Chapter 140: Loving Everything About a Person
“So it seems that someone as righteous as the Duchess of Ding can be this cold hearted as well. I wonder how the Duke of Ding would feel if he knew that you’d dragged innocents in for your own purposes and was threatening even your own granddaughter?” Cao Yuqing’s knuckles were white from her tight grip on her sword.
“You Caos are least qualified to say that!” The duchess spat through clenched teeth, wanting nothing more than to pounce on the concubine and eat her alive. She shifted the blade closer to Qin Yining’s neck. “Move aside and let us leave, or I’ll kill her. It’ll just be some noble blood accompanying us in death if it comes down to it, so it’s not a loss for Azure Justice at all!”
Qin Yining played along nicely and arched her neck, shrieking in sobbing tones, “Save me, save me! I don’t want to die here!”
Cao Yuqing looked coldly at the duchess and slowly lifted her left hand, backing away as she did so. The Silver Masks behind her also followed, clearing a path.
Qin Yining heaved a silent sigh of relief and clutched her grandmother’s arm even more firmly, urging her to leave quickly. The duchess immediately ran out with the remaining six alliance members, still holding Qin Yining hostage along the way.
Cao Yuqing quickly ran off in hot pursuit, but she could see that the Duchess of Ding still had her blade resting on the girl’s slender neck as they ran. Flecks of blood could even be glimpsed, making the concubine more fearful about her pursuit. She was deathly worried that the duchess would really kill the girl.
Wooden fencing lined the path and the group rounded the corner to see five horses hidden in the grass. The duchess had prearranged this and loudly urged her men onto them.
“Get on the horses, quick!” Her people obeyed and jumped on, two or one to a horse. Cao Yuqing had caught up by now.
“Don’t come any closer!” The duchess tightened her grip on the blade.
Cao Yuqing could see the crazed determination in the duchess’ eyes. This gave her enough hesitation that she didn’t order her men forward.
It all happened in the blink of an eye. The duchess threw Qin Yining down onto the ground and swiftly whirled, taking someone’s hand to jump onto a horse. The five horses immediately galloped down the road.
“After them!” Cao Yuqing waved her hand to send her men forward.
Qin Yining was sprawled on the ground, scrapes on her palms and elbows and gulping down wracking sobs. Cao Yuqing took a few steps forward and sheathed her sword when she saw the girl’s hair in wild disarray, her entire being bedraggled and in shambles, and weeping up a piteous storm. The concubine helped her up with both hands.
“How are you?” she asked gently.
Qin Yining looked tearily up at Cao Yuqing, her reddened eyes and nose inviting even more sympathy when offset by her creamy skin. Cao Yuqing lifted the girl’s chin up to inspect for injuries and found that a small patch of her white collar had been dyed red from fresh blood. There were two cuts on her neck, likely from when things had gotten tense earlier. They’d already stopped bleeding.
“Thank goodness nothing major happened.” Cao Yuqing sighed and put her arm around Qin Yining’s shoulder for a good pat. Setting aside how she was Qin Huaiyuan’s most beloved daughter, Cao Yuqing would’ve never been able to harm the girl given how similar she looked to a young Qin Huaiyuan. She only felt that the girl was quite innocent for having suffered all this, having been tricked into making this trip.
“Auntie Cao, you…” Qin Yining sniffled loudly. “Your martial arts skills are so good, are you really the imperial secret service that my maternal grandmother mentioned?”
Cao Yuqing nodded.
“I saw the Silver Masks come protect the emperor when the assassins attacked the emperor and my father. There was a woman with them who was highly skilled. Was that you?”
“Yes.” Cao Yuqing nodded forthrightly.
Qin Yining had an exceedingly complicated impression of the concubine, she finally concluded, “Then my father knew of your identity from the very beginning?”
Cao Yuqing arched a brow and asked prettily, “What makes you ask that?”
“Because you’re not hiding your identity from me, today.” Qin Yining looked down again and wiped away tears with her sleeves. “I really hadn’t thought that grandmother could be like this.” There seemed to be no end to her tears as they kept falling.
Her sad form dispelled the last suspicions in Cao Yuqing’s heart. She held the girl and comforted Qin Yining instead.
The remaining Silver Masks returned before long.
“They got away?” Cao Yuqing didn’t wait for them to speak.
“Yes.” The man leading them responded with a downcast head.
“I see. I’ll explain this to the emperor. Dismissed.”
“Understood.” The men raised cupped fist salutes and quickly took their leave.
Cao Yuqing brought Qin Yining back to the residence that the woodshed was a part of. A carriage had already been readied, and a unfamiliar groom was on it, waiting to be of service. Bingtang and Lu-mama were standing next to the carriage, craning their necks around anxiously. Their hearts pounded when they saw their mistresses walking back so intimately and how Qin Yining’s eyes were puffy from crying.
They’d both been knocked unconscious and hadn’t known what’d happened, but their mistresses were beauties. Even if someone had saved them from the bandits, they still must’ve suffered to certain degrees.
Bingtang’s complexion was shockingly pale, but she still had to retain her calm. She walked up to help Qin Yining. “Miss, you’re hurt!”
“I’m fine.” Qin Yining shook her head.
The maid’s expression grew even uglier when she saw that her mistress’ hands and elbows were scraped, and that traces of blood dotted Qin Yining’s neck. However, Bingtang didn’t ask further given that née Cao was present as well.
The concubine gave orders to return to the manor when they settled into the carriage. She leaned against a cushion and closed her eyes in rest. That lazy gentleness was the same as when they’d travelled to the nunnery. Her sword was somewhere, somehow.
Qin Yining knew that those who practiced martial arts had exceedingly fine sensitivities. An expert like Cao Yuqing would give her trouble if the girl so much as took a few extra looks at the concubine. Thus, the Qin fourth miss trailed her head down without another word, as if she’d suffered a grave injustice and fright, but still had to put on a brave front in spite of it all.
Bingtang’s heart sank to new depths as she treated the wounds on her mistress’ hands and elbows. Some foreboding speculations surfaced in her heart, but she couldn’t satisfy her curiosity out of concern of pouring salt in Qin Yining’s wounds. She could only speak some soft words of comfort.
The carriage stopped in front of the Anping Manor at dusk. Cao Yuqing turned to the fourth miss with a smile when they alighted.
“Fourth Miss, traveling by carriage is so tiring. This concubine will go back first and rest. You should as well.” She didn’t behave out of the ordinary at all.
Qin Yining understood that the concubine wished to keep today’s matters a secret. The girl had purposefully cried her eyes puffy and now ‘forcefully’ squeezed out a stalwart smile. “Go well, Auntie Cao. I need to borrow a book from father’s study and won’t accompany you since we’re going in different directions.”
Cao Yuqing flicked a brow up, surprised that Qin Yining was so directly revealing that she was going to Qin Huaiyuan. “I see, then as you wish, Fourth Miss.”
Qin Yining nodded with a slight smile and went her separate way after bidding farewell to Cao Yuqing. She made straight for the outer study after entering the manor doors and grabbed a pageboy to confirm that her father was there.
“Please deliver a message from me that I’d like to borrow a book from father. Is he free at the moment?”
The pageboy happily confirmed and bounced inside to deliver the message.
Qin Huaiyuan happened to be reading cross-legged on the luohan bed next to the window. He found the servants’ words rather odd. The Venerable Study Hall has a rich library. Daughter Yi can read her fill there. His daughter had come to him just after a trip to the nunnery with Cao Yuqing, so something must’ve happened on the road.
“Have the fourth miss enter.”
The pageboy immediately went to respectfully invite Qin Yining in. It wasn’t until she stepped into the brightly covered hallway that the pageboy started, surprised by the miss’ bedraggled appearance. He was afraid of being dragged into the troubles of his masters and quickly took his leave with a lowered head.
Qin Yining left Bingtang outside and entered by herself. She circled past a divider of the four gentlemen of the flowers to the side hall, meeting her father’s gaze.
He too was taken aback by his daughter’s reddened and puffy eyes. “Daughter Yi, has someone bullied you?” His first reaction was that Cao Yuqing had done something to his daughter.
Qin Yining took off her cloak and hung it to the side, revealing her dirty skirt and bandaged hands. “We ran into something during the trip today. Father, can we talk here?”
Qin Huaiyuan nodded and frowned ferociously as he looked at Qin Yining. Not only were her hands and elbows superficially treated, her eyes reddened, but there were also traces of blood on her white, intersecting collar! He threw down his book and strode over without even putting his shoes on. He lifted his daughter’s chin to peer closely at her neck.
“You’re hurt! Who hurt you? Née Cao?”
“So father knew of née Cao’s real identity.”
Qin Yining’s words halted Qin Huaiyuan’s in his tracks. “You know?” He responded after a long moment.
Qin Huaiyuan’s brow was knit tightly. “Are your wounds alright? Shall we summon a doctor first? Are you hurt anywhere else?”
“I’m fine, father. Miss Tang already treated me on the way back.”
Qin Huaiyuan nodded. “Come, sit. Tell me what happened today.”
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