The Wedding

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The loud and panicked commotion in the courtyard rattled my focus. I whipped around to see what's going on when princess Li's grip on me tightened. She squeezed hard enough to make me wince and glance up at her, inquiringly. 'Princess...?"

Her smile made a menacing upturn that told me everything I needed to know. My heart skipped a beat as I tried breaking loose from her imprisoning hold. "What's going on?!"

"Don't worry." She murmured tenderly, almost too affectionate and giggled. "I told you, it'll be over with before you know it."

The way she is, she moved in precise coolness. The way she smiled at me, and her shining stare that's a little too elated. The wildness and craziness...I knew something had already rolled into motion and we are all too ignorant and passive that we never saw it coming.

Her calmness, her willingness to abide by her husband's wishes, it was too good to be true.

Princess Li was all just pretend, she stood back like a predator, watching, waiting until the perfect opportune moment to strike and make us all pay mercilessly.

"What're you going to do to me?!"

"Oh, I'm not going to do anything to you. As a matter of fact, I'm going to let you enjoy the show besides me. Do you realize what an honor that is? To stand beside an imperial princess – accompany her for entertainment?"

"You're nuts! You and your entire clan are nuts. You rose to power killing everyone getting in your way. I'll pray for the time when everyone in your bloodline is massacred."

She sneered. "Best wishes, little bird." She murmured, mimicking Jingam's affectionate voice and his pet name for me. "No one can touch the imperial family. We are too powerful, too strong to be threatened by a few noble clans like yours."

I shook my arms, trying to break loose but she yanked me toward the door, dragging me with her. I put up a fight and made it difficult for her. That's when she struck me in the gut and made me feel the worst kind of pain I ever experienced.

I fell on my knees, clutching my stomach. Could barely breathe through the pain.

Her lips pursed, "oops, my sincere apologies, little bird. I didn't know you couldn't take a punch in the gut." She smiled sweetly. "You have quite a soft stomach, it's like punching a water balloon. That didn't even hurt my fist." Princess Li bent over and crouched to where I'm stumped. "You know, a woman like you can only retain her shape while she's young. I'm afraid by the time you're twenty-five, you'll be filled with rolls of fat even Jingam might find you appalling. He might even pursue himself a younger and prettier wife to replace you with."

I glared at her, her taunts meaningless to me. "Take your husband, keep him for yourself. I'll gladly let you have him."

"Too late for that, little bird." She snarled, her animated face hovered close to mine. "You see, Lord Changi and your dear eldest brother already crossed the line. I warned your brother, but he never listened. I even gave him the time to change his mind, but he's too stubborn. He's just like any other foolish man."

Her face suddenly contorted into a rage, Princess Li picked me back up and ushered me outside the room when the door slammed open.

I was relieved when I saw Yuanji rushed in. His tunic stained and soiled with dirt and blood. Yuanji looked like he'd already been in a few scuffles with the guards.

"Eldest brother!" I screamed.

Yuanji was a flash, his movement was quick as he grabbed princess Li on her dress who barely had time to react and slammed her against the wall with great satisfaction. Yuanji knocked her off unconscious while she fell to the floor.

I gasped surprised to see my brother could even treat a woman like that. It must have been all those pent-up anger he held back dealing with her in the past couple of months.

"Oops, that might've had been a little harder than I planned." Yuanji grinned.

"Not hard enough," I answered nearly laughing at what he did.

"Are you alright, little sister?" He asked and rushed to my aid.

"I'm alright, she merely punched me in the gut."

"Can you walk?"

"Yes."

Yuanji helped me up and ushered me outside the hallway, almost running to a bunch of guards immediately. I saw chaos. Imperial Guardsmen, rounding out servants and guests to the courtyard. There were too many of them, there's got to be at least a dozen running around inside the manor alone. Yuanji hurled me back behind the door and pressed his arm against my chest.

"Ssshhhh..." he whispered quietly.

When the hallway cleared, that's when Yuanji took me to the back of the manor, where the stable was located. There was more waiting for us.

"Common, hurry!" Yuanji rushed to mount me on the horse's back.

"Go!" He rasped. "Go south, go to the Wang kingdom. They'll protect you, prince Wang Jian is married to Ying Yue, they will protect you."

"Wait, what about mother and father?!" I whipped my head distantly to the loud hysteria in the courtyard. "Mother and father are still out there."

"Don't worry, father is with mother. He can take care of a few guardsmen all by himself."

"What about you?"

A flashed of uncertainty masked Yuanji's handsome face.

"Go, He Lian." His voice rose frenzied. "You're running out of time, you need to get out of here. If you're going to make it to the southern kingdom alive."

I understood right then, Yuanji was uncertain of his own fate. "Get on the horse with me." I urged. "Let's ride south together."

"No, little sister. I need to hold them back, so you can escape." Yuanji withdrew a step back.

"Yuanji?" My voice quivered. My brother will risk his life to protect mine. My eyes welled up and tears flowed without me realizing it. "Come with me."

"Go, He Lian!" He yelled, and slapped the horse into motion, sending it careening on full throttle outside through the back gate of the manor. 

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