Chapter 161: Growing Affection
Qin Yining could clearly feel the heat emanating from his hand, as well as the rough friction of old calluses as he gently took her hand. She really wanted to jerk backwards, but he was holding onto her wrist with a grip that was neither too tight nor entirely loose. It didn’t hurt, but it didn’t give way in the slightest.
Rosy-cheeked with shyness, Qin Yining rolled her expressive eyes at Pang Xiao. She didn’t bother struggling anymore since she knew it was futile. Instead, she just laughed coldly.
“You think too little of me. She wanted to bully me, but she’s the one who’s worse off now.”
The person in front of him had been soft and fragile merely a moment ago, but was now baring her teeth and brandishing her claws with abandon. The about face only served to emphasize the girl’s tenderness and situational insight. She was like that harmless Riceball when she became irritated, first scratching him, then turning its butt up at him. He liked her even more because of it.
Bingtang felt it safe to speak again when she saw the atmosphere grow warm again.
“Please sit back down, Your Highness. I’m not done with the acupuncture yet. You have many old injuries and they’ll ache and itch on cloudy days. I’ll write out a prescription to improve the situation, but you’ll have to take it for a year or two before it has any effect.”
Huzi piped up. “His Highness is usually in army camps, so it’s tough for him to slowly work on his health via medicine. But if you write out a good prescription, I’ll make sure that His Highness gets his medicine even if I have to take the herbs into the battlefield with me.”
Pang Xiao took a seat on a bowed stool near Qin Yining while Bingtang fetched more needles. On the other hand, Qin Yining heard notes of something else in Huzi’s words.
“Aren’t the Valiant Tigers going back to the capital for commendations and rewards after a job well done? Will there be more fighting in the future?”
Huzi quietly cursed himself for his slip of the tongue and also marveled at how sensitive Qin Yining was. He didn’t dare look at his master and lowered his head.
“Don’t worry.” Pang Xiao smiled. “I’ll have my ways to come see you, no matter how busy or tired I get.”
Qin Yining could hear the undercurrents of farewell in his words. She knew that he was a prince of Great Zhou and couldn’t stay forever in Great Yan. Although she was slightly sad that he was leaving, she was once again struck by the forwardness of his words. “You should be careful with your words, Your Highness. Aren’t you afraid of people misunderstanding and gossiping about you?”
Pang Xiao arched a brow. “Well that’s odd. I’ve been interested in you since day one, and I’ve never been shy about it it. Go out and ask around, doesn’t everyone know that I like you? What do they have to misunderstand about? What are they going to gossip about?”
This man is hopeless! Qin Yining was infuriated. “How can you be so overbearing?! Don’t speak like this in the future. Who you like is your business, but don’t make a joke out of me. We’re from two different countries and have different positions. The grudge of nations stand in our way, so why repeatedly pursue something that we both know is impossible!”
“So does that mean there’s hope for us if our countries didn’t hate each other, or that we didn’t belong to two different nations? Then I’ll just get rid of those differences.”
Qin Yining looked askance at the dead serious Pang Xiao. There wasn’t a trace of his usual irreverent cynicism. Her heart skipped a beat at his intently serious face.
“You don’t need to joke with me with such serious words. I’m just a girl and can’t take the weight.”
“Who said I was joking?”
“You…” Qin Yining’s face nearly exploded with a burst of red. She could never fully grasp of what this man was thinking. He was downright tyrannical and never asked her opinion before doing something, but everything he did was for her own good, so she couldn’t really get angry at him. He did things without rhyme or reason, so it was impossible to factor his actions into a plan or predict his next move. If this was someone at court, he’d be the sort that officials found maddening but could do absolutely nothing about. Darn her luck for running into him!
She turned her face away without another word. Pang Xiao smiled with resignation.
“Are you angry again? Don’t think too much, you know a lot of things are a function of the times we live in.” Perhaps sensing that Qin Yining didn’t want to talk about it anymore, the prince dropped the topic with a sigh. “I know you feel uneasy, but don’t worry, I’m not a philanderer. Have you ever seen me flirt with anyone else?”
Qin Yining’s cheeks started to burn again, and Huzi jumped in before she had a chance to speak. “Fourth Miss, this subordinate can bear solemn witness that my prince has never been so serious about a girl!”
He seemed so gravely serious that it seemed like he was only one step away from swearing to the heavens. Pang Xiao looked at his guard with satisfaction and then back at the girl.
“Don’t worry, I’ll think of a way to make you my wife.”
An explosion went off inside her head. Qin Yining glared at Pang Xiao with her ears on fire. Such a mix of emotions assailed her that she didn’t actually know what she was feeling. “When did I ever say I was going to marry you?”
“Everyone knows you’re mine. Who are you going to marry if not me?” Pang Xiao narrowed his phoenix eyes dangerously. “Or do you like dumb bookworms like Weichi Yan?”
Qin Yining found it even more incredible that he was dragging the crown prince into this. “Why do you even come up with all this nonsense?”
Pang Xiao sized up her expression carefully and his tone softened slightly. “That kid’s only good for show. He’s wishy-washy and indecisive, and only knows to write pretty words and draw pictures. He’s not good enough for you.”
Qin Yining really wanted to fire back with, “And are you good enough for me!?”, but she swallowed the words on the tip of her tongue. Her face remained as crimson as the setting sun, the same color shared with the nape of her neck and ears.
When Pang Xiao saw how the girl was pink all over and how closely she resembled sticky rice cake with how soft and tender she was, he found it harder and harder to control his impulses. He drank in this vision of loveliness as Bingtang removed the needles and Huzi prepared a change of clothes. He went inside to change clothes as Bingtang set brush to paper for a prescription.
Meanwhile, Qin Yining was stuck in a daze as she looked down on her rewrapped hand. Did she dislike Pang Xiao?
The answer was no, of course.
Not only did she not dislike the man, but she even felt a bit of subtle happiness whenever she saw him. He was indeed too domineering, but the things he did always emphasized much he cared for her and that he liked her. This made it difficult to really yell at him and warmed her heart as well, especially since he’d saved her multiple times.
Qin Yining had had a tough childhood and was used to being strongly independent. She always made plans for herself and others around her. Whether it was her foster mother or née Sun after returning home, she was used to protecting people.
She rarely felt the sensation of being protected and even sometimes felt that she only possessed a girl’s body, but was even stronger than a man at heart. It was only when she was with Pang Xiao that she truly felt that ah, yes, she was a girl as well. She could be weak and rely on others too.
This feeling made her heart pound. But as she flitted between exuberance and quiet happiness, reason kept telling her that there was too much in their way. Her slender, pale left hand softly caressed her right hand. Lowered lashes drew a curtain across the emotions in her eyes.
When Pang Xiao reemerged, having changed into a robe with the patterns of a python, he was struck with the image of Qin Yining’s head lowered, deep in thought. Long locks flowed past her shoulders like ribbons, accentuating her pale, creamy neck. Her side profile was equally charming, but the slightly frowning brows and lowered lashes spoke to the matter that weighed on her heart. She had a belly full of worries and no place to vent them.
This understanding weighed on Pang Xiao’s heart like a rock. He hadn’t quite understood his own thoughts towards her before, only thinking that his feelings towards Qin Yining were the residual cares after their childhood encounter and general curiosity. And perhaps guilt too, as everything she’d encountered in life thus far was the work of his father’s men. She was innocent, so maybe there was also a desire to make things up to her? Or was it a shared sympathy for someone who was also a plaything of fate?
He admitted in his heart that he was much too domineering towards her. A tiny bit of possessiveness was responsible for all the shenanigans he’d inflicted on her. But in recent times, his feelings raged out of control whenever something had to do with her. Reason always gave way in the face of emotion, and everything he did was tilted irrevocably towards her. It'd helped him understand that perhaps his heart was more truthful than his reason. That his feelings towards her might run deeper than he’d thought.
At first he’d felt that their countries were too large a barrier between them, the web of relationships around them too complicated. Her father was a famed Great Yan official, and he only a common-born prince of Great Zhou. It would be very difficult to properly wed her.
But the more time they spent together, the more his heart snuck ever closer to her. He was even starting to think that although marrying her would be very difficult, that it would entail a great deal of effort, and would even change many of his own plans and arrangements, it was all going to be worth it.
Perhaps Qin Yining still resisted things for now, but he already viewed her as his woman in his heart. In that case, one’s woman frowning meant a man’s greatest incompetence.
“What’s wrong?” Pang Xiao knelt in front of Qin Yining.
The girl was taken aback by his proximity and quickly shook her head, the pearl dangle behind her head throwing off dazzling hues in the light.
“Tell me anything that’s bothering you.” Pang Xiao’s tone was quite serious. His intimate questioning threw Qin Yining for a loop. It felt like they’d known each other for a very long time, and that it was so very natural for the two of them to speak so easily.
“Your Highness, you don’t need…”
“Call me Zhixi.” Pang Xiao took her hand and helped her to her feet. “I told you a long time ago that my secondary name is Zhixi.”
Qin Yining blushed again and lowered her head, refusing to answer. Calling a man by only his secondary name was a very intimate gesture!
Her head drooped close to Pang Xiao’s chest, putting him in a great mood. “My men have sent several Great Zhou horses over. I’ve chosen two docile ones and wanted to gift one to you, and one to Miss Tang as thanks for looking after my illness. The weather’s good today, why don’t I take you outside the city to walk the horses?”
Bingtang’s eyes lit up and she forgot to continue packing her medicine box. “Do you mean that, Your Highness?”
“Naturally.” Pang Xiao leaned slightly to look at Qin Yining’s face. “Well? Do you want to go?”
Qin Yining really did want to go. She had never taken formal horse riding lessons, but she knew how to ride a horse all the same. Wild horses had saved her life more than once before, and she’d spent a period of time living with a herd, so she had a particular affinity for horses.
But… it seemed a bit inappropriate to go horse riding with the prince.
Pang Xiao tugged her uninjured hand, his grip gentle, but his tone full of impatience. “I shouldn’t have asked you. Next time, I’ll just tie you up and take you with me.”
And so, Qin Yining was tugged down the stairs while Huzi and Bingtang followed happily behind.
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