Chapter 136: Redeeming A Vow (II)
Qin Yining and Cao Yuqing shared a carriage as they sped along the government-built roads to the nunnery. Bingtang accompanied the fourth miss, while the concubine had brought an old mama. The four occupied two different sides of the carriage, escorted by six house guards outside.
Qin Yining and Bingtang were both sitting prim and proper, their manners elegant and without fault. The mama that Cao Yuqing had brought was slightly more relaxed, while her mistress was lazily reclining against a round cushion. She was holding a small pouch filled with snacks and her pert lips were bunched together as she sucked on a plum, their owner casually reading a playbook.
She chuckled softly every now and then, her tones gentle and tender. Her laughter rang out like that of an oriole, particularly pleasant to the ear. The light peeking in through the cracks of the carriage curtains alighted on the pearl dangle of the gold hairpin stuck in her hair. The soft hue of the pearl cast its radiance over her skin, enhancing the concubine’s snow-white flesh and further illuminating her looks.
Bingtang was playing with a small wooden box the width of a thumb and three inches long. Her head was lowered and her hatred of the Caos well concealed. Meanwhile, Qin Yining was openly admiring the beauty in front of her.
Cao Yuqing elegantly spat out a pit and lifted her eyes to meet Qin Yining’s. She smiled in spite of herself. “Why is the fourth miss looking at this concubine this way?”
“Auntie Cao’s looks are enough to conquer cities. Everyone has a heart for beauty, so I naturally have to make full use of us riding the same carriage and take a good look.” Qin Yining smiled as she spoke with a completely serious tone. If a man had reeled off those words, it would’ve been nothing short of blatant flirtation. But given how solemn the girl seemed, one couldn’t feel distaste from those words.
“You’re joking, Fourth Miss.” Cao Yuqing chuckled. “I’m already a middle-aged woman, what cities could my looks conquer? But the fourth miss has spoken truly. When a beauty is in front of us, we must make full use of the opportunity to take in our fill.”
She tossed the playbook to the side and indolently supported her upper body with an arm, turning to admire Qin Yining instead. There was no enmity in her eyes. Her gaze upon the Qin fourth miss was simply that one would find if they admired a valuable antique.
If Qin Yining had been any regular girl, she would’ve quickly felt embarrassed by the stare. But she wasn’t any such regular girl, and felt that Cao Yuqing could look as much as she wanted to. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t been admiring the concubine either. They were both women, so what did it matter?
Cao Yuqing’s eyes on Qin Yining gradually softened until they became as warm as spring. However, her look soon grew distant, as if she was looking through Qin Yining to see someone else.
The girl was quick to pick up on the change, and after she remembered how others usually described her, she could understand why. Qin Huaiyuan had a beard now and his demeanor had changed over the years. He must differ greatly from his youth, from when he’d taken the capital by the storm. The Qin Huaiyuan of now was a genteel, handsome middle-aged man with hints of an ethereal bearing. Née Cao was likely picturing a young, clean shaven ‘Wise Pan An’, born from her perusal of his daughter.
“How long have you known my father, Auntie Cao?” Qin Yining’s question brought Cao Yuqing back to reality.
She blinked and smiled. “We were only acquainted with each other, so we actually haven’t really known each other for long. But I once saw the lord and madame in a palace banquet before I was married.”
Qin Yining nodded with comprehension. She could tell that Cao Yuqing liked Qin Huaiyuan. No matter whose daughter she was or for what reasons she’d lured née Sun into the palace for, it was undeniable that the concubine stayed firmly within the lines of propriety in front of the lord. She even seemed to want to get into his good graces. This show of goodwill wasn’t to fight over favor, but genuine love.
Father should’ve already been thirty when she was married. That was a man in his prime. They would’ve shed the shy awkwardness of a boy by then and fully grown into themselves. It was an age when men were the most mature and dependable.
Such a pity that my lord was already aged when I was born.
Qin Yining smiled faintly in response. “Auntie Cao, have you…” Just at that moment, the carriage rocked and shook violently!
Horses whinnied and screamed as the guards yelled, “Who are you?!”
A cold hand tightened around Qin Yining’s heart and she quickly lifted a corner of the carriage door curtains, while Cao Yuqing yanked up the window curtains.
A band of civilian men dressed in ragged, tattered clothing had surrounded the carriage. They numbered twenty in total and were using scraps of cloth to cover their faces. Most were wielding clubs, but a few had knives as well.
The Qin family carriage was currently in the remotest of locations. There were no villages or way stations in sight. The road was bordered by trees on both sides. While the road to the nunnery was straight and smooth, no one was was traveling on it!
Qin Yining shrank back into the carriage with fright and quickly pulled the concubine back when she saw Cao Yuqing peering curiously outside. “Auntie Cao, be careful not to show your face!”
Is she trying to cause trouble!? With her looks, malicious thoughts will arise in the bandits if they see her face, even if they don’t have any in the first place!
“What do we do, what should we do?” Bingtang tugged on Qin Yining anxiously. Cao Yuqing was also being supported by old Lu-mama. The two were curled up into a shivering ball.
The bandits had charged the carriage and were now locked in brawling, twisted knots with the guards. As clubs, knives, and swords crossed paths, Qin Yining even heard a crude man shout, “That woman was dem fine! Let’s git her and take her back to be the boss’ wife!”
Qin Yining and Cao Yuqing looked at each other, horror dawning in each other’s faces.
“At this rate, we can only fight ourselves!” Qin Yining pulled out a silver hairpin from her hair and held it ready. “Hurry and see what can be used as a weapon and prepare yourselves!”
“But, but they have knives!” Cao Yuqing imitated the girl and was clenching a hairpin tightly.
Ghastly wails sounded from outside the carriage. The Qin family guards had lost! And they were now being slaughtered outside the carriage! A bloodstained blade flicked the door curtain up, allowing a rough man with thick eyebrows to poke his head in. Although his face was covered by a cloth, it didn’t obstruct the delighted surprise in his eyes when he saw Qin Yining and Cao Yuqing.
“Tsk tsk, this girl is somethin’ fine alrigh’!” He reached towards Qin Yining’s face as he spoke.
She glared ferociously back, baring her teeth at him as she abruptly stabbed his hand violently with the hairpin. Caught off guard, the man didn’t draw his hand back fast enough, leaving a thin cut raked into his arm. Blood immediately dripped from the wound.
“Ah!!” He stumbled back, making his companions roar with laughter when they saw him injured. Rage brewed as he pointed at Qin Yining with the tip of his blade. “Stupid girl, go to hell!”
He threw the blade away and flung himself into the carriage. Qin Yining used all the strength in her body to fight back, but although she was strong, she didn’t know martial arts. She was also the only one in the carriage who could put up any resistance at all. Cao Yuqing and Lu-mama were already sprawled weakly on the cushions from terror. They didn’t dare move an inch, and Bingtang’s struggles were nothing to the bandits.
In the end, all four ladies were dragged out. Cao Yuqing fainted after a shrill scream and Lu-mama remained supporting her mistress, tears streaking her cheeks from fright. Bingtang was slightly more composed, but she too was white as a sheet and trembling all over.
Two men had restrained Qin Yining’s hands behind her back, and she had to bend over from the pain. But she still glared ferociously at the first brute and yelled, “Just what do you want?!”
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