Pang Xiao raised his cup and clinked it against Ji Zeyu’s, draining it in one gulp.
Though he was on good terms with the prince consort, they were now both in situations beyond their control. They were personages that the emperor was wary of, so they had to strive to keep themselves safe.
With the upcoming affair being the wedding of him and Qin Yining, Pang Xiao didn’t dare permit any leeway for the slightest bit of negligence. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Ji Zeyu, but that he didn’t trust Li Qitian.
Though Pang Xiao constantly felt like a volcano on the verge of erupting, he kept it all inside of him and drank calmly with his brother.
Some sorrow could be glimpsed on Ji Zeyu’s stunning features. His slender brows were raised, and the emotions in his eyes exceedingly complex. However, many of his words transformed into sighs in the end.
He grasped the hemp tied to the jug and adroitly flipped it up, using his arms to steady the jug and tilt several mouthfuls into his mouth. He didn’t mind even when the alcohol splashed on his clothes.
Seeing how heartily Ji Zeyu was drinking, Pang Xiao decided to forgo his cup as well and took the jug from the prince consort. He too threw his head back and chugged a few gulps down.
With a smile, Ji Zeyu watched the prince toss mouthfuls of the spicy liquid down.
“Nice, that’s how to do it!”
The two shared the jug and had a few bites of food. Ji Zeyu called for more alcohol, but Pang Xiao shook his head. He clapped his brother’s shoulder. “Ah Lan, we can’t get drunk. There’s still things to do tomorrow. Drinking too much will delay work.”
Ji Zeyu frowned and patted the hand that Pang Xiao had on his shoulder.
“This is our life now, we can’t enjoy ourselves at all. We can’t even choose to marry someone we like, to spend the rest of our lives with someone we have feelings for. We can’t even drink to our heart’s content!”
The prince consort’s voice bore the raspiness of drinking. Though he’d drank quite a bit and was slightly tipsy, his mind was clear and he was still in control of himself.
However, he just couldn’t keep these words to himself. He too had once been filled with resignation. Pang Xiao being bestowed an imperial marriage was the path that he’d once trod.
Ji Zeyu knew that the prince must not be feeling too good about things, and it likewise weighed heavily on Pang Xiao to see his brother so abject on his behalf.
The prince consort was obviously thinking of himself and Li Helan.
However, Pang Xiao was luckier than his brother because he had a highly capable and intelligent father-in-law. The one that the emperor had bestowed upon him was the girl that he genuinely liked and hoped to spend the rest of his life together with.
Compared to Ji Zeyu and Li Helan, who appeared outwardly united but were divided at heart, the prince consort was the one to be pitied instead.
“Ah Lan, things are already very good like this,” consoled Pang Xiao with great sincerity. “You saw how things were at court today, Minister Qin’s skills are far above ordinary. He can do battle with an entire army of scholars. Perhaps my future will be more stable with such a father-in-law at my back. Plus, I do like née Qin.”
Ji Zeyu grinned radiantly, his naturally flirtatious eyes meeting Pang Xiao’s phoenix-shaped ones that glinted with a keen light.
“I know you like née Qin, and she really is a beauty of unparalleled appearance. But can you really face her with no hint of discomfort, given what happened with your father? Do you not resist this arrangement at all?”
The prince wasn’t at liberty to go into a detailed explanation and merely smiled. “I’ve already let those things go.”
His forced smile pierced Ji Zeyu’s heart more than anything. But with their current circumstances, the prince consort also knew that the more he said, the more troubles he’d be adding to his brother’s plate instead.
Life went on. Imperial edicts had to be obeyed.
“Forget it, the lofty ambitions of a man are in all corners of the world and not mired in the morass of personal relationships. None of that matters anymore since you've let it all go.” Ji Zeyu rose. “Zhixi, I’ll be taking my leave now.”
“I’ll see you out.”
“If you see me out after I came to have a drink with you, people might think we’ve struck up a clique. We’ll have a tough time explaining ourselves if this makes it into other ears.”
Pang Xiao understood his brother just fine. It was only a drink between good friends, but there would be plenty of eyes and ears to report it back to the emperor. What freedom was there to be had in their current situation?
And yet, such were their circumstances.
Pang Xiao smiled at the prince consort before darkening his expression. “Farewell, I won’t be seeing you out.”
Ji Zeyu played along. “Aren’t you busy wedding the daughter of your enemy? Don’t bother sending me out, you should go about your business.”
“You! Are you questioning His Majesty?”
“I wouldn’t dare and that’s not what I intend at all. I’m just speaking your thoughts for you!”
“Ji Lan, don’t refuse a toast only to drink a forfeit!”
“Pang Zhixi, I see your injuries are healed, huh??”
The men bickered nonstop as Pang Xiao accompanied Ji Zeyu out. The prince consort walked faster and faster, but the prince didn’t drop the matter either. The two squabbled their way to the secondary doors.
Seeing their masters arguing quite stressed out the servants of the household. Deathly afraid of another fight breaking out, they walked up placatingly to pull the two apart.
In the end, Ji Zeyu left with a tremendous flourish of his sleeves. Pang Xiao likewise returned to his study with a frosty expression.
Who knew how entertained Li Qitian would be when he heard of all this?
Currently in the Hall of Moral Cultivation, Li Qitian sat on the heated platform next to the window. White pieces in hand, he played checkers against Lu Heng wielding the black. He paid close attention to the Lu scion’s expression in between their moves.
“Sage nephew Lu, We’re sure you already know of the imperial edict of marriage between the Pangs and the Qins, no?”
Lu Heng smiled faintly to see the emperor address him with such cautious courtesy. He responded with equal politeness.
“In response to Your Majesty, this subject does indeed already know.”
Likewise assuaged to see Lu Heng display very circumspect manners, Li Qitian flashed a smile.
“We decreed marriage between the two families out of consideration for national affairs. The entire world knows of the feud of patricide between Qin Huaiyuan and Pang Xiao. One of them is a meritorious noble, and the other a surrendered official. They can be viewed as Our right hand men. We don’t wish for internal conflict to develop and more violent results to occur.
“Marriage has ever been the most effective way to tie two clans together, since the days of old. Out of consideration for the stability of court, the two families have to united in wedlock.”
Li Qitian waxed eloquent with logic. Though he retained the self-honorific and dignity of the son of heaven, it still put him greatly ill at ease to have to explain himself to an aristocratic scion.
Lu Heng merely smiled with equanimity and ignored the emperor’s expression. “Can Your Majesty really be certain that the two of them are really at odds with each other?”
The emperor’s heart skipped a beat. This response happened to jab at his deepest worries.
A strange feeling floated to the fore whenever he thought back to the process of bestowing marriage at court earlier today. But he couldn’t put his finger on just what exactly it was.
He did want to tie the two families together so that no casualties developed. Losing either Qin Huaiyuan or Pang Xiao would affect his dynasty.
However, whether this shackling was his own idea or the results of another’s scheming were two wholly different notions.
Seeing Li Qitian remain head lowered with his forehead furrowed tightly, Lu Heng looked down with a secret smile.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Aw Ji bro, you don't need to be sad. Pang Xiao is as happy as a lark!
Apologies friends, had family fly in over the weekend resulting in major family time, culminating in me getting sick from our weather seesawing between hot and cold. @@