The Empress let out a small laugh. For a brief moment, her eyes widened in disbelief. She forced a smile, as if her own ears had tricked her. She could not wrap her head around the words she had just heard from the maidservant.
Lady Ge was being forced to do what? Strip? Before the entire nation? In what realm would that happen?
"What did you just say?" the Empress asked the maidservant in a light and airy voice. She wondered if it was time to get her ears checked by the Imperial Physician. They were failing her together.
The maidservant's trembling intensified. She couldn't even see the ground despite being so close to it. Her lips wobbled as she attempted to stutter out the same message.
"L-Lady Ge is being forced to take o-off her clothes near the entrance of the I-Imperial Palace… It's speculated that she will be forced to walk down the steps naked, Y-Your Grace…"
The Empress nearly collapsed from the shocking news. She grabbed onto the door frame for stability. Her heart wildly drummed in her chest, drowning out all sounds For a split second, everything was blurry and it didn't feel like reality.
The next thing she knew, the Empress had fully stepped outside of the door. However, she was not able to advance forward. Yu Zhen blocked her path. His formidable presence loomed over her, highlighting the slight smile on his face.
"What are you doing? Get out of my way, you unfiliah son of mine!" the Empress shrilled.
The Empress had finally come to her senses. Lady Ge Beining needed her help more than ever. And the Empress had sworn to protect the one and only daughter of Lady Lin.
"And if I don't?" Yu Zhen mused.
Yu Zhen had rarely seen the Empress this flustered. It was all too amusing for him. Even when he was beaten and bruised, the Empress did not shed a tear.
She simply turned on her heels and demanded him to be cleaned. But when a useless maiden of no blood connection to the Empress was harmed, she'd dash out of her estate and abandon all etiquette.
The irony of this situation fueled his hatred for her.
"I know you are as sadistic as His Majesty, but I had hoped you would inherit some good traits of mine!" the Empress hissed. She grabbed onto his elbow, like a mother pulling her son to the side.
"You will step aside right this instant," the Empress demanded. Her voice was low and commanding. All she needed was a sword and an armor to play the part of a determined knight, ready to save a damsel-in-distress.
"Or else what?" Yu Zhen chuckled. He was humored by her pathetic attempt of controlling him.
Nothing in this world would force him aside. Not even the Empress's guards who took threatening steps forward. Despite the dangers that loomed in the shadows and the promise of death, the Empress's galiant soldiers advanced towards the defenseless Commander. Crown Prince or not, he was alone and without a servant.
It was twenty armed men against a single man. What could possibly go wrong?
"I might not be able to hurt you, nor have the heart to," the Empress gritted out. Her eyes flickered with hatred. "But there are more ways than one to get to a man, especially the likes of you."
Yu Zhen's lips spread into a slow, humored smile. He could no longer restrain it. The Empress was quite the jokester. She should consider joining the traveling circus since she was already playing the part of a fool.
"If you think hurting my wife will hurt me," Yu Zhen said and chuckled. "Then I welcome you to try."
The Empress's brows shot up in disbelief. What did he just say? She could not fathom the words that came out of his mouth.
Everyone knew the Crown Prince loved his wife. So much so, that they rarely spend nights apart.
When his Wangfei was around, Yu Zhen was always seen with a ghost of a smile. Even when the Crown Princess did nothing but walk, Yu Zhen would be smiling at her. Pure adoration would drip from his eyes, as he affectionately touched her.
It was known by everyone in the palace that the Crown Prince had eyes for no one but his wife. And some even speculated that he'd marry her in every single lifetime possible.
"You—" The Empress forced herself to calm down. She refused to lose her composure in front of her own children, especially someone as unruly as Yu Zhen.
The Empress realized her son enjoyed taunting her. Enjoyed seeing her riled up with anger, as steam blew from her nose, and hatred danced in her eyes.
"Like father, like son," the Empress finally said. She had made up her mind that her son was no different than the Emperor. Except, she had given birth to this monster standing before her.
The Empress had never once regretted giving birth to any of her children. There were times that they had displeased her, irritated her, and disappointed her, but in the end, she loved them all, in her own, sick, twisted way.
But Yu Zhen...this wild child of hers, made her question her sanity when the thought of smothering him with a pillow crossed her mind when he was just a kid. When their eyes met, she realized why. He had the heartless eyes of the Emperor.
"Women are just pawns to you, aren't they?" the Empress breathed out. "It is exactly what your father believed."
Yu Zhen's jaw ticked.
The Empress reeled in a victorious smile. Her son thought he was high and mighty. He relished in his lack of weakness. But she knew to jab him where it hurt.
The Empress knew what he despised the most. And it was the Emperor, who trained Yu Zhen into the heartless monster he was today.
"You know," the Empress slowly said. "You have his eyes. Which is no surprise, for you view everything through his perspective."
The Empress revealed her hand. It was pale and soft from a life of luxury. She lowered one finger and began tormenting Yu Zhen with her words.
"You can deny it all you want," the Empress mused. "You have become who you vowed to destroy."
She lowered another finger, leaving three standing. "I can already imagine it now. You will sell your daughters away for alliances, just as he has done."
The Empress sadistically smiled when his eyes darkened. Yet, he did not deny it. She lowered two fingers, leaving the pinky standing. "Your children will despise you, fear you, and never love you, for no one can ever love a murderer like you."
The Empress lowered the pinky. "And who knows? Once your children have learned of your crimes, they will turn their backs on you. A galiant one will plot your murder, another will wish you suffered from an illness, and the other will celebrate your death."
She slowly shook her head, as if disappointed by him. "Eventually, you will walk in the same footsteps as your father, and suffer even up until your last moments."
A thundercloud drifted over Yu Zhen's head. His expression was vicious. The smile was wiped from his face. His eyes were darkened and dangerous, like that of a beast.
The Empress never liked seeing her children in pain, especially Yu Zhen. It was why she would always turn her back to his injured body, as a little boy. She could not stomach their wounds.
However, just this once, she felt a strange sense of satisfaction from hurting him. Perhaps, this was the only way he would learn. This was the only way she could discipline him, as a mother always does for their children. The truth hurt, and he knew that most.
"And in the end," the Empress mused. "You will suffer the same failed marriage. Soon, that little Wangfei of yours will realize your cruelty knows no bounds, and she will try to find every excuse to flee back to Wuyi."
The Empress's lips twisted into a smirk. "Oh right, I heard she is already missing home. And you two have been married for less than a year."
She took an elegant step forward. Her shoulders were squared back as she lowered her hand and tucked it in front of her.
The Empress lightly chuckled. "I suppose history will repeat itself, for heaven will never smile upon a sinner like you."
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