Chapter 254: Arrival of the Empress (II)
Qin Yining trailed behind the empress, shooting a surreptitious look to Qiulu when she reached the platform in front of the hall’s doors.
The maid blanked, then slowed understandingly and backed away quietly. When the party had entered the building, she made quick time to the flower-hung gate in search of the four guards that Qin Huaiyuan had left.
Meanwhile, Qin Yining was personally serving the empress tea. She smiled amiably. “We only have some Dragon Well tea leaves from before the rains. They naturally can’t hold a candle to the ones plucked from the first shoots. I hope you don’t mind, Your Majesty.”
Li Yanyan accepted the simple, white teacup and placed it carelessly on the eight-sided table next to her. Clad with protective gold fingernails, she picked up the teacup lid with her right hand and toyed idly with it, sizing up Qin Yining with hostile intent.
“It looks like you’re having a good time here. Aren’t you supposed to be praying on behalf of the nation? Why aren’t you wholeheartedly devoted to your practice, and instead have effort to spare for thinking of whether this tea is from the first shoots or before the rains?”
Qin Yining’s smile faded and she responded gently. “One still has to live even if one follows the dao. If drinking tea impacted one’s path, our forebears would’ve long since forbidden the practice of tea. Or does Your Majesty feel that nuns and monks shouldn’t drink tea?”
“Don’t you have a glib tongue.” The lid slid from the empress’ grasp and fell crisply onto the teacup, splashing a few drops of liquid onto the back of the empress’ hand. “This tea is too hot. This seat doesn’t have the divine body that Master Xuan Su has. I can’t protect the nation’s fortunes and therefore, have no way to protect myself. I can’t enjoy such hot tea like you can.”
The look in Qin Yining’s eyes turned cold. That cup of tea had been at a perfect temperature. It looks like the empress really does hate my guts.
A smile still hung on the Qin fourth miss’ face, but she retracted her exceedingly polite attitude. She could tell that even if she gave way, that would have no effect on the empress’ impression of her at all. Therefore, there was no need to show any more signs of weakness. She wasn’t an easy target to be kicked around at someone’s whims. She was a Qin daughter and wouldn’t stand for this!
“Your Majesty’s admonishments are so very true.” Qin Yining spoke slowly, her words suffused with mockery. “This subject doesn’t understand tea dao and didn’t think that my tea would be found wanting. It looks like we should stick with what’s appropriate for our station. Tea brewing should remain with the maids.” She turned back to Jiyun. “Go and serve a fresh pot of tea for Her Majesty.”
Jiyun assented with a smile and busied herself with serving a new pot of tea to a livid Li Yanyan.
What does she mean by that?! Is she cursing that I was blind to her kind intentions or mocking that my character is unfit for the throne? The empress’ expression had frozen over. And where does she get such arrogance from? From being spoiled by the emperor, of course!
“So you’re afraid to serve this seat just because I said that the tea is too hot? It looks like you neither know the art of tea, but you’ve even forgotten your manners.”
“Your Majesty speaks rightly. In this servant’s eyes, Master Xuan Su really doesn’t know the proper rules and manners. It hasn’t been long since she’s returned home.” Head Eunuch Liu Bao smirked. “After all, there used to be rumors about Master Xuan Su and Great Zhou’s little Prince Pang being a couple! Prince Pang addressed the honorable master’s mother as his mother-in-law — in broad public! And gifted an enormously valuable park to Master Xuan Su. If a woman really did understand rules and manners, would she accept such an expensive present?”
“That’s right. She’s just a pretty face.” Li-mama snorted. “She’s not a proper noble daughter who grew up by her parents’ side. What kind of good rearing can we expect from her?”
Li Yanyan burst out laughing at all this and asked curiously, “Are you still in contact with the Faithful Prince of the First Rank?”
A question with such an obvious answer was just further jeering. No matter how close the rumored couple had been before, any contact now would be treasonous. Not to mention, Qin Yining had been forced to become a nun. Though laymen nuns could marry, it still wasn’t a good thing for a woman to contact a man.
Qin Yining smiled faintly. “It looks like Your Majesty is of a mind to stroll around the great hall today. However, I am quite exhausted after praying to the heavens and communing with the gods. I’m afraid I can’t keep Your Majesty company, so please do as you see fit.”
She curtsied with that and headed upstairs. Jiyun also put down her serving platter and followed closely behind.
Finally unable to hold her temper in any longer, Li Yanyan slammed her hand on the table and shot to her feet. “Qin Yining! Stop right there!”
Qin Yining halted but didn’t look back. “Does Your Majesty have further instructions to give?”
“You’re so presumptuous only because you have the emperor’s backing! Aren’t you afraid of being smited by the heavens by trying to seduce His Majesty while you practice here?!”
The Qin fourth miss finally looked back calmly at the empress. Li Yanyan was halted in her tracks by the frigid stare.
“Your Majesty is a well-raised noble daughter at the end of the day. You know full well what’s going on. Why do you degrade your noble self with such a fuss over things?”
Such a noncommittally delivered line was a mountain of pressure for Li Yanyan. She did know full well that it was unrequited love on the emperor’s side. If Qin Yining had wanted to be empress, there would’ve been nothing Li Yanyan could’ve done.
But how could she just look on while her husband yearned after another? She couldn’t mouth a word of rebuke when the emperor favored Gu Chang. Gu Chang was an imperial consort after all, one of the emperor’s concubines.
But what was Qin Yining, huh? Just a mistress at most!
As the proper, official wife, Li Yanyan could suffer her husband sleeping with a concubine, but she would never accept her husband keeping a mistress outside!
“So you say I shouldn’t degrade my identity as the empress?” Li Yanyan muttered through grit teeth. “Servants, née Qin has offended me with a display of insubordination. Take her."
“Understood.” Some of the young eunuchs the empress had brought knew a bit of martial arts. They dashed forward to arrest the Qin fourth miss.
Jiyun immediately hopped out in front, pushing the eunuchs away with a few moves and exhortations. “This is a place for quiet meditation and practice that the emperor himself has bestowed. Please reconsider whatever you’d like to do, Your Majesty.”
Burning with the flames of anger, the last thing Li Yanyan wanted to hear was someone pulling rank on her by mentioning the emperor. Not only was she not afraid of what Jiyun said, but her fury flared even brighter instead.
“Well, well! You dare have your maids openly lecture me. Servants, arrest them all!”
The guards that she’d left outside wanted to rush in, but the reinforcements that Qiulu had summoned and the imperial guards on duty blocked them all.
The two sides had swords unsheathed, violence ready to explode at any time.
Within the hall, Jiyun was still standing in front of her mistress, refusing to give way to the empress.
“To think that this is how the royal family bullies the weak!” Qin Yining denounced coldly. “Does Your Majesty clap these crimes on me today for a personal grudge, or does House Li have the desire to turn traitor?”
“How dare you slander my family!” This riposte panicked the empress. Her family couldn’t afford such an accusation!
“If your family doesn’t have treasonous intentions, why does Your Majesty look like you want to rip me apart? Have you forgotten why I’m here? Do you not care about the nation’s fortunes at all in your desire to hurt me?”
Li Yanyan’s heart skipped a beat. Feverish with anger, her mind finally calmed down.
Seeing the empress remain dumbly where she was, Qin Yining sneered. “Your Majesty, a brain is a wonderful thing. Remember to bring it with you next time you leave home.” She turned and went upstairs without another glance back.
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