Chapter 70: Filthy Deeds
“This… no matter what the emperor thinks, it’s the truth that Sir Sun showed disrespect in defying the imperial decree. How shall I report this to the emperor??” After his shock had waned, Grand Supervisor Wang was most concerned about the consequences that would fall on his head. The emperor’s temper was known to be mercurial, and he ordered executions at the drop of a hat. How was the eunuch supposed to go back empty-handed?
“Come come, you there, collect Sir Sun’s body and the mess on the ground.” Grand Supervisor Wang covered his nose with his sleeve and gave orders to the young eunuchs who’d come with him. These young eunuchs were afraid of being embroiled in the mess as well, so they forced themselves to come forward to gather Sun Yu’s remains.
Sun Jie and Sun Qin erupted with fury, forcefully shoving the eunuchs aside. “What are you doing?! He’s already dead, what more do you want from his corpse?”
The duchess struggled to stand up, but couldn’t quite reach her feet. Collapsed on the ground, her grief gave way to an outraged yell, “Don’t you dare! Who dares move my grandson’s body?!” Tears mottled her face as anguish seeped back into her voice, “He’s already gone, why won’t you just leave his body alone?!”
“You’ll have to get past me to even touch my grandson!” The duke’s eyes were bloodshot and his raspy voice trembled with emotion. He blocked the eunuchs with outstretched arms, planting himself as solidly as a mountain in front of his household.
How would Grand Overseer Wang not sorrow for Sun Yu in light of such a tragic situation? But if he couldn’t fulfil his duties, his neck would be next on the chopping block. “Your Grace, this servant has no other choice either. You know of the emperor’s temper. If he flies into an imperial fury, neither you nor I would be able to bear the consequences.” After a moment of thought, he offered, “How about this? I’ll have someone return to the palace to make a report, and we’ll see what the emperor wishes to do?”
If the emperor shows mercy, then it gets me out of this situation. Nothing good can come of offending the duke either.
The duke gnashed his teeth and nodded. “Then I’ll be troubling you, Grand Overseer.”
The grand overseer quietly protested for the courteous response before turning to a young eunuch. The youthful eunuch was far from enthused about the prospect of facing the emperor with bad news, but was forced to leave anyway. He traveled back to the palace with a long face, as if going back to meet his doom.
The group waited, their hearts mirroring the frozen courtyard. It had begun to snow at some point, delicately frozen fractals vanishing into the dark, dampening ground. Yet no one thought of taking shelter from the elements. The only sound that broke the stillness of the scene was the low sniffling or muffled sobs of the females. When Qin Yining’s senior aunt awoke, she wailed and fainted again after seeing her son’s condition. Second Aunt held née Sun tightly as the two grieved together.
Qin Yining had moved to her grandmother’s side, silent tears trickling unceasingly down her face. Senior cousin had given his life for his ideals, but it also stood as a castigation of the decrepit emperor. However, love of country, as well as liege loyalty, was deeply ingrained the bones of the Ding household. Words of that sort was not meant to be spoken.
And yet, upholding his belief with deaths was still an act of insubordination. Qin Yining didn’t know what the others were thinking, but her very teeth itched with venomous hatred for that trash emperor. She couldn’t help but think of Qin Huaiyuan. Senior cousin was wreathed with praise and amply rewarded before. Isn’t that the same with father? When living in troubled times, the fickleness of fate was the hardest to predict and resist.
Scattered footsteps sounded around an hour later. It wasn’t just the young eunuch who’d been sent back, but now he was also accompanied by some imperial bodyguards as well. The youthful eunuch was much reassured after receiving instructions from the emperor and bowed confidently. “The emperor has imparted a verbal decree and ordered that this servant must deliver it clearly to the Duke of Ding.”
The grand overseer nodded, indicating for the eunuch to speak. The sounds of mourning ceased slowly as everyone fixed their eyes on the eunuch.
“The emperor says, ‘The Duke of Ding household professes to be loyal, but isn’t even willing to offer a singular Sun Yu for the good of the nation. Sacrificing only Sun Yu would placate Great Zhou’s anger and possibly lead to a retreat at Xihua and the release of ten thousand captives! But it seems Sun Yu only knew to give himself great airs! You are to offer his body and brains to Great Zhou even if he had been torn to bits, much less rammed himself to death! Anyone who dares obstruct this action will be charged with high treason!’”
The eunuch’s voice was shrill, but still perfectly imitated the emperor’s wrathful tone. However, the further along he got into the speech, the more his volume dwindled. It couldn’t be helped, really, because everyone’s stares had turned from hopeful to vicious, like predators looking at prey.
Grand Supervisor Wang waved a hand to dismiss the eunuch and bowed to the duke. The unspoken pressure weighed heavily on him, and he spoke with difficulty, “Your Grace, you’re the head of the household and must keep a clear mind. The emperor has already spoken thus, so I must take Sir Sun with me. You must consider whether your household can suffer the labels of ‘treason’ and ‘defiance of the imperial decree’! Sir Sun may no longer be with us, but you have other children and grandchildren to think about!”
The duke clenched his fists so tightly that his knuckles turned white. A vein throbbed at his forehead, but not a word escaped his lips. The women around him were all crying loudly.
The imperial bodyguards stepped forward and pushed aside Qin Yining’s fifth and eighth cousins. They collected the scattered remains of Sun Yu and placed them into a satin box. Then they lifted his ghastly body into a hastily prepared, thin coffin. Grand Supervisor Wang immediately raised a cupped fist salute when he saw that the task was done and took his leave in a hurry.
The duke slowly tilted his head back and murmured, “The heavens wish to end Great Yan.” A mouthful of blood spurted from his lips and his eyes rolled back. The duke’s stocky body fell like an aged oak, crashing heavily onto the ground.
“Your Grace!” The scene once again dissolved into utter chaos.
News of these calamitous tidings at the Ding Manor spread throughout the capital in less than four hours. The public reeled in shock, the citizens alternately sighing in sorrow and anger. The soldiers of the capital were beside themselves with grief. Qin Huaiyuan personally rushed over when he heard the news. Qin Yining and Qin Huining were at née Sun’s side, helping the doctor take care of their female relatives. The duchess, senior aunt, second aunt, and even the duke had yet to awake from their dead faint. There was no one left who could make decisions.
Qin Huaiyuan led Sun Jie and Sun Qin in raising a lintel in the front yard and setting up an altar. They placed Sun Yu’s clothes, socks, and shoes inside a coffin. Qin Huaiyuan also hired criers to announce the death, gave orders for servants to stand vigil over the coffin, burn paper money, and weep in front of the coffin. The entire Ding Manor was enveloped in a tragic atmosphere, highlighted by the white of mourning.
Meanwhile, the emperor and empress were casting frowns down at Sun Yu’s remains, especially the mess within the satin box.
“Your Majesty, what do you think Sun Yuanming means by this? Does he harbor thoughts of insubordination? You told him to do something, and he uses his life to make a statement about it?” The empress held a scented handkerchief up to her nose, fanning the air disdainfully.
The emperor had been thinking just that, and his ire flared even more when he heard the empress’ words. “I say that Sun Yuanming had his brains scrambled from too much studying! Whatever. I hope this can get past the Great Zhou envoy. Servants, attend to me.”
“Yes, Your Majesty?” Grand Supervisor Wang smiled fawningly.
“You, go invite the Great Zhou envoy yourself,” the emperor huffed impatiently. “Say that I’m setting out a banquet in his honor and that Sun Yu is ready.”
The grand supervisor quickly left to carry out his orders. The emperor wanted to use a corpse and half a box of internal organs to pacify Great Zhou’s anger, but the envoy slammed his hand on the table and surged to his feet when he saw them. He lambasted the emperor angrily, “This is sinister calculation towards our dowager empress! The brain must be eaten raw, so the fresher the better. Slaughtering him on the spot ensure freshness. The body will rot and stink if we send it back! How will our dowager empress eat it then?”
The emperor understood this as well. He could only smile apologetically and speak comfortingly. The envoy flourished his sleeves angrily and huffed off, not taking the body with him.
The emperor reacted by flipping the table over, finally free to vent his anger after the envoy’s exit. He demanded loudly, “Throw Sun Yu into the common graves! The sight of him irritates me!”
The grand supervisor internally jumped with horror, but kept his head down and did as ordered. Thankfully, he still had some human decency in him. Although he did throw Sun Yu into the common graves, he sent a trusted subordinated to the Ding Manor at the same time, telling the Ding household to quickly come collect Sun Yu before he was carried off by wild wolves or dogs.
Sun Jie and Sun Qin burst into tears again when they heard this, overcome with anguish and grief. Qin Huaiyuan spoked tiredly, “No matter what, bringing Yuanming back for burial rites is of utmost importance. The rest can be discussed at length later. You’re not children anymore, so I’m sure there’s much you understand. The emperor is thus, and you’re not alone by yourself in this world. The Ding Manor is a large household, with no further mishaps being tolerated.”
“Uncle-in-law speaks rightly.” Sun Jie swiped at his eyes. “I’ll travel on a fast horse to bring him back. Eighth brother, keep watch at home.”
“I will.” Sun Qin also wiped away his tears and bowed gratefully to Qin Huaiyuan when his elder brother had set off. “Fifth brother and I completely panicked after the events of today. There’s no one in charge in the house at all. We didn’t know what to do. If it wasn’t for you…”
“Ai.” Qin Huaiyuan waved a hand. “We’re one family.”
“Yes.” Sun Qin nodded emotionally.
“Give the orders to have everyone keep a tight lip.” Qin Huaiyuan advised after another sigh. “Some things can’t be thought of or spoken about. The emperor is still angry. If anything gets out, it will be fatal offense.”
“Understood.” Sun Qin compressed his lips.
Qin Huaiyuan clapped his shoulder. “If our liege wants us to die, we must die. Such is the life of a subject.”
Tears welled up again when Sun Qin heard this and felt the chilly air howling around his brother’s coffin.
Sun Jie whipped his horse fiercely to wrestle Sun Yu back from the common graves. They were finally able to lay Sun Yu to rest. Qin Huaiyuan glanced at Sun Yu in the coffin, his teeth suddenly chattering with shared sympathy for one of his kind. He was overcome with emotion at the thought of the marvelously talented Sun Yu having such a sad demise.
Née Sun had just helped the duchess take her medicine when the duchess summoned Bao-mama to ask about the duke and the situation of the outer residence. The old servant had changed into plain clothes, cinching them with a white belt. She curtsied. “Miss Tang has just taken a look at the duke. She says he was overcome by anger and can only recover through slow treatment with medicine. The duke awoke just now and slept again after taking medicine. Lord Qin is keeping watch over the outside residence with the fifth and eighth master. The senior master has already been laid to rest.”
“You mean Ming’er’s body has been brought back?”
“Yes.” Bao-mama was worried that the duchess would faint from high emotions again, so didn’t dare say that they’d wrestled Sun Yu’s body back from the mouths of wild dogs and wolves in the common graves. The duchess just assumed that the emperor had sent her grandson back and closed her eyes sadly again.
Because he’d met a violent death, Sun Yu was buried after being displayed for only seven days. Qin Yining and Qin Huining stayed by née Sun’s side during this time to wait on the Duchess of Ding. If it hadn’t been for new year’s eve being four days away, née Sun wouldn’t have wanted to return to the Qin family at all. But she was someone’s wife and daughter-in-law, so she couldn’t stay at home at the end of the year.
However, the three had just set foot into the main hall of the Garden of Loving Piety when they were greeting by a fierce harangue from the old dowager.