Chapter 181: Orders in the Face of Danger
Qin Yining clenched her hands tightly. They were slightly clammy from sweat but not because of fear, and not of worry that her elders wouldn’t listen to the words of an unmarried girl. What she cared about was her father saying that the future was bleak if the emperor was angry.
What would the emperor be angry about?
Pang Xiao’s ambush, naturally!
However much benefits receiving his favor had brought her before would bring her the same amount of disaster after the fighting started. This would come down on her, a noble girl who barely set foot outside the manor, so what of her father, someone who’d overseen the peace talks?
The negotiations had indeed been a success, so although Great Zhou reneging on the agreement wasn’t Qin Huaiyuan’s fault, would the emperor see it this way?
Pang Xiao had a closer relationship with her, which, in times of peace, the emperor would think that an alliance via marriage was a good thing. But now that the prince was attacking, would the emperor possibly bear no ill will towards her at all? And wouldn’t Elder Statesman Cao and the empress take advantage of this to add fuel to the flame?
Father probably understood this as well, which was why he’d that the future didn’t look good. And in putting her in charge before he returned… he meant to entrust the family to her in case he didn’t return! From this she could tell that if he didn’t return, she was to take charge of the Qins and try her best to keep everyone safe.
Cold sweat beaded the girl’s forehead and her back grew damp, soaking through to her undershirt. Qin Huaiyuan couldn’t help but feel guilty pain when he saw his daughter calm, but ashen-faced. How old was she? She’d returned home for less than a year and hadn’t enjoyed much of a good life, but one thing had happened after another. Now she had to accept additional duties in the face of danger. Even a man might not be able to endure this pressure, yet here he was, forcing his own daughter to do so.
The marquis patted his daughter’s shoulder with barely concealed sorrow. Apparent from a soft, “my daughter’, he was unable to say anything else.
However, the expression on Qin Yining’s face grew more and more composed. She looked back seriously at the man. “Don’t worry, father. That’s all I need to look after this family to the best of my abilities and wait for you to come back.”
“No!” The old dowager suddenly shouted harshly, having reacted to what was going on. “What do you mean by this, Meng’er? You’re acting as if your mother has died!” The matriarch shot to her feet, pointing a trembling finger at her son.
Qin Huaiyuan met the matriarch’s gaze head-on. “Mother, do you trust how I do things?”
The old dowager might have been filled with irritation, she had to admit that her son was always quite dependable. He possessed the necessary smarts and knew how to size up a situation.
“Mother, I am the head of this household and must ensure everyone’s safety in crisis. Everything I do is for the Qins. I know you don’t like this, and perhaps second and third sister-in-law aren’t satisfied that the authority of the inner residence has been handed to a little girl.”
The second and third madame were indeed feeling slighted, but they didn’t feel like they could actually say anything when brought up, especially the third madame. The third miss had married with great pomp and circumstance just a few days ago, thanks to the marquis. The third branch of the family was feeling quite grateful about this.
“Although daughter Yi is unfamiliar with the reins of power, I’m sure there will be no problem with mother and everyone else giving her pointers. Pandemonium is descending upon us and our family is on the edge of a blade because of me. It’s likely that we’ll attract unpleasantness if we don’t maintain an airtight front.
“Dear Yi has learned by my side for a while and can dissect political situations with aplomb. She has a nimble mind and can handle sudden developments. This is why I’m temporarily giving her control over the inner residence. When the crisis pass and all is calm at court again, this power naturally reverts back to the old dowager and the other madames.”
Qin Huaiyuan’s words were as clear as could be. The times weren’t good. Someone who couldn’t read political layouts wouldn’t coordinate well with him and might even invite disaster instead.
The old dowager, second, and third madame lowered their heads in silent acquiescence. Qin Huaiyuan patted Qin Yining’s shoulder with peace of mind. “Then let’s give the command token to daughter Yi while I’m here.”
The old dowager’s expression was quite ugly as every fiber of her being resisted her son’s decision. But there was nothing she could do about it; she too had to admit that his judgment was right. Out of all the womenfolk, Qin Yining was indeed the one most sensitive about the affairs of state.
Née Sun had been in charge of the family before. The command token had returned to the old dowager after the fall of the Duke of Ding. Now that the lord of the house had spoken, she had to hand them over, no matter how reluctant she was to do so.
Qin Yining accepted the box into her care, looking down at the wooden token that had been burnished to a bright sheen after many generations of handling. She smiled at Qin Huaiyuan. “Don’t worry, father. Maybe things aren’t as bad as you think and you’ll be able to return quickly.”
“That’s right.” Qin Huaiyuan smiled as well. Qitai had returned with a set of court robes by now and helped his master quickly change in the side room. Everyone had much more to say, but there was no time to speak even another word. The two men left hurriedly.
Qin Yining saw her father off her with her eyes before turning back to help her mother to her feet. Unnerved and perturbed auras clung to the old dowager, second, and third madame. Whether it was because the command token was now in the fourth miss’ hand or fretting over their future, no one was happy.
The girl didn’t want to poke at the despondency either. “The old dowager must be tired. I won’t disturb your rest then. Mother and I will take our leave then.”
The old dowager waved her hand wearily. She’d been caught in the throes of anger earlier, but there was only fear left now that the enormity of what was happening had sunk in. Her son had been urgently summoned into the palace. Who knew what would happen, especially with the tone that he’d been using? She didn’t have the strength to pay attention to anything else.
Qin Yining helped née Sun out the door, wiping off her mother’s tears as they walked. She comforted lowly, “Don’t worry, mother. Bingtang and Jiyun have already sent Jin-mama, Caiju, and Cailan back to the Garden of Tranquility. Their injuries shouldn’t be life-threatening. No matter why the old dowager acted the way she did today, it’s not the time to be focused on this. Please just endure this for now, mother.”
“I know.” Née Sun sniffled, a belly full of suffering, but still nodding understandingly. “Your father spoke very clearly just now. None of us will live if Great Yan really does fall and the Great Zhou emperor starts settling the score. There’s absolutely no meaning in squabbling over petty things like these.”
“You’re absolutely right, mother.” Qin Yining was quite gratified by how much her mother had grown during this time. “Don’t you worry, mother! I’m still the ‘protective talisman’ of Great Yan, the safe-keeper of our fortunes. This was calculated by the Soothsayer herself. I can at the very least keep all of you safe.”
Née Sun was still worried. “I’m afraid that the emperor will take out his anger on you when he thinks of little Prince Pang.”
“The more our situation worsens, the more terrified the emperor will be. He’ll try everything he can except hurt me. So really, don’t worry, mother.” Qin Yining patiently explained the ins-and-outs to her mother and summoned a serving girl. “Make a trip to the Venerable Study Hall and have Songlan and Qiulu come to the Garden of Tranquility. Leave only Zhu-mama in the residence for now. Then go tell the mamas in charge of management to come to the Garden of Tranquility at the fifteenth minute of the hour of the chicken.  I have orders for them.”
Qin Yining now exercised control over the inner residence, a marked difference to how she was before. The serving girl quickly curtsied and left respectfully. Née Sun nodded with gratification to see how her daughter was acting.
The two returned to the Garden of Tranquility to check in on Jin-mama, Caiju, and Cailan. The granny servants who’d administered the punishment had taken their orders seriously and beaten the servants with a heavy hand. Thankfully, they hadn’t really wanted to kill the servants and had avoided landing their blows on the spine or waist. One smack with a plank there was enough to cause paralysis. Even so, Qin Yining had returned halfway through. Twenty hits of the plank was still quite a suffering.
Caiju and Cailan were better off because they were young. Jin-mama was worse off due to her age. She was also someone with some dignity and small authority normally, so being beaten in front of the flower-hung gate with everyone watching was a great loss of face.
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