527 Messenger Bird
"Don't you have ministers to meet today?" Li Xueyue asked Yu Zhen as the servants dressed her. Her hair was no longer dripping wet after it was thoroughly dried with a fluffy cloth.
Servants surrounded Li Xueyue as they busied themselves to prepare her for the day. Xiao Hua was working on her hair, a few focused on her make-up that was always kept light whilst expert hands fastened the lavender ribbons of her hanfu. Everyone's hands moved like a blur.
"No," he responded.
Li Xueyue was puzzled by this. She thought this was his usual schedule? Did something happen? When their eyes met through the vanity mirror, he winked. She hid her blush and glanced away.
Yu Zhen was fully dressed for the day, in navy and silver robes. His robes hugged his well-structured form, revealing his rippling muscles, and biceps that could kill.
"I have something to show you," he added on.
Li Xueyue was thoroughly intrigued. But there were too many servants around her. Judging from his sly smile, she knew it'd be best if he kept it a secret. Her eyes landed on her reflection. Her lips parted.
Xiao Hua had placed wisteria flower hairpins into her hair. The hairpins gently dangled from her half-up, half-down hair.
"Do you like it?" Yu Zhen asked as he slowly approached her.
Instantly, the servants stepped back with their heads bowed and their hands tucked in front of them. They knew better than to block his path.
"I ordered new clothes for you a few weeks ago, for the weather is growing older and you're too thin," Yu Zhen said. He warmly placed his hands upon her shoulders and squeezed it.
Li Xueyue leaned back into him whilst smiling. "And these hairpins?" she asked, touching the crystal petals of the wisteria.
"Yes, everything in this vanity and the new chests that will come soon," he informed her with a fond smile. He enjoyed seeing her in the clothes he bought for her. Especially when everything suited her so well that he wanted to buy her more.
"But I already have enough," she murmured. "It would be best to use that money for the Kingdom instead."
Yu Zhen softly laughed at her words. She did not know the extent of his wealth, it was humorous. Often, there would be a large budget set aside to buy clothes for the harem, but since there was none, all of that money went back to him.
"Now that you're dressed, let's take you to my surprise," Yu Zhen said. He grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet. His eyes landed on her head, where a few stray strands of hair had escaped from the small bun that held her hair up. With his fingers, he gingerly tucked it back into the bun.
Li Xueyue always wondered where he learned to be this attentive. His fingers were rough and calloused, but his touch was sweet and careful. She unknowingly leaned into his caress.
"Is it far?" she whispered.
Yu Zhen gauged the distance in his head before nodding. "A bit." He made sure of it. It would be dangerous for the location to be close to their estate, where she slept.
If anything were to happen to her, he'd blame himself first. It was a bad habit of his that could not be dropped as long as she was by his side.
- - - - -
"These hallways are so dark and dreary, even though it's day time," Li Xueyue pointed out. She was surprised when the wooden hallways suddenly ended.
The gleaming red walls lined with green trims and the golden glazed tiles of the Imperial Palace slowly disappeared behind them.
Shortly afterward, they reached an open field a short distance away from the Imperial Palace, where there was a single stone, rectangular structure.
Li Xueyue squinted her eyes and to her surprise, it was a door. That led underground? Her eyes centered upon the two guards who stood guard in front of the cold steel door with a small rectangular window with bars that let in air. There were soldiers armed with weapons everywhere.
"The prison cells?" she spoke out upon realizing what this place was.
"Indeed," Yu Zhen said with a nod.
At the sight of the Crown Prince, everyone parted for him like the Red Sea. There was not a single person who dared to block his path, for the consequences were dire. No one could afford to offend him.
Li Xueyue squeezed his hand and tried to keep her face in control. She had lost her composure too quickly yesterday. It was a regret that she did not divulge. Had she kept her expression cool and controlled, Marquis Qin might've not recognized her. But it had been too late, for the servants and everyone had heard the name 'Bai Xueyue.'
She glanced to her side, where Xiao Hua was standing.
"Wait out here," she instructed her servants. They stepped back and bowed their heads. It would be best for them not to soil their eyes with the gruesome prison cells.
She made a mental note to ask Xiao Hua for her intel about the servants' opinion of the name 'Bai Xueyue.' It would be best to get rid of any doubts before it spread like wildfire.
Li Xueyue wondered if Yu Zhen had wiped out all records of the Bai Family. Her grip on his hand tightened. It must've caught his attention, for he glanced down.
"What's wrong, Sunshine?" he asked. "Scared?"
Li Xueyue instantly shook her head. "Did you wipe the records of the Bai Family?" she whispered to him so that no one could hear.
"I got rid of their estate in Wuyi and anything else I could get my hands on. Though the town had doubts about their disappearance, I've made sure to speak to the town mayor who will keep everyone in check."
Li Xueyue slowly nodded at his words.
"The rest of the records are kept in the Imperial Palace in Wuyi. You have to inform your parents to go through them."
Li Xueyue made sure to write about that in a letter to her parents. Or perhaps, she could find a way to train a messenger bird to travel to Wuyi and back to Hanjian.
Her attention snapped to Yu Zhen when he tugged her hand. "It will be fine. The only people who know about your true identity here are just me and you."
Yu Zhen stroked her cheek, soft and supple. "The merchant has suffered too much that he can't even tell left from right." His voice was low and amused. There was not an ounce of remorse.
She shivered at his words, knowing exactly what he meant. She did not doubt him, not even one bit. When it came to cruelty, Yu Zhen knew it best.
Li Xueyue was glad their morning meal was light and simple. The stench of the prison was beginning to seep through the unopened door. She had to prepare her stomach for this, knowing everything would be unpleasant and gruesome.
"Would you like to see?" he offered despite the fact that they had come so far.
"Y-yes," she managed to say.
He did this for her. The least she could do was lay eyes on his masterpiece. Besides, this was the closure she needed. Especially after hearing him call out her name for the final time yesterday.