Chapter 143: Oft Spring Garden (II)
“Mother, shall we walk back or take the carriage?” Qin Yining smiled. “Mother’s just started feeling better, so why don’t we stroll back? Some exercise is good for your health anyways.”
If Qin Huining wanted to ask them her mother for a favor, then best to make her do it in public. She didn’t even need to think about entering the Garden of Tranquility.
Née Sun didn’t really understand what her daughter meant, but she’d recently formed a habit of daily walks thanks to Qin Yining, and actually did feel out of sorts if she didn’t go for a nice walk. She pushed down her anger and nodded. “Then let’s walk back.”
Behind them, Cao Yuqing flicked a glance at Qin Yining with amusement and untied the sachet of snacks by her waist. She popped a candied date into her mouth and decided not to take the carriage either, opting to walk behind née Sun and Qin Yining instead.
Qin Huining felt her face start burning. It’d been a few days since née Cao had joined their household and the girl was well aware of her foster mother’s habits. The concubine always had snacks on her and would nibble away whenever something entertaining was happening. She probably thinks a good show is coming and wants to see how I’ll beg née Sun?
The Qin foster girl was eminently conflicted and inwardly cursing up a storm. Cao Yuqing is a wily and cunning character alright! She’s refusing to take me on the outing and purposefully making me beg née Sun. She wants to see me embarrassed!
But if she didn’t fight for the opportunity this time, a better one may not come around in the future. Even if the men of the noble families invited this time weren’t going to be present, with her proper and dignified bearing, she was bound to leave a good impression on the womenfolk. This would open more doors for her in the future when her marriage was on the table.
With this in mind, Qin Huining took two quick steps forward. “Madame, you…”
“Don’t talk to me.” Née Sun admonished coldly before Qin Huining finished speaking. “You couldn’t wait to be someone else’s daughter a long time ago. You never spoke a word in my defense when others were making life as difficult as possible for me. I loved and doted upon you as a pearl in my hand for fourteen years, and you turned on your heel without the slightest hesitation. How do you even have the face to ask me for anything now?”
“This is a misunderstanding, your daughter was…”
“Oh I’m not your mother. Although you’re our foster daughter in name, you tell me how long it's been since you’ve come for the morning and evening greetings. How long has it been since you last called me mother? Hmm? Even when I was stricken down by sickness, you never came to take care of me. You hid in the manor and stayed out of things when I was going to lose my head. Qin Huining, have you really no shame and dare make this wonderfully noble request from me now?”
Née Sun’s volume hadn’t been soft. Even the second and third madame behind Cao Yuqing, and the other misses with them, could hear everything clearly.
Qin Huining hadn’t thought that née Sun would be so ruthless. Her footsteps halted as tears welled up. She looked pleadingly at Cao Yuqing. “Foster mother, you…”
The concubine pursed her lips and spat out a pit, then stuck another candied date into her mouth. “Don’t fret, miss. The empress has only invited titled madames and their misses to her banquet. Apparently only eight families have the right to attend. Those with an official daughter will naturally bring her, and those without will choose an exception concubine-born daughter. You’re the foster daughter of the main branch, so naturally it’ll never be your turn. But now that the days are warm, there will be plenty of chances for outings, so it’s all the same if you go next time.”
Cao Yuqing had spoken logically and at a measured pace, but Qin Huining felt like someone had slapped her. This was blatantly pointing out that she was neither an official or concubine-born daughter! She wasn’t a Qin daughter, so it was normal that no one was taking her! The foster girl trailed her eyes down and wept piteously.
Née Cao on the other hand, put away her pouch of snacks. To think that née Sun had improve and didn’t fly into a rage against Qin Huining. She’d even learned how to use rational arguments against someone! Mmph. Boring. There was no point to snacking any further.
After everyone had returned to their houses and made the necessary arrangements, the Qin party for the outing was thus decided. Aside from the servants, the old dowager was bringing Cao Yuqing and née Sun naturally taking Qin Yining. The second madame didn’t have an official daughter and had opted for the seventh miss since the girl was technically under her name. The third madame didn’t have a title and so wasn’t qualified to go. But her own daughter was third miss Qin Jianing, already engaged and the wedding scheduled for this June. Concubine-born eighth miss Qin Baoning was yet young and in no great rush, so the third madame accepted this outcome with great magnanimity.
Meanwhile, Qin Huining and the sixth miss met for an angry cry and a good round of complaining since they’d been left out of everything.
Early next morning, carriages were parked in front of the Anping Manor when day broke. The first in the convoy was a sapphire carriage paired with an opulent brocade covering and luxurious tassels. The second was a simple, flat-topped one with blue curtains and red wheels. The third was a large, black lacquered carriage for the servants.
The old dowager took Cao Yuqing’s hand and set foot into the first one. She turned back for a look at née Sun and merrily called out to the second madame. “You and seventh granddaughter should come sit with me. It’ll be easier for us to chat this way.”
It was obvious that she wanted to ostracize née Sun and Qin Yining. And so, the fourth miss brought over a footstool to help née Sun into the second carriage and hopped in herself. She also pulled Jin-mama and Bingtang in after her and held her mother’s hands. “We’ll feel more comfortable with just us in a carriage.”
Née Sun smiled wryly. “You can see from this that people have their eyes on top of their heads. Fawning over the powerful and stepping on the weak happens everywhere.”
Qin Yining was quite familiar with this principle, given that she’d grown up in the city. This was why she always told herself to be strong and to become strong. When she saw that née Sun was so depressed by this, she spoke a few words gently with her mother.
The convoy set off slowly for the southern gate. When they exited the city, they saw that the empress’ imperial carriage and the other seven families were already present. It seemed that every family had sent three or four carriages as well.
With the empress’ presence in the front and the eight families trailing behind her, as well as the accompanying guards and servants, they made for a magnificent, seemingly never ending retinue. The impressive display knew no bounds as the empress had given orders for the imperial orchestra to perform when their trip began. She was most particular about the trappings of power and nobility. Palace guards had also been mobilized for this jaunt, with one stationed roughly every three meters.
Qin Yining lifted the window curtains for a peek outside. New shoots burgeoned in the fields and any potholes on the road had long been filled in. The mighty entourage was traveling down the road with great fanfare. If Azure Justice wants to kill the trampress, this is actually a good chance to. They’d be able to eliminate most of the titled madames and prized misses of the eight major families in one fell swoop as well.
However, no assassins appeared on their way out and the journey went by very smoothly. Because the empress was making a trip, the emperor had sent out crews to the Eternal Spring Mountain early on for the purposes of checking the premises. The roads were restored to optimal condition, so the convoy slowly stopped when it was only noon.
A eunuch dressed in gray uniform jogged back from the front to tell all the families to disembark. Qin Yining helped née Sun off and gazed at the greenery of the mountains ahead of them. There were neatly cultivated peach trees on either side of the road as well. The scene was so refreshing that she even seemed to breathe more easily.
“Are we here already?” she asked the eunuch.
“In response to the miss,” the eunuch responded amiably. “The empress says that the air is fresh and clean, and the scenery pleasing. She would like to walk up the mountain to admire the view and find pleasure in the stroll. She would like the various madames and misses to accompany her.”
Qin Yining nodded with a smile. “Her Majesty has such elegant interests.”
Someone immediately piped up with agreement. “It’s so tranquil and beautiful here. Only the empress would receive such favor from the emperor.”
“Indeed, the empress enjoys never ending, sole favor from His Imperial Majesty. It truly makes one admire Her Majesty.”
Qin Yining didn’t know the nobles madames speaking, so it wasn’t her place to join in the conversation. Née Sun on the other hand, had grown up in these surroundings, so she was like a fish in water. She pointed at a woman in her forties, wearing a robe and dress ensemble decorated with red flowers. “This is Madame Li of the Defender Duke of An Manor.”
“Greetings to Madame Li.” Qin Yining swept an elegant curtsey.
The Duchess of An nodded amiably back and pulled over an eighteen year old girl. “This is my youngest daughter, Yanyan.”
Li Yanyan merrily dipped her knees at Qin Yining in greeting, and Qin Yining held the other girl’s hands to return the half curtsey.
“Good health to older sister.”
“Hello to younger sister Qin. I’ve long since heard that your beauty can conquer cities. Now that I’ve actually seen you, even I can’t help but want to look longer at you.” Li Yanyan took Qin Yining’s arm with a dazzling smile.
When the other noble madames chatting with the old dowager saw that née Sun and Qin Yining were getting to know the women from the Defender Duke of An, it was as if they’d suddenly found a direction and gravitated towards the two Qin women. This was how née Sun introduced Qin Yining to an entire host of new acquaintances in a neither obsequious nor overbearing manner.
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