“You’re playing on buying a manor for your family?” Pang Xiao kicked off his boots and took a seat on the heated platform. He moved Qin Yining in front of him again, hanging onto her like an oversized doll. “But your family might not appreciate the gesture, and the family hasn’t separated yet, right?”
Qin Yining leaned back comfortably against Pang Xiao’s chest and stared at the motif of magpies on branches that was carved into the redwood drawers. She responded lazily, “We haven't split into different branches, no, but there’s only one way to write the Qin character. I’m buying the manor for my father as well. Though his whereabouts are still unknown, I firmly believe that with his intelligence, he’ll be able to land on his feet. He must be caught up in something to have not returned.”
“You’re right. Though my men haven’t discovered the locations of father-in-law and mother-in-law, they haven’t found anything bad either. No news is good news. With father-in-law’s smarts, they must be safe and sound.” Pang Xiao asserted firmly.
Qin Yining’s cheeks burned a fiery red and she twisted herself out of his embrace with a pout. “What father-in-law, mother-in-law? Who says I’m going to marry you?”
Pang Xiao chuckled teasingly and wrapped his arms around her again. “Everyone’s saying now that I’m a hero in difficult circumstances, that you’ve got me wrapped around your finger. Who else will you marry if not me? Besides, my darling is so smart and so filial. You protected the elders at home today and now you’re buying a manor for your parents. Where on earth would I find such a good wife? One’s never coming around again if I miss out on this one.”
“You and your glib tongue,” Qin Yining snorted, but the words warmed her heart very much so. She thought for a bit longer. “But I can’t just handle things like this. I can’t have the old dowager know that I was the one who bought the manor, or I’ll just be making trouble for myself. I need to find a dependable person and have their name be on the deed, then have them do the transaction with my father. I’ll remain in the shadows. One shouldn’t reveal one’s wealth, after all.”
“So smart.” Pang Xiao kissed her cheek. “You’ve thought through everything before I’ve said a single word. Don’t worry about buying the manor. I’ll have my people keep an eye on things in secret. But real estate is very precious in the capital and your family has no roots here. You won’t be able to buy one as large as before.”
“It doesn’t have to be the same size as the one before. A regular one that’s two houses deep is fine. The most important thing is location. There’s not as many people in my family as before, and we don't know what the future holds, so we shouldn’t have all of our wealth tied up in real estate. We’d be unable to make use of it when we need it then. And who knows, maybe my father has other plans.”
“Alright, I’ll send people to keep an eye out then.” Pang Xiao stroked her smooth cheek with a smile. “Though your people haven’t arrived in the city yet, I’m here. Just tell me whatever’s not convenient for you to do. I can help with whatever you want to do.”
“I won’t stand on ceremony with you.”
Pang Xiao kissed her cheek tenderly again. “I still have to meet with Sirs Xu and Xie, so I have to go now.”
“Mm.” They weren’t married yet, so who knew what wild gossip had developed with the prince’s short visit? Though her reputation was already ruined because she’d been ‘carried off’, the Pang servants knew the truth of how long their master stayed each time. She still cared about face, so didn’t keep him.
Qin Yining had Xianyun serve the hot soup and watched Pang Xiao drink it before sending him off in the covered hallway.
The prince took his leave with great reluctance, turning back to look at Snowtrace Garden for everything three steps he took. He adjusted his emotions when the residence doors were closed and swiftly made his way to the study.
Once Xu Weizhi and Xie Yue had both made their bows, Xie Yue proffered with both hands a hairpin invitation.
Smelling the thick fragrance of rouge, Pang Xiao frowned. “Who’s it from?
“In response to Your Highness, it’s from the palace.” Xie Yue’s expression was as usual, but there seemed to be hints of teasing in the wrinkles by his eye.
Irritation flooded Pang Xiao and he threw it away angrily after a quick scan.
“How does she have the face to call herself a royal daughter when she acts like this? She had renowned teachers and mamas to guide her. Where did all those rules, manners, and knowledge go to??”
Xu Weizhi picked up the invitation for a look and handed it to Xie Yue. The latter couldn’t help teasing after he put it back. “It’s because Your Highness simply has too much charisma. Who else can you blame but yourself?”
Pang Xiao was both highly irate and amused. “These are the bad habits of being pampered since young! She must have whatever she wants. Her life has been much too easy! My daring Yi is also a noble daughter, but is she this frivolous??”
Xu Weizhi and Xie Yue looked at each other, exchanging involuntary grins.
“Your Highness is now indifferent to everyone else,” remarked Xie Yue. “But Miss Qin is indeed a wonderful lady and worthy of Your Highness’ compliments.”
“But what His Majesty values is precisely the princess’ personality,” commented Xu Weizhi. “Since she’s convinced of her ultimate victory to have you, she’ll have the courage to go beyond the bounds. If this drags on, it will irreparably damage your relationship with the Marquis of Northern Stability.”
“That’s what darling Yi said just now as well. The only thing I can do is to clearly display my attitude, letting the marquis know that I have no interest in Anyang.”
“So you won’t be going to tomorrow’s gathering then, Your Highness?”
Li Helan had mentioned in the invitation that she was inviting Pang Xiao to a tavern.
“Not only am I not going, I need to decline her sternly. Sir Xu, please respond on my behalf, saying that I’m not feeling well and need to rest at home. Please remind the princess to be more careful. The days are frigid now, so it’s best to avoid venturing outside.”
“Understood.” Xu Weizhi rose to grind ink to ready a response.
Pang Xiao then reminded Xie Yue to keep an eye out for a suitable residence, and to let the prince know when one was located.
The night passed by peacefully. The next day, a servant brought in a response when Li Helan was enjoying breakfast with the empress dowager.
The delighted princess put down her ivory chopsticks and opened the letter, wreathed in smiles. Her smile froze when she saw the characters on the paper, and she furiously kicked over an intricately decorated stool when she read it in full.
“What’s wrong, Lan’er? Who’s bullied you? Tell me, I’ll mete out justice on your behalf.”
The empress dowager pulled her beloved youngest daughter in for a hug and comfort when she saw how irate the princess was.
Li Helan wiped away tears sorrowfully. “Pang Zhixi refuses to attend my gathering and his response is so obviously perfunctory. The most important thing is that he even had someone else write the response! I know his handwriting and this isn’t it! He’s miserly with all of his words to me—he’s just looking down on me!”
The empress dowager asked about the situation in detail when she heard this, but her expression darkened after listening to Li Helan’s explanation.
“Lan’er, how could you possibly take the initiative to send an invitation to Pang Zhixi? You’re engaged and your prince consort will be the Marquis of Northern Stability! Even if you’re a vaunted princess, your future life will be tied with the marquis. What are you doing, sending an invitation to Pang? Aren’t you afraid of people misunderstanding you?”
“Misunderstanding? There’s nothing to misunderstand! Everyone beneath the heavens knows that I like Pang Zhixi, but so what? Royal brother wants me to marry Ji Lan, but I don’t like Ji Lan’s personality at all! I won’t possibly get along with him! Royal brother doesn’t care about me now that he’s the emperor!”
Li Helan sniffled, greatly aggrieved. She hugged the empress dowager’s arm and wept, her tears crashing onto the back of her mother’s hand.
The empress dowager doted on her youngest daughter, but she also knew full well that since the emperor had already issued and announced the imperial decree, there was no changing this matter.
Besides, the emperor had come to chat about Anyang’s marriage to the marquis, she felt that the marquis was a fine man as well.
And so she glowered as she rebuked, “Shut your mouth. This is all because I’ve spoiled you. You’ve spent so many years learning the rules, how do you not even understand that marriage is settled via the parents’ order and the matchmaker’s word?”
“Royal mother! How can you not think of your daughter at all? If it wasn’t for all of you often saying that I’m a perfect match with Pang Zhixi, and that I would be his wife when I grew up, how would I have all these thoughts about him? You were the ones who gave me all these ideas! I treated them as real and think only of him, that I would marry him when I grew up. But now? You negate the past with just a single word and want to blame everything on me! What crime have I committed??”
Li Helan felt these grievances from the bottom of her heart. She’d been keeping them in for a very long time, and only dared to wail loudly in front of her mother. She was no fool. Though she didn’t quite understand what her brother wanted to do, she knew that her marriage had a lot to do with important politics. There was no way to change it.
But the more she understood that it was impossible to change things, the more anxious she grew and the more discontent.
Pang Xiao had refused her invitation and ordered someone else to respond with a seemingly caring letter, but it was actually a reminder for her to stop leaving the house. It really did hurt her feelings and her pride.
When she thought of the high likelihood that she would have no chance with Pang Xiao in this life, Li Helan threw herself into her mother’s embrace and sobbed loudly.
“Eh? What’s this?” Li Qitian’s voice suddenly travelled in from outside the palace.
Li Helan’s bawling choked off in mid wail. She even hiccuped because she was too nervous.
“The emperor is here.” The empress dowager glared at the sniffling Li Helan and turned to Li Qitian with a smile. “Have you had breakfast?”
Li Qitian walked up to make his greetings with a smile. “We have. It’s a court holiday today, so I wanted to make use of the free time to visit my royal mother.” He turned to Li Helan. “Why is Lan’er crying so brokenheartedly? Who’s bullied you?”
Li Helan wanted to respond, “You!!”, but she would never be so impudent to Li Qitian. She shook her head silently.
Li Qitian caught sight of the letter out of the corner of his eye. He frowned. “Who’s writing to you?”
Horrified, Li Helan almost sprang into the air. She hastily tucked the letter away. “No one. Just some fun between girls. Does royal brother want to ask about the contents of even that?”
The emperor swept a probing glance across the envelope and then at the visibly nervous Li Qitian. He chuckled in the end. “As long as there’s nothing going on. You must tell Us if anyone’s bullying you. Remember, you’re my blood sister. I will protect you no matter what, understood?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Okay.. that emperor.. MUCH TOO EVIL and calculating! In some ways... I actually feel kinda bad for the princess...