“Explain? I don’t want to listen to you! So you’ve grown up now and have a lot of ideas of your own. You don’t listen to the words of an old woman like me anymore! Look at you, all noble and wealthy. You’ve made it in the world, but you’ve thrown away your good character! If this is how you are as an official, I’d rather you were just a cook!”
Née Ma flung her shoe at Pang Xiao and turned away. “Those I hate the most in this life are people like you who cast off a woman after promising the world to her! If I were younger, it’d be a sign of how strong your muscles are if I didn’t kick you to death with one stomp!”
Holding one of his grandmother’s shoes with both hands, Pang Xiao sighed with relief to see that his grandmother was no longer hitting him.
“Grandma, don’t be so mad at me. This is a show that darling Yi and I put on.”
“Another show?” Née Ma blinked, taken aback.
Pang Xiao nodded and continued quietly, “Too much has happened over the past two days. The emperor set up a trap for me and it was only because of my darling’s counter-plan that I safely made it through disaster. Not only did I not suffer any losses, but I successfully joined the council as the Grand Secretary of the Hall of Military Might.
“I respect and sympathize with her, how would I ever cast her away? It’s just that some things have happened in her family…”
The prince went over how the Qins had been kidnapped, the kidnappers were holding the Qin Huaiyuan couple as hostages, and how Qin Yining was being forced into the imperial selection as a result.
Née Yao and Yao Chenggu listened with heavy expressions. They were the type to think deeply to begin with, so they’d already guessed at a thing or two.
“This is really… ai! What is all this!?” Née Ma wanted to beat her chest with anguish.
She finally had a perfectly fine granddaughter-in-law with an outstanding appearance and character. More importantly, the girl was smart and filial. Née Ma loved everything about her, but who would’ve thought that this would occur!
“Yining is a good girl to think of her family.” After a moment, née Yao rubbed Pang Xiao’s chafed shoulders and arms. “Don’t be too sad, there’s nothing we can do about this. She has her difficulties and you need to think of the greater picture. Dafu, some things are meant to be let go of.”
Though he knew his mother meant well, suffocating panic still overwhelmed Pang Xiao when he heard these words.
“Mom, things won’t be over between us like this,” he responded firmly.
“Don’t be stubborn,” née Yao rebuked, abashed. “With Yining’s looks and personality, she’ll absolutely be chosen if she participates. If the emperor likes her, will you charge into battle like a hot-headed youth over a girl? You’ll be throwing your life away!”
Yao Chenggu had thought of this as well and was thoroughly put off his smoking session.
“If you really had the guts to do so, then at least you’d be a real man!” declared née Ma.
“Mother of my children!”
Yao Chenggu and née Yao were both flabbergasted and raised their voices in unison.
Née Ma looked at Pang Xiao, then at the shrewd father-daughter duo. She sighed. “You two think too much and plot way too much. You’re so concerned about this and that. We should live our lives carefree and unrestrained. If I’d plotted as much as you two, would I have decided to spend the rest of my life with an unambitious, dirt poor guy like you? Even a single coin would rattle around in your pockets!”
Yao Chenggu rubbed his nose and grumbled, “Wasn't it because you liked my cooking?”
Née Ma slammed the table so hard that the cups and saucers shook. “If I’d followed some noble or rich guy, I would have all the fine food that I’d want!”
She grabbed Pang Xiao’s collar. “Don’t you ever imitate them—constrained by this, thinking of that. What would you ever be able to do when hobbled at the hand and feet like that?”
A firm grip on the prince’s collar, she hauled him to sit by the fireplace. “Do you think a life is a very long time?” the matriarch started earnestly. “It’s over in the blink of an eye! Take advantage of your current heart and strength to fight for something if you like it! Try your hardest in whatever you want to do!
“Don’t worry about me and your grandfather, and even less about your mom. We come from the dirt anyways. If worst comes to worst, we’ll just go back to the simple and easy life in the fields. That’s still a way of life! But just remember, the best hunters know how to make the best use of perfect timing. You can’t just use brute force, understand?”
Pang Xiao was indeed touched by née Ma’s words. It wasn’t like he didn't understand the life lessons behind them, but the smarter the person, the more multi-faceted their considerations. They would often be limited by extraneous conditions and could hardly live as dashing and unrestrained like née Ma.
Ever since conquering the world with Li Qitian, the prince had learned to don whatever mask appropriate for the occasion. He spoke what others wanted to hear and did as best befit the situation. In order to keep climbing higher and to protect himself, each and every single one of his actions was committed to only after meticulous pondering. This was how he’d gotten to where he was today.
For someone who’d always self-regulated strictly and kept himself under lock and key, he lacked precisely née Ma’s debonair forthrightness.
Eyes sparkling, Pang Xiao nodded emphatically. “Grandma, I understand what you mean. Actually, darling Yi purposefully left us like this in order to solve the imperial selection problem.”
“Oh? What can one girl do by herself?”
“Because of my relationship with the emperor, I can’t really insert myself into this. I have to keep silent, so that means darling Yi’s going to have to be the one to jump out.” Pang Xiao shook his head with a sigh. “Anyways, no matter what you hear tomorrow, don't worry about it. Our relationship is perfectly fine. Everything we’re doing now is so that we can be together in the future.”
Née Ma nodded, much comforted now that she’d been assured her granddaughter-in-law wouldn’t change.
A multitude of thoughts had run through Yao Chenggu and née Yao’s mind during this time. But they didn’t say anything after seeing the prince’s expression.
Both of them felt that this wouldn’t be over so easily. Qin Yining would have to do something big if she didn’t want to serve the emperor and to legitimately decline the imperial selection without giving offense.
Things progressed precisely how they expected.
In the afternoon of the next day, when née Yao was keeping née Ma company, a serving girl stationed at the inner door breathlessly ran in with a message. “Grand-madame, old madame, things are very bad!”
“What is it? Don’t run around frantically like this.” Née Yao frowned.
The little girl garbled out, “The Qin miss, she ran off to the central yamen to sue the prince! Because it’s a very important issue and because of the prince’s high status, the yamen didn’t accept the case for processing. So, the Qin miss ran off to pound the imperial drum for justice!”
“What??” Née Ma’s mouth dropped open. Even though her grandson had told her yesterday not to worry about anything she heard, this matter was drawing the attention of the emperor! It wasn’t a small case anymore.
“What is the lass thinking? Our Dafu has just joined the council and improved his situation a tiny bit. We can’t avoid trouble fast enough, so why create more?”
Née Yao was much calmer than her mother and wrapped her hands around the older woman’s arm. “Don’t fret just yet, mom.”
She turned to the maids. “Go see where the grand-lord is. Have him return as soon as possible. Is the prince at home at the moment? If so, have him come too. Hurry.”
“Understood.” They all knew the importance of the matter and scattered to go look for their people.
Yao Chenggu arrived shortly thereafter, but Pang Xiao wasn’t at home. He’d just been summoned into the palace!”
“Have Sirs Xu and Xie come, hurry.” Née Yao was panicking now as well.
Yao Chenggu however, was perfectly at ease and smoking his pipe. “Both of you should calm down. Everything will be fine.”
“You damned old fool! How you are still smoking at a time like this? Puff puff puff! That smoke will be the death of me!” Née Ma didn’t like Yao Chenggu lighting up his pipe normally, but she never forbade him from doing so. In her agitation today, she seized the brass pipe and tobacco bag in an emotionally charged moment and dunked the newly lit tobacco in a teacup.
“Aiyo! You! Ai!” Yao Chenggu wasn’t able to save his pipe in time. Staring forlornly at the doused tobacco in the tea, he didn't dare revisit the scene of the crime.
“Well then tell me, what’s going on here? I’m so confused. Lass Yi is suing our Dafu, while Dafu said so confidently last night that the lass is doing everything for their future. Isn't this sticking our faces out for the emperor to slap?”
Yao Chenggu answered dejectedly, “Can you not figure even this out? Let me ask you, how did the girl come to us?”
“Dafu brought her back that day… well, no, he ‘carried her off’ to us.”
“That’s it then. Dafu forcefully took the girl. Though both of them are as innocent as the day they were born, it doesn’t look that way to outsiders. Lass Yi is using this point. How can a girl who enters the imperial selection have a stain on her honor? That’s being disloyal to the emperor.”
“Eh?” Née Ma was highly taken aback. “But, in that case, lass Yi’s reputation will be…”
Yao Chenggu calmly rescued his pipe from the tea and dried it off lovingly with a piece of cloth.
“Her reputation was nonexistent the moment she was brought back by Dafu after arriving at the capital. The way I look at it, it’s a good thing that she’s accusing Dafu in front of the emperor. Not only will that give her a more legitimate position, it will show the emperor that we don’t get along with the Qins. It will further give the emperor an enormous fault of Dafu’s to be taken advantage of. He’ll be more comfortable making use of either Dafu or the Qins.”
“The grand-lord speaks very truly.” With née Yao’s closest maid leading the way, Xu Weizhi and Xie Yue happened to catch Yao Chenggu’s analysis. They concurred with great respect. “That’s precisely the notion.”
The two walked up to bow. Yao Chenggu and née Ma didn’t put on any airs and politely invited the strategists to take a seat after servants set up chairs and tea.
Née Ma sighed. “I’m making a fool of myself to the two gentlemen. I’m just worried about the prince’s safety. Matters are court are complicated and I don’t fully understand all of them. We requested your presence to ask if the prince will be alright this time?”
Xu Weizhi rose to cup his hands. “In response to the grand-madame, the outcome of the matter this time depends entirely on how Miss Qin performs in front of His Majesty. If she does well, not only will the prince be completely fine, but His Majesty will also relax his guard a great deal. Though it’ll be a farce to outsiders, it will absolutely have no downsides to the prince.”
“Is that so?” Née Ma started worrying about Qin Yining now. “The lass is still young, I wonder if she’ll be able to keep her calm.”
As the family worried, Qin Yining was being led into the palace by head eunuch Li Guanwen.
This was her first visit to the Great Zhou palace. It was a renovation of the old Northern Ji palace. Beneath its magnificent austerity was the opulence and dignity of an imperial family.
Qin Yining kept her head down and her eyes fixed on the eunuch's footsteps. They arrived at the imperial study before long.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Grandma is too adorable.