It rained for a week after the Emperor died. The rain would not stop as stormy grey clouds cast over Hanjian for the entire week. It was as if the entire Heavens were mourning over his death.
White banners were hung everywhere as funeral preparations took place. For the entire mourning period of a week, no one was allowed to wear bright colors. Everything was muted and monochrome.
Everything happened in a blur to Yu Zhen who could not recount the days of mourning nor the funeral. It happened slowly and surely as everything was set in stone. He did not cry with everyone else. Rather, the rain cried in his stead. It dribbled down his cheeks in place of what should be his tears.
During the actual burial, no one dared to carry umbrellas as rain poured down on them. Everyone bore with it, even the Imperial Family.
And on the last day of rain, when the sunshine finally peeked through the clouds, everything started to return to normal. The first sunlight marked a new beginning in Hanjian.
- - - - -
Li Xueyue's heart had never raced so quickly. It was even worse than when the Li Family was crowned.
Back then, she was officially promoted to a first-rank Princess. Whoever weds her, Prince or not, could never divorce her. She was exhilarated by the elevation of her position that her heart raced.
Today was much worse. Her nerves would not rest. Her anxiety was at its peak. Blood gushed to her ears, loud as thunder striking the skies. She couldn't hear beyond her heartbeat, erratic as an untamed horse.
Today was the coronation, the day when everything would change for Hanjian.
She would no longer be Crown Princess. Her new title was the Empress of Hanjian, Her Benevolent Grace. Though, no one would dare to utter the last part.
"Are you nervous?" Yu Zhen asked.
Li Xueyue was seated by the vanity, as the servants placed finishing touches on her makeup. Her gaze jumped to Yu Zhen. Like her, he was surrounded by a large group of people getting them ready. It had been two days since the sun peeked through the clouds, a positive sign to mark a new dawn in Hanjian.
His outfit oozed power and authority. A large dragon rested upon his broad chest, accompanied by swirling clouds of silver threads rimmed with pearls and opals.
Pillars of Heaven were sewn at the bottom, as more mystical beasts of great strength and prosperity were found. A whirlwind of crimson red, navy blue, forest green, and dazzling yellow, it was the most color she had ever seen him in.
Dressed in enough gold to buy out an entire kingdom, and enough wealth to slap people into silence, he was the epitome of an Emperor. No, the Emperor. His regal features, aloof eyes, and cold aura made him an unapproachable, yet firm leader. No one would dare to oppose him.
Like her, his title had changed. He was now the Emperor of Hanjian, His Imperial Majesty.
The title weighed heavily on Li Xueyue's shoulders, but he didn't seem bothered at all.He was unfazed by what's to come. When her fingers were trembling, his hands were peacefully resting by his sides.
"No, not at all," Li Xueyue lied in a quiet voice.
Yu Zhen shifted his attention to her. Just then, the servants had finished dressing both of them.
Majestic phoenixes soared on her bright yellow and white dress. Peonies and lilies bloomed upon her outfit that was decorated with silk, satin, and velvet of the highest quality.
Everything was embroidered with gold and silver threads and there were pearls, gold, and precious gemstones sewn onto it.
"Is that so?" he slowly said.
Yu Zhen waved his hand. In an instant, the servants dispersed from the room. They quietly shut the doors behind them.
"You look lovely, Sunshine," Yu Zhen complimented as he approached her. "We must get your portrait drawn, to be admired for centuries to come."
Li Xueyue laughed at his words. It had been a few days since she let out such a joyous sound. She did not dare to smile or be happy during the week-long mourning period of the late Emperor.
"You should say that for yourself. Everyday, you look like a man who has stepped out of a masterpiece painting."
Yu Zhen's lips curled into a slight smile. He offered her a hand.
Li Xueyue's eyes traveled to his outstretched arm. Without hesitation, she slipped her hand into his. Calloused and rough, his skin was a familiar touch. His presence was cold, but his hand was warm. A soft caress upon her beating heart, he swept the ease from her—albeit just a little.
"The procedure will be easy, you do not need to worry." Yu Zhen whisked her closer to him. "We will ride through the Capital streets in a ruby red carriage, then wave outside the window. Lastly, all we have to do is walk up the Imperial Steps leading to the throne room."
Li Xueyue shakily nodded her head. It sounded simple in theory. But she had gone through that process before. It was far from easy. Everyone would be watching them. Every pair of eyes would be glued to him. It was nerve-racking.
"Have faith in me, Little Hamster."
"I always have faith in you, Little Bear."
- - - - -
"Here comes His Imperial Majesty and Her Benevolent Grace!"
"Hurrah to the Emperor and Empress of Hanjian!"
"We wish you a century of life, a century of prosperity, and a century of fortune!"
Cheers echoed through the streets, filled with happiness and blessings. Everyone was eager to smile and laugh, clap their hands, and call out for the new Emperor and Empress of Hanjian. They had just taken the throne, but their accomplishments were never-ending.
The future of Hanjian was brighter than ever.
Li Xueyue was grateful for Yu Zhen's presence. Sitting next to him, her heart was full. Her heart warmed at hearing the cries of the people as they eagerly wished them goodness.
Guards lined the entire streets, keeping people away from the traveling path of the carriage. Soldiers on horsebacks accompanied the golden carriage, though it was not needed. The Grim Reaper of Wars was in the carriage. Who'd dare to attack them?
"What are you doing?" Yu Zhen murmured when she suddenly pulled back the shimmering yellow curtains.
Yu Zhen was astonished when she curiously stuck her head out. It was something that none in her position has ever done before.
Then, she took the entire capital by surprise. She presented them with a loving smile and gently waved her hand.
"It's Her Benevolent Grace!"
"She's so beautiful, look, look, mama!"
"Her Grace is just as the rumors depict of her, kind and gentle!"
Hurriedly, people fought to get a glimpse of her face. Citizens rushed forward and admired her for a split second as she made an eye-contact with them.
And then, one by one, everyone lowered to their knees.
It was a sight that would forever be imprinted in Li Xueyue's mind. It happened like a wave, as the people bowed before her.
"Long live His Majesty, long live Her Grace! May the Heavens smile upon them!"
As they exited the carriages, the chants never stopped. Even from on top of the Imperial Staircase, Li Xueyue could hear them. The people of Hanjian were proud to have them both as their rulers. She did not know if she should laugh or cry.
The sound had sent tremors through her body. And then it happened again. A long, winding carpet of red greeted them. It led down the path to the throne room, which was directly in front of them now. Maidservants, eunuchs, aristocrats, ministers, and alike were standing before them, in an organized manner.
Standing beside the doors of the throne room were Chancellor Wu Xiang on the left, and Lu Tianbi and Hu Dengxiao on the right side.
"Just breathe, Sunshine," Yu Zhen reassured her.
Li Xueyue gave a slight nod.
"Greetings to His Imperial Majesty, and Her Benevolent Grace!" the announcer loudly declared.
"Greetings to His Imperial Majesty, and Her Benevolent Grace!" everyone echoed in an unforgettable fashion.
Li Xueyue's breath hitched. Her heart drummed with anticipation. Step by step, she accompanied Yu Zhen down the carpet of red. And with each step, affirmation was given.
Soon, their foot grazed the stairs leading to the throne room. When they reached the platform, they slowly turned on their heels.
Then, came a scene Li Xueyue would never forget.
"May His Imperial Majesty and Her Benevolent Grace live beyond a century of life, a century of health, a century of prosperity, and a century of fortune!"
The chant was echoed throughout the enormous palace courtyard. Everyone dropped to their knees. Right hand folded on top of the left, their bodies lowered to the ground. Their foreheads grazed the floor, as everyone in the entire Kingdom bowed before the new Emperor and Empress of Hanjian, whose name would be etched into history books to come.
And there would be a specific one dedicated to Her Benevolent Grace, one that would depict her entire life.
The book would entail a sparrow's journey to becoming the phoenix: The Rise of Xueyue.
- - - - -
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