“Please quell your anger, Your Highness.” Xie Yue was arrested by Pang Xiao’s show of explosive fury.
As a follower and strategist, he had to know his master’s personality like the back of his hand. He knew Pang Xiao wasn’t as coldly aloof or ruthlessly tyrannical as others thought. On the contrary, the prince kept his cards close to his heart. This showed in his ability to always face people with the most appropriate state of mind.
Put bluntly, whether it was his domineering or detached side, or even displays of friendly gentleness, it was rarely a display of true emotion. They were all because the situation or audience called for it.
It was also obvious that him pointing at the front hall, cursing with deep rage, was a show of real fury.
Losing control in this situation showed just how important the Qin miss was to someone skilled at biding his time and rarely roused to anger.
Ruddy-faced, Pang Xiao punctuated his loud yells with jabs of a finger. “I knew a long time ago that that old hag is nothing good! She treated darling Yi like an outsider when they were still in Great Yan, as if dearest Yi wasn’t her granddaughter at all. She’s not giving things a rest even when her nation has fallen. She’s plotting with my darling as a pawn! That blithering old trout! I’m going to kill her and put an end to this!”
He unsheathed the sword hanging on the wall with a seething scrape and about-faced, ready to charge outside.
“Your Highness, you mustn’t! Your Highness!” Xie Yue was scared out of his wits and spread out his arms to block his master’s rush. But given Pang Xiao’s towering stature and unsurpassed battle strength, how would the strategist provide any actual resistance?
He craned his neck back to the door and yelled, “Help, someone!”
Huzi rushed into the house when he heard the noise and screeched to a halt when he saw Pang Xiao and Xie Yue playing cat-chases-the-mouse. Wielding his sword, Pang Xiao feigned left and right, but the strategist always managed to be an obstacle. It took Huzi a beat before he joined the fray.
“Your Highness, you really mustn’t! Your own crisis hasn’t been resolved yet. The Qins are His Majesty’s priority recruitment target. If you kill their old dowager before imperial arrangements have been decided on, the consequences will be unthinkable!” Panicked sweat dotted Xie Yue’s forehead as he tried his best with his placation.
Pang Xiao had also slightly recovered his reason at this point. He knew the strategist was right. He was treading on thin ice in his current circumstances. If he really did do anything to the Qins, who knew how Li Qitian would blow the matter up?
Seeing their master finally stand down, both Xie Yue and Huzi heaved sighs of relief.
Throwing his sword to the side, Pang Xiao mused with a dark expression. “Things aren’t as simple as they seem here. Our people investigated before and only found bits and pieces of what happened after the Qins were separated. They didn’t come back with His Majesty’s search and rescue party, and they basically looked like beggars when they entered the city. Now Grand Preceptor Qin and his wife are missing, and their old dowager suddenly wants to send darling Yi to the imperial selection after going through these hard times…”
A thoughtful light shone in his eyes.
An answering frown was on Xie Yue’s face. “Though we don’t know the ins and outs of everything, it all seems rather fishy when it’s all connected together.”
“That’s right,” agreed Huzi. “That Qin old dowager isn’t the dogged sort who takes a stand for her ideals, but she has the audacity to drag out her visit today—and with her daughter-in-law as well. She’s not afraid of facing Your Highness at all. Is someone backing her actions? Where else would she get the courage from to do all this?”
The guard’s words were a reminder to Pang Xiao and Xie Yue. They looked at each other, with the strategist then clapping Huzi’s shoulder. “From youngsters spring forth heroes alright! Not bad, what you’re saying is very likely.”
Huzi scratched his head and smiled honestly. “I was just guessing. I may not be right.”
“Your guess is highly logical.” Pang Xiao thought for a moment more. “How about this. I’ll take darling Yi with me for a look-see. We can probe as to what’s really going on.”
“That works. Miss Qin is highly intelligent, and they’re grandmother and granddaughter. They’ll talk a bit more freely with each other, and the miss might be able to gather some useful information.”
The prince sent servants to call for Qin Yining. He waited at the flower-hung gate when he’d adjusted his outfit properly.
Not long thereafter, Qin Yining slowly arrived with Jiyun’s accompaniment. She was wearing a semi-old fine cotton jacket, a beige cotton cape around her shoulders. Her long hair was loose around her shoulders and she wasn’t wearing any jewelry or powder. On a whole, her outfit was exceedingly plain.
Pang Xiao smiled. “Wherever did you find this old jacket?”
“I had Xianyun dig it out for me. My grandmother is so very materialistic. If I wore anything slightly better, she’d think I mean something to you. Looking this plain will be a greater blow to her.”
The prince nodded smilingly. “In a bit, ask them carefully why they suddenly want you to participate in the imperial selection.”
The Qin fourth miss nodded slightly, then smiled ruefully. “Actually, I know the answer to that without asking. Since my father’s gone missing, there’s no pillar of the family. She wants to trade me for the Qin future. It’s just that I don't know where they get the confidence from, thinking I’ll certainly be chosen after participating.
“My looks are plain and my talents ordinary. I might not receive any favor after entering the palace, and won’t be able to do much for the family clan. They’d rather offend you by forcing me into the palace, but have no idea how much they might gain in return. I feel like their plan isn’t very reliable, and it doesn’t fit the old dowager’s usual style.”
Pang Xiao shook his head. “You’re much too humble.”
What ‘looks are plain and ordinary talents’?
As a man, he knew best the makeup of another man’s mind. If Qin Yining entered the palace, the emperor would make her a favored concubine given his love of beautiful things, even if he didn’t really have feelings for her. And with her brains, if she seriously approached life within the palace, it was likely no one would be able to do anything to her. A meteoric rise would only be a matter of time.
For a moment, even Pang Xiao felt that only the most noble position in the world was worthy of her.
But she had to be his, and could only be his!
Amidst soft conversation, the two arrived at the front hall. Pang Xiao squeezed her hand hidden beneath the cape as a chill invaded his expression. He set one foot onto the stairs.
Qin Yining and Jiyun took two steps back, fearfully following the prince into the main hall.
Backs sore and waists aching, the old dowager and second madame had quaffed a large amount of tea, borrowed the latrine, eaten some snacks for lunch—but had still grown very impatient.
As the two muttered complaints to each other, the doors opened and Pang Xiao strode in.
Compared to his outfits in Great Yan, his opulent clothes and contemptuous expression now prompted much more dread than before.
The two women rose and stood sideways in greeting.
His gaze fixed straight ahead, Pang Xiao couldn’t even be bothered with looking at the two. He made a beeline for the head seat and declared coldly, “You two have quite some nerve to cause trouble in my manor. Apparently you're not leaving without the girl, and you’ll even have His Majesty judge the matter?”
Color drained from her face as the old dowager shook her head rapidly. “Not at all! How would we dare cause trouble in Your Highness’ manor? Perhaps there’s been a misunderstanding.”
“A misunderstanding?” Pang Xiao sneered. “Then it’s also a misunderstanding that you want to send this prince’s maid to the imperial selection?”
“Maid??” The old dowager was highly taken aback.
Pang Xiao sniffed. “The daughter of my enemy is to be a maid in my household to pay back your family’s blood debt. What, is this a great injustice to her? Or do you think she’s still nobility and should be the princess consort?”
The two women reddened painfully from the last question. They had indeed nursed a few fantasies that if Qin Yining could beguile Pang Xiao to the same degree like in Great Yan, then his affections would transfer to showing the family some care as well.
And even if the girl was sent into the palace, the prince wouldn’t give them a hard time then, right?
But those delusions had been smashed to pieces. The Qins had no family or foundations to speak of in the Great Zhou capital. If they couldn’t depend on Pang Xiao being their backer, then the days ahead would be arduous indeed.
The old dowager turned back to glare at her granddaughter. “You chit, is the prince angry because you haven’t served him properly?”
This question brought frowns to the faces of everyone present. Even the second madame found it highly inappropriate.
Was the Qin matriarch labelling Qin Yining as Pang Xiao’s bedwarmer?
The Qin fourth miss glowered. Ever since disaster and famine had struck, she no longer had any hopes for the old dowager’s moral character. She quite hated the old woman now and only saw the latter as an outsider.
“You certainly like to pretend you’re something, Old Dowager.” All gloves were off.
“You damn girl! How dare you talk back in front of the prince?”
Qin Yining fixed a cold and sharp look at the old woman. “The old dowager seems to be getting more and more muddleheaded in her old age. Whether I am the prince’s maid or enter the palace through the imperial selection, your end goal is for me to do a thing or two for the family, isn’t it? Then is it really a good idea to offend me now?”
The response awoke the old dowager to the reality of the situation. Her expression turned ugly as well. She had been playing off her status to step on Qin Yining so that she could get some face back.
The second madame privately cursed at her mother-in-law for being a fool. “Does this mean that niece Yi has agreed to enter the imperial selection? Then take your leave of the prince now. The selection is next year. We have a lot of preparations to make.”
Her eyes drifted in Pang Xiao’s direction as she spoke. She relaxed slightly when she saw that the prince was focused on his tea and ignoring them completely.
“Fine. If you want me to enter the imperial selection, I will if you tell me whose idea this is. How were you separated from my father when the family was rushed apart that day? Where are my parents now?”
The two Qin women looked at each other.
“Niece Yi, let’s talk about this after you go back with us,” replied the second madame. “This isn’t a good place to talk.”
“I won’t be leaving with you if you don’t explain yourselves properly. Besides, it’s not up to me whether I go or stay.”
“Stay?!” The old dowager’s voice turned shrill again. “Would you rather stay to debase yourself and serve a man?!”
Qin Yining stared coldly at the old dowager. If she wasn’t father’s mother, I would kick her out right now!
Pang Xiao had already leapt into action. In the next instant, a teacup lid smashed to smithereens beneath the old dowager’s feet.
“Serving this prince is debasing herself?? Are you insulting this prince?! Servants, drag this brainless hag away and slap her! Slap her until she learns to talk with some manners!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
The poor strategist lol. PX's righteous fury is great eye bleach!
And holy shit, can the old dowager be anymore odious?