Chapter 79: Unlucky Slaughter
Qin Huaiyuan was familiar with many people at court, but someone who both happened to share his views and not need reminders like his daughter were few and far between. She’s my daughter alright. Not only does she look like and does things like me, she’s also incredibly smart. Qin Huaiyuan was genuinely delighted at his daughter’s rationale and spoke with a warm expression, “So you understand my difficulties.”
Qin Yining responded seriously. “That father has been able to rise to these heights probably means that you sleep with one eye open. Even at the best of times, it’s a tiring and mentally taxing undertaking. You’re also the head of the household. If you overlook something of importance, our family may well end up like the Duke of Ding’s. I sometimes worry for your efforts and pressure when I think about it. It’s a pity that I’m a girl and cannot share your burdens.”
Qin Huaiyuan felt a burst of affection for his daughter when he saw how her maturity outshone her age. Her words seemed to most often speak to his heart. In this family, not only the old dowager, but even his two brothers viewed Qin Huaiyuan as a mountain that would never collapse. Sometimes, a man didn’t so much want help from his family, but just the knowledge that they understand his efforts and difficulties. That was enough for him to feel immensely touched.
Everything that needed to be spoken of had been settled. “Go greet your grandmother later. Make sure you answer properly if she asks anything.”
“Yes, I understand.” Qin Yining understood that Qin Huaiyuan was worried she’d talk back and anger the matriarch.
“Then go on back.” Qin Huaiyuan nodded in satisfaction. “Comfort your mother well. she must be very saddened.”
Qin Yining assented and had just risen to curtsey when Qitai’s voice traveled in. “Milord, a messenger has arrived from the palace with an urgent summons. The emperor has urgent business and requests milord’s presence as soon as possible!”
“Understood,” Qin Huaiyuan responded faintly.
“Father, the Institute…” Qin Yining asked solemnly.
“I have my own thoughts about it. Go about your business.”
“The emperor won’t punish you, will he?” Qin Yining was very worried. She was already determined to take a step back if her actions would harm her own family.
Qin Huaiyuan tapped his daughter’s forehead. “A child should do what a child would do. Don’t worry so much at your age. Go greet your grandmother.”
This obvious bit of doting was something that Qin Yining rarely received from her elders. She blushed in sudden happiness, and her dewy eyes curved into half crescents from her smile. She curtsied docilely and took her leave.
Qin Huaiyuan had Qitai prepare the carriage after he sent Qin Yining off with his eyes.
Qin Yining quickly reached the Garden of Loving Piety and saw a serving girl stooped on the steps from a fair distance away. The girl rose and hopped back into the courtyard when she saw the fourth miss. It was an odd event, so Qin Yining purposely slowed her steps as she walked. She’d just set foot onto the steps when Qin-mama came out, walking quickly with a lantern in her hands.
Qin Yining immediately understood the situation. She walked up to the old servant and asked delicately, “Qin-mama, does Old Dowager have some instructions for me?”
The two exchanged greetings and walked off to the side. There, Qin-mama murmured in a low voice, “The old dowager isn’t feeling well and has just taken her medicine. She’s off in a huff. What’s happened at the Ding Manor today has spread far and wide. She was worried and gave a few words of advice to Senior Madame. The senior madame may have been in a bad mood and thus retorted angrily. The old dowager took offense and had the senior madame confined to the ancestral hall to reflect on her wrongs. When you enter, be careful when you see the old dowager.”
Qin Yining was a bit surprised by this, not née Sun’s inappropriate response, but that the old dowager would be so self serving. This wasn’t the first time she hadn’t gotten along with her daughter-in-law. But the matriarch had endured it before, and now she wouldn’t take it for even a day.
“Thank you, Qin-mama. I understand. Although mother is impulsive, she doesn’t mean any harm. No one can remain calm in this sort of situation, and the old dowager must think for the entire Qin clan. Ai! The old dowager is truly in a difficult spot.”
Qin-mama smiled at having met someone who shared her thoughts so precisely. “That’s what I told Old Dowager as well.”
“It’s so much better that you are by the old dowager’s side than us little girls. All we know to do is panic whenever we run into situations like these…”
The mama naturally liked the sound of these words. Her smile remained on her face as the two walked through the door hand-in-hand. The old servant’s chin rose unconsciously in pride. Meanwhile, Qin Yining was forcefully tamping down her sorrow and panic and kept her focus on maintaining a small smile on her face. Elders were often superstitious, and the old dowager was already afraid of being dragged down by the Suns. If she walked in with a long face, wouldn’t that just make things worse?
“Old Dowager.” Qin Yining circled around the black lacquer divider, the sparrows alighting on plum blossoms greeting her silently, and curtsied properly.
The old dowager was taking a pull from the brass pipe with its accompanying tobacco pouch. When she saw her granddaughter walk in, a frown creased her forehead. “Why have you come back so late? Where did you go again? Don’t you imitate your mother in not knowing the difference between your family and outsiders! Although your maternal relations treated you well, and gave you money and a business, it’s Qin blood that flows in your veins. You’re a Qin!
“Don’t think you’ve become something just because you inherited a business! That was nothing to them. You’re just a little girl with long hair and a short span of experience. What do you know?! Look at you acting so grateful. You should be afraid of attracting trouble for our family!”
A materialistic lecture was unceremoniously thrown in her face barely after she’d finished greeting the old dowager. Truthfully, it pained Qin Yining quite a bit. Even if the Institute was just a single hair on an ox to the Suns before, wouldn’t that be the same to the Qins as well? Yet the old dowager hadn’t seemed similarly inclined. But Qin Yining knew that this was just how the old dowager was. What else could the matriarch do? Kill her own granddaughter?
“The old dowager speaks truly. Your granddaughter had come home early, but ended up speaking to father in the outer study for a long while. This delayed me for a bit and was why I didn’t immediately come.” Qin Yining neatly admitted her faults.
So she’d actually yelled wrongly at Qin Yining? This made for an awkward situation. The old dowager had nursed a bellyful of anger all day, but her verbal punch had just smacked into a cloud of cotton instead.
But Qin Yining knew better than to wait for the old dowager to apologize. That was just inviting her grandmother to hate her. She immediately created a way out. “It’s my fault for making you worry, grandmother. I shouldn’t have come back late when everything is a mess outside from the matters of the Duke of Ding Manor today, not to mention when Great Zhou’s letter is plastered everywhere, or even when Elder Statesman Cao killed someone in broad daylight. Unfortunately, there were some urgent business matters I had to attend to, and I also paid a visit to Grand Steward Zhong to ask about the accounts. This was why I came home a bit late. Please forgive me, Old Dowager.”
The old dowager felt that this gave her enough face, and her ruffled temper was suitably soothed. “Mm. As long as your know your faults. You can rise to speak.” She’d unconsciously forgotten the fiery words she’d wanted to rain down on Qin Yining.
The girl rose to her feet with a merry smile and took the small mallet to massage the old dowager’s legs. She kept her conversation topics to the old dowager’s dinner and other trivial topics. She didn’t mention her mother once, or ask for mercy on née Sun’s behalf, further pleasing the old dowager.
Just as the scene was turning harmonious, Jixiang rushed into the room, her face drained of all color. “Old Dowager! Terrible things have happened!”
“What is it? How can you just rush in so frantically like this? You’ll alarm the mistress!” Qin-mama hectored.
Jixiang looked over at Qin Yining, her eyes holding a complicated look, and knelt. “Old Dowager, the Sun males were all just dragged out and beheaded, including the five year old young master!”
The old dowager jerked up with surprise, her pipe falling from her hands. In the silence that reigned after that announcement, the loud clatter of the pipe hitting the floor, and the hissing of the scattered live and dead ashes reigned. But the old dowager quickly regained her voice. “What did you say?! Wasn’t it supposed to be three days later?”
“Qitai just sent word that the lord was summoned into the palace tonight,” Jixiang responded. “The Suns were executed early because… because Great Zhou angrily slaughtered twenty thousand Great Yan captives when they didn’t receive Sun Yu’s brains! The emperor was incensed and didn’t want to wait three days. He gave orders for their immediate beheading! The bloody corpses have been thrown out the palace’s meridian gate, allowing anyone to spit and curse at them…”
Fear and panic struck the old dowager in waves. She took a shaky step back, but her ankles gave way. She cried out in alarm as she fell back onto the luohan bed.
“Mistress!” Qin-mama quickly went to the matriarch’s aid. Qin Yining also automatically moved to support her grandmother as well. But if one took a careful look at her expression, they’d realize that her mind was at those palace gates. Pained tears brimmed in her expressive eyes. Her hands trembled as she strove to keep her tears under control and calm herself.
The old dowager stared off blankly into space as tears began to roll down her face. “This, this is evil! Pure evil! I don’t even know what to say!” She turned to Jixiang. “Did Qitai say if the lord had any orders?”
“In response to Old Dowager, there’s nothing else. The lord only says that he won’t return tonight and for you not to worry.”
“How can I not worry! The emperor demands lives at the drop of a hat!” The old dowager patted her chest, tears still trickling down her cheeks.