Chapter 48: The Feeling of Kinship
Qin Yining’s heartfelt pleas caused née Sun’s stubborn huff to waver. She hadn’t thought that something she’d thrown on Qin Yining’s head would have such complicated connections to the world. Even when Qin Yining explained it to her, it was still difficult to understand it all. And yet, her daughter had been able to figure it out by herself! When née Sun noticed her mother’s delighted and admiring expression, she knew just how pleasing the girl was to her mother. Née Sun had never thought herself dumb, but she had always thought that as a woman of the inner residence, all she had to do was ensure that she had a good handle on her own matters. But what’d happened with Qin Yining today was giving her a stroke of inspiration.
“I never thought that matters in the inner residence would be so affected by affairs in court,” she murmured, half to herself.
The duchess was once again seized by the urge to sink her head into her hands. “Isn’t that obvious? The grass of the inner residence bends whenever the wind blows in court. You were lucky that you’re with a devoted Qin Meng. If it’s been anyone else with multiple concubines from other families, you’d know full well how matters of court affect the inner residence. But that’s besides the point. Granddaughter Yi is already asking you so sincerely, why aren’t you agreeing to go yet?”
Née Sun looked back down and saw the expectant look in Qin Yining’s face. She nodded slowly. “Alright. I’ll go back because of your sincere apology and to prevent your father from losing too much face in front of the crown prince.”
The duchess sighed with relief. Née Sun might not understand the nuances of her situation, but she did. Qin Yining’s arrival this time had given Née Sun a way out. It’d clearly been née Sun’s fault in this matter. She’d purposefully started a fight and offended Old Dowager Qin and Qin Meng. Her expectation that someone from her in-laws would come to welcome her back would never be met. Therefore, she would have to create an excuse herself in order to return. If it hadn’t been for Qin Yining coming here and begging on bended knee, it would’ve been the Ding Manor that would’ve had to reach out first. But if they did so, they’d lose quite a bit of face.
“You need to calm down and take some time to think as well,” the duchess couldn’t help but say. “Granddaughter Yi is so mature that she’s taken it upon herself to give you a way out. But what about that one at home? Granddaughter Yi came immediately after being released from her punishment, but the one at home hasn’t been grounded at all! Has she said anything after all the days you’ve been here? She hasn’t even sent a messenger to ask after you! When you wanted to leave, she was the one who’d goaded you and said she’d keep you company. But when you really left, she tucked her head in and hung you out to dry! Both daughters are yours, but it should be apparent what their personalities are like now, no?” The duchess went over to help Qin Yining up. “Come with me, darling Yi. Your mother needs some space. We’ll go sit inside.”
Qin Yining looked back at née Sun with a bit of worry in her eyes before following the duchess in, leaving née Sun alone outside. Née Sun kept repeating her mother’s words in her mind, the expression on her face changing again and again.
Qin Yining was now sitting close to the duchess on the luohan bed next to the window. Her grandmother was pulling gently on her hand. “Darling Yi, you’re a good girl. Grandmother knows you’ve had a hard time outside.”
“What hard time?” Qin Yining shook her head quickly. “Being able to come home and stay by my family is already cause for great satisfaction. I know of mother’s difficulties. Even though her blood flows in my veins, it’s very difficult for her to accept that her daughter was swapped at birth. She’s already trying very hard to accept me. It really was my fault this time. Everything’s like this because I made her mad.”
“Oh, you child.” The duchess stroked Qin Yining’s unbound hair with a dry, warm hand, feeling like someone had squeezed her heart. It’d been the girl who’d suffered in this debacle, but here she was, speaking endless good words for her birth mother. Perhaps family members a generation removed were closer, or perhaps the two really did get along well. Whatever it was, the duchess felt great love for Qin Yining in this moment.
The girl thought for a bit. “Grandmother, I have two more matters I’d like to ask you about. You’re worldly and widely experienced, you must know what is best.”
The duchess always had great patience for the endless questions of the young, particularly when it was her dearest Yining asking. She smiled benevolently and lovingly put the brass, perforated hand warmer decorated with flowers of the seasons into the girl’s hand. “Tell me, what questions do you have?”
Qin Yining smiled with gratitude and folded the duchess’ hand over the hand warmer too, the two of them seeking warmth together. “It’s like this, grandmother. I’ve arranged temporary quarters for Miss Tang at Cloudsoar Inn. She really views me as her mistress and will be serving by my side in the future. She’s versed in medical skills and I’d like to keep her by my side as another helper. In the end, I’d like to find some time for her to resume secular life. What do you think, grandmother?”
“Are you worried that your father won’t be happy because of the Tang’s connection to the Clearists?”
It was so easy talking to a quick-witted person.
Qin Yining nodded. “Yes, I’m also afraid that it will impact the relationships between the Ding Manor, Cao family, and the Prince of Ning.”
“Don’t worry, the situation at court has been stabilized for now. The prince has given the girl to you and the Royal Academy likely won’t ask for her back without a decree from the emperor. As for the Caos, while the grand preceptor may not have his position anymore, his influence at court remains roughly the same. Their cannons are still firmly pointed at the prince and your father, so they won’t pay attention to you for a while. Miss Tang is another child who’s had a hard life. You two have some shared destiny. If she treats you with sincerity, then it’s a good thing to have her by your side as well. As for the others, let’s take it one step at a time.”
The duchess’ words had actually been circulating in Qin Yining’s mind for quite a while. Although she’d come to similar conclusions, it was strangely much more reassuring when her grandmother said them instead.
“I understand.” Qin Yining smiled widely, her dimples making her look quite fetching. “I feel like I have a solid pillar to depend on with grandmother by my side.”
“You silly girl.” The duchess wrapped one arm around Qin Yining’s shoulder and swayed with her granddaughter. This poor girl had been all alone all these years, having to make all the decisions by herself. To make matters worse, every single one had been a matter of life and death. No matter how smart she might be, there had to be moments when she panicked or felt utterly lost. She’d had absolutely no one she could depend on all this time. No wonder she revealed such a content smile in her grandmother’s arms. Her smile and newfound dependence brought both joy and sadness to the duchess. The old woman’s eyes grew moist, and she almost wanted to cry for her granddaughter.
Qin Yining didn’t detect the duchess’ feelings. “Grandmother, I have another thing to ask of you.”
“Ask whatever you’d like.” The duchess smiled. Qin Yining gave a brief overview of the events surrounding Ruilan in the Qin Manor. The furrows on the duchess’ brow grew even deeper as her frown grew darker. “To think that Qin Huining would do something like that! She completely disregarded life, all for a moment’s glee! We’ve never had a girl from our family harm innocent lives like this!”
She was agitated enough to get up, pacing fitfully. After a few paces, she turned to respond solemnly, “Granddaughter Yi, let me handle this.”
In the end, Qin Huining was née Sun’s foster daughter. No matter what the girl did, her behavior would only reflect poorly on née Sun’s teaching, not Qin Huining herself. Even though the duchess lectured née Sun something awful, all mothers still kept their daughters foremost in their minds.
Qin Yining immediately understood her grandmother’s thoughts. “Grandmother should teach Miss Huining however you’d like, but I actually have a plan this time.”
The Duchess of Ding arched an eyebrow at the girl in front of her. Qin Yining quickly sketched out her preparations and stuck out her tongue. “I’ll have to make plentiful use of grandmother’s name when the time comes.”
“Oh you.” The duchess couldn’t help but laugh. Of all the things about Qin Yining’s plan that she admired, the one she liked the most was the girl’s priority in protecting the lives of the innocent even when she struck back. She tapped the girl’s forehead with a finger. “Go do whatever you’d like.”
“Thank you, grandmother.” Qin Yining smiled radiantly, rising to to curtsey.
The fondness that the duchess felt for Qin Yining grew even stronger as she looked at the pretty, bashful girl in front of her. One was kind and filial, the other selfish and vicious. Although both girls were pretty and smart, the scales of her heart didn’t even hesitate to tilt in favor of Qin Yining when their characters were compared.
“Mother.” Née Sun was awkwardly standing outside the room door.
“What?” The duchess’ fond feelings were pricked by a tinge of irritation at the mere sight of née Sun.
“Mother, I’ve already given orders to pack my things.” I’ll be able to return to the Qin Manor at any time.
The duchess had already rolled her eyes at her daughter. It was obvious that née Sun had long since wanted to return. She just hadn’t been able to set aside the matter of her face long enough to actually do so. When Qin Yining gave her a way out, she naturally went along with the flow. “Go back. Think carefully about what I said.”
“Understood.” Née Sun lowered her head.
The duchess bustled about, giving orders to servants to prepare the carriage and personally adjusting Qin Yining’s cape. “I’ll take care of Miss Tang’s matter to resume secular life. If I remember correctly, the convent she entered was Celestial Nunnery. It’s not too far from the city. As a matter of fact, I happen to know the Head Priestess there. I’ll have someone pick you up tomorrow. I need to commission some rituals anyway.”
“Grandmother, how will this do!?” Qin Yining looked at the duchess with happy surprise. “That would be quite a trip for you!”
“Pfft. I’ve been feeling a bit stifled, living with this crush of people everyday. It’ll do me good to get out and clear my head. You don’t need to think too much. Just come with me so that no one bullies you.” The duchess thought a bit further. “I’m only taking you tomorrow, no one else.”
“Are you leaving even me out, mother?” Née Sun asked timidly.
“And what would I bring you for? You’ll just make me mad. I’m taking my darling Yi out for a nice stroll tomorrow.”
Qin Yining smiled merrily and nodded happily. She bid a delighted farewell to the duchess and took the carriage home with née Sun. She kept smiling on the way home. So this is what it feels like, to have someone care for you!