The childhood nickname brimmed with his elders’ hopes for him. It was obvious evidence of his family’s love for Pang Xiao.
But in Qin Yining’s mind, the prince had ever been the wildly domineering sort. It was truly difficult to reconcile him with as simple and honest as ‘Dafu’. It was bizarrely hilarious.
However, it wouldn’t do to burst out laughing in front of one’s elders. Qin Yining warned herself sternly to remember her manners and bent her knee to curtsey at née Ma. “Greetings to the grand-madame.”
“Good, good. Very good. Come and sit by me, it’s warm here.” Née Ma pushed née Yao. “You go sit over there.”
Née Yao moved out of the way with a smile. “You’re showing too much favoritism, mom. Don’t you want your daughter anymore after seeing your granddaughter-in-law?”
As thick-skinned as Qin Yining might’ve been, the joking about a granddaughter-in-law was too much for her to bear. Her face burning, she found a seat by the heated platform.
Née Ma grabbed Qin Yining’s hand with a smile. “Whenever my foolish grandson comes home, all he can talk about is how wonderful his darling Yi is, how good you are, and what you’re doing. I’m growing calluses in my ears! Things are perfect now that you’re in the capital, Dafu doesn’t need to pine and waste away from lovesickness.” She laughed heartily at the end of her words.
Qin Yining wanted to bury her face in her clothes. She’d never met such a forthright elder. Nothing had been settled between her and Pang Xiao yet, and in fact a veritable chasm existed between them. But here née Ma was, so certain that it sounded like the wedding was going to be held tomorrow.
Seeing how mortified the Qin fourth miss was, grandfather Yao Chenggu lit his pipe and took a pull on it. He laid out gently in a measured tone, “Don’t scare the girl. She’s not like us, she comes from a sophisticated family.”
This interjection drew Qin Yining’s involuntary glance. This elder was just as Pang Xiao had said; he looked like a harmless sheep and spoke mildly enough, but the meaning behind his words was anything but.
Did he dislike the Qins? Or was he mocking them? Was he telling her that things wouldn’t be so easily settled between her and Pang Xiao?
She smiled in response. “The grand-lord is jesting. In terms of status, how would a princely household be a humble family? It’s rather the Yan Dynasty that lies in ruins.”
Yao Chenggu took another pull of the pipe and only smiled mildly in return.
Née Ma glared at her husband. “You old thing. Why are you interrupting when the women are talking? It’s getting late. Didn’t you say you were going to stew a fish for Dafu today?”
“Mmhmm.” Yao Chenggu strolled outside, one hand behind his back and the other holding his pipe.
The family matriarch turned back with a smile. “Just ignore him. Us women can chat together.”
Pang Xiao’s mother took an exquisite, white porcelain tea cup, patterns traced on it in gold, from a nearby maid and smiled gently. “Why don’t you warm up with some almond tea? It’s rather cold outside, isn’t it?”
“Thank you, aunt.” Flattered by the attention, Qin Yining hastily accepted the covered tea cup with both hands.
Née Yao was a tall and limber beauty. She possessed a kind of beauty that had nothing to do with age, but rather an innate sense of tenderness and astuteness. Eyes highly similar to Pang Xiao’s brimmed with good intent when she spoke, so gentle that they seemed warm pools of water. It was a very peaceful and comforting sight.
Warmth travelled from the mouth to the heart with a sip of almond tea, easing Qin Yining’s nerves.
Née Yao chuckled. “It’s your first time in the north and you had to travel during wintertime. It must have been a hard journey.” Her placid voice was a marked contrast to née Ma’s dulcet tones.
Qin Yining couldn’t help but smile. “In respectful response, the journey went well enough. It’s my first time seeing such heavy snowfall though. I lived on Great Yan’s northern border for a bit when I was young and felt that winters there were the coldest. To think there’s a place even colder than the city of Liang!”
Née Ma laughed. “Silly, that was the south. It’s much warmer than the north. I went even further north when I was young—now that was really cold!”
“Indeed. I always felt that I was much luckier than the typical noble daughter because I’ve had the opportunity to live freely and see the outside world. But I quite admire Grand-Madame. The prince said that you’ve visited many places? If you’re free one day, might you tell me about where you’ve been? I’d love to learn more about the world.”
The conversation just now had been enough to impart that née Ma was a forthright and direct, as well as exceedingly optimistic person. She genuinely liked the Qin fourth miss.
Seniors tended to like discussing matters of their youth, and it just so happened that Qin Yining liked listening to those stories. It was a most excellent shortcut to growing closer with someone.
As hoped for, née Ma nodded happily. “Alright, if you want to hear them.” The Pang matriarch glanced at her grandson, who was stuffing his face full of oranges off to the side. “Dafu, why don’t you have the lass stay at my place? I liked her as soon as I set eyes on her.”
Slightly surprised, Pang Xiao worked busily at a mouthful of oranges, but didn’t have the time to respond before his mother pouted jokingly, “Mom, I wanted to get to know her better myself. Don’t steal her away from me!”
Being the sharp person she was, née Yao understood that Qin Yining couldn’t live with them. The Qin fourth miss wasn’t a Yao daughter, and even if Yao Chenggu was elderly, they still had to fend against gossip developing.
Née Ma was a hearty and open woman of the jianghu. She didn’t care about these details. But née Yao had been a maid in a noble household; she had a finer grasp on how things were done.
It wasn’t until her daughter pointed things out that née Ma realized what she’d almost accidentally done. She coughed awkwardly. “Don’t mind me for being rash, lass. I just liked you as soon as I saw you.”
“Not at all. Delighted is all I have time to feel.” Qin Yining’s answering smile was very genuine.
Pang Xiao had swallowed the orange by now and dusted the pith off his hands. “Grandmother, mom, don’t trouble yourselves. I just gave orders for Snowtrace Garden to be cleaned up. Things are complicated at court, it’s better that darling Yi stays here. I have a lot of things that she can help me with as well.”
Née Ma nodded understandingly. “Although I don’t involve myself in outside affairs, I know a bit of what’s going on. Yining is a good girl, you must treat her well. If the ten in your inner residence aren’t good enough, just send them all to the country manor.”
Pang Xiao wanted to fall to his knees when he heard this! Even though he had nothing to do with those ten, it sure sounded like he did!
Née Yao found her son’s expression amusing, but also heaved an inner sigh. It would seem that her son was indeed completely in love with Qin Yining. She took the girl’s hand. “Don’t think too much, Yining. The grand-madame is talking about the ten concubines that the emperor bestowed on Dafu a while ago.”
“I do know about this, aunt,” Qin Yining answered understandingly. “Since they were an imperial appointment, they can’t be refused, nor can they be mistreated.” She turned to née Ma. “Grand-Madame, let’s just have them live however they were living before?”
She hadn’t joined the family yet, but née Ma was already thinking on her behalf. Qin Yining was very grateful, but also knew that even if she became Pang Xiao’s wife, she wouldn’t be able to say much when it came to concubines.
Née Ma smiled with gratification. “You are such a wonderful child.”
“Mom, I’ll take Yining to settle in at Snowtrace Garden.” Née Yao rose. “I’ll bring her back when it’s time to eat.”
Née Ma understood that her daughter wanted to talk to the Qin girl and nodded. “Go on then, have Dafu stay and keep me company.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Are all the new names easy enough to grasp? I tried to handle them so that they wouldn't be confusing, all good?
And derp... I thought this chapter went out yesterday.. = =