Li Xueyue pretended to think about it for a few seconds. Then, a slow smile spread on her face. "No."
"Thank you for the opportunity—" Marquis Qin cut himself off. He had been expecting her graciousness. Her smile had filled him with hope, but her words dashed his hopes.
Marquis Qin did not understand why everything wasn't going well in his life. What did he ever do to the Crown Princess? What did he do to incur her wrath? It was not like he had ever met her outside the palace before.
Unless… Did she know? Was the Crown Princess aware of who supplied Lady Xu Jiaqi and Lady Ge Beining with the bath oils and poison? But all of it did not make sense. She was already unkind to him prior to the bath oil incident.
Marquis Qin's brows furrowed. "P-Princess, surely—"
"You've heard our Crown Princess," Xiao Hua instantly said. "It's time for you to depart before you disgust us any further."
Marquis Qin was baffled. It felt as if dirty water was splashed on his face. In an instant, his blood boiled. He did not care about his composure anymore. There were some things that were better done than said.
In a blink of an eye, he rose to his feet. Blinded by anger, he nearly struck the pretty maidservant on her face. But as he lifted his hand, he froze in midair, and pretended to stroke the side of his head.
'No, that would be too impulsive,' he warned himself. It would be what the maidservant and Crown Princess wanted—an action justifiable of punishment.
"I-it seems the rumors have lied about your compassion, Crown Princess. I should've known. In this case, I will not bother you anymore," Marquis Qin uttered out.
It was a split decision made on the spot, but he dearly valued his life. If he continued badgering after the useless Princess, his time would be wasted. He had better things to do than grovel at her feet. She would do nothing for him.
"Enjoy your afternoon tea, Princess," Marquis Qin muttered out. He lowered his body into a bow, but it was shaky. He had not eaten breakfast, for his servants did not prepare any. His servants were all gone now, some had fled from his estate whereas others simply did not show up.
Marquis Qin could not understand why his servants left him. He gave those peasants a job, clothed, and fed them. He had given them a means of escape from a life of poverty, but this was how they repaid him?
Without another word, Marquis Qin turned on his heels. He had intended to leave, until a formidable presence loomed over him. His spine stiffened. A cold chill broke out. Goosebumps arose.
He didn't have to turn around to know who it was.
"Your Highness!" Xiao Hua instantly greeted with a low bow.
The guards withdrew their weapons and immediately cupped their fist before bowing deeply. Shuffles of clothes and armor could be heard in the process.
"Yu Zhen," Li Xueyue called out. She was confused by his unexpected appearance. Had he heard of the commotion?
Li Xueyue raised her eyes and her heart fell. He was furious. His dark eyes were set ablaze. His brooding gaze swept over her. His fingers curled into fists.
Yu Zhen reminded her of a ferocious beast ready to bite someone's head off. All he needed to do was bare his teeth. Bloodlust oozed from his large body.
"Xueyue," he gritted out.
Li Xueyue jolted at his words. He rarely called her by her name, unless she did something wrong.
His glare flickered over her shoulders. A man was frozen on the spot, his face pale as snow. Marquis Qin looked like he encountered a ghost, as blood was drained from his features.
"C-Crown Prince…" Marquis Qin hurriedly greeted. He bowed as low as his upper body would allow it. Offending the Crown Prince was asking for a death wish.
Marquis Qin could not recall a time he had seen this heartless man happy. People said the Crown Prince dearly loved his Wangfei. However, the stormy atmosphere and hesitation between the couple made the gossip seem like mere rumors.
"What is this vermin doing in front of the Crown Princess?" the Crown Prince coldly demanded. His voice left little to no room for an argument.
"W-we will escort him off the premises immediately, Your Highness!" The guards took daunting steps forward. They took hold of Marquis Qin's arms and prepared to drag him away.
Marquis Qin felt like he was missing something. As he allowed the two men to pull him away, a sense of familiarity fondled his heart. There was something strange. It was bizarre and he could not pinpoint it.
For a split second there, deja vu had flickered in his eyes. What was it? What provoked such a bizarre reaction? He narrowed his eyes on the Crown Princess, then it dawned on him.
That face of hers. He was not mistaken. He knew it was familiar for a reason.
That was the Crown Princess's name?
Where had he heard it before?
Suddenly, a name rolled off the tip of his tongue. "Xueyue?" he loudly called out.
Everyone froze. The Crown Prince's face became murderous and there was a vicious glint in his eyes. It was forbidden to speak of her name by anyone except him. He would not allow it.
Everyone was to address the Crown Princess with a title. Her husband made sure of that. She was, after all, ranks above everyone.
But the Marquis said the Crown Princess's name so effortlessly, as if once upon a time, he was acquainted with her.
And he might as well have been, with how intimately touched a girl of the same name.
"Bai Xueyue?" Marquis Qin added on, in a louder voice. It echoed down the hallways, causing confusion left and right.
No, that was incorrect. The Crown Princess was from Wuyi, and her parents were the Imperial Family that sparked the beginning of the Li Dynasty.
The Crown Princess's name was Li Xueyue. Was it not? It was a sacred name that not many dared to utter.
"But how…" Marquis Qin breathed out.
The Crown Princess's face had paled. Her eyes widened in horror, and her lips were parted.
Marquis Qin had seen that haunted look before. Sheer terror flashed on her features. Ah yes, he recalled that expression—like that of a fawn, innocent, yet appealing.
He could not forget it—the first time he had touched the softest of skin, and heard the sweetest of cries. She had begged him to stop touching her, but her voice was so pleasant that he desired to explore every part of her. He was allowed to touch her anywhere except her womanhood.
"Bai Xueyue, it is you, isn't it?" Marquis Qin shouted in delirium. How was this possible? The daughter of a lowly Viscount? How could it be?!
It would be impossible for a lowly girl to become royalty. Not only that, but to become the Crown Princess of Hanjian? Hanjian was a formidable Kingdom of wealth, trade, and power. One of the rising nations that would eventually dominate the entire continent.
How did she do it?
"I knew it!" Marquis Qin shrieked out. He could never forget that face. It was so beautiful, like the porcelain dolls his daughters used to clutch. She was so young, so pure, he could practically taste the tears he had licked off her face that night.
Marquis Qin was so caught up with the past that he did not realize the Crown Prince storming down the hallways. It was only after the Crown Princess's figure was blocked by her husband did he realize it.
Despite the danger that lurked close, the hands of ghosts clawing at his ankles, and death who presented himself before the Marquis, he continued onwards.
"How can I forget?!" he loudly laughed. "Bai Xueyue, the second daughter of a Vis—mmph!"
The Crown Prince had clenched the Marquis's jaw. His eyes were completely dark, like an infinite abyss. His fingers tightened on the Marquis's face. He pressed it harder, his lips curling in sheer fury.
Marquis Qin let out muffled cries of pain. His knees buckled from the agony. He could not feel his jaw anymore. The jaw muscles were being tightly compressed until he felt as if his face was on fire. The pain was unbearable.
"Mmmph!" he shrieked out, like a squealing pig.
In a chilling voice, the Crown Prince sealed the Marquis' fate. "When I'm done with you, not even your mother would recognize you."
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