Li Xueyue's mind went blank at Yihao's question. Her smile slowly slipped and she blinked. "Well…"
"This is the Crown Princess, Ah-Hao, you shouldn't talk to her like that," Xiao Hua quickly scolded. She pulled Yihao forward and placed a hand behind his head, forcing him to bow.
"I deeply apologize, Princess, his name is Xiao Yihao, and he's Yanxi's nephew," Xiao Hua quickly explained.
Yihao lifted his chin despite the force pressing his head down. "I've seen you before. You've even brought me to see Yuyu…"
Li Xueyue opened her mouth. She desperately wanted to talk to him, but clamped her lips shut. Yu Zhen had warned her to stay away. It would be for the best.
"It seems you're healthy now, Xiao Hua," Li Xueyue said whilst turning away from Yihao. She saw his bottom lip jut out in response as he pouted towards the ground. Her fingers twitched to do something, but it was not her responsibility to do so.
"Yes, Princess! Strangely enough, I don't really remember what happened aside from entering Lady Ge's room…" Xiao Hua mumbled whilst scratching underneath her ears.
"You see, Princess, I was a bit conscious when my head was repeatedly dunked underwater, but after my delirium, my mind has been foggy."
Li Xueyue sucked in a breath. She had experienced the same thing, but believed it was just a coping mechanism. Nonetheless, she forced a smile and nodded her head.
"Surely, it is for the best if you do not remember it at all," Li Xueyue told her.
Xiao Hua obediently nodded her head, with a determined look on her face. "You're right, Princess. I will try to focus on something else…"
"Yes, your recovery is the most important part," Li Xueyue said. She felt guilty for keeping Xiao Hua in the dark, but it would be better for the young maidservant not to have a single recollection of the traumatizing event. People dealt with trauma differently.
Li Xueyue was certainly never going to hold this against Xiao Hua.
Yanxi could sense that continuing this conversation would not be good for either of the women. She stepped forward and offered both of them a tight-lipped smile.
"The sun is setting, Princess. It would be best for you to return before dusk falls, and the weather turns chilly," she said.
Yanxi was glad to see the Princess was well. She thought both women would break down in tears at the sight of each other, but they remained composed. She didn't have to wonder why their reactions were like this. It would be for the best if neither of them tried to think about what had happened.
It was a terrifying situation, moreover, so many servants had suddenly disappeared. Yanxi suspected the Crown Prince was behind this. He was sadistic and sinister, but he had a good-heart…only towards certain people.
"Well, I won't keep you from your meal any longer, Xiao Hua," Li Xueyue said. She gestured to the dishes on the table that were still covered by bamboo covers that trapped in the heat.
"Please enjoy," she added.
"Thank you, Princess," Xiao Hua shyly said. She bowed and forced Ah-Hao to do the same.
Yanxi guided the Crown Princess to the door. But the Crown Princess turned back with a slight smile.
"I am happy to see you're living well, Yanxi," Li Xueyue genuinely said.
Yanxi softly nodded at this. "Yes, I enjoy raising children, Princess. It fills me with joy to hear their laughter."
Li Xueyue's smile widened. She was relieved that Yanxi found what made her happy. It was all that she wanted for one of her first, loyal servants.
She stepped close and whispered to Yanxi. "Please continue to take care of Yihao as if he was one of your own, Yanxi…"
Yanxi tucked her hands in front of her and bowed. "Always, Princess. Always."
Li Xueyue's heart was at ease by her words. She stole one last glance at Yihao. He was scrunching the ends of his shirt and peering at her, with large, doe eyes of pure innocence and curiosity. Alas, he was much more different than the little boy she had stumbled upon months ago.
Li Xueyue smiled in his direction and gave a little wave. He waved back with a tiny smile on his face, giddy with excitement. Then, she turned her back to him and exited the door.
- - - - -
When Li Xueyue returned to the estate, she was surprised to see there were already people gathered at the entrance. Only one person was allowed into their estate.
Without warning, Li Xueyue broke into a sprint, fueled with rage and irritation. She pushed the doors open and stormed inside, only to smell a freshly cooked meal.
"You!" she fumed whilst pointing an accusing finger at him.
"Me?" he responded with an amused smile.
Yu Zhen handed the bamboo covers to his servants. They quickly took it from him with two hands and then rushed out of the room without needing to be told.
"Who else would it be?" Li Xueyue angrily bit out whilst stomping towards him.
"The ghost behind me?" Yu Zhen retorted while laughing at her frustration.
Her maidservants quickly left the room as well, not wanting to disturb them. After all, the faster they flee, the longer they get to live.
"Come closer, Wangfei," Yu Zhen patiently said. He clasped his hand over her forefinger that was pointed at him, then pulled her towards him. He slid an arm around her waist and gestured to the food.
"It is time for your afternoon meal," he informed her.
Li Xueyue gaped up at him as if he had lost his sanity. He might as well have. She was brewing with rage, and he was welcoming her for a meal. Didn't he realize that right now was not the best time to eat?
"You've infuriated me so much that I don't have the appetite to eat," she gritted out.
"I'm sure you don't," Yu Zhen sarcastically said. He picked up a pair of chopsticks, then picked up a piece of winter melon braised in soy sauce, sugar, and star anise.
"Where have you been—mmf!" He shoved the winter melon into her mouth.
"Good, right?" Yu Zhen teased. She glared up at him, cursing at him with her eyes. Yet, she moved her mouth and chewed the food, her lips twitching at the delicious taste of it.
"You didn't let me finish my question—" He shoved more food into her mouth.
Instantly, her face scrunched up in disgust. She stared at him as if she had been wronged by him.
"That was bitter melon cooked with eggs and scallions, it is healthy." Yu Zhen patted the back of her head when she reluctantly chewed and swallowed the food.
"Now drink," Yu Zhen said. He lifted a spoonful of soup to her mouth and she tried to move her head away.
"No, it's bitter melon with abalone."
"Just a little bit, Sunshine," Yu Zhen reassured her. She opened her mouth, ready to argue, but he forced the spoon into her mouth.
Li Xueyue kicked him.
Yu Zhen laughed at her.
"Such a violent little thing you are." Yu Zhen settled the jade spoon back onto the table. His hands slid to both of her shoulder blades as he guided her towards one of the chairs.
"Sit and eat, Sunshine. I hear you skipped your morning meal."
"I'm not done talking to you."
"You can interrogate me over a cup of tea and a bowl of rice."
"You will just distract me with food!"
"I can't promise that I won't," he teased.
"Then I don't want to eat."
"Then I won't answer your questions."
Li Xueyue glared down at him. But he ignored her and took his seat directly beside her. It was an odd gesture, since the Crown Prince should be seated at the head of the table. But he always allowed her to sit at the head of the table.
"Don't be so petty," Yu Zhen teased her. He grabbed her fingers and pulled it to his lips, gently kissing her knuckles.
"I will only give you what you want when you please me."
Li Xueyue gaped at his words. She yanked her hand back. He taunted her with a mocking laughter.
"What are you thinking, Sunshine? Nothing too promiscuous I hope?"
"You're insensitive," Li Xueyue chided him. Much to her dismay, her stomach growled, which forced her to take a seat at the table.
"Someone has to lighten up the mood, Sunshine."
Li Xueyue pressed her lips together. She didn't mean to scold him, but it came out naturally. Holding back a sigh, she turned to him with doubt.
"Do you promise to answer my questions?"
"We don't make promises to each other, remember?" Yu Zhen said.
Li Xueyue huffed at his words. "You know what I meant."
Yu Zhen chuckled at her frustration. "Of course I do, but it's fun to see you riled up like this."
Li Xueyue scoffed with a roll of her eyes. Only he would find something like this interesting.
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