Xie Yue put on the airs of a butler when he reached the front hall. He lifted his chin and assessed the Qin women out of the corner of his eye, a tight expression on his face.
“You’re the ones looking for the Qin miss?”
The old dowager was wearing a semi-old cotton jacket and had a brown cotton cape flung around her shoulders. She immediately rose when she saw the arrogant Xie Yue dressed in brocade.
“This must be the senior butler.” The old dowager curtsied. “I’ve made this trip specifically to bring my granddaughter back.”
The second madame was supporting the old dowager and curtsied as well.
Xie Yue declared cockily, “Do you still think this is your Great Yan? This is the Great Zhou capital, the manor of the Faithful Prince of the First Rank! You Qins are the hated enemy of my prince! Your miss is here to pay off a debt! She wants to go back? Not that easy!”
The old dowager’s heart skipped a beat. What she was most afraid of had finally come to pass!
They were now in Great Zhou territory. With Pang Xiao’s status, he could eat them alive. No one would mouth a single word of protest if he exterminated the Qin clan in search of revenge, to say nothing of carrying off Qin Yining.
Terror slowly enveloped the Qin matriarch the more she dwelled on this. She started trembling involuntarily.
Qin Huaiyuan’s whereabouts were still unknown—they didn’t know if he was dead or alive! If her eldest son was no more, who knew if the Qin family would prosper again, even if her second and third son was still with them. And now they’d even attracted this demon? Would they know any peace in the future??
That damn girl is too utterly useless! Didn’t she beguile Pang Zhixi perfectly before? Why is revenge cropping up in his thoughts again??
Sweating profusely, the old dowager cursed her granddaughter heartily and almost started crying.
Just as her thoughts and emotions crashed into a jumbled mess, the second madame lightly pinched the back of her hand.
The slight twinge of pain brought the old dowager back to her senses. When she suddenly remembered what they were here for today, she felt increasingly uncertain. But the words still had to be said, or the entire family was doomed!
“This, this is inappropriate. Our granddaughter Yi is a proper noble daughter. She can’t be carried off just like this! Even if there is some sort of feud between us, revenge can be levied straight to our faces. You can’t disparage a poor girl like this!”
The old dowager used a sleeve to wipe away the fine sweat beading her forehead. Though her voice was trembling, she forced composure onto herself. “We must take granddaughter Yi with us today. Even if we don’t say anything, His Majesty won’t agree to any of this.”
Xie Yue had been carefully observing the Qin matriarch’s expression. The old woman barely seemed concerned about her granddaughter at all. When she’d heard that the prince wanted to take revenge, some hints of resentment had actually appeared on her face!
It was tragic to have a grandmother like this. She seemed quite nervous and afraid for another matter entirely.
Skepticism reared its head when “His Majesty won’t agree” was uttered. Xie Yue faked anger and denounced, “How dare you, just listen to you talk! You’re just surrendered war captives—who are you to throw your weight around here?! His Majesty won’t agree? His Majesty doesn’t even know who you are! Don’t try to scare me with that kind of frippery!”
The old dowager was shocked by how rampant and unbridled this butler was. She’d never suffered an injustice like this before, and their very lives would be forfeit if they didn’t leave with Qin Yining today!
Thus, the Qin matriarch retracted her worry and fear to retort furiously, “Don’t you be so overweening! His Majesty will be holding an imperial selection next year—I’ve already signed my granddaughter up for it! Her name’s been submitted! What, does your prince want to fight the emperor himself for the girl?”
What? The imperial selection?
Xie Yue’s expression remained unchanged, but tidal waves of emotion crashed in his heart. This old dowager didn’t care much about her granddaughter, but she sure wasn’t shy when it came to using the younger generation!
Here in accompaniment, Bingtang, Jiyun, and Qiulu were also stunned.
The three of them had travelled together, only bumping into the Qins before entering the city gates. The old dowager, second and third elder master had been bedraggled and filthy. Fortune had treated them much more harshly than the three girls. The three maids had been privately wondering what had happened to the Qins.
And now, not only had they failed to get any useful information, but the old dowager had sold off Qin Yining for her own fortune and glory!
Having said her piece, the old dowager was at ease.
The second madame also heaved a sigh of relief and addressed Xie Yue politely. “Niece Yi is to participate in the imperial selection and serve the emperor. It would be inappropriate for her to remain in the manor. I think even the Faithful Prince of the First Rank wouldn’t fight the emperor for a girl, right? We’re all His Majesty’s subjects. Loyalty is of utmost importance. Please have niece Yi brought out so that we can take her with us and teach her well, so that she isn’t all thumbs when she serves His Majesty.”
Xie Yue had a most intense dislike of these two women by now. It could be heard from their tones that they didn’t view Qin Yining as a human being at all, but a mere chip with which to reach their goals.
The strategist couldn’t be bothered to argue with them. His new priority was to investigate just precisely what was going on. He flapped his hands like he was shooing away a fly. “Don’t even think about it. If you want to take part in the imperial selection, send one of your many other girls. Our prince took Miss Qin, that makes her his. Take her away? Keep dreaming!”
“You! Does your prince want to steal even the emperor’s woman?” the old dowager demanded hotly.
Xie Yue snorted. “Don’t even try to clap such a large crime on my prince’s head. This Miss Qin hasn’t participated in the selection yet, so she’s not the emperor’s woman at all!”
The Qin matriarch’s words stuck in her throat. Her lips vibrated, but she didn't know how to respond. This butler was too impenetrable!
The second madame helped the old dowager to a round chair. She took a seat as well. “We won’t be leaving unless you send niece Yi out. I’m sure the vaunted Faithful Prince of the First Rank won’t harass two married women, will he?”
“Right! We’re not leaving without granddaughter Yi!” The old dowager caught on and started kicking up a fuss as well.
“Heh. Shamelessly throwing a tantrum when you fail with logic? How are you two fit to be the madames of a noble family? What a dishonor to the Qin men!” Xie Yue flapped his hands still and snapped irritably, “Wait if you want. These three maids will come with me.”
“Understood.” Jiyun, Bingtang, and Qiulu curtsied before following Xie Yue.
“These three girls belong to the Qins.” the old dowager objected. “What, your prince wants to steal even the maids after kidnapping one of our misses?”
It was far beneath Xie Yue to argue with women and children. He’d purposefully antagonized the old dowager and second madame into speaking to try and obtain some information from the two. Now that even decent conversation couldn’t be conducted, he really couldn’t be bothered. Pretending not to hear anything, he strode off quickly with the three maids.
Though the old dowager and second madame didn’t see any servants from their position in the great hall, they could tell there were people at the door and rear corridor. It only then occurred to them how impulsive they’d been, once calm returned. They’d argued with the butler of the prince’s manor!!
The household staff wouldn’t give them a hard time, would they?
Xie Yue rushed to Snowtrace Garden with Jiyun, Bingtang, and Qiulu. Qin Yining had long been waiting beneath the covered hallway with a cape wrapped around her. She flew down the stairs when she saw the three girls and grabbed them for a hug. “Wonderful, oh wonderful! All of you are alright!”
“Miss! We knew you were still alive!”
“This is so wonderful!”
“I thought I’d never see you again!”
Wrapped in a group hug, the four girls first laughed, then cried together, stunning Xianyun and Lian Xiaozhou off to the side.
Finally recovering her calm, Qin Yining wiped away her tears and pulled the three in for a close look. She finally relaxed when she saw that they’d just lost some weight and hadn’t suffered any injuries.
“Were the three of you with the old dowager and the others when we were all swept apart that day?”
Bingtang shook her head. “We can tell you that later. There’s more important matters right now!”
“Indeed,” agreed Xie Yue. “Miss Qin, your family’s old dowager and second madame have come to bring you home. They say that they’ve already sent in your name for the imperial selection next year. They’ve come to take you home to teach you how to properly serve the emperor. I’ve already knocked them down a peg or two, but they’re still set on taking you with them today. The two are drinking tea in the outer residence at the moment. They’re not afraid of even the prince!”
It felt like a bolt of lightning had struck the Qin fourth miss. Her ears buzzed with emotion.
“You say that my grandmother wants to send me into the palace?”
Xie Yue nodded.
This really was…
This really was wholly unexpected, but made perfect sense!
Since father’s been separated from the family, the old dowager will certainly be planning on how to ensure peace and stability for the family. Sending a daughter into the palace was indeed a way to stabilize the Qins’ future.
No, the old dowager might not be the one responsible for the idea. It might have been a group consensus!
What a wonderful plan! They were going to juice every last bit of worth from her flesh and bones before letting things rest!
Seeing her mistress' face flicker rapidly between emotions, Bingtang worried, “Don’t be mad yet, miss. Perhaps there’s still some room to maneuver.”
“That’s right, miss,” Qiulu comforted as well.
Qin Yining took in a deep breath, forcing herself to calm down from her furious panic just moments ago. “I’ll go meet them.”
“You could wait for the prince to come back first,” Xie Yue interjected. Those were the girl’s elders, after all. She might come off worse in the exchange.
“Right, we should commit ourselves to the show. Since I was carried off, I wouldn’t have too much freedom left to me.”
“So you weren’t carried off, miss?” Jiyun grinned.
Xianyun took Jiyun’s arm with a smile. “His Highness has given both of us to the miss. Do you think he’d mistreat her?”
Jiyun and Xianyun looked at each other, then grinned knowingly.
Qin Yining blushed furiously, her anger completely chased away. She turned to take Xiaozhou’s hand and conducted a round of introductions with Bingtang, Qiulu, and Jiyun. After thanking Xie Yue, the group entered the house for a long awaited catch-up session.
Pang Xiao finally returned after Qin Yining ate and took a post-lunch nap.
In the study with a new change of clothes, the prince furiously smashed his tea cup when he heard that the old dowager wanted to submit Qin Yining for the imperial selection. He pointed at the main hall, cursing loudly, “Blast that doddering fool!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Too. many. BISHES!! I need pitchforks, and frying pans, and dogs, and and.... PX JUST GO KILL THEM ALL!