Pang Xiao’s senses were on high alert and stretched in all directions. He felt eyes converge on him and Li Helan. It was clear as day that someone was watching their every move and action.
His mind furiously racing through possible observer identities, he bowed respectfully to Li Helan and asserted solemnly, “Please conduct yourself with dignity, Your Highness.”
“Conduct myself with dignity?” Despair finally descended when Li Helan noted Pang Xiao’s attitude. She tilted her head to look dumbly at him, tears streaming down with her words. “All these years, my only wish was to marry you when I grew up. If you had no feelings for me, why didn’t you refuse when my royal mother and brother joked about us?
“If you’d refused early on, would I have been shameless and clingy in return? You gave me hope so that all of my fantasies of adulthood were about you, but now you cower and shrink back! Pang Zhixi, are you a man or not?!”
“You yourself say it was a joke, Your Highness. So why take jokes seriously? Besides, this one has never had any interactions with Your Highness. We are not familiar with each other, so please choose your words wisely.”
Pang Xiao took a few steps back with a frown, his left hand tucked behind his back. Huzi surreptitiously traced the word ‘northern’ onto his master’s palm.
The person observing them from the shadows was Ji Zeyu!
It was impossible that he’d passed by coincidentally. Someone must’ve purposefully sent him a message!
The Princess of Anyang was engaged to Ji Zeyu and their wedding would be held soon. Even if Ji Zeyu had no feelings for Anyang, no man would feel good about his soon-to-be wife entangled with another man. Especially when the other man was his good friend.
Out of the current crop of Great Zhou generals, Pang Xiao dominated the south while Ji Zeyu held the north.
If they were close-knit with a tight relationship, it would be the quick work of a partnership between them to arrange for a coup. How would the emperor tolerate the two of them being brothers? Thus, there was no end of provocation and attempts to destroy their relationship.
Pang Xiao could understand why the emperor was doing all this, but he couldn’t accept or forgive such actions.
He gnashed his teeth so hard they ground on each other. It appeared that the very first of Anyang’s visits had represented him and Ji Zeyu unknowingly setting foot into a trap—a death trap with no way out!
Ji Zeyu couldn’t possibly defy imperial orders and refuse the marriage. Anyang would be his wife. But what hot-blooded man would permit his wife to have someone else in her heart?
By this point, Pang Xiao understood that no matter what he did, it would be the wrong move. Anything he did would cause a misunderstanding. Such was the sophistication of the emperor’s plot. Even though both brothers might have a very clear understanding of the matter, they would be forced to misunderstand each other and wear away at their relationship.
But was he, Pang Xiao, an easy target to be trampled however others would?
Though a misunderstanding was sure to develop, he wasn’t going to just take this lying down! If he was going to come out worse for the wear, he would make this a grand spectacle. Everyone would know that he’d gotten the short end of the stick!
When his thoughts travelled here, Pang Xiao’s tone took on a hard edge.
“Has the princess caught a cold and is sprouting all this nonsense because of a fever? If Your Highness is sick, you should see an imperial doctor. You shouldn’t be out and about like this.”
“What are you talking about?! I’m not sick! This isn’t nonsense! Pang Zhixi! Just admit that you're not man enough to own up, why are you blaming everything on me?? I’m sick? Hah! I’m very clear headed right now, the most I’ve ever been!”
“To be completely clear headed yet also a shrieking shrew in the street means you didn’t learn your manners properly. His Majesty is busy with the nation’s affairs, and Her Majesty preoccupied with keeping the imperial harem in order. It seems that’s affected Your Highness’ education. As His Majesty’s foster brother, I am half an older brother to you. Your Highness cannot continue to act out like this. It’s an affront to the rules of the home and disgrace to imperial dignity.”
Pang Xiao’s expression darkened and he gave orders to Hexiang and the other palace servants behind Li Helan. “Help the princess back into the carriage. This prince will personally escort the princess to see His Majesty!”
“How, how dare you say I have no manners!”
“And do you actually have any manners?” Pang Xiao sneered. “I’ve never seen a daughter of the blood completely disregard her future husband’s dignity and waylay someone in the streets to create a scene! You might not care about your self-worth, but His Majesty cares about imperial dignity and third brother has his considerations of face! Your Highness, please get in the carriage. Don't make me say harsher words!”
Pang Xiao was someone who would behead an enemy leader in the battlefield without even a blink. Now in the deep throes of anger, his bearing was on full display. A domineering bloodlust made all of Li Helan’s hairs stand on end. No matter how she didn’t like how things had turned out, reverence of a superior and fear of danger made her shrink in on herself.
Putting on a threatening display, but really feeling quite terrified, Li Helan snapped back, “You’re the one who needs to learn his manners, Pang Zhixi! You’re just a prince, and an idle one without even a position these days! Where do you get the right to lecture this princess!?”
The prince glowered even more darkly, the black anger brimming in his phoenix-eyes morphed into a storm ready to erupt.
Li Helan regretted her words after uttering them. All men cared about face; Pang Xiao had no position right now because her royal brother didn’t want to give him one.
Actually, was Pang Xiao distant to her because her royal brother didn’t value him?
Just as Li Helan speculated wildly on the possibilities, Hexiang and her other servants approached her. They put down the footstool and forced the princess back into the carriage.
Their mistress struggled along the way, only stopping when all the maids restrained their mistress together.
Pang Xiao leapt onto his horse with a dark expression. They wouldn’t go view manors for sale today. He sent Xie Yue back and took only Huzi with him, ‘escorting’ the princess back to the palace. It was like he’d caught a misbehaving child and was bringing them to see their parents.
From beginning to end, he didn’t cast a single glance at Ji Zeyu. He pretended that he didn’t know his brother was here.
Xie Yue also played his part well. He looked in the direction of Pang Xiao’s departure and retreated with sighs and murmurs to himself. He finally took the steps to enter the Pang Manor again with a lowered head.
Seeing the trampled snow in front of the prince’s manor, there wasn’t a trace of expression on Ji Zeyu’s face. He was as still as an ice sculpture, with no hint of emotion in his eyes either. He turned to leap back onto his horse.
His followers trembled to see their master thus. His fiancé tangled up with his good brother? It’d be such a severe loss of face if this matter spread! Who knew to what degree he’d been cuckolded already!
No one dared breathe a word or try to deduce what kind of mood was lurking beneath Ji Zeyu’s calm facade. To a man, all of them lowered their heads and trailed behind.
Regret and confusion slid off his face when Xie Yue set foot inside the manor. He sped to Snowtrace Garden.
Qin Yining was teaching Lian Xiaozhou how to read. She quickly put down her brush when she heard the doorkeep’s message and had the little girl practice on her own. The Qin fourth miss headed out to welcome her visitor.
“Sir Xie, what’s happened to drive you into such a hurry?”
Xie Yue raised cupped fists to Qin Yining. “Miss Qin, the prince wanted to go look at new manors today, but we bumped into the princess as soon as we stepped through the front doors…”
He recounted what had just happened in front of the doors and ended with, “The marquis was hiding in the corner. He definitely saw everything, but who knows what he thinks of it all? The prince reacted swiftly and took the role of a foster brother. He’s escorting the princess back to the palace to see the emperor.”
Her brows knitted together, Qin Yining thought for a moment before shaking her head with a smile. “Don’t worry, the prince should be able to safely extract himself from this. The emperor won’t do anything to him.”
“Oh?” Xie Yue asked. “Why do you say that?”
“The prince left you at home today, plus this happened in broad daylight. It’d be too easy to find eyewitnesses. If the princess doesn’t want to sully imperial dignity by developing a reputation of a wanton woman lacking in virtue… the emperor won’t pursue this further. Even if the prince presses him, he’ll only push everything onto the princess and give a hearty lecture.”
Xie Yue nodded with a smile. “You’re very right. His Majesty is using everything he can to the fullest, in order to ruin the relationship between the prince and marquis. Then he can’t blame our prince for taking advantage of a fault in return! The emperor cares a great deal about face, so he’ll never allow this matter to spread. But who knows how the marquis will take things?”
The strategist shook his head with resignation and a long sigh. “His Majesty’s plan was thorough. The point of this was to drive a wedge between the prince and marquis. Perhaps this goal has already been reached.
“The hearts of emperors are deep and fathomless. When one truly is in that seat, it’s inevitable that some things are lost in pursuit of protecting what one has.” Qin Yining strode slowly to the window sill, thinking hard. “Right now, we can only hope that the marquis is a clear headed person.”
“The marquis is extremely intelligent. He’ll certainly know that His Majesty meant for him to see that,” Xie Yue responded. “Even so, no man is able to tolerate this kind of matter. This is the most sophisticated part of His Majesty’s plan.”
Nodding in agreement, Qin Yining felt that Pang Xiao was really in a very difficult plight. Back in Great Yan, his eminence had seemed so all encompassing. But in reality, he was being roasted over a fire, and not just one fire pit at that.
If she wanted to live out her days peacefully with the prince, she would have to plot and scheme for him, not relaxing for a single second.
“Miss.” A maid’s voice travelled in at this time.
“What is it?” Qin Yining lifted the door curtain.
Xianyun curtsied in the covered hallway. “Miss, there’s a message from the servants in the outer residence that the Qin Old Dowager and second madame have come to visit. They’ve also brought your three maids.”
The Qin fourth miss started and looked back at Xie Yue.
The strategist was equally surprised. “We knew that your family arrived at the inns a long time ago, but there’s been no word of them since. To think that they would come calling today!”
Pondering for a moment, Qin Yining responded, “Sir Xie, please receive my grandmother and second aunt for me. Say that I’ve been grounded and am not at liberty to see them. My three maids are Bingtang, Qiulu, and Jiyun. If the names match, please bring them to me.”
“Do you not plan on seeing your old dowager?”
Qin Yining shook her head. “The old dowager is too used to pursuing her own interests. I want to see what she’s up to this time. Besides, I’ve been kidnapped by the prince. How would I be able to come and go as I please?”
Xie Yue nodded understandingly. Additionally, the fourth miss also wanted to see if she would still be viewed as part of the family, now that her tragic circumstances were public knowledge.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
This princess... has such a victim and martyr complex! Geez, the entire world's wronged her, nothing's her fault, and it's mememememememe! (<< the song version, if yanno what I'm talking about)
...sounds like some drama over the weekend lol.