Chapter 135: Redeeming a Vow (I)
The inside was brightly lit by the intricate six-paneled lanterns hanging beneath the rafters. The vividly-lifelike images of the eight immortals crossing the seas rotated slowly on the panels, scattering soft illumination by Cao Yuqing’s feet. She unconsciously came to a stop for an appreciative moment. This was the main hall of the Garden of Tranquility, the place where Qin Huaiyuan spent the most amount of time apart from the outer study.
…with another woman.
Cao Yuqing’s long lashes fluttered down and she crossed through the openwork screen extending down to the ground to arrive in the side hall after a while.
Qin Huaiyuan and née Sun were respectively sitting on the left and right luohan beds next to the window. The furniture was decorated with stylized carvings of scepters. Qin Huaiyuan was leisurely sipping tea while née Sun idly toyed with stir-fried pumpkin seeds in a nearby dish. The jade bracelet adorning the snow-white wrist of her left hand clinked lightly against table as the madame poked and prodded at the seeds.
Qin Yining could tell that her mother wasn’t very happy and patted the madame’s shoulder comfortingly. She took her place next to her mother and began openly admiring the beautiful woman.
A pale-green, plain wrap dress cinched at the waist neatly outlined Cao Yuqing’s well proportioned body. Her jet black locks were pulled to the side in a style commonly called the horse’s mane and held in place by a singular golden hairpin with a jade butterfly dangle hanging off of it. She walked with a light step and sashay, the hem of her dress swaying elegantly. Her earrings swung in tempo and a smile played around her lips. Her watery eyes looked throbbingly forward, and she was simply as magnificent as captivating flowers reflected by the water’s surface.
It was said that she was thirty years old, but it seemed that the years had been extraordinarily kind to her. No traces of the passage of time had been left on her, only the refined bearing of a mature woman. When splendid looks were paired with boundless tenderness, Qin Yining believed that very few men would be able to shrug off such a beauty’s embrace.
Objectively speaking, Cao Yuqing looked like Qin Yining’s sister. The middle-aged née Sun actually looked like Cao Yuqing’s mother. This was a fact that the madame also perceived, and she tightened her hold on the intricately carved arm of the luohan bed.
Be calm. Have greater depths to myself. I need to hold it in when needed and not just vent my emotions whenever I feel like it. Her stern admonishments managed to barely calm herself down.
“This concubine greets the lord and madame.” Cao Yuqing swept a graceful curtsey. “I’ve heard that the madame’s health hasn’t been well and so recuperation outside has been in order. This concubine has sorely missed the madame, and can be at ease now that I’ve seen the madame hale and hearty.”
One didn’t slap a smiling face. Qin Huaiyuan was here holding down the fort and Cao Yuqing’s mannerisms and greeting were without fault. Née Sun could only tug her lips in a smile that could pass for gentle.
“Concubine Cao has gone to great thought. Jin-mama, show the lady to her seat. Caiju, serve tea.”
“Many thanks, madame.” Cao Yuqing curtsied again before her body servant helped her up.
“Please sit, Concubine Cao.” Jin-mama brought over a bowed-leg stool with a soft and thick baby-blue cushion atop it.
Cao Yuqing thanked the granny servant with a soft smile. The concubine was charm incarnate to begin with, so when her eyes creased in a smile, they almost made Jin-mama lose her train of thought.
Qin Yining subconsciously glanced at her father and saw that Qin Huaiyuan was busily taking small sips from a teacup, noting the buoyancy of the pale-green tea leaves with lowered eyes. It was as if the stunning beauty in front of him didn’t exist at all.
The girl couldn’t help but admire her father’s steady nature and concentration, but she was also increasingly puzzled. It wasn’t as if her father had never had concubines before, and he’d spent nights with them as well. But why was he so completely indifferent to a breathtaking woman who was rightfully his?
Cao Yuqing and the trampress were all beauties who could capitulate cities and nations with their looks alone. Although Qin Yining didn’t feel that her father was someone who’d rather a beautiful woman than his country, it didn’t make sense to reject a choice meat brought up to his mouth. Everyone knew that Qin Huaiyuan and Cao Yuqing hadn’t consummated their marriage yet, and that the lord was just putting up the concubine with the finest treatment, lodgings, and food. She was enjoying immense trappings of life, but he hadn’t so much as touched her finger.
Is it only because Cao Yuqing’s father is Elder Statesman Cao? While Qin Yining was deep in thought, Cao Yuqing engaged the madame in easy conversation and quickly explained her intentions.
“I made a wishing vow at the Celestial Nunnery a few days ago and asked that the great goddess Dou Mu watch over the lord and fourth miss for a safe return, and that everything go well. Now that all of our troubles have gone away, I would travel to the nunnery tomorrow to redeem my vow with gratitude. It would also be a good time to commission a few days of peaceful rites for our family. This concubine has come to ask the madame if you’d like to come with the fourth miss tomorrow?”
Née Sun almost eagerly agreed when she heard this. She hadn’t seen her mother or sisters-in-law for almost a month and didn’t know if they’d adjusted to life in the nunnery well. However, she suddenly recalled that she was ‘sick’. If she immediately spritely travelled up the mountain, wasn’t that making it obvious to her husband that she’d been lying to the old dowager?
Although Qin Huaiyuan had forgiven Qin Yining, that was because the girl was too cute and his own flesh and blood. She was so similar to the lord in his youth and he had great hopes for her. The two had also weathered the trials of the peace talks together, so there was nothing that he couldn’t forgive of her.
But née Sun was different. She was his wife, and one who’d failed to give birth to a son at that. The beautiful concubine was already thoroughly trouncing her when it came to family background, for what else would Qin Huaiyuan be biased towards her if she couldn’t win with virtue as well?
“Concubine Cao is quite thoughtful.” Née Sun propped her forehead up weakly. “But although I have the desire to, I’m still not feeling well. If the ardors of traveling by carriage triggers my illness again, I’ll have to leave the manor to quarantine myself. Why not have daughter Yi go in my stead?”
She was looking at Qin Yining for the last sentence, who in turn was looking back at her mother with a look of anguish. That her mother’s personality had changed so much in such a short period of time spoke to the forced maturity she’d underwent after repeated tribulations. Née Sun was a forty year old child who still liked to throw temper tantrums to others, but she was just someone who’d been overly protected all her life to Qin Yining.
The girl was happy that her mother had changed, but was also pained by the reason that had caused the madame to change.
“Alright.” Qin Yining responded tenderly. “Don’t worry mother. I’ll give a proper kowtow to the great goddess Dou Mu and pray that her protection falls onto the entire family.”
“The fourth miss is the most thoughtful.” Cao Yuqing smiled at the girl. This reminded Qin Yining that Qin Huining was Cao Yuqing’s foster daughter. She didn’t want to fight with these people at all. She was worried that she wouldn’t be able to hold back her temper and beat up the foster girl outside. It was a small thing if Qin Huining came back black and blue, but it really was tiring to beat someone up.
“Then I’ll head out with Auntie Cao tomorrow. The nunnery is a tranquil place of serenity, so we should travel lightly and not bring anyone with us.” Qin Yining cut straight to the point and made her remarks a statement instead of a question.
Cao Yuqing instantly understood that the girl was referring to Qin Huining. “The fourth miss speaks rightly so. This was what I’d intended as well.” She nodded quickly and rose to bend her knee. “Since we’ve decided upon this, this concubine will no longer disturb the lord and madame. I will see you tomorrow morning.”
Qin Yining also returned a half curtsey. “Then it shall be as Auntie Cao says. See you tomorrow morning.”
“This concubine takes her leave.” Cao Yuqing slowly took her leave and took a look at Qin Huaiyuan before she exited the door. He was still sipping away at his tea and hadn’t even looked properly at her. Pain stabbed her heart when this registered.
When Qin Yining saw that her parents were remaining quiet, she felt that she shouldn’t linger and took her leave to return to the Venerable Study Hall. Qiulu and the others naturally helped her undress and bathe. At the end of her nightly preparations, the girl stretched out on the bed with a soft and furry Riceball, blearily drifting off to sleep.
She set out with Cao Yuqing and a few guards the next day after washing up, eating breakfast, and making her morning greeting to the old dowager.