.
"Hurry!" the Empress demanded. These incompetent servants! Who allowed them to pass the Imperial servant examination? She would have that Eunuch whipped!
The maidservants reached into the bathtub and worked hard to hoist Lady Ge Beining out of the bathtub. Finally, her foot touched the wooden platform. Not a second later, she collapsed onto the ground.
Lady Ge Beining's teeth chattered. Her legs were bent underneath her, like a fallen swan. The maidservants instantly came forward with multiple layers of clothes to cover her naked body.
"It seems the aphrodisiac finally wore off." The Empress let out a small sigh of relief. She peered out the circular window and noticed the sun was high in the sky. It had taken them the entire morning, and late into the afternoon for this treatment to finish.
The Empress hadn't had her morning or afternoon meal. But after witnessing Lady Ge Beining's horrendous screams and wails, the Empress could not stomach food.
"Oh dear," the maidservants whispered. "Y-Your Grace, Lady Ge Beining's toes have turned completely purple!"
The Empress's attention snapped to Lady Ge Beining. Sure enough, her exposed toes, tiny and cute, were bruised purple like morning orchids.
She ground her teeth and shot dangerous glares towards the maidservants. "Didn't I say to be careful with her?!"
The maidservants whimpered in fear. They dropped to their knees and begged for forgiveness. "We're sorry, Your Grace! We deserve to die for this failure. Our life is futile, for this mistake is dire!"
Lady Ge Beining's heart ached at the sight. She turned to the Empress but flinched back out of embarrassment. Lady Ge Beining was seated on the ground, like some kind of dog.
"We deeply apologize, your Grace! Please spare us, please forgive us! We plea for your benevolence!" the maidservants cried out in fear.
"Your Grace," Lady Ge Beining said in between chattering teeth. She hugged her trembling body and peered up at the Empress. Suddenly, the Empress seemed so tall, her figure looming over them.
Lady Ge Beining felt like she was forced to look up and worship a Goddess from Heaven. She hated that feeling. She hated being beneath someone who was not the Crown Prince. She hated serving this heartless woman.
"Please spare my maidservants, Your Grace! I will ensure they do not make the same foolish mistakes, ever again."
The Empress sneered towards the maidservants. "I've always told you, dear child, your heart is far too kind for this world. You will get hurt."
Lady Ge Beining frowned. "Your Grace, I—"
"Eunuch!" the Empress called out. In an instant, two men dressed in navy blue entered the room. They lowered their eyes and heads, careful not to look at Lady Ge Beining. Failure to look away would result in horrible consequences.
"Have these useless maidservants dragged to the servant's corridor and whipped 20 times for their stupidity."
"Your Grace, we were wrong! Your Grace, please!" the maidservants shrieked and begged as they crawled to the Empress, hoping for her mercy.
Lady Ge Beining sat there, numb and shocked. Her eyes widened in disbelief as she looked up at the Empress.
The Empress peered down at the lady-in-waiting who sat near her feet. "These maidservants failed to protect you when you were poisoned. Now, they failed to prevent your injuries. 20 whips is already showing mercy."
Lady Ge Beining rapidly shook her head. She grabbed the bottom of the Empress's skirts. This was not supposed to happen. Her people were not supposed to be harmed and punished. These maidservants, she knew them quite well. She had treated them with decency, and they were loyal to her.
The maidservants were Lady Ge Beining's people. If she failed to protect them, then they would turn their backs on her.
"Your Grace, they're young and inexperienced. Please spare them just this once, just for me—"
"Drag them out."
The maidservants cried out in fear as they were yanked to their feet and pulled out of the room. Their eyes met their Mistress, who was seated on the ground, with a pale, horrified expression.
"Your Grace," Lady Ge Beining breathed out in great astonishment. "W-why?"
The Empress softly frowned. "This gentle heart of yours is the exact reason why these maidservants managed to sneak the aphrodisiac into the Crown Princess's tea. They must've put it in the boiling water that they fetched for you."
Lady Ge Beining's face paled. It was either her or the maidservants. And despite the years of friendship that she had with these servants, despite their gentle smiles and loyalty, Lady Ge Beining kept her mouth shut. She chose to save herself.
"Had your people been more careful, these intruders wouldn't have been able to sneak into your room through the low windows of your bedroom. But these maidservants were too complacent that they did not bother checking the perimeters before they left you alone."
Lady Ge Beining's fingers shook. This time, it wasn't because she was cold. She lowered her eyes. Her heart pricked with this betrayal. How many people must be hurt for her to achieve her goal?
First, it was Lady Xu Jiaqi, and now it was her maidservants.
Lady Ge Beining clenched her fingers. With trembling lips and heartless eyes, she nonchalantly smiled. Hesitation was a weakness. Guilt was stupidity. None of these emotions would bring her closer to her goal.
Lady Ge Beining had vowed to do everything it takes to reach her goal. If she could not have the Crown Prince, then she would just ruin the Crown Princess. She would ruin that woman so horribly, he would not be able to stomach the sight of his own wife. Only then, would Lady Ge Beining have a possibility to be with the Crown Prince.
"You're right, Your Grace," Lady Ge Beining finally said. "As always, you're right."