Chapter 97: Of Inward Resolve and Outward Tenderness
“But you actually do have more diplomatic methods, don’t you? You just forgot about them because the anger rushed to your head.”
Qin Yining blushed, nodding. She looked like a little kitten who understood her wrongs and was begging for her human’s forgiveness.
“You child!” Qin Huaiyuan laughed. “Brash impulsiveness isn’t a great sin. I also believe that we can’t just mutely take all injustices, but it’s best to be of both firm resolve and tenderness. Now, I’m not saying that you have to unilaterally soften your stance on everything, but to adjust your attitude accordingly. To those you can’t afford to offend, appearing seemingly gentle might be more appropriate.”
“Understood.” Qin Yining looked her father with worshipful, shining eyes. “You were like that just now, father. A single phrase of a ‘knife hiding behind a smile’ was enough to make so many guilty and ashamed. Father, when can I be like you? You’re so amazing! You don’t have to kick up a fuss or even raise your voice to dominate everyone with just a few words!”
Qin Huaiyuan was very satisfied that his daughter admired him so greatly. He reached out to tousle her hair. “Methods are one thing, but the most important factor is my status.”
Qin Yining blinked, suddenly understanding her father’s meaning as her lashes fluttered. He was telling her that only by occupying a high position would one inspire dependence and respect from others, and only by doing the right things at the right time in the proper position would one command subservience. Otherwise, one would be labeled a firebrand and troublemaker, and undesirable gossip would start.
“I understand, father, and will serve the old dowager in the future.” She nodded firmly.
“These aren’t important matters. I trust that you’ll handle them well in the future. Now, what happened at the Celestial Nunnery today is immensely suspicious. Tell me about it.”
Qin Yining had known that her father would ask about it, so she launched into her prepared summary with no hesitation. When she got to Yao Zhixi, she became careful, keeping the truth just slightly out of sight. Instead, she repeated what she’d said to Xu Mao. Qin Huaiyuan didn’t suspect anything was amiss with the mix of truth and lies.
“Although that Sir Yao knows Grand Steward Zhong, I can tell from the look in his eyes and his bearing that he’s no ordinary person. It’s right that you sent someone to look at his wounds, but keeping your distance from him in the future would be a solid course of action.”
“Don’t worry, father.” Qin Yining also felt that this person was mysterious and unfathomable, even more so when she remembered all that had occurred between the two of them. She had no problem agreeing with her father’s advice.
Qin Huaiyuan was very pleased to see how open his daughter was with him. “Do as you’d like in this. I trust that you have your own set of principles. In addition, you should keep an eye on one thing.”
“What is it, father?”
“Now that there has been two mass distributions of Great Zhou propaganda in the capital, the emperor has concluded that Great Zhou spies have deeply infiltrated the city. Add the incident at the nunnery and Sir Xu’s conclusion that it was the work of Great Zhou, the emperor’s nerves will only wind tighter when he receives word. What do you think an uneasy emperor will do?”
Qin Yining thought for a bit and answered straightforwardly. “The emperor will most likely move to achieve peace at all costs. He’ll further lower his head and make more examples out of loyal subjects in order to pacify Great Zhou.”
Qin Huaiyuan was halted in his tracks by such a direct answer.
“Father, am I wrong?” Qin Yining smiled as the silence hung in the air.
“Your analysis is spot on.” Qin Huaiyuan coughed. “Now that we’re connected to the Caos via marriage, the emperor and I are related through our wives. Our family is temporarily safe, but it’s tough to say the same for any other officials. Decline any and all invitations that come your way for a while, such as flower viewing parties. I’ll speak to your grandmother about this as well.”
“Understood, I’ll follow this well.”
“And, your mother…” Qin Huaiyuan frowned and sighed when he got to the matter of née Sun. “No matter what, it is I who should apologize to your mother this time. Take good care of her.”
Qin Yining nodded silently. A brief lump rose in her throat at the sight of her her father feeling guilty because he had to take née Cao as a concubine. He’d had no choice, but there was also sense in mother’s resentment. At the heart of it all, it was because of the emperor that their peaceful days had been disturbed.
Silence filled the air in the study. Qin Huaiyuan finally spoke again after several long moments. “Now that Great Zhou has swapped out their supreme commander at Xihua, I wonder if we’ll have some breathing space in the fighting.”
“Changed their commander?” Qin Yining was surprised. “Wasn’t that little prince Pang in charge?”
“Pang Zhixi is a proud and uncontrolled person. He refused to execute the Great Zhou emperor’s command, and so the emperor removed him from his position in a fit of anger. The new Supreme Commander of Southern Pacification is the Minister of Military Affairs, Lian Shengjie.” A mocking smile appeared on Qin Huaiyuan’s lips. “This Lian Shengjie possesses mediocre skills in most aspects, but is adept at being a lecher and lusting after wealth. He’s very accustomed to currying favor with those in power. Our scouts have reported back that Pang Zhixi is quite irritated by his demotion and erupted into furious argument with Lian Shengjie two days ago. He left the camp angrily on horseback and vanished. His whereabouts remain unknown. His Valiant Tigers don’t listen to Lian Shengjie’s commands at all. If Great Zhou continues making such ill-thought decisions, then this might actually resolve our crisis.”
Pang Zhixi? Qin Yining immediately was put in mind of Yao Zhixi when she heard that name. But it was just a matter of sharing the same secondary name. There wasn’t anything particularly strange about that. She didn’t dwell on it too long. “It’d be best if they have some internal conflict.”
“That depends on how everything is handled,” Qin Huaiyuan responded. “But at least we can take advantage of this space to catch our breaths.”
Qin Yining could tell from this that even if Great Zhou didn’t have Pang Zhixi leading the troops, Great Yan didn’t have much of a chance to win. Even still, although the chance was small, she still hoped that they could get through the new year safe and sound.
The thirty-fifth year in the reign of the Qinglong Emperor of Great Yan, the third year of Great Zhou’s rise to prominence, arrived in a dismal fashion.
Qin Yining and née Sun were observing a mourning period for the Sun males and thus always dressed plainly. They also abstained from attending any banquets or watching any theater troupes who had been invited into the manor. The sixth miss, grounded for helping Qin Huining, was also released in light of the new year celebrations. While Qin Huining was grounded in Snowpear Courtyard and had been tasked with copying ‘The Classic of Filial Piety’, she hadn’t actually finished for some reason. And, she was surprisingly quiet throughout the new year.
Most surprising of all was Qin Huaiyuan’s attitude towards Cao Yuqing. It was if the beautiful and gentle woman was invisible to him. He gave her the best of housing and care, but never visited her yard. With his attitude, attitudes towards née Sun grew respectful once more.
But of course, except for the old dowager.
“Isn’t née Sun and granddaughter Yi in mourning? Then naturally they can’t feast on fish and meat. Have the kitchen send over some vegetarian dishes, the simpler the better! If they’re made too exquisitely, how will that highlight née Sun’s filial piety? We can leave off granddaughter Yi’s daily bird’s nest soup as well. That costs silver! Who observes mourning in such a lavish fashion?” The old dowager drew deeply from her new brass pipe, but privately felt that the old mouthpiece was better. A wave of anger washed over her again at the thought.
Qin-mama tried talking her mistress down from her simmering anger a few times, but she didn’t dare be too blunt with her attempts, in case the old dowager grew suspicious. She could only have servants send boiled vegetables and rice to the Garden of Tranquility.
Shaking with anger, Née Sun held up the bowl and peered at the coarse grains of rice inside, then looked at a jug of vegetable soup. The contents had been boiled tasteless, and nearly formless.
“What is all this! Are they bullying someone without parents?! As down on my luck I may be, I am still Qin Meng’s wife! Is this how they treat Qin Meng’s wife and child?!” She was so enraged that she was seconds away from smashing the white porcelain bowl.
Qin Yining moved swiftly to rescue the poor bowl. She’d borne witness to the murder of countless bowls over the past few days. The monetary value of the destroyed porcelain was higher than even the food they ate.
“Calm down, mother. Remember what I told you before that being able to endure suffering will help you become the best that you can be? Although they’re not spending much effort on our meals, we’re not actually eating all that badly.” Qin Yining smiled. “Do you like the vegetarian dishes from Great Prosperity? I can have servants bring more food from them.”
Tears swam in née Sun’s eyes. “We’re the main branch of the family and receive a given stipend every month. The main kitchen is sending us meal boxes that are even worse than the servants’. Where did all the silver go? I sent servants to ask and they said that we should eat lighter because we’re in mourning, that they haven’t shorted us on anything. But the new concubine and your father’s four original concubines have gone and shared our stipend between the four of them! The old dowager is slapping my face with this!”
The tears could no longer be held back and trickled down like a newly freed river. Qin Yining used every trick she had, exhausting everything before she finally calmed her mother down. It had taken a long time for her mother to finally stop crying.
But the day was yet to end. A wave of titters and murmurs traveled in from the yard. Jin-mama came in with a very ugly expression. “Senior Madame. Concubine Cao, Hua, Li, Qian, and Chen as well as Miss Huining are here to greet you.”
The curtains were lifted before née Sun even had a chance to response, and the gaggle of concubines, all done up, walked in.
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