Chapter 69: Refusal Unto Death
It didn’t take long for all the misses to arrive. Qin Yining and Qin Huining followed the crowd to the receiving hall, quickly mingling among them. Even though Qin Huining wasn’t the most popular, the scene wasn’t too awkward. A granny servant arrived around noon to ask the duchess, “Senior Madame, lunch is ready. Should we set it out in the warmed room?”
“Set it out there. Make sure to fetch the lords from the outer residence.”
The ladies of the house chatted and laughed their way to lunch, bumping into the duke and his grandsons at the courtyard door. The girls curtsied while eldest cousin Sun Yu, fifth cousin Sun Jie, and eighth cousin Sun Qin made their bows to the women. They greeted their sisters and female cousins as well before heading inside.
It was as warm as spring inside the house and a full spread was laid out. The delicious fragrance of food wafted towards their noses and teased everyone’s appetites. The duchess smiled. “Let’s take down the divider. There are no outsiders here. Is the duke to eat a lonely meal with just three of his grandsons? Aren’t you jealous that we have so many people on our side?”
“You know me best,” the duke chuckled. “I am jealous, but you’ve already given your orders without me having to say anything.”
Everyone started laughing. The duke and duchess took the head seats, while née Sun took her place at the duchess’ side, leaving two seats next to her for her sisters-in-law. The male cousins took their seats at the duke’s right hand. The young girls naturally sat at another table. Senior and second aunt picked up serving chopsticks, but the duchess smiled. “It’s a kind of reunion lunch today. I don’t want you two to stand on ceremony. Take your seats as well.”
The two wanted to protest, but the duke smiled as well. “Just listen to your mother.”
Although the duke was gentle, he was the man of the household. No one would gainsay him after he spoke, so the two madames took their seats as well. Noble households had the rule of no speech during meals and bed, so the only sound in the room was that of chopsticks clinking against bowls and plates. But once everyone had finished their meals and moved back to the receiving hall, the atmosphere once again grew lively.
The duke stroked his beard, in quite a good mood. “Are you used to things yet, granddaughter Yi?”
“In response to grandfather, all is well. Mother thinks greatly of me in all matters and take very good care of me. Huining’s also taught me much that I didn’t know before, so I’m used to life here now.” Qin Yining responded docilely. Née Sun was immensely touched by this response, while Qin Huining flung a startled look at Qin Yining. What is she up to now?
The duke smiled. “That’s good. It’s your mother’s fortune that you and granddaughter Hui are so friendly with each other. If you need anything or run into any difficulties, send a message to your maternal grandmother.”
“I will. Thank you for your concern, grandfather.” Qin Yining curtsied in gratitude. The duke waved a hand to bid her sit and do away with the formalities. She took a seat next to Qin Huining, her bearing so natural that it seemed like everything was fine between them. Qin Huining, on the other hand, was tensed up all over. She felt incredibly uncomfortable being in such close proximity, but had to force herself to maintain her composure.
Although the duchess was worried about what was going on, she was able to keep her calm. But Qin Yining’s second aunt couldn’t help but speak up due to worry for her family. “Father, do we know how things at Xihua are going?”
The duke thought for a moment before responding gravely, “The two armies are clashing at Xihua. Pang Zhixi 1 deploys his troops in peculiar ways. We haven’t gained the upper hand yet.”
Hearts sank at these words while second aunt tried to comfort herself. “Although we haven’t gained the upper hand, at least our menfolk are still safe and sound.”
Families residing in the rear could only wish for simple hopes like these. The duke sighed. “If only I wasn’t so old, I’d head to Xihua myself and take Pang Zhixi down a peg myself!”
“Grandfather is hale and hearty. It’s only that we just don’t need you in the field yet,” fifth cousin Sun Jie smiled.
Eighth cousin Sun Qin frowned. “The war is one thing, but what’s most infuriating is Great Zhou’s arrogance. They send us messengers that their dowager empress has headaches? What, they invade us and then expect us to look for doctors for them? Is the entire world theirs?! And our emperor is actually scurrying around looking for doctors? This…”
“Eighth brother, watch your words.” Sun Yu admonished lightly, bringing his brother’s attention back to the presence of other sisters and cousins in the surroundings. Sun Qin smiled awkwardly. Qin Yining kept her eyes low as she quietly listened the conversation around her, feeling a boulder slowly settle on her heart. The emperor was decrepit and weak, only knowing how to immerse himself in pleasure with the trampress. He plotted against his subjects, but never thought of forging his court into a tight whole so that they could contend against outside enemies. It’d be easier for Great Yan citizens to hope for his death than expect him to stand proudly and lead them all with a firm hand!
Just as the heavy atmosphere pervaded everyone’s thoughts, servants suddenly reported in from outside. “Your Grace, Grand Supervisor Wang from the palace has just arrived with an imperial decree! He’s in the front yard at the moment!”
Another imperial decree!? The duke quickly gave orders to set up a table with new cloth and decorations to hold the imperial decree while the family went to kneel in the front yard to receive the emperor’s words.
Grand Supervisor Wang’s face was solemn as he slowly unfurled the golden decree. Once it was fully unfurled, he spoke in a thin, high voice, “The Emperor, who governs with the mandate of Heaven, decrees the following: the dowager empress of Great Zhou, to the west of our great nation, is unwell and has received a method of treatment from a renowned doctor. Partaking of the brain of a wise person can cure her ailment. Sun Yu, eminent scholar of Hanlin Academy, possesses wisdom and strategy, is quick of wit and innovative, and is endowed with intelligence and courage alike. In recognition of his great talent, We hereby bestow the position of the Earl of An and award him one thousand gold taels. Sun Yu is to head to Great Zhou to cure the dowager empress. So it is decreed!”
Deathly silence reigned in the yard…
Grand Supervisor Wang’s shrill voice had cut across everyone’s heart like a rusty blade. Kneeling in the yard, the duke’s hand was trembling. After a long moment, he lifted his head and spoke, fighting to get every word out. “If I may ask the grand supervisor… what is all this?”
The grand supervisor sighed softly. “Your Grace, please don’t blame this servant. I’m just following orders. But I can provide you with some information. I’m sure you’re aware that Great Zhou sent an envoy? He just met with the emperor and relayed that a Great Zhou doctor prescribed a treatment for their dowager empress. He said that in order for her headaches to be cured, she needs to eat the brain of the smartest person in the world.” Tears welled up in the old eunuch’s eyes, but he swallowed roughly to keep them from spilling over. His voice dropped an octave as he struggled to keep his tone even. “The envoy purposefully asked, ‘I’ve heard that there’s someone in your country who’s skilled at writing denunciations. He’s the smartest, so we’ll take him’. Then… the emperor agreed…”
At those last words, Sun Yu’s mother gasped. Her eyes rolled back and she fainted dead away. The young misses all burst into tears from fright and frantically tried to wake her by pinching the acupuncture points under her nose and between thumb and index finger. Qin Yining’s second aunt was frantically supporting a shaking duchess. Everyone’s face had gone as white as a ghost’s. Qin Yining’s hands were tightly clenched as she propped up a shuddering née Sun. Her eyes were fixed on Grand Supervisor Wang, sure that there was more.
A humming sound filled the duke’s ears. He seemed to have aged a hundred years as a low rasp came out, “This… how can this be…”
“Your Grace, the emperor has given his orders. We have no choice but to do this in order to placate Great Zhou and save Great Yan.” The eunuch sighed and offered up the imperial decree with both hands to a mute Sun Yu. “Sir Sun, please accept the decree.”
Sun Yu’s face was blank, almost like he felt nothing. Ignoring the eunuch, he turned and walked over to his newly awakened mother to hold her. “Mother, don’t cry.”
Senior aunt’s eyes were bloodshot as she grasped Sun Yu’s hands tightly. “Son, my son! Not going, we’re not going! You can’t accept this decree! You can’t go, I forbid you to go!”
Tears welled up in Sun Yu’s eyes as he enfolded her in his arms. He held her close, patting her back soothingly. “Alright, alright. I won’t go.”
But the imperial decree had already arrived, what could he do if not go? Everyone panicked. Qin Yining thought furiously and tugged on Sun Yu’s sleeve. She kept her voice low. “Cousin, accept the decree for now and we can talk about the rest later. We can think of a plan!”
Tears covered Qin Huining’s face in her panic as well as she concurred. “Right right right. Great Zhou is so far away. Who knows what you look like? We’ll send someone else instead!”
Their words gave the others slight hope. In the moment, no rational thought could penetrate their terrified state in a moment of crisis. The senior aunt nodded. “Right right, accept the decree and we’ll think of a plan!”
The duchess and née Sun also sighed in relief. But Sun Yu smiled, rising slowly to his feet. “I, Sun Yuanming, am a true man. I have a clear conscience in all that I do. Grandmother, grandmother, mother—I will not scrabble in the dirt simply to survive.”
He turned back to the grand supervisor, striding proudly over to stand in front of him. Sun Yu reached out, flipping the imperial decree out of the eunuch’s hands and sending it tumbling to the ground. He glared straight into Grand Supervisor Wang’s eyes. “The land of savages, Great Zhou, dared to invade my country, slaughter my fellow citizens, and bully my liege! Now they want my brains for a cure?! Dream on! I’d rather smash it than give them the slightest mouthful!” Before anyone could stop him, or even process his vehement stance, Sun Yu leaped straight towards the nearest pillar. He didn’t even hesitate for a moment before charging into it headfirst!
Bam! A muffled thud rang hollowly around the yard, followed by the slaps of flesh and tissue hitting the ground. Bright crimson blood stained his robes, and a long streak of blood was drawn on the pillar as his thin frame slid down to its base.
No one had ever dreamed that this sort of fire existed in Sun Yu. The duchess, senior aunt, and second aunt all screamed in horror and fainted. The girls clutched each other and wailed loudly, some fainting away as well. The yard dissolved into a chaotic riot of blood and screaming. Qin Yining’s fifth and eighth cousin charged towards Sun Yu’s corpse, howling in anguish. They screamed his name and pounded their chests in agony.
The duke trembled and shook like a leaf, his eyes never leaving the body of his most treasured grandson and the remains of his body that had strewn itself over the ground. His lips suddenly tugged upwards in a ghastly parody of a smile. “Good, good! Ming’er, you are indeed a Sun! And a man among men! Your grandfather hasn’t loved you for nothing! I haven’t loved you for nothing…” He couldn’t hold on anymore and crumpled slowly, like a collapsing mountain, to his knees. The only thing that could be discerned from his bowed head were the tears that fell endlessly from his eyes.
Grand Supervisor Wang himself was not immune to the nobility of the Sun Yu’s decision, swiping at his eyes. But he was also not blind to the ramifications of that which would come next. He cleared his throat with difficulty, and anxiety colored his next words, “Your Grace, what should we do? What do we do if the emperor blames us for all this?”
The duchess had been reawakened thanks to Bingtang’s silver needles. Qin Yining and née Sun helped her into a sitting position. Her sharp grief had given way to an ice-like despondency. She laughed, a chilling sound. “What can we do now that things have come to this? Our Duke of Ding household are full of fierce and loyal subjects. Our only thought has been to serve our country and we have never failed our liege. The emperor… is wise and noble. I’m sure he’ll be moved when he hears of my grandson’s actions.”
*sigh* Once again I apologize to the third advance chapter tier patrons. It’s only a partial chapter again. I’m so sorry this is happening and offer refunds for anyone who feel cheated. I really don’t want to stop the releases as I love ROS, so my stockpile suffers for it. T_T Life started slapping me like I’m QHN starting April and has continued since. XD
- Another name for Pang Xiao, used by those who know him. ↩