Chapter 231: An Atypical Selection (III)
The girl in front boasted of a sylphlike figure and elegant features. She was wearing a baby-pink padded jacket with an intersecting collar, which was paired with downy-yellow pleated panel skirt.
Her long locks were swept up high, held in place with a gold hairpin embedded with an intricately carved piece of jade. Pure gold tassels trailed at her sides, swaying with each gentle step she took and throwing bedazzling light that further heightened her demure composure.
Qin Yining had met the girl once before, when the trampress had made an outing to Mount Eternal Spring. The girl was Li Yanyan, daughter of the Duke of An.
She was followed by a petite little girl who looked like she’d be blown away in the wind. Tender skin and rosy cheeks provided the backdrop for a default look of shyness. She invited adoration like a kitten would. Simple makeup combined with the plain, cherry-red robes heightened her slender, pale neck. Her black, lustrous locks gleamed so brightly that even the white jade accessories in her hair were outdone.
Qin Yining had never met the second girl before and she couldn’t help but sigh with admiration. Now this is a treasure that I’d describe as a jade-like beauty! Compared to her, the Qin fourth miss felt that she was a crude brute!
Naturally she didn’t know about the various thoughts that ran through Li Yanyan and Gu Chang’s minds when they noted that Qin Yining’s plain clothes and hairstyle didn’t prevent her beauty from shining through.
Li Yanyan curtsied first. “Long time no see, younger sister Qin.”
“Elder sister Li.” Qin Yining returned the gesture.
“I heard about what’s happened with your family,” Li Yanyan sighed. “My condolences.”
“Thank you, sister.” The Qin fourth miss responded to the pleasantry with a slight smile.
“This is the eldest miss of the Gu family,” Li Yanyan introduced. “The ‘Chang’ character forms her name. Her grandfather is the imperial advisor Master Gu.”
“So it’s Miss Gu. My apologies for not greeting you earlier.” Qin Yining curtsied politely.
Gu Chang was startled by the attention. “Chang’er feels uneasy with how polite elder sister is being.” Her eyes landed on the palm-sized Riceball in Qin Yining’s arms. “Elder sister possesses innate grace and beauty. Even without dressing up, your face could set sail a thousand ships. After seeing you with an adorable bunny in hand, Chang’er feels unworthy of the ‘Chang’ character.” 
Qin Yining didn’t care for the exchange. “Your compliments are too much, Miss Gu. A name carries with it the well-wishes and hopes of our family elders. You are as beautiful as an immortal. How are you unworthy of the ‘Chang’ character?”
Li Yanyan smiled at this. She’d met Gu Chang a few times but the two weren’t close. Though Gu Chang presented a fragile exterior that inspired pity, she was an exceedingly haughty person. Li Yanyan disliked befriending this kind of person and was quite enjoying that Qin Yining had delivered a swift riposte.
As the three spoke, three mamas and a group of palace servants poured out of the Jade Hall.
The head mama was over forty and her body shape indicated the loftiness of her station. A smile beamed merrily out of a face that was like a white mantou. The other two behind her wore clothes of lower rank.
Zhan-mama murmured when she turned Qin Yining, “The one at the front is the emperor’s wet nurse, Jiao-mama. The other two are teaching mamas who cover palace rules and manners.”
Qin Yining nodded surreptitiously and brightened her expression when the palace servants drew near. “This little girl greets the various mamas.”
Li Yanyan and Gu Chang also made their curtsies, but the rotund Jiao-mama prevented Qin Yining from dipping her knees.
“This humble one wouldn’t dare accept the miss’ greeting.” Jiao-mama knelt in the grand gesture of greeting instead. “This humble one is née Jiao, here on imperial orders to serve the miss.”
The imperial wet nurse’s courtesy stunned everyone present. Those assembled here were all highly shrewd and observant folks. Who wouldn’t know what this represented?
The emperor had sent his own wet nurse to serve a girl that was to participate in the selection! Even with the irregularities in the nation’s current operations and the severely curtailed selection process, a selection for the imperial harem was still an important affair. The emperor’s actions were announcing his intentions to the entire world.
Li Yanyan’s gaze grew complex and Gu Chang lowered her eyes to bite her lip.
The other two mamas made their curtsies to the other two girls and took them to their assigned quarters in the Jade Hall.
Zhan-mama was only the escort. Her job done, she too curtsied and took her leave.
Who knew what the emperor was thinking in all of this? He’d actually given orders for Qin Yining to be put up in the main hall of the Jade Hall, while the other two were sent to the side hall.
Within the palace, Jiao-mama led two maids and eunuchs in solemn greetings to the Qin fourth miss.
“Us servants greet the miss.”
Qin Yining was cuddling her bunny as she sat in the head seat, receiving their deep bows. She went to personally help the mama up.
“Please don’t be so polite, mama.”
“Please don’t do that, miss. When we came here, the emperor told us that we must serve you well. He hasn’t personally arranged the servants or shown as much affection for anyone else, not even to his late mother. We can tell that His Majesty thinks only of you. The other two are here to just go through the motions and be assigned some position. But you, you’re the future empress.”
Jiao-mama swept a merry curtsey. “This servant congratulates the miss.”
She was followed by the other four servants. “Congratulations to the miss, felicitations to the miss.”
“I possess no virtue or talent to deserve this honor. Please don’t say that, mama.” Qin Yining asked them all to rise.
The imperial wet nurse pointed at the two maids. “This is Xingyu and Bixue. They used to be in charge of serving refreshments in the Hall of Moral Cultivation, the emperor’s quarters. His Majesty has purposefully sent them here to serve the miss.”
The two young girls quickly kowtowed. Jiao-mama then pointed at the two eunuchs who looked roughly thirteen years old. “This is Little Yang and Little Ning. They’re Lu-gonggong’s disciples. The emperor specially sent them to serve the miss as well.”
“These humble ones greet the miss.” Xingyu, Bixue, Little Yang, and Little Ning bowed in unison once more.
“That’s enough, you may all rise.” Qin Yining’s headache worsened with each sentence she heard. She didn’t know whether it was because of her irritation and distaste for the situation, or her worsening fever. All she knew was that she was extremely exasperated, but there was no point in making life difficult for servants. She could only settle for, “I’m tired and would like to rest.”
“Understood. The bedchamber has been made up and Lu-gonggong has gone to fetch an imperial physician. The physician can take a look at you soon, miss.” Xingyu and Bixue flanked Qin Yining as she entered the room. Jia-mama stayed behind to hand out tasks to the two young eunuchs.
Xingyu wanted to help Qin Yining out of her clothes, but upon further reflection, the Qin fourth miss felt that it would be a sign of impoliteness to be so casually dressed in the palace. She wasn’t at home; unplanned social calls were a very real possibility here.
Declining the offer to help her change, Qin Yining laid down on the reclining couch next to the window. She put the docile Riceball on her stomach and lightly caressed its head with her uninjured hand.
Bixue brought over a light blanket for her mistress. Whether out of weakness or true fatigue, Qin Yining’s caresses began to slow and she drifted off into bleary-eyed sleep.
An unknown amount of time had passed when she suddenly felt the gaze of a wild animal fixated on her!
Instincts honed thanks to many years in the mountains weren’t discarded that easily. Her eyes snapped open, bringing into view a large face looming over her.
Alarmed, Qin Yining forgot her injury and shoved the newcomer aside with her right hand. A man was thrust onto the ground and her wound split open. She gasped as pain chased away her drowsiness; blood seeped through the pale blue fabric of her shoulder.
Lu-gonggong helped up a fallen emperor as the guards behind the imperial majesty roared, “How dare you!”
Weichi Yan was slightly bedraggled, but the color drained from his face in fright when he saw the blood on Qin Yining’s shoulder. He whipped his head back to yell, “How dare you!”