Chapter 228: Empress Candidates for the New Emperor (III)
With Weichi Yan’s previous position as crown prince, though Qin Yining could express her own viewpoints, she had no right to argue or debate anything with him. And now that he was the emperor, what he said was law.
She had feelings for Pang Xiao now; even his domineering actions of yesteryear had turned into sweet memories for her. She’d never had any feelings for Weichi Yan, so his dominance was just a burden to her, triggering her dislike.
Qin Huaiyuan carefully went over the matters of the day with his daughter.
“The emperor wants me to be empress?” Qin Yining’s shoulders slumped weakly. Her shoulder wound felt even more painful. It was so uncomfortable that she couldn’t stop frowning.
“Go. With your wits, it won’t be hard to find a good opportunity to leave the city. Follow the coast of the southern sea if you want to head south, or go north to find him if you want.”
Qin Yining jerked her head up violently. “Father…”
She’d never thought that her father would risk defying an imperial decree and lying to his liege for the sake of her happiness. What court official wouldn’t want to be an imperial father-in-law? And yet, her father didn’t plan on pawning her in marriage for the sake of further benefits.
“Father, I can’t do that.” Her voice shook slightly, but a smile blossomed on her face. “It’s easy for me to leave, but what about you? What of the family?”
“Don’t worry about that. The emperor’s new to his throne and our situation is exceedingly tense. He needs me greatly, so he won’t do anything to me or the family. Just hurry and leave. I’ll think of a way to clean the mess up.”
Qin Yining shook her head with compressed lips. “I can’t leave.”
“If you don’t leave, you’ll have to enter the selection. With your looks, background, and the emperor’s feelings for you, you’ll be selected without a doubt! Then won’t you and little Prince Pang…” It was awkward for Qin Huaiyuan to finish the thought, so he changed the subject with a cough. “I know you don’t crave wealth and prosperity and don’t care about being an empress. Our family doesn’t need you to be the empress to bring glory to our name either. Just live out your days well and happily. I can take care of the rest.”
Qin Yining was moved to tears, but this only further solidified her resolution not to leave.
“Father, you’ve never given anyone a reason to criticize you throughout your entire career. I won’t mar that record. Defying an imperial decree and lying to the emperor are high crimes. The Weichi clan are utterly heartless when they turn on people. The new emperor might need you now, but he’ll bring out old grudges at a later date. What will happen to you and the family then?
“It might be a small thing for me to run off today, but do I run for the rest of my life because I don’t want to marry the emperor? I haven’t broken any laws and I’m not a fugitive, so why should I run for something that someone else did? He may have the pretty dream of making me his empress, but he should first see if I’m willing!”
“Daughter Yi.” Qin Huaiyuan was alarmed by a sudden thought. He warned sternly, “Don’t you think of agreeing to the selection first and then getting out of being selected by disfiguring yourself! Your body comes from your parents, so you’d be an unfilial child if you hurt yourself!”
“What? Father!” Qin Yining found this both touching and amusing. “It’d be another high crime if I disfigured myself, and won’t the emperor punish us even more harshly then? That doesn’t jibe with my original intent.”
The marquis agreed after some thought and shook his head at himself. “I got off on the wrong track.”
“Father’s intelligence has no match. You’re just panicking because you care. Don’t express your feelings about this to others. Don’t support or oppose it, and just leave the rest to me.”
Qin Huaiyuan nodded. “Alright then, I’ll leave this for you to flounder through. But don’t worry, whether you want to be the empress or not, I’ll be able to hold things together for you. Just do whatever you want.”
“Understood. I’ll make sure I don’t poke a hole in the skies though, because even with father’s skills, I don’t want you to be too tired.”
The duo looked at each other and chuckled.
“If you have any ways to, father, then send news to Xiahua of the emperor wanting to make me empress.”
An arched brow greeted this request. “You trust Pang Zhixi that much?”
“Both parties have to be willing in a relationship. If he really does have feelings for me, he’ll think of something. I trust he has the ability to, and I’ll act accordingly to whatever develops.” Qin Yining rose. Though her face was still pale, a bright light shone fiercely from her eyes. “We can lead a cow to water, but can we force it to drink? No one will be able to force me to do anything if I’m not willing to!”
The sight of such a confident and smart daughter brought a smile to Qin Huaiyuan’s face. His highly taut nerves also relaxed greatly. With the conversation over, he urged Qin Yining to go rest. But a rushed patter of footsteps sounded at this time.
“Milord, Milord!” Qitai rushed up and bowed. “Grand Supervisor Lu’s here. He said he’s here to escort the fourth miss into the palace!”
Qin Yining raised a brow. “The palace servants are certainly diligent. The imperial harem ceremony is being held ten days from now, so they have to escort all possible selection candidates into the palace for training.”
“Silly girl, this is the perfect time for the emperor to win his subjects over through any means possible. Anyone who’s brought directly to the palace won’t fail the selection, not because of looks or virtue, but because of her background. Titles will be handed out according to what the emperor needs from her family.”
Comprehension dawned on Qin Yining. The nation was a mess and the new emperor’s foundations shaky. Apart from Qin Huaiyuan and the Prince of Ning, the imperial majesty would also want to rope in the other officials. The fastest way to do so was through marriage.
This made it apparent that the imperial harem was a microcosm of court. Whoever the emperor favored was a reflection of the political situation at that point in time.
She’d once thought that marriage was something to be determined by her parents, that it didn’t matter who she married. But that notion had gotten weaker by the day after meeting Pang Xiao, to the point where she now felt that if she were to enter a loveless marriage, she’d rather not at all.
Qin Yining knew that this was letting emotions sway her decisions, but she could compromise in all else but this. Ergo, she was even more opposed to joining the imperial harem now.
So what if she was the empress? She’d spend the rest of her life with a man she had no feelings for and have to suffer a plethora of women caught between them. She’d also be inevitably caught up in politics, and all sorts of concerns, obligation, and resignation would follow then. She’d rather die an early death and enter the cycle of reincarnation instead — save herself some heartache.
As these thoughts whirled through her mind, she arrived at the front yard with her father.
Eunuch Lu, the emperor’s body servant, was waiting with a mama and numerous palace servants. Qin Yining was quite familiar with the mama — it was Zhan-mama, the one who’d taught her manners when she’d first return home.
The Qin fourth miss greeted her acquaintance with a smile and a nod; the greeting was returned in kind.
Wreathed in smiles, Lu-gonggong approached the father-daughter duo, first bowing to Qin Huaiyuan and then Qin Yining.
“Greetings to Lu-gonggong.” Qin Yining bent her knee to return the gesture.
“Aiyo! Miss Qin is being far too polite to this servant! This servant would never dare, never dare!” This one was to be the empress in ten days! Eunuch Lu would never dare throw his weight around in front of his future mistress!
“What brings Grand Supervisor Lu here today?” Qin Huaiyuan asked knowingly.