"I will not promise you such a thing, for I do not get angry that easily," the Empress informed him. "Now, tell me what has captured your heart so much that you have interrupted me at a questionable coincidence."
Yu Shisheng wondered if it was possible for her to be wiser with age. It scared him how sharp her words were, and how quickly she caught on.
"I'm sure you heard it by now," he said. "I know Lady Ge Beining is your favorite lady-in-waiting, just because she is the last memory you have left of Aunt Lin. But it is time for you to let go of the past and face the truth. Ge Beining does not love you as much as you care for her."
The Empress's gaze sharpened. She was not irritated by him. She was disappointed. "I already know," she angrily said.
"Then why were you rushing out of your estate after hearing those guards had dragged her to the town square? What were you planning to do, Mother? Save the girl who bad-mouthed you? Guard the girl who spilled your darkest secret? What did you plan on doing, Mother?"
The Empress was stunned speechless. In all honesty, she had not thought that far ahead.
The Empress was just so shocked by the news that her body moved on its own. It waltzed her out of the door, and towards the exit of her estate. She had planned on figuring out what to do with the situation once she was seated inside of the carriage that would take her to town.
"Please don't hurt Ah-Zhen more than you already have."
The Empress gawked at her son. Did he lose his sanity when painting? What has gotten into him today? "Why would I hurt my own son? Why would I choose this girl who is not related to me by blood over my son whom I've birthed and raised?"
"From what I know, you once chose the side of this girl who shares no blood relation to you."
The Empress always knew Yu Shisheng had eyes and ears everywhere in the palace. But even in Lady Ge Beining's estate? It was shocking. How much did he know? Had he always been watching in the background, silently observing everything unfold?
"I know you still hold influence in the court, Mother. You've been dissatisfied with how uncontrollable Ah-Zhen is, thus, have been gathering people to oppose his regime," Yu Shisheng revealed.
Yu Shisheng knew everything. His spies were everywhere, and nothing escaped him. He was well-acquainted with the Empress's faction, for she had introduced him to them all. They doted on him and viewed him as the better choice for Crown Prince.
But it was a title he no longer fought for. Yu Zhen, his brother, had won fair and square, when he put his life at risk for nearly a decade on the frontlines of war. He had protected his country and lost his humanity along the way. It was a heavy price to pay to ensure the safety of the entire kingdom.
Yu Shisheng would not take the crown from Yu Zhen's hands. It was unlike his style.
"Don't do it, Mother. It will never work, and you will only be hurting him more than your rejection towards him."
Yu Shisheng clasped his hands over his mother's hands. He offered her a pleading smile and prayed she would listen.
"Don't push your own son away, for he is already standing at the edge of the cliff, and one more push, you'd lose him forever. You would know. It was exactly what happened to Royal Father."
- - - - -
Yu Zhen quietly slipped back onto Xiao Lizi. His identity was kept hidden. With great certainty, no one had figured the Crown Prince had personally witnessed the humiliation. If so, people would've dropped to their knees and greeted him by now.
"We're heading back," he solemnly said.
With a flick of his wrist, Xiao Lizi began to trot onward. Eventually, she broke into a thunderous sprint that captured everyone's attention. But she raced through the streets too quickly for anyone to catch sight of the rider. He was a whirlwind of blurry black.
Yu Zhen was the first to make it back to the Imperial Palace. Coming in second place was Lu Tianbi who didn't seem fazed by the speed of Xiao Lizi, for her horse was also well-built and quick.
Hu Dengxiao was last. He had broken into a sweat despite being on a horse. "X-Xiao Lizi is too fast for me," he groaned whilst hopping off his stallion.
They were at the entrance of the Imperial Palace. At the word that the Crown Prince had returned, all the servants rushed forward. The guards straightened up. Instantaneously, everyone lowered themselves into a deep bow.
"Welcome back, Your Highness!"
Yu Zhen strolled through the lines of people without a word. He had a business to tend to, especially after catching wind of where his Wangfei went to. The reason he came back to the Imperial Palace earlier than planned was because one of his spies had quickly run up to him, and whispered the news.
But that was fine. Ge Beining's punishment was coming to an end anyway, since she was already limp on the platform. Whether or not she was alive was up to Heaven's fate. He'd deal with her later.
"Everyone is excused for today. I will be occupied the entire day," he coldly informed his friends.
Hu Dengxiao hid a grin and rode his horse closer to the Crown Prince. He quietly whispered, "Will I get to see nephews and nieces soon, Zhenzhen?"
"Give me some first," Yu Zhen scoffed back. He hopped off his horse and handed the reins to a trusted man of his.
Hu Dengxiao pouted. He climbed off his stallion and approached the Crown Prince. "How can I, Zhenzhen? I haven't even wed her yet."
Yu Zhen rolled his eyes. "That's for you to figure out, and me to not care."
Hu Dengxiao gaped at Yu Zhen. "You talk like you won't be at the wedding, Zhenzhen!"
At his loud voice, all the servants stole a quiet glance towards his direction. Even Lu Tianbi froze, her face flushing red from embarrassment. She smacked him upside the head, earning a loud yelp from Hu Dengxiao.
"Just get back to work," she hissed whilst storming off in aggravation. She liked that he announced their relationship to so many people. He was not afraid to show her off. But she was not used to it yet, despite knowing his personality in and out.
"Wait for me!" Hu Dengxiao cried out. He hurriedly cupped his fist and bowed towards Yu Zhen before quickly running off to grab his lover.
If it was a different circumstance, they would've earned a punishment. But Yu Zhen turned a blind eye and stormed off. He had his own relationship problem to worry about.
The hallways whizzed past him. He stormed down the hallways with a purpose. Once he reached their estate, he walked through the arches and towards the doors leading to the foyer.
Yu Zhen entered quietly and closed the doors behind him without a single sound. Next, he approached their bedroom.
Li Xueyue was already inside.
He could tell by the servants surrounding the changing screen. Their eyes went wide at the sight of him, but he instantly placed a finger over his mouth.
"What's wrong?" she curiously asked.
Li Xueyue was confused when her maidservants froze for a brief second. She wanted to look around the screen, but they had surrounded her. Hands moved quickly to dress her, so she stood still and waited.
"N-nothing, Princess," a maidservant whispered.
Li Xueyue did not trust them. But before she could even say anything, the maidservants hurried out of the large, partition screen. Her brows drew together in confusion.
Before she even took a step forward, a large shadow blocked her path. She let out a shriek, only for his hand to clamp down on her mouth. Her heart drummed against her ribcage, her eyes widening in shock.
Seeing the recognition in her eyes, his lips spread into a slight smile. He dropped his hand from her mouth so that she would not scream.
Familiarity washed over her. "Dress me," she demanded.
Yu Zhen was caught off-guard. He felt like he had heard this conversation before. A long, long time ago, when he was just a Commander, and she was just a Princess.
"What?" she teased. "Can't even perform the basics?"
Yu Zhen loudly laughed. He yanked her towards him and smiled down at her. Her hands flew to his chest, stabilizing herself.
"What kind of husband will I be if I don't undress my wife right now?"
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