Lian Xiaozhou shrieked loudly with anger and charged Pang Xiao, kicked and punching whatever parts of him she could reach.
She was tiny, and her hands and feet even shorter when compared to the prince. Thoughts filled her mind, but she didn’t know how to verbalize them. Fury raged, but she didn’t know how to curse. She could only cry from frustration and garble out, “Bully sister! Bad guy! Bad guy!”
Heartache wracked Qin Yining to see Lian Xiaozhou defend herself like this. She quickly pulled Xiaozhou away from Pang Xiao’s legs and stooped down to hug the little girl, caressing her in apology.
The little girl’s fists hadn’t hurt at all, but Pang Xiao’s heart squeezed painfully to see the two girls crying pitifully on the ground—even when he knew that this was all just as act.
“Cry? How dare you cry after causing such trouble in my manor? Do you think I’ll show you mercy just because of a few tears?!”
Qin Yining hugged Lian Xiaozhou tightly on the ground. She’d buried her face in the little girl’s shoulder, her own shoulders shaking slightly as well.
Xiaozhou didn’t know how to yell at the prince and knew that she wouldn’t win in a fight. Seeing her beloved big sister like this, she had no recourse other than to burst into loud sobs as well.
A stunned née Ma off to the side finally collected her senses. Just look at how badly my grandson is bullying the girl!
Though the Yao matriarch was confused at the sudden change of heart, she genuinely liked the Qin fourth miss and sprang into action to mete out justice on the girl’s behalf.
But née Yao and Yao Chenggu had flanked her at some unknown point in time and pulled her back from charging in. Yao Chenggu even surreptitiously pinched her arm.
There was naturally an understanding between an old couple. Née Ma turned back to study her husband’s eyes, hesitantly refraining from taking action.
“Servants, take her back and lock her up in Snowtrace Garden!” Pang Xiao growled. “No one is to let her out or visit her without this prince’s express permission!”
“Understood!” Female servants assented and helped Qin Yining up. They pulled Lian Xiaozhou up as well and carted the two off, flanking the two like they were afraid of a breakaway attempt.
The prince stood with his hands behind his back, coldly watching Qin Yining being taken away until the girl’s figure disappeared around a corner. He turned back to consider Lady Rou coolly.
“What are you all doing here?”
The lady’s hair was a disheveled mess and she’d been weeping up a storm. She was quite the piteous sight, and lifted her eyes fearfully when she heard the question. But when she met Pang Xiao’s slightly narrowed, phoenix-shaped eyes, it felt like an arrow of ice had plunged into her heart. She shuddered and lowered her head again.
“In, in response to Your Highness, this concubine was just out for a walk.”
“Dusk has fallen. Are you here for the view of night?” Pang Xiao arched a brow, responding in a measured, gentle tone. However, servants were already trembling at the threatening notes within his voice.
Lady Rou was shaking like a leaf. She couldn’t utter a single word.
Seeing an awkward situation develop, Xinche screwed up her courage to jump in. “In response to Your Highness, indeed. Big sister Lady Rou said she wanted to go out for a walk after dinner. We happened to run into Miss Qin.”
“Did this prince ask you?”
“What?” Xinche blinked.
“Did. this prince. ask you?” Pang Xiao flicked a sidelong glance at Xinche, as if reading every single thought in her mind.
Terrified and embarrassed, Xinche frantically lowered her head.
“Since you were bestowed by His Majesty, you must carefully consider every word and action to avoid losing face. Don’t think you’re superior to anyone in the manor just because you were an imperial honor. If this prince discovers that you’ve been acting out or ignoring the confines of your station, I can return your corpses to His Majesty. Try me if you don’t believe it!”
“Yes, this concubine wouldn’t, this concubine doesn’t dare!” Lady Rou’s voice shook so much that it didn’t even sound human.
Pang Xiao waved a hand.
As if pardoned from certain death, Lady Rou and Xinche ran off with their retinue.
Pang Xiao set off for Pinecrane Hall when tranquility returned to the scene. Née Ma was about to demand an explanation, but Yao Chenggu pulled her back again.
The group entered the residence silently.
After dismissing all the servants and making sure that no one was near, Pang Xiao began, “That was a fright to grandfather, grandmother, and mother, wasn’t it? That’s my fault.”
Née Ma hissed back anxiously. “What were you doing just now, yelling and glaring at the lass?? How great of a man are you be to go toe-to-toe with a woman?! Where has your conscience gone after twenty some years of living?? Have you forgotten everything I’ve taught you! With how the lass was crying, I’m heartbroken even if you’re not!”
“Mom, don’t get worked up. Dafu did all that on purpose.” Née Yao tugged on née Ma’s hand, some resignation rising at the sight of her impulsive mother.
“Even so, you still made lass Yi cry!”
“Yes, grandmother.” Contriteness welled up in Pang Xiao when he thought back to how Qin Yining had been earlier. “I put on that full song and dance of kidnapping darling Yi so that I could protect her family’s future. Now that she’s in the manor, if my attitude towards her is different from what I showed that day, that would make a lot of people speculate.
“The ten girls that His Majesty bestowed usually know their place. They haven’t come out a single time in all the days that darling Yi’s been here. But suddenly they want to walk around today? Something else is afoot here, which is why I put on that act with dearest Yi just now. We did that to pull the wool over the eyes in our manor.”
Née Ma was no fool. She understood everything from that explanation. Frowning, she thought for a moment and then pounded the heated platform a few times. “What a rotten state of affairs! We can’t live freely in our own home!”
It was indeed aggravating, frustrating, and humiliating. Pang Xiao felt the same mix of feelings, but with how things were now, they had to go on with their lives even if they felt that way.
“Dafu, go peek in on Miss Qin later. Comfort her a bit so that she doesn’t feel uncomfortable with what’s just happened. It’s not to her fortunes that she is tied to you.” Yao Chenggu fished out his tobacco bag, rough fingers patting down strands of tobacco into his pipe.
Pang Xiao arched a brow at these words, not quite satisfied. “What do you mean by that, grandfather? Am I not good enough to her?”
“Don’t you be disgruntled! What did I want when I chose your grandfather? I wanted him to play his role well, to be content with his lot, and lead me into a peaceful life. But just look at you, not a single moment of quiet in your days. You’re either out fighting a war or in constant danger at home!
“Whoever’s your wife will have to worry and fret all the while, and might even be dragged down with you at a moment’s notice! You say you’re good enough to her, but she needs to help you plot and scheme, and put on an act with you as well! Even if none of that’s your fault, it’s still immensely tiring for her!”
Née Ma’s scolding jabbed at Pang Xiao right where things were the most tender. He would’ve had the same thoughts, even if no one had said anything to him.
His situation was very difficult, and Qin Yining would have to stumble through all the ditches and ridges with him. He could only give her his unwavering heart, but was unable to give her absolute peace.
What did women want?
Even a traveling lady-gallant like his grandmother had settled down with a cook in the end, all for the sake of stability. Qin Yining had suffered since young—it wasn’t like she liked living such a hard life.
It was the first time that Pang Xiao faced his inadequacies.
Though there were thousands of bright sparkles around him, this sole failing was enough for Qin Yining not to be with him.
Seeing her grandson glower with an expression like he wanted to eat someone, née Ma’s temper fired up as well. She glared back and prepared to take off her shoe. “What? You’re dissatisfied with what I said? I’ll beat the stuffing out of you!”
“Ai, sigh. Mom!” Née Yao hurriedly pulled the two apart when she saw that her mother was about to take her shoe off.
Née Ma’s feet had never been bound and the soles of her shoes had been hand-sewn by themselves. They were hard and thick; each slap left marks. With how much née Yao loved her son, how could she bear for him to suffer like that?
Yao Chenggu had lit his pipe by now and puffed merrily away, completely removed from the scene and enjoying the show.
Pang Xiao docilely suffered through two slaps of a shoe before he said with resignation, “Don’t be angry, grandmother. I’ll quietly visit dearest Yi after spending some time here with you. Will that do?”
“Hmph. That’s more like it.” Née Ma was quick to anger but also quick to forget. She was deeply gratified at how Pang Xiao listened to her just as ever, despite being grown and a prince. Upon further thought, all of these issues weren’t really his fault. It’s all thanks to that unfaithful, disloyal emperor who abandoned his morals!
Li Qitian took in a detailed report from a spy in the Pang Manor. “So in your opinion, the prince really did speak harshly to the Qin girl?”
The spy was dressed in black with a lithesome figure. A female voice sounded from a face wrapped in black cloth.
“In response to Your Majesty, this subordinate feels that the Faithful Prince of the First Rank does hold some affection for the Qin girl. Her beauty fells nations and she is celestially stunning. Heroes have often been ensnared by beauties. But in the prince’s heart, revenge for his father ranks just a bit higher. That’s why he has a love-hate relationship with the Qin girl.”
“Mm.” Li Qitian paced with his hands behind his back and analyzed everything carefully. He finally chuckled easily. “We knew that someone like him wouldn’t be able to put down the grudge of his father’s death. You’ve done very well.”
“Many thanks to Your Highness’s compliments. This is only what this subordinate should be doing. One other thing is that the Princess of Anyang has come calling two days in a row. The prince wasn’t home the first time, and came up with an excuse not to see her the second. When the princess was disappointed today, some anger flared as well.”
Li Qitian nodded enigmatically. “We see. Go back and continue your duties.”
“Understood.” The spy took her leave and vanished into the shadows.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Pardon, I've been slightly distracted by a web novel these days... XD