Chapter 165: Questioning

Chapter 165: Questioning

“You’re really…” Qin Yining sighed.

Pang Xiao looked nervously at her, observing the girl’s expression. She hadn’t gotten mad when he kissed her, or threatened that she couldn’t like anyone else. She’d only showed some hesitation when she knew that he’d arranged everything today, but now looked like she understood everything.

His heart settled back down and the prince laughed happily.

“My dear Yi, aren’t you going to admit that you like me too?” He whispered next to her ear.

The words were accompanied by a hot huff of breath. Qin Yining trembled and pushed the prince away. Pang Xiao felt that a bunny had patted him with a furry paw.

He looked up at the sky and listened to the sounds behind him, sighing. Placing two hands around her thin waist, he helped her down the horse and stroked her forehead softly. “Alright, go hide now. Don’t worry about anything else. Remember what I just said.”

Qin Yining led Whitecloud a few steps away.

Pang Xiao looked meaningfully at Huzi and cracked his whip. “This prince is highly dissatisfied to be chased by Tatars in Great Yan territory. Let’s see how your emperor responds!” The prince clamped his legs around the horse’s belly after speaking and sent Thundercloud shooting out. Huzi and the other guards were close behind.

Qin Yining stood by the road and observed the fake Tatars follow them like shadows before finally breathing a sigh of relief. She led Whitecloud to a nearby copse and didn’t wait too long before urgent hoofbeats sounded from the road. The time seemed about right for Pang Xiao’s Great Yan escort to arrive. Qin Yining led Whitecloud out, jumped on, and road in the direction of the road.

Whitecloud’s silvery-white mane was coated with a sheen of white beneath the moonlight. He sped over grass glistening with dewdrops like a heavenly steed. His rider was wearing plain colored silks that also glimmered with faint hues, making it impossible to ignore her.

There were roughly twenty in the Great Yan party, and they slowed down upon seeing Qin Yining. When they caught a clearer glimpse of the girl as she drew nearer in the blink of an eye, they exclaimed with surprise. “Miss Qin?”

The Qin fourth miss nodded. “It’s me. What of my father and Sir Cui?”

“It’s really Miss Qin? That’s wonderful! The Marquis of Anping and Sir Cui are behind us. We were charged with protecting the Great Zhou prince against the assassins. It’s good that you are well!” The leader thought for a moment. “We still have a mission to carry out and can’t stay for long. Why are you here, Miss Qin?”

The leader continued before Qin Yining had a chance to response. “I’ll arrange for a person here to protect you, miss. The Marquis of Anping will be here shortly.”

“Your business is more important. Thank you for your care, sir.” Qin Yining nodded understandingly.

These men were under orders to see the Faithful Prince of the First Rank out of the country, so they had to accompany him safely out of Great Yan territory. If anything happened to the prince within Great Yan borders, who knew what kind of ludicrous demands the unreasonable Great Zhou emperor would come up with?

The leader thought kindly of the Qins' rearing when he saw how considerate Qin Yining was. A blush crossed his face when he saw how nobly Qin Yining was seated on her horse beneath the moonlight. He hastily ducked his head and shifted his mind to giving orders for one man to remain while the others rode off.

A thirty-some year old man was left behind to protect Qin Yining. He took up a position not too far away after saluting the girl. The girl dismounted to return the man’s politeness and stroked Whitecloud’s silvery mane. The horse greatly enjoyed the caressing and nuzzled Qin Yining’s cheeks. He was the same as Thundercloud, being quite perceptive of human nature apart from excellent breeding, endurance, speed, and initial burst of speed. Their intelligence was likely on par with a eight year old human child, which was how Qin Yining treated the stallion; gently, like a smart child.

It was thanks to Whitecloud’s presence that she felt a bit more secure in these wildlands.

More hoofbeats sounded after forty five minutes. Qin Huaiyuan and the others quickly slowed down when they saw a white horse and a girl wearing plain clothes off in the distance. The marquis  scrambled off the horse and almost collapsed in a heap when his feet touched the ground. He was a civil subject official and had given frantic chase on the back of a horse for twelve hours. He’d long since reached the point of exhaustion, but kept pushing himself onwards when he thought of how his dear daughter was caught in the middle of pursuit from assassins.

He took a few quick steps forward, meeting Qin Yining halfway. Qin Huaiyuan breathed a long sigh of relief when he saw that Qin Yining’s clothes were on properly. Only that her long hair was in slight disarray, so it didn’t seem that she’d suffered anything untoward.

“Are you alright, daughter Yi?”

“I’m fine, father.” Qin Yining curtsied to Qin Huaiyuan and saw Sir Cui and the other officials from the Ministry of Rites shakily dismount from their horses. She continued in trembling tones. “Little Prince Pang hid me here when he finally created some distance between himself and the Tatar assassins! He rode off to lead them away! The Tatars are so violent and fierce, how will we explain ourselves to the Great Zhou emperor if anything happens to him in our territory?”

“The Tatars? Do you mean that, Miss Qin? How can you tell those were the Tatars?” Cui Wenqing was exceedingly anxious.

Color had drained from the girl’s face and there seemed to be tears in her eyes. “I saw some Tatars once in the city of Liang. I heard some of their language then and recognized it when they started yelling and cursing during the heat of the pursuit just now. They were also tall and strong. I could also tell they were Tatars because of how different they look.”

“Well… this… this complicates things. Marquis of Anping, what do you say…”

Cui Wenqing and the other officials were aching all over and their inner thighs had been chafed raw from all of the riding. They hadn’t had a drop to drink or eat all day long, and their brains had long since been jostled into a pot of glue. How were they able to draw any sort of conclusions from something having to do with the Tatars, Great Yan, and Great Zhou?

Qin Huaiyuan thought or a moment and answered decisively. “The emperor needs to make the decision in this. We won’t be able to help even if we catch up to them. Let’s have the escort take the original path while we rush back to make our report.”

Everyone nodded. They left a dozen guards to protect the officials while the rest of the escort set out in the direction of Pang Xiao’s original route. However, they’d spent twelve hours on horseback to make their way here. The way back was arduous and exhausting. They naturally couldn’t go without food or sleep, so their speed was greatly impacted.

They spent a while on horseback and finally reached a small town at dawn. The group entered the town to hire carriages and to rest a while. They finally returned to the capital on the morning of the third day.

Pang Xiao was likely long gone from Xihua by then.

Due to the need for women and men to remain separate from each other, Qin Yining was given a carriage of her own and didn’t have a chance to discuss things with Qin Huaiyuan in detail.

Once in the capital, Qin Huaiyuan dismissed all of the other officials and said that he was going to the palace to make a report to the emperor. He had the carriage park halfway and walked to a more spacious area with Qin Yining, finally creating some time for the two to talk.

“Daughter Yi, are the Tatars really after the little prince?”

Qin Yining laughed despite herself. “I knew that father wouldn’t completely believe my explanation that day.”

An enlightened expression dawned on Qin Huaiyuan’s face. “Elder Statesman Cao may be in cahoots with the Tatars, but he’s doing so for his own gain, not to lead a wolf into his own house. Née Cao has already told the emperor of this matter, so the statesman should be very nervous at the moment. He would never allow the Tatars to add to his worries by assassinating the prince at this time.”

“Father is wise, everything is precisely as you say.” Qin Yining summarized how Pang Xiao had his own men dress up as Tatar assassins, avoiding whatever was burgeoning between herself and the prince.

However, some complicated tones were still mixed in with understanding after the marquis finished listening to the spiel. He thought for a moment and then asked, “Darling Yi, what do you think of little Prince Pang?”

Qin Yining had been solemnly waiting for her father to analyze what to do next. This question caught her completely off guard. The thought of the prince made her uncomfortable and she pretended to be composed. “I don’t think anything in particular of him.”

“Nothing at all?” Qin Huaiyuan pointed at the red bean bracelet on her hand with a smile. “I don’t recall you wearing this that day, but you were wearing it when we found you.”

Qin Yining blushed hotly at this.

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