Chapter 84: Arrangement (I)
She received word from Jing-mama early next morning that the Duchess of Ding and all female relations had been settled in appropriately. Qin Yining wanted to visited them immediately. She had servants prepare a carriage and brought Songlan, Bingtang, and Qiulu with her. The groom whipped the horses to make the fastest time possible to the manor that Third Shopkeeper Jing had prepared.
“Grandmother.” Qin Yining’s eyes reddened when she walked in the door and saw a roomful of girls and ladies wearing the white of mourning. Reality was harsh. It’d only been a night, but the fact of a house raid and family execution had been cemented, and a family was forever parted.
Tears welled up in the duchess’ eyes when she saw Qin Yining. “You’re here, granddaughter Yi. Is it alright that you rushed here like this?”
“It’s fine. I was very careful when I came and didn’t attract any attention.” Qin Yining curtsied to her aunts and cousins. They returned the gesture, but no one knew what to say when they all sat down. Everyone was sunk in sorrow and pain. Anything they saw reminded them of the men and boys who’d died a grisly death. Someone was the first to sniffle, and that soft sob was the catalyst that triggered the tears from everyone else.
Qin Yining clutched her anguished grandmother and aunts as they howled and gasped with grief. They didn’t stop until Qin Yining’s eyes were reddened and swollen.
“I’ve heard of what’s happened,” the duchess rasped out after a deep breath. “The citizens took care of the bodies of your grandfather and the others. I know you arranged for this. You didn’t stay out of the matter in a time of need and saved your fifth and eighth cousin-in-law, as well as your cousin’s child. You also prevented the bodies of your grandfather and them from lying exposed out in the open. I don’t know how to thank you, and have nothing to thank you with.”
“Don’t say that! We’re family! What kind of person would I be if I only thought of myself and didn’t care about you all after something like this happened? Not to mention that I have this little bit of strength today only because of grandmother’s boon. If it hadn’t been for grandmother gifting me the Institute of Luminous Grace and had Grand Steward Zhong come help me, I wouldn’t be able to do anything even if I wanted to.”
“Don’t say that, niece Yi.” Her senior aunt wiped away tears. “We know what your character is like and we’ll remember this great favor. It’s just, we have nothing to give back to you in return.”
“Please don’t say that.” Qin Yining waved her hand hastily. “I actually wouldn’t have been able to do all of this by myself. Father helped from the shadows.” She lowered her voice. “The emperor raided the Ding Manor also because he wanted to confiscate the Institute. He just hadn’t thought that grandmother had already given it to me.”
“Then you need to be careful in the future.” The duchess wiped at her eyes and kneaded her bulging temples. Given the absence of servants, Qin Yining stood up to stand behind and massage the duchess.
“Yes, I will be careful,” she continued lowly. “The emperor is scared out of his wits by Great Zhou, and there is no end of cursing and insults from the citizens. He has no time to think about the Institute. It’s rather our people…” She thought for a moment. “Make a list in a moment, grandmother. The servants will be sold off in two days. I’ll go buy back whoever should be. It won’t do for all of you to have no servants by your side. Of those I know, Bao-mama is the first who should be brought back.”
Tears welled up in the duchess’ eyes again when she heard this and she patted Qin Yining’s hand lightly. The girls were all immense grateful as well. They hadn’t spent a full night at the Institute before seeing the ugliness and despair of it. They’d felt that living through this ordeal was a prelude to more suffering, so the aunts and cousins-in-law had been ready to take their lives to keep their chastity for the Suns. But as soon as they’d made up their minds, Qin Yining had already hired them out.
If it’d been before, this little bit of silver wouldn’t have been anything to a house like the Ding Manor. But now, they had nothing to their name. The Institute had spent a great deal of silver to hire all of them, and Qin Yining didn’t even have plans for them to earn their keep. She seemed like she was ready to just keep them here and even provide all the servants they needed. It would be a great sum of money to feed all of them. Regardless of what had happened, they could sense this bit of genuine emotion and were overwhelmed with gratitude.
The duchess pulled on Qin Yining’s hand and had the girl sit next to her. “I’ll discuss this carefully with your aunts and sisters. We’ll see who we’ll need to keep.”
“I brought Bingtang, Songlan, and Qiulu for me. They can stay here these two days and serve everyone.” Qin Yining nodded as the three stepped forward to curtsey. Qiulu was loyal and honest, Bingtang and Songlan had returned to the Qins with heightened status thanks to some borrowed influence from the Suns. They naturally had deep ties with the Suns.
The duchess held Qin Yining in her embrace, smoothing her hair down again and again. A myriad of emotions were running through her, but she didn’t have anything to say. She thought for a moment as the look in her eyes grew stronger and she seemed to decide on a plan. “Granddaughter Yi, where is your mother?”
Qin Yining didn’t want her maternal grandmother and others to worry. They were dealing with enough already, why bring née Sun’s matter into this to add to their worries? Although her maternal grandmother was a sharp one, she was likely at the end of her tether at a time like this. The females of this family were all looking to her grandmother for guidance, so she didn’t want to add to their burdens.
“Née Sun was gripped by sadness when she heard the news and fell ill. She’s recuperating in the Garden of Loving Piety at the moment. Miss Huining, Jin-mama, and Caiju are all serving by her side. Father has requested an imperial doctor and Bingtang has already seen to her. It’s just a matter of sudden anxiety and nothing major. She’ll be fine after two days. I’ll come by with mother then.”
The duchess looked at Qin Yining solidly when she heard this, nodding after a long while and saying in a whisper, “You’re a mature child.”
Qin Yining knew that the duchess was such a sharp person that she likely knew precisely what was going on. It was just that some things shouldn’t be spoken of. It wouldn’t do any good if they were and would just add to everyone’s sorrow. Any amount of schemes were useless in the face of dominance. A multitude of plans also required the ability to execute them. She went to look at her fifth cousin-in-law, recovering from birth and her baby sleeping soundly in her swaddling.
Her cousin-in-law was covered with thick blankets in bed, a black headband running across her forehead. Her long hair was a scattered mess and her eyes listless. Tears streamed endlessly down the corners and wetted a large patch on the pillow. Her cheeks had sunken in overnight.
Qin Yining’s heart raced from shock to see her relative this. Her fifth cousin-in-law and fifth cousin had been deeply in love. She likely had only the will to die now. The girl bounded forward and took the new mother’s hand. “Cousin-in-law, fifth cousin had a message for you.”
The lady’s eyes widened.
“I sent word to fifth cousin and grandfather that you’d given birth to a daughter as soon as she entered the world. Fifth cousin cried from joy and said a daughter was best. Daughters are a mother’s warm, padded jacket, while sons only make a mother cry. He said that a daughter will be greatly filial and told you to be strong and live. Live well with your child!”
Fifth cousin had indeed said similar words, and another that Grand Steward Zhong had brought back. However, Qin Yining didn’t think it was appropriate to pass it on at this time. He’d also said, “Shuang’er is yet young. Marry again if there’s someone’s suitable. Don’t be foolish and have no one to depend on for the rest of her life.”