Chapter 93: Getting a Few Stomps In
Qin Yining’s face was still red even as she took her seat in the carriage. When she thought of Yao Zhixi’s rascally attitude, she itched to give him a few punches. But there were also some scenes that kept rising to the surface of her thoughts.
Such as when he suddenly withdrew his timid appearance and asked her in a dominating fashion, “Why should I tell you who I am”.
When he suddenly charged forward to grab her hand and the arrow aimed straight at her throat.
When he stood in front of her, presenting a tall and strong back.
When his shoulder had been pierced through by the arrow, he’d still arched an eyebrow and smiled at her. That smile hadn’t wavered even when he grasped the arrow in hand and casually broke it off.
The more she thought about these scenes, the more her heart felt uneasy. Even though the gentleman didn’t have the nicest of tongues and liked teasing her, he’d saved them without hesitation when push came to shove. Otherwise, she, her mother, and grandmother would’ve all met their end in the nunnery today.
“Bingtang, are Sir Yao’s injuries severe?”
“Sir Yao is harmed very badly,” Bingtang responded quietly. “Even though the arrow hadn’t injured his bones or tendons, he has lost a lot of blood. With that paralyzing poison, he’ll be very weak over the next few days. He’ll need to rest well after being cured, but I can assure you that his life is in no danger.”
This finally gave Qin Yining some peace of mind. “Let’s go back and look through the storeroom. I remember that I have a 70-year-old ginseng. Let’s use it if we can, or I’ll really feel very bad about this.”
“Don’t worry, miss. You’ve got me.” Bingtang nodded with a smile.
“Of course I trust you. It’s just… I’ve been saved by wild horses and dogs before, but the number of times I’ve been saved by another person can be counted on one hand. My foster mother saved me when I was a baby and raised me until I was eight. It’s such a tremendous pity that I didn’t have time to repay her before she passed away.” Qin Yining’s gaze fell on the swaying tassel by the carriage window as the look in her eyes grew distant. “Then, when I was seven, my foster mother fell gravely ill and we had no money left in the house. I really didn’t know what to do and no one would help me. I’d already planned on selling myself off as a servant because I wanted to save my foster mother no matter what. That day, a beautiful big brother happened by my house and asked for a bit of water. He forced a tip of ten taels of silver and several large coins on me. Although his tone was very mean, I could see the kindness behind his words. That is the second person who saved me. I want to repay him, but I can’t find him anymore.”
“The third is Sir Yao.” Qin Yining smiled. “Although the people I’ve met, such as father and my maternal grandmother, all mean me well, they’re family and thus different from outsiders. I didn’t have the ability to thank my foster mother and Brother Beauty before, but I can repay Sir Yao now. Curing him thoroughly without any lingering side effects is a must, and it’s not much of a repayment either. If he needs help with anything in the future, I’ll help him the best I can.”
Songlan and Qiulu both nodded with a smile. When it came to paying back favors of gratitude, Bingtang and Songlan shared many of the same thoughts.
“Miss, you’re kindhearted and loyal. Fortune will smile on you,” Bingtang said.
“I don’t need good fortune or karma,” Qin Yining smiled. “I just want to have a clear conscience. Let’s go look for medicines in the storeroom later and prepare some more nutritious supplements. Bingtang, take them to Sir Yao when you visit him tomorrow.”
“Won’t you be going tomorrow as well, miss? I think Sir Yao would really like to see you.”
“There should be a distance between men and women.” Qin Yining involuntarily flushed hotly, and shook her head. “Besides, I have a new ‘aunt’ entering the manor today. It’s an unknown how things will be from now on.”
Qin Yining felt a massive headache whenever she thought of Concubine Cao joining the family today. Her mother was sure to throw a fit, and she had no idea how to salvage the situation. Concubine Cao came with an illustrious family background and had the emperor as a matchmaker. She had the empress and Elder Statesman Cao as her backer. Although they’d yet to meet, Qin Yining already felt that the new concubine had a higher status than even the old dowager.
When the carriage arrived back at the Qin Manor, she quickly brought Bingtang, Songlan, and Qiulu to the Garden of Loving Piety. She entered the main doors, passed the decorative stone wall, through the archway, and had just walked down the steps when she saw the big red lanterns hung in the yard. They were the ones typically used to celebrate the new year, and they lit up the courtyard like it was day. Bright light shone through the windows of the main house, drawing long shadows from the many people inside. The light scattering past the windowsill also illuminated the long shadows of née Sun, Jin-mama, and Caiju kneeling in the courtyard.
Qin Yining quickly walked up to her mother, hearing the happy laughter inside before she even drew near née Sun. It was warm and bustling inside, a stark contrast to née Sun’s teary and lonely figure on the ground. The scene ignited Qin Yining’s anger.
“Mother, Old Dowager told you to kneel?”
Née Sun lifted watery eyes and reacted like a bullied child seeing their parent when she saw Qin Yining.
“You’re back, daughter Yi! The old dowager said that I lack virtue and possess too much jealousy. That I can’t give birth to anything but refuse to let concubines enter the family. She said I wasn’t willing to come receive née Cao’s tea! I explained, but the old dowager wouldn’t listen. Daughter Hui, daughter Hui even…” Née Sun garbled the last part out amidst sobs.
Qin Yining had long since gotten a thorough understanding of how self-serving the old dowager was. She didn’t need to listen to the rest to understand the old dowager’s intent or thoughts. Now that the Duke of Ding was gone, there was no more need to fete née Sun. She was of no use to Qin Huaiyuan’s career anymore. Although the people hated the Caos, their patriarch was still an elder statesman. Though he’d been demoted, he had many compatriots at court and a wide-ranging, complex network. It wasn’t anything that a Qin Huaiyuan with unstable foundations could measure up to.
And today, née Cao had been given to Qin Huaiyuan as his concubine. The most secure way of tying two families together had always been through marriage. Although the then Grand Preceptor Cao and Qin Huaiyuan had been at odds with each other because of Prince Ning and the Duke of Qin, all was water under the bridge now that Qin Huaiyuan was a Cao son-in-law. Qin Huaiyuan had gained a strong backer and Elder Statesman Cao a fine son-in-law. They could put previous matters behind then, since this marriage would put the position of grand preceptor in the hands of a Cao son-in-law. This would likely shuffle the political situation at court again.
Thinking of things from the old dowager’s perspective, it made sense that she thought this way. How else could she show sincerity in welcoming née Cao if she didn’t make use of this occasion to firmly stomp on née Sun and Qin Yining a few times?
It was just… this was too heartless. But such was reality. Now that mother has no support, I’m sure to be dragged in as well because I’m the granddaughter of the Duke of Ding.
“Don’t cry, mother.” Qin Yining knelt and wiped away née Sun’s tears. She embraced her mother and comforted her like a child. She whispered in née Sun’s ears. “Remember, mother. We have no backer now. We can only rely on ourselves. No matter what the old dowager does, what sister Hui does, what father chooses, I will always be with you. I’m your daughter and will always be on your side. I’ll protect you. No matter how tough the road may be, I’ll always be with you.”
Née Sun nodded helplessly. When Jin-mama and Caiju heard Qin Yining’s words, they started crying wordlessly again.
Qin-mama happened to emerge from behind the door curtains right then, laughing and chatting with Jixiang. She quickly lowered the curtains and walked up to curtsey respectfully when she saw Qin Yining. She murmured lowly, “You’ve returned, Fourth Miss. May we talk for a moment?”
“Does Old Dowager have any instructions, Qin-mama?” Qin Yining quickly rose when she saw the old servant walk towards her.
The old servant led Qin Yining to the covered hallway section off to the side.
“Fourth Miss,” she murmured. “The new concubine is inside. Old Dowager loves her very much. I know you’re a filial girl, but you must keep in mind that you can’t be impulsive.”
That singular sentence encompassed many undertones. Was it avoid being impulsive so she didn’t offend the new concubine? Or not to offend the old dowager? Or to not be brash so that she would avoid earning the old dowager’s enmity? Qin-mama was the old dowager’s most trusted servant. Her words were likely the old dowager’s words.
What, the old dowager had committed the ruthless and heartless act of bullying her mother, but wanted to still play at being a happy family with Qin Yining? The girl’s lips curved up in a smile, but the look in her eyes grew icy. Since the moment the old dowager shut née Sun in the ancestral hall when the Sun males were executed and made a fuss of wanting to divorce née Sun, Qin Yining had thoroughly seen through the Qin matriarch.
Née Sun was the eldest Qin daughter-in-law, and her relationship with the old dowager spanned at least thirty years. Any other person would develop feelings for even a pet that’d been with them that long, much less a person. But the old dowager had acted this way to née Sun, someone who should be half a daughter to her. And what about Qin Yining herself? She’d only known the old dowager for less than two months. If the old dowager’s affection for her had ten parts, then five parts was due to her father’s love for her, and three parts because her maternal grandfather was the Duke of Ding. Of the remaining two points, one was because her status as the official daughter of the grand preceptor would be very useful for future marriages. Only the last part was a result of the grandmother-granddaughter love that had developed between them during this time.
Now that the Suns had fallen from grace, she’d lost three parts of this support.
Qin Yining would never watch née Sun be bullied, nor would she abandon her mother for a little bit of dimly discernible happiness. With this, it was now only a matter of time before the unrest in her relationship with the old dowager would come to the surface. Therefore, she could pretend that the one point assigned to familial love was already gone. Then, the only support she had left was due to her father’s love and her status as the official daughter. She had a sixty percent chance of ensuring peaceful days for herself and née Sun as long as father still liked her.
Qin Yining was the sort whose thoughts became calmer as the difficulties she faced mounted. It only took her a few breaths to sort out her thoughts, and smile serenely at Qin-mama. “Thank you for your pointers.”
For some reason, when the old servant looked at Qin Yining’s clear eyes, she felt a chilly wind blow through her heart. The fourth miss was simply too similar to a young Qin Huaiyuan. It reminded Qin-mama of the same eyes young Qin Huaiyuan had when he’d fought to protect his mother with nothing but wit and courage.