Chapter 122: Public Beheading
With Qin Yining’s explosive temper, she was bound to stir up trouble if she went out! The group recovered their collective senses and surged outside. Naturally, there were servants on duty in the yard who tried to stop the fourth miss, but they were all house dogs. What could they do against a wild wolf?
All the girl wanted to do now was to save her mother. Even if she knew that her abilities were insufficient, she would never give up hope and still give it her all in a rescue attempt. Anyone who dared try to stop her were easily laid low on the ground. More than ten maids and granny servants weren’t enough to deter her.
The old dowager, second and third madame stood beneath the covered hallway with the rest of the girls, refreshing their memories of how her physical capabilities and fully witnessing Qin Yining’s barbaric manners.
“Hurry, hurry up and get her back here!” the old dowager roared. “Don’t let her out!”
But what did Qin Yining care about them? She charged out of the inner residence with the momentum of willing to trample right over whoever came to obstruct her, even if it was Buddha!
Although it’d yet to reach curfew, lights were lit brightly everywhere within the manor, casting longer shadows into the corners.
Servants had caught wind of what was going on and had gathered outside the inner door. Male servants would be stronger than Qin Yining, as well as the manor guards who came rushing in as well. However, she was the official daughter and a rightful mistress of the manor in the end. These people wouldn’t dare lay a hand on her even if they had a hundred times more gall. They could only surround her and not really do anything.
Qin Yining was frowning ferociously now, her lips tightly pursed. Due to doing battle with the maids and granny servants earlier, her hairpins were knocked askew and hot sweat poured down her face. If she spent too much time with these people and more came from the inner residence, she’d lose the upper hand then.
“Out of my way, or I’ll tell my father that you were disrespectful to me!”
“Fourth Miss, we’re all just following orders,” the guards had rueful expressions on their faces. “The old dowager said not to let you out.”
Qin Yining’s expression softened slightly, but her tone was still hard. “And you dare become involved in the matters of your masters? Aren’t you afraid of dragging your family into this? Move out of the way and I’ll make the explanations to father. The old dowager is elderly and suitable only for handling matters of the inner residence. She can’t make the call in what happens outside of the home. Besides, don’t you all know who is the master of this house?”
The male servants looked at each other and hesitantly opened a path for Qin Yining. She seized the best timing and picked up her skirts in rushing out.
The maids and granny servants from the inner residence finally straggled in at this time, panting and wheezing as they leaned on the wall or placed their hands on their hips to catch their breaths. They looked on in Qin Yining’s direction with dry mouths and thick tongues, unable to say a single word for the longest time. The fourth miss was simply too good at running! She didn’t seem to exert any effort, but was able to leave them in the dust all the same. They couldn’t even catch a glimpse of her back, and the outer residence servants were milling around uncertainly. The maids and granny servants didn’t know what to do. They could only go back to report to the old dowager.
When the matriarch heard that Qin Yining had made it out, she threw a terrible fit. The entire porcelain tea set within the house met their doom; not a single piece survived unscathed.
Qin Yining exited the manor as the old dowager was throwing her tantrum. She saw Grand Steward Zhong, Bingtang, and Songlan waiting in a street corner with a carriage, craning their necks in the direction of the manor. They waved when they saw Qin Yining, and Bingtang came running over to support her mistress.
“Are you alright, miss? Thank goodness for big sister Songlan coming to get me. We slipped out when no one noticed and just saw a lot of people running for the inner door. We were worried that you wouldn’t be able to make it out.”
“Don’t worry, they wouldn’t dare touch a hair on my head. Steward Zhong, let’s chat along the way.”
Qin Yining smiled gratefully at the steward and had her maids sit outside with the groom, leaving only the steward inside for a private chat.
The carriage sped along the roads to the palace. Grand Steward Zhong actually seemed a bit uptight within the carriage, and so Qin Yining. “You are my elder, grand steward, so allow me to put on some airs in wanting to chat with you.”
The title of ‘elder’ reminded the grand steward that when it came to age, the two of them could be grandfather and granddaughter. They were employer and employee to boot, so there was nothing untoward about only the two of them in a carriage together. He relaxed and spoke solemnly, “I’ve sent people to ask around in the palace. It was indeed the Qin senior madame conflicting with the empress, resulting in the empress consigning her to death. No one’s carried out the order yet, so she should be shut away somewhere. They have to wait for the emperor’s orders first.”
“So all of this is true?” Qin Yining frowned.
“Were you doubting the truth of the matter, miss?”
“I did at first. As muddle-headed the emperor may be, he still cares about face. My father just successfully concluded the peace talks. Why would the emperor just turn around and kill the wife of an accomplished official?”
The steward shook his head and murmured, “We can never use regular logic to understand our emperor’s decisions.”
He’d thrown away imperial face to save his own skin. Would he balk at hurting loyal officials?
Qin Yining’s forehead was very tightly knit together as she followed up hurriedly, “Steward Zhong, do we have any plans whatsoever to save my mother? Do we have connections in the palace?”
“Just say what you wish, miss, and I will do whatever is within my power to do. Besides, the Institute’s network of connections is your network as well.” Steward Zhong started chuckling. “I’d guessed that you wouldn’t sit idly by when I heard of what’d happened, miss. You’d want to save the senior madame. I’ve already bought out the guards at the gate. We can get eunuch uniforms and think of a way to steal the madame out.”
Qin Yining felt her nose twinge when she saw Steward Zhong’s wrinkled face creased in a very benevolent and sincere smile. She almost teared up. The grand steward was an outsider, but he was trying to help her without regard for his own safety after she’d only done him a passing favor before. The old dowager has spent almost thirty years with mother, but she is still be so cold hearted. The chill within the manor had exceeded Qin Yining’s expectations. After some comparison, it was more and more apparent who was close and who was distant, as well as who was dependable.
It was narrow within the carriage, but Qin Yining still curtsied to the grand steward. “I cannot thank you enough for this great gratitude.”
“Don’t be this way, miss!” Grand Steward Zhong quickly lifted Qin Yining up. “If it wasn’t for you, my entire family would’ve fallen to the furious revenge from the Clearists. We’d be broken and destitute by now. The grass might even be a third of a meter tall on my tombstone by now. How would I be able to sit here and chat with you? It’s not my style to not pay back debts of gratitude. Don’t be so polite with me in the future, miss.”
Qin Yining dabbed at the corners of her eyes with a sleeve. “Alright, I won’t mention it in the future.”
“What are your plans after saving the madame, miss?”
“The palace will surely launch an investigation if they lose someone. I can only help my mother get away. As for me, I won’t be able to leave. It’ll be another scene of parting then.” She was a bit depressed, but swiftly recovered her spirits. “No matter what, we’ll be able to meet one day as long as we’re alive.”
The grand steward nodded, highly admiring of Qin Yining’s steadfast loyalty in the face of disaster and her tenacious spirit. They had arrived at the Institute’s closest tavern to the palace, Roamer’s Return, by now. There were still many customers dining within the establishment, so Qin Yining didn’t dare reveal her face in front of everyone. She headed for the rear garden to await news. However, a grave Steward Zhong came with an even more despairing update before long.
“Miss, our men have heard that the palace sent word not long after you left the Qin Manor that the senior madame’s matter had grown even more severe. Her original fate of death by poisoned wine has been changed to a public beheading outside the Meridian Gate at noon tomorrow, her head displayed for all to see.”
An explosion went off inside Qin Yining’s mind as the blue and white porcelain teacup slipped from her fingers. It landed on her thighs, spilling the hot tea all over her and then smashed ear-piercingly onto the ground.
“Miss!” Bingtang and Songlan rushed forward to check her skirts, deathly afraid that their mistress had been burned. Thankfully, she’d been wearing a lot since it was winter. Otherwise, the hot tea really would’ve burned her.
“Miss, don’t be too sad.” Steward Zhong sighed.
Qin Yining took a few deep breaths in to force herself to calm down. Her voice trembled slightly. “Do you also know why this is?”
Death by poisoned wine left the door open to announcing that née Sun had died from sudden illness. It maintained her final dignity. But a displaying of her head after a public beheading denied née Sun even that. This was different even from just a beheading. A beheading was just taking off the head, but displaying meant that the head would be hung high on a wooden pole for everyone to see.
This was a punishment reserved for exceedingly wicked criminals. What crime had née Sun committed??
“Apparently the senior madame cursed that the emperor is a trash emperor,” Grand Steward Zhong continued. “She said that the emperor specializes in hurting loyal officials and that he should just hurry up and die…”
Qin Yining held her forehead and didn’t know how to react in the heat of the moment. As strong as she might be, she was still a young girl who’d yet to come of age. As much human emotion she’d witnessed, she still found it hard to decide what to do when faced with something like this and just completely panicked.
“And my father? Has my father returned to the manor yet?” Father will have a way to save mother!
Steward Zhong shook his head. “There’s been no word yet of Grand Preceptor Qin returning to the manor.”
Had father been dragged in by this and locked up? Qin Yining fixed her gaze on the flickering candlelight. Her hand remained propping up her forehead as she stayed lost in thought.
Although Bingtang and Songlan were frantic and furious, they didn’t dare voice random thoughts for fear of disturbing their mistress. They could only worry off on the side.
Qin Yining’s gaze steadied after a moment. “Whatever happens, I can’t watch my mother die. Even if she was insubordinate because she flung out ‘trash emperor’, that’s only because she spoke the truth with her candid personality. The Duke of Ding was innocent of all his crimes, and the emperor is doing all this out of shameful guilt. But, the more he conducts himself this way, the more people will curse his name.”
“Yes, the senior madame is right.” Steward Zhong agreed softly. “But what of you, miss?”
“We need to try, no matter what. But Steward Zhong shouldn’t take part in what’s to come. All you have to do is find out some information for me. Let’s offer a great sum of silver to see if any brothers in the underworld are willing to take a risk for my mother. I’m certain that courage grows in the face of heavy reward. As long as we offer enough silver, there should be enough willing heroes who can’t abide by what the trash emperor is doing.”