Alarm bells rang in Li Helan’s heart, but nothing showed on her face. She blinked docilely and pouted, “Lan’er and the prince consort is a married couple. It’s all the same no matter who makes the request. Besides, doesn’t royal brother know that the prince consort is so sparing with his words it’s like his lips are glued together?”
Li Qitian flashed a smile. “Never mind. It’s not like We don’t know your temper. Your ideas come one after another. If you move into the prince consort’s manor, there might be criticism levied at him as soon as you set foot inside. You’re a princess. It won’t do for others to comment behind your back that you don’t follow the rules.”
“Royal brother.” Li Helan pulled on Li Qitian’s hand and shook it cutely. “Just show Lan’er some love! Besides, what do comments from outsider matters when it comes to Lan’er’s happiness?”
The emperor frowned slightly and peeled his sister’s hand off of his.
“Lan’er! Listen to Us!” he intoned. “Do you want people to mutter behind our backs that We are an emperor from the dirt who took Our throne with the help of farmer rebels?”
Li Helan quailed inwardly. As much as she didn’t want to accept things, she didn’t dare murmur another word in protest.
That kind of condemnation hadn’t ceased ever since Li Qitian’s revolutionaries of justice had taken Northern Ji. Though Great Zhou was now in her fourth year of establishment, and the Northern Ji officials all looked like they’d submitted, there were many who still remarked that the Zhou government was illegitimate.
Li Qitian cared most about his reputation, so he had strict standards for everything that pertained to the palace. He was deathly afraid of giving more fodder to the rumor mills.
A strange sort of sorrow welled up in the princess’ heart.
He who had doted on her the most before now no longer treated her preferences as first priority. Her royal brother’s heart was filled with too many other concerns: reputation, position, and power. All of them were more important than her; a younger sister was nothing at all.
Such were the considerations of an emperor and the grief of a princess.
Twinges of guilt assailed the emperor when he saw Li Helan lower her head piteously, not whispering another word.
He really did love his sister at the end of the day. He might be forced to use her in some aspects, but he was willing to compensate her when it came to demands he could satisfy.
“Forget it. Though you moving to the prince consort’s manor is unrealistic, We will have a few words with Ji Lan. Will that do?”
The princess started, then looked up with shining eyes.
As long as Li Qitian was still willing to compromise for her—that was a sign that she hadn’t fully lost her royal brother’s love.
“Royal brother is best to Lan’er!” A merrily beaming Li Helan shook Li Qitian’s arm. “The prince consort will naturally be willing to be closer with Lan’er as long as you give the word! Royal brother’s words are an imperial decree. If he doesn’t listen to you, you can punish him severely!”
“You silly girl.” Li Qitian tapped her forehead, amused by the antics. “So you like Prince Consort Ji that much? Didn’t you like Pang Zhixi before?”
“Nuh uh.” A blush flitted over Li Helan’s cheeks and she lowered her head bashfully. She didn’t dare say that at present, she also liked Pang Zhixi very much.
Seeing his sister thus, Li Qitian was even more certain of her feelings for Ji Zeyu.
It was no wonder, given Ji Zeyu’s looks, talent, and power. He was in no way inferior to Pang Xiao. Didn’t girls of Li Helan’s age like handsome men like Ji Zeyu the most? Since they were now husband and wife, it was understandable that her thoughts had turned to him.
However, this situation wasn’t what the emperor wished to see.
He sighed. He did have a burdened conscience when facing Li Helan, but no emotion would deter him from business at hand.
“Your Majesty, the Faithful Prince of the First Rank seeks an audience,” called in Li Guanwen from outside the doors.
Li Helan blinked, then was overcome by delightful surprise. She hadn’t had a chance to see Pang Xiao ever since that day. They had such a great shared destiny in bumping into each other here!
Observing the princess’ expression carefully, Li Qitian came to certain realizations based off of her reaction. It looked like his plan of arranging a meeting between Pang Xiao and Li Helan had been right on the money.
Otherwise, if Li Helan’s attentions were all transferred to Ji Zeyu, then his previous arrangements would’ve all been for naught!
“Show him in.” The emperor’s resonant voice echoed in the imperial study, pulling an obviously daydreaming Li Helan back from her surprise.
Eunuchs pushed open the door as soon as his command sounded.
Pang Xiao strode in quickly with impressive momentum, sporting a dark-purple, tightly cuffed-sleeve robe. A small, purple-gold crown sat in his hair. “This humble subject greets Your Majesty!”
Being naturally tall and limber, his brocade robe further offset his natural air of nobility. The pair of phoenix eyes set under sharply angled eyebrows needed only to flick a glance at Li Helan to send her into captivated infatuation.
Absence really does make the heart grow fonder! A day away feels like three seasons. Now that she’d seen Pang Xiao, any bad feelings she’d had were all swept away.
The princess abruptly came back to her senses when she heard her brother’s exhortation. She lifted her eyes and, when she met impatience hidden in her brother’s eyes, realized with a shock that her mind had wandered off again.
“What are you thinking about?” the emperor pressed. “Are you feeling unwell because you’ve caught a cold?”
“Nothing of that sort, royal brother. Lan’er is very well.” Li Helan smiled at Pang Xiao. “Big brother Pang’s robe today is very nice.”
Pang Xiao quickly raised a cupped fist salute. “This subject wouldn’t dare.”
The princess snuck a quick peek at her brother before continuing, “We grew up together. Didn’t I always call you that? Royal brother doesn’t mind. Do you, brother?”
The princess’ cutely requesting look elicited a wave of distaste in Li Qitian.
He couldn’t be bothered to investigate why Li Helan was so frivolous. He’d reached his goal, so he didn’t want to delve further into things.
Therefore, he smiled with extreme gentleness and admonished in a mild tone, “This is nonsense. How are the times now like they were before? You should be addressing Pang Zhixi as Your Highness. Not to mention, you’re already married. Ji Lan and Pang Zhixi are the best of friends. What will Ji Lan think if you call Pang Zhixi with the same name as before?”
Blushing ferociously, Li Helan didn’t have a response to that. She couldn’t help but shoot a sidelong glance at the prince to gauge his reaction.
She was afraid of seeing distaste and also afraid of seeing sheer indifference.
Naturally, she saw the latter.
Pang Xiao stood with his hands at his sides, a picture of respectful obedience. He wasn’t affected in the least by Li Helan’s words and didn’t think anything of her at all.
Her joy at seeing him was made no more by his coolly indifferent attitude.
Li Qitian knew what to do after seeing the two this way. “Lan’er, you are dismissed. We have business with the Faithful Prince of the First Rank.”
“Understood.” The princess took her leave, but not without casting some lingering looks at Pang Xiao’s lanky and handsome back before she did.
Li Qitian chuckled when the doors to the study closed. “Don’t mind that. The girl’s been spoiled rotten by the empress dowager, but there’s not a bad bone in her body.”
“Not at all. The princess is innocent and straightforward with a pure heart. What would this subject mind?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
'kay honestly... I feel like LQT would sell his own mother if that got him a scrap more power...