Gong You’s wife née Jiang was in her early forties, a middle-aged woman who still retained her elegant grace. Despite her beauty, it was apparent at first glance that she was much older than her husband.
Gong You had three daughters and no son. The eldest two were already married. Née Jiang and the couple’s youngest daughter, Gong Miao, lived in the back hall of the yamen to care for Old Madame Gong.
In the privacy of the bailiff’s ward, Pang Xiao and Gong You discussed next steps while Qin Yining followed née Jiang to the back as Bingtang and Jiyun brought up the rear.
“Your Highness must be travel-worn from the arduous trip. I will have servants prepare hot water for Your Highness to wash up and unwind.”
Qin Yining shook her head with a smile. “You’re far too kind, Madame Gong. These are trying times of drought. The earthquake must have muddied the wells. Let’s save what little clear water there is to drink. Bathing and washing up can wait.”
Née Jiang was taken aback by Qin Yining’s offer.
She’d never seen a beauty so exquisite and stunning as Qin Yining in her entire life. By default thanks to her beauty, the madame assumed the girl was spoiled and arrogant prior to marriage.
The extent of her snobbery would surely only swell manifold after becoming princess consort, making her even harder to please. Little did the madame know that she’d misjudged the girl.
“I hear that the old madame lives in the back hall,” Qin Yining volunteered. “I must trouble Madame Jiang to make an introduction. I would like to pay my respects to the elder.”
Née Jiang grew more incredulous upon hearing these words. “Your Highness occupies a lofty and noble position. It is we who should pay our respects to you!”
“Not at all! I am young and a junior. Greeting my elders is only right and proper. The other way around wouldn’t suffice at all. Not to mention, Sir Gong’s stalwart defense of the old capital commands only the highest esteem from me and the prince. Old Madame Gong absolutely deserves respect for raising such a virtuous, wise official. Whether in official capacity or out of private considerations, I am the one who should pay my respects.”
These words both comforted and moved née Jiang. She had worried that the envoy’s wife would be hard to please, but it turned out the visitor was an easygoing, clear-minded sort. This was such a pleasant surprise.
“I’d be too unwelcoming should I turn down your offer then, Your Highness.”
“Precisely. The prince and I will likely intrude upon your family in the coming days. We would feel out of place if Madame Gong continues to be this polite. My husband and Prefect Gong will be fighting side by side, making them both comrades and friends. With the two of them so close, it wouldn’t do if we stayed strangers.”
“Your Highness speaks truly.” Née Jiang smiled. “My daughter Miao’er is keeping her grandmother company. If Your Highness finds it favorable, would you care to visit them together?”
“I thank you for your troubles.”
The older woman guided Qin Yining around the corner to the main residence on the other end of the rear courtyard.
Née Jiang continued the introductions as she walked. “This would be it. Milord and I normally reside in the side wing, while my mother-in-law lives in the main house. She grew up in a hardworking family that doesn’t seek fame or fortune. She’s very understanding and reasonable, and treats me as her own.
“Sadly, I’ve turned out to be a disappointment as I only managed to bear three daughters. However, my mother-in-law didn’t force concubines onto milord just so she could have grandsons. I was hardly the most pleasing sight after putting on weight post-childbirth. My mother worried that my husband would find me unappealing, so she sent us two pretty girls from poor families. But milord turned around and sold them, saying that the family was too poor to afford the extra mouths to feed.”
Née Jiang suddenly came to her senses mid-prattle. Blabbering on about domestic affairs was her attempt at fostering a relationship, but she didn’t know if the prince had any concubines. If he had an army of them, wouldn’t her prattling about her husband’s loyalty and wonderful in-laws be a slap at the princess consort’s face?
She silently berated herself for being so blunt. She’d tried for many years, but thinking before thought was still a skill she’d yet to acquire.
Little did she expect Qin Yining to laugh and pick up the conversation. “Birds of a feather do indeed gather together, and like attracts like. This is why His Highness and Sir Gong enjoy each other’s company. My in-laws also treat me as their own. The prince is very mindful of keeping female company at an arm’s length. But my grandmother-in-law is quite a character. If the prince ever sets a toe out of line, she’ll give him a beating herself.”
“Truly? Does an elder of so much character actually exist?”
The two women exchanged a smile.
Née Jiang felt a weight off her heart, her impression of the young couple improving again by many notches. Those who adhered to filial piety were also honorable characters. Though the Faithful Prince of the First Rank was a notorious savage war god, how could one believe every stroke of embellishment that the rumors painted?
At the top of the stairs, Née Jiang ushered Qin Yining into the main residence. “Mom, the Faithful Princess Consort of the First Rank is here.”
Qin Yining followed close behind. She took in the austere decor and lovingly-used table and chairs. It reinforced her perception of the prefect’s integrity by a few more degrees.
A gray-haired woman of roughly seventy was climbing off the bed by the window and putting her shoes on. A young girl ten years old aided her efforts.
Old Madame Gong secured her simple bun with a silver comb. Dressed in a sky-blue, fine cotton house robe, the elderly woman’s outfit was rather plain. In fact, her humble attire was far plainer than that of servants of the rich families in the capital.
Despite that, a kind and warm smile radiated from her gaunt face. One look was all it took to know that this elderly woman was gracious and benevolent.
Qin Yining preempted the elderly woman and curtseyed. “Greetings to Old Madame Gong.”
“Aiyaya, please get up, do rise! This won’t do! This old woman is hardly worthy of Your Highness’ courtesy!”
“You’re too kind, Old Madame! You are the elder. As a junior imposing on you and who will be creating future disturbances for an elder, it is my duty to greet you.”
“Please, Your Highness! Third Daughter-in-Law, hurry and help the princess consort up!”
“Aiya!” Née Jiang lifted Qin Yining’s arm to help her stand, then turned to settle her mother-in-law in a chair. She dimpled. “Mom, the princess consort isn’t the arrogant sort. Don’t worry.”
Old Madame Gong smiled affably at Qin Yining, silently commending the girl’s ethereal beauty.
Well, how would she climb to the position of princess consort if she isn’t such a head-turner?
The princess consort happened to be the same age as the old madame’s granddaughter. Qin Yining was humble, respectful, gracious, and patient, knowing just what to say and do to please her elders. Old Madame Gong quickly developed quite a fondness for the girl after a short chat.
Old Madame Gong introduced the girl by her side. “This is my youngest granddaughter, Miao’er.”
Gong Miao was slight and thin; bashfulness the sole look in her eyes when she glanced up at strangers. But she managed a friendly, inquisitive smile when she looked up at Qin Yining. “Your Highness.” She curtseyed.
Qin Yining slid a creamy-white jade bracelet onto Gong Miao’s wrist. “This isn’t anything fancy, so please play with it as you will, Miao’er.”
The yamen would be their temporary home in the days to come, with impositions on their host a given. Giving Gong Miao a greeting gift was proper manners.
Old Madame Gong and née Jiang kept declining the gift, but eventually accepted it at Qin Yining’s friendly coaxing.
“Your Highness,” Jiyun called from outside the door.
Qin Yining answered with a smile. “What is it?’
“His Highness requests that you head to the front hall for a discussion.”
“Very well.” Qin Yining rose to take her leave. “I must get going. I will come by for a visit, time permitting.”
Old Madame Gong and née Jiang marveled at the princess consort with a new level of respect. The prince had actually asked for Qin Yining’s presence in a formal discussion! Either he spoiled her rotten, or she was extraordinarily capable to earn the prince’s respect.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
In these trying times, may this mashup bring some comfort! This is something I've had on repeat for the last week. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoiCSrxvwjI