Li Guanwen kept his eyes strictly ahead as they walked, but was inwardly assessing the girl next to him. He came to a few conclusions and judgments during the short trip.
It was no wonder that when the empress heard that née Qin had beaten the drums for imperial justice, she’d set aside the anxiety of her father being imprisoned and had ordered her most trusted, dowry mama to come investigate.
If this girl entered the palace, she would rise to the top of the harem by virtue of her looks alone. If there was a single calculating bone in her body, that would make for an unparalleled future.
Li Guanwen cautiously ever-adjusted his attitude towards the girl. As a eunuch who’d been bullied when young, he had a deep understanding of the saying ‘never torment someone simply because of their youth”.
As they climbed the gradual slope in front of the hall, he reminded the Qin fourth miss, “Please wait outside the hall, Miss Qin. This one will report to His Majesty.”
“Understood, many thanks to the gonggong.” Qin Yining responded with a polite smile.
The eunuch noted that she was neither servile nor supercilious, and polite without losing her bearing. And she was here to lodge an imperial lawsuit against that god of violence, the Faithful Prince of the First Rank!
This was no ordinary girl. I have to treat her with even more respect.
Moments after Li Guanwen entered the study, he came back out to invite the girl in. Qin Yining looked peaceful on the surface, but her nerves were highly strung.
Li Qitian was vastly different from his Great Yan counterpart. He was highly calculating and shrewd at manipulation. Any emperor who could make the particularly intelligent Pang Xiao not dare to make a move was no pushover.
To be honest, she was all a-flustered uncertainty.
But since they’d chosen this path, there was no turning back.
The very spacious imperial study had lustrous black marble tile inlaid onto the floor. Curio shelves held not valuables, but books instead. Behind the black, enormous table were bookshelves that were divided into the classics, history, philosophy, and collections of belles letres.
Li Qitian was sitting primly behind the table, dressed in a brand new, golden outfit for everyday wear. A jade ring that adorned his index finger tapped the table surface. The sound echoed crisply in the empty room.
“This subject greets Your Majesty. May Your Majesty have ten thousand years of peace and fortune.”
“You may rise.” Li Qitian’s voice was surprisingly warm.
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Qin Yining curtsied again and stood with her head down, her hands by her side.
She’d learned all of her manners from Zhan-mama, ones that had sculpted an elegant and refined manner into her. She was actually a sight more pleasing than the real princess, Li Helan.
Li Qitian remained seated, surreptitiously assessing the girl. Even heroes fall prey to beauties, alright! No wonder Pang Zhixi both loved and hated the girl, and found it impossible to forget about her.
The emperor’s voice became even more benevolent.
“Ever since the establishment of the Public Petitioner’s Drum, today was the first that it has been beaten. What’s even more surprising is that the one with the courage to pound on it is a young girl such as you. Née Qin, what colossal injustice do you bear? If it’s an insignificant matter, We will have to punish you for making a mountain out of a molehill and wasting Our time, hmm?”
Though Li Qitian’s attitude was mild, the meaning behind his words was anything but. Add to that the Qin fourth miss already being familiar with a bit of the emperor’s personality—there was a sense of pressure so overpowering that it almost took on physical form as constricting vines.
She took a deep breath in and started evenly, “In response to Your Majesty, this subject wouldn’t dare be facetious. This subject has truly suffered from a colossal injustice.
“I followed my father in traversing thousands of miles for succor under Your Majesty’s banner. Your Majesty is the definitive ruler of this age and all roads lead to Great Zhou. The entire family was delighted to think that here, there would finally be a use for father! All of our hearts clung to reaching Great Zhou so that father would have a wise liege to serve and that we could settle down in the prosperous capital.
“But we were robbed and kidnapped on our way here, my parents lost to the winds, and this subject was carried off by a villain as soon as I set foot into the city!”
Tears glistened settle in Qin Yining’s eyes at this point, but she valiantly refused to let them fall. She continued with dogged fury and humiliation. “The Faithful Prince of the First Rank cared not whether this subject was willing. He carried me off into his manor and had dishonorable… dishonorable intentions. This subject was woefully alone and had no other recourse. Last night, the prince said he’d gotten bored of me and threw me out of the manor…”
Tears finally streaked down her cheeks as she knelt and kowtowed. “How dare the Faithful Prince of the First Rank commit such lawless and godless actions at the feet of the Son of Heaven! Your Majesty, please extend the wings of justice and harshly punish the evil!”
Listening to the girl’s tearful accusation, Li Qitian arched a surprised brow.
The entire city knew that she’d been carried off back to the Pang Manor, and he knew some more details than most.
He’d once suspected the truth behind Pang Xiao and Qin Yining’s relationship, but from the spy’s reports, it seemed that the prince had a love-hate relationship with the girl. Pang Zhixi was just as likely to torment her as to treat her kindly.
Who would’ve thought that someone as highly self-regulated as him would do something so emotional, like throw the girl out in the middle of the night?
Very amused by the entertainment, Li Qitian was in a very relaxed mood. However, the same stately expression remained on his face.
“To think something like this has happened?” He shot to his feet in surprise and paced with his hands behind his back. “We had no idea this was going on.”
“This subject was locked in the Pang Manor and suffered day and night. If it wasn’t for the thought of the lifeline that was Your Majesty, I would’ve dashed my head against a wall a long time ago. There was finally a chance to make it out of the lair of the tiger! This subject wholeheartedly begs Your Majesty for justice, to right this wrong!” Qin Yining kowtowed repeatedly.
In exceedingly good spirits, Li Qitian responded gravely, “Just your side alone isn’t enough for credibility. How about this, We will summon the prince so that the two of you can confront each other in person. If this matter is verified, We will enact punishment on your behalf. How does that sound?”
The Qin fourth miss instantly understood the emperor’s intentions.
Li Qitian wanted to see with his own eyes how Pang Xiao would make a fool out of himself!
What a thoroughly disgusting person…
Though Qin Yining was furious, she had to admit that she’d reached her goal.
“This subject speaks only the truth and fears not confrontation! I am willing to face that villain!” she responded heatedly.
Li Qitian nodded and with a smile, had Li Guanwen summon Pang Xiao into the palace. He then had young eunuchs bring over a chair, tea, and snacks for Qin Yining.
The Qin fourth miss took a reserved, sideways seat on the chair, her head down as she fretted with anxiety.
Not long thereafter, Pang Xiao arrived on the back of a fast horse. He was striding into the study, following Li Guanwen, when he happened to meet Qin Yining’s eyes. The girl had jerked her head up at the sound of his footsteps.
Surprised disbelief flashed through the prince’s face, quickly replaced by fury and embarrassment.
Hatred flooded Qin Yining’s reddening eyes, but she had to keep her emotions in check because the emperor was here.
Li Qitian clandestinely observed the two of them, so amused that he wanted to break out into howls of gleeful laughter.
“Wise younger brother, do you know why We’ve summoned you here today?”
Pang Xiao bowed and responded with cupped fists. “In response to Your Majesty, your subject does not.”
“No?” Li Qitian smiled. “We had thought you would understand what’s going on when you saw the Qin miss. We ask you this, did you carry her off into your manor to dishonor her?”
Pang Xiao glowered darkly at Qin Yining. “In response to Your Majesty, this subject didn’t carry her off.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Oh my word, all the high-falutin' courtly talk with obsequious yet not-over-the-top flattery, righteous anger but keeping it the right level for QYN, and turning the narrative into showing, not telling -- absolutely broke my brain.
But I'm rather satisfied with how the chapter turned out. What do you guys think? Do you like it?