Chapter 158: Spoils of War
Qin Yining only smiled when she heard the pangs of sadness and hurt in née Sun’s voice. A human heart wasn’t a hunk of stone. It was impossible for née Sun not to feel any pity for Qin Huining at all. The girl had been viewed as née Sun’s own flesh and blood for more than a decade, and as angry or disappointed a parent might be, as wrong as a child’s acts might be, that would still not wipe away the ties of the heart.
The fourth miss didn’t want to speak more of this matter. Even her father was unable to tolerate Qin Huining now and had dealt with things in his own way. There was no need for Qin Yining to use her connections with the Institute any longer. She would treat the foster girl as a stranger if Qin Huining docilely kept to her place in the future. But if the foster girl created yet more trouble, then Qin Yining would pursue things to the very end.
When Jin-mama saw Qin Yining sit quietly with lowered eyes as Bingtang dressed the wounds on her hands, the servant was worried that the fourth miss would misunderstand the madame. It wouldn’t be good if their relations worsened again.
“Don’t worry, madame,” the servant quickly interjected. “The lord has his own set of principles, and Miss Huining was truly outrageous this time. It isn’t a particularly harsh punishment to send her to the country manor for some reflection.”
Née Sun nodded sorrowfully. “I’m not worried about her. With how she is, she won’t suffer no matter where she ends up. I just feel that I’ve spent the entirety of my life up to now in vain. I’ve finally seen the true selves of so many people. I never knew that people could treat others like this. I knew that not everyone was kind by nature, but that didn’t necessarily mean they would be evil.”
Qin Yining couldn’t help but sigh when she heard née Sun’s emotional reflection and noted the lost look in her mother’s eyes, like a lost child. Her mother wasn’t a bad person; she’d just been too sheltered and too well protected for too many years. Add to that how strong her own family had been, that meant the old dowager simply hadn’t had a chance to reveal her true self.
“It’s not a bad thing to finally see these people for who they are, and to see everything clearly, right?” Qin Yining used her unharmed left hand to hold née Sun’s.
The madame was moved when she thought of how Qin Yining had defended herself without reservation today. She squeezed Qin Yining’s hand with a smile and nodded lightly.
“Miss, the medicine has been applied. Don’t touch water over the next two days. I’ll use my special scar ointment when the wounds have scabbed over. I promise that your hand will go back to how it was before!” Bingtang put away the white porcelain medicine box.
“Thank you.” Qin Yining flashed a smile back.
“Don’t be so polite, miss!” Bingtang merrily shifted off to the side.
Née Sun’s dislike of Qin Yining before had also extended to the people at the girl’s side. Now that she understood her daughter more, a mutual hatred for the Caos and the trash emperor made née Sun feel a few degrees of kinship with Bingtang. Add to that the maid’s multiple sessions of treatment for née Sun, the madame was now exceedingly gentle and polite towards Bingtang now.
“I can be at ease with Miss Tang at daughter Yi’s side. Thank you for taking care of my daughter.”
“Oh not at all, madame. Serving the miss is this servant’s duty.” Bingtang curtsied with a slight smile.
Née Sun sighed to hear the girl refer to herself as ‘this servant’. I’m actually a lucky one. Although my family is gone, my mother and sisters-in-law are still alive. I have a husband I can depend on and a daughter who makes me proud. Bingtang was the truly piteous one here. There was no one waiting at home for her, and she was a maid now despite being a noble girl.
Even more pity welled up for Bingtang at this point. Née Sun pulled the girl’s hands over. “You’ll be at daughter Yi’s side from now on and can take care of each other. Just ask for whatever you want. You can come ask Jin-mama if you need something. Just treat this as your home.”
Bingtang was startled and flattered by the attention. To be honest, she was very disdainful of this bumpkin of a madame and only felt some sympathy for the Suns’ fate. It was clear to the girl why née Sun was being so nice to her after coming to her senses, so she smiled back politely.
Just as a touching atmosphere pervaded the house, the sound of the serving girls calling out a greeting in the covered hallway travelled inside. “The lord’s returned.”
The door curtains lifted to admit Qin Huaiyuan. Née Sun and Qin Yining both rose to sweep concerted curtsies.
Qin Huaiyuan waved a hand. “No need to stand on ceremony when we’re at home.”
Taking note of the time, Qin Yining knew that her father had already spoken to Cao Yuqing and settled the Tatar affair. Having stayed up all night and weathered the nonsense of the morning, Qin Yining felt incredibly tired. She knew that her father would be even more so.
“Father, mother, I shall take my leave then.”
Née Sun nodded with a smile and had Jin-mama show her daughter out. She stayed behind to help Qin Huaiyuan change.
Qin Yining, Jiyun, and Bingtang were taking the bluestone path to Venerable Study Hall when they heard a din of wailing and crying by the flower-hung gate as they passed the rear garden. They took a closer look to see that it was Cao Yuqing and Qin Huining.
“Foster mother, please! I don’t want to leave! I’m not sick, I’m not ill! Please speak to father! Father will listen to you if you talk to him!” Qin Huining was kneeling in front of Cao Yuqing and crying up a piteous storm.
“You should get up. The lord’s already spoken after your base act. How would there be any room for someone to beg for mercy?” Cao Yuqing sounded quite resigned.
“I, I did it for you, foster mother!” Qin Huining hadn’t expected that Cao Yuqing would turn her down without a second word. She started panicking.
Cao Yuqing’s charming face froze and she frowned ferociously. “Please watch your words, Miss Huining. What do you mean that you did it for me? Did I tell you to hurt the old dowager?!”
Qin Huining abruptly realized the implications of her panicked words and hurriedly tried to explain herself. However, Cao Yuqing’s patience had run dry and she circled past the girl, leaving the manor with her people.
Qin Huining fell to a sitting position on the ground, looking helplessly at Cao Yuqing’s departing figure and covering her wracking sobs. She well and truly regretted everything now. This wouldn’t be how things ended up if her plan had been thorough enough!
A chilly gust scraped her back all of a sudden, like someone was scraping off the hairs of her back with a knife. She whipped her head back to see Qin Yining, Jiyun, and Bingtang standing on at the fork of the road that would split off to Venerable Study Hall.
The sight of Qin Yining’s pastel outfit and stunning looks sickened the foster girl. The fourth miss was looking at Qin Huining with a supercilious smile, so mocking that it was almost materializing as an actual blade to render the rest of her paltry dignity into shavings.
Qin Huining flushed beet red, but the fourth miss had already turned away when she was about to speak. That last remote flick of the eyes seemed to be some sort of alms to Qin Huining.
“Come on, Miss Huining. Don’t make our job difficult for us.” Qin-mama and the other servants had long since lost their patience.
Qin Huining had absolutely no face left and wished she could ram herself to death, but she forced herself to lift her chin proudly and leave through the flower-hung gate. The Snowpear Courtyard servants who’d also been exiled all wore dark, glowering expressions. They spat at Qin Huining a few times behind her back. She heard them, but had to pretend she didn’t know anything.
At the same time within the Soaring Phoenix Palace, the empress dismissed her servants and asked Elder Statesman Cao in hushed tones, “What brings you here for no reason, father? Has something happened at home?”
“It’s nothing terribly devastating,” the statesman responded similarly. “But it’s not a small thing either. Our partnership with the Tatars is likely to be leaked.”
The color drained from the empress’ face and she asked urgently, “Father, what’s going on?”