Chapter 149: Falling Ill
“Understood.” The groom slowed the speed of the carriage.
Up ahead, Qin Yining’s lip were tightly pursed, even while she shared a carriage with her mother. That man was simply too domineering, and never did anything with her consent! Thankfully he spent most of his days in Great Zhou. Wouldn’t she die of anger if he lived in Great Yan?
Although her thoughts were more along the lines of a sulky pout, the laughter and gentleness in Qin Yining’s eyes couldn’t be concealed. This was more than enough to immensely worry née Sun. With how the situation had progressed, Qin Huaiyuan had yet to outwardly oppose any of these developments. Pang Xiao had confessed his affections with such fanfare today, so would she really have such a violent son-in-law in the future?
Pang Xiao escorting the carriage back to the Qin Manor ended up alarming everyone back at the manor. Meanwhile, a huffy empress had summoned Elder Statesman Cao to her palace and dismissed everyone in preparation for a thorough interrogation.
“What’s with that park, father?! You didn’t even tell me that you were building it and then refused to tell me who you gifted it to. What’s going on here, father??”
Statesman Cao wasn’t irritated to be questioned by his daughter thus. Only, his tone was suspiciously low as he responded, “I look to Your Majesty to show tolerance in this matter.”
Although the empress was in a hot fury, she knew exactly how capable her father was, and didn’t dare throw too much of a fit. She concentrated her emotions into a stern frown. “Father, why did you give a park to the Faithful Prince of the First Rank?”
Statesman Cao shook his head. “I originally gave it to someone else and only just found out today that it’s been given to the prince. I was just about to go call on my recipient to ask why.”
“Oh? What kind of person has the right to enjoy such an exquisite yard?” The empress had only asked out of absent curiosity, but inspiration struck after the words were formed. She leaned forward and lowered her voice. “Is it… her?”
The statesman nodded. “Except, I never thought that the vaunted princess of the Tatars would seek to curry Pang’s favor.”
The empress tightly compressed her lips, her brow becoming more tightly knit with each passing second.
“This isn’t a good development,” she murmured. “The Tatars are cruel, ruthless, and devious. Anari isn’t a kind soul, and that Siqin  at her side appears even more like the wily sort. Our cooperation with them is supposed to be the greatest of secrets. The emperor absolutely can’t find out about this, or you and I will have tragic ends, father. What if Anari tells Pang about our partnership? Wouldn’t that give Pang something to hold over our heads?”
“I too worry about that, but you needn’t concern yourself with the matter, Your Majesty. I’ll take care of it. The Tatar princess may want to keep the two of us in check, but that’s much easier said than done. I’d never once appeared when Spring Portrait Garden was being built, so no one knows our family built that yard. But the emperor may ask nonetheless, so please divert him well, Your Majesty.”
“This seat naturally understands the gravity of the situation. Don’t worry, father.”
“This subject is at ease with Your Majesty’s reassurance.”
The second and third elder master were home when Pang Xiao escorted Qin Yining and née Sun back home, but Qin Huaiyuan was out. This kind of alarming development left everyone madly scrambling, well beyond just panic.
Please, this was someone who killed without blinking! Hadn’t everyone seen how timid and respectful the emperor had been at the Meridien Gate? Now that this harbinger of doom had come knocking at their doors, it was one thing to suffer some losses of their own if the prince found fault with their hospitality, but a much more serious matter if this became an excuse to wage war on Great Yan.
However, everyone heaved a sigh of relief when Pang Xiao didn’t set foot inside the doors. He didn’t even respond to the party that went out to welcome him. His eyes stayed on Qin Yining from beginning to end, and probably wouldn’t have paid any attention to the Qins no matter who came out to greet him.
“Take care of yourself and don’t suffer unnecessarily,” he gently exhorted before galloping off on horseback.
At this point, Qin Yining was quite resigned to the drama that would follow. She looked at Bingtang and Jiyun behind her. “Let’s head inside. Jiyun’s newly arrived, so tell her more about the affairs of the manor, Bingtang.”
“Will do.” Bingtang smiled amiably at Jiyun.
Setting aside the strong undercurrent of gossip for the moment, everyone returned to their own residences. Née Sun was quite uneasy back at the Garden of Tranquility. When Jin-mama saw her mistress pace round and round the room like a top, an unsolicited smile rose to her lips.
“What are you worrying about, madame?”
“Wet nurse, you saw what happened today as well. What does that Pang mean by all this? If he really likes our daughter Yi, then he could raise it with the emperor and have a legitimate marriage bestowed upon him. But instead, he commits so many high profile acts in front of others… our darling’s a little girl and doesn’t understand all this, but I do as a mother! I’m really worried that daughter Yi will come off worse for the wear after all of this!”
The madame was fraught with worry when she thought of Pang Xiao’s looks and aura, and how Qin Yining had blushed today.
Jin-mama helped née Sun to a nearby round chair with a high back, carved with intricate patterns. The old servant offered a white porcelain teacup with both hands and soothed her charge, “Don’t think so much, madame. This isn’t something we can resolve by fretting about it. To me, I feel that the fourth miss does know what’s going on. The lord isn’t muddle headed either, so we can just leave this matter in their hands.”
“But that little Prince Pang slaughters people like he’s stepping on ants…”
“It would truly be a disservice to our miss if she happened to be tied up with a useless fop in these troubled times. Our miss is a heroic lady with a deep sense of justice. It might not be a bad thing if the prince really does like her.”
“But Pang Zhongzheng suffered his agonizing, terrible death that year because of the lord’s plot!”
“Madame, the matters of court run deep, with many twists to them. Back then, the Northern Ji tyrant terrorized the citizens and sought absolute authority. Perhaps he had long since put up his guard against General Pang. Although the general died horribly, making it seem like our lord’s plot worked, the Northern Ji tyrant bears a lot of the responsibility as well. If someone like this servant can think of all this, then the prince has surely thought of it as well. Since he’s still willing to get closer to our miss after all this, that means he doesn’t mind it.”
Née Sun nodded and set down the teacup, her anxiety only slightly abated. She drummed her fingers unevenly on the table and responded after a long moment. “Do you think he’s purposefully getting closer to daughter Yi so that he can hurt her, in revenge for his father?”
“You’re thinking too much, madame.” The old servant smiled. “You’re panicking because of your love for the miss. But with the prince’s martial arts and other abilities, if he really wanted revenge, wouldn’t he just charge into the manor and raze it to the ground?”
The thought of this prompted shudders to travel through née Sun. The imaginary scene brought chills to her, but she had to admit that her old wet nurse was right.
“So you mean that he may be sincere?”
“What have heroes found hardest to conquer since ancient times?” Jin-mama chuckled. “The fourth miss has the best of the lord and the best of you, madame, in her. Even I like her very much, so of course the prince would as well. In fact, the crown prince does as well. When a daughter grows up, she might be hotly pursued by a hundred families. Don’t worry about this, madame. The lord won’t let anything bad happen to the miss.”
The old servant’s words praised Qin Yining, née Sun, and Qin Huaiyuan in one breath, immensely soothing née Sun and helping her relax. But the madame still felt greatly irritated when she thought of the old dowager’s unreasonable and disgusting face.
Without a strong family at her back, née Sun had been forced to correct the habits of a lifetime and rein herself in. It was a painful process for her, and with the additional burden of these troublesome times, unkindness from her mother and sisters-in-law, a new concubine with an illustrious halo, and fretting about her daughter’s future… the stress of it all brought her low with illness after getting wet from a little bit of rain when traveling back and forth from the old dowager’s. Later that night, née Sun took to her bed with a fever.
Qin Yining was inspecting the Institute’s accounts when she received the news. She was so frightened that the books slipped from her hands, bouncing off the floor and scattering papers everywhere. She left Qiulu to clean up the mess and grabbed Bingtang, Songlan, and Jiyun, racing towards the Garden of Tranquility.