Qin Yining headed to the outer residence, stopping when she reached the study’s courtyard entrance to leave Jiyun on watch. She entered the gate and passed through the covered hallway to the main residence.
Guarding the gate, Huzi bowed as soon as he spotted the princess consort.
“Here you are, Your Highness! Allow me notify the prince of your arrival.”
“Many thanks, Huzi.”
“Your Highness is too courteous.” Huzi scratched his head before hurrying in.
The door to the study soon shoved open. Pang Xiao strode forward with long strides, the sharp glint in his phoenix-shaped eyes immediately supplanted by tenderness when he saw her.
Qin Yining nodded.
“Come with me. Father-in-law swung by to visit us on the quiet. It’s best that we keep his visit to ourselves. I was thinking it’s just as well if I speak to him alone if you were still asleep. It’s even better now that you’re up. We can put our heads together.” Pang Xiao took ahold of Qin Yining’s hand and whispered an explanation in her ears.
Qin Yining smiled. “I see.”
Huzi shut the gate after the couple’s entrance into the main house. He retreated to a far corner to keep watch.
Wearing a pale-blue, round-necked straight robe, the Qin patriarch sat on a corner of the heated platform by the window.
“Father.” Qin Yining curtsied to the Qin patriarch with great respect.
Qin Huaiyuan smiled. “There you are. Have a seat.”
The couple moved two rounded, intricately carved stools to sit opposite the Qin patriarch. Pang Xiao thoughtfully placed a thick brocade cushion atop his wife’s.
Worrying her lip, Qin Yining was about to flee in panic and embarrassment. It really wasn’t all that comfortable for her to sit down at the moment, but her husband’s blatant consideration of her wellbeing was rather embarrassing.
Yet Qin Huaiyuan seemed oblivious to the subtle display in front of him. He merely smiled at his son-in-law with great satisfaction. The reaction both moved and flustered his daughter.
After everyone was seated, Pang Xiao asked with great poise, “Father-in-law, you mentioned just now that the commandery prince might have tips on the whereabouts of the treasure, which was why he volunteered to go. Can there be a mistake?”
“No,” Qin Huaiyuan replied gently. “Of late, the commandery prince has been in unusually frequent contact with his concubine née Gu. You are both aware whose granddaughter née Gu is.”
Qin Yining said, “Old Master Gu knows the location of the treasure. Perhaps he was relaying a message to the commandery prince through his granddaughter. The note found in the first treasure location felt like it had Old Master Gu’s signature all over it.”
Qin Huaiyuan nodded with approval. “You’re right, and I’m on the same page with you about that. Gu Shixiong’s a seasoned imperial official and cunning, sure, but he also has an obstinate side. He’s not one for bending the rules, nor is he necessarily concerned with the survival and wellness of the people. He cares far more about the legacy and the bloodline of Great Yan. So he’s certainly preoccupied with restoring our former nation.”
“There’s quite a number of people like Old Master Gu.” Pang Xiao picked up the conversation. “Yet many of them are incompetent. For those who are able, they’re lacking in connections. Those who are both competent and resourceful aren’t on the same page as Old Master Gu.”
“Precisely, like me for example.” Qin Huaiyuan grinned. “I’m done with all of the strife and worry. A fire in the city gates spells calamity for all fish in the moat. It’s always the humble people who suffer the most. Even without the war; drought, floods, or the earth dragon turning over is sufficient enough to despair everyone. There’s also a myriad of heavy taxes being levied. It’s extremely unwise to stir up more trouble merely for asserting one’s personal convictions.”
Pang Xiao couldn’t resist laughing. “So there goes the adage that like-minded people marry each other. I’m with father-in-law in this.”
Qin Huaiyuan smiled. “Indeed. I’ve long pegged you as an honest and magnanimous sort. Despite the vice of murder that’s stained your hands, you actually saved tens of thousands by killing just one. Many dub you as some sort of violent god of slaughter, saying that you’re stained with the sins of murder, that you’re going to meet a terrible end. But I think otherwise.
“There’s a Buddhist saying that goes, ‘if I don’t descend into hell, who will?’ You’re that chosen one to bear the stigma of rampages for the protection and safety of millions. How can someone like you not be rewarded?”
Pang Xiao’s face flamed with his father-in-law’s praise, but his heart was warmed with content. He’d never given what he did much thought. He simply followed what his heart told him to do.
Qin Yining smiled with delight to see her father and husband get on famously.
“Father, we’ll keep close tabs on the commandery prince.”
“Mm. Zhixi told me just now that you’ve made arrangements as well?”
“I have. I’m to meet with Azure Justice and Madame Cao. I’d like to make some more arrangements prior to our departure. But the Silver Masks are being watched by the emperor, it’d raise eyebrows if I went to see Madame Cao. It’d be better yet if father can deliver a message for me.”
“That’s just as well. What do you have in mind?”
Qin Yining smiled. “Sixteen Silver Masks are stationed in the capital and eight are posted outside. I want to ask Madame Cao to redeploy those eight. Other than that, I also need a few messenger pigeons.”
Qin Huaiyuan began to see where his daughter was going with this. “Don’t worry, I’ll deliver the message. If she has any questions, I’ll have her come meet you surreptitiously.”
“That sounds perfect. Madame Cao’s a warrior with exceptional skills. It’ll be a walk in the park for her to elude watchful eyes.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Okay, now I'm really starting to get nervous about this trip. There's so many preparations being made!