Chapter 122 Madam Ling Isn't an Easy Opponent
"Marquis..." Madam Ling called out for her husband affectionately. But seeing Ning Zu'an leave without paying her any heed, her heart sank into a pool of icy water. Knowing that she was in deep trouble this time, she glared at Ning Xueyan in resentment. The most suspicious person in this sudden affair was her.
Ning Xueyan wore a little frown, but her gaze was filled with aloof mockery. Madam Ling had always wanted to tear her apart. Since that was the case, she must give Madam Ling a great gift...
Madam Ling's actions prompted Madam Dowager to say sternly, "You're the First Madam of the Lord Protector's Manor. Do you think you're a concubine, to be making so much noise? Which madam in this capital acts like you, to dare seduce her man after an episode like this? What a wench."
After signaling Mother Qin, she ignored Madam Ling and left while holding onto Ning Xueyan's hand.
"Grandmother, don't be mad anymore. What families don't have worries in this capital? We should try and preserve peace in our family whenever possible," Ning Xueyan said, trying to comfort Madam Dowager as she walked.
There was a faint smirk on her face. Never mind Madam Dowager, even Ning Zu'an would despise Madam Ling following this incident. No man would be able to stay above this. Even knowing that nothing had happened between the two, it was still a fact that they had embraced each other in the bed in the light of the day.
The biggest factor for Madam Ling's rise from a concubine to First Madam was Ning Zu'an's affection for her. Now that this affection had changed, how much longer could she keep her position?
Perhaps Madam Ling would never imagine that Ning Xueyan wasn't trying to make it look she had an affair with the Marquis of Ping'an, but to make Ning Zu'an and Madam Dowager doubt her. Even without evidence, some things could linger in one's consciousness. Moreover, Ning Xueyan's biggest goal was having Madam Ling confined in the Buddha Hall.
Sure enough, Mother Qin stayed behind to warn the older female servant guarding the door. She even arranged for a few more servants to make sure Madam Dowager's order that no one was to see First Madam would be well-executed. Only then did she left, walking behind Madam Dowager.
When Ning Xueyan returned to the Bright Frost Garden, she found Mother Han welcoming her with a bright smile. Her joyous expression dimmed when she sensed Ning Xueyan's cold gaze, and she immediately shed away her grin. Then, she led Ning Xueyan into the house with the proper conduct of a servant.
"You're right, Young Lady. The Marquis wouldn't forgive First Madam so easily in a matter like this. Even if Eldest Young Lady and Second Young Lady plead with the Marquis, it'll be some time before First Madam is released. Moreover, she'll have lost the Marquis' favor. It won't be as easy for her to harm you in the future."
With quick steps, Qingyu served Ning Xueyan a cup of tea. Ning Xueyan picked up the cup and took a sip. She said with a faint smile, "Mother Han, it's too early to celebrate. Madam Ling isn't an easy opponent."
Ning Ziyan had her own troubles to sort out while Ning Yuling had lost Madam Dowager's favor. However, there was still Madam Ling's son, Ning Huaiyuan.
He was the hope of the entire manor. In her memories, this older brother of his had always been very cold to her. When he saw Ning Yuling bullying Ning Xueyan in the distance, he would turn around and walk away as if he saw nothing. In several instances where Ning Yuling ordered the servants to beat and scold her, and he happened to pass by, she had looked at him hoping he would save her. Yet he had simply ignored her each time.
Never mind any brother-sister affection. Like Madam Ling and her daughters, Ning Huaiyuan considered her even less important than a maid.
However, she couldn't deny that the Eldest Young Master of the Lord Protector's Manor was quite the character. He studied abroad with his teacher, a great scholar, at a young age and had quite the reputation in the capital. Now that the year-end was closing in, he ought to be home soon. He wouldn't just leave it be once he learns that Madam Ling was confined in the Buddha Hall.
Upon second thought, Mother Han found Ning Xueyan's words to be reasonable. Her smile faltered, and she started frowning instead. She asked anxiously, "Is First Madam still targeting us? Should we do something?"
Madam Ling had been managing the household for so many years. It wouldn't take more than a few instructions from her to deal with a young lady with so few servants. This made Mother Han deeply worried.
"That won't be necessary. She won't have the time to deal with us when someone else's targeting her!" Ning Xueyan chuckled. Concubine Xu might be obedient to Madam Ling as her former maid, but now that her only daughter was going to marry an old pervert because of Madam Ling, how could she bear no resentment...?
Ning Lingyun was sharp-tongued and mean. Concubine Xu schemed with Madam Ling to sabotage her marriage. How could she let them have their way? So, she decided to select a good match for Ning Lingyun and turn them against each other.
Sunlight filtered through the window to land on her pale face, and yet was incapable of melting the coldness in her eyes. Mother Han, Qingyu, and the rest were stunned to see her. It was as if they were staring at a demonic flower, a bewitchingly beautiful flower that would gradually devour the preys that dare to infringe on her. Nothing would be able to escape her clutches...
They ought to fear her, and yet she made them feel at ease instead. Only a young lady like her could protect everyone here in the dog-eat-dog environment of the inner courtyard.
Even the strong-willed Xinmei couldn't help wondering just what kind of experience had shaped Ning Xueyan's coldness and apathy. It was as if the previously childish Fifth Young Lady had crawled out of the hell itself.
Fifth Young Lady wasn't unlike an ordinary person. It was no wonder that her Master left her with Ning Xueyan!
In the end, no word about Madam Ling and Marquis of Ping'an leaked. The servants who saw them received stern warnings to keep their mouth shut. The marriage between the Lord Protector's Manor and Marquis of Ping'an's Manor was also nailed down, with the bride being the concubine-born Ning Lingyun. However, as Ning Lingyun had unmarried elder sisters, the two families did no more than the exchange of betrothal gifts. The official wedding would be held at a later date.
This time, the Marquis of Ping'an had essentially tied himself to the fate of the Lord Protector's Manor. Ning Zu'an thought it was a worthwhile deal to buy his silence with a concubine-born daughter. It was just a concubine-born daughter anyway.
Ning Lingyun's position had always been lower compared to Ning Yuling, who bore a far heavier responsibility.
Marquis of Ping'an was, of course, delighted to marry the beautiful lady of his dreams. He had already tossed the matter about the jade pendant to the back of his mind; it was something Madam Ling instructed him to say, anyway. He was grateful enough that he achieved his goal without suffering consequences from the incident with Madam Ling. On the other hand, Ning Zu'an felt frustrated to be addressed as "father-in-law". Looking at such a plump face, he couldn't bring himself to feel happy.
With a wave of his hand, he sent the Marquis of Ping'an away.
That night, Ning Lingyun's courtyard was noisy with commotion, so much so that it nearly alerted Madam Dowager. Concubine Xu had to spend the night there to placate her daughter.
Ning Xueyan went to bed as soon as the lamps were lit for the evening. Lanning stared at the bulging quilt inside the house and closed the doors helplessly. After informing the other servants that their Young Lady had fallen asleep, she returned to the house, closed the doors, and slept outside the room.
Her eyes were closed, but she remained awake. That was because the one sleeping inside wasn't Ning Xueyan but a bundled quilt.
Ning Xueyan had followed Xinmei to sneak out of the Lord Protector's Manor. This was what she had promised Prince Yi.
Tonight, Prince Yi had some affairs that required Ning Xueyan's presence. Lanning didn't know if it was a good thing for her Fifth Young Lady to get involved with Prince Yi. However, Ning Xueyan had so few supporters that her path was still treacherous despite her intelligence. Today's incident was a good example. If Xinmei wasn't around, the Marquis of Ping'an wouldn't have fallen for their trap so easily.
If it was someone else, they would be discovered even if they were able to lure the Marquis of Ping'an over.
Ning Xueyan was a smart one; she must have her reasons to get involved with Prince Yi. This thought made Lanning feel a little calmer. Compared to Ning Ziying, Ning Xueyan appeared even smaller and frailer. The truth was that she was even more formidable, enough to make Lanning trust her. Her Young Lady would surely have her reasons; all she had to do was trust her.
Even so, she was still worried, and it kept her awake. She carefully listened to the sound of activity inside the courtyard...
This time, Ning Xueyan was dressed as a maid. Instead of leading her in through the front door, Xinmei jumped over the wall while carrying her. The Bright Frost Garden was located in a remote corner of the manor, so jumping across the wall would directly take them outside. Outside, a horse carriage was waiting. Ning Xueyan entered the carriage with Xinmei following suit behind her.
In the cover of the night, the carriage made several turns down the road before arriving at the courtyard from before. They entered through the backdoor. Once she closed the doors, Xinmei stood there and carefully listened for any noise. Ning Xueyan stood beside her quietly, looking indifferent. Her calmness made Xinmei nod to herself. This Fifth Young Lady might be young, but she was garnering more and more of her respect.
"Young Lady, allow me to dress you in a new set of clothes!" They entered a room, where a lamp was illuminating a set of ornate clothing made of snow-white cotton yarn. It was a gorgeous piece with an elegant design of blood-red butterflies and looked even better with a jadeite head ornament. With her cool expression, Ning Xueyan looked even more bewitching dressed in it.
Xinmei combed Ning Xueyan's fringe once again. Even though it was a little on the short side, she still managed to press it down with a butterfly hairpin. It was rather astonishing how alluring her delicate brows and eyes could look if she put a little effort into her appearance. With such temperament, behavior, and appearance, she would fully blossom in just two years.
Xinmei couldn't help complimenting this girl inside her mind. Her Master was the most bewitchingly beautiful person that she knew, but the Fifth Young Lady of the Lord Protector's Manor wasn't inferior to him by any means.
"Xinmei, is the Prince going somewhere? Or is he receiving a guest?" Ning Xueyan asked placidly, as she took in the calm expression of the gorgeous lady in the mirror.
"I'm in the dark myself. The Prince's letter only says that you must come here tonight. I'm thinking that perhaps the Prince is putting on a show to meet a few people," Xinmei answered as she combed Ning Xueyan's hair. Since she was away from Prince Yi recently, she wasn't sure about the exact details.
Ning Xueyan frowned and asked confusedly, "Doesn't the Prince have concubines?" Considering his status, Prince Yi could have any woman that he wanted. Why did he ask her to pretend to be his favored concubine?
"There are concubines in the manor, but they're all bestowed by the Emperor and the royal consorts. The Prince doesn't like any of them and settles them in some corner of the inner courtyard. He forbids them from leaving on most days," Xinmei explained, seeing as this couldn't be considered a secret.
Everyone knew that the Emperor and Prince Yi didn't get along. There was no way Prince Yi would want anything to do with the concubines that the Emperor sent. Moreover, all those women tend to shiver when they saw him. They couldn't even get proper sentences out of their mouth. It was incredibly displeasing to him.
She didn't mention the reason was also Ao Chenyi's bloodthirstiness. Several of his concubines were beaten to death just days after entering his manor. Who wouldn't be obedient after seeing this?
"What's the matter with the Third Prince and Prince Yi's fight?" Ning Xueyan asked calmly. That day, the Prince had sent over his people as if he couldn't be bothered it. It was truly strange!
Xinmei didn't dare to answer that question, so she carefully explained, "I'm not so sure myself. If you're curious, you'll have to ask the Prince."