Chapter 117: Dismayed Enlightenment
How could one bear to say any of that! Anger ballooned in Qin Yining’s heart as the blood in her veins turned into lava that burned through her body. Her face flushed beet red with anger, but she forced herself to maintain a calm expression and smiled. “I see, so the empress sent a verbal decree?”
She carefully observed the expressions around her as she spoke. She couldn’t read anything from her aunts as they lowered their eyes without a word. However, her cousins’ expressions offered some insight; awkwardness and worry were writ clear. Qin Yining instantly understood that née Sun hadn’t been summoned by the empress. She’d likely entered the palace for another reason.
The old dowager didn’t seem to notice anything awkward and smiled back. “Don’t you worry. Auntie Cao wanted to spend some time with your mother and empathized with what had happened to your maternal relations. She knew that your mother was dejected and brought her into the palace for a breath of fresh air.
“I see. Auntie Cao is certainly thoughtful.” Qin Yining kept her voice as calm and gentle as usual. “How many days has it been since mother entered the palace?”
“Your mother entered the palace the second day after all of you left.” The old dowager was immensely pleased that Qin Yining hadn’t flown into a rage as expected.
“I see.” Qin Yining was thinking furiously and had come to a few conclusions. The matter likely stemmed a large part from the old dowager’s desire to please née Cao. The matriarch had probably subtly indicated to née Cao to take née Sun into the palace to do as the concubine would. She was humiliating née Sun in order to raise née Cao higher. But there was another dimension that the old dowager likely didn’t have the brains to think about.
“I’m sure that Auntie Cao discussed this visit with the empress before she entered the palace?” Qin Yining smiled gently, but didn’t wait for a response. She rose to her feet, adopting a ramrod straight posture. “With our trip to Xihua for the peace talks, the emperor basically bet the entire fate of Great Yan on father’s actions. Although we’re a rich and fertile land, many years of running a deficit have turned us into a weak woman without the ability to fight back, a target that prances in front of bandits with a large bag of silver. Not only can we not safeguard our wealth, we’re hard pressed to ensure even our own safety. Father is a renowned heroic talent with a great reputation. Old Dowager, what do you think the emperor is most afraid of when he sent father to the peace talks?”
Although Qin Yining was still smiling, her aura had slowly transformed. As the crowd looked at her, the resemblance to Qin Huaiyuan’s usual stern visage was uncanny. Although Qin Yining had never spent time at court, the cold ferocity in her personality, nurtured by her time battling wild animals, added a few formidable hints to her bearing.
When the old dowager looked at Qin Yining, her expression changed drastically when she recalled what her beloved son had once told her. The matriarch looked dumbly at her granddaughter, the color draining away from her previously beaming face.
“The emperor is naturally… most afraid of…” Her voice trailed off with fright. No one present was a fool, they all knew what had remained unsaid.
The second and third madame looked at each other, while the girls had solemn expressions on their faces.
“Right.” Qin Yining smiled. “The emperor is most afraid of my father suddenly defecting to the enemy. Thus, naturally, he needs something to restrain father with. What’s father’s weakest spot? Is it only my mother?”
The girl walked slowly up to the old dowager, her smile never wavering. “But thankfully, father successfully concluded the peace talks and has returned safely. The crisis looming over our heads has retreated as well.
“We are all Qins, and all in the same boat. When a bird’s nest is overturned, no eggs remain intact.” Her penetrating gaze raked sharply across the old dowager and her two aunts. “Not to speak of those who wanted to take advantage of either my father or my absence to scheme and plot to gain certain things, but even if they did succeed, it is still a mystery as to whether they’d be able to keep their gains or burn their hands instead.”
Qin Yining wasn’t being too narrow minded in subtly reminding them all, but her ‘family’s’ surprise and hostility at her return was simply too overt. The Qin family branches had yet to split off into their respective households. Qin Huaiyuan was the firstborn of the main branch and thus the main pillar of the family. Second uncle was the second official son and also an official of the court. However, his position wasn’t high and he’d always been suppressed. Third uncle was concubine-born and had focused his efforts on being a merchant, becoming the economic lifeline of the family.
When Qin Huaiyuan was present, the second and third branches all stayed neatly in their places. But once he left, the other branches had stirred into action. The second official son felt that he could inherit the mantle of leadership, while the concubine-born wondered why the economic lifeline of the family had to give their silver away to others. No one dared bring up splitting up the family to Qin Huaiyuan, but that didn’t mean they lacked plots in play in the shadows.
As for her? The Institute of Luminous Charm was incredibly rich pickings if she was no longer alive, to say nothing of anything else. She and her father knew that the emperor wanted the Institute, but the family didn’t. Perhaps those who wanted to take the Institute inwardly felt it a pity that she’d returned.
Qin Yining’s gaze fell on Qin Huining. She must be the one who’d found it the greatest pity of all. Even though she was now the foster daughter, she’d once called the Duchess of Ding her maternal grandmother. If Qin Yining were no longer alive, naturally the other granddaughter would take over the family business. But now that née Sun had seen through Qin Huining’s scheming personality, their mother absolutely wouldn’t let that happen. Therefore, née Sun’s existence was an obstacle to Qin Huining realizing her plans.
Have these simple-minded people with only insignificant profits in mind ever thought of what would happen if father or I didn’t come back? They’d have lost even their lives, much less all this silliness they’re plotting about. Qin Yining had simply laid out this logic as clearly as she could for them to think about. If they scared themselves with what they imagined, well, then, that would be a sort of punishment as well.
The old dowager’s complexion had gone ashen, and the second and third madame also had very ugly expressions on their faces. Qin Huining’s face had drained of all color as she pursed her lips and lost herself in thought for a while. When she saw Qin Yining looking at her, she glared back fiercely to indicate her strength. However, her hands toyed nervously at her handkerchief, betraying her nerves.
“So this means that née Cao might’ve taken your mother into the palace because the emperor wanted her to?” The old dowager finally caught on.
“This is most likely the case.” Qin Yining smiled faintly. “The emperor can’t very well openly bring my mother into the palace as a hostage. That would make for ugly gossip. There’s already enough dissension and criticism of how the peace talks had been handled this time. The emperor isn’t that much of a fool, so he borrowed née Cao’s hands.”
Indeed, an imperial decree couldn’t be given, so they could only make use of the legitimate excuse of née Cao visiting her relatives.
“To… to think that née Cao wouldn’t be on our side!” The old dowager looked quite stunned.
“Avoiding losses and seeking gains is natural human behavior. Don’t be angry, Old Dowager.” Qin Yining responded without a flicker in expression. Wasn’t this what the old dowager often did? What, was it only acceptable when she did it, and disloyalty from anyone else?
The females within the room all turned grave when they heard Qin Yining’s words. The second and third madame had once again experienced their niece’s capabilities, and even began to think that they should never seek to confront Qin Yining directly. In front of them was a girl who’d faced down an old dowager who’d completely set aside many years of relationship with a daughter-in-law, allowing a concubine to take the official wife into the palace for unspecified torment. Qin Yining hadn’t kicked up a fuss at all. She’d merely analyzed the political situation aloud, and that’d been enough to make the color drain from the old dowager’s face and cause her to wish dearly for time to travel backwards. This wasn’t just use of threats anymore, she’d completely crushed the opposition with intelligence!
When she saw how thunderstruck the old dowager looked, Qin Yining chuckled. “Don’t worry, grandmother. Now that father has returned safely, everything will be resolved. I’m sure that mother and née Cao will return home soon.”
Even if this was the case, how would the old dowager trust née Cao in the future? The matriarch felt that she’d been sorely lied to.
“Old Dowager, shall we take dinner in the warmed room tonight?” Qin-mama had been listening off to the side for a quite a while, lacking the chance to sneak a word in edgewise. Now that matters had been discussed, she walked forward to curtsey and smile.
The old dowager’s complexion was ashen as she nodded, completely devoid of interest. Qin Yining lowered her eyes, carefully hiding all of her emotions. After the group partook of dinner, they returned to their residences with various thoughts.
Qin Yining was holding Riceball while sitting cross-legged on the luohan bed next to the window. She’d put on a thinly padded cotton jacket and was thinking of things with a furrowed brow. Qiulu brought in another lamp to greatly brighten up the somewhat dark bedroom.
“How utterly shameless! I’ve never seen anyone like this! All she does is bully our madame when we’re not at home, that’s all she’s good for anyways!” Songlan and Bingtang were quite furious, cursing as they worked on shoe soles with needle and thread.