Chapter 82: Understanding
Huzi snickered inwardly when he noticed the gentle look in Pang Xiao’s eyes. He teased, “Master, you’re a smart one yourself. How would the girl you like be dumb?”
Pang Xiao’s eyes quickly flickered, sweeping a distant glance over Huzi. When had he ever said that he liked her?
“It’s because of you that Sir Zheng has those misconceptions.” Pang Xiao started walking away.
“Aiya! How can you blame me for that, master?” Huzi quickly trotted after the prince’s back, but it seems that his master’s look had no effect on his tongue. He continued nagging in a low voice. “You definitely like her! Why else would you rush here after hearing what’s happened to the Suns? Not only did you want to help her collect the bodies of her male relatives, you even snuck into her home like a thief to check out the situation. If this doesn’t count as liking her, then what will? In this kind of situation where you’ve been stripped of your position as Supreme Commander and been verbally flayed by the emperor, you still have the time to think about others…”
Huzi wasn’t paying attention to the figure in front of him as he nattered on, and thus almost crashed into Pang Xiao’s back when the latter halted in his tracks. “Master…” Huzi swallowed nervously and suddenly wanted to slap himself across the face. Damn my mouth! Why’d I have to run my mouth about that for!?
Pang Xiao hadn’t been willing to put the entire city under the blade, and had told the emperor as much, causing his imperial majesty to erupt with fury and quickly send two head eunuchs. One of them had held the imperial decree that’d stripped the prince of his position of Supreme Commander of Southern Pacification, and the other had a verbal decree. The second decree had laid into the prince and called him “as weak as a woman, only concerned about building a noble reputation and unsuited for grand pursuits”.
Apart from this, the emperor had also sent Minister of the Bureau of Military Affairs, Lian Shengjie, to take over as Supreme Commander. Pang Xiao had been demoted to General of the Valiant Tigers. However, the new supreme commander was just an old, greedy lecher! His surname “Lian” had the same character as phrases used to describe honest and clean officials, but he sure didn’t live up to his name. It was even more unfortunate that his given name ‘Shengjie’ was the same pronunciation as purity. But again, his character didn’t have the slightest bit to do with purity.
He set up red tents the minute he entered the army campground, 1 saying that he wanted to reward the soldiers. The army, named the Southern Pacification Army, was composed of nine-tenths Pang Xiao’s Valiant Tigers, and the remaining tenth from general volunteers. Just this tenth taking their turns in the red tents every night was enough to make an utter mess of the army’s discipline. Lian Shengjie was no exception either, spending every night with an armful of women.
Nursing a bellyful of anger, Pang Xiao had gone on a rampage and dismantled the red tents personally, causing Lian Shengjie to explode in fury. He raged at Pang Xiao, threatening to send reports of censure to the emperor. But the prince soundly ignored the threats and traveled into the enemy capital on a fast horse to see how the Qin fourth miss was doing.
And he says he doesn’t like her? But Huzi really shouldn’t have mentioned the emperor’s displeasure. Before the emperor had taken his throne, he’d sworn brotherhood with Pang Xiao and Ji Zeyu, Marquis of Northern Stability. They had been thick as thieves back then, but now one had been sent to pacify the south while the other was stationed in the north to defend against the Tatars 2. The emperor sat high on his throne, but was already wary of Pang Xiao. He’d kept his own troops safe, but sent all of the prince’s Valiant Tigers into danger!
When even a follower like Huzi could see through to the emperor’s intentions, how would Pang Xiao possibly be blind to them? The emperor was no longer the person who’d solely thought for the people anymore, back when they’d first rebelled against the tyrant of Northern Ji.
A myriad of thoughts flitted through Huzi’s mind in a second. He smiled apologetically and smacked his lips. “Miss Qin is truly a heroic girl, and strategically wise as well.”
Pang Xiao simply nodded, and resumed walking again. Huzi heaved a silent sigh of relief. “That day at the Celestial Nunnery, the soothsayer said that Miss Qin has a good marriage in her cards, that her star for marriage had already started moving. The soothsayer was looking at you when she said that. If you like her, master, why not just take off with her? The Qin clan will be over in the future anyways.”
“It’s not time yet.”
Not time to take off with the girl? Or not time for the Qins to be over? Huzi was completely confused but couldn’t continue pestering his master anymore, since those last words made it clear that his master didn’t feel like chatting. The two wound their way through city, eventually arriving in front of a large manor. Seven houses wide, and seven layers deep, the two eschewed the cavernous front door, and instead headed for an unassuming door covered by vines from the rear garden. An arm rose to knock rhymically on the door, and it immediately swung open.
Someone quickly ushered them in, closing the door silently behind them. Silence once again descended on the neighborhood. Hung above the enormous front door was a large board, trimmed in gold and ringed by dim red lanterns. Moonlight was breaking through the clouds to cast a brief glow over the city. On the sign, the stylized words, ‘Cao Manor’ gleamed brightly for a moment, shimmering with moonlight.
Qin Huaiyuan heard about matters of the previous night as soon as he returned early in the morning. However, he didn’t say much and went to greet the old dowager. His mother happened to be speaking with her daughters-in-law, granddaughters-in-law, and granddaughters in the Garden of Loving Piety. The second madame was explaining her daughter’s absence with a smile, “Sixth daughter made a blunder yesterday, so I’ve grounded her with orders to read ‘Lessons for Women’. I heard that senior sister-in-law fainted and is resting at mother’s?”
The old dowager’s hand paused in the motion of bringing her cup to her lips, the jade ring on her big thumb clinking with the teacup. She hadn’t paid attention to what mistakes the sixth miss could’ve made, but the second madame’s words were a stark reminder of her fury from last night. She set the teacup down hard on the little table, her face turning sullen.
The second madame almost jumped out of her skin from shock, but remained where she was, speechless. The somewhat relaxed atmosphere froze. Thankfully, a serving girl’s voice from outside the house broke the heavy air.
“Old Dowager, the lord has returned.”
Everyone sighed inwardly. They knew that Qin Huaiyuan was the old dowager’s most favorite. Indeed, a smile had already begun to wreathe her face.
“Hurry up and have him come in. He spent all last night in the palace and didn’t sleep at all. He must be so tired. Lujuan, prepare some dishes. After getting some food in him, he needs to have a good sleep.”
Qin-mama assented with a smile. Qin Huaiyuan took off his cloak in the outer room and came in to make his greetings. The females also made theirs to the head of the household. He glanced around the room, but didn’t see née Sun or Qin Yining, but rather Qin Huining wearing a downy pinky satin dress. She was sitting with her head down, lost in some unknown thoughts.
He frowned at the sight. “Is daughter Yi taking care of née Sun?” He sat down on a round chair next to the old dowager and sipped from the tea that Ruyi brought him.
That single sentence was enough to let everyone understand that he was fully aware of the events of last night. A touch of awkwardness flitted across the old dowager’s face. She’d been the one calling to divorce née Sun without Qin Huaiyuan’s approval, making her daughter-in-law faint from anger. In the end, they were a married couple after all, no?
No one was at ease to speak up with the old dowager remaining silent. Qin Huaiyuan looked at Qin Huining. “Why aren’t you taking care of your mother, daughter Hui?”
Qin Huining jumped to attention and her heart skipped a beat when she met Qin Huaiyuan’s sharp eyes. “Yes, I was going to go. Right after I greeted Old Dowager.”
“Mm. Daughter Yi was up all night. It’s your turn now.” Qin Huaiyuan waved a hand. “You can go now and send daughter Yi to me. I have matters to discuss with her.”
There was too much stunning information in his words. First, although he wasn’t at home, he already knew everything that’d happened. Second, Qin Yining had already been elevated to the position of someone allowed to discuss matters with him! He was treating her like a son!
Yet Qin Huining didn’t think beyond the fires of jealousy burning hotly again. She took her leave docilely but the flames of regret flared furiously in her heart. She’d gotten too soft, not consigning that barbarian to death !
Qin Huaiyuan didn’t need to think too hard to know what was going on in her mind. In the first place, he’d never harbored many feelings for Qin Huining even when she was his firstborn. He’d simply thought of marrying her off well. His feelings had been very different from née Sun when he discovered that Qin Huining wasn’t his own. What he’d been pained about was that his own daughter had suffered for so many years in the outside world, almost losing her life several times. He was even more depressed that despite his vaunted smarts, he’d been played like this by others. I wonder how much the culprit laughed at me behind the scenes.
Qin Huining had thought she’d hid her emotions well, but she wasn’t able to pull the wool over Qin Huaiyuan’s well honed eyes.
“Daughter Hui.” He spoke slowly.
She lifted her head and quickly lowered it in fright. “Father.”
“There’s some words that I want to say. It’s up to you how much you understand.”
“Yes, I’m listening, father.” Qin Huining curled her hands into fists.
Qin Huaiyuan placed the teacup down lightly and spoke gently. “You know where you come from. I may have been fooled for so many years, but I could’ve sent you back to the Hall of Fosters, couldn’t I?”