'Oh God, Ying Yue! Why is it that you seem to have left such a mess behind?!?!' she cried internally, finally being able to shove him away and take a good look at the guy.
It almost looked like he was hurt.
"Is it your habit to go around hugging unsuspecting girls on the street?" she exclaimed annoyedly, giving the guy a dirty look.
All around them, everything seemed to quite, not even a fly could be heard.
"Yue'er" he frowned, suddenly just inches from her once more, his voice barely more than a whisper, just enough for her to hear "I know you are mad... I know I didn't protect you! But you have to trust me! If I had know Tong..." he gulped "what <i> she </i> was planing, I swear, I would've done anything to stop it!".
Sam wanted to massage her nose, almost feeling the curious, almost judging glares at her back.
"Listen kid" she started, not caring to control the tone of her voice "I really don't know who you are or what the hell you are talking about... Besides, this is not the place to have this conversation". Finally, she spotted Ah Mei at the sides, looking deathly pale "I should really get going know...".
"Jiang Ying Yue!" he whispered fervently, grabbing her by the arms so she could not get away, his voice still low, as if not wanting anyone else to hear them "Is it everything I deserve? After all we've been through... Is this all that you'll give me? Your indifference?".
'Oh God!' Sam closed her eyes tightly, wishing to be anywhere else but there. AH-ah! Why couldn't things go well just for ONCE?
All around her, she finally became aware of the whispers.
"Why is the Crown Prince talking to her?"
"Wha is the meaning of this?"
"Could it be he wants the crazy Jiang girl to be the new Queen?"
Sam gasped, turning to him once more.
His eyes still felt hard, his posture defiant. The Crown Prince.
She felt like spitting blood. 'Heavens... This must be bad karma accumulated from hundreds of lifetimes... Why, WHY can't it go well a single time?'.
Just before she could say anything, the sound of roofs and running feet interrupted them, making everyone turn their faces.
"The Royal Guards are Here!!" someone on the crowd shouted.
What follows was a real pandemonium, with everyone trying to get away as fast as possible. Using the confusion to her advantage, Sam was able to free herself, stumbling backwards and almost falling before she was able to regain her balance and run away, catching Ah Mei's cold hand on the way and dashing forward.
She was still able to hear a voice calling out to her, but didn't dare to look back. It was not the time. Something inside her said nothing good would come out of that meeting, and for some reason, she believed it.
"XiaoJie...!" Ah Mei gasped, looking over her shoulders at the guards picking up people and shoving them down while arresting others "Miss! There!" she pointed at a large tea house at the corner of the street.
They could probably hide there and wait for things to calm a bit... Just for a few minutes.
Understanding her line of thoughts, Sam started slowing down, until they resumed a seemingly carefree walk at the establishment's door, trying to hide their labored breaths with a refined smile as an old merchant offered to show them an empty table.
"You will have to excuse this servant, miss, for as you can see, we are quite crowded this afternoon!" he beamed, pointing with a hand a small table ahead, just below a beautiful window. It was a bit hidden, and too close to the kitchen door's for anyone to want it, but for Sam it was perfect. What better way to go unnoticed?
"Sir, we thank you very much, this is perfect!" she assured him, looking curiously at the front of the shop, where a large stage was set, with what looked like four empty seats and two young ladies brewing tea "Hum... What is happening here today? It seems quite popular!".
"Ah, Miss is right! You have very good eyes!" he assured her "We are having our annual tea-brewing competition! People all over the Kingdom, and I was told, even beyond it, come here to watch and participate! Quite popular, it's quite popular indeed!".
And just like that, he left them to themselves, assuring Sam someone would come to take her order and bring some snacks. Once they were completely alone, she sighed on relief.
"God! I though we were truly lost this time!" she confessed, looking at Ah Mei "That guy... Ah Mei, tell me, was he really the Crown Prince?" she finished her question in a whisper, trying no to be overheard by the suddenly clapping audience.
"Miss... This servant deserves death!" Ah Mei sniffed miserably, her head hung low "This servant knew of what happened... This servant should have insisted we go when I noticed it was the Crown Prince!".
"What do you mean by 'what happened'?" Sam mumbled, having a really bad feeling about all that "And what..." she stopped talking suddenly, gasping at the stabbing pain she felt suddenly at her side.
Her hand flew to her ribs, as if expecting to find a knife buried there, but there was only smooth fabric under her fingertips.
"Miss" Ah Mei called, worriedly "Miss, are you all right?".
Before she could answer, Sam looked back feeling like there was a gaze burning wholes on her head. Instantly, her eyes meeting the cold, snidely smiling face of one of the competitors. The girl's lips quivered a little, showing an almost venomous satisfaction at Sam.
"Ah Mei" she whispered soberly, not daring to look away "Who is that girl?".
The servant stiffened, her face looking positively terrified.
"Ah Mei!" Sam ordered, a bit harsher than she intended "WHO is that girl?".
"That... That girl" Ah Mei swallowed hard, trying to still her stuttering "She is the nominated Crown Princes... Future wife of prince He Geng Xin... Miss Tong Zhi Ruo".
Sam blinked, not knowing exactly what to do with that information. As if understanding what was happening, Tng Zhi Ruo's smile became even wider, a almost taunting glint shining in her eyes.
'This girl is dangerous' a small voice whispered in Sam's mind, and just like before, she didn't even considered mistrusting it.
Turning back to Ah Mei, she said "We have to get out of here".
Just than, they were swallowed by another round of applause.
"And it seams, ladies and gentlemen, that this years winner is our nominated Crown Princess!! Miss Tong Zhi Ruo!" more applause and cheers could be herd, and Sam decided to use that opportunity to get away from there, as fast as she could "Let's go!" she hissed to Ah Mei, dragging the girl with her on the direction of the door.
"... Such a blessing to our country!" the judge kept talking "Now, as it is tradition, the winner has the right to select someone from the crowd to make her a cup of tea, as sign of respect and admiration!" he kept talking "Your Highness, please, take your time" he bowed at her, clearly kissing up, Sam thought.
Tang Zhi Ruo smiled a bright, seemingly graceful smile, but didn't bother correcting the man that she was not yet the crown princess, as the wedding was yet to take place. instead, she walked to the front of the small stage, her face the sight of a beautiful, considerate maiden.
"I thank you so much! Everyone of my competitors was worth and had such astonishing abilities... Zhi Ruo is really humbled by everything I learned this afternoon and it is my great pleasure to receive this prize!" everyone applauded again, cementing about how such a great figure could be so kind and respectful "I know you have been hearing rumors... And it pains me dearly to learn about the harsh treatment someone has been receiving because of it. So, I want to use this opportunity to show everyone that there is nothing left to forgive between us!"
Her honeyed words only served to make Sam feel like vomiting, the sense of urgency building up on her stomach with a vengeance.
Almost at the door, she chanted at her self, she was almost at the door...!
"Jiang mei mei!" Tong Zhi Ruo suddenly called, making everyone turn her way and Sam stand dead still "Jiang Mei Mei... It would be Zhi Ruo's honor to have you make me a cup of tea... So we can show everyone that no harm has been done, and that we forgave each other for any past mishaps!".
Sam closed her eyes slowly, trying to contain her desire to roll her eyes and scream.
Couldn't anyone see how false all that sounded? Or that viper's smiling with such smug satisfaction?
But everyone was already commending her about such noble spirit and being able to forgive that terrible Jiang kid.
Sam looked at Ah Mei for help, but the girl seemed ready to faint.
There was really no way out this time.
'Forget it' she sighed 'It's just a cup of tea... Let's just get done with it!'
Forcing a smile, she slowly turned to the front stage, ordering her limbs to work as she slowly bowed at her competition.
"Zhi ruo, jie jie!" she crooned, deciding that, if she would go down, so she would annoy the hell out of that creature on her way "You know I have terrible skills, not in the least compared to Jie Jie's talent! You had so many more years than me to cultivate your talent! Jie Jie, I don't dare to offend your taste with my meek tries!".
Sam lowered her head in what looked like submission, but was in fact a way to cover her desperate desire to laugh. She could sear a vein was jumping on that girl's forehead at the allusion of her age!
Ah-ah, so amusing! And everyone around seemed not to have noticed anything! They were even complimenting her about her change of manners, and that she seemed to know her place now.
"Mei Mei-a, what are you saying? We are just a few months apart!" Zhi Ruo exclaimed, with round, naive eyes "Whatever you do, it will be fine for me. Jie Jie won't judge you!".
Sam almost sighed. Well, she had tried.
Still trying to sound meek and polite, she made her way to the front and onto the stage, waiting while two servants cleaned everything and started arranging some very weird, very foreign stuff in front of her.
"Hum... Excuse me" she asked one of them in a low voice "I though I was supposed to make tea...?"
The men blinked, seemingly flabbergasted.
"You are, miss.".
"Right..." she said slowly "So... We are all the tea stuff... And what should I do with all of this?".
If it was possible, the poor servant seemed to be having a stroke from disbelief.
"Miss... This are the things used to brew tea". he whispered nervously before making himself scarce as fast as possible.
Sam just felt her jaw dropping, looking at everything laid In front of her with utter defeat.
Slowly, her eyes traveled to the triumphant smile on the Viper's face.
She slowly closed her eyes, trying to thing.
'Just making some tea, hum?' she berated herself internally 'what could go wrong, hum?!?!'
Now, what was she to do...?
"Tong Mei Mei, if you don't mind, I would like to offer to make tea on Yue'er stead... To represent the good will of our entire Jiang family".
Sam gasped, her head whipping to the entrance door, not believing in what she was seeing. Deep inside, however, a small, flimsy thread of relief, respect and even... Even love quivered slightly, as if she had played the string of a guitar.
And right at that moment, Samantha couldn't differentiate anymore which were this body's responses and which were her own.
Her family had arrived.