Li Xueyue didn't realize she had fallen asleep until the next morning arrived, completely unaware of the chaos that happened yesterday. She was dazed and confused, feeling something was strange. Her eyes were heavy and she could barely open her eyelids.
There was an unfamiliar scent in the room. It was heavy and was luring her back to sleep.
"Hmmm…?" Li Xueyue touched the empty spot beside her and groggily sat up with shut eyes. She patted the spot again, realizing it was cold as ice. Where exactly was Yu Zhen? Did he not return the entire night?
Li Xueyue was tired. What exactly was happening? She nearly couldn't even open her eyes out of sheer exhaustion. Finally, when she did so, she saw something burning beside her nightstand.
Li Xueyue rubbed at her heavy eyelids. Finally, her vision sharpened and she saw it. There was a small circular pot crafted of metal. Its legs were curled inwards, a design of a forest and cliff was carved into the pot.
"Incense sticks…?" Li Xueyue noticed there were quite a lot of incense sticks stuck into the ash-filled pot. The majority of it was almost completely burned down to the end. She took a deep breath and nearly went back to sleep.
Li Xueyue's heart dropped. This incense, it was drugged! In an instant, Li Xueyue reached forward and blew it out. She slipped out of the bed and flung the windows open. The wind quickly gushed into the room, howling like a wolf during a full moon.
Li Xueyue peered out the window and saw the clouds, grey and gloomy. It was the early morning, she was certain of it. But a fog had shrouded the palace, warning of a terrible storm.
"What exactly is going on?" Li Xueyue murmured under her breath. She glanced back at the pot, knowing it was intentionally placed there so that she would sleep for a while.
But who would have the audacity to do such a thing? Li Xueyue pressed her lips together and put on her slippers. Then, she rushed out of the bedroom, where her maidservants were nowhere to be found.
Li Xueyue headed towards the estate's entrance. She flung the doors open and in an instant, everyone turned to her. The guards and servants were surprised to see her, but nonetheless, bowed their heads.
"Who put the incense sticks in my room?" Li Xueyue demanded in a cold, ruthless voice. She glowered at each and every one of them.
No one dared to raise their heads, but a bold soul stepped forward. "Princess, His Highness, the Crown Prince did so."
Li Xueyue's gaze sharpened. He did what? All for what? She pressed her lips together. "Finish dressing me. The Crown Prince has a lot of explaining to do."
- - - - -
The next time Li Xueyue left her room, she was dressed to sheer perfection. She was initially dressed in white, but refused to put on that color. It was the same color she wore the day Lady Ge Beining tried to taint her sleeves.
Li Xueyue stepped out in a light green dress, paired with jade and gold. She breezily walked down the hallways, already knowing where he would be.
"How is Xiao Hua?" Li Xueyue abruptly asked one of her maidservants. "Has she healed?"
The maidservant was astonished by the question. She drew in a startled breath, wondering if her ears had heard correctly. There were not that many Mistresses who cared about their servants.
Aristocrats always viewed servants as disposable pawns. If one dropped dead, there would be two who were eager to fulfill their place.
"Responding to your question, Princess, Xiao Hua is recovering quite well after receiving the cold bath treatment. However, she could not come today because—"
"That's alright," Li Xueyue instantly said. She didn't want to be provided with a reason. "Inform Xiao Hua she is welcome to rest for a while longer."
The maidservant mutely nodded her head. She was bewildered by this kindness that no other Mistress has shown towards them. "A-as you wish, Princess."
Li Xueyue firmly nodded her head. She decided it would be better to set foot in the servants' quarters later to pay Xiao Hua a proper visit, and bring her some nutritious food.
Li Xueyue understood that servants were supposed to remain loyal to their Master until the end of time. Their lives did not matter, for their Master's life always came first.
Despite that, Li Xueyue's heart ached with guilt. It nibbled at her conscience. She didn't mean to drag Xiao Hua into this mess.
Xiao Hua was an innocent maidservant, worried for Li Xueyue's wellbeing, thus, drank the tea. It was not Xiao Hua's position to test for poison.
"When did the Crown Prince bring in the incense?" Li Xueyue asked. She didn't know an incense for sleeping even existed. It seemed like only Hanjian produced it.
Li Xueyue knew that Li Chenyang would've bought her plenty if he knew the incense existed in Wuyi. Besides, with the incense, she had slept from the early afternoon to the early morning. It was a miracle that she didn't even wake up to eat or use the bathroom.
"Yesterday, in the late afternoon… Her Grace, the Empress, tried to visit you, but left upon hearing you were asleep. The incense sticks must've been burned prior to her visit, Princess," the same maidservant answered from three steps behind.
Li Xueyue stiffened. The Empress came to a visit? And no one woke her up?
"The Crown Prince gave direct orders that no one is to disturb your sleep, Princess. However, Her Grace did not argue or cause a scene, and peacefully left with great understanding that you'd needed to rest."
Li Xueyue slowly nodded. She was not surprised by the Empress's visit. "Did something else happen when I was asleep?"
The maidservants hesitated. They shared nervous glances with each other, wondering if the Crown Princess was aware that Lady Ge Beining, too, was poisoned with aphrodisiac.
The Crown Prince had also not returned the entire night, which made it curious as to where he could've been, if not in his bedroom. The timeline was simply too suspicious...
"W-well, Princess, a lot has happened," the maidservant admitted. "When you were asleep yesterday, Lady Ge Beining was discovered by the edge of a pond. She was also poisoned by aphrodisiac, and rumor has it that she was attacked from behind by an unknown intruder."
Li Xueyue froze. Suddenly, her blood boiled and she ground her teeth. Playing the victim, and pushing the blame on someone else? It was a great tactic. She had to give it to Lady Ge Beining for thinking this far ahead of herself.
"A-and uhm…" The maidservant bowed her head. "The Crown Prince did not return for the entire night!" she squeaked out.
Li Xueyue's head whipped around. Her eyes widened a bit before she suddenly fixed her expression and curtly nodded. She decided it would be better if the maidservants were not aware of her anger and irritation.
"I see." Li Xueyue picked up her footsteps.
Li Xueyue narrowed her eyes and sauntered down the hallways. If he did not return for the night, where the hell would he have gone to?
Where else would he have slept? In the bed of another woman? Or…stealing the satisfaction of revenge from her? Neither of these options seemed appealing to Li Xueyue.
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