517 I Swear
Lu Tianbi sighed in relief. It felt as if a weight was lifted from her shoulders. Knowing that the Crown Princess had sent letters to her family reassured everyone in the room. The Crown Princess had also done it without being asked to. It was what Lu Tianbi expected from her.
Lu Tianbi threw Hu Dengxiao a meaningful look. She wanted to nudge him, but it would be too obvious. She hoped he would come to appreciate the Crown Princess's actions.
"Is this the letter that was kept from me, yesterday?" the Crown Princess suddenly asked.
Lu Tianbi's attention snapped back to the Crown Princess. She nodded her head once. "Yes, Princess, we did not want to burden your conscience with this letter."
Lu Tianbi hoped it was a suitable excuse. It was a lot better than saying the Crown Prince did not want her to read it. It was difficult for her to take a stance on this issue since both sides were justified.
"I will write another letter to reassure them," Li Xueyue added on.
Li Xueyue did not want to send her family the wrong message. She was touched by their efforts, and did not want to upset them. But she also didn't want to upset the people in front of her. It was a difficult balance to keep.
"Princess," Hu Dengxiao softly began. "It would be good if you could kindly let them know not to threaten the life of our dear Crown Prince."
Before Li Xueyue could even say anything, he added on. "I know they're your family, but you have to realize Hanjian is your family now. A threat ton the Crown Prince, is a threat ton the future of this nation that you will eventually become the Mother of."
Li Xueyue didn't want to pick a side. Someone would always get hurt in the end. And sometimes, it would be herself. She could feel a hole being burned through her head.
Yu Zhen was staring at her as he rested his chin on his propped up arm. He was analyzing her reaction, gauging her emotions, and studying her. She was upset, uncertain, and irritated. She was an open book, but only to him because he knew her too well.
"I am well aware of that," Li Xueyue clipped.
Hu Dengxiao opened his mouth, but clamped it shut. He had crossed a line. But at least, she did not reject his advice. Nor did she accept it. He narrowed his eyes. He wished to know the thoughts running through her mind.
"We can't please everyone, Princess," Lu Tianbi eventually said.
Lu Tianbi gently smiled in understanding, for she knew this well. She had incurred the wrath of her father and the entire Lu Family by choosing Hu Dengxiao.
All her life, she had chased for her father's gratitude and acceptance. At some point in her life, she realized making him happy was her only motivation. What would happen when he died? When that happened, what would be the meaning of her life? She had grown up, it was time to make her own decisions.
In the end, Lu Tianbi chose to prioritize herself and her own happiness. It did not make her parents and relatives happy. But she was happy. And to her, that was all that mattered.
"Sometimes, it's inevitable for people to get hurt. The most important thing is that you've tried your best, Princess," Lu Tianbi concluded.
Li Xueyue did not expect this advice. But it warmed her chest. "You're right," she said. Her lips curled upwards.
Lu Tianbi's smile widened until her eyes crinkled. She walked towards Hu Dengxiao's side.
"Now that this problem is solved, Princess," Lu Tianbi mused. "It's time for you and His Highness to enjoy your morning meal."
"But it's nearly the afternoon…" Hu Dengxiao whispered, just as Lu Tianbi grabbed his hand. He instantly melted, his lips twitching to suppress a gigantic grin. Just having her hold his hand was enough to bring him an indescribable amount of happiness.
"Even so, our beloved Crown Prince and his dear Wangfei did not get to eat yet, so let's not interrupt them." Lu Tianbi pulled him along until they were standing in front of the Crown Prince's desk.
Lu Tianbi lowered her head into a bow, as Hu Dengxiao did the same. "Please enjoy your meal, Your Highness." She turned to the Crown Princess. "Princess."
Yu Zhen hummed in response. "Both of your duties to this court have just begun. Don't let me expect a niece or nephew so soon."
Lu Tianbi flushed on the spot. It reached her ears, turning the tips bright pink. J-just what exactly was he thinking?!
"Heh, I will behave myself for another few years or so," Hu Dengxiao teased. He rubbed his nose, and smirked. "Or a few weeks…"
Yu Zhen scoffed. "Just go."
Hu Dengxiao chuckled a bit. He tugged at Lu Tianbi's hand, but she had lowered her head in embarrassment. When he saw her like that, it only weakened his resolve. 'Make it a few days instead of a few weeks,' he cheekily thought.
"Enjoy your meal," he said to both Yu Zhen and the Princess.
Without another word, Hu Dengxiao hurriedly pulled Lu Tianbi out of the room. He strode with confidence. His shoulders were squared back, his head proudly raised. She sullenly walked beside him, unable to hide her scarlet cheeks.
It felt like the tables had turned on him.
In their youth, Lu Tianbi did the leading. She walked ahead, proud, stern, and determined. Back then, he was just an orphan blessed with a job. He'd follow behind, quiet, demure, and sullen.
But as the seasons changed, his footsteps were gradually approaching hers. Bit by bit, until he was finally walking beside her.
- - - - -
"Did Princess Lingluo take their relationship well?" Li Xueyue asked over the meal she had just finished sharing with Yu Zhen.
They were now seated in a gazebo in the center of an enormous pond. She was familiar with this place, since it was where they often enjoyed their afternoon meals.
The gazebo was a spectacular place, reserved only for the Crown Prince. Crimson red pillars held up the golden rooftop that curled towards the sky. It was the epitome of the Imperial Family, a design that could not be replicated anywhere but here.
"Initially she did not," Yu Zhen responded. "She threw a massive tantrum, shattering almost every item in her room."
Yu Zhen let out a small scoff. "She has talent, I'll give her that."
Li Xueyue tilted her head. "What do you mean?"
Yu Zhen's features darkened. He scowled at the unpleasant memory of her chaotic bedroom. It took a few days after that to get everything in order. All of the furniture, decorations, and accessories were changed.
"Everything she destroyed was expensive. It was as if she only targeted the pricey items."
Li Xueyue wryly smiled. It was certainly one way to make a statement. "And then?"
"I scolded some senses into her," Yu Zhen said. He lifted the teapot, ignoring the quiet protest of his servants, and poured chrysanthemum tea into a jade cup rimmed with gold.
Yu Zhen set the cup in front of her before pouring one for himself. "From what I know, she has been a filial daughter lately."
Li Xueyue waited for him to pour himself a cup of tea before taking a sip of it. She didn't want to be rude.
"How so?" Li Xueyue curiously asked.
Yu Zhen drank the slightly sweet, but bitter tea. "Lately, she has been reading bedtime stories to the Emperor. I find it quite ironic."
Li Xueyue stilled. It had been a while since she had heard any updates about the Emperor. Ever since she entered the palace, the number of times she saw the Emperor could be counted with one hand. She wanted to ask more, but didn't.
The Emperor and Empress were always a tricky subject especially when it came to Yu Zhen.
"I see," was her only response.
"He stopped taking his medicine."
She slowly nodded her head. "Wouldn't that mean he stopped relying on the help of the merchants?"
"Yes," he said.
Li Xueyue lifted the teacup to her mouth, only to halt.
"He's going to die soon."
Li Xueyue could not bring the teacup to her mouth anymore. She was glad this conversation took place after their meal. Or else, she wouldn't have stomached the food whilst conversing about death.
"And, how does that make you feel?" Li Xueyue hesitatingly asked. She was careful of her wording, in case it might upset him.
Sneaking a peek at him, she was relieved that his expression did not change. He sat there with an aloof expression and a cold gaze. The tea was growing cold, all because of his icy presence.
Nothing seemed to humor or amuse him.
But when his eyes shifted to hers, winter melted, and spring came.
Yu Zhen affectionately touched the side of her face, stroking her soft skin with his thumb.
"I don't know how it makes me feel. I'm numb when it comes to him," he said. There were no lingering notes of unhappiness in his voice.
Li Xueyue wasn't sure if she should be worried. Yu Zhen seemed genuinely alright with his father's death. Was he certain that this did not affect him at all?
"I didn't share a single good memory with the Emperor. He's a stranger to me," he said.
Li Xueyue was at a loss for words. She had felt the same way towards Viscount Bai Sheng. At some point, the pain the Viscount inflicted on her turned into hatred, then anger, then numbness. She understood Yu Zhen's perspective.
"I wouldn't cry, even at his funeral."
Li Xueyue lifted her hand and covered his hand that was resting on her face. He chuckled at her action. He slipped his hand away from her, just as hers fell.
"Don't look so worried, Sunshine," Yu Zhen mused. He grabbed her hands and brought it to the warm teacup. It was mid-autumn, and he was concerned. What if she caught a cold?
"If I'm upset, I will let you know," he concluded.
"Do you swear?"
"Only if you do."
Li Xueyue slowly nodded her head.
"Then, I swear as well," Yu Zhen mused. It would've made more sense to have said a promise was made. But promises did not suit their tastes. It never did. Never will. They were both content with that.