Chapter 67: Advent of Wind and Rain
The three walked out chattering and laughing, so cheery that to the outside eye, it didn’t seem that they were mistress and servants. They seemed more like sisters, making the maids of the Garden of Tranquility look on with envy. Who in the Qin Manor didn’t envy those serving at Venerable Study Hall these days? The three made their happy way to Snowpear Courtyard. Right before they got there, Qin Yining cut off the laughter with, “We’ll leave right after we put these things down.”
“We’ll probably get a bellyful of anger if we stay too long.” Songlan nodded.
“But most importantly, if we stay long, we’ll be caught in the rain and snow.” Bingtang shook her head, her expression deadly serious. She had a pair of round, chubby cheeks to begin with and was even more adorable when she made that expression. Qin Yining and Songlan giggled happily at the sight.
When the serving girl at the door of Snowpear Courtyard saw that Qin Yining had come, she quickly ran in to report. Wife Ge had served Qin Yining in the ancestral hall for a few days and respected the fourth miss even more when she noticed Qin Yining’s stunning outfit, and how even her two maids were wearing silk cotton capes of bright blue, stitched together with exemplary needlework and cloth. The fourth miss was now fully capable of holding her own even when compared with other misses from rich families. Wife Ge’s admired the fourth miss even more than before. “It’s Fourth Miss! Our miss is inside, please come on in.”
“Please tell Miss Huining of our arrival and ask if she’s free.” Qin Yining smiled. “Mother told me to deliver some snacks and a fox pelt to her.”
“Of course. Please wait a moment, miss.” Wife Ge had Qin Yining take a seat in the front hall. “I’ll inform my mistress right away.”
Qin Yining nodded, the corner of her eye already catching Qin Huining’s figure in the distance. She also heard a muffled, “…I don’t want those things either! Tell her to get out!”
Head maid Fugui was walking in with a tea tray when she heard the muffled screech. Her expression grew stiff and she looked at Qin Yining with trepidation. The maid managed to squeeze out a smile when she saw the fourth miss’ lack of reaction, and caught the latter’s attention with a quiet, “Fourth Miss, please have some tea.”
Fugui and Caiyun had originally served in the Garden of Loving Piety. Although they weren’t as favored as Jixiang and Ruyi, they were still head maids who’d received the highest stipends. They’d originally thought that since Qin Huining was a diplomatic girl and a prime recipient of the old dowager’s love, as well as being the lord’s foster daughter, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to go serve her. But how could they have known that they’d be constantly assaulted by the byproducts of their mistress’ bad temper the moment they were transferred to her side? It was a lot more than they’d had to take from the old dowager. They’d never thought that the gentle and demure Miss Huining was actually like this in private.
So when they saw the fourth miss come bearing gifts, only to be greeted by yet another temper tantrum, Fugui really felt too embarrassed by it all. She set the teacup and saucer lightly in Qin Yining’s hand and smiled apologetically. Qin Yining shook her head faintly, indicating that she didn’t mind. She’d never make trouble for servants, even if only because her position had once been worse than them. She knew well what kind of troubles befell them.
“You may go, there’s no need for your service at this moment.”
Fugui smiled gratefully and was about to respond courteously when Qin Huining’s malicious voice cut in, “What. This is Snowpear Courtyard, not your Venerable Study Hall. Since when did you gain the authority to command my servants?”
As Qin Huining marched across the room, fury in every line of her body, Qin Yining simply arched a brow at her and dimpled. “Miss Huining must be confused. Doesn’t the Snowpear Courtyard reside within the Qin Manor? I’m the Qin fourth miss. Which of the servants can’t I order around?”
“Don’t think you can come here to throw your weight around!” Qin Huining spat out through clenched teeth.
Qin Yining remained sitting leisurely, seemingly unaffected by the latter’s vitriol. She took a sip from the white porcelain teacup, and smiled at Qin Huining. “Whatever do you mean? Ah, Miss Huining is joking. I’m just speaking of reason.”
“Speaking of reason? You’ve hogged all reason!” Qin Huining’s voice had begun to grow shrill as her rage grew hotter.
“Those with logic on their side do not raise their voice. If Zhan-mama saw you like this, I dare say she’d make you stand in a corner.”
If looks could kill, Qin Yining would’ve died several times over from the vicious glare Qin Huining had just graced her with. Qin Huining’s hands were balled into fists as she drew great shuddering breaths in an effort to keep a lid on her urge to roar with fury. Barely keeping herself in check, it was only then that she finally noticed that she’d been standing all this time, while Qin Yining had remained seated in a stately manner. It was as if Qin Huining was a servant in her household. Humiliated fury once again snapped the leash of good behavior, and she only had one place to vent it. It took both Qin Yining and Fugui completely by surprise when Qin Huining whirled around to spitefully slap Fugui. “You low down wench! So my Snowpear Courtyard is too small for you, huh! Take a better look at what you’re trying to cozy up to first!”
Completely taken aback by the sudden pain and the unreasonableness of the punishment, Fugui dropped to her knees, sobbing in shock and pain.
Qin Yining’s face grew stern, and she rose slowly. “I’m not free to intervene in the methods Miss Huining uses to teach her maids their lessons, but punishing a maid that hasn’t committed fault is simply too great a loss of face. Our Qin family has never produced such a vicious mistress. I recommend you rein yourself in a bit, and avoid being the first. Don’t disappoint Old Dowager and mother.”
“Who the hell do you think you are?! When did it become your turn to lecture me?!”
Qin Yining couldn’t be bothered to argue further. “I only came because mother told me to deliver these things to you. Do you think I actually like looking at your true self after your sickeningly sweet act in front of others? Enjoy the snacks. Mother says to make the fox pelt into neck and hand warmers. If you have other ideas, take them up with mother. I’ll be off.” Qin Yining called Songlan and Bingtang to her side and started to leave.
“You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t picked through the pile already!” Qin Huining vainly tried to cover her anger with a disdainful snort. “Don’t think I don’t know that my pelt is simply a part of your leftovers!”
Absolutely ludicrous! Qin Yining’s footsteps stilled. Qin Huining shrank back subconsciously when she saw the other halt. She’d never once forgotten that time when she’d been beaten mercilessly. But when Qin Yining looked back, only a smile was on her face, “Think whatever you’d like. I couldn’t be bothered with paying attention to people like you before… but now I’ve changed my mind. Let me tell you something, I just so happen to want to bully you. I want to bully you to death. What are you going to do about it, hmm?”
“You…” Qin Huining’s lips were trembling.
“Bully me back if you have the ability! I’m right here, waiting. If you don’t have what it takes, then shut up and sit down.”
“Qin Yining, you go too far!” Qin Huining shrieked.
Qin Yining shook her finger. “Not so loud now. You’ll let others know just how crude you are and sully the Qin family name.”
Qin Yining flashed a warm and happy smile at the livid Qin Huining and near floated out with her maids. They heard a shrill shriek explode as soon as they cleared the door, followed swiftly by the sound of slaps and the crying of maids. Qin Yining shook her head with a sigh. “Let’s go home.”
“To think that Miss Huining would turn out like this now,” Songlan sighed. “I couldn’t tell that she was like this before.”
“Unsatisfied greed surely has terrible results.” Bingtang marveled.
A cold wind snuck up on them, depositing flakes of wet snow on their necks. Qin Yining quickly tightened her collar while Songlan started in surprise, then stamped her foot. “It really did snow! Now I really have to make a pair of shoes for you!”
“My master is the most skilled at reading faces and the heavens,” Bingtang responded proudly. “It’s a pity that I didn’t spend enough time with her and only know how to predict the weather.”
To think that Priestess Liu had these sorts of talents! One really couldn’t judge a book by its cover. The three hurried back to Venerable Study Hall, trying to stay ahead of the bad weather. The moment they stepped foot into the covered hallway, the sleet started in earnest. The slushy mixture tinkled down on the roof and roof beams. Having trotted all the way back, the three looked at each other and smiled.
Qin Yining studied the accounts that the Institute of Luminous Grace had sent over as soon as she returned to her room, sleeping only when the night deepened.
The next day, news of the Great Zhou and Yan armies clashing at Xihua spread throughout the capital. Originally filled with the happiness of the impending new year, the citizens were suddenly mired in the abject fear of a country balancing on a razor’s edge. Qin Huaiyuan was summoned into the palace several days in a row to discuss a corresponding strategy, sometimes even sleeping in the imperial study.
The atmosphere at home grew solemn when Qin Huaiyuan was absent. Née Sun’s two older brothers were both generals guarding Xihua, and the tense military situation had her on pins and needles. It was even worse at the Ding Manor. Qin Yining spent some time to comfort her mother, “Grandmother must be in an awful mood these days. We should spend more time at the Ding Manor and take her mind off things. You mustn’t at any time remind her of her worries, mother.”
“I know, but I really am worried about your senior and second uncle.” Née Sun nodded and rubbed her face. “That demon Pang Xiao is like a war god, I’m afraid your uncles won’t be able to hold out.”
“They will, they’re tough and strong men.” Qin Yining cast a glance at Jin-mama. The old servant understood her unspoken request and brought a cape and fur hand warmers to née Sun.
Née Sun thought for a moment. “Caiju, tell Miss Huining to come with us. Let’s go visit the Ding Manor.”