She was both delighted and highly admiring of Pang Xiao’s capabilities, but kept her usual calm demeanor and curtsied.
“Your Majesty, I was not the one behind Anari Khan’s death. Her true murderer is the current Utkin Khan.” She gave a brief overview of what had happened that day, concealing Mu Jinghu’s involvement and not mentioning Lu Heng at all.
“… and then I merely knocked her unconscious. Never had I fathomed that Utkin Khan would kill his own wife after he arrived with his men, then use her death to incite the people’s sympathy and rage!
“When I was on the run in Tatar, I observed firsthand how their people sang the praises of Utkin Khan’s deep devotion to Anari, how heroic he was to vow vengeance on her killers. It would be no exaggeration to say that even ten-year-old children would take to the battlefield to enact revenge for her.
“Their culture is one of passionate ferocity, a marked difference from ours in Great Zhou. Utkin Kahn has very cleverly manipulated public sentiment and thought for his purposes.”
The court of assembled officials sink into thoughtful musing after taking in Qin Yining’s graceful summary of events.
“It seems that We have underestimated Utkin Khan’s shamelessness.” Li Qitian grit his teeth. “He was the one who helped Anari assume the position of female regent, and he also supported her to become khan at every step of the way.
“Now it seems that all of his actions pursued the end goal of a legitimate takeover from a ruler of the royal bloodline. He did this so that his coronation and authority would be accepted by his nation. He is truly an unscrupulous snake without a sense of honor!”
Murmurs of assent rose and fell through the crowd as everyone denounced the despicable Utkin Khan.
“In light of this,” someone stepped forth. “The Faithful Princess Consort of the First Rank is quite innocent and thoroughly undeserving of her circumstances. She was kidnapped to Tatar while on her way to provide disaster relief, and she is hardly at fault now that the Tatars wish to declare war. She has nothing at all to do with this matter.”
“Indeed, the princess consort is a woman, but was able to maintain her grace and dignity in enemy territory. She didn't commit any deed that would be to the detriment of Great Zhou, and she stalwartly protected her chastity until our rescue. She set an example for all women in Great Zhou with her temperament and resolve.”
When the officials saw that Li Qitian showed no signs of refuting the first person to speak up in support of the princess concert, more of them quickly joined in.
The subject of their attention remained silent with her eyes trained on the floor. Pang Xiao, Qin Huaiyuan, and Qin Xiuyuan stayed quiet as well, the spitting image of waiting for imperial orders.
Li Qitian smiled affably and nodded repeatedly, but was inwardly so irked that he almost wanted to spit blood. What did they mean by this? So not only did his plan fail in arresting Pang Xiao, they wanted him to reward his wife?
How did anyone know if this woman was still clean after being abducted to Tatar? They all praised her chastity, but this happened to be the sole claim that he could not definitively reject.
Pang Xiao must be behind them!
Li Qitian gnashed his teeth so hard he almost broke them into pieces. However much it pained him to do so, he had to accept the loss.
“Our beloved subjects are correct. The Faithful Princess Consort of the First Rank is indeed a hero amongst women.” He smiled. “Take note of this proclamation, née Qin.”
“This subject hears and obeys.” Qin Yining dipped into an elegant curtsey.
“The Faithful Princess Consort of the First Rank née Qin is quick-witted and virtuous, gentle, and possessing of strong morals. She is a paragon of a woman. Today, she is especially bestowed with a paramount rank and will be awarded a hundred taels of gold, bolts of silk, and numerous treasures.”
Qin Yining swept into a grand gesture of gratitude on her knees. “This subject thanks Your Majesty for his bountiful favor.”
Li Qitian chuckled heartily. “Alright, that's enough of that. You carry another with you now, so do rise. If you suffer any bumps and bruises while kneeling on the floor, Our silly little brother will throw another fit at Us again.”
These words sounded like Pang Xiao often used his status as a sworn younger brother to make trouble for the emperor.
Pang Xiao helped his wife up with a smile and turned to bow respectfully at Li Qitian. “Many thanks to Your Majesty. This subject is an adult now, so I wouldn't throw a tantrum in your house like I might have before.”
This reply perfectly held his ground and also insinuated that such behavior belonged to the naïve and innocent days of childhood.
It sparked another round of quick contemplation. The truth of this morning court was now readily apparent to everyone. Li Qitian had plainly made preparations to arrest Pang Xiao, and this move was more than likely because the prince’s accomplishments threatened to eclipse those of his liege.
However, Pang Xiao truly did deserve his military awards and he was a sworn brother with the emperor from childhood. It chilled the soul to see Li Qitian be in such a hurry to dispose of a meritorious official, now that he no longer had any need of them.
While some could unravel the situation to this level of clarity, there were naturally those who couldn't. The latter chuckled along with the emperor, thinking that they were also expressing gratification of close childhood bonds.
Frankly, the scene disgusted Li Qitian. There were no longer any benefits to be salvaged out of today. Immensely bored, he quickly dismissed the morning court session.
All of his preparation and efforts had gone down the drain. Not only had he failed to take out Pang Xiao, but he'd also been forced to honor the prince’s wife with a paramount rank. And gold. And treasures.
This was worse than digging Li Qitian’s heart out of his chest, and he couldn't even express it!
Men from the Metropolitan and the Five Wards returned to their posts. It had been a complete waste of time and their deployment concluded when they received no further instructions.
When Qin Huaiyuan and Qin Xiuyuan left the palace, they didn't dare discuss the events of the day or even show too much expression on their faces. They hurried back to the Qin Manor while Qin Yining and Pang Xiao climbed into the same carriage after exiting the palace.
It wasn't until they pulled out of the Meridian Gate and traveled ever further away from the palace did the couple look at each other. Chuckling in the background noise of crowd’s chatter, Pang Xiao and Qin Yining fully vented their feelings.
“Milord perfectly predicted everything that would happen today. So what preparations did you make in advance, will you tell me now?”
Qin Yining’s cheeks were flushed and she was entirely unfazed by the situation she’d just endured. Calm and collected as usual, she could even joke with Pang Xiao. His heart overflowing with love, Pang Xiao grabbed her hand for a kiss and began his explanation.Previous Chapter Next Chapter