Chapter 172: Marriage
Qin Yining didn’t dare loiter since dusk was falling. She had the groom drive the horse hard to get back to town. It was past the hour of the dog  when she reached the city gates, so she had to use some silver and announce her identity for entry.
As it was curfew, the Qin fourth miss didn’t want to attract attention by being out in the streets. She ducked into a nearby inn for the night and had Jiyun sneak back to the manor to let Qin Huaiyuan know what she’d accomplished today. This was also a preventive shot against the old dowager or others kicking up a fuss when they realized she’d spent the night outside.
After a restful night, Qin Yining arrived back at home early next morning. Qitai was looking around at the front doors and quickly walked up to greet the fourth miss’ carriage.
“Fourth Miss, the lord has instructed that I wait here for you. Please visit the study immediately.”
“Father didn’t attend court this morning?” This was a surprise.
“The marquis did go, but the empress isn’t feeling well today and the emperor is taking care of her in the Soaring Phoenix Palace. Therefore, court is cancelled today.”
Qin Yining nodded understandingly. Was the empress not feeling well to lay the groundwork to demand Qin Yining’s flesh, or was she sick because she couldn’t have the Qin fourth miss?
When she reached the outer study, she saw Qin Huaiyuan watering the flowers beneath the covered hallway with a long wooden scoop. He was taking water from a wooden tub and wielding the scoop with a right hand sporting a rolled up sleeve. The lord of the house was wearing loose, straight robes today, made of fine cotton showing moderate wear.
“Milord, the fourth miss has returned.” Qitai bowed at the door.
“Mm. You are all dismissed for now.” Qin Huaiyuan put down the scoop and wiped his hands with a handkerchief that a maid handed over, fixing his sleeve at the same time. Qitai and the maids departed together.
Qin Yining smiled. “It’s nice that you have a day off, father. You’re kept too busy normally.”
“Indeed, I have to thank the empress for this.” Qin Huaiyuan smiled genteelly. “Take a walk with me in the rear garden?”
“Of course!” Qin Yining nodded happily. She sent Bingtang back to her residence to rest and had Songlan on duty at the garden instead. When everything was taken care of, she walked through the flower-hung gate with her father and set off to the rear garden.
It was a season of warblers dipping in and out of tall grass as life flourished in the rear garden. The arched white stone bridge cast an enchanting reflection on the lotus pond. Lush green circled the banks, blotting out the shimmery ripples of the water. A deep breath brought it with refreshing fragrance of flowers, relaxing taut nerves as well.
Father and daughter strolled to a spacious lawn. Qin Huaiyuan made certain there were no hiding places in the premises before speaking.
“Jiyun rushed back last night to explain the situation to me. Daughter Yi, why didn’t you tell me yesterday? Can it be that in your heart, your father is someone who’d sacrifice you to protect the family?”
Such candor took Qin Yining off guard. In her mind, her father was someone who liked to voice only half of what he wanted to say, leaving the rest up to imagination and elaboration. She’d always quite admired this speaking style and felt that it was the hallmark was someone highly intelligent.
Therefore, such straight words today were proof that she’d angered Qin Huaiyuan, or that her father had received some sort of shock from this matter.
“Why would you say that, father?" Qin Yining responded quite seriously. “I never thought you would sacrifice me for family profit. It was just too much of an emergency and you weren't home at the moment. If I waited until you were back, the imperial decree probably would've already arrived. Wouldn't I just have to go bravely to my death then?
“Besides, there are hundreds of pairs of eyes staring at your every move, because of father’s identity. It would easily alarm our enemies if you were involved. Whereas, I’m just a little girl that many will dismiss. The empress probably thought that I wouldn't be able to do anything, which is why she didn’t set a guard or any preventative measures on me.”
Qin Huaiyuan peered intently into his daughter’s eyes, finally nodding when he could tell that her tone was serious and her eyes clear. She wasn’t trying to fob him off with a quick explanation.
“It’s good that you’re not overthinking the matter. To tell you the truth, if I’d received the imperial decree with no forewarning at all, my only plan would be to help you escape. If I received word of it beforehand, I would probably do the same as you.”
“I’m your daughter, naturally my thoughts are the same.” Qin Yining chuckled happily.
Having confirmed that his daughter wasn’t affected by the empress wanting to eat her, and that she remained as steady as ever, Qin Huaiyuan’s love and affection for the girl grew even stronger.
“Your plan is solid. I remained in the palace last night to observe the situation and although I didn’t gather any concrete intelligence, I do know that court wasn’t convened today not because the empress was sick, but because she was throwing a temper tantrum. The emperor was trying to console her. When connecting that to what’s happened over the past two days… it’s apparent why the empress is in a bad mood. No matter what method the emperor was going to use to take your life, your safety is assured for now.”
Qin Huaiyuan stopped and picked a thin willow leaf, folding it this way and that. Qin Yining imitated her father and put a folded leaf up to her lips, whistling through hit. The sharp sound startled the nearby sparrows into flight, making the girl laugh at the sight.
The marquis relaxed greatly to see the lack of a shadow on the girl’s face. His tightly furrowed brow uncreased slightly.
Father and daughter were quiet for a moment before Qin Yining threw the leaf away.
“Don’t think too much about this, father. Just behave according to your conscience. We can see clearly now that the emperor thinks only of himself. If he was a wise ruler and actively trying to improve the country, then he would be worthy of our exhaustive efforts, even if his ideas were greater than his abilities. But he’s a trash emperor.”
The girl raised her head to meet Qin Huaiyuan’s eyes. “To say something incredibly disrespectful, it’s a complete waste of father’s talents to be serving at the side of this trash emperor. This kind of person isn't worth father’s enthusiasm and drive. Don’t be too disappointed or depressed. Now that we see reality clearly, it’s time to think of the future.”
How would Qin Huaiyuan not be disappointed? He’d been an official for so many years, and setting aside his many accomplishments, he’d always brought forth full efforts to his job and been loyal to a fault. But the emperor had threatened his family on more than one occasion and never thought about his subject’s feelings.
First, Qin Huaiyuan’s in-laws had been destroyed, then his wife thrown onto an execution ground. His own wishes had been completely disregarded when a woman had been thrust at him, and now his only child was to be eaten! It had been very difficult for him to gain any children and he had only one daughter. But the emperor was completely disregarding his merits and acting so poisonously!
It was a long night for Qin Huaiyuan yesterday as he tossed and turned. He was first thankful for how smart his daughter was and how she’d handled the situation. Deep dejection and helplessness followed after.
Even though a subject had to die when his liege commanded it, Qin Huaiyuan was utterly seized by despair. He even felt that Great Yan might be better off if someone else was emperor. At the very least, the people wouldn’t be preyed upon like this, suffering through endless hardship and their starved corpses falling in the wilderness.
However, he’d never thought that his daughter wouldn’t resent his incompetence after almost being seized. In fact, she’d turned around to comfort him instead. This kind of warmth and understanding was something that he hadn't experienced from even his own mother.
Qin Huaiyuan’s eyes grew hot and he lifted his chin high, putting his hands behind his back to look into the distance. He spoke after a moment.
“Your third cousin is going to be married in a month and your own coming-of-age ceremony is in two months. It’s time to think of your marriage. The crown prince came to me yesterday. I don’t want you to be unhappy, so I’d like to know your thoughts.”
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