Standing beneath the covered hallway with his hands behind his back, Qin Huaiyuan smiled faintly to see the hidden guards adore Qin Yining so much.
He didn’t fault his daughter for taking action without discussing things over with him first. On the contrary, he felt that the girl’s stratagem and resourcefulness were becoming ever more mature. Such a way that attained two objectives with a single move wasn’t something that would occur to just anyone.
Cao Yuqing stood next to the Qin patriarch and also grinned when she saw the man’s smiling profile. “The pupil has outdone the master. You have your heir, milord.”
“Indeed.” Qin Huaiyuan inclined his head. Though it was regretful that he didn’t have a son, what more could he wish for these days?
When it came to looks, talent, courage, wit, loyalty, empathy, sensitivity to politics, and brilliantly pinpointing the crux of a problem—his daughter had it all!
Such a wonderful and filial daughter left those good-for-nothing noble scions so far behind her that they ate dust in her wake! What was there to be proud of in birthing sons like that? Show some real skill and raise a smart and beautiful daughter instead!
Qin Huaiyuan involuntarily broke out in hearty laughter and walked towards the old dowager and others who’d come out to welcome him.
“Old Dowager, look, I told you that the lord would be just fine. His Majesty values the lord very much so.” The second madame teased her mother-in-law as she supported the Qin matriarch’s arm.
A beaming smile spread over the old dowager’s face; she tugged on Qin Huaiyuan’s arm.
“The next time the emperor sends you out on a task, make sure you send word of it back home. Don’t let your old mother worry for nothing.”
“Understood, mother.” Qin Huaiyuan smiled with comforting ease. “We’ve finally gained a proper foothold now and won’t have to worry about much as long as we keep to our places and live out our days peacefully.”
“Really?” The old dowager gripped Qin Huaiyuan’s arm with delighted surprise.
Guilt and anguish washed over Qin Huaiyuan to see his elderly mother this way. “Naturally, as long as we keep to ourselves and don’t make any trouble.”
“That’s good, that’s good.” The old dowager nodded merrily and had Qin-mama tell the servants to prepare food.
After a reunion meal with the family, Qin Yining fell fast asleep after washing up.
A sound at the rear window startled Jiyun awake in the midst of her night watch. She whipped her head around to see Pang Xiao walk out from the washroom behind the bed.
The guard snickered to herself. After all these days, it was about time that His Highness came! She curtsied with a smile and left the room with a quiet opening of the door.
Pang Xiao took a seat on the side of Qin Yining’s bed, looking down at her through the light of lamp that cast off the warm hues of dusk.
The girl was on her side, her immaculate cheek pressed into a pillow indistinct under the candlelight. Her lips were slightly parted, revealing two larger front teeth. Her long hair scattered over the pillow made her palm-sized face appear even smaller. The shadows cast by her long lashes appeared as two fans on her cheeks.
The prince softly rubbed her cheek with his index finger. Qin Yining frowned and murmured a noise of complaint, shifting her face out of the way.
Pang Xiao huffed softly with laughter and drew close to kiss her on the cheek. Several days of utter exhaustion had landed Qin Yining in a state of extreme weariness. She would’ve woken up on any other day, but showed no signs of stirring today. A frown still crossing her forehead, she grunted softly before slipping even deeper into sleep.
The prince didn’t wake her and remained sitting quietly beside her. He’d occasionally twirl a strand of her long hair or lie on his side next to the bed frame if he got tired.
As the night dragged on, he kissed her again, this time on the lips.
“I’ll be leaving now. I’ll come see you next time,” he whispered.
Qin Yining’s even breathing was her only response. Pang Xiao chuckled once more before taking his leave out the window.
When the girl rose the next morning to wash up, she found multiple squiggly little braids on her head. When she yawned, she happened to meet Jiyun’s teasing look.
“What is it?” Qin Yining took the lake salt to brush her teeth.
Jiyun was ready off to the side with a handkerchief and whispered, “The braids on your head are the prince’s artwork.”
Qin Yining jumped and muttered, “What?”
“You were sleeping so deeply last night that the prince didn’t wake you when he came. He sat next to you to watch you sleep. Maybe he played with your hair because he was bored, but you didn’t respond even after he braided so many of them.”
The fourth miss didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Why didn’t you wake me up?”
“This servant naturally had to retreat when His Highness came. You should ask him why he didn’t wake you up.”
Qin Yining blushed deeply and rolled her eyes at Jiyun. “You must’ve picked up some bad habits after spending all that time with Bingtang. You’re becoming ever more sharp-tongued!”
Jiyun chuckled even more happily to see her mistress embarrassed like this.
In great spirits because one enormous trouble had been taken care of, Qin Yining wanted to carve some time out to discuss business with Steward Zhong. But just as she changed clothes, a servant called out loudly from outside. “Fourth Miss, the senior madame urgently requests your presence in the front hall.”
The girl blinked and adjusted the jade hairpin in her hair. She pushed open the door to ask, “What does my mother need from me?”
“In response to the miss, a mama’s just arrived from the palace with a decree from the empress dowager. The imperial majesty wishes to see the senior madame.”
Anxiety gripped Qin Yining. How come she hadn’t heard anything about this??
Quickening her footsteps as she was deathly afraid her mother would come off worse in the exchange, she reached the front hall to see née Sun conversing with a forty-some year old granny servant clad in the uniform of a palace servant.
The mama curtsied when she saw the girl enter the hall. “Greetings and good health to Miss Qin. This servant is surnamed Chen and serves the empress dowager. Her Imperial Majesty would like to invite Madame and Miss Qin into the palace for a visit.”
Though bafflement gripped her, Qin Yining maintained a look of startled flattery. “A summons from the empress dowager! We, we haven’t prepared for this and are worried we’ll offend Her Imperial Majesty.”
Chen-mama smiled. “You jest, Miss Qin. Her Imperial Majesty knows that Master Qin is His Majesty’s right hand man. She’s been seeking an opportunity to meet you. It so happens that the various aristocratic womenfolk are entering the palace today to make their greetings. The empress dowager had this servant come to invite you and Madame Qin. There is really no need to be nervous.”
It was impossible not to be nervous! Née Sun was so high strung that the palms of her hands were slick with sweat. She really wanted to say that since Qin Huaiyuan was still at morning court, they had to wait for his return to make such a decision. But that remained unsaid, even she knew that voicing such words would be inappropriate.
Qin Yining had regained her composure by now. No matter what the empress dowager wanted to do, she wouldn’t demand their lives at the end of the day. Since their survival wasn’t in doubt, nothing else mattered all that much.
“Then our thanks to Chen-mama.”
“Not at all.” The granny servant smiled to see Qin Yining accept so readily. “The carriage is ready, set specifically by Her Imperial Majesty to receive you. Will you come this way with me?”
“Of course.” Qin Yining agreed amiably and turned back to Jiyun “Go tell the old dowager of this.” She left with Jiyun and Bingtang, helping née Sun out the door in the palace servant’s wake.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
I LOVE how Qin Huaiyuan was like, "You guys got sons? You ain't got nothing on my girl!"