Li Xueyue rushed down the hallways, her footsteps quiet yet quick. It had been a while since she panicked like this. The Empress would do something. And it would not be pleasant. Before it happens, Li Xueyue would stop it. She had to.
It was bad enough that both Yu Zhen and Xueyue did not have a pleasant childhood. What if their children would experience the same thing? At the very least, their sons and daughters deserve to have more than just the love of their parents.
With the future in mind, Li Xueyue walked down an unfamiliar path. Opal decorations, white lilies, and golden trimmings on the walls, this place was a stark contrast to everything that Yu Zhen represented. It was no wonder why they were so different.
"Prince Yu Shisheng."
The First Prince was painting the scenery outside of his window, when suddenly, a voice demanded his attention. He turned around on his velvet chair, bewildered that someone had interrupted him.
No one had the audacity or power to do this. He might've lost the throne, but he had not lost his dignity. He was still the first-born son of the great Emperor of Hanjian. His mother's fierce blood coursed through his veins.
"Crown Princess Li Xueyue," the First Prince lazily drawled out. Since she had the guts to say his full name, he decided to do the same.
Rising from the chair, he offered her an amused smile. "To what do I owe this pleasure of seeing you?"
Li Xueyue waved her hands, and instantly, the servants left the room. She had never set foot in the First Prince's estate. Xiao Hua was her guide and showed her the way. Now, she stood at the foyer of the estate, a large and grand room meant for dining or reading.
"Let's drop the honorifics and get to the point," Li Xueyue deadpanned. The clock was ticking, and soon, the Empress would catch wind of the issue. She preferred to take action before the Empress even set foot out of the door.
"Well then, Princess," Yu Shisheng mused. He had never seen a woman so frantic, yet arrogant. It was a sight that humored him. What a woman his younger brother had married—like a sharp sword wrapped in silk.
"Won't you take a seat?" he gestured to the grand table in front of them. It was long and looked like it was meant to sit a family of four. Truthfully, he had this designed so that his medium-sized drawing scrolls could fit entirely on the table without it sticking out.
Li Xueyue shook her head. It would be a waste of time. She knew he would dilly-dally instead of getting down to business, especially with that amused look on his face. He was someone who enjoyed toying and joking with others. She finally saw the likeness between the brothers.
"The favor that you owe me," she deadpanned. "I'll redeem it now."
Yu Shisheng's brows shot up. He had not forgotten. The one woman in this entire palace that he owed his life to. And because of this, he had to help an innocent servant escape from prison.
It took a great deal of effort, but the First Prince had to make sure he was not involved, or else his own brother would have his head.
'Even though my eyes were not blessed by anything, and I saw nothing,' he grumbled to himself.
"Now I see how you managed to convince the entire Round Table with your bold ideas," Yu Shisheng commented. His lips twisted into a bright, energetic grin.
"Your presence is no joke, do you know that? At first glance, you're as poised as a calla lily. Who knew, you were actually a lily of the valley ?"
"I'll take that as a compliment," she retorted with a scoff.
Yu Shisheng laughed. He placed a hand on his chest, his eyes twinkling with mirth. "It is definitely a compliment, coming from the likes of my character."
The Crown Princess did not respond. Even when he had used his boyish charms on her, with large smiles, and dazzling eyes, she remained unfazed.
There were many servants that used to compare the First Prince's angelic features with the Second Prince's devilish features. Many women fell in love with the First Prince, for he was good-natured and kind.
It seemed the Crown Princess was the only woman who was not charmed by the First Prince. She wore a nonchalant expression, unbothered by his antics.
"Such a tough audience I have," he teased.
When she threw him an incredulous and threatening look, he hurriedly spoke up again, "Alright, alright, dear sister-in-law. What would you like?"
Yu Shisheng could not imagine how he could be of any help to the Crown Princess. If he recalled correctly, Yu Zhen was unbelievingly wealthy.
When Yu Zhen would take over an enemy's turf, or when a kingdom surrendered to him, they would give him a bountiful amount of gold, jewels, and anything of value. It was impossible not to, if you wanted your life to be spared.
Money was not a problem for Yu Zhen, much less, his beautiful Wangfei who was adorned with clothes and accessories of the highest quality. From the fine leather of the hand-raised cows, to the lotus silk tunic she wore, without a doubt, her entire outfit could feed a family of four for months.
"The Empress favors you," she finally said.
Yu Shisheng's smile slowly slipped. "Yes, my mother has shown unconditional love towards me. It is something that I can't change, so if you're thinking about having me apologize to your husband about the fact that I stole her affection, save it."
Yu Shisheng swallowed. "I won't apologize for something I can't change. And I will not blame my mother for her actions. As her loyal son, I refuse to ever blame her."
The Crown Princess revealed a large smile. "Good, you don't have to blame her."
Yu Shisheng blinked. That smile was deadly. It seemed so sweet and sincere, but deep down, hid the darkest of wishes.
"You will just have to convince her."
Yu Shisheng gawked at her like she was crazy. Convince his mother? How easy was that?! She babied him like no other despite the fact that he was already twenty-seven! Whatever he wanted, he shall receive. The sky was the limit!
"Convince the Empress not to hurt Yu Zhen."
Yu Shisheng tilted his head. "My younger brother is her son, her flesh and blood. It's not like my brother is the child of a harlot that Father slept with. Mother would not deliberately hurt him—"
"Make sure she does not immobilize the power she yields in court."
Yu Shisheng was still confused. "You should know, my brother wields the most power in court. Many ministers have been replaced, and those who dared to dream of an uprising have been terrified by the examples he set of the people who opposed his regime shortly after he returned from Wuyi."
Yu Shisheng crossed his arms. "You can rest assured, Princess, my mother can't hurt him. Not unless she—" His words died off.
The way through a man's heart was through his wife.
Especially Yu Zhen, who was known to be enamored by his Wangfei.
"I think what you actually want," he slowly said, "is for me to convince my mother not to hate Yu Zhen for his actions."
"I don't care how you word it," she deadpanned. "Just make sure the Empress does not retaliate against the Crown Prince for punishing Lady Ge, she only has herself to blame."
Yu Shisheng wryly smiled. How could a mother hate their own child? But then his thoughts flickered back to the daunting look in her eyes whenever Yu Zhen was brought up. There was a mixture of melancholy and regret mingling with dissatisfaction and anger.
The Empress was being eaten alive by guilt. No one realized it. No one saw it.
Except for her favorite son, who knew her best.
Yu Shisheng was not sure how he could convince his mother not to hate Yu Zhen, when the very thing was not possible. But deep down, he knew something had changed. She hated him as a kid and hated him as an adult.
However, somewhere along the way, the hate festered into remorse. Remorse that could be not wiped away, no matter how hard she cried over it.
"It is a difficult request," Yu Shisheng finally admitted. He dropped his smiles and dramatic gestures. A solemn look crossed his face.
"But I will do my best to fulfill it. Not because you asked, but for their sake, for a mother and son relationship was robbed from both of them. I will do my best to make sure my mother hurts no one—not even herself, who loved and trusted the wrong people, including her heart."
The Crown Princess clasped her hands together. Uncertainty flashed in her eyes. Eventually, she revealed a slow, appreciative smile.
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