Chapter 121: Breaking Out
Back in the Qin Manor, the old dowager was happily ordering servants to prepare a sumptuous dinner banquet, and had posted men every fifty steps on the roads that Qin Huaiyuan was certain to take on his way home. She had given explicit orders to have a carriage bring news the moment the lord was sighted.
The group remained in the Garden of Loving Piety to keep the old dowager company. The happy atmosphere permeating the air was even warmer than the one around new year’s. It obviously wouldn’t do for Qin Yining to return to the Venerable Study Hall first, so she had to stay and partake of the gathering.
However, this wait stretched into a four hour vigil. Even as dusk fell, Qin Huaiyuan still hadn’t returned, and the old dowager was beginning to worry.
“Even if there is a palace banquet being held, there’s no reason for them to stay so late. What kind of banquet runs so long?” The emperor should consider the family more if he’s keeping my son behind! I haven’t seen him in so long! But the old dowager feared the emperor in the end, and swallowed her complaints, opting to inwardly nag him a thousand times over instead.
The third madame was best at currying favor, so she smiled when she saw the old dowager’s impatience. “Senior brother-in-law’s great merit marks his name as one for the halls of fame. It’s only natural that the emperor would keep him to talk a while longer. Only he would have such a special honor. Anyone else might spend their entire life waiting for such treatment in vain!”
“That’s right, grandmother.” Qin Huining chimed in. “We’re all Qins, so it’s easy for us to see father, but other officials and court peers? It’s probably hard for them to even talk to father normally, so they’ll definitely make use of today’s banquet to have a good chat with him!”
Qin Huining had spent fourteen years as the old dowager’s most doted upon and favored grandchild, but had found herself suppressed in every way possible after Qin Yining’s return. Now that she was once again by the old dowager’s side, she was both gratified and excited. Naturally, Qin Huining used every trick in her arsenal to make the old dowager happy.
Scenes of Qin Huaiyuan being surrounded by adoring peers crystallized in the old dowager’s mind. When she dwelled on the fact that her son was the one being feted by everyone, and how filial he was normally, the old dowager felt as if her heart had been immersed in honey. She couldn’t help but laugh heartily.
The third madame and Qin Huining started teasing the old dowager when they saw how happy the matriarch was. The sixth, seventh, and eighth miss also clustered around them, lifting the old dowager up into immense delight.
Qin Yining sat removed from that group with the third miss, the two sipping tea and chatting randomly in low voices. They weren’t of a mind to join in the fawning action at all. The third miss was already engaged and her wedding day wasn’t far off. Besides, she’d always had a nature detached from worldly strife and desires. Qin Yining on the other hand, had completely seen through the old dowager and no longer sought her deeply cherished wish for pure, familial love from her grandmother. The old dowager didn’t like her or née Sun at the moment anyways. Qin Yining wasn’t the sort to offer her right cheek when her left cheek was struck.
Just as the house full of females were chattering and tittering happily, rapid footsteps suddenly sounded from outside. The vague tones of a man’s voice filtered inside to them.
“It must be Meng’er.” The old dowager looked to the door with a smile.
However, the door curtains lifted to reveal Qin Huaiyuan’s body servant, Qitai! The servant thumped to his knees as soon as he entered the house.
“Old Dowager! Something’s happened in the palace!”
The old dowager’s smile, as well as everyone else’s, froze on their faces.
“Speak! What’s happened?”
“In response to Old Dowager, a grand banquet was held in the palace for the various officials. The lord and madame was in attendance, and the emperor commended the lord, bestowing the position of the Marquis of Anping!”
“But that’s wonderful!” the third madame cried out joyfully.
Qitai kowtowed. “That is wonderful, but the empress immediately said afterwards that a hero such as the lord should have beauties serving him. She’d chosen Lady of Handsome Fairness, Lady Lu, and Lady of Talents, Lady Xu, as gifts to increase the lord’s household. The two imperial concubines currently enjoy great favor from the emperor, but he didn’t object at all.
“However, the senior madame rejected the empress on the spot and the two started arguing. The empress upbraided that the senior madame was eaten by jealousy, while the madame railed that the empress was a ‘trampress’ that wrecked families and plotted against loyal subjects. The madame’s words were exceedingly pointed, so angering the empress that she gave the order to sentence the senior madame to death by poison wine!”
It was deadly silent inside and everyone’s face white as a sheet. Qin Yining’s brain was was buzzing loudly. She carefully considered Qitai’s demeanor and wanted to read some flaws from his speech and expression. However, his anxious and worried look didn’t ring false.
Née Sun really did harbor significant vengeful resentment towards the emperor and empress. But even so, she wouldn’t have the courage to insult the empress unless she was backed into a corner. The feud between the Suns and Caos wasn’t fresh, and although née Sun might feel hatred, she hadn’t started anything with the empress when she entered the palace on the first of the new year.
In the days that Qin Yining had been away, née Sun had spent a decent amount of time in the palace. Nothing had happened during that period, so it could be seen that the bouts of humiliation and setbacks in the manor had caused her to accept reality. Besides, née Sun’s heart was filled with Qin Huaiyuan. If Qin Yining looked at things with an impassive eye, she felt that the blow of Qin Huaiyuan taking née Cao as a concubine was greater than all the Sun males being executed.
To someone who was so wholeheartedly devoted to her husband, this was just a bestowment of two imperial concubines to her husband. All she needed to do was to welcome them home and house them well. It wasn’t as if Qin Huaiyuan didn’t have concubines, so why would she insult and berate the empress? Is something else at play here? But the matter had already occurred, so she couldn’t just leave things to luck!
“Qitai, explain the circumstances in detail to me.”
“In response to the fourth miss,” Qitai nodded. “I didn’t see what happened with my own eyes. The lord sent a eunuch out to me after it’d happened. The eunuch was shaking all over and didn’t dare say another word. I’m guessing that the empress was in a terrible rage. You know \ that the emperor dotes on the empress and can’t bear to see the hint of anything bad happening to her. The senior madame really… this time… really…”
…is really asking for it, and there’s no one who can hold her back!
Qin Yining rubbed the throbbing center of her forehead and spoke a few quiet words to Songlan. The maid nodded and circled past the shocked group before anyone had a chance to recover and take note of what she was doing. She lifted her skirts and ran out from the Garden of Loving Piety.
“Grandmother, what do you think should be done in this situation?” Qin Yining turned to curtsey at the old dowager.
“What should be done?!” The old dowager finally recovered from her stunned state and angrily crashed her brass pipe into the table, chipping off a large chunk of the black lacquer from the side table engraved with patterns of clouds. “You have an idiotic fool of a mother! How dare she insult the empress! Don’t take people down with her if she wants to die! Let her die! Our house at least would be clean afterwards!”
Although she’d anticipated such a reaction from the old dowager, sudden numbness spasmed Qin Yining’s heart when she heard such cruel words. It was as if a large ladle of ice cold water had been dumped over her head in the heart of winter, freezing her from inside to out.
“Grandmother, although mother is impulsive, it’s all because she genuinely loves father. She’s been a Qin daughter-in-law for twenty-Old Dowager years. That makes her half your daughter as well…”
“Shut up!” The old dowager interrupted with yelling of her own. “Half a daughter? Pretty, empty words! If I had a daughter like this, I would’ve long since drowned her in the latrines! She’s a completely ignorant dunce and a bitch that should be sliced to pieces by a thousand cuts! She can’t do anything decent and can’t give birth to shit, and now she wants to doom my son as well! Don’t she dare drag down my family even in death!”
Qin Yining pursed her lips, her gaze growing cold. “Is the old dowager really ignoring a relationship of so many years?”
“I have no relationship with anyone surnamed Sun!” The old dowager waved her hand curtly, glaring at the second madame who’d wanted to plead for the senior madame.
Qin Yining nodded. “Even if you wish to wash your hands of this matter, Old Dowager, it’s unlikely that you can. If you plead for mercy for my mother, not only would you not endanger yourself, but you’d gain a virtuous reputation as well. Aren’t you afraid of outsiders laughing at you if you have no reaction whatsoever as a mother-in-law when the empress wishes to consign my mother to death?”
“What a joke! What would I care about what others think at my age? Your father says you’re smart, but you look like an absolute fool to me. It’s better if your mother dies. You have no lack of powerful woman to call ‘mother’. Née Cao is in every way better than that Sun. You…”
“Enough!” Qin Yining finally couldn’t take it anymore. She couldn’t beat the old dowager, but had no place to vent her anger. Thus, she sent a round stool by her side flying with a sturdy kick. The stool crashed to the ground and brought a bowed leg side table tumbling along in its wake. The blue and white porcelain teacups and teapot shattered shrilly on the floor.
“Mutiny! Rebellion! Servants, throw her out of here, throw her out!”
“Don’t you bother yourself, I can walk myself out!” Qin Yining retorted coldly. “Aren’t you afraid of saddening others with how heartless you are? The heavens may be impassive, but they always leave a ray of hope for people. Even though my mother’s committed a mistake, it’s not enough for the death sentence. My father’s just held a successful peace talk and received the position of the Marquis of Anping, do you think the emperor would let my mother die just like this? Even if the empress doesn’t care about gossip outside, the emperor does! It’s truly enlightening to see how fearful you are, Old Dowager!”
She whirled around and left after this, her words giving the old dowager a few hearty slaps across the face. True, the emperor values face so dearly, so would he let the empress decree death for née Sun just like this? It wouldn’t make for good gossip if he harmed the wife of an official who’d just achieved a great deed.
And yet, it wouldn’t be the first time that he’d done so. The old dowager couldn’t come to the correct conclusion immediately. When she came to her senses, she realized that Qin Yining had exited her residence. The old dowager started with shock and yelled, “Servants, stop her!”