Chapter 534 Different Schemes in the Teahouse
The carriage stopped in front of the Literature Recourse Institution. Most people who wanted to see the Imperial Examination Ranking would wait here as this place offered amazing tea and liquor. It was still early when they arrived. Since it didn’t make sense to wait inside the carriage, they exited the carriage with their maids and entered a nearby teahouse. They wanted to go upstairs and request a private room directly opposite where the ranking would be announced.
They had just entered the teahouse when they heard a voice from behind. “Fifth Sister.”
Ning Xueyan stopped walking and turned around. She saw a surprised-looking Ning Qingshan standing beside a carriage with Caifen. She was surprised that Ning Qingshan would come so early. She noticed that there weren’t many carriages on their way here, and Ning Qingshan’s carriage had been stopped before they got here. It seemed that Ning Qingshan had been waiting here a long time ago.
“You’re here too, Third Sister. What a coincidence.” Ning Xueyan smiled, stopping in place to wait for Ning Qingshan to approach. Since Ning Qingshan had deliberately waited for her here, she would naturally walk with her.
When Ning Qingshan came close, she introduced her to Commandery Princess Xianyun. She didn’t know if they already knew each other, but Ning Qingshan hadn’t had a chance to meet the Princess after returning to the capital. The Princess didn’t show up at the palace banquet the last time; so she must have other business to attend to and didn’t come. The two of them exchanged greetings gently, looking like perfectly well-mannered young ladies. Then, they went upstairs together.
A maid went ahead to request a private room. When they entered the room, they saw that they could see the list from their window, as expected. It was fortunate that they came early, for they were able to book such a nice place.
“What an amazing coincidence. I was still wondering if I should exit the carriage when your carriage arrived at just the right time,” Ning Qingshan said, smiling. Her words easily concealed the fact that the carriage from the Lord Protector’s Manor had arrived ahead of the carriage from Prince Yi’s Manor.
A cold glint flashed in Ning Xueyan’s eyes. Ning Qingshan had always been the cautious sort, who left nothing up to chance. Her words suggested that she had arrived early, but didn’t get off the carriage. Ning Qingshan easily hid the slipup that she only left the carriage because Ning Xueyan had arrived.
“It’s indeed a coincidence to meet Miss Qingshan here. We met briefly in the palace three years ago, didn’t we? You stayed in Honored Consort Ya’s palace then and received much of her favor. I thought that you were fated with the Third Prince, and I was indeed proven right three years later. Your fate with the Third Prince is still the same after three years.”
Commandery Princess Xianyun’s compliment made Ning Qingshan blush. She lowered her head, looking abashed.
“It’s not as wonderful as you suggest, Princess.”
“You must be kidding. It’s rare for anyone to rival the Third Prince’s feelings for you. Three years later, you were nearly made the Third Princess. It’s evident that he has never changed his feelings for you.” The Princess looked envious.
It was indeed enviable to receive such affection from a man, especially from a prince. No matter how she looked at it, Ning Qingshan was still quite pleased with such an arrangement. Of course, this was putting aside the fact that she had lost her original position of the princess.
Commandery Princess Xianyun had long found out that Honored Consort Ya and the Third Prince initially wanted Ning Qingshan as the Third Princess, but an accident happened during the selection process and Ning Qingshan ended up embarrassing herself in front of everyone. And Ning Xueyan was involved in this accident. Although they couldn’t find out anything concerning her, there was no doubt that Ning Xueyan was part of the reason.
This was enough for her!
The change of status from a princess to a consort wasn’t just a matter of title difference.
The Princess’ words were a stab in Ning Qingshan’s heart. She had indeed fallen for Ning Xueyan’s trap at that time. Otherwise, Ning Xueyan wouldn’t have escaped the trap meant for her while the mastermind got into trouble instead. She would even say that she had not only humiliated and hurt herself, but also lost the position of princess destined for her. How could she not feel resentful?
A trace of jealousy flitted across her pupils, but she maintained a shy smile on her face. She wouldn’t count this against her for now. Attempting to settle things with a despicable person like her would just make her look bad.
“You’re too polite, Princess. Whose name are you hoping to see in the ranking today?” Ning Qingshan smiled, feigning bashfulness as she changed the topic.
“A younger cousin of mine has taken the examination as well. I’m worried, so I came here to check the ranking with Sister Ning.” The Princess smiled with an easygoing expression. She even deliberately looked out of the window as if she was really anxious for her family member.
Of course, she had to put on a flawless act, for she had used this excuse to request a leave of absence from the prince. She didn’t know if he would let her leave otherwise. After all, other than the time when he walked around her courtyard on the second day after their wedding, he never visited her again.
Yet, he had visited Ning Xueyan at the Pear Flower Garden several times. Although he didn’t like his consort all that much either, Ning Xueyan still received a much better treatment compared to the rightful princess.
Naturally, she had to be prepared for certain matters. She was confident that it was only a matter of time before her means and talents would slowly win Ao Chenyi over. The only reason why Ao Chenyi disliked her was that she had proclaimed her love for him in front of the Empress, forcing him to marry her. He felt so disrespected and humiliated that he chose to ignore her.
She had already been ignored on his wedding night. And later, she was foiled in her attempt to manage his harem.
That only happened because she was new to the manor and didn’t understand the situation inside. She would slowly change the prince’s opinion of her. She would let him know that she was the one who suits him the most and that whether from a talent or appearance aspect, she was far better than the sickly Ning Xueyan.
“I’m very anxious myself, Princess. I have no idea how my elder brother did in the examination. Our family has already prepared an ancestral ceremony for him. We’ll continue with the ceremony whether or not he makes it, but I hope he’ll make the ranking this time. At least, he’ll be able to bring glory to our ancestors.” Ning Qingshan sighed. Her expression made it difficult for others to distinguish whether it was lamentation or sadness.
Ning Huaiyuan could have skipped the examination if he were the heir to the Lord Protector’s Manor, but he never officially bore the title despite being recognized as such. After such a fiasco in the Lord Protector’s Manor, it was all the more important for him to take the examination. Although Ning Qingshan said little, her sad expression was enough to express her meaning.
Madam Ling’s incident forced Ning Huaiyuan to start with the preliminary imperial examination. Once again, Ning Xueyan had an unmistakable responsibility for this.
The Princess was pleased that Ning Qingshan understood this. The enemy of an enemy was a friend, after all. She hadn’t forgotten that Ning Qingshan was fostered under Madam Ling. With a mother like her, Ning Qingshan would be hard-pressed to be the Third Princess even if she was given such an opportunity.
The Princess had been observing Ning Qingshan for three years. She couldn’t help but be curious as to how an adopted daughter from the Lord Protector’s Manor won the favor of Honored Consort Ya, so much so that the consort intended to have the Third Prince marry her. How could an adopted daughter be more favored than a biological daughter, and be more famous as well?
Ning Qingshan’s move to enter the nunnery at the height of her fame was a masterful one that successfully pushed her reputation to the peak. Even Commandery Princess Xianyun’s reputation fell short of hers at that time. Someone like her wouldn’t be a pushover, so the Princess was more than happy to join hands with her.
The two of them could work together to suppress Ning Xueyan at a time of her need.
Ning Xueyan had been sitting in silence all this while, listening to them getting on with each other. Her expression was gentle and unassuming. Suddenly, her well-shaped brows knitted into a frown and she bent her body ever so slightly.
“Master, what’s wrong?” Xinmei, who had been watching her all along, immediately reached out to support her arm. She was so panicked that she accidentally knocked over Ning Xueyan’s cup on the table. Fortunately, the tea spilled on the other side and didn’t wet her clothes.
The commotion alarmed the Princess and Ning Qingshan as well.
“Sister Ning, what’s wrong?”
“Fifth Sister, are you feeling unwell?” The two of them immediately expressed their concern.
“I’m… I’m feeling dizzy… I’ll be fine in a while.” Ning Xueyan leaned against Xinmei’s embrace. It was obvious from her expression that she was unwell. Her eyes were partially closed and the corners of her mouth were pale.
“Master, this won’t do. You’re about to faint. I won’t be able to explain to His Highness if you faint. Let’s go back to the manor and have the physician examine you,” Xinmei said, panicked. She got ready to help Ning Xueyan stand up.
Everyone had learned about Ning Xueyan’s illness since the day of her wedding. Ning Qingshan was somewhat skeptical, but the Princess already believed her. She knew that if Ning Xueyan were to return to the manor because of her illness, she would be forced to return as well. She had only just met Ning Qingshan and started a friendly conversation with her. If she were to leave now, she would be giving up on a rare opportunity.
“Take a break here before you go, Sister Ning. The ranking will be released soon.” She tried to persuade Ning Xueyan in a soft voice.
“Fifth Sister, it won’t take long. We’ll be returning to the manor soon as well. Let’s have the physician there examine you. Grandmother has been missing you. You have no idea how sad she’ll get if you don’t go back.” Ning Qingshan appeared worried, but she was secretly panicking. She couldn’t afford to let Ning Xueyan return at this time or her plan would be for nothing.
“Princess, Third Sister, I… I really can’t hold on anymore. Why don’t I return to the Lord Protector’s Manor for some rest first? I’ll leave you to check our brother’s results.” Ning Xueyan forced a smile on her pale face. Everyone could tell that she wasn’t in a good state.
Her suggestion pleased them both. The Princess was happy that she would have time to get close to Ning Qingshan and develop a stronger relationship, while Ning Qingshan was glad that Ning Xueyan wouldn’t be getting away this time. Ning Yuling was still waiting in the manor anyway. All she had to do was watch the fire from a safe spot. She had evidence that Ning Yuling was having an affair and this matter was indeed beneficial to Ning Yuling. With Ning Yuling doing her dirty work, she didn’t have to do anything at all.
She threatened Ning Yuling with evidence of her affair because she thought that Ning Yuling would be reluctant to act. Little did she expect that Ning Yuling wouldn’t hesitate at all.
Since Ning Xueyan’s suggestion had satisfied them both, they easily agreed and even watched her enter the carriage. When the carriage had driven away, they returned to the teahouse and continued their “happy conversation”.
Ning Xueyan wiped away her pained expression inside the carriage. She took the handkerchief from Xinmei’s hand and wiped her face leisurely.
“Master, should we keep an eye on them?” Xinmei looked out of the carriage window uneasily. From here, she could see the Princess and Ning Qingshan walking into the teahouse.
“It’s all right. They won’t do anything now.” Ning Xueyan smiled. Both the Princess and Ning Qingshan were careful and secretive people, who preferred to take advantage when their enemies were fighting against one another. They wouldn’t trust each other and conspire wholeheartedly during their first meeting.
Right now, the person she had to watch out for was Ning Yuling. She would likely catch Ning Yuling off guard by returning to the Lord Protector’s Manor in advance.