Chapter 179: Knew It a Long Time Ago
If something really did happen, none of the Qins would be able to get away. With her father’s identity and reputation, how would the Great Zhou emperor let any of them off the hook?
“Let’s get up and go home. We can decide what to do after we figure out what’s really happening. Perhaps I’m thinking too much.” Qin Yining stood with a smile and pulled Bingtang up as well.
The maid wiped away her tears sheepishly. Compared to Qin Yining’s calm, she really was being embarrassing. Meanwhile, Jiyun had been watching the other two with gentle eyes all this time. Some admiration grew in her heart when she saw how quickly the two calmed down. She came forward to brush off the leaves and twigs that’d caught on the fourth miss.
The two rode quickly next to the road, taking a small detour to avoid the refugees. They made straight for Grand Steward Zhong’s house when they entered the city gates.
The steward was checking the account with an abacus when he received the report that Qin Yining had come. Taken aback, he went out to welcome the business owner. However, he found exceedingly ugly expressions on their faces when he saw the miss and her two maids.
“What’s happening, miss? Please come in and have a cup of tea.” Steward Zhong quickly poured a cup of tea and handed it over with both hands.
Qin Yining chugged a big portion of warm tea before recovering slightly. She carefully recounted what they’d just observed.
“I think the group will arrive at the city gates before long. Please keep an eye out and find out where they’re from and the current situation. Also, keep an eye on anything that’s happening. I’m going to rush back home since father should be back from court now. I need to discuss this with him.”
Sweat beaded the steward’s forehead now. He rubbed his face roughly with a slightly trembling hand and nodded. “Yes, I understand. I’ll send my people out immediately and pass on anything I learn.”
“Alright. If you can’t find me, then you can tell those in my house. Bingtang, Jiyun, Songlan, and Qiulu are all trustworthy people.”
“Understood.” Steward Zhong nodded rapidly.
Qin Yining rose and pulled Bingtang and Jiyun out the door with her. However, the guard looked at the fourth miss’ lithe figure with a complicated look.
“Miss, do you still trust me?” the guard couldn’t help ask.
Steps pausing, Qin Yining looked back as she found the question weird. “What kind of foolish words are these?”
“The prince gave me to you, miss. I even report your condition to His Highness. I thought you wouldn’t trust me when war really broke out.”
It was Qin Yining’s turn to display a complex expression on her face. She took a long look at Jiyun before responding. “I can tell different things apart. Besides, Pang Zhixi was Great Zhou’s Faithful Prince of the First Rank the day I met him. He’d already conquered a great deal of my nation’s territory with the Valiant Tigers. I knew of all this a long time ago, and he wasn’t born resembling who he is today.”
She sighed at what she was saying. “It’s just different perspectives due to different countries. With the Great Zhou emperor’s ambitions, he won’t be content with just ruling over one part of the world. It’s a foregone conclusion that he would stretch his hand towards Great Yan, and even the Tatars in the north as well. Even if Great Zhou doesn’t currently have the strength to realize all of his ambitions, that still doesn’t impact his desire to conquer more of the world.”
Jiyun looked at Qin Yining, admiring the fourth miss from the bottom of her heart. No wonder the prince valued her so much and protected her like the apple of his eye. She was quick-witted, calm in the face of unexpected matters, and not muddleheaded like the typical noble girl with a few things to consider at once. She was rational, logical, and could comfortably handle whatever came up.
The guard viewed Qin Yining as her second mistress now, not a hint of reluctance to be found within her.
The three took their horses back home, riding through the flourishing scenes in the city. No one knew that war was about to visit them. Vendors and peddlers were still selling their wares in the market, raggedy children were frolicking about in the roads. There were also women leaning out of their old, worn doors, calling their children to dinner…
It all made Qin Yining’s heart ache. She didn’t know what the future looked like. This was likely Great Yan’s last bit of peaceful land. Were they about to lose that as well?
The three took the south door back into the manor as usual, taking the horses to the stables first before passing through the door in the corner to the outer yard. Qin Yining randomly sought out a pageboy. “Is the lord back?”
“In response to the fourth miss, the lord is in the outer study.”
Qin Yining nodded and strode quickly to the study, but was met with Qin Huaiyuan on his way out.
“Are you going out, father?” She curtsied.
“No, just going to see the old dowager.” Qin Huaiyuan smiled. “Your grandmother punished many servants today and is still angry. I saw that chaos had engulfed the houses in the west wing. There are people wanting to hang or drown themselves in the river. I’m afraid that your grandmother can’t handle it all and want to take a look.”
The west wing was reserved for the servants. Anyone with a family had a house there. They would only enter the manor when they were on duty. Qin Yining’s expression grew stiff when she thought of how the world outside was going to fall to pieces, but here they were still fighting over nothing at home.
“Father, the old dowager’s matter isn’t urgent. I have something more pressing to speak to you about.”
Qin Huaiyuan’s face also grew stern when he saw how solemn his daughter was. “What is it? Has something happened outside?” His first thought was that the empress had thought of some other trick to harm his daughter!
Ever since the empress had failed to eat Qin Yining and took it out on Consort Shu and Honored Concubine Xiang instead, Qin Huaiyuan had been on his guard against the imperial couple as the emperor had increased his doting instead of punishing the empress. Add to that his increasing stature these days… it was a marked difference to the demoted Statesman Cao. The statesman had once wanted to pull Qin Huaiyuan to his side, but seemed to understand that he’d failed.
The feud between the two families probably wouldn’t be resolved for the rest of their lives, so who knew what else the empress and statesman would cook up next?
Qin Yining shook her head. “Father, I’m afraid war has started again.”
Momentary gravity appeared on the lord’s usually calm face when he heard this. The girl carefully recounted what she’d just seen.
The marquis paced a few steps with his hands behind his back, his expression growing more and more severe. He spoke after a long pause. “Things are likely as you guess. The start of war is upon us. But, little Prince Pang’s troops may not really make it to the capital. We can garner some clues from the refugees.”
“Father, aren’t you surprised by what’s happened?” Qin Yining asked hesitatingly when she saw her father wasn’t surprised at all.
“No. I actually worried that today would dawn when we were still negotiating during the peace talks.” Qin Huaiyuan smiled wryly. “Great Zhou swindled us out of a great deal of silver with the excuse of the peace talks. They used our silver to feed their armies and came back for us.
“This may sound like Great Zhou is too wily and oath-breakers, but nothing is too deceitful in war. If I were a Great Zhou subject, I would do the same thing, given how cowardly the Great Yan emperor is. But, we’re Great Yan subjects and have to listen to our emperor. The Great Zhou envoy has left with the last of the reparation money, so it’s not a surprise that war is starting again.”
Qin Yining could read only ruefulness and resignation from her father’s calm expression. Just like one couldn’t choose what family they were born into, neither could one choose the country and whether it was strong or weak, whether one was born in times of peace or war.
As much talent one may have, there was still nothing that could be done when they were hobbled by such a trash emperor as the Great Yan ruler. In Qin Yining’s eyes, this was even worse than a woman marrying the wrong man.
“Father, don’t be sad. You’re doing your best as a subject of the emperor. It’s no one’s fault that he still wishes to do things his way and not listen to anyone else. Perspectives are always different in a war between two countries. Although we’re dragged down by our emperor, such is our destiny.”
War was brewing again and the enemy was making straight for the capital. Any other girl would be sobbing with fear now, but his daughter was still coolly analyzing the situation and comforting him.
“Daughter Yi, aren’t you afraid?” Qin Huaiyuan couldn’t help but ask.
“What should I be afraid of?” Qin Yining arched a brow.
“‘You’re a Qin. With my identity, you can’t escape even if you want to. If little Prince Pang’s men really do slaughter their way to the capital, we have to defend it to our dying breaths. It’d be wonderful to succeed, but you’ll be dragged down if we fail. None of the Qin males will be able to live, and the females will end up just as your maternal relations. No one will save us this time like you saved them.”
“Father, I know everything you speak of, but it’s a little too early to start worrying about this. Our nation still stands! If it really does fall, I have the courage to die. Since I don’t fear even death, what do I have to be afraid of? I just need to let go of everything and try my best now.” Qin Yining words brought tears to Bingtang and Jiyun’s eyes. Even Qitai behind Qin Huaiyuan was moved as well.
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