Li Helan smiled and plucked a flower hairpin with a golden tassel out of her hair. She stuck it sideways in Qin Yining’s tower of hair. “Miss Qin dresses too plainly. This is a token of this seat’s appreciation. I hope you don’t find it wanting.”
“How-how would I ever?” Qin Yining timidly cradled the tassel with unadorned hands. She curtsied gratefully, “Many thanks for Your Highness’ gift! This humble girl is currently being punished by being grounded and doesn’t dare dress up. I will cherish this golden tassel hairpin well!”
“Oh?” Li Helan asked with concern. “Why would big brother Xiao punish such a gentle, beautiful girl as you?” She then smiled with understanding and patted Qin Yining’s shoulder comfortingly.
“It’s that temper of his again, isn’t it? He’s been like this since we were children. He’s never shown a friendly face to outsiders. Don’t you worry, I’ll bring this up with big brother Xiao when I get back to the palace. I’ll have him stop punishing you.”
Qin Yining’s teeth ached when she heard the repeated mentions of ‘big brother Xiao’ and ‘ever since we were children’ and ‘never shown a friendly face to outsiders.’.
Though the princess was engaged to the Marquis of Northern Stability, it was obvious that her hopes for Pang Xiao remained alive.
Noble daughters were well-schooled in the rules and adhered to the three obediences and four virtues. This princess must’ve grown up in the lap of indulgence and tolerance, so she was used to everything going her way. She didn’t understand the reality of not being able to obtain something she wanted. Now that her marriage wasn’t to her liking, she was certain to try her best to fight for her ‘true love’.
All this flitted rapidly through Qin Yining’s mind as she suddenly understood why the emperor had bestowed marriage onto the Princess of Anyang and Ji Zeyu. No matter how strong the ties of brotherhood were between Ji Zeyu and Pang Xiao, no man would allow his wife to be fixated on another!
Li Qitian really knew no limits in his desire to sow discord between the two that held power in the north and south. He was even sacrificing the lifelong happiness of his younger sister!
The Qin fourth miss sorted all of this out within the span of a breath. She curtsied again, tears glistening in her eyes.
“Many thanks to Your Highness,” her voice shook. “If Your Highness could speak a few words on my behalf, I would be filled with utmost gratitude. This humble girl thanks Your Highness in advance.”
Li Helan looked at the harmless little animal who’d just gotten a scrap of food, so delightfully surprised and touched that it was about to cry. Her contempt deepened, but so did her wariness fade away.
Whether this beautiful and weak girl was pampered or tortured in the Pang Manor, all that the gossip and speculation would serve to do was to ruin the girl’s reputation.
For one blessed by the heavens like Li Helan, Qin Yining was no longer a threat to her.
The princess couldn’t be bothered to spend time on someone who wasn’t a threat. Even saying a few more words to the girl was a waste of time.
However, Li Helan was no brainless fool. The lofty status of the eldest princess didn’t afford her to overly forget her manners either. Thus, she took Qin Yining’s hands and carefully went over the mundane details of life. She re-emphasized her promise to plead for leniency on Qin Yining’s behalf and also said that the girl could come to her for anything.
Such pleasantries were really too fake. Even if Qin Yining was the type of idiot to treat polite remarks as sincere, she probably wouldn’t make it through the palace doors if she really did search out the princess.
The princess left after a few more moments.
The Qin fourth miss kowtowed politely in the yard until the princess was no longer to be seen. She finally heaved a sigh of relief, nodded at Xu Weizhi, and hurried back to her ‘punishment’ at Snowtrace Garden.
Within the carriage, a jeering smile rose to Li Helan’s lips as she closed her eyes in repose.
Hexiang was softly massaging her mistress’ legs and trying to gauge the princess’ expression. She spoke up lightly, “That Miss Qin is indeed a great beauty, but it’s a pity that her moral character is too cheap.”
“Hmm?” Li Helan lifted a lazy eyelid.
“She seduced the prince into behaving abnormally as soon as she appeared. He carried her off in broad daylight! Everyone’s talking about it, how the prince has fallen victim to this beauty—that even a mature, matchless hero is so head over heels that he’s thrown all thought of his reputation to the winds. What a disappointment.”
Hexiang’s voice was exceedingly gentle and she spoke in a measured pace. It was impossible to resent her words. Not to mention, normally confined deep within the palace grounds, Li Helan quite enjoyed listening to the latest gossip.
It was just that the topics today really irritated her.
She poked at a handkerchief with her pure-gold nail guards and commented absentmindedly, “She does have a pretty face, but as a woman, it’s also a sin to be too beautiful.”
Hexiang asked curiously, “Does Your Highness not think that née Qin purposefully tempted the prince?”
“It’s not like she could control this matter. What can a singular, weak girl do?”
“You’re too kind, Your Highness.” Hexiang was quite disgruntled. “In terms of appearance, Your Highness doesn’t lose out on one bit. In terms of birth, Your Highness is the truest of nobility. Just like née Qin said, you are the radiant moon in the skies, she’s just a weed by the side of the road. You’re better than her by far, but the prince is still seduced by her. I really find this hard to accept!”
Hexiang’s words successfully stirred the irritation and jealousy within Li Helan’s heart.
Everyone wanted to be pretty, and those born that way were more attractive to men. That was an incontrovertible fact, and it was no use being jealous over it since one’s looks were derived from one’s parents.
But when she thought of how Pang Xiao avoided her at all costs and kept a beauty in a gilded cage at home, Li Helan was extremely aggrieved. He didn’t even care that people were saying he was a shameless lecher! It was quite obvious from this just how deep Pang Xiao’s feelings ran.
A newly met née Qin had defeated her with just the girl’s looks alone. So what did all her years of adoration for Pang Xiao mean then?
Studying Li Helan’s face, Hexiang piped up with increasing anger, “Your Highness is highly refined, but this servant isn’t! Seeing how nice you were to née Qin just now, I wanted to rush up and give her a few good slaps! We should tear her face to shreds and see how she tempts the prince then!”
For a split second, Li Helan really did want to order the groom to turn around, so that she could give Qin Yining a few vicious slaps.
But she closed her eyes and thought for a moment, suppressing the roiling jealousy in her heart once more.
“The heart of this matter isn’t with née Qin, but Pang Zhixi. Pang Zhixi is one of the greatest heroes of our time and in terms of looks alone, I am indeed less than née Qin. But in everything else, I am more than superior! I trust that in time, Pang Zhixi will realize how much he stands to gain to become my prince consort!”
“But, but your consort is to be the Marquis of Anping!” With a single sentence, Hexiang jabbed at where it hurt.
Li Helan took a few deep breaths in and shook her head. “Even if he’s not my prince consort, he’ll know the merits of following me.” The look in her eyes sharpened into resolution. “Hexiang, send a calling card to the Pang Manor when we get back. I will see Pang Zhixi tomorrow! He can’t hide from me forever!”
“Understood,” Hexiang assented respectfully. I can finally relax now.
At the same time in a third floor room of the Ascending Sparrow, Ji Zeyu’s pale, slender fingers picked up a white porcelain wine jug and reached out to pour Pang Xiao a full cup.
Pang Xiao grinned and threw the cup of wine back.
His actions brought an answering smile to Ji Zeyu and he too drained his cup.
The two polished off the entire jug without a word before putting their cups down to smile at each other, having refound the camaraderie of their youth.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Okay, several things to unpack. LHL, you.... someone gimme a pitchfork!
And it wasn't until the end of this chapter that it suddenly struck me. Hexiang wasn't just being some super loyal servant indignant on her mistress' behalf! She did all that on purpose so that LHL would create more of a fuss, didn't she?!?!
And that last scene... w-why.. do I get B-B-B-BL vibes from that scene... XDDD
Don't. hit. meh!