“Not at home?” Li Helan’s voice was measured, the emotions within impossible to discern, but her stately bearing impossible to ignore.
The doorman knelt on the ground with a lowered head. “His Highness has gone to keep an appointment and left early this morning.”
“An appointment? With who?” Li Helan glanced at the servant.
“This lowly one wouldn’t know.”
A slight upturn graced Li Helan’s lips. “Then this seat will visit the grand-madame and old madame.” She headed straight inside after speaking.
The doorman didn’t dare bar her way at all. He chased frantically after her, complaining silently all the while.
Xu Weizhi had received word of their visitor by now. After some thought, he decided to come out and greet Li Helan. “Greetings to Your Highness.”
Seeing that a more senior person was in her way and noting his polite, scholarly air, she guessed that this was a butler or someone similar.
A faint smile blossomed on Li Helan’s pretty face and she responded gently, “You can forgo the pleasantries. Apparently your prince isn’t at home? This seat has come twice but caught no sight of the man of the household. I’ll have to impose on the family elders today then.”
Xu Weizhi cast a surreptitious glance at the princess and swiftly lowered his eyes. “Indeed, it’s quite an unfortunate coincidence today that His Highness has a prior engagement with a friend. The grand-lord, grand-madame, and old madame have been very bored at home these days. They left the manor early this morning. None of the masters or mistresses are at home.”
This princess had come knocking twice ever since word got out about her engagement with Ji Zeyu. When one connected the dots with what had happened before and how she had feelings for Pang Xiao, it wasn’t a tough task to figure out just why she was here.
Since the prince was avoiding her, there was even less of a reason for her to see the family elders.
The princess had a lofty status—were the family elders to kowtow and listen to her admonishments when they saw her? Xu Weizhi wouldn’t dare put the prince’s family in such an awkward position, so it was much better not to have them meet at all.
The red of anger graced Li Helan’s cheeks when she heard this. “Not at home? All of them? Are they really not here, or are they just avoiding this princess?”
Xu Weizhi beamed politely and bowed. “Please forgive us, Your Highness. We really didn’t know you were coming today. They really aren’t at home.”
Of course he wasn’t implying that the princess didn’t even know how to send a calling card before a visit. Of course he wasn’t hinting that she was being insufferably rude to try to ambush someone like this. Of course not.
Humiliated and furious, Li Helan almost spun on her heel to leave. She was perfectly willing to send a calling card, but she knew Pang Xiao well. He’d stay even further away from her if she did. Trying to catch him unawares was the only way she could possibly see him!
Was he concerned about face? Had he chosen to forget about their past now that she was engaged to Ji Zeyu?
The more she analyzed Pang Xiao’s personality, the more likely Li Helan thought this was possible. But the more he avoided her, the more she wanted to see him! There was no reason that the honorable eldest princess like her should be repeatedly barred outside the front doors!
And if things really were like how she thought, then the grand-lord and grand-madame might very well be at home. They just didn’t want to see her.
Li Helan took a deep breath in to get ahold of her anger. Her tone still even and measured, she responded gently, “That’s true, my visit really is unexpected. Since none of the masters are home, I’ll have a look at the servants. I hear the girl that His Highness carried off is still at the manor? Summon her, this princess would like a look.”
She’d already moved slowly to the main hall as she spoke, obviously treating the residence like her own palace.
Xu Weizhi followed behind her with a lowered head, flicking his eyebrows upwards.
As the saying went, a thing could be done once or twice, but not a third time. The princess had received the cold shoulder twice, they really couldn’t turn her away this time.
And besides, she had failed to see the prince, grand-madame, or old-madame today. If she wasn’t allowed to see even Miss Qin, the princess would probably explode on the spot. Who knew what would happen then, and how everything would end? It’d also make for nasty rumors if word of this got out.
Confidence descended on Xu Weizhi when he thought of the wise and resourceful Miss Qin. With her smarts, she shouldn’t come off worse in the exchange.
Having thought up to this point, the strategist smiled. “Understood. This humble one will immediately request Miss Qin’s presence.”
Li Helan had taken the head seat, but her hand paused when accepting a cup of tea from the servants. She’d used ‘summon’, but this man had used ‘request’. Did the girl have a high position in the household?
Since these were Li Helan’s thoughts, that was her question as well.
Xu Weizhi quickly bowed. “In response to Your Highness, Miss Qin was grounded in Snowtrace Garden a few days ago. She’s not allowed to leave the residence, nor is anyone allowed to visit her. This humble one thinks that the prince has his own thoughts on the matter.”
Li Helan nodded understandingly, heartache welling up within her.
It looked like what Hexiang had learned was true. This Miss Qin was as beautiful as a fairy and had thoroughly ensnared all of Pang Xiao’s senses. He wanted to bring her into his bedroom, but she was the daughter of his hated enemy. He liked her, but couldn’t get over the hurdle of his father’s killer, and neither could he bear to kill her. It was a love-hate relationship that was filled with both pampering and torture.
A complicated one indeed.
And the target of such strong and complex feelings wasn’t her.
Li Helan took a sip of tea and smiled faintly at the cup in her hand, fully poised for combat.
When Qin Yining learned that the Princess of Anyang had arrived and that Pang Xiao wasn’t home, and how the princess had pointedly requested her presence, she immediately ordered Xianyun, “Send servants to Pinecrane Hall to tell the grand-lord, grand-madame, and old madame to hide. Avoid coming out at all costs, so things won’t be awkward if they run into the princess.”
“Sir Xu already sent a runner to Pinecrane Hall. The hall’s doors are tightly shut, and even Salt and Pepper have been tied up.” Xianyun was quite admiring of Qin Yining’s foresight.
“That’s good.” The Qin fourth miss looked at the magnificent jade hairpin in her hair. “Thank goodness for the wise Sirs Xu and Xie in the manor. There’s still someone to hold down the fort when His Highness isn’t here.”
“Yes, but after you join the family, miss, it’ll be you holding down the fort.” Xianyun came over with a brush when she saw that the miss had undone her hair.
Qin Yining blushed hotly from the teasing. “Have them dig out the worn clothing I came in when I arrived at the capital. Put me up in a simpler hairstyle with no ornaments. I’ll use the cape that I came in as well.”
Xianyun was a sharp one, grasping that Qin Yining was afraid of appearing too flashy in front of the princess. She sent the servants on their mission.
Having redone her hair, Qin Yining put on a plain outfit and flung a cotton cape with a white fox-fur collar around her shoulders. Her hair was loosely piled up in a leaning tower on her head, and she was sans any jewelry at all. She left without dabbing powder or rouge on her face.
Xianyun made to follow her, but the Qin fourth miss objected after some thought. “I think it’d be better if you didn’t come, just in case someone recognizes you. Just have two loyal, tall, and strong granny servants follow me.”
“You’re most thorough, miss. It wouldn’t look like you were kept under lock and key otherwise.” Xianyun summoned two stocky women who were over forty years old. The two followed behind Qin Yining, accompanying her to the front hall like they were escorting a prisoner.
Li Helan had drained a bowl of tea by now and was intently watching the door. When she heard the patter of footsteps from outside, she unconsciously drew herself up and sat straight in the chair.
Someone lifted the cotton door curtains that were reinforced with bamboo slats. A granny servant wearing a reddish-brown jacket entered, turning sideways to continue lifting the heavy door curtains for those behind her.
A pale-green hem entered the princess’ eyes, followed by a beauty slowly walking in, wrapped in white fox-fur and completely without any makeup at all.
Li Helan’s pupils contracted violently.
She’d always thought herself beautiful, but she’d utterly lost today!
It was just as Hexiang had said, the base wench was exceedingly stunning. There might be prettier girls than her in the commoners, but there were none in the gatherings between nobles that Li Helan often participated in. If they counted even the men in the dynasty, perhaps Ji Zeyu could match the girl in terms of features only.
One couldn’t help but want to take a few more looks at her; one couldn’t bear to tear their eyes away. Her movements were gracious and elegant, but possessing a natural charm within.
Li Helan’s heart almost exploded with jealousy. She tightened her fists on the round chair’s armrests, but the smile on her face grew even more gently and friendly. Long eyelashes blinked rapidly, carrying three parts inquiry and seven parts amazement to Qin Yining. The princess maintained perfect control over her expression, setting one at ease.
Qin Yining drew close and kowtowed respectfully. “This humble girl greets the Princess of Anyang. May the princess enjoy great fortune.”
Li Helan hastily walked forward and lifted the girl with both hands. She took Qin Yining’s hands in hers. “There’s no need to be so polite. Miss Qin is an uncommon beauty alright. Many saw you that day at the city gates and said you were a fairy from the heavens. This seat looked forward to making your acquaintance ever since hearing so. To think we’ve finally met today! Aiyaya, what a beautiful person. This princess is a pig or a dog in comparison!”
“Your Highness plies me with undeserved praise.” Qin Yining curtsied fearfully and responded timidly, “You are nobility itself, the bright moon up in the celestial heavens. This humble girl is just a weed by the side of the road with a lowly status. How would I dare vie with the moon?”
Seeing that Qin Yining maintained a genteel, fearful demeanor, her head lowered with cowardice and her tone soft, Li Helan could tell that this was a noble girl who came from a home with very strict rules. She was also very likely an extreme pushover.
This is the kind of personality that Pang Xiao likes?
Li Helan sneered dismissively, but her expression grew even warmer.
“Please don’t say that, isn’t Miss Qin of nobility as well? When your father is an official, my royal brother will be depending on him greatly.”
Qin Yining curtsied cautiously again, “Many thanks to Your Highness, many thanks to His Majesty.”
This Qin fourth miss was frightful to the point of being completely useless. What a waste of her good looks!Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Thank you all for chiming in and I really appreciate the support flooding out in the comments, Discord, and PMs. You guys are the best! Have no fear about me finishing. I was written into the novel! There's no way that I'm not seeing ROS through. :D
And my word, it hurt my soul to write about this princess lol!