Chapter 98: Anyone Can Be A Mother
“These humble concubines greet the senior madame and fourth miss.”
“Daughter greets mother.” The soft, breathy female voices would have been pleasing music to one’s eyes, very like how their concerted curtsies would have been a beautiful sight. That is, if one discounted the barely concealed pride in their expressions.
Qin Yining smiled and returned their curtsies, then took her seat below née Sun. Her mother’s face was now beet red with effort as she mightily ignored the food on the table in front of her and refused to cry in front of the group. She was going to bring out the aura of the official wife to subjugate them! However, her reddened ears betrayed the frayed edges of her mental state and the humiliation she was feeling.
Cao Yuqing sat down leisurely on one of the round chairs, lazily supporting her body with an elbow. She looked smilingly at everyone, as if ready for a good show. Concubine Hua, Li, Qian, and Chen wanted to imitate her, but when they happened to meet Qin Yining’s supercilious gaze, they stopped their movements. They didn’t enjoy the same background as Cao Yuqing, so they couldn’t quite do the same things without worry.
Qin Huining had walked up to née Sun with a smile at this point and wrapped her hands around her mother, shyly taking a seat beside her. “Mother, I was grounded these days and couldn’t come see you. You look like you’ve lost a great deal of weight.”
“Mm.” Née Sun was happy to see her daughter, but the joy turned to a frown when she saw the silver-red padded jacket with an intersecting collar. “What kind of outfit is this? Your maternal grandmother and uncles have just departed this world. What are you trying to do, dressing up in this showy fashion?!”
Qin Huining sneered inwardly but pasted a frightened expression on her face. She rose and spoke with a lowered head, “Mother, it’s the new month of the year and I was afraid that the old dowager would be displeased if I dressed in any other way. Besides, I needed to express my filial piety given that foster mother’s newly joined our family.”
“Foster mother?” Née Sun didn’t immediately understand what was going on, but Qin Yining’s eyes had already alighted on Cao Yuqing lazily snacking on candied dates off on the side.
Concubine Cao noticed Qin Yining’s gaze and responded with a polite smile, an obvious gesture of wanting to build intimacy with the fourth miss. In response, Qin Yining arched an indifferent eyebrow, her eyes returning to Qin Huining. Looks like Qin Huining’s attached herself to Cao Yuqing.
“In response to Senior Madame,” Concubine Chen interjected smilingly. “Miss Huining has a great shared destiny with sister Cao. The old dowager made the decision for Miss Huining to take sister Cao as her foster mother. We were just at Garden of Loving Piety observing the ceremony.”
Concubine Chen was thirty-five years old this year and had served Qin Huaiyuan since her youth. She’d gradually risen to the status of bedwarmer, and had finally been elevated to the status of a concubine once née Sun had married into the family. Therefore, Concubine Chen felt that her relationship with Qin Huaiyuan was different than those of others. Even though she’d been sold as a slave to the Qins, she felt she had the allowance to speak more freely than others. That freedom had spread to her thoughts as well. In fact, she suspected that née Sun had secretly fed her medicine to prevent her from having any children all these years. How was it possible otherwise that she hadn’t any?!
“Precisely. I too feel that Miss Huining has a great shared destiny with sister Cao. Their beautiful features are so similar as well.” Concubine Qian joined in as well when she saw Concubine Chen go on the offensive. “We just held the banquet at Garden of Loving Piety. Everyone said that Miss Huining is like a shadow of sister Cao. But our hearts were all with the senior madame, so we only ate two bites of the meal before coming to greet you.”
The old dowager had purchased Concubine Cao from outside to carry on Qin Huaiyuan’s line. She was twenty-eight now, but looked just over twenty. She was extremely seductive and boasted mesmerizing looks.
With Concubine Chen and Qian leading the charge, Concubine Hua and Li also started laughing. They ignored née Sun’s livid expression and put on a great show of congratulating Qin Huining. The girl looked slightly embarrassed and tugged on née Sun’s sleeve cutely, calling out, “Mother.”
The room went dark in front of née Sun’s eyes as fury thrilled through her veins. Her head spun and it took a very long moment before she could catch her breath. Enraged beyond reason, she pointed a shaking finger at Qin Huining.
“Well, well now! You ungrateful traitor! I was truly blind to have raised you for so many years!” She didn’t waste her breath on words, and instead just slapped Qin Huining heavily across the face.
The foster girl never thought that née Sun would slap her in the presence of Cao Yuqing! She didn’t even have the time to dodge, and stumbled backwards, crashing to the ground. Unconscious of her rumpled state, she could only stare at née Sun with dumb shock.
The stubborn tears that née Sun had been holding back finally spilled over and she pointed at everyone in the room. “I know what you’re all trying to do! Don’t forget that I’m still Qin Meng’s wife!”
The four concubines were greatly enjoying the show of a seemingly threatening, but in reality weak née Sun. Inwardly, they all snickered in malicious glee. They’d been suppressed from née Sun for long enough, and now, they were being treated to the real life illustration of ‘a plucked phoenix is less than a chicken’! What a sweet thrill!
Qin Huining covered her face and began sobbing. “Don’t be angry, mother. No matter who becomes my foster mother, you’re still my mother! I’ll never forget your years of nurture! I just get along well with foster mother, that’s all. You, you acting like this… isn’t, isn’t this making things difficult for foster mother?”
Everyone’s eyes turned to Cao Yuqing at this. She was still lounging on her chair with a new handful of candied dates to munch on. She didn’t say anything, merely continuing to sit with slightly pursed lips. Her posture was the very picture of casual elegance. The concubines drew courage from their backer and once again looked dismissively at née Sun again, carrying on their nattering.
“Senior Madame, you should have a more gracious bearing.”
“That’s right. The Duke of Ding is no more, but you’re still here. Has the senior madame lost all of her manners just because she’s lost her family?”
“The old dowager is so very happy right now, so who is the senior madame aiming all of this towards? Are you dissatisfied with the old dowager?”
“Of course not, the senior madame is definitely most filial. She would never be like this to the old dowager.”
“Then she’s acting like this against sister Cao?” The four concubines had quite the silver tongue between them. It had only taken them a few words to frame a battlefield between the two two who already shared a blood feud.
Née Sun’s eyes were wide and staring in her anger, while Cao Yuqing continued to silently snack, her serene eyes taking everything in. The Ding Manor had been mighty just a few days ago, so no one had dared offend née Sun when she was on one of her high and mighty fits. Even the old dowager had showed née Sun some respect. Qin Huaiyuan wasn’t that enthused about his concubines, so the four didn’t dare cause any trouble.
But things were different now. Née Sun was now eating coarse and simple food, suffering eye rolls from the old dowager without anything held back. She no longer had a backer, but still had to face Cao Yuqing and her immensely strong family. Of course these concubines would take advantage to get a few stomps in.
Née Sun’s mind spun again as she trembled with suppressed anger. Just as she was about to explode, Qin Yining spoke up, one one step ahead of her.
“Quiet down.” Her voice hadn’t been very loud, almost noncommittal in its tone.
The concubines all started when they heard Qin Yining’s voice. However, they didn’t think much of née Sun these days, to say nothing of Qin Yining. They continued flinging out barbed words.
“Jin-mama, what do we do when concubines don’t respect the wife?” Qin Yining snorted coldly, her voice rising a little in volume.
“In response to the miss, the buying and selling of concubines are no different to that of servants. It’s all up to the mistress of the household.”
The four concubines finally shut up at that. Concubine Chen turned to Qin Yining, taunting her, “Don’t get such a big head, Fourth Miss. The senior madame has yet to say anything, so what right do you have to stick your nose in this?”
“Right. The fourth miss is just a child; it’s best not to get involved in adult matters.” Concubine Hua also chimed in.
Qin Yining ignored them, issuing orders to Jin-mama from her seat. “Go summon a few strong granny servants. Concubine Chen, Hua, Li, and Qian haven’t served father well over the years. Apart from not being able to extend the family line, they’ve dared come to the senior madame’s residence today to create trouble. As lowly concubines, they dared offend their mistress! The Qin household has no need for unruly servants of their ilk. Have the slavers strip them of their luxurious clothes and jewelry. Give them coarse, padded cotton jackets and sell them someplace I’ll never see again!”
The group was flabbergasted by these proclamations. Née Sun also stared dumbly at her daughter when she finally recollected her senses. Jin-mama swallowed hard. The fourth miss is a tough one alright!
The four concubines were also slightly surprised. From past experiences, they’d assumed Qin Yining to only have the methods of a barbarian. They were well prepared to meet insults and physical violence. The second Qin Yining was provoked into action, it would put née Sun in the wrong no matter what. It would be easy enough to spin that into née Sun failing to raise her child properly. Being faulted for turning an official daughter into an uncultured barbarian would tarnish née Sun’s impression in Qin Huaiyuan’s eyes as well.
No one had thought that instead of arguing with them or resorting to brawling, Qin Yining would immediately order their sale!
“What nonsense is this?!” Concubine Chen sniffed coldly. “I’ve been serving the lord since before you were born! You have no right to sell me without the lord’s approval!”
“No right?” Qin Yining stood up and looked at Concubine Chen with a smile playing about her lips. “My right comes because I’m the mistress, and you’re the servant. She turned back to Jin-mama. “Well? Go on.”
When Jin-mama saw how Qin Yining was taking charge of the situation, she felt courage well up from within her. She immediately ran off to summon reinforcements. On the other hand, Qin Huining grabbed a handful of Qin Yining’s sleeve.
“Sister Yi, how can you do this?! Who are you to sell those who share father’s bed like this? Are you trying to rebel against the family?”
Qin Yining lightly brushed off the foster girl’s hand and smiled gently at her. “Don’t you worry, your turn’s coming up next.”
Her voice was even, almost gentle in its tone. She didn’t come off as fiercely as before, but Qin Huining still felt ice trickle down her spine. The foster girl quailed and took two involuntary steps backwards. She just managed to overcome panicked fear when she snuck a glance at Cao Yuqing, seemingly absorbed in her snacks.
The news that Garden of Tranquility was selling off concubines spread like wildfire before Jin-mama returned, thanks to the servants the concubines had brought with them. The old dowager had been chatting merrily with the second and third madame in Garden of Loving Piety. She roared with anger when the news came to her attention. “Ludicrous, how ludicrous! That sterile hen can’t lay a single egg herself, but wants to sell off those at Meng’er’s side. How dare she!?”
It was Ruyi who answered with trepidation after sneaking a glance at Qin-mama. “In response to Old Dowager, the senior madame wasn’t the one to give the order. It was the fourth miss.”
“That brat!” The seething irritation turned volcanic in scale. “She’s completely rebelling against everything! How dare she make a move on those who keep her father company! Second and third daughter-in-law, come with me! I’d like to see who dares throw their weight around in my house!