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8 Candle Next To The Sun

Wei Li Lian

Princess Le-anne


Much time was wasted at the city gate. The line was endless, and the officials were lackadaisical in doing their work as they made a nuisance out of having each sedan thoroughly inspected. Even though Le-anne's gate pass was in order, they fussed about how she did not need eight retainers to accompany her into the city. She stood her ground and refused to leave any of her men at the gate; after having travelled from so far, they needed to recuperate.

The officials were unbothered by that; servants' lives were worthless and held no value to them. This concept was hard to digest for her, who came from a place in which each life was regarded as precious.

It was only after she asked to see the minister and threatened them while using her status that they finally let her pass.

The Imperial Capital shocked her with its beauty. She knew that Nevoria would be wealthy, but she had no idea that it was also a place of magnificence.

"Your Royal Highness, please allow me to go out and sit on the steps of the sedan to enjoy the beauty of the capital," Ai said excitedly. For her, this had always been a dream. Unlike Le-anne, she had counted down for their leave at the Borderlands.

"Young Miss Ai will visit the market with me on another day." They could not afford to be open about the princess' arrival. Ai nodded, understanding, and peeped between the curtains. Princess Le-anne had recently bestowed her the title 'Young Miss,' which elevated her above the other maids, who were merely referred to by their name.

"Your Highness, the Capital is quite breathtaking, please have a look!" Ai exclaimed and turned towards her, her smile stretching from ear to ear. Fairy is what had crossed the princess' mind when she first laid her eyes on her. More appropriately, a shrewd fairy, as she was one who easily forgot her place as a servant.

Princess Le-anne pushed the curtains of the sedan and eyed the outside. The streets were littered with citizens walking side by side in luxurious brocades, wide sleeves kissing the ground. The buildings on one side were all ornamented and luxuriously painted, reaching ostentatiously towards heaven. Red, gold and white banners cascaded from wine-houses and restaurants. In front of these were uniformed maids in clean cottons, their hands clasped on their stomachs. They smiled and nodded towards anyone who cast a glance in their direction.

Rainbow bolts of silks were draped all over the marketplace while rosy peaches and various other juicy fruits were piled on the stalls. Compared to Huticah, Nevoria was the sun next to a candle.

"How shameless! Your Highness, men grow their hair in this place," Ai said with a scowl. "And their women don't pin their hair up either."

Le-anne laughed with glee.

"It is tradition for the citizens to not tie their hair up until the new emperor's reign exceeds five years," she tried to explain while catching her breath.

The sedan took a small turn and then came to a stop in front of a huge stony building written 'The Lady Queens' Manor.'

"Your Highness!" Ai gaped, seeming to be out of breath pointing at the curtain beside her. "They are all waiting for Her Highness—" The princess quickly pulled her towards herself and covered her mouth in panic.

"Lady Wei." She admonished her sharply, and Ai's small eyes widened in guilt. For a moment, Le-anne experienced a sense of deja-vu. The other night it had been her backed on a wall and left vulnerable in the hands of someone else.

Suddenly, the curtains opened in front, and she promptly pushed Ai away from her.

"We are here, my lady." A man stood at the entrance.

Ai helped her down the steps of the sedan, both their bodies feeling sore and buttered from the long journey.

"Greetings and welcome to the Lady of Wei!" An entourage of uniformed ladies bowed at her feet. The lady queens of the manor were all garbed in purple hanfu.

Their exotic features were stunning, beautiful roses indeed.

"Don't stand on ceremony." The princess excused them, and they stood up, their heads still inclined. They were the lady queens she would train for the Summer Festive Imperial Dance to create an opportunity for his majesty to notice her.

One of the ladies stepped forward and bowed again. She was distinguished from the rest by the exquisite head pins that hung on her flowing hair.

"Greetings to Her Ladyship!"

The princess nodded in acknowledgement.

"Mistress Han left her apologies. She was summoned to the palace this morning and so could not welcome you, but I will do my best to serve you well in her place."

"Very well." Princess Le-anne's voice came out more plaintive than intended.

"This way, My Lady." She pointed to her right, and Princess Le-anne followed her. The manor was well maintained. It was not luxurious but had an ambiance of comfort.

The inside was themed red with cushions and pillows decorating the mat of the welcoming room and small eating tables positioned in the middle. Paintings of flowers and jade beauties also hung all around the room. Lee-anne followed the lady queen into the dark corridor which had lamps clinging to the walls.

She was still surveying the corridors when she was next led into a decent room that had a small bed in the corner and a clothes rack in another. At the sight of a large wooden tub that was placed in the centre of the room, Le-anne couldn't help feeling thankful. It had been so long since she had a proper bathe.

"Mistress Han left orders for us to prepare a warm bath for you. I hope you enjoy the bath and get some rest, My Lady."

The tub was filled with steamed water, roses floating on the surface.

"That would be great." She looked around again, and noticing that the lady queen had no plans to leave, she said, "You may leave. Young Miss Ai will see to tending me." Le-anne eyed Ai, who was bursting with joy. She loved being acknowledged as her mistress's superior attendant. The lady queen bowed then walked away, shutting the door behind her to give them some privacy.

Silence fell into the room before Ai suddenly walked in front of the princess and fell to her knees.

Surprised, Princess Le-anne tried to lift her up. "Young Miss, what seems..."

"Your Royal Highness, please let this impertinent servant speak first." She began to shake her off so the princess let her go.

"Forgive me, your Royal Highness, but I disagree with what happened at the Dura Mountain," she started, "How could her Royal Highness risk her life for a mere servant like me?"

"Young Miss―"

"Her Highness could have died in that camp," her voice was now groggy, "and for what? Just because this worthless servant had an upset stomach?"

Sweet Ai, the princess had always kept her at arm's length but she, on the other side, had done the opposite, her feelings towards the princess ever unrestrained. Her eyes always carried admiration towards her mistress, like she was her older sister.

"If something happened, what would I have done? Where would I go? Who would I serve with my heart on the sleeve?" She broke down, and the princess' heart fragmented. She knelt beside her and pulled her to herself.

Ai had always seen the princess as her world. Her parents had died in an epidemic that once struck Huticah, and out of avarice, her relatives had sold her to the palace. King Tobba, Le-anne's father, then sentenced her to serve Princess Le-anne at just eleven summers. At the time, the princess was fourteen summers old, preparing for her leave to the Borderlands.

"But nothing happened, Ai, nothing happened," she cooed and kissed her on the forehead.

"But her Royal Highness' pendant was lost. Does her Highness think that this worthless person is worth that much?" She sniffed, her rabbit eyes solemnly looking at her mistress.

"Yes, I do." Le-anne ran her hands through Ai's hair and wiped away the girl's tears. The pendant was special to Princess Le-anne, the only reminder of her mother. She had to find it. Even if she turned the whole world upside down, she had to find that cocky bastard. Invading his food supplies tent to find something that would calm her young miss' stomach was not worth taking such a valuable stone.

'But you stole their water too,' a voice in her head accused.

'But still, my pendant was worth so much more, a rare stone it was. I will compensate him for the intrusion, and he will have to give it back,' the princess tried to reason with herself.

She hoped that he wouldn't give it away to his wife or sell it for that matter.

"Her Royal Highness must become empress, then finding her pendant would not be like finding a needle in the hay." Ai looked at her with so much adoration. "But again, she must not worry because her Royal Highness is destined to be a rising phoenix, and I pledge my life to serve her till the end." Ai held her chest and bowed, sealing her promise.

Princess Le-anne smiled at her and giggled. Although she had lost her other gem, she had also gained a more precious one.

Ai helped her undress, and she took a long bath. The water soothed her body while the scent relaxed her mind. When done bathing, the princess called for the servants to have another tub prepared so that her young miss could also take a bath. Though they complied, they did not seem very pleased at having to prepare a bath for what they viewed to be just another servant.

While Ai rested in the steaming waters, Le-anne found herself dozing off to sleep on the small bed.