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Chapter 115: Going Home
Bingtang and Songlan were both stunned after listening to Qin Yining's recounting of what'd happened over the past couple of days.
"So Sir Yao is Great Zhou's Faithful Prince of the First Rank? That legendary serial killer who drinks blood?" Bingtang's eyes were with shock.
Qin Yining nodded. "But he doesn't seem like what the rumors say."
"Oh my heavens! I had so many opportunities to stab him to death!" Bingtang started spinning around. "No wonder his aura is so different from a regular person's, and he has such high level martial arts abilities! But I don't understand, Grand Preceptor Qin caused the death of his father back in the day, so you're the daughter of his enemy. One cannot bear to coexist with such an enemy, but he treats you so differently. This really is very confusing."
Songlan petted the bunny that Qin Yining was cuddling and smiled. "What's confusing about it? Even heroes fall victim to beauties. Our miss is so pretty that even we can't help but take a few additional peeks at her on a daily basis, much less anyone else, particularly the prince. Miss, see how much effort the prince has gone to for you. He even gifted you a little bunny. It's so cute!"
Riceball seemed to understand Songlan's compliments as it nuzzled the palm of her hand. It then turned with a twist of its little butt and wanted to hop down. Qin Yining knelt to place it on the floor, and Riceball paused after hopping to the door, stymied in its attempt to get out.
"Does it want to go out?" Bingtang walked up, mystified and opened the door for the bunny. Riceball twitched and bounced its way out, only to return shortly in Bingtang's arms. She was smiling. "Prince Pang picks his presents nicely alright. This bunny is something else! It even knows to let itself out to answer the call of nature."
Soft, cute, and furry little animals naturally invited affection. Not only did Qin Yining like it, so did Bingtang and Songlan adore Riceball. They cleaned it up carefully and handed it back to their mistress.
When Qin Yining looked at the bright red square knot around Riceball's neck, she recalled how that arrogant man had bent over to fasten it around the bunny. She frowned slightly, but also blushed as well.
Bingtang and Songlan looked at each other.
"Miss, don't think too much." Bingtang smiled. "Didn't you say that things will naturally right themselves when the time comes? When we came here, we thought that the future of the peace talks looked bleak. And yet we've weathered it all now. And, I'd like to say something that I hope you don't get angry at me for."
She turned and stooped next to Qin Yining, stroking Riceball's head with a finger. "I feel that Prince Pang isn't that bad. Rumors about you two are flying all around the city now. If they'd been between you and Lian, I would've wanted to go kill that old lecher. But with you and the prince, I actually feel that it's a perfect match."
Songlan nodded as well. "I agree. The prince saved you again and again, and not just at the nunnery. If it wasn't for his actions in the military camp, not only would you not escape from Lian's clutches, but the emperor would still find fault if the lord protected you. But with his antics, who can the emperor blame?"
Qin Yining's blush deepened. They hadn't seen how atrociously he'd behaved! But she couldn't tell others how he'd teased her and how he'd forcefully kissed her. Although he hadn't behaved verbally before, he still conducted himself like a gentleman. But his true form had revealed itself in the military camp, and he really was a demon incarnate!
When they saw their mistress' face red, the maids knowingly didn't say anything else. After all, women were the weaker sex in this world. With Qin Yining's identity, her future wasn't in her own hands. What if they really did send her down a certain path with their teasing, but fate had some other arrangement in store for her? They'd just be causing her unnecessary heartbreak. The two went to overlook preparing hot water for Qin Yining to wash up.
Qin Yining declined attending Prefect Liu's banquet and fell into a deep slumber. She'd been on tenterhooks in the military camp, unable to eat or sleep for several days straight. She fell into a deep sleep this time and didn't wake until the sun was high in the sky the next day.
Qin Huaiyuan had discussed with Cui Wenqing and decided not to tarry in Xinhua. They had missives sent back to the capital early on to let the emperor know that the peace talks were a success. All that was left was to get their affairs in order and depart Xihua.
When they left, citizens lined the streets and cheered, with yells of "Wise Pan An" reverberating loudly. Qin Yining, Bingtang, and Songlan were taking the same carriage. They couldn't help their curiosity and lifted the carriage curtains a crack to peek outside.
"The two of us didn't do anything, but we're basking in shared glory because of the lord and miss," Bingtang murmured lowly. "We're swaggering about in borrowed influence!"
Qin Yining clasped Bingtang's hands lightly when she heard this. The girl had a tough life. The Tangs hadn't lived. If they had, the people would love Imperial Physician Tang just as much.
Bingtang seemed to understand what Qin Yining was thinking and flashed a sunny smile back.
Songlan had been keeping an eye on the situation outside and suddenly asked, "Miss, look! Is that little Prince Pang?"
Qin Yining leaned curiously in the direction that Songlan was pointing at and saw two men on horses at the rear of the convoy. They followed at a leisurely pace and wore regular, fine cotton cloaks. Their faces were half covered by fur collars, but upon further look, who else would those shapes and forms be other than Pang Xiao and Huzi? And what did they want??
Seemingly feeling Qin Yining's gaze, the stone-faced Pang Xiao suddenly looked at the carriage and met her eyes. He flashed a grin that caused her heart to tremble. She whirled around and let down the curtains.
Pang Xiao rubbed his nose and resumed his cold face. He'd practiced smiling in front of a bronze mirror for half a day. Surely his smile wasn't that ugly?
Back in the carriage, Songlan was musing, "Are they headed to the capital disguised like this? That might not be the best…"
Qin Yining stroked Riceball unconsciously, smoothing its fur down and taking a moment to calm her heart down. "The peace talks were a success and Great Zhou withdrew its troops. The two nations have resumed their relations, so no one will say anything if they walk around randomly in Great Yan territory."
"Perhaps it's just on the way," Bingtang added. "Don't think too much about it, miss. There's nothing to be afraid of as long as they don't mean you any harm."
Songlan also nodded at this.
The convoy picked up speed after leaving Xihua. Qin Yining snuck a few looks backwards and noticed that Pang Xiao and Huzi wasn't trailing them anymore. Although she found it odd that they were so slow, she quickly flung it to the back of her head.
They'd felt that the road ahead had been pitted and arduous on the way here, and now everyone itched to quickly return home. Their footsteps felt much lighter, so they spent only one and a half days making a trip that would've taken two days. The entourage arrived at the outskirts of the capital on the noon of the 29th.
The emperor knew of the successful negotiations and had already arranged for eunuchs to wait at the city door when the group started their return journey. When the metallic-gray clad eunuch saw Qin Huaiyuan and the others, he gave a respectful grand gesture of greeting.
"Grand Preceptor Qin, Sir Cui, I bear the emperor's verbal decree to request the party to make camp outside the city walls for a night. The emperor will hold a welcoming ceremony tomorrow morning and will personally lead the officials out in welcome."
"Understood, please take a message back to the emperor." Qin Huaiyuan smiled. "We are all deeply admirable of the emperor's great efforts."
"Grand Preceptor Qin is the emperor's deeply beloved and treasured official. It's natural that the emperor highly values you." The eunuch looked at the carriage at the rear of the convoy with another smile. "The emperor also gave orders to have Miss Qin enter the city first. After all, there will be many at the ceremony tomorrow, making for a chaotic scene."
Was the emperor afraid of people gossiping that he'd sent a girl to the peace talks? However, Qin Huaiyuan ardently wished to send Qin Yining back first. He didn't want his daughter to be exposed to the assessing and suspicious gazes of the crowd. Therefore, he thanked with a smile. "The emperor thinks most thoroughly. I never would've thought of this. I will have people send my daughter into the city immediately. Thank you, honored eunuch."
The eunuch bowed respectfully to Qin Huaiyuan and Cui Wenqing before returning to the palace. Qin Huaiyuan and Cui Wenqing made camp outside the city walls and sent ten servants to escort Qin Yining back to the Qin Manor.
"Make sure to comfort Old Dowager well when you see her. Tell her I'll return tomorrow after the ceremony is complete."
"I understand, father. I won't let Old Dowager worry."
Qin Huaiyuan nodded and added on further. "Pay attention to what you can speak of the peace talks and what you can't speak of."
"I know, father. I won't speak of what I shouldn't of. These are imperial secrets, after all." Qin Yining agreed with a smile.
Qin Huaiyuan understood his daughter's intelligence and smiled, at ease. "Thank goodness we returned safely. The rest of our days will pass well, that's something to look forward to."
"Yes, father." Qin Yining smiled at her father and couldn't help but smile herself as well. She'd gotten a deeper understanding of her father on this trip, and her admiration for her father had deepened as well. After exchanging a few words with Qin Huaiyuan, she climbed into the carriage and entered the city.
When she passed Cloudsoar Inn, she paused to visit Grand Steward Zhong. When the grand steward saw Qin Yining return, he was so delighted that he knelt and kowtowed to all the gods and Buddha in the sky.
"All is well now that you've returned, miss!"
Qin Yining raised the grand steward up with a smile. "I've troubled you these days. Has anything major happened in the capital in the ten-odd days I've been away?"
"Nothing major, just that the crown prince and the Prince of Ning had a major fight. The Prince of Ning was so angry that he swept the crown prince out of his door. Our people heard this from tavern gossip. Who knows if this is true or not? Everyone's saying that the crown prince isn't thinking straight, that he'd be openly hostile like this with his only backer. What else will he use to fight the trampress in the future?"
Qin Yining recalled the ridiculous act from the crown prince the day she'd set off and matched it to what the rumors described. Everything was clear after that. "Well, it wasn't as if the Prince of Ning was a reliable supporter before."
Grand Steward Zhong was a smart one as well. He grasped the heart of things with that singular sentence. After nodding with a smile, he regained his serious demeanor. "And another thing that has to do with the Qin Manor."
"Oh? What?" Qin Yining flicked a puzzled eyebrow.