480 I Must Confess
Li Xueyue woke up in a daze. Her head was throbbing a bit, but at least, she no longer felt like her body was on fire. She wryly glanced around the bedroom, suddenly wanting to do nothing but sleep all day. She was not in the mood to see anyone today, much less, act regal, and proper.
Wordlessly, she flopped back onto the bed and brought the blanket to her shoulders. She laid on her side and glanced at her fingers.
"What exactly happened…" Li Xueyue murmured. Her mind felt hazy as if a fog was blocking her memories. She was familiar with this feeling. It happened during her childhood when she wanted to forget the heinous things in her life.
Li Xueyue only remembered entering Lady Ge Beining's tea room. Then, the rest was foggy. She recalled the guards rushing into the room after the teacup shattered. But then, her vision blurred, and she recalled hands roaming all over her body.
Li Xueyue recalled she was burning with heat as if she had set foot near a volcano. Her body yearned for a cooling touch…yearned for someone to take the heat away.
Lost in thought and in her own little world, Li Xueyue laid there blissfully ignorant of the chaos outside of this estate. As she slowly closed her eyes, soon, someone would be drawing their last breath.
- - - - -
"Be careful," the Empress coldly addressed the new batch of maidservants that were brought into Lady Ge Beining's room. They were helping the lady-in-waiting onto the bed, slowly lowering her down.
Lady Ge Beining let out a small, contented sigh. Her blanket were cold, but it was more than enough. After the frightening cold bath that felt like sheer terror, Lady Ge Beining was more than grateful to be back in her room.
She snuck a glance at the worried-faced Empress. The Empress herself was personally closing all the windows.
'She doesn't know yet.' Lady Ge Beining looked away from the Empress and towards her palms. Her fingers were shaking, and she clenched it together.
After committing two crimes, Lady Ge Beining didn't think she would still be so frightened of being caught. Lady Ge Beining pressed her lips together and pulled the blanket up to her chin.
Lady Ge Beining was certain this was a fool-proof plan. No one would suspect her now that she had consumed the poison. No one should dare to. Who would point their fingers at a sick woman, who went through the same torture as the Crown Princess?
"Everyone is excused," the Empress said to the servants. They nodded at her words, bowing low before quietly slipping out of the room.
Soon, only Lady Ge Beining and the Empress were left behind.
Lady Ge Beining could see the Empress's suspicion. The Empress kept her facade up, but the gears inside of her head were spinning. The Empress was a cunning and sly woman. She was likely predicting who caused this problem.
Lady Ge Beining carefully watched the Empress's expression. If she was upset, then Lady Ge Beining would not continue uttering this unspeakable title. But the Empress's face became more gentle.
"Are you missing your mother?" the Empress gently murmured.
The Empress closed the distance between them and took a seat on the edge of the bed.
Seeing Lady Ge Beining snuggled under the blanket, her heart clenched with adoration. It reminded the Empress of the past when Lady Ge Beining was a child experiencing night terrors. At that time, to lull Lady Ge Beining to sleep, the Empress would tell wild stories of an even wilder Empress during her youth.
"I've never met her," Lady Ge Beining whispered. She slipped a hand out and gently grasped the Empress's hand.
A gentle, innocent smile softened Lady Ge Beining's tired face. "But I am told she is a great woman with a gentle heart, much like you, Your Grace."
The Empress's chest pricked with pain. She dearly loved Lady Ge Beining's mother.
At that time, the Empress had no one in the palace. There was not a single person she could call a friend or family. That is until Lady Ge Beining's mother appeared. Both of them were a wild spirit concealed under demure smiles. Soon, they became the best of friends.
The Empress would share all of her troubles with Lady Ge Beining's mother. And the latter would always provide the best advice. In the time of loneliness, a single friend felt like a hundred.
Lady Ge Beining's mother was all that the Empress needed.
"Indeed," the Empress quietly said in a low whisper. "Your mother was a woman many admired for her intellect and kindness."
Lady Ge Beining squeezed the Empress's hands. "I've always considered you as my mother, Your Grace… It is wrong of me to reach above my ranks, but I believe my birth mother would not mind."
The Empress gently smiled. All of her life, she had viewed Lady Ge Beining as her own daughter. She had personally raised the little girl to the lady she is today. Lady Ge Beining had been an obedient and wise child who always knew what to say.
"Did you know?" the Empress mused. "When your mother took her last dying breath, shortly after giving birth to you, she commanded me to raise you as my own. It was audacious of her to command me, the Empress, of such a thing, but I accepted without hesitation."
The Empress reached a hand out and stroked Lady Ge Beining's face. "Despite all of your flaws and threats, I see them as mere tantrums to gain my attention. Am I wrong, Xiao Ning?"
Lady Ge Beining's heart ached with the nickname. It had been years since she had last heard it. The last time the Empress called her by such an affectionate title was the day her cycle started, and Lady Ge Beining was finally a woman.
"I am a greedy child, Your Grace," Lady Ge Beining admitted. "I want your attention to be on me, and no one else. Is it wrong of me to want such a thing, Mother?"
The Empress pressed her lips together. In her eyes, her children could do no wrong. Even when the First Prince took his loss without a fight, even when Yu Zhen banned her from seeing his Wangfei yesterday, even when Yu Lingluo wrecked her bedroom, the Empress could not bear to hold a grudge against them.
She loved her children, all in different ways. Sometimes she was cruel, sometimes she was kind. Like her children, she, too, was human and had too many flaws.
"No," the Empress finally said. "You are not wrong to become possessive of my affection."
The Empress peered down at Lady Ge Beining. She resembled her mother from head to toe. Lady Ge Beining's eyes would crinkle the same way as her mother, revealing a tiny dimple when she smiled. She even inherited her mother's tea brewing style without ever meeting the woman.
Sometimes, the Empress believed Lady Ge Beining's mother had reincarnated into her own daughter. It would be the only plausible explanation for their striking similarities.
"I didn't mean to threaten you, Mother,�� Lady Ge Beining pitifully said. She tried to sit up in bed, but the Empress forced her back down.
"What are you doing?" the Empress said with a frown.
"Apologizing properly, Mother," Lady Ge Beining responded.
"You were poisoned by some awful servant. Of course, I will pardon you for this informal apology," the Empress scolded.
"But that horrible servant is still out there, Mother," Lady Ge Beining sobbed out. "I-I feel so horrible…"
The Empress's brows knitted together. Lady Ge Beining was not a cryer. Her tears had long dried up in childhood. But lately, she had lost her composure too often and was more irritable.
"You should rest and wait for my people to capture the perpetrator. There is nothing you should be doing, except trying to remember the face of the person who did such a heinous thing to you and the Crown Prince's dear Wangfei," the Empress scolded.
Lady Ge Beining's gaze sharpened, but a lone tear rolled down her cheek. Dear Wangfei? Since when was the Empress so affectionate towards that schemer?
"M-Mother," Lady Ge Beining whispered with tear-filled eyes. She tightly grasped the Empress's hands and bent her head over it. Droplets of warm tears fell upon the Empress's fingers.
"I must confess to you," she shakily said.