To be frank, he’d made his speculations completely without basis. It was entirely fabricated to put Li Qitian in a bad mood.
Seeing even that wily old fox change expressions, Lu Heng’s unhappiness at not being able to wed Qin Yining abated ever so slightly.
The emperor knew full well what had occurred in the Palace of Benevolent Piety, but he’d chosen to favor Pang Xiao and bestow the Qin fourth miss to that brute! The Lu second master had been both irate and regretful to the point where he lost sleep.
He’d never once thought that a vaunted, direct descendent of the Lu clan would have something they weren’t able to obtain!
Honestly speaking, he didn’t know why he cared so much about Qin Yining either. The girl didn’t treat him that warmly, and had in fact previously schemed against him.
But her intelligence made him look at her in a new light, made him admire and respect her, made him feel the thrill of something new and exciting.
Such extraordinary looks and uncommon intelligence wasn’t something easily found in a woman. If he merely wanted to find a random beauty to carry on the family name, he wouldn’t need to make a big production of it at all. There were plenty of families in town willing to offer their daughters to him.
And yet, he cared for none of them, while the only one who moved his heart was to marry someone else.
Lu Heng’s dejection grew even deeper when he glanced at the ferociously frowning emperor. The Lu second master won two bouts of checkers in a row before working off some of his ill temper and surreptitiously threw the third game.
Li Qitian had been bummed enough at not being able to get a full handle on Qin Huaiyuan and Pang Xiao’s motives; being trounced two games in a row put him in an even more sour mood.
Thankfully he won in the end, easing much of his bad mood.
And so the two each nursed their own machinations. When playing checkers grew tiring, Lu Heng took his leave.
As he left the palace, he bumped into the Princess of Anyang, Li Helan.
The princess wore today a brocade robe of scarlet fabric, and had chosen a hairstyle of locks piled up high on her head. A golden tassel hairpin with a phoenix body sparkled vigorously beneath the warm sunshine, echoing her red palace outfit. The color combination was rather garish to the eye, and in fact, irritating on this mild-weather day.
Particularly hard on the eyes was the princess’ expression and her two, puffy eyes.
Lu Heng bowed to Li Helan.
Such was the Lu scion’s innate bearing that, even upon greeting others, he didn’t project lower status. Rather, one received the impression that he bowed despite his high position because he understood displaying manners and showing respect.
A bit discomfited, Li Helan prayed that no one would notice her puffy eyes. She responded indifferently, “You may rise.”
Lu Heng smiled, “Did Your Highness not have a restful night? Your eyes are swollen. You should take better care of yourself.”
The princess’ muscles locked up as she fixed her eyes on Lu Heng for a long while before confirming that he meant no sarcasm.
“This seat knows.” Li Helan waved a hand that was paired with a dark expression before leaving quickly with her servants.
The sight greatly amused Lu Heng. Brother and sister are royals raised from the dirt, alright. They probably don’t even know what a real imperial clan should look like!
The Lus had supported them out of consideration for clan stability and future prospects. But the imperial family seemed to be getting out of hand these days, refusing to dance to the Lu tune and even showing signs of backstabbing.
As a direct, lineal descendent of the house, Lu Heng naturally had to take this into account.
“Forget it.” His mind was as confused as a tangled skein. A disheartening weight bore down on his chest whenever he recalled that Qin Yining was to wed Pang Xiao. He didn’t have much thought to spare for actual clan business.
Qin Yining had no idea at all that a singular imperial edict would elicit so many reactions.
Currently, the family was preparing for her coming-of-age ceremony.
“For the guest of honor, the lord has said that he’s already invited the old madame of the Marquis of Anchang. The old madame has a daughter and a son. She and the old marquis are deeply in love, and both are hale and hearty. This is an old madame with great fortune and virtue.” Née Sun basked in shared glory when she spoke of this.
They had only just arrived in town, after all, but was being accorded so much respect at court. It wasn’t just anyone’s daughter who could afford to have the old marquis’ wife come be the guest of honor.
“As for the host and assistant, we happen to have two girls at home. Daughter Hui can be the host, and the eighth niece as the assistant. How about it?”
“That’s naturally for the best.” The eighth miss nodded with a smile.
Qin Huaiyuan also squeezed out a smile. “That would be our honor.”
She’d accepted her lot in life now. Comparisons were impossible. Her erstwhile rival was to be a princess consort now, but there was yet to be an inkling of a hint of her own future. Qin Huining absolutely lacked the self-assurance to fight the fourth miss.
Seeing that everything was proceeding in an orderly fashion and that there was no place for her to interject, Qin Yining decided to not say much and sit quietly off to the side.
She watched her mother take care of everything for her; the feeling of being able to rely on one’s mother was an exceedingly satisfying one. It was also something completely unthinkable a year ago.
Née Sun hadn’t even wanted to see her then, but now they enjoyed a close and intimate relationship.
She was to be married next month! With such a rushed timeline, the fourth miss was already starting to miss her family.
The coming-of-age ceremony was held the next day.
As low profile as ever, Qin Huaiyuan didn’t invite too many to attend. However, Yuchi Yan showed up with Li Yanyan and Gu Chang, gifting Qin Yining a jade hairpin sparkling with a phoenix made of gold filigree.
The commandery prince had lost some more weight and further white lightened his temples. When he saw Qin Yining’s hair coiled up into a bun and a hairpin placed into it, the look in his eyes deepened and grew far.
He didn’t stay long at the Qins, taking his leave after observing the ceremony. Qin Huaiyuan personally saw his former liege out.
Before setting foot out of the front doors, Yuchi Yan looked back into the yard, happening to meet Qin Yining turning her head back as well.
Her inky black locks gleamed in the sunlight, and the hairpin in her hair was the one he’d just gifted her.
Their eyes met, she offered a slight smile. Her dimples hovered on the edge of existence; her entire being as beautiful as a painting.
Yuchi Yan’s eyes burned hotly and the corners of his mouth trembled. He looked stiffly away and walked off with large strides, so bedraggled that it seemed someone was chasing him.
His wife and concubine looked at his forlorn figure, anguish wracking their hearts.
Qin Huaiyuan was the same as always, showing utmost courtesy to Yuchi Yan and even following the carriage out to the street corner.
Once Qin Yining completed her coming-of-age, the house elders began to discuss the particulars of the wedding with those of the Faithful Prince of the First Rank.
Meanwhile, the bride-to-be was cooped up in her room, working on her embroidery.
Three days later, when preparations were hotly underway, an unexpected visitor showed up at the Qins.
“Master Qin!” Yuchi Yan’s trusted bodyservant, the eunuch Little Lu, thumped to his knees as soon as he saw the minister. He kowtowed multiple times. “Please help, Master Qin! Please save His Highness! This humble one begs of you!”
“Lu-gonggong, please rise. What’s going on?” Qin Huaiyuan helped the eunuch up with both hands.
Little Lu sported puffy eyes as he sniffled, “Master Qin, the emperor summoned the prince and his household to the palace three days ago and forbade any servants from accompanying them. There hasn’t been any news since, no one knows if he’s dead or alive!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Something interesting to note for the coming-of-age ceremony is that it's a hairpin ceremony for the girls, in which their hair is put up, and a capping ceremony for the boys, in which an inner and outer cap are placed on top of coiled hair.