Chapter 141: The Ins and Outs of Things
Qin Huaiyuan waved a hand and called out, “Have Miss Tang come by.”
Qitai was on duty outside and immediately voiced his assent.
Before long, Bingtang entered, curtseying as she did so. “Great fortune to the lord.”
“No need to stand on courtesy, Miss Tang. Please fetch a change of clothing for daughter Yi from the inner residence, as well as some medicine to dress her wounds. Quietly.”
Being highly perceptive, Bingtang immediately understood the undertone that she wasn’t to speak of what had happened today. She nodded seriously. “Understood. This servant will go immediately.”
“Many thanks for the trouble, Miss Tang.” Qin Huaiyuan nodded with a smile when he saw that Bingtang had instantly understood his unspoken meaning.
“This servant wouldn’t dare, this is just part of my duties.” Bingtang departed after another curtsey.
Qin Huaiyuan gave orders for Qitai to guard the door and not allow anyone to approach the study. He finally looked questioningly at his daughter when everything had been arranged properly. Qin Yining carefully recounted everything that had happened today to her father, holding nothing back.
The marquis remained quiet for a long time, studying the picture of the carp frolicking amongst lotuses on the porcelain teacup cover. He didn’t seem to be in a daze or deep in contemplation. He just sat there quietly.
However, the fourth miss knew that veritable seas and rivers were being upended in her father’s heart. Many things would be connected, and many difficult decisions would present themselves.
Qin Huaiyuan finally spoke again after forty five minutes. “That day when we returned to the capital, you returned home first and I made camp outside the city. The emperor arranged for a welcoming ceremony the next day, but there was an assassination attempt.”
Qin Yining sat up ramrod straight, looking seriously at her father, who smiled back at her.
“Not long after I followed the emperor into the palace that day, one of his Silver Masks delivered a report. The emperor threw the secret report to me so that I could see that there were two groups of assassins. One of them remained yet unidentified, but the other group confessed under torture. They were members of Azure Justice, and the Silver Masks already knew that the alliance is being led by your maternal grandmother.”
Qin Yining blinked when she heard this, many fragmented clues connecting themselves in her mind. So this was why so many things had happened lately!
“So, the emperor suddenly wanted to execute mother and display her head because he wanted to lure my maternal grandmother into rescuing her?”
Qin Huaiyuan nodded heavily. “The emperor was absolutely enraged that day, so I could only bow my head and be grounded in solitary confinement. I couldn’t do anything in the subsequent matters and couldn’t get word out. Thankfully little Prince Pang messed up the entire affair, or the consequences would have been unthinkable.”
Qin Yining started sweating and murmured, “I’d actually recruited men to raid the execution grounds that day as well. It really is thanks to Pang Zhixi because otherwise, even our family would be labelled as rebels, and not just Azure Justice.”
Her father didn’t seem surprised at all that she had made her own arrangements. He only nodded silently.
“Father, née Cao must’ve arranged for today’s matters in advance. I can tell that née Cao has a high position in the Silver Masks. She purposefully brought me out today and pretended to be captured. I’m sure it was to test me out and also capture Azure Justice in one fell swoop.”
“Precisely.” Qin Huaiyuan nodded. “The emperor may be fearful of external enemies, but he’s occupied his position for thirty some years. How could someone who fought for the throne and won out against all comers lack shrewdness? Since he failed at using your mother, he must have more plans to follow up on that.”
Qin Yining nodded and felt another wave of fear. Had she agreed to the duchess’ demand to kill Cao Yuqing today, not only would her own life be in jeopardy now, but the skies would fall in over the Qins.
The ceiling lamp was brightly illuminating Qin Yining’s ugly expression. How would Qin Huaiyuan not understand her thoughts when he saw sweat bead her forehead? It was easy for one to be fearless when still in the fog of confusion after running into a matter of life and death. But once the truth was laid bare, and the abrupt realization dawned that death had once brushed by within a hair, well then, even he would shake from fear, much less a little girl.
“It’s been tough on you to be dragged into this.” Qin Huaiyuan rubbed his daughter’s head with a sigh.
“Don’t say that, father.” Qin Yining smiled wryly. “I still hold to those same words. Since I enjoy the benefits of being a Qin daughter, I should shoulder the corresponding responsibility and pressure. I only think that I’m rather lucky in having avoided the wrong path and not brought the family into this.”
Qin Huaiyuan felt the same way as well and nodded.
“Father, did you know of Auntie Cao’s identity long ago?”
“Yes.” Qin Huaiyuan hesitated and decided to tell Qin Yining everything. “One of the emperor’s most vaunted forces is the Silver Masks. This secret service specializes in assassination, information gathering, investigations, and protection detail. Née Cao is the leader of the Silver Masks. Our nation’s crisis was resolved after the peace talks, and so the internal disputes of court began to appear again. The emperor is wary of the Caos’ complex and wide web of power at court and wanted to put a trump card in my hand to counter them. This is why the emperor had me accept née Cao.”
Qin Yining was slack jawed with surprise. “Does Elder Statesman Cao not know of Auntie Cao’s identity?”
Qin Huaiyuan shook his head. “This is the best part of the Silver Masks. Each of their members reside in the shadows with a wholly unexpected identity. They’re absolutely loyal to imperial power and have complete anonymity. Statesman Cao doesn’t know about née Cao at all. He think she’s just a normal woman. And according to what I know, née Cao’s last marriage was because of an imperial decree to kill her husband after gaining certain intelligence.”
Qin Yining thought back to all she’d seen today. Such a beautiful woman with such tremendous skills was in fact become someone else’s tool. She couldn’t even decide her own marriage; that was just a tool to complete a mission! Last time’s marriage had been a mission, resulting in her being a widow. Her status now as Qin Huaiyuan’s concubine was also a mission…
“She’s someone to be pitied as well.” The girl gave a long sigh and her father remained quietly smiling. Qin Yining sighed again and rose. “Father, I won’t tell mother what happened today. If mother asks of my maternal relatives, I’ll say that they’re doing very well. I’ll find an opportunity to tell her later that grandmother and them don’t live at the Celestial Nunnery anymore, that they’ve found another place. As for my wounds, I’ll say that I fell out of carelessness if anyone asks.”
“Good, thorough thinking.” Qin Huaiyuan responded approvingly. “Remember that your attitude towards née Cao can’t change at all. She’s in our family to assist in a few things, and there’s also the possibility that she’s here to keep me under surveillance as well. Regardless, I’ll will take care of these things. Just be yourself.”
Qin Yining understood her father’s meaning and nodded with a smile. She had Bingtang come in and changed clothes in the wash room. Once her wounds were redressed and the cuts on her neck concealed, she went off nonchalantly to the Garden of Tranquility to greet her mother.
Née Sun tugged on Qin Yining’s hand to closely question her daughter about the Suns. The girl glossed over things by saying everything was good, departing for the night only after her mother was in good spirits.
Peaceful, calm days passed for the better part of a month. It was now well into spring in the capital, and the newest set of spring outfits had been delivered to each branch of the family. Songlan was helping Qin Yining try on her new clothes when the miss asked Bingtang, “What was that just now? What did the old dowager say about going for a walk outside?”
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