Chapter 14: Fame With A Single Battle
Snowpear Courtyard sat in the northwest corner of the complex. If one were to describe it nicely, it was “soothing yet beautiful”. In reality, it was rather devoid of foot traffic. It was out of the way from most paths, so its residents would have to cover a lot more ground than the girls from the other branches of the family. Qin Yining decided to bring Qiulu and Ruilan with her, while Zhu-mama, Liuya and the serving girls sent them off at the door. Ruilan smiled appeasingly, “Miss, shall I order some of the old servants 1 used to menial work to prepare a sedan chair? The road is long; I’m afraid it’ll tire you out.” She thought Qin Yining was likely out of energy after exercising for two hours.
“No need. The morning air is still fresh, and a brisk walk will loosen everything up. Otherwise, I’ll feel weird all over.” Compared to her previous life of having to fend for herself, life had been too easy as of late. Qin Yining was used to back-breaking work and the edge of starvation every other day. She was afraid that her edge would be blunted by this easy life where everything was proffered on a silver platter.
Those present couldn’t help but quietly cluck their tongues in amazement. They’d be sprawled on the floor panting if they’d followed their miss’ schedule, but she hadn’t even loosened up yet? Just how strong was her body?! Liuya recovered the quickest and started complimenting her mistress, volleying with Ruilan. Their compliments painted Qin Yining as someone who could uproot even mountains, and even the taciturn Qiulu gazed at her mistress with worship.
Qin Yining listened to the fawning with a slight smile. Compared to their supercilious dismissal yesterday, the servants’ attitude today had undergone a complete transformation. She’d gained fame with a single battle, so her efforts yesterday hadn’t been for naught. This was precisely what she wanted. Since being gentle and mature hadn’t brought the care that was hers by right, then her edge would seize by force. Otherwise, if everyone took her for an easy target, they’d only be too happy to trample her in their wake. In addition, who would wholeheartedly follow an official daughter who couldn’t protect herself? Having no servants she could trust meant having no eyes and ears in the manor. How would she survive in the future?
The way things stood now was a very good beginning for her. A relaxed Qin Yining started off for Garden of Loving Piety with Ruilan and Qiulu in tow. The morning air was crisp and clear, with more hints of civilization than that of the mountains. When compared to the desolate campsite she’d lived in before, she found that she really did like “home” better. She admired the view as she walked, finding interest even in a stone brick that was slightly overgrown with moss.
Ruilan saw that her mistress was in a good mood, and so walked up to whisper in a low voice, “Miss, Yuxiang boiled water until midnight last night and said that she’d tell on you to the old dowager. Be careful, don’t let her frame you.”
Qin Yining nodded with a smile, not saying anything, but also indicating that she’d heard the maid’s words. Ruilan breathed a small sigh of relief at this acknowledgement. It looks like miss isn’t planning on punishing me for my wrongs. A tolerant and charismatic mistress like this gave the greatest feeling of security.
They followed the alley and took a right at the fork, and the scene suddenly brightened in front of them. Before long, they’d reached the rear garden, and Qin Yining’s feet slowed of their own accord. She looked around with obvious interest. Having seen wild overgrowth everywhere she’d set foot on the mountains, such an exquisite and meticulously arranged garden moved her deeply. Just as she was happily taking in her fill of the garden, a slightly young girl’s shrill voice shattered her serenity from behind, “Oho! And I wondered who it was. You, huh? A barbarian like you actually has the capacity to admire gardens as well?”
Qin Yining turned around, a smile already in her eyes as her hand gently brushed back the side bangs the wind had caressed over her eyes. She didn’t say anything. The newcomer was a slightly chubby girl with a similar hairstyle of hair trailing down her back from twin buns on her head. Two fine, silver butterflies had seemingly alighted on her head, tucked around a downy-white peony flower. Her silver and red padded jacket and skirt beautifully offset the white rabbit fur around her collar, making her apple-red cheeks even more adorable. She was a plum blossom flowering brilliantly amidst a dreary winter, quite fetching and easy on the eye.
Ruilan guessed that Qin Yining didn’t know all the girls in the manor, so she smartly curtseyed, “Greetings to Sixth Miss.”
Qin Yining’s eyebrow arched when she heard that it was the sixth miss. When she had Ruilan grind ink for her last night, she’d also gained a rough understanding of all the household members. The sixth miss was named Shuangning, and her birth mother was the favored Concubine Lin of the second elder master. Concubine Lin was quite a fortunate woman, since she’d given birth to twin girls. Sixth Miss Qin Shuangning was the older twin, and her sister Anning less than fifteen minutes younger than her. Although they were twins, their personalities and appearances were vastly different.
The sixth miss was close to Qin Huining and depended greatly on her birth mother, Concubine Lin. On the other hand, the seventh miss was close to the third and eighth miss from the third branch of the family, and was goddaughter to the second madame. Second Madame née Su had given birth to Qin Yu, eldest master of the youngest generation, and fifth master Qin Xian. She hadn’t had any daughters, so she’d personally brought up the seventh miss and treated the girl as her firstborn.
Ruilan had praised the second madame for being a wonderful mother when she had explained it all, but Qin Yining had sensed something else. If the second madame really was so loving, why would she only elevate one of Concubine Lin’s children and suppress the other? With just one, she could hold the girl in the palm of her hands and could mold the child whichever way she wanted. Setting that aside, treating the twins unfairly meant that the one left out would be filled with resentment and jealousy. It would tear the sisters apart.
Seeing her twin daughters so divided in heart and practice, and one of them distanced from her, Concubine Lin must be the saddest of them all. The second madame seemed to be an expert at muddying the waters.
Qin Yining smiled, “So it’s sixth sister. Have you come to greet Old Dowager?”
“Naturally. I also wanted to see how fourth sister is doing, but who knew I’d bump into you instead, wild wench! How unlucky!” The sixth miss tilted her nose up with a huff.
The look in Qin Yining’s eyes turned cold, but her voice remained gentle. “So this is how sisters in the city greet each other, hmm? I’m learning a lot today.”
The sixth miss was quick to identify the contempt in Qin Yining’s eyes and flew into a rage. “Don’t you be proud of yourself! Look at you, so arrogant and cocky simply because you beat people up the first day after coming back, and fourth sister at that! Just wait until grandmother punishes you!”
“You mean Qin Huining?” Qin Yining smiled. “It looks like your sources haven’t been too accurate. In terms of punishment, grandmother has already done so. Qin Huining tried to create discord between my father and mother, severely angering grandmother. She’s already been sent to copy ‘The Classic of Filial Piety’.”
“You! You’re just spouting nonsense!” The sixth miss stamped her foot in anger. “You’re twisting things around!”
“I say, sixth sister isn’t that old, but you’re somehow going senile!” A sweet young voice rang through the air. Three young girls had rounded the corner while the sixth miss was angrily accusing Qin Yining. The one who’d spoken was Eighth Miss Qin Baoning. She had already rushed over like a young sparrow before Qin Yining could respond to the sixth miss, landing with a slight bend at the knee in greeting. Straightening, Qin Baoning glared at the sixth miss, “Senior uncle already said yesterday that Qin Huining is just a foster child. Fourth sister has already been entered in the family books, but you’re still messing up the titles. You can’t even tell which is fourth sister, just wait until senior uncle and the old dowager punishes you!”
Qin Shuangning’s eyes had gone bloodshot in her anger. She shrieked, “Qin Baoning, do you even have a heart? You denounce fourth sister as soon as this barbarian enters?! My sources say she beat up fourth sister! Us sisters have lived together for so long, but you don’t care about our fourth sister at all?”
“Of course I do! I care why she deserved to be beaten up! But since she deserved it, she was in the wrong!” Qin Baoning rolled her eyes at her sixth sister. She wanted to continue battling, but Third Miss Qin Jianing quietly tugged on her younger sister’s sleeve to make her stop.
Seeing that the scene was about to erupt out of control, the quiet Seventh Miss Qin Anning quickly walked up and took her twin sister’s arm with a smile. “Sixth sister, let’s go greet grandmother. If not, we’ll be late.”
Qin Shuangning pushed aside her twin contemptuously. “Oh don’t you touch me. Stay away from me. I can’t be bothered talking to some traitorous thing like you. Don’t you like sucking up to the third branch? What are you playing at being a good person for?” She brushed off Qin Anning’s hand forcefully and stalked off.
Qin Anning’s face flushed beet red with indignation. Although the third elder master, born of née Wang, had no future as an official, he had a broad and smooth path as a merchant. Therefore, the third branch of the Qin family was the economic lifeline of the entire clan. The children of the third branch didn’t need to rely on the family’s coffers for their monthly stipend. Their allowance was naturally on a different level compared to the rest of the young Qin girls.
Seventh Miss Qin Anning had indeed received some small presents here and there; but how could she remain calm in the face of such indignity? She immediately retorted, “And don’t you suck up to the main branch of the family? Look at you, you’ve even hugged the thigh of an imposter!”
Eighth Miss Qin Baoning clapped her hands and laughed with delight at this riposte. Qin Shuangning turned back to glare at everyone, but left with a flourish of her sleeves when she considered the numbers against her. Third Miss Qin Jianing took Yining’s hand when the sixth miss had stiffly walked far enough into the distance. “Don’t be taken aback, fourth sister, sister Shuang plays with sister Hui the most. She’s just a bit emotional right now.”
“Third sister speaks truly. Sixth sister is innocent and naive, but she’s rather interesting.” Qin Yining smiled faintly. She’d always liked to carefully observe a new environment, whether deep in the mountains or a city’s crowds. Only after careful analysis of people and matters would she feel a sense of security. This was why she’d sought to form a picture of her new sisters as soon as possible.
When the third miss saw Qin Yining’s emotions were carefully regulated, and that she didn’t seem as shy as yesterday when dealing with people, Qin Jianing assigned a bit more importance to the fourth miss in her heart.
The girls soon arrived at Garden of Loving Piety, chattering happily along the way. All of the serving girls in the covered hallway bent their knee in unison when the girls passed over the square tiles laid at the entrance. Two maids rolled up embroidered satin curtains stitched onto thin bamboo slats. A pair of jade gourds dangled from the corners, their tassels swaying becomingly.
The door curtains today are different from yesterday’s. Qin Yining inwardly marveled at the extravagance of the rich as she took off her cloak, instructing the maid to keep it well. She followed the rest in circling past the room divider that was carved with diagrams for happiness.
This morning, the old dowager was wearing a sapphire-colored cotton jacket with loose sleeves, embroidered patterns of fortune chasing down the row of buttons in the front. Her white hair was coiled into a large bun, a gold hairpin embedded with rubies dangling from it. She was currently sitting cross legged on the luohan bed next to the window with an extremely dark expression.
Second Madame née Su, Third Madame née Wang 2 were sitting on either side of her, while First Wife née Yao and Second Wife née Meng 3 were standing behind their respective mother-in-laws with lowered heads. Between them was Qin Huining, her face so swollen that it was difficult to make out her features. When she saw Qin Yining, her pupils contracted rapidly. She subconsciously shrank back, biting her lip. She invited great pity, as if she’d suffered so greatly but didn’t dare resist.
The sixth miss had arrived earlier and started raising a hue and cry before Qin Yining and the others could make their greetings. “Old Dowager, look at how swollen fourth sister’s face is! You have to punish that wild wench severely!”