Chapter 154: Affection

Chapter 154: Affection

“I gave those men to father so I wouldn’t have to worry about what comes after, but you’re asking me instead?” Qin Yining pouted and pretended not to play along. “Are you quizzing me, father? Is there a prize if I answer well?”

Qin Huaiyuan was amused by his daughter’s rare display of mischief. That’s right, she’s just a girl who hasn’t come of age yet. Her usual stoic maturity is a forced result of these times. His sympathy and affection for the girl grew a bit more.

“You little imp. You haven’t learned anything about dependability from your mother, but you’ve honed some rascally mischief instead. Alright then, if you answer well, then I’ll give you a fine ink stone as a reward. How about that?”

“Thank you, father.” Qin Yining smiled and dusted off the crumbs on her hand, taking another sip of tea after she’d patted her hands clean. “I feel that there are three plans of bad, good, and better that we can try.”

An interested sparkle flashed through Qin Huaiyuan’s eyes and a smile spread on his face. “Oh? Do tell.”

Qin Yining smiled. “Alright. These people kept to their principles and committed suicide when they were captured during the assassination attempts. But that’s completely different to being unprepared and taken not on a mission, not to mention the large numbers we’ve caught this time. Not all of them will be tough and hold out under torture, so they’re sure to spit out some actual information. We need to tell the emperor what they say, but the manner and timing of when we tell the emperor can be different.”

Qin Yining lifted her eyes and was encouraged to see Qin Huaiyuan nodding slightly.

“The least preferable plan is for father to take the intelligence we gain and publicly call out Elder Statesman Cao during a court session. The good thing about this method is that everyone will see how viciously ambitious the statesman is. The emperor wants nothing more than peace, but the statesman is colluding with the Tatars to ruin this outcome. This is a capital crime.”

“But we won’t be able to predict what happens after with this option,” Qin Huaiyuan offered.

“Precisely.” Qin Yining nodded and continued. “We can’t take this option because we don’t know what the emperor thinks about Statesman Cao. The risks are too great. If the emperor favors Statesman Cao, then this will actually backlash onto father. This is why I deem it the worst option.”

“Mm. You’re right.” Qin Huaiyuan leaned easily on the big cushion behind him with a smile. “And the good option?”

“The good option is for father to make a private report to the emperor, asking him what he wants to do about Statesman Cao. If the emperor wishes to make use of this advantage to take down the statesman, then you can be the emperor’s sharp blade. If the emperor would like to endure mutely for now, then you can pretend you don’t know anything. This would be better than catching the emperor unawares in public.” Qin Yining frowned in thought at this point. 

“But, there’s drawbacks to this option as well. Although we’ll know the emperor’s intentions in advance, we can’t guarantee that he doesn’t change his mind when push comes to shove, or some third party causes further changes. Father will easily become a scapegoat for all of the consequences.

“Not to mention that the statesman’s web of connections spreads throughout court with extremely deep roots. Although father is Grand Preceptor of the Heir Apparent, you can’t vie with others for power. It’s easy to imagine how devastating the consequences would be if you become a scapegoat for the statesman. Empress Cao has spent a long time in the palace as well, so it’s very likely that she has eyes and ears close to the emperor. If they learn of father’s conversation with the emperor, this matter will still go up in smoke.” 

The more Qin Yining thought about this, the more perilous she thought this option was as well. Her expression grew stern. “If you can’t retreat intact after committing a loyal act for the emperor, then that would still be our loss. Therefore, this seemingly ‘good’ option isn’t really, either.”

Qin Huaiyuan was experiencing firsthand the thorough clarity of his daughter’s analysis. She was a young girl, but her consideration was on par with someone who’d spent many a year at court. He warmed even more to her in this moment, and found it even more of a pity that she wasn’t a son. If she was, then he wouldn’t worry about having no one to succeed him.

“Your analysis is very complete,” Qin Huaiyuan sighed. “I think that the best plan most people can think of is to discuss the matter privately with the emperor. But there are still risks inherent with this as no one can predict the unpredictable.”

Qin Yining was both flattered and embarrassed to receive such a compliment. Her cheeks reddened considerably and her eyes shone happily.

“Father praises me too much. I have a better option, but I think that father’s already thought of it with your intelligence. Why don’t we write it down together to see if we’re thinking the same?”

Qin Huaiyuan burst out laughing. “You girl. Alright, fetch brush and paper.”

Qin Yining nodded and went to the large, black table to grind some ink. She dipped a fine brush of purple hair into the thick ink and brought it over along with a piece of paper. The girl took another piece of paper and sat back to back with Qin Huaiyuan, penning her answer.

For a moment, the only sounds in the room were that of brushes scratching against paper and the melodious swaying of the pearl dangle behind Qin Yining’s head. The fragrance of the ink mixed with that of the tea and baked goods, imparting a particularly quiet tone to the serene atmosphere.

The two were finished after a few brushstrokes, and they put their papers together to compare. Qin Huaiyuan’s calligraphy was bold and dashing, while Qin Yining’s was fluid and neat. The two words on both sheets of paper were the same.

Auntie Cao.

A connection flourished between their hearts. Qin Huaiyuan was suddenly reminded that even thought his child wasn’t a son, she was still his own daughter. What did her gender matter? With her smarts, she could still carry on his legacy.

Qin Yining merrily took Qin Huaiyuan’s piece of paper and threw both into the brazier on the ground. Sparks danced and twined around the sheets, swiftly curling them up into ashes.

“Leave it for her to make a report to the emperor. Not only is this doing her a favor, but we take our family cleanly out of the situation as well. It’ll be up to the emperor and née Cao if they want to make a move against the statesman. In this situation, we’re not the ones who captured the Tatars anymore, so we don’t know anything.” 

She grinned impishly. “The emperor’s been after these assassins for a while, so the Silver Masks naturally have this mission as well. They call themselves his secret service, so how much face will they still have if they can’t even find a few assassins? Née Cao isn’t a fool, so she’ll definitely claim credit for this achievement and also block all of the risks for us as well.”

“Scamp!” Qin Huaiyuan tapped Qin Yining’s nose with his index finger. “Aren’t you worried at all about the possibility that Auntie Cao won’t be willing to do this?”

“She’s the emperor’s secret service and under orders to capture the assassins. Why wouldn’t she be willing to do all this when the clues come knocking at her door? And even if she really doesn’t want to, she will if father talks to her.”

Qin Huaiyuan looked a bit awkward at this and coughed. “You little rascal, you’re full of nonsense. Seeing that you’ve helped me a great deal, I will give you that ink stone as a present.”

Qin Yining chuckled delightfully. “Thank you, father! Show me, show me!”

Qin Huaiyuan roared with laughter. “What’s the rush? Will I change my mind and pretend that this didn’t happen?”

He summoned Qitai. “Find the ink stone that I purchased a few days ago and send it to Venerable Study Hall for the fourth miss. Ah, there’s also a case of quality brushes with it. Give it to the fourth miss as well.”

Qitai nodded and departed with a smile to find the items.

“Thank you, father.” Qin Yining dimpled adorably. “We didn’t sleep last night, so father must be tired. Why don’t we go back together so you can catch up on sleep at the Garden of Tranquility and I’ll go back to await my new ink stone and brushes.”

Qin Huaiyuan was in a wonderful mood and flung on a random cloak with sleeves. “Let’s go, I’ll go greet the old dowager with you and we’ll go catch up on sleep afterwards.”

The Qin fourth miss was touched by her father’s thoughtfulness. She knew that it’d been many days since Qin Huaiyuan had gone to see the old dowager. Ever since the snuff bottle incident, Qin Huaiyuan had been very cool towards his mother. He knew that it was a falsified matter that Qin Yining had cooked up to scare the old dowager, but still kept his distance to tell the matriarch that Qin Yining and née Sun were both people he cared about.

This immensely touched Qin Yining. When she’d first come home, she’d felt that her father was someone who appeared amiable, but was coolly detached at heart. After this time together, she understood her father’s love towards her. Someone as smart as father doesn’t easily form genuine relationships, but won’t easily give up on the ones he does make.

Coming back with the ink stone and brushes, Qitai handed them to Jiyun. 

Following her father, Qin Yining took the maid with her to the inner residence. But they’d just set foot inside the flower-hung gate when they heard the sobs and wails of women from the Garden of Loving Piety.

Qin Huaiyuan’s expression changed drastically and he quickly strode forward. Qin Yining also thought something was off and called to Jiyun for her to keep up. 

The closer the two got to the old dowager’s residence, the louder the cries and shrieks became. Qin Yining’s heart jumped in fright. The person shrieking was née Sun, and the one begging mercy was Qin Huining? Just what had happened?

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