Vision blocked by the head covering, Qin Yining could only look down at her feet. She was helped to the edge of the bed frame and immediately felt the blankets next to her sink down.
A strong person with an extremely pronounced sense of presence took a seat next to her. Shifting her eyes over, she could see the scarlet robes and long legs that belonged to Pang Xiao.
The madame of all-encompassing fortune approached with a smile and placed Qin Yining’s skirt hem on Pang Xiao’s robes. She then reached for a tray that had a wedding steelyard lying on it, a brilliant-red true love’s knot tied on the instrument.
“Will the groom lift the head covering so that the newlyweds will be happily ever after?”
Pang Xiao compressed his lips, his handsome features completely expressionless. Only he himself knew that his hands, ones that had taken the heads of many an enemy and never hesitated, shook when holding the steelyard!
He looked at the fragile figure next to him. With slightly trembling hands, he lifted the red covering of dragons and phoenixes. Pang Xiao handed it over to the madame, along with the steelyard.
Basking in the warm glow of the brightly lit lanterns that suffused the room, Qin Yining kept her eyes trailed down. Even so, the lavish gold jewelry didn’t subtract one iota from her stunning looks.
A hushed silence fell over the room. Pang Xiao’s limber arms reached forward to sweep away the tassels dangling from the front of the phoenix coronet, pinning them on the two golden pheasants on both sides.
In an exquisitely chiseled face sat limpid windows to the soul, ornamented by a pert nose and luscious lips; the bride truly outshone anything and everything present.
The guests present to kick up a fuss at the nuptial chambers held their breaths, taking a long moment to recover themselves.
The madame of all-encompassing fortune sang out the net-casting poem. 
“Two lives do join by a hairpin of resplendent purple, clouds gather around bamboo as the moon ripples with radiance.
“Two paths kneel together as one, while scattered fruits and songs vie for plentitude.”
With every word she recited, children of the guests scattered jujubes, peanuts, longan, and lotus seeds on the newlyweds and the bridal bed behind them. The rest of the guests agitated rowdily, calling out well wishes for a fruitful union as soon as possible, growing old together, and others.
After casting away the net, the madame brought over another tray with two small, pure gold wine cups on it.
“Will the bride and groom partake in the nuptial wine cups, so that you will live happily and harmoniously until the end of time!”
Qin Yining lifted a hand to take a cup, moving away from Pang Xiao’s hand when they accidentally touched. She looked at her husband. The prince happened to be looking her way as well, having taken his cup.
Pang Xiao’s burning gaze threatened to melt his dainty bride within. Qin Yining hastily averted her eyes with some embarrassment.
Delight and fondness flooded the prince’s heart to see her thus. He reached out and entwined her arm with his.
Their faces came increasingly closer to each other until they finally drained their cups over the shoulder by each other’s cheeks.
“Yeah!” cheered the crowd.
Qin Yining put down the wine cup and looked down. The madame brought over a plate of dumplings and passed over a pair of ivory chopsticks to Qin Yining.
This part of the ceremony surprised the girl, but she docilely took the chopsticks and picked one up for a bite.
The dumplings seemed to have only been briefly dipped in hot water. The stuffing was still raw, and there was also a pocket of sweet filling yet to melt.
The Qin fourth miss frowned. “It’s raw, and there’s a sweet surprise inside.”
She looked up to meet Pang Xiao’s merry eyes.
The madame of all-encompassing fortune laughed heartily. “Did you all hear that? The princess consort said it herself, there’s to be a sweet surprise waiting in store!”
The womenfolk inside the house laughed gaily and took up the banter. “We all heard it! Sweet surprises in store? Your Highness, you have to hurry and bear a son for the prince!”
At a loss for words, Qin Yining spat out the raw dumpling skin and lowered her hotly blushing face. There seemed to be some sugar still sticking to her lips as they tasted sweet when she licked them.
“The ceremony is complete! Everyone, head on out for food and drink!” The madame ushered the crowd out, quickly leaving only Pang Xiao and Qin Yining in the bridal suite.
The two sat side-by-side on the formal bed. Not too far from them, on an eight-sided table with a scarlet tablecloth, a red candle suddenly flared with bright intensity and audibly popped with light.
Pang Xiao cleared his throat and said huskily, “My mom says that it’s auspicious if the wedding candles pop.”
“Mm.” Her head still down, Qin Yining didn’t know what to say.
“Um, eh, is your uh, phoenix coronet heavy? Why don’t I take it off for you?”
“Alright.” She looked at the prince with a smile. “My mother woke me up early this morning to wash up, change, and put on makeup. The wedding was set for night, but everything was ready by noon. The coronet is made out of solid gold, so my neck is about to snap.”
Pang Xiao rose and, in conjunction with Qin Yining’s directions, first took off the hairpins that kept the coronet in place. He then carefully lifted the headpiece with both hands, immensely afraid of tugging her hair and hurting her.
Relieved of a kilogram or two of gold and gems, Qin Yining cracked her neck and rubbed it for relief. “I wouldn’t be able to stand it if I had to wear this everyday. I didn’t dare lower my head with something so heavy on it.”
Pang Xiao smiled and sat next to her, giving her a neck and shoulder massage. The silky and tender sensation beneath his fingertips rippled emotion through his heart. He coughed and quickly retracted his hands.
“My darling. I, uh, I’m going to toast the guests.”
Looking at his expression, Qin Yining could tell what he’d been thinking of just now. She nodded with crimson cheeks. “Go on then, it would be rude to be late.”
“Alright. Oh yes, I had servants prepare food for you. I’ll have them bring it in in a moment. Take off your makeup first and rest, don’t wait up for me. Who knows what hour this group will carry on to?”
The girl nodded again.
Gazing into her soft features, Pang Xiao couldn’t help but caress her cheek. “I’m off then.”
Qin Yining didn’t dare meet his eyes; she looked down through her long lashes and nodded in lieu of a response. However, this was even more effective in setting the prince’s heart on fire.
He stumbled and tripped his way out of the bridal suite.
If he stayed a second longer, he might not be able to control himself and wouldn’t make it out to toast the guests!
Qin Yining heaved a sigh of relief with the departure of her new husband. The hunger in his eyes just a moment ago looked like he wanted to pounce on her right then and there.
When she thought of her mother reminding her to “let him do whatever he wants”, the girl’s ears burned fiercely. She clapped her hands over her cheeks to cool them down.
At this moment, a soft knock sounded at the door. It creaked open to admit Bingtang, Jiyun, Xianyun, and Qiulu. The maids walked in carrying meal boxes.
Bingtang smiled with her entrance. “The prince just gave orders to not let Your Highness tire yourself or go hungry. He wants us to serve you food first.”
“The prince cares very deeply about you, Your Highness. This chicken soup has been simmering in the attached kitchen for a very long time, all of the bones are steeped to a mush. There’s jujubes and goji in it. It’ll be very nutritious for you.” Qiulu merrily put the meal box down and ladled a portion of chicken soup for her mistress. She also set out some exquisite small plates of snacks and side dishes.
Qin Yining was indeed starving. Afraid of any bodily functions as a result of food, née Sun hadn’t given her anything to eat all day. Jiyun and Xianyun helped her out of the martial robes, put down her hair, and left Qin Yining sitting at the eight-sided table in her inner robe.
Attacking the food ravenously, Qin Yining plowed through two pieces of snacks, a few bites of some side dishes, and half a bowl of soup before finally heaving a long sigh of comfort. “Ai, I finally feel alive again.”
The four maids looked at each other, unable to suppress smiles.
Man, my neck almost cracked in sympathy when she could finally relax!