Chapter 103: Eager Expectancy
Qin Huaiyuan looked silently at his own daughter. He felt like he had never truly known his daughter until now. She was a flower seed who’d been ripped away from a comfortable greenhouse and struggled to survive in the cracks of the boulders.
With nothing but sheer stubborn will, she had withstood the battering of the elements and blossomed into the most beautiful of flowers. Despite himself, he always found himself surprised by the depths he could find in her. Always learning, always improving, whenever he felt delighted with a new side of her, it wouldn’t be long before she displayed another stunningly polished side of herself to him.
Compared to the typical noble daughters brought up in the inner residences, her wisdom, courage, abilities, and methods left them in the dust. She even had a strength of mind that many noble sons couldn’t measure up to. She had simultaneously become his greatest source of pride and his greatest source of guilt.
How much pain did a girl who’d yet to come of age have to endure to possess the mental fortitude to stare down calamity of this scale with utter equanimity? How much of her life had been so cruel and seemingly inevitable to so unflinchingly accept her fate?
How is this child so mature and so likeable? Qin Huaiyuan reached out across the square table to tousle Qin Yining’s hair roughly. His voice was a bit raspy. “This is my fault.”
“What do you mean by this, father?” Qin Yining blinked her big, limpid eyes brightly at her father. “This isn’t your fault, father! Not at all! I know that you wouldn’t take me along if you had the slightest say. The imperial decree has descended, and father can’t defy it just to save me. You’re not only my father, but the patriarch of the entire Qin clan. What happened to the Duke of Ding and his household can’t happen to us.
“I am the grand preceptor’s daughter. As I enjoy the conveniences and benefits of that title, so must I also shoulder my share of the burden in times of crisis. What kind of family member would I be if I only shared in the joy and not the pain? If that really was the case, then I wouldn’t be worthy of being father’s daughter.”
“Good, very good!” Qin Huaiyuan’s eyes were moist. Having spent so many years at court, he’d thought that he’d long since been tempered into an old leather boot. But here he was today, nose twinging at the words from his daughter. He tilted his head back and blinked forcefully, letting his eyes cool off.
After a moment, he looked back down, his demeanor returning to a semblance of normalcy. He sighed. “Daughter Yi, no matter how open-minded you are about this all, I owe you a debt beyond words. Promise me this. No matter what happens in the future, you’ll live on bravely.”
He was most worried that an innocent girl like her would commit suicide after being humiliated.
“Of course! I love living and am most afraid of death.” Qin Yining knew of her father’s worries and smiled. “I’ve finally made it so far and gone through a lot of effort to keep this life. I don’t want it to all go to waste!”
“Good child.” Qin Huaiyuan could see her sincerity; she wasn’t just saying this to cheer him up. She really had accepted this with her customary tranquility. He finally felt his worries ease a little. Perhaps Qin Yining’s calm and collected attitude was infectious. Whatever it was, the tight knot in his heart that had kept him from clearly thinking all night finally loosened a little.
Qin Yining sat for a while longer before taking her leave and returning to Venerable Study Hall. Meanwhile, Qin Huaiyuan recalled what the sixth miss and Qin Huining had done and said earlier. He resolved to stand up for Qin Yining and vent this frustration on her behalf. He thought for a moment more and made for the old dowager at Garden of Loving Piety.
When Qin Yining finally returned to her residence, Bingtang and Songlan’s long suppressed tears finally started spilling over. Standing by in the outer room, they had clearly heard Qin Yining and Qin Huaiyuan’s conversation. The two were touched by the familial affection between the two and in awe of their mistress’ composure. But more than any of that, like a tidal wave out of the ocean, they felt furious and vengeful.
“Hasn’t the trash emperor done enough to my family? Harming innocents wasn’t enough, now even you, miss!” Bingtang was choked with sobs as she roughly wiped her tears away. Her apple cheeks were rubbed raw with the force of her hands.
“Shh, the walls have ears here.” Qin Yining gently handed her a handkerchief.
“I’m not the only one who curses his name. That old monster should’ve died a long time ago!” Bingtang thought of everything Qin Yining had done for her and all of the effort her mistress had gone to on her behalf. Her mistress had never once demanded a portion of the sales of her ointments and powders, and had in fact done all she could to increase Bingtang’s revenue. Whenever the families of Clearist officials sent gifts, Qin Yining unhesitatingly turned them all over to her. Her mistress had always shown her deep care for Bingtang at every possible occasion.
Such an upright and kind person was now going to be a toy for an old lecher because of one word from that trash emperor! Why doesn’t he just choke on his food and water and die!?
Songlan, Qiulu, Liuya, and Zhu-mama all started crying sorrowfully. Qin Yining was affected by their mood as well. It would be lying to say that she wasn’t afraid, or that she didn’t find this utterly unfair.
It was just, she’d seen too much darkness in this world. When one spent enough time struggling at the bottom, they learned to accept their fate and fight with the flow of destiny. Since she couldn’t change this shift in the current of fate, it was pointless to remain fearful. What she needed to do now was figure out how to live through the negotiations and then the rest of her days.
When her servants saw their mistress so calm and composed in front of them, they wiped their tears away as well. It would be bad to keep making a fuss like this in front of her. Bingtang blew her nose and finally recalled an errand she’d been given. She pulled Qin Yining to the corner.
“Miss, the gentleman at the inn sent a letter today saying that you hadn’t come seen him for too long. He says you aren’t treating him with any sincerity. He asks if you’ve forgotten that he saved your life and plans on just ignoring him.”
Qin Yining smiled awkwardly at this. She hadn’t forgotten Yao Zhixi, but she hadn’t been in a good mood these days because of her mother’s circumstances. Inner residence matters ran her ragged from dawn to dusk. Bingtang went to administer treatment to Yao Zhixi every day, and while Qin Yining would ask about progress, she’d never thought of paying him a visit.
“Ah well, I should still go see him,” she said after some thought. “I’m setting off on the sixteenth, which is about nine days away. I don’t know if the emperor will come up with any other plans in the meantime. I might as well make use of the free time today to bid him farewell.”
Farewell was a saddening word. Bingtang nodded mutely and had servants prepare the carriage.
Qin Yining brought Bingtang, Songlan, and Qiulu with her, setting off after letting her father know where she was headed. The old dowager’s bias had no limits, so she tried to avoid interacting with her paternal grandmother as much as possible.
Pang Xiao had purposefully taken a shower today to change into a set of ivory-white brocade robes. He was sitting on the luohan bed, reading a book next to the window. His posture was ramrod straight, and every iota of his mind was focused on what was in front of him.
He also hadn’t flipped a single page all morning.
As Huzi slipped in and out of the room with tea and water, his face almost froze sideways from all the grinning. His master was putting on a masterful display of gentlemanly manners, but his mind had clearly gone on a fanciful journey. If the Qin fourth miss didn’t come today, his master would probably go crazy!
Just as Huzi was wondering about the future sanity of his master, the prince suddenly shot to his feet. A second later, scattered footsteps and female voices traveled in from outside. Huzi sighed and prepared to go out to welcome his new guests. The corner of his eye caught his master striking a purposely nonchalant pose on the bed.
The guard silently rolled his eyes and opened the door. “You’re here, please come on in.” He bowed, hiding his grin.
“Is your master feeling better?” Qin Yining nodded back at the guard.
“Miss Potato’s skills are amazing. My master is much better.” Huzi responded cheerily.
“You’re the potato!” Bingtang exploded outside, hopping from foot to foot in her fury. “I warn you, kitty,  I’m very angry today. I’ll yell at you if you call me potato again!”
“Heh! You called me kitty!” Huzi stuck his tongue out at Bingtang. “So what are you gonna yell about, little potato!?”
Bingtang’s apple cheeks had turned a flaming red in childish anger. Her large eyes leveled a furious glare at Huzi as she whipped out a silver needle, ready to stab him. Huzi felt incredibly comfortable being glared at like that, his grin broadening at the sight of the steaming maidservant. He jumped out of the way of Bingtang’s needle as she lunged forward.
As Bingtang chased him inside, Qin Yining, Songlan, and Qiulu looked at each other. The Qin fourth miss smiled. “Wait for me outside.”
“Understood.” The maids curtsied and retreated.