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"Father, I know you care deeply for me, and I appreciate it. However, the imperial edict is not something we can defy easily. As a key minister to His Majesty, you should set an example. I am willing to accept the royal marriage. You don't have to worry or feel conflicted about me. I can handle this. Trust me," Yun Qingqiao reassured her father.

Though it was her first time meeting this Prime Minister, their conversation had revealed a father's profound love for his daughter. Not wanting to put her father at risk, she pretended to agree with the marriage for now, confident she could find a way to make the Fifth Prince withdraw the proposal himself.

Yun Xiuwen looked lost and uncertain, torn between his duty to the emperor and his love for his daughter. "Qiao'er, your father..." He struggled with the thought of her marrying so young. In their society, while girls could marry at fifteen, it wasn't unusual for daughters of nobility to marry at sixteen or even eighteen. Yun Xiuwen had no issue keeping his beloved daughter at home for a few more years.

"Father, I like the courtyard you gave me, especially the bamboo grove," Yun Qingqiao said with a slight smile, changing the subject.

"If you like it, that's wonderful," he replied, relieved at the shift in conversation.

"The bamboo grove inspired me to write a poem. Would you like to hear it?" Yun Qingqiao thought of a poem by Zheng Xie, a painter, and poet from the Qing Dynasty. Since this unknown era wouldn't recognize it, she borrowed it.

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Graceful and elegant characters appeared on the paper as Yun Qingqiao wrote: "Firmly clenching the green mountains, roots deeply set in the cracked rocks. Enduring a thousand hardships, standing strong against winds from all directions."

"Qiao'er, such talent brings great comfort to your father. The word 'clench' is compelling, capturing the resilience and character of bamboo under trials and tribulations. I understand your feelings through this poem; like the bamboo, you are deeply rooted and strong, unfazed by adversity. You truly are wise," Yun Xiuwen expressed, recognizing his daughter's use of poetry to convey her true thoughts.

Yun Qingqiao, internally thanking the poet Zheng Xie, replied, "It's titled 'Bamboo and Stone.' What do you think, Father?"

"Excellent! The name perfectly captures the noble character of the bamboo. Very well done!" Yun Xiuwen praised enthusiastically.

"Father, I shall name my courtyard 'Bamboo and Stone Residence.' Would that be alright?" Yun Qingqiao suggested adding the title next to her poem.

Yun Xiuwen nodded in approval.

With a smile, Yun Qingqiao proposed, "Could Father gift me a calligraphy piece with 'Bamboo and Stone Residence' as a keepsake? I would love to frame it and hang it at the entrance of my courtyard.”

Taking up the brush, Yun Xiuwen's strokes were strong and bold, his penmanship as fluid as drifting clouds and as dynamic as a startled dragon. His writing evoked a wild horse breaking free, galloping through the clouds, and a dragon soaring in the sky. His skill was truly befitting of a renowned calligrapher of the Dairui Dynasty.

After finishing the calligraphy and stamping his seal, Yun Qingqiao stood beside her father to admire the work. She was delighted, knowing that displaying this masterpiece at her courtyard's entrance would likely deter unnecessary conflicts.

Father and daughter enjoyed a pleasant conversation, and before they realized it, it was time for dinner. Yun Xiuwen had initially planned a grand reunion dinner to welcome Yun Qingqiao back home, but given her allergic reaction and skin condition, they decided to keep it simple.

After parting ways, Yun Xiuwen didn't forget to instruct the servants to prepare some unique dishes from Chuzhou for his daughter, ensuring she felt at home in her new surroundings.



Upon returning to her courtyard, Yun Qingqiao was greeted by her worried maids and Madam Su. They quickly gathered around her.

"Miss, are you alright?" Yi'an inquired.

"What could happen to me?" Yun Qingqiao replied with a question of her own, her eyes scanning her new living quarters as she walked.

The main room was spacious and elegantly furnished, a tasteful combination of simplicity and dignity. Her room was divided into three main sections: the outer room served as a hall for dining and conducting affairs, functioning like a combined living and dining room for entertaining guests and everyday use.

Further inside was the inner chamber, divided into an anteroom for her attendants to rest and a private bedroom. A screen and curtains split the bedroom itself into two areas: one for sleeping and the other designated for washing and bathing.

The maids followed Yun Qingqiao, understanding she wasn't inclined to discuss her meeting with her father. They turned to Chunan for answers, but she shook her head, equally in the dark.

Yi'an, slightly frustrated, pinched Chunan's arm, prompting a pained response. 

"I couldn't enter the study with the Miss; that page boy stopped me. And when the Miss came out of the study, I asked her the same question, but she didn’t answer me either.”

Yun Qingqiao responded with a laugh, "I was just teasing you. From our conversation this afternoon, it's clear that my father truly cares for me, unlike other ladies in the house. You can all rest easy now."

Based on her interaction with her father, she felt reassured about his intentions. His affection seemed genuine, unlike the complicated relationships with the various mistresses in the house. 

Marital strife was one thing, but the presence of numerous other women only complicated matters further, especially given her mother's poor health.

Her thoughts then turned to finding a way to help her mother's condition. As she pondered, her stomach betrayed her with a loud rumble.

The maids burst into laughter, and Madam Su playfully scolded them, "Enough laughing, quickly set the table for the Miss!"

They all returned to the main hall, preparing for a much-needed meal after a day of emotional revelations and discoveries.

Yun Qingqiao took her seat and began to eat gracefully yet swiftly. After a few bites, she turned to Youzhu and Jingyu, who were serving the meal. 

"Have you all eaten yet?"

"We've already eaten, Miss. Please enjoy your meal while it's still warm," Youzhu replied, knowing it wasn't appropriate for them to eat before their mistress.

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"Miss, these dishes were specially sent from the kitchen by your father. They are traditional dishes from Chuzhou, prepared just for you. Would you like to try them?" Jingyu presented the dishes to Yun Qingqiao.

Nodding and swallowing her food, Yun Qingqiao said, "There's too much here for me to finish alone. Why don't you call Madam Su, Chunan, and Yi'an to join us? Oh, and first, close the courtyard door." 

She suspected they hadn't eaten dinner yet and wondered if the current matriarch, Auntie Zhou, was already causing trouble for them.

After Jingyu closed the door, Youzhu called Madam Su and the others to join them.

Madam Su gently scolded, "Miss, when we were in the Marquis's mansion, I tolerated your antics, but this is the Prime Minister's residence. Why do you still insist on dining with the maids?"

Youzhu went to fetch more chopsticks as Yun Qingqiao chuckled. 

"Madam Su, I won't do this in front of others. We're alone now, and besides, you all are like family to me. What’s wrong with us eating together?”

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