The waiting maid was one with delicate and pretty looks. She wore a downy pink, sleeveless tunic dress adorned with white, wispy fur around the openings. A jade-green cotton jacket peeked out from beneath it, presenting a clean-cut and graceful sight.
Qin Yining guessed this must be a trusted head maid at Madame Lu’s side.
“Thank you for your troubles.” She nodded with a slight smile and, with Jiyun and Xianyun’s help, stepped onto a wooden footstool to alight.
The Qin fourth miss was wearing a snow-white fur coat that was paired with a sky-blue vest top and an ivory eight-panel skirt. Her outfit was as elegant as an orchid, but given how stunning her looks were, even the plainest of clothes would do nothing to undercut her beauty.
The maid blanked for a second after catching a close look and quickly curtsied.
“No wonder the madame always says that the miss’ beauty is worth cities. Now that this servant has seen it for herself today, you are as remarkable as the shining moon!”
Flicking her skirt into order, Qin Yining smiled faintly. “His Majesty is as striking as the brilliant sun while the empress is as the shining moon. The sun and moon naturally reflect each other’s radiance. I am but a flickering candlelight and completely unworthy of such praise.”
The maid broke out in a cold sweat.
This Miss Qin is the daughter of the famous Qin Huaiyuan alright! She’s way too perceptive and cautious!
The maid actually hadn’t meant anything by her words. It’d been a sincere, heartfelt compliment to curry favor. But the fourth miss’ words made it seem like she’d misspoken.
The servant no longer dare tarry and showed the visitors into the manor.
Once into the manor proper of the Marquis of Valiant Faith, Qin Yining discovered that there was not a single person of an older age in the hallways. All the maids were young and pretty, and all the pageboys were handsome.
Some understanding descended when the girl thought of the rumors swirling around Madame Lu and the marchioness’ own beauty.
They travelled through the hallways to arrive at a main hall where two pageboys clad in blue were standing guard.
Qin Yining frowned slightly. What kind of banquet is this? If only ladies had been invited, why were there pageboys on duty here?
She stepped through the doors without a flicker of expression, handing off her coat to Xianyun and indicating for the maid to wait outside with a flick of her eyes. Taking only Jiyun and following her guide, they circled past a lazurite room divider to arrive at a spacious and warm lobby.
Crimson carpets from Persia lined the floor while braziers sat on the floor, wafting lily fragrance into the air. The light, sweet perfume snaked into noses.
There was an ornate bench  at the head seat, upon which Madame Lu and the Princess of Anyang were already seated upon. Two chairs each were set up off to the side, with three of them taken by young ladies. The empty seat on the left was plainly for the Qin fourth miss.
Qin Yining collected herself and walked up to make an amiable curtsey to the Princess of Anyang.
“Greetings to Your Highness.”
Used to the opulence and jewelry festooned of outfits the ladies, Li Helan narrowed her eyes slightly when she saw a simply attired Qin Yining, who nevertheless still presented a stunning sight.
She only lost her composure for a split second before responding benignly, “So little sister Qin is here. There’s no need to stand on ceremony. Big sister Lu is the host today.”
Qin Yining turned to curtsey to Madame Lu. “This little girl is newly come to the city. My deepest appreciation for Madame Lu’s generous hospitality. I am truly grateful to be invited today.”
Madame Lu only responded with a faint noise in her throat and pointed at the empty seat on her left. “Come have a seat. There are no outsiders present today. Little sister Qin’s only recently arrived in the capital. There must be plenty that you’re unfamiliar with. This is a gathering of sisters so we can all get to know each other.”
“Understood. Many thanks, Madame Lu.” Qin Yining took a seat in the empty chair.
Madame Lu cheerily introduced the three others to her.
The one around thirty years old with a well-rounded body was Madame Lu’s older sister of the same parents. Her husband was a merchant with a surname Cu, so everyone called her Cui née Lu.
A young woman in her twenties with a gloomy air and delicate features was Madame Cai. She’d been widowed for many years.
The youngest one was Madame Lu’s concubine-born younger sister. Since her name wasn’t given, Qin Yining privately called her Little née Lu.
Given that the participants today were Madame Lu’s blood sister, concubine-born younger sister, the Princess of Anyang, and a Madame Cai, Qin Yining could tell that the banquet today had likely been thrown because the family side branch that Madame Lu belonged to wanted to make a friendly overture to the Qins.
Even if the two parties didn’t know if they would be on opposing sides in the future, a gesture like this was very necessary. It was highly likely that the Lus had already made their plans with regards to Qin Huaiyuan.
Madame Lu began with a smile. “I invited younger sister Qin today because for one, I wanted to introduce you to my friends. Secondly, I feel that younger sister has weathered a bumpy road in life. Given the level of our looks, you and I walk the same path. I feel the desire to become good friends with you.” Her tone was a marked difference from the unsheathed swords and drawn daggers of last time.
“That’s right.” Cui née Lu nodded with a smile. “I’d thought that girls with my younger sister and the princess’ looks are few and far in between. But seeing younger sister Qin today helps me understand why the Faithful Prince of the First Rank is so enamored with you. Even I melt at the sight of you, much less a man!”
That sounds… weird? Wrong? I don’t know. Since she didn’t know these people too well, Qin Yining only smiled in return.
Madame Lu arched a brow with her smile and clapped her flawless hands three times.
Refined music drifted in in the next moment.
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This feels like a red wedding...
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