The eighth miss had a simple, honest, and cheerful disposition. She’d never thought about entering the palace. In fact, she rather felt it a frightening prospect. The girl naturally bobbed her head in agreement when she heard the old dowager’s announcement.
Qin Huining on the other hand, lowered her head demurely and cleverly kept silent.
She wasn’t pleased to let go of this opportunity, but what else could she do? In his exalted and lofty position, she wouldn't be able to reach the emperor even if she had some sort of plan in mind. All of the girls in the imperial selection were in the running because of family connections. It was impossible for her to bypass the Qins to enter.
Besides, she was just a foster girl and no true noble daughter. The family would always think of Qin Yining and Qin Baoning first. It would never be her turn.
It took the span of only a night for news of Qin Yining beating the Public Petitioner’s Drum to become public knowledge. For some reason, there seemed to be hands at work in the shadows as minute details of just how the Qin fourth miss had been taken and humiliated were also disseminated. The scene came to life with vivid clarity, as if someone had been present, recording everything.
Rumors flowed from one gossip to the next. Soon, everyone in high society learned that a Qin daughter had been carried off by the Faithful Prince of the First Rank.
Thinking of how brutal and vicious the prince had been to the old guard that had hurt his father after he conquered Northern Ji, the general public developed a deep sympathy for Miss Qin.
But who told Qin Huaiyuan to cause the death of Pang Zhongzheng with a scheme? It was only right that the crimes of the father were the sins of the daughter.
Qin Yining’s name card was naturally rejected, closing the book on the imperial selection chapter.
The fourth miss spent her days with Lian Xiaozhou and her maids. Other than greeting the old dowager every morning, she spent the rest of the time in her room, focused on needlework. She was rarely out and about.
When the second madame heard that Qin Yining was setting an example and leading her maids in embroidery everyday, she laid on the praise in front of the old dowager.
“Niece Yi is a mature one, alright. We don’t have any silver to our name now and can live only in the guest inns. Though our room and board are covered, what if someone wants to buy something? It’s not like we can request money from the Great Zhou emperor. In my view, niece Yi is doing women’s work so she help out with the family finances.”
Complex distress welled up in the old dowager’s heart. Though that girl did many things the Qin matriarch wasn’t fond of, one couldn't repudiate her grasp of the bigger picture.
The old dowager summoned all of the womenfolk in the family to do needlework as well.
Qin Huining and the eighth miss spent their days by their grandmother’s side. Qin Huining cautiously tried to pander to the old dowager, and the eighth miss was very filial as she’d lost both her birth and official mother.
With the comparison of ‘wild and intractable’ Qin Yining to more than a decade of familial relationship with Qin Huining, and the eighth miss’ biddable, straightforward cheerfulness, both girls won the old dowager’s fondness. Qin Yining actually turned into the most unwelcome out of the three granddaughters.
But the fourth miss didn’t care about this at all. She returned to her room every day after making her morning greetings.
One day, she happened to hear a venting session between the second wife’s serving girl and the second madame’s maid.
“We don’t have that many left in the family now, but the fourth miss is oh-so pampered. She has five maids serving her. The Qins aren’t as wealthy and high up as before—she shouldn’t be allowed to give herself airs like this. My own madame doesn’t have that many servants by her side.”
“Isn't that right? My mistress only has me and Xiaotao as well.”
Holding Xiaozhou’s hand, Qin Yining planted her feet and looked sideways at the two with their backs to her. She chuckled softly. “After all this fleeing for our lives, anyone who’s still alive is very fortunate. My maids are all very lucky and will naturally live a very long life. But, there will come a day when one’s good luck is used up. Don’t get too full of yourselves and turn good luck into bad.”
The two maids jumped before whipping their heads back. They saw Qin Yining, draped in a pale-green, brocade cape, standing under the covered hallway with her maids. There were no friendly looks cast at the two.
The two complainers hadn’t forgotten the methods that the fourth miss had used back in the day to keep the inner residence in order. They trembled and stammered, finding nothing to say.
“The family’s lost all of their silver and now relies on welfare for our daily meals,” sneered Bingtang. “No one’s taking anything from anyone else. But here we have someone running their mouths! If one day we have to leave the inns, the family will have to depend on the lord and our miss then. But apparently someone has no idea of death or danger? I wonder if they’ll be so principled as to not eat anything then!”
“Isn’t that right?” snickered Jiyun. “It’s like they were never taught any manners.”
The two terrified maids didn’t dare lift their heads. They huddled where they stood and trembled like quail.
Qin Yining had no interest in pointing her fingers at the second madame and wife’s staff. She took her people and left with utter indifference.
The two maids heaved long sighs of relief when they saw the fourth miss walk off into the distance; she didn't seem inclined to punish them.
Another ten days passed before the wedding of the Princess of Anyang to the Marquis of Northern Stability approached. Things in the capital took a lively turn.
As Ji Zeyu’s sworn brother, Pang Xiao naturally had to help. He became so busy that he could only slip away a few times in secret to come see Qin Yining.
Once porridge had been duly eaten for the laba rice porridge festival on the eighth day of the twelfth month, a magnificent wedding on the tenth caused a sensation in the city. Even with living in the guest inns, the crackle and pop of firecrackers as well as the enthusiastic hubbub filtered into Qin ears. Curious serving girls who snuck out for a peek came back with vivid stories.
The proceedings could be summed up with ‘unprecedented pomp and glory come out to play when a royal daughter is wed and a marquis welcomes a wife’.
Outsiders saw the grandness and prestige of the affair, but only the bride and groom knew their heart of hearts.
Li Helan wept countless of times and almost burst into tears when she saw Pang Xiao come with Ji Zeyu as part of the escort.
Ji Zeyu remained expressionless throughout the entire proceedings. His handsome face resembled an ice sculpture and looked more like he was attending a funeral than his wedding.
No one dared malign the marquis for being dissatisfied with the match. All they dared say was that he was simply too direct and stern a person.
On the day after the ceremony, Pang Xiao and Ji Zeyu got together for a round of drinking at Pang Manor. Both of them ended up uproariously drunk and Ji Zeyu didn’t even make it back to his own. He spent the night at the Pangs.
When it was time to return to the bride’s home on the third day, a bashful Li Helan greeted Li Qitian blushingly and thanked her brother for the imperial favor.
Ji Zeyu stayed behind in the study to speak with Li Qitian, while the princess headed to the imperial harem.
The empress had taken sick because of her father’s affair. When that meeting was hastily concluded, Li Helan made for the Palace of Benevolent Piety. Sobs tumbled out when she saw the empress dowager.
“The prince consort doesn’t like me at all. He went through the motions only on the night of our wedding. When I had mamas go summon him from his manor, his servants said that he was drinking with friends. With his personality, how would he have any friends? That was just an excuse to fob me off with because he didn’t want to come serve me!”
The injustice of the situation deepened her misery and she cried with absolute heartbreak on the empress dowager’s knees. Though she’d liked Pang Xiao for a very long time, Ji Zeyu had impressive military accomplishments and was uncommonly handsome. He was a man that girls flocked after, and how many could say they were immune to his smile?
Having become husband and wife, Li Helan had quite a few fantasies about life with the marquis. But Ji Zeyu was so coolly indifferent towards her—he hadn’t even kissed her when they consummated their marriage. It was like he’d just been doing what he was supposed to do for the sake of the maidenhead handkerchief… 
Of course she wouldn’t talk about the private affairs of the bedroom, but great pity for herself welled up when thinking about her less than ideal marriage.
The empress dowager was very calm. She patted Li Helan’s back until the princess stopped crying. “Don’t cry, Lan’er. I rather think that Prince Consort Ji isn’t that sort of person. Is there some misunderstanding at play? Or is it…”
A frown creased her brow as her voice turned sharp, “Does he know that you still have feelings for Pang Zhixi?”
A frisson of alarm spread through Li Helan and her expression slackened. “I… don’t think so…”
“Have you gone to find Pang Zhixi since?” The empress dowager glared sternly at her daughter.
The princess shook her head rapidly. “No, not at all. When Pang Zhixi took me back to the palace to my royal brother, he was so stern and blunt. How would I dare go to him after that?”
The empress dowager furrowed her brows and responded after a moment.
“There is no such thing as a kept secret in this world. Perhaps the prince consort has discovered something, but hasn’t said anything because he’s too used to keeping to himself. What man in the world doesn’t have his own pride? He’s a beloved of the heavens to begin with and your prince consort, but someone else fills your heart. How do you think he should face you?”
Chills gripped Li Helan’s heart—some understanding had dawned on her, but she would never suffer the indignity of conceding!
“I’m the princess and he’s my consort, so he should wait on me! If I tell him to come to my manor, he needs to wag his tail and hurry over from his! If I don’t want to see him, he needs to stay put at home. He can’t even have a bedwarmer! He’s here to serve me, am I supposed to accommodate him?”
The empress dowager poked Li Helan’s forehead hard when she heard this.
“The prince consort isn’t some ordinary namby pamby who lives off his wife! Don’t ever think of having a loving marriage if this is your attitude! You just want a slave that serves you, not a husband, so what are you complaining about him for?”
“I…” Li Helan had no good response to that. She knew what she wanted.
She wanted Pang Xiao’s love, but having married Ji Zeyu, she also liked the marquis’ handsome face. She wanted him to follow along in her wake, to dote on her and satisfy her every whim. She didn’t want him to be coldly aloof to her like this.
She also envied married couples who spent their days in happy bliss and spoke with one voice. But life was so unfair! Maybe if I keep being so unhappy with Ji Zeyu, my royal brother will take pity on me and that will mean some hope still for me and Pang Xiao…
She knew that she wanted too much, or even wanted the impossible, but she couldn’t help her wayward heart!
The empress dowager didn’t know how to educate Li Helan when she saw her daughter thus. All she could do was huff out in great exasperation.
I adore how snarky the maids have become since arriving in Great Zhou! And omg, LHL you are way too greedy for your own good. Keep this up and you'll destroy any chance you have with JZY as well!