The Plan

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I woke up early bound by eagerness, dressing faster than my servants can wrap around the clothing in my body.

"What's the rush, mistress?" Murmured one of the female servants with a hint of frustration. I assumed I was making their job harder, wanting to do all these tasks by myself.

"In my manor, I have but one lady servant who helped me dress. I don't have an entire entourage of servants and guards following me around. I know how to dress, I can do all of it myself."

"Perhaps, but you're a guest of the crown prince in his palace. Our job is to tend to his most important people. I'm sorry if we inconvenient you, but if I fail to do my job, I might risk losing it. I heard the prince had less than calm temper."

"That's strange...He'd been nothing but a darling." I said. "I mean, he hardly ever speaks, but he'd been nothing but kind to me."

"Oh, those rumors were the past. I heard he wasn't the kindest to the princess."

"The princess?"

"His former wife, yes."

I stilled and gave her a questioning stare. I heard murmurs around the palace, seeping through the walls. Servants' wandering eyes that seemed to follow and observe me. Their hisses were loud enough, and I had assumed they were gossips. They wonder about the younger lady from the house of Yi who looked much like her sister. They whisper stories, too soft for me to hear and once I turned my head to confront them, the voices fade and the servant's skitters away – almost as if they were afraid.

"What about the prince and my sister?" Based on my last memory of them, they were the perfect couple.

"Nevermind what I said, mistress." The maidservant quipped a smile. "They were just cruel words of the tongue. I doubt there's any truth to them." She released her hands. "There, I think we're done."

I stepped back to admire the fancy gown I'm wearing today. It's a busy print of festive fabrics layered over each other. These were the type of gowns even my mother only let me wear on special occasions."

"You look beautiful, I'm sure the crown prince will find you a delight."

"I could imagine." He'd been the one who picked up this dress. I smiled. "I certainly hope so."

"Yes, the entire palace thinks the crown prince fancy you greatly, or else he wouldn't have you constantly at his side."

I laughed softly. "I'm sure they're just precautions. I seem to remember he's not too fond of lurking shadows." 

We both laughed.

I made my way towards the door which another servant opened for me – when I was met with a surprise. I expected prince Wang Jian's sentry waiting to escort me to his office when it was lord Chua Chanshin's grinning face who greeted me – so full of charm – this morning.

I staggered a few steps back. He appeared out of nowhere, so quick that my face almost slammed to his chest.

"Goodness, lord Chanshin. You scared me." My palm pressed to my chest, nursing my racing heartbeats.

"I would have expected you'd be happy to see me." He chimed. "Or, were you expecting the prince?"

I held back a blush.

"I was not expecting you back so soon."

"Yeah, that happens a lot. No one ever wants me back."

He inclined into a gentleman's bow and held out his hand. "Shall I escort you to breakfast?"

A smile lifted on the corners of my mouth, giving him my hand. "Very well."

*****

"Where's the crown prince?" I muttered as I searched for him once we made it to the dining room. I had grown used to his company, sitting at his side at every meal.

"Hmmm?" Hummed lord Chanshin, taking his seat on his usual spot. "Why don't you eat first? The crown prince asked for plenty of pastries in today's menu."

I glared at him which he returned with his smile. "Out with it! Why is he not here?"

"My, my, I was gone for two weeks and you two managed to be so intimately close already. I must admit, I'm quite jealous. I don't see how the prince got both you and your sister to fall in love with him."

My eyebrow lifted with denial. "Am not."

He laughed. "Juvenile."

"Am not."

"You have no idea..." He said with a sly smile.

There was a groan. "I would appreciate it if you stop flirting with lady He Lian." Prince Wang Jian snarled, his gaze pointed at lord Chanshin who wiped his foxy smile. "Save it for the courtesans."

The prince was dressed in a thick robe, bounded in a thick leather vest. Leather boots with plating on his legs and chest. His hair wrapped around tightly on the back of his head. He looked like he's dressed for battle.

The entire time I've been here I only saw him in his fancy princely gowns, never in his battle suit. My heart raced to wonder what's he planned on doing.

Lord Chanshin moaned. "But I want a noble lady for once."

A threatening growl and a gaze that could cut lord Chansin in half. I saw the close brotherly bond those two had with each other. "Plenty of noble ladies around, you're a noble yourself. Go find you one."

"My prince." I interrupted before they fall into their usual banter. "Where are you planning on heading?"

Prince Wang Jian turned to me. "I am making true with my promise. I did promise to bring your brother back to you."

"You're leaving today?" I said surprised.

He nodded, "I gathered all the information I needed. My scouts had done their jobs, and lord Chanshin met with your bother Jungie. I'm riding north today to break the wall of the Sui palace to get your brother. Warlord Jungjie will await on the outskirt with his men in case something happened."

My mouth dropped. "You guys planned all this?"

"Yes. We must waste no more time. You were right about Lord Yuanji about being stubborn, I'm afraid, the princess might lose her patience and force marriage upon the two of them."

"But..."

"It'll be alright. I made an arrangement with your sister Ying Yue to watch over you while I'm gone."

"You what?" Every hair on my body stood up, my eyes darted to the darkest corner of the room and saw a shift, a woman stepped out of the shadow, pale and gothic. She's beautiful and so terrifying at the same time.

"He Lian..." She whispered deeply.

My bladder slackened and I should have known to use the bathroom first this morning. 

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