Chapter 34: First Meeting, A Fleeting Glimpse
Of course Qin Yining felt for the Tangs, but she was just a girl and her strongest support was her father. She wanted to ask him for help, but even the dumbest present could reason out that Qin Huaiyuan had known of this matter long ago. Yet he hadn’t taken any action. That was the clearest indication of his stance on the matter. The Institute of Luminous Grace had been Sun Yu’s business, would he not know of this? Sun Yu and the duchess had both decided to play dumb, what should she do?
Qin Yining thought furiously of what would happen if she too decided to ignore this matter. Qiulu realized that she had said the wrong thing when she saw her mistress’ expression darken, whereas Zhan-mama returned to her room after seeing that the mistress calm down. Only Qin Yining, Ruilan, and Qiulu were left in the yard. Qin Yining looked at the side wings and rear servant quarters, making sure that no one else was around. She suppressed her anger, letting out a slow breath, and said in a quiet voice, “This needs to be carefully planned out.”
Ruilan could hear the beginnings of something in Qin Yining’s tone and anxiously asked , “Miss, the matter involves the Prince of Ning. What can you do as a girl still living at home? How about you just ignore it?”
“Miss, this servant spoke too quickly just now and didn’t think things through.” Qiulu bit her lip and knelt down. “You really shouldn’t get involved in this, please don’t be affected by me.”
Qin Yining shook her head and helped Qiulu to her feet. Her gaze was steady, her eyes twinkling in the lantern light as she spoke. “It would’ve been one thing had I stayed unaware of this, but now that I know of it, I have to do something to help. I can’t guarantee that I can save her, but I’ll never live with myself if I don’t even try.”
“Miss, having one less matter to worry over is preferable to one more. Why don’t you…”
“Ruilan, my foster mother picked me up from the side of a creek. If she’d had a similar mentality, she too would’ve left behind one less matter to worry about and refused to take me in. But then, I’d be long dead. How would I be able to stand here and talk to you?” Qin Yining’s eyes shone, as though they contained the celestial brilliance of the heavens. “Although I’ve led a hard life, I daren’t forget what my foster mother told me. There are some morals that we can never throw away. If I do nothing, then Miss Tang’s future is definitely ruined, and Steward Zhong’s family will likely become the target of crazed revenge from the Clearists.”
She snorted coldly. “Those Clearists daren’t find the prince, nor risk taking on the owner of the Institute. They can only vent their anger on a steward. Steward Zhong hasn’t done anything wrong, and his family is innocent as well. This matter involves a young girl’s future and a family of innocents. How could I possibly pretend I know nothing?”
“But miss, what can you do?” Ruilan was quite moved by her mistress’ words, but her worry for her mistress kept rising above it all.
Qin Yining shook her head. “I can’t ask my father for help in this. I can only do my best and leave the rest up to the heavens. Even if I can’t save them, I’ll have tried my best.”
Qiulu felt a wave of heroism rise after hearing her mistress’ decision and nodded heavily. “Please tell me what you’d like me to do, miss!”
A chuckle slipped out from Qin Yining, her sparkling teeth as beautiful as white porcelain in the moonlight. “Just do your duties well, you aren’t able to do anything else.”
“Miss, no matter what you do, the lord and old dowager won’t let you off easy if they learn of it.” Ruilan was still a bit worried. “Things would become very bad for you then! You’ve finally gotten to this point since returning to the manor, you should consider your next steps carefully.”
Qin Yining knew that Ruilan’s cautiousness came from her worry for her mistress. She smiled back gratefully. “What’s the worst they can do to me? Even if they want to break my bones, I’m still my father’s daughter. I’ve made it through much tougher days. They won’t beat to me to death out of considerations of face, right? At worst, I’ll go back to the mountains and collect firewood, pick herbs, and be a barbarian.”
Her self-deprecating humor was quite dashing and it stirred up valiant emotions in the two maids by her side. But who could’ve imagined that a low male voice would travel into their ears right then—
Startled, Qin Yining hastily pulled her two maids backwards, but didn’t dare make a big scene. She still had a reputation to protect. She could only hiss into the darkness, “Who’s there?!”
A well muscled young man on the roof silently clapped his hand to his face. Next to him, another young man’s eyes widened in surprise. My dear prince, why didn’t you control yourself!?
These two mysterious strangers were Prince Pang, the nightmarish specter of all Great Yan citizens, and his guard Huzi  coincidentally here on a late night excursion to the prime minister’s manor. Pang Xiao remained frozen for merely a second before he dropped into the yard to appear in front of Qin Yining, not bothering to conceal his features. Huzi was even more taken aback by his master’s actions and didn’t recover even as he saw his master reach for Qin Yining’s face with lightning speed.
The Qin fourth miss and her maids only had time to gasp in shock. Qin Yining shut her eyes tight in instinctive fear. But for a moment, nothing happened. Then her hair loosened as a coiled lock unwound to her shoulders. A large, rough hand grazed her cheek as it drew back. She could feel the calluses on the fingertips and palm gently caress her face. The dry, warm palm was slightly scratchy, paining her slightly. Was she being teased?!
Qin Yining exclaimed softly and instinctively kicked out with fists and legs, but she struck nothing but air. When she focused her eyes again, there was no young man in front of her anymore. The tall figure had already hopped the wall, leaving low, delighted laughter ringing on the breeze.
The yard fell silent after the laughter faded. The moon hung high in the sky, the lanterns swayed in the breeze, and the shadows from the bamboo forest still waved on the ground. It was as if everything just now had been an illusion.
“Miss, what’s wrong?!” Zhan-mama, Zhu-mama, Liuya and the others all ran out with lanterns when they heard the disturbance. They approached anxiously when they saw Qin Yining staring off into space with her two maids by her side. “What happened, miss? Did you turn your ankle?”
Qin Yining shook her head, still unsettled. “N-no. I… almost fell just now and got a fright."
Ruilan and Qiulu also immediately understood how important this matter was! A lecherous bandit had stolen into the manor, approached the miss and stroked her face! How would the miss lift her head in front of others if word of this got out? Therefore, both of them asserted quite firmly that the fourth miss had just tripped a moment ago.
Zhu-mama breathed a sigh of relief. “As long as you’re alright. Miss, it’s cold. Why don’t you come inside?”
Zhan-mama didn’t suspect a thing either. “You should walk around in the day if you desire some air, miss. Don’t stay here like this. You’ll catch a cold.”
The group of servants clustered around Qin Yining and went inside.
Meanwhile, outside the courtyard, Huzi was staring incredulously at his master. In his mind, his master had always been the stern type who would never once put away his powerful aura or crack a smile. The look in his eyes was always cuttingly sharp, and he stayed very cold towards everyone. He was extremely cautious, but flew into action boldly and decisively when the time called for it. He was brash when he needed to be, and aloof when appropriate. But in his private life, it was rare to see anything other than a composed and calm man. And yet, what’d happened tonight completely shattered Huzi’s impression of his master!
His Highness is holding a hairpin, right? He also seemed to remember the prince stroking the girl’s face….
His domineering and arrogant prince, one who didn’t even blink when slaughtering enemies, had hopped into a girl’s courtyard late at night, stolen a hairpin, and exhibited perfectly thuggish behavior! It wasn’t that Huzi’s eyes had gone blind, but that the world was turned upside down!
Pang Xiao was staring expressionlessly at the hairpin in his hand. Made of translucent jade, the head was delicately engraved with three flower buds surrounding a crabapple flower in full bloom. It was small and exquisite, and the hair it had come from a lustrous black. The hairpin had glimmered in her hair, but it had been overshadowed by her sparkling eyes and the flash of her smile. He didn’t know what’d overcome him either.
The hand holding the hairpin still seemed to be burning.
Her face was so smooth!
The expression of her closed eyes when she was scared was so cute!
And those small, juicy looking lips…
What in blazing hell! Pang Xiao tucked the hairpin safely in his clothes and strode off quickly with his customary dark expression.
Huzi trotted quickly after him. “Your Highness, the horses have been readied. When do we leave?”
“That’s just as well, the elder madame and dowager madame have been invited into the palace. We must hurry back to Xihua City to prevent any changes.”
“Your Highness, you, you actually like Miss Qin, don’t you?”
“Be quiet. Make haste.”
Back in her room, Qin Yining was currently staring blankly at a spot of light cast onto her bed curtains. Who was that just now? Her hairpin had been taken. If the person had ill intentions and had taken that as proof of private relations, her reputation would be utterly ruined.
And he’d stroked her face.
She still felt her face burning where he’d touched her. She could still feel the brush of calluses on the man’s palm. Most likely, he did hard labor or wielded weapons often. She actually hadn’t gotten a clear look at him because he’d kept the light behind him. She only knew that he was tall and limber. She reached his shoulder, and if he’d really wanted to kill her, he probably could’ve snapped her neck with one hand.
And yet, she hadn’t felt a trace of hostility or murderous intent.
She’d hunted for many years and was quite sensitive to either. If the man had had the slightest intention of harming her, she would’ve felt something as soon as the first malicious look locked on her. So why had he suddenly appeared in her yard, and how much of her words had he heard? Would matters now develop in an uncontrollable direction? Qin Yining felt extremely troubled and tossed and turned irritably in bed.
Ruilan was sleeping on a mattress outside the bed curtains and heard her mistress move. She sleepily rose, pulling a robe towards her as she asked, “Are you alright, miss?”
“I’m fine.” Qin Yining sighed. “What happened today will not be spoken of.”
“This servant understands. I won’t say anything.”
Qin Yining closed her eyes. “Let’s sleep.” And thus, they both fell into a dreamless sleep.
The next morning, Qin Yining made her morning greetings to née Sun and the old dowager as usual and added, “I will be taking a tour of the Institute’s stores today. Steward Zhong has said he’ll show the books to me.”
The old dowager told her to take a few more people with her before giving her approval. Qin Yining returned to her courtyard to put on full makeup and left with Qiulu and Ruilan. She met up with Steward Zhong in one of the Institute’s taverns. As Steward Zhong effusively expressed his gratitude, they commandeered a carriage and a few guards. Their first destination... was the Prince of Ning Manor.