The rumors and hearsay in town had yet to make it into Qin Yining’s ears. She was currently ensconced in a jewelry shop with née Sun.
“Mother, I don’t need such a precious jewelry set at my age. I won’t be able to bring out its value even if I do wear it.”
Qin Yining pushed a silk box lined with vermilion swan down back towards her mother. Inside sparkled a full set of sixty-four exquisite, gold filigree pieces inlaid with rubies. The larger pieces ranged from pendants to tasseled hairpins, while the smaller ones covered ear studs to rings. Every ornate piece glittered in the sunlight, defining opulent magnificence itself.
“But I think it’s perfect for mother.” The girl picked up a ruby hairpin that swung with a gold and pearl tassel. She held it up to née Sun’s upswept hair with a smile. “See, perfect indeed. Mother’s skin is so fair that the ruby offsets it perfectly. Your status is also the best background for these lavish pieces.”
“Now why would I need to wear these?” Lips upturned from her daughter’s compliments, Née Sun placed the hairpin back into the box. “I want to take advantage of this time to choose a good set for your dowry. All of our valuables went missing on the trip here, and it’s not like I prepared anything good for you before.
“Your father says that he wants to hold your coming-of-age ceremony this year. We’ll be entertaining offers for your hand after that, so it’s a good idea to pick out this part of your dowry first.”
Qin Yining blushed furiously from these words. For some reason, the sight of Pang Xiao wearing scarlet robes embossed with python patterns rose in her mind. 
But when she thought of ‘entertaining offers for her hand’, some trepidation came to mind.
As a girl, she naturally had to obey the wishes of her parents and matchmaker when it came to her marriage.
She was already so close to Pang Xiao, but their relationship had yet to be approved by the old dowager and her mother. In fact, those two knew nothing at all.
Regret would fill her every day if she couldn’t marry Pang Xiao in the end.
After entertaining these thoughts for a bit, Qin Yining set her worries aside. Her father approved of their relationship! If anyone came asking for her hand in marriage, the old dowager and her mother would have to seek Qin Huaiyuan’s approval, no matter what they thought.
Thank goodness father is so open-minded!
Née Sun was in a loving mood and bought the jewelry set with her own savings. The sum was enough to marry off a regular well-off family’s daughter.
“Hide this when you get back, don’t let the old dowager or your other sisters see it. Things are tight at home right now, so they’ll criticize me for spending money like this, even if it was my own.”
“I understand, mother.” Qin Yining couldn’t help grinning.
Née Sun grabbed a finger full of her daughter’s cheeks. “Don’t you laugh at me. I’m just worried about drama. We’ll choose one of these for your coming-of-age, then wear the entire set for your wedding. It’s perfectly festive and majestic.”
The Qin fourth miss giggled upon seeing her mother in rare, merry spirit.
“You’re planning too far ahead, mom. There’s nothing on the horizon at all.”
“Pfft. Is that something we need to worry about? My daughter is so beautiful and has full support from your father. Do we fear not being able to settle on a good match?
“It’s always been a hundred houses clamoring for the hand of one girl. We’re newly arrived and can’t make a big deal of things because of what’s happened. But do you believe that if we spread the word that you’re of marriageable age, suitors will trample our doorstep flat?”
“That’s way too outrageous!” Qin Yining giggled.
Mother and daughter laughed and chatted, lifting the moods of Jin-mama, Jiyun, and Xianyun by their sides.
After picking out jewelry, the group headed to a teahouse for a room to rest in. Née Sun ordered a pot of specialty tea and a few snacks, conversing idly with her daughter all the while.
Ever since née Sun learned that Cao Yuqing was no longer Qin Huaiyuan’s concubine, it seemed to Qin Yining that her mother glowed with health. She seemed ten years younger and was much more amiable when dealing with others.
As for née Sun, she was liking her daughter increasingly so. Not only for the girl resembling a youthful Qin Huaiyuan, but also for her smarts and maturity. Though the madame was the mother, she could always find a sense of security from her daughter, like the girl could handle anything.
Mother and daughter were much closer these days.
In the midst of the affable atmosphere, Qin Yining vaguely heard strains of loud conversation from downstairs. The ‘Faithful Prince of the First Rank’ seemed to be the topic of discussion.
Also curious, née Sun looked at her daughter, who looked to Jiyun.
The guard immediately pushed open the partition window facing the hall, allowing the racket from the general area to filter in. The man who’d been speaking sounded clearly in their room.
“…that’s why I ask just how many girls is the Faithful Prince of the First Rank gonna seduce, huh? Even the eldest princess can’t forget him. What woman in the world can turn down such an outstanding man like him!”
The joke sent everyone in the hall braying with laughter, and laughing meaningfully at that.
Qin Yining arched a brow. What has Pang Zhixi and Li Helan gotten into now?
Though she was curious, she didn’t doubt Pang Xiao’s feelings for her. They’d been through so much together; she was well aware of the sincerity of his feelings for her.
However, Bingtang, Jiyun, and Xianyun grew apprehensive when they heard this. Née Sun’s face sank as well. She looked carefully at Qin Yining, deathly afraid that her daughter would recall sad affairs.
“My daughter, we’ve had a long day shopping.” The madame rose. “Let’s go back.”
“Alright.” Qin Yining smiled her assent and left in née Sun’s carriage.
Before she climbed into the vehicle, she glanced at Jingzhe by her side. The former Silver Mask quickly approached. She whispered a few words into his ear, sending him off with her orders.
After returning home, the Qin fourth miss carefully put away the jewelry they had just bought.
Bingtang observed her mistress’ face closely, whispering softly when she saw that the fourth miss wasn’t angry, “Don’t think too much, miss. His Highness isn’t someone like that.”
“That’s right.” Jiyun and Xianyun agreed when they saw that Bingtang had brought the subject up. Only Qiulu was completely befuddled, since she hadn’t gone out with them today.
Jingzhe returned at this time.
“Miss, I took a listen around outside. There’s a lot of rumors, but the main summary is that the Princess of Anyang chased after the prince, wanting to express her affections. She threw a tantrum when the prince rejected her.” He took out an envelope and offered it with both hands. “Grand Steward Zhong’s pageboy came to me with this before I returned to the manor.”
Qin Yining took it and pulled out the letter with curiosity when she saw that the envelope wasn’t addressed.
The contents were simple: four words written with the grace of soaring dragons and dancing phoenixes. The strength behind the writer bled through the paper.
‘Nothing of the sort!’
Pang Xiao had specially sent word, because he was worried that she’d think wild thoughts!
Qin Yining burst out laughing.
1. Only the emperor is allowed to use the dragon motif, so the python is the next step down. Remember, the Chinese dragon looks much like a python.
Awww. PX is so considerate. :D