When the chatting couple arrived at the outer study, they were greeted by a near-frozen statue of Huzi with his hands tucked beneath his armpits.
“You’re here, Your Highness. Sirs Xu and Xie have drank three cups of tea already.” Huzi bounced up and down a few times and then drew closer to bow to Qin Yining. “Greetings to the fourth miss.”
Pang Xiao responded seriously, “We have important matters to discuss. Have people set up a tight perimeter around the study.”
The guard snapped to attention as well. “Understood.”
The study was the same as the upper yard in the inner residence, a heated platform bed by the window. The furnace beneath was going strong, and navy-blue cushions were laid out on top of the platform. A fire also burned in the brazier on the ground, eating away at fine, glittering charcoal as its fuel.
Qin Yining and Pang Xiao had just taken off their cloaks and sat down when the long-waiting Xie Yue and Xu Weizhi quickly walked in. A dozen more scholars followed behind them.
“Are all of these your strategists?” The Qin fourth miss was quite taken aback.
“Mm.” Pang Xiao nodded with a faint smile. “We’ve only invited the core folks for you to meet today.”
Qin Yining quietly clucked her tongue with amazement. He really had a lot of followers!
Everyone had lined up by now and bowed in unison. The Qin fourth miss didn’t dare put on airs.
She was just the daughter of a surrendered official at the moment, and didn’t have an official status with Pang Xiao. These strategists were all the prince’s prized helpers—highly talented and older than her. She didn’t find it the least bit inappropriate that she returned their gesture with courtesy.
Seeing how politely the girl responded, the assembled crowd revised their opinions of her slightly to the positive. But when they glimpsed her stunning looks, that revision veered negative again.
Such innate charm and entrancement weaving around her looks, elegance and grace accompanying her every move—it was no wonder that even a hero like the prince had lost his reason. This was why he’d run the risk of clashing head-on with the emperor and privately deployed troops to look for her!
Had old man Qin sent this girl to seduce the prince, due to fear of retribution over Pang Zhongzheng’s death?
These highly intelligent people had already demonized Qin Yining.
But so too was the girl a very sensitive person. Though none of the followers had engaged in any misconduct, she could still feel the general ambiance of dislike. It didn’t take much thinking to figure out why.
She merely smiled and stood off to the side.
She wasn’t the princess consort after all, and the Qins hadn’t settled in yet. She could interact however she wanted with Pang Xiao in private, but couldn’t overstep herself in front of others.
Pang Xiao frowned at seeing his beloved act so carefully. His irritation was further fanned when he saw how his men were treating Qin Yining. He was about to berate them when the Qin fourth miss turned around and curtsied.
“Your Highness, has there been word of my father or family these days?” She winked playfully at him, instantly restoring his rationality.
That’s right. His followers weren’t like the others. He couldn’t use force to make them submit to Qin Yining. This was something that she surely knew as well.
Goodwill never sprang forth spontaneously. Pang Xiao trusted that his darling had ways to make this group concede willingly.
He set aside the matter and turned to their leader, a refined and scholarly man in his forties. “Sir Xu, has there been word of the Qins?”
This was Xu Weizhi, a highly valued strategist who executed plans flawlessly with the decisive Xie Yue. The former’s mind was highly adept at plotting out schemes.
Xu Weizhi responded with a smile and cupped fists. “In response to Your Highness, there hasn’t been word of the Qins yet. But the Commandery Prince, the Lis, Gus, and other families have been found. They’ll reach the capital soon enough.”
Worry crept in when Qin Yining heard this. Even though she knew that the Silver Masks were protecting her parents, she was unable to fully relax without having seen the two of them with her own eyes.
But regardless, thank goodness for Cao Yuqing and the Silver Masks.
Ever since the trash emperor had abdicated, his once treasured secret service had milled about without a leader. The new emperor refused to use such a force from the old government, so the Silver Masks had been without purpose or pay.
Qin Huaiyuan had utilized his relationship with Cao Yuqing to make them his own force.
Qin Yining had only self-reassurance left to her. The Silver Masks were highly skilled, they should be able to find her parents and escort them safely into the capital.
Tamping down the worry in her heart, the girl continued, “Are we certain that the Marquis of Northern Stability carried out this operation?”
Pang Xiao nodded and indicated for everyone to take their seats. He had Qin Yining sit beside him and turned to Xie Yue and Xu Weizhi. “Go over the situation for Miss Qin.”
When the crowd noted where Qin Yining was sitting and the prince’s attitude towards the girl, various speculations formed in their hearts.
Xie Yue and Xu Weizhi were the most esteemed out of them, apart from Zheng Pei. Speculations were affirmed when the two were tapped to brief Qin Yining. Any suspicions about the girl were temporarily cast aside.
Xu Weizhi was taken aback by the order and didn’t immediately start his narrative. But Xie Yue had spent a lot of time with Qin Yining on the road, and quite understood the girl’s character and smarts. He started the conversation with utmost respect.
“Miss Qin, I think you’ll understand why the marquis attacked the Great Yan convoy when you understand the layout of the capital.”
“I’m newly come and really don’t know much about the capital. I’ll have to rely on the noble sir to enlighten me.” Qin Yining smiled.
Xie Yue hastily waved off the compliment. “Miss Qin is someone the prince values and not an outsider. I’ll be frank. You know how our prince is sworn brothers with the emperor and the marquis, back when they raised the banner of war?”
Qin Yining nodded with a smile.
“The marquis is a highly shrewd, calm, stand-offish person who minces no words with outsiders. But he’s always had a good relationship with the prince. The first reason behind the marquis attacking the convoy may be because he wanted to get revenge for the prince.”
Surreptitious looks were cast at Qin Yining when this reason was given.
She didn’t mind at all. “My father did indeed plot towards General Pang’s death. Even if the northern Ji tyrant had already wanted to get rid of the general, the plot still provided the perfect excuse for him to do so. In other people’s eyes, the prince has an undying blood feud with the Qins and Great Yan.”
“Precisely.” Xie Yue smiled to see the Qin fourth miss being so honest as well. “Everyone thought that the prince would slaughter all of the Qins for his revenge. But your family was amongst the surrendered convoy. Therefore, that meant his revenge hadn’t succeeded.
“Meanwhile, the prince had to rush back to the capital before accepting Great Yan’s official surrender. On the way back, he happened to run into the marquis, also returning to the capital. Everything that happened after was a result of that.”
The girl nodded after hearing all that, but then felt something was off after thinking about it for a moment.
“Didn’t Sir Xie just say that the marquis is a cunning, calm, and indifferent person? But his actions were at complete odds with his personality,” she analyzed with furrowed brows. “How would a crafty, level-headed person take the long way around to report in, to kill a surrendered official who’s very important to His Majesty? Even if he wants to take revenge for his brother, his actions are too direct and extreme.”
Qin Yining consolidated some knowledge that only she was privy to with what Xie Yue had just relayed. The more she thought about what’d happened that day, the more she felt that something strange was afoot.
“When the marquis attacked that day, he had his men dress up as bandits and ordered them to charge in and kill whoever they could find.
“If his purpose was to kill my family to seek revenge for the prince, his actions were entirely too careless.
“And if this is all he has to his name, to take brainless action before thoroughly investigating the enemy, that wouldn’t fit the description of him from Sir Xie. He probably wouldn’t have a similar status as the prince today, either.”
Hushed silence reigned within the room as everyone turned her conjectures over.
It was true. If the marquis was really that impulsive and witless, how would he possibly be able to hold down the north and lead a hundred thousand Dragon Riders? His position had never wavered. Apart from his title being slightly lower than Pang Xiao, his prestige in the military was on par with the prince’s.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Not insta-acceptance! How refreshing. And she gets to be part of the brains! O_O