The curiosity in the young madame’s eyes was very straightforward, and in fact, rather predatory. The air of pure arrogance wrapped around her eclipsed Li Helan’s, and it was apparent from her bearing that this woman had been born with a golden spoon in her mouth. She was one blessed by heaven, fortune, and luck, and had likely never known any disappointments in her life.
These thoughts ran through her head as Qin Yining alighted and curtsied to the two.
As the eldest princess, Li Helan accepted the Qin fourth miss’ greeting with natural aplomb.
However, the young madame showed equal lack of reaction. Instead of returning the curtsey, she merely lifted her forehead and looked inattentively at Qin Yining.
“I’ve long since heard that the Qin miss’ looks are beyond compare. Seeing it for myself today… she outshines even me. It really is…” Red lips made a moue, unable to find an appropriate phrase of description. The young madame still didn’t find her reaction awkward. Smiling faintly, she imparted with the air of one conferring a favor, “You may call me Madame Lu.”
This was indeed a woman with an influential family. Married woman usually took the surname of their husband.
Qin Yining looked down and responded smoothly, “Madame Lu.”
“Mm.” Madame Lu seemed quite satisfied with Qin Yining’s show of meek acceptance. A contemptuous lilt curved her lips when she took another look at the Qin girl’s plain outfit. “No wonder the Princess of Anyang always makes you out to be a stunning fairy. She’s used to exaggerating things—even someone as fragile as me is an immortal in her eyes. I was thinking we’d be running into a village girl today.
“But it seems there really are beauties such as you in this world! Even the coarseness of your dress barely conceals your comeliness. I can only imagine the sight you presented when your father had a high position in Great Yan and you wore fine silks. What a pity that I won’t ever have a chance to witness that spectacle.”
Surprised and bewildered, Qin Yining raised her eyes to look at Madame Lu. She was certain this was her first time meeting the young madame, but why did the latter’s words bristle with spears and clubs? Every one of them sought for a painful spot, and the last line especially jinxed the Qins to never come up in the world again.
This kind of conversation was unpleasant indeed.
Perhaps Madame Lu was close to the princess and thus striking out on her friend’s behalf? That was plausible.
But here they were, in the depths of the palace. Qin Yining’s status was less than the two in front of her, so she didn’t dare linger for long. They obviously weren’t going to get along, and she wasn’t so soft that she would just stay where she was and take the hits.
Therefore, she politely took her leave.
Li Helan smiled. “Alright, we can meet again next time.”
“Many thanks to Your Highness.” Qin Yining curtsied and saw through all the courtesies before climbing into the small carriage again.
Li Helan and Madame Lu stepped off to the side. When the small vehicle had travelled far into the distance,, Madame Lu spoke again, “It looks like the eldest princess sometimes misreads things as well. This girl looks like she’ll stay firmly within her boundaries. She’s so weak and passive that I can’t even muster the strength to pinch her.”
Li Helan arched a brow, but smiled gently. “Perhaps this seat really did read her wrongly. I was just thinking that someone who could mesmerize a hero like big brother Pang must have her merits.”
“Oh?” Curiosity struck the young madame as her eyes glinted. “I heard that the Faithful Prince of the First Rank carried her off back to his manor. Is that actually true?”
“That’s right, that really did happen. I was a guest at the Pang Manor a few days ago and saw her there.”
“And what was His Highness’ attitude towards her?” Madame Lu’s tone grew a bit urgent.
Li Helan chuckled. ‘You know what big brother Pang is like. But he does seem to treat her a bit differently.”
“The prince must be a man who clearly separates love and hate. He must have done that because he wants to take revenge for his father’s death.“ A flush of red tinged Madame Lu’s cheeks. “To be honest, my late husband and the prince were old friends. I met him a few times. He’s a hot-blooded, true man. He’s not the sort to be infatuated with a little girl.”
“If the madame says so, it must be so.” Li Helan smiled. “But this seat grew up with big brother Pang and we know each other best. Since young, I’ve never seen him treat any girl in such a special way.”
Irritated by Li Helan’s intimate nickname for Pang Xiao, Madame Lu lost her patience.
“Incidentally, the princess is betrothed to someone else already. Seeing that you’ve called me sister for so long, I’ll be a busybody for just a moment. You’re engaged to the Marquis of Northern Stability and will be a Ji daughter-in-law in the future. But whenever you speak of the prince, it’s big brother Pang this and big brother Pang that. What will the marquis think of that? Or is it that you haven’t given up on the prince yet?”
The last line was delivered in a flippant tone, and Madame Lu emphasized it with a soft tap of her red nail on Li Helan’s rouged cheeks.
Li Helan’s mood took a sour turn when she first thought of her aggravating marriage, then of the person who occupied her thoughts day and night. The impulse to jeer back spurred her, “This seat wouldn’t trouble big sister Lu to worry on my behalf. I hear that two new male companions have arrived at your manor, and they’re twins to boot. Though they’re equally handsome, their tempers aren't as pretty. Apparently, they refuse to serve big sister properly. You should look to your own household affairs first.”
Madame Lu didn’t feel the least bit embarrassed to be pointed out that she had her own harem. She nodded instead. “All men are the same in bed, no matter how they look. It’s just a matter of how strong they are. The new twins are too young and naive. They can’t seem to relax enough to serve a woman, so they’re very boring. They’ll need to undergo much more training before they can be of use.”
No matter how open Li Helan was, she was still an unmarried girl. She flushed beet red at hearing the madame’s response, her feelings a complex mix of embarrassment and others.
But she didn’t forget her goal.
“It sounds quite reasonable to hear big sister Lu talk about it. I wonder how many men in the world are as strong, handsome, and dashing as big brother Pang? He’s skilled in both martial and civil subjects. I really wonder what kind of girl he’ll be wedded to in the future.” Yearning suffused Li Helan’s tone.
An incessant itch was present in Madame Lu’s heart when she thought of Pang Xiao. She’d once invited him to traverse the peaks of pleasure with her, but he couldn’t be bothered to give her the time of day. After losing that amount of face, she hadn’t wanted to talk to him afterwards.
The Qin girl they’d met earlier had been carried off into his manor. Even if he’d humiliated her out of a desire for revenge, they’d surely done the deed already! To think such a sweet deal would fall into Qin’s lap, and her sincere invitation would be declined…
Madame Lu snorted and didn’t even offer a farewell before striding off.
Li Helan smirked mockingly at the young madame’s swiftly vanishing figure, quietly cursing the other for being a cheap bitch before she set off back to the Palace of Benevolent Piety.
Qin Yining had left the palace by now, but didn’t immediately return to the inns. She sat in the carriage with Bingtang, waiting in a quiet alley not too far from the palace. Jiyun was sent out to see if Pang Xiao had come out yet.
The prince didn't leave until two hours later. Jiyun led him to the carriage.
The curtains lifted to admit Pang Xiao’s easy leap. He flashed a grin. “The wait must’ve been unbearable.”
He brought with him a blast of cold air, startling the unprepared Qin Yining into a few coughs after taking a breath in.
Pang Xiao hurriedly let down the curtains and asked nervously, “Did you catch a cold after going back last night?” He placed a large hand on her forehead and relaxed when he found that she wasn’t feverish. “It’s dreadfully cold in the capital, of course you’re not used to it yet. In the north, a single water drop will freeze before it hits the ground. Things won’t be as convenient for you in the inns as they were in the manor.”
He shook his head, regret plain on his face. “If I’d known this would happen, I wouldn't have played along with you. So what if I kept you in my manor?”
Bingtang had already knowingly left the carriage by now, walking off into the distance with Jiyun and the groom.
Pang Xiao could finally enfold his girl into his arms without any reservations. He wrapped his cloak around him like a kangaroo hugging its young.
“Why don't you just go back with me?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
These two women are both gross. Ugh. Can't decide which I dislike more.