Chapter 76: Raid and Slaughter (II)
Née Sun had never seen such a terrifying scene in her life. After a stunned moment, a shrill and raspy tone forced itself out of her throat. She beat on the carriage walls in panic. “Stop the carriage, stop the carriage! I want to see what’s going on!”
Qin Yining quickly held her mother back. “Alright, okay. Don’t panic, mother. Let’s see what’s going on. We’ll be able to discuss everything with father more clearly after we see what’s going on! Mother, you must stay calm!”
“Yes, madame. Fourth Miss is right. We really need to stay calm in this situation.” Jin-mama’s forehead was covered with cold sweat.
Bingtang’s face was white as she spat out through gritted teeth, “What is that useless emperor up to now?!”
The carriage neared the hubbub as they all lifted the curtains for a look. Matters had alarmed nearby pedestrians and servants from neighboring manors. Many people had crowded over, some for the show, and others in righteous indignation. The buzz of discussion rose quickly, as everyone was mystified why the perfectly fine Duke of Ding Manor had fallen to these straits after holding Sun Yu’s funeral!
When Qin Yining saw that there were a lot of people around, she and Jin-mama helped née Sun down. The quartet wrapped themselves tightly in cloaks and veiled hats, watching discreetly from the back of the crowd. The open manor doors had been slammed shut, and paper seals were placed over the doors by the soldiers. The owners of the manor had been swept out of their home and were now standing in lines like tethered donkeys.
The duchess, senior aunt, second aunt, and other daughters-in-law were all roped together. Everyone was trying to support the two pregnant women in the middle. The one with the largest belly, and was mere days away from birth, was Qin Yining’s fifth cousin-in-law, while the budding bump belonged to eighth cousin-in-law. Even though they had people supporting them, they still didn’t look too good. Fifth and eighth cousin, one row ahead of them, kept turning back to ask how they were doing.
When the soldiers saw this, they glanced forward at the middle-aged man wearing the black fur and velvet cloak. His lips curved in a silent order. The soldiers understood and moved back, bringing their scabbards crashing down on fifth and eighth cousin a few times, breaking the skin open on their heads and faces in a few places. Fresh blood trickled down their cheeks as they rocked on their feet.
“This is a raid! Who let you talk?!”
“Ah! Don’t hit them!” The females frantically called out.
“Don’t you touch my grandsons!” The duke roared loudly, lunging forward to body slam the soldiers aside. Although his hands were tied behind his back, he was an indomitable as a mountain, putting himself squarely in front of his children. Senior and second uncle also kicked and charged angrily, sending the soldiers tumbling to the ground. The crowd also began to grow restless as they pointed and criticized what was going on.
“Hit them? That was a light tap!”
“Cao Bingzhong! How dare you exact a private punishment!”
So the leader of the soldiers was the former Grand Preceptor Cao!
“The emperor’s given this task to me to do as I see fit! If you can’t accept it, then you can go complain to His Majesty himself! But first, you’ll need to be able to see him first.” Elder Statesman Cao laughed silkily. “Aren’t you so very capable? Then why are you all strung up like chickens for the slaughter?”
The crowd was silent for a second before someone plucked up the courage to shout indignantly, “What crime has the Duke of Ding and his family committed? Their eldest grandson has just given his life for the country, so why is their home being raided?!”
“Yeah! Why are you raiding the duke’s home?!”
“It must be because of the trampress!”
“This man’s the trampress’ father, which makes him nothing good either!” The crowd only needed a single spark to start the tide of criticism that was loosed onto the soldiers and their master. Although people gravitated towards what would benefit them and tried to avoid pitfalls, they didn’t care that much when overcome with emotion. Besides, none of them had broken any laws or gone against their conscience, they were simply discussing amongst themselves. There was nothing punishable by law, and they didn’t think that these soldiers would dare arrest them all.
Statesman Cao glared angrily at them. The soldiers immediately stepped forward understandingly to threaten several citizens. “Shut up, all of you! Or do you want to join them as well?”
The people at the front were pushed backwards, crashing into those at the back. Qin Yining and Jin-mama supported née Sun while Bingtang supported Qin Yining. The quartet were still shoved to and fro by the crowd, which quieted when they saw the soldiers willing to use violence.
A mocking lilt appeared on Statesman Cao’s lips as he jeered. “Sun Dechen, do you actually think there’s still a place for you to speak? Your family breeds nothing but traitors and troublemakers! The emperor is already furious. Do you want to incite the citizens into riots?” He turned to address the crowd. “Great Zhou had already offered us an olive branch! Our crisis might be already over if Sun Yu had been willing to offer his brains to their dowager empress for a cure! But Sun Dechen’s darling grandson dared defy an imperial order! The emperor hasn’t even faulted the Dings for that! And now, the nation of Great Zhou is enraged and the Faithful Prince of First Rank is raging on our borders with his Valiant Tigers. If they really do take Xihua, there will be no peace for any of us! And this is all because of Sun Dechen’s family!”
“Bullshit! You shameless shit!”
“It’s just the trash emperor who’s afraid of death!” the crowd murmured under their breath. Qin Yining and née Sun were right in the middle of them and could hear everything clearly.
Statesman Cao didn’t care a whit as he looked down at the Dings loftily. “The emperor has no choice in this either. Great Zhou’s letter is plastered everywhere. We can only offend your family for the citizens of Great Yan.”
“I don’t believe this! Even if the emperor wants my life, I want to hear it straight from him! The Suns have always been loyal subjects. My grandson died for the nation, and my sons have shed blood on the battlefields. I don’t believe that this is our end!”
“You want to hear the emperor’s decree? But the emperor doesn’t wish to see you!”
The duke’s face was beet red in his indignation. “Cao Bingzhong, you petty thief! Your daughter entrances and befuddles our liege. All she does is urge him onto frivolous pursuits. You’re just as crooked as her! Aren’t you afraid of retribution?!”
“Hahaha!” Statesman Cao clapped, guffawing loudly. “My retribution has yet to come, but yours is already here!” He then affected a serious expression and called out to the audience. “The emperor has decreed that Sun Yu disrespected imperial majesty in defying the decree. He was insubordinate and feckless. It’s obvious that the entire Sun clan bears rebellious hearts. They have stirred up trouble in a relationship between two countries and ruined the possibility of peace between two nations. The punishment decreed is that all Ding males, regardless of age, will be executed three days from now at noon! All females are to be sold to the Royal Academy! A street fair will be set up for the Ding Manor servants on Long Street three days from now. All Duke of Ding properties will be confiscated by the imperial government!”
The silence lasted for all of a second before the outcry broke out. The duke was stunned, standing stock still. A lost look entered the duchess’ eyes for a second before she screamed, “No!”
Qin Yining’s senior uncle roared, “Your Majesty! Don’t be blinded by these foul officials! I, Sun Haichen, have fought for my country all my life! My son’s loyalty was unparalleled, and all he wished to do was to serve his country! But you wanted his brains in a bid for peace, and now the lives of my entire family! My youngest nephew is only five! Your Majesty! The children are innocent! Mercy, Your Majesty!”
“Even if the Ding clan does not receive imperial favor, what does a five year old child know?! We will not regret our deaths, but please leave a drop of the Ding bloodline alive!”
Senior and second uncle’s tragic cries stirred similar emotions from the crowd. They all began loudly cursing the emperor.
Statesman Cao sniffed derisively. “His Majesty is wise, you all do indeed have rebellious hearts! Look at you! You’ve fanned the ignorant people into cursing the emperor with just a few words!”
He casually waved a hand and sent several eunuchs and soldiers charging into the crowd. They grabbed a young man, one of the loudest among them, and hacked down at him with a fearsome looking blade.
It landed right on his neck, sending a spurt of blood high into the air as the body crashed to the ground. The crowd instantly fell quiet. Elder Statesman Cao turned to look at them. “Anyone else who runs their mouth will be charged with high treason!”
How would the citizens dare say anything else after that? They all stared mutely, their eyes conveying their fury.
The duke’s eyes were bloodshot as tears streamed out of them. “The emperor has failed my Sun clan and the loyal citizens of Great Yan! Your Majesty, aren’t you afraid making your subjects lose faith in you?!”
“Shut it! Take the males to the dungeons in the Bureau of Punishment and send the females to the Royal Academy! Take them all away!”
“My lord!” the duchess called out in a choked up voice.
The duke turned back to look at his wife of many years. They all knew that this was the last time they would meet. “Peizhen, I’ve failed you.”
“No, my lord. You are a hero and a good man. To have followed you my entire life, that’s all I need.” The duchess’s voice was a hoarse whisper from all her sobbing.
Senior aunt, second aunt, and the other wives were all crazily screaming their husbands’ names. The two rows of people struggled to get closer to each other. Senior and second uncle fell to their knees with tears in their eyes. Because they were all strung up on the same rope, all of the males were brought to their knees as well.
“Your son is unfilial and bids you farewell now, mother.” The uncles kowtowed to their mother at the same time as Qin Yining’s male cousins kowtowed to their mothers. Senior aunt was bawling brokenheartedly as second aunt screamed incoherently. She was half mad with distress. Out of those to be executed, most of them were part of her branch of the family. Her five year old grandson was no exception.
Such a heartrending sight caused the crowd to turn restless once more. Née Sun could no longer hold herself back as she flung Qin Yining and Jin-mama’s hands aside like she’d gone insane. She shoved through the crowd as she charged forward. “Father! Big brother! Second brother!”
Qin Yining and Jin-mama were hot on her heels. When she saw that the soldiers wanted to stop née Sun forcibly, Qin Yining was afraid that they would harm her mother and inserted herself between the two parties, using her arms and back to defend against the soldiers’ pushing. So the trio was stopped before née Sun could get to her relatives.
The duke, senior uncle, second uncle, and various male cousins had noticed the commotion and were looking tearily at née Sun and Qin Yining.
“Grandfather, senior uncle, and second uncle.” They’d been exposed, so there was no longer any point in hiding. Qin Yining knelt down and performed the grand gesture of greeting. The duke looked at them and didn’t say anything, while senior and second uncle laughed and cried.
“You must be sister Han’s daughter? Take good care of your mother.”
“Don’t worry, uncles.” Qin Yining supported née Sun. The latter’s forehead was touching the bluestone ground as she sobbed loudly.
“Father, I don’t want you to die! Big brother and second brother, I don’t want you to die!!”
Elder Statesman Cao glared at née Sun and Qin Yining. But since née Sun had married out of the family and her husband was Grand Preceptor Qin, he didn’t dare do anything to her. He muttered an order to his men, “What are you waiting for? Take them away!” before boarding his carriage and leaving.
The soldiers and eunuchs moved forward to separate the females and males, taking them in separate directions. The final parting was upon them at last, and their tightly clasped hands were forced apart. Tears swam in the duke’s eyes as he looked expectantly at his wife. “Peizhen! Live well with the children!”
The duchess could no longer see clearly from the tears in her eyes, but nodded emphatically. Fifth cousin cried out frantically, “Grandmother, please take care of Shuang’er! No more tears, Shuang’er. Give birth to our child, and live well!”
“Husband! My husband!” Fifth cousin-in-law wouldn’t let go of her husband’s hands no matter what. As the soldiers tore her hand away, she was sent tumbling to the ground in the chaos and clutched her stomach with cries of pain. A trail of blood was left behind as she was forcefully dragged away, leaving fifth cousin out of his mind with anguish. My child!
Qin Yining couldn’t sit back anymore and roughly shoved the soldier in front of her aside. He stumbled, not expecting that a noble girl would have such immense strength to her frail looking frame! Someone wanted to draw their blade on her but was stopped by a knowing eunuch. “That’s Grand Preceptor Qin’s daughter!”
Although they didn’t dare harm her, four stocky men still barred her way. She could only yell, “Don’t worry, cousin!”
The duke, her uncles, and cousins all looked at the source of that strong shout. Tears brimmed in her eyes, but her look was extremely resolute. “I’ll go to the Royal Academy right now!”
The Institute of Luminous Grace hired only from the Royal Academy, and that was Qin Yining’s business now! The duke smiled and nodded firmly at her. Qin Yining also nodded, looking at her fifth and eighth cousin one more time before turning away. Fifth cousin’s voice sounded from behind her. “Cousin Yi, your brother thanks you!”