Chapter 120: Coercion
Qin Huaiyuan had noticed Qin Yining’s actions just now. A small, satisfied smile crossed his face, and he nodded at his daughter before lowering the carriage curtains.
This put Qin Yining more at ease. Her father was headed for the palace. With his wits, he surely knew that her mother was already in the palace. Perhaps father would also bring mother back with him when he returned home. Qin Yining was guessing that the emperor wouldn’t have hurt her mother. He had to hold her for her father, after all. Now that the peace talks had successfully concluded and her father hadn’t done anything resembling treason, the emperor would be at peace and return the grand preceptor’s wife.
Temporarily resolving her worries for now, Qin Yining went upstairs to comfort the immensely shocked old dowager. The females returned home after the matriarch had slightly recovered. They gathered at the Garden of Loving Piety after returning to the manor, still feeling the tremors from the shock and unable to rid themselves of their fear.
The Qin females often didn’t cross past the second gate of the manor, much less the main gates. They were used to living in the peaceful lap of luxury and had never seen such violence. The more timid sixth miss had actually wet her pants back at the Drunken Immortal, and was now running a slight fever after changing her clothes.
The old dowager was busy having servants brew calming concoctions for all of the madames and girls. None of the other girls had lost their composure as much as the sixth miss though, so the girl was feeling quite embarrassed. She had buried her reddened face deep into the luohan bed in the old dowager’s quarters in shame.
That a noble daughter had been scared into peeing herself left the second madame feeling like she’d lost a great deal of face. As a result, even as she sipped at her cup, her expression was rather ugly.
The third madame would never waste an opportunity to needle the second branch, theatrically sighing as she glanced at the calm Qin Yining. “Niece Yi is the solidly dependable one after all. She has senior brother-in-law’s personality and doesn’t panic when she runs into trouble. I feel that very few of the girls from our house have a personality similar to niece Yi.”
Qin Yining’s eyebrow quirked up. Was her third aunt attempting to compliment her or make enemies for her?
Indeed, various awkward expressions appeared on people’s faces at the third madame’s words. The second madame glanced over at Qin Yining and smartly decided not to fall into the third madame’s honeyed trap. However, the sixth miss wasn’t quite that circumspect; she shot up from her curled position on the luohan bed and glared angrily at the third madame. And yet, she was a junior and a concubine-born girl who’d been grounded several times by her father and the official wife. She didn’t dare set herself against the third branch since they held the reins of the family’s money, so she could only vent her spleen on Qin Yining.
“Fourth sister is incredible alright. How would any normal noble daughter like us be as experienced as fourth sister?”
‘As experienced’ encompassed a great variety of things, such as Qin Yining’s recent attendance of the peace talks and being offered to the Great Zhou host. Obviously, this kind of experience was the greatest stain on one’s reputation and the greatest insult one could use.
Some of the other girls frowned at the sixth miss’ words. Some were worried, others repulsed. But there were also those like Qin Huining who let slip a chuckle. Even some of the maids couldn’t help but blush at these words.
Any other woman would’ve been so embarrassed that they would desperately wish for a hole in the ground to burrow into. Possibly those who were less able to endure stress might’ve charged at a pillar or hung themselves to prove their innocence.
Qin Yining, however, just smiled. “Sixth sister praises me too highly. I have indeed seen a few more things than most. Setting aside the fact that sixth sister has grown up in the manor since youth, and has never witnessed the difficulties of the outside world, I’ve personally watched father’s dashing figure verbally joust during the peace talks. Such a wondrous sight is one for the annals of poetry! So although I don’t possess any talents, I really am a bit more worldly than sixth sister. As for my courage, it’s also just a bit bigger as well.”
Clever use of leverage would always triumph over brute force. Everyone’s attention was now back now back on the sixth miss peeing her pants from fright. The girl’s face instantly flamed bright red. She glared at Qin Yining, tears gathering in her eyes.
“What’s wrong, sixth sister?” Qin Yining quickly coaxed. “Don’t cry, my father’s held a successful negotiation that will be gloriously recorded in history. This is great cause for celebration; why are you crying? Or is it… that little matter? Don’t worry, don’t think too much about it. Who would gossip about this? Grandmother loves you so dearly, she won’t let anyone talk about this.”
The sixth miss cried furiously with great sniffles. The more Qin Yining spoke like this, the more it proved that her matter had already spread throughout the manor. So what if no one talked about it? Everyone knew about it!
The old dowager rubbed her aching forehead, her patience at its limit as she censured angrily, “Settle down! How can you all have the heart to bicker with each other when something so major happened today? Not only can all of you not shoulder the family’s burdens, but you even turn around to stir up more trouble instead. What use is it keeping you useless bunch of girls around?!”
Everyone rose to curtsey respectfully when they saw that the old dowager was truly angered.
“Please don’t be angry, Old Dowager.”
The sixth miss also made a hiccuping curtsey. The old dowager’s brow was tightly furrowed and she was about to launch into a longer lecture when Qin-mama deftly placed a newly filled tobacco pipe and accompanying pouch in her hands. Thus distracted, the matriarch swallowed what she was about to say and took several long drags on the pipe in an attempt to calm down.
“Don’t worry, Old Dowager.” Qin Yining smiled during the lull. “I just met with father. He’s heading into the palace at the moment, most likely for a banquet. He’ll return soon and you’ll soon be reunited.”
She watched her grandmother’s face closely and noted that although the old dowager looked slightly happier, her frown still lived in the wrinkles of her brow. “Our family is about to step into the height of glory. Father has accomplished an unparalleled meritorious deed, and the emperor is sure to reward him handsomely. Honor and glory will brighten our doorstep, and all the credit goes to the old dowager for raising children well.”
These words comforted the old dowager greatly, and she made a noise of agreement after taking a few more pulls on the pipe. With that, it seemed that her anger had abated.
When the group saw that the old dowager had been pacified with a few words from Qin Yining, they privately heaved sighs of relief. The third madame began coyly fawning over the matriarch again, with the others joining in to agree every so often.
Only the sixth miss remained quietly sobbing off on the side, quite aggrieved. Qin Huining was sitting next to her, providing comfort in low murmurs. The two would frequently cast looks in Qin Yining’s direction and put their heads together to whisper some more.
Qin Yining didn’t care what they were saying about her at all. Only incompetents would fear direct confrontation and resort to talking behind one’s back. Now that she’d accompanied her father on this trip and witnessed matters that affected the bigger picture, as well as the blood shed to achieve it, she felt that her mind had been greatly broadened. Such miniscule matters were so… petty in comparison. They were just something to be dealt with when they arose.
She was worried about her parents, and wary of this mysterious force behind the assassination attempt. She didn’t care about the group who’d gone after the the trash emperor’s life, nor the fate of the trampress. She was focused on those who’d been dressed as Great Zhou soldiers and had come for her father. Would they try again, given this attempt had failed?
If the main negotiator of Great Yan from the recently successful peace talks was assassinated, this would be a provocation towards both Great Yan and Great Zhou, wouldn’t it? Great Zhou would think that the Yan government was looking down on them or wanted to weasel their way out of the terms, whereas Great Yan would suspect that Great Zhou wanted to rip up the accords.
Who would benefit if the two nations continued their war? The Miao territory that bordered Great Yan? Or the Tatars to the north of Great Zhou?
Contrary to Qin Yining’s expectations, the palace wasn’t exactly the picture of merriment she’d described to the old dowager. In fact, pin drop silence had fallen over the imperial study. Qin Huaiyuan was kneeling on the black marble floor. The stone, so polished that one could clearly see one’s reflection, mirrored the solemn expression of his downturned face. The only sound that broke the oppressive silence was the the emperor’s footsteps as he paced in front of Qin Huaiyuan, his hands behind his back.
“How about that, how about that, huh!? I’ve broken my back for this country for thirty five years, and in return, get gifted with an assassination attempt! And it’s still that group of people who came to kill me?!”
“Please quell your anger, Your Majesty.” Qin Huaiyuan kowtowed.
“Quell my anger? How can I quell my anger?!” The emperor angrily picked up the secret missive that one of the silver-masked men had just delivered and threw it in front of Qin Huaiyuan. “Take a look at this, how do I quell my anger?!”
Qin Huaiyuan’s heart thumped violently as his eyes flicked over the contents. His expression changed dramatically; all color draining from his face.
“Your Majesty!” Qin Huaiyuan kowtowed loudly three times from his kneeling position on the floor. “Your subject’s entire family is loyal without question! To the very end! Even if Your Majesty wished for this subject to die, this subject wouldn’t have the slightest reluctance! Please investigate this matter well, Your Majesty!”
The emperor minutely relaxed when he saw the normally refined immortal Qin Huaiyuan truly panicking. He thought carefully for a moment and broke into a smile, completely different from his hopping fury from seconds ago. He gently reached out with a single hand to help Qin Huaiyuan rise.
“We naturally know of beloved subject Qin’s wholehearted devotion to the country. Your wife is also currently a guest in the palace. But you’ve read the secret report. We will not allow this group of assassins to live any longer. So, all you need to do next is to play out a scene with Us. We will be at ease then and will reward you handsomely.”
Qin Huaiyuan felt both his hands and feet grow clammy, but he had no choice other than to lower his head. “All shall be in accordance to Your Majesty’s wishes. This subject will follow to the end of everything!”