Chapter 258: Heartache
Qin Yining hastily responded, “I’m fine.”
She looked back uncertainly at Pang Xiao, not sure what he had in mind.
The prince chuckled and walked out holding the girl’s hand. He rumbled, “It’s me.”
Surprise enlarged Bingtang’s eyes. “Your — your Highness? What are you doing here?”
Thanks to the maid’s still lit lantern, Qin Yining took her first proper glance of Pang Xiao.
He was much thinner and his facial features much more defined. A pair phoenix eyes glistened with bright radiance. The tenderness in them when he looked at Qin Yining could drown someone, and his upturned lips indicated his good mood.
Her heart pounding, Qin Yining averted her glance. He was wearing patched robes and, upon closer inspection, there seemed to be a dark patch of blood around his stomach.
She thought of the faint hint of gore that’d filled her nostrils when he hugged her just now. Caressing his stomach gently, her fingers came away warm and sticky.
“You’re hurt!” exclaimed the Qin fourth miss softly.
Pang Xiao looked down at his abdomen with some vexation. “It’s nothing, just a small wound. It’s bleeding probably because I moved around a bit more just now.”
Qin Yining hastily pushed him to take a seat on a nearby rounded, intricately carved stool. She called out to Bingtang, “Come take a look at him.”
Though the maid was sorrowed by the Prince of Ning’s death, she knew that all was business in times of war. Blades and spears flew blindly in the battlefield, so she nodded without hesitation and retrieved her medicine kit.
The fourth miss looked around and lowered her eyes. “This isn’t the best place for this. Come with me.”
They needed light to inspect a wound, but lighting the lanterns here would clearly show those outside that there was someone else inside the house.
Qin Yining tugged Pang Xiao’s hand and led him into the inner room. She lifted the curtains around the formal bed and had him sit on the edge of it. Her bed was made of purple sandalwood with flower reliefs on it, and was actually divided into an inner and outer space.
The inner space held a bed large enough that two could roll around several times on it, and the outer space housed some end tables, drawers, and the step for the bed. A gauze curtain that blocked light divided the two areas, creating another small room within the inner room. As long as they pulled shut the curtains of the outer area, no silhouettes would be glimpsed even if they lit lanterns inside.
Pang Xiao sat down with an expansive motion and looked around curiously. He noted the baby-blue pear blossom embroidery on the curtains, the pale-green and pale-pink sheets. The gentle fragrance unique to a girl seemed to waft into his nostrils whenever he took a breath, touching the most tenderest of his heart.
“You’ve gotten a lot skinnier.”
Qin Yining smiled at this. “So have you.”
She placed a lamp with a decorative box exterior on one of the small end tables. When she bent over with the fire starter, her loose collar revealed delicate collarbones. The angle she was inclined at further emphasized her palm-sized face, and her long, soft locks fell forward over her shoulders with the motion.
The warm glow of the lantern illuminated the space around Qin Yining. When he looked at the girl, Pang Xiao felt the anxiety and weariness from recent days completely fall away.
Qin Yining fetched another two lamps to provide the best illumination possible and pulled the curtains tight around the bed.
“Hurry and let Bingtang look at your wound.”
Pang Xiao had spent all this time staring dumbly at her and didn’t immediately react. He smiled. “Then I’ll be taking my shirt off now.”
He fixed his stare at her, not wanting to miss a single change in her expression as he slowly started undoing his top. His movements were a wordless seduction, making Qin Yining flush bright red. She muttered, “Be serious! Doesn’t your wound hurt?”
“Not at all. I don’t feel any pain after seeing you.” He was still staring intently at her.
Qin Yining finally waved the white flag and turned away from him. If she hadn’t wanted to see how his wound was, she would’ve taken cover outside a long time ago.
The prince knew well the importance of moderation. He stopped teasing her and threw aside his top, revealing highly toned arms and a bandage wrapped stomach. He was tall and limber, and though skinny, Pang Xiao was a typical example of having muscles on his frame when he took his clothes off.
However, Qin Yining had no mind to spare for admiring the fluid lines of his shoulders and arms. Her eyes rested on the bloodstained bandages around his stomach, pain twisting her heart and her limbs turning clammy.
“How did you get that wound?” Her voice shook. Bingtang was already taking the wrappings off.
Pang Xiao let the maid do as she would and smiled comfortingly at Qin Yining. “No worries. The Prince of Ning got me once, but it’s no big deal. I’m all better now. How about you? I hear that you were injured very heavily. No wonder you lost so much weight, especially with everything that’s been happening at home. I really wanted to come see you, but our nations are at war and I can’t easily leave my post. I was also worried that I’d bring you more trouble if I was discovered when I visited you.”
He sighed and refrained from mentioning how Weichi Yan had wanted to make her the empress. He flashed a grin instead. “Thankfully your emperor happens to be selling positions for grain lately, and the new commander-in-chief Li Mian is too cowardly to take to the field. I slipped into the city by pretending to be one of the laborers moving grain.”
Pang Xiao glossing over recent difficulties only made Qin Yining even more distressed. “I’m fine. You’re the one who’s important. Blades and spears fly around blindly on the battlefield, you must be careful.”
“I know, don’t worry. The one who can kill me hasn’t even been born yet.” Pang Xiao smiled gently at her.
“How is his wound?” Qin Yining asked Bingtang.
Bingtang was retrieving a small knife from her medicine kit. She frowned at the question and snorted. “If Your Highness doesn’t take care of yourself, next time I’ll just let your wound turn into a rotting hole in your stomach! It’s infected, you’re feverish, and you still run around like this, making it open up again and again. Don’t drag my miss down with you if you want to die! Go do that yourself!”
Patients who didn’t take care of themselves were always the source of greatest irritation to doctors.
Pang Xiao’s symptoms were the same as the recently departed Prince of Ning. A blade wound, loss of blood, and infection. The difference was that the Prince of Ning had been slightly more injured and he was older. Pang Xiao only had this one injury, and was young and strong. Bingtang was more depressed than usual upon seeing the injury and thus fired back with no holds barred.
Pang Xiao felt a bit sheepish after the lecture. “I’m here because I want to see your miss, no? If I didn’t come, I’d be lovesick again.”
Another snort answered him. “You should listen to me if you don’t want to die in the early years of your life and make my miss a young widow. Take care of yourself. My miss turned down being the empress — fortune and glory for a lifetime! Did she do that just to be sad in the future?”
The prince rubbed his nose and looked apologetically at Qin Yining. “You were in a tough spot these days, weren’t you? I’m so useless as to have you caught in the middle.”
Qin Yining shook her head with tears in her eyes. “Not at all. You never hid anything from me. I knew this would come the day I agreed to be with you. It’s not your fault.”
She watched as Bingtang adroitly dress Pang Xiao’s wounds; first scraping away the putrid flesh, using fierce alcohol to disinfect the area, laying down stitches, spreading medicine over the wound, and wrapping it up again.
The process made her twinge sympathetically and her limbs grow cold, but nary a furrow crossed Pang Xiao’s brow. He still looked at her with the most tender of gazes, as if cherishing any and all time he had to spend with her.
Qin Yining’s heart ached at this, but there was nothing else she could do for him except cry helplessly.
This in turn made Pang Xiao’s heart ache. “Don’t cry, my dearest. Don’t cry. I’m fine, the wound isn’t fatal. Ask Bingtang if you don’t believe me.”
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