Fear gripped Qin Yining.
If she’d thrown caution to the wind after finding the marks, she very well could’ve drawn Li Qitian’s attention. Perhaps a report of them searching for something had already reached his ears.
It was easy for Pang Xiao to guess her thoughts when her brow remained firmly knitted together. He caressed her forehead placatingly. “Silly girl, where’s your mind run off to now? Your men are old hats, so I’m sure they didn’t expose themselves. Yang County terrain is circuitous to begin with, and there are a lot of mountain roads. It wasn’t easy to find a way through when the roads were fine, not to mention now that everything’s a mess after the earth dragon turned over.
“Besides, even if there are eyes and ears around, I would be the first target of surveillance. You come a distant second, and they probably didn’t even find you today.”
Qin Yining burst out laughing. “You know me best. You knew what I was thinking about even without me saying anything.”
“Naturally.” Pang Xiao pinched her cheeks proudly. “It takes only one glance for me to know what you want to do. For example, you’re thinking your husband is devilishly handsome and the image of charisma itself. You really want to kiss me, don’t you?”
“Thick-skinned!” The princess consort responded with a punch, which landed firmly in a large hand.
Pang Xiao moved her hand to his mouth for a soft kiss. “Don’t worry, I’m here.”
That line of ‘don’t worry’ put Qin Yining at ease. She buried her face into his chest and took in a deep breath of clean soap and his unique masculine aroma. She mumbled into his chest, “I know. I’m not afraid or worried.”
Pang Xiao wrapped his arms tightly around her and gently patted her back. Apart from Qin Huaiyuan, everyone around her depended on her. Yes, she was very smart and sharp, able to fully handle things on her own when issues arose. She was more decisive than most men.
However, everyone forgot that no matter how strong she was, she was just a young girl. He was eight years older than her! Was she still to worry and fret with him by her side?
“Don’t worry, leave it all to me,” whispered Pang Xiao softly, like he was swearing an oath.
Qin Yining nodded quietly in his embrace, a docile pet; her hair quite tickled his chin when it brushed past.
In silence, the two held their positions for a moment, then went out to busy themselves with relief preparations. They followed the same plan of attack as in the old capital: clearing away debris, setting up soup kitchens and medical tents, and calmly rolling out other steps.
Prefect Gong even split part of Pang Xiao’s donation with Magistrate Li; the two were plainly in the same straits.
“Your Highness, we have nowhere to obtain provisions from at the moment. The available commercial stock fell into the hands of the large families long ago, and they seem to have come to an agreement about the price! They won’t budge no matter what, and they want ten taels of silver for one stone of coarse rice!”
“Ten taels??” The prefect sucked a shocked breath in and exclaimed with fury, “Those profiteering bastards! They’ve gone up two more taels in the last two days!”
The magistrate looked at Pang Xiao. “Your Highness, what should we do next?”
Pang Xiao stroked his chin and turned to Qin Yining. “Negotiations are the only thing left. Ah, if only I had my soldiers with me.”
“And what of it if you did?”
“I would be a wolf with fangs if I had my men. I’d go in for the kill if I didn’t get the answer I want! If I had my cubs go for a stroll in front of their doors, negotiations wouldn’t even be necessary! All I need to do is ask them if they want their lives or money—that’d be enough to intimidate them into selling at the regular price.”
“Ai, why would we bother talking if Your Highness had your troops! We’d just charge straight in and drag those heartless bastards out. We don’t need anything else other than Your Highness standing close to them. That’d scare them into peeing their pants!” A yamen soldier concurred spontaneously.
Without military authority, Pang Xiao was a defanged wolf. So what of his personal prestige? He had to take orders from others all the same.
The prefect and magistrate both sighed at this. Being minor officials far from the capital, they didn’t know much of what went on in the central city. But the Faithful Prince of the First Rank looked like a kind, loyal, and righteous person no matter how they sliced it. How would he possibly start any rebellion?
It was understandable that the one under heaven had his concerns.
But when such wariness impeded proper business and honed in on a meritorious official who’d bled and sweat to establish the nation… it really thoroughly disappointed the soul.
When one so deeply wronged still quietly donated such a large sum of personal property for the people’s food and medicines, how could they not respect him from the bottom of their hearts?
“Forget it. Our only plan of attack now is for me to personally speak to them. I’ll use both arguments of the heart and mind to see if I can get them to lower the price.” Pang Xiao rose to summon Huzi and the Elite Tigers.
“I shan’t be going with you,” commented Qin Yining. “I plan on visiting the farmstead today and seeing if I can locate some food. I don’t know how bad the damage is there either.”
The prince nodded. “Be careful. I’ll send some men with you.”
“That’s alright, you need them more. Bring some more guards with you. Four’s enough for me.”
Pang Xiao scanned Jingzhe and the others behind his wife. He nodded with assurance.
The two local officials sent the married couple off, watching their departing figures with immense hope in their eyes. They looked at each other and heaved an emotional sigh.
“The prince and princess consort are all wonderfully good people, especially the princess consort. She’s out here eating watery porridge with us and having to run back and forth trying to find supplies, but I haven’t heard a word of complaint. Only a woman like her is worthy of someone as magnanimous as the prince.”
Though their stomachs constantly growled from hunger, the fact that such important personages like the prince and princess consort were down in the trenches with them was highly motivating. They rushed off to look after the refugees and handle all sorts of matters.
Meanwhile, Qin Yining, along with Bingtang, Jiyun, and the four Silver Masks, made their way to a farmstead not too far away.
A child wearing a rough cotton jacket, hair in twin buns, answered the door. She looked roughly seven years old.
The girl exclaimed with delighted surprise when she saw the visitors, “It’s the fourth miss! The fourth miss is here!”
Qin Yining thought carefully for a while before recognizing the child in front of her.
“Are you Ping Ya’er? You’ve grown so much taller, I almost didn’t recognize you.” Back on Mt. Eternal Spring, Qin Yining had sheltered many refugees in the Ning Park that Pang Xiao had gifted her. Ping Ya’er was one of them, and it seemed that Steward Zhong had sent her to the farm in Yang County.
“Aiya, it really is the fourth miss!” Others ran out from the farmstead when they heard the girl’s cries. They all made the grand gesture of greeting upon seeing the Qin fourth miss. Statements of welcome tumbled out one after another.
“What brings you here, Benefactor!”
“Come come, please come inside and sit down, Benefactor!”
Feted by a bevy of supporters, Qin Yining sailed into the house.Previous Chapter Next Chapter