Chapter 184: Slaughtering the Donkey After It Finishes the Job at the Mill
“The old dowager speaks rightly and this is only the beginning. When there are further developments at Xihua, I’m afraid there will be only more refugees fleeing the chaos and violence. But, let’s keep an open mind. Father has served the emperor for many years and is a trusted, able official. If things really do become that disorderly, the emperor will have to depend greatly on father’s wits and strategic planning. Father will naturally be safe since he’s a useful person. At worst, he’ll just be criticized a bit.”
“That’s true, your analysis is reasonable.” Although things were tense, Qin Yining’s analysis soothed the matriarch, and her nervous expression relaxed somewhat. “Nothing else matters as long as he’s safe. I don’t care about positions or wealth. I just want everyone to be safe.”
Qin-mama was incredibly grateful as she watched Qin Yining cheer up the old dowager with just a few words. Flashing an admiring and thankful smile towards the girl, she handed over a bowl of bird’s nest steeped in milk. The old servant moved to massage her mistress’ shoulders.
“Now, look at that, aren’t you feeling better, mistress? In my eyes, the fourth miss is just like the young lord. I know you miss the lord, mistress, and he may even be back very soon. But, even if he’s detained a while longer, we still have the fourth miss holding down the fort.”
The old dowager’s spirits lifted as she gazed upon Qin Yining’s charming face. The girl smiled faintly and offered a spoonful of bird’s nest to the old dowager.
“Have a bite, Old Dowager.” After the matriarch’s first bite, more spoonfuls followed. “Just think of how best to live life and take care of yourself. The ladies can take care of the inner residence while my father, uncles, and cousins provide us with peace of mind in taking care of everything outside. You’re the pillar of stability for the family. As long as you’re here, hale and hearty, the very skies are held up, and no amount of turmoil can shake this foundation.”
Her words lulled the old dowager into finishing the bird’s nest and a few more snacks. It took only the duration of a meal for the old dowager’s affection for Qin Yining to increase.
Typically, their positions were very different. The old dowager was repulsed by née Sun, but Qin Yining always helped her mother; in the process, denying the old dowager face several times. This had caused the relationship between grandmother and granddaughter to stagnate. But, now they were on the same side and thinking of the family. The intelligence that’d irritated the old dowager was now their pillar of support.
While the matriarch was soothed by her new feelings about her granddaughter, her heart once again leapt to her throat when Qitai sprinted back with news.
It was just past noon and Qin Yining was about to lie down for a little while when a serving girl ran in, huffing and panting. “Madame, miss, Qitai’s back. He’s heading for the inner residence and going to the Garden of Loving Piety.”
Née Sun and Qin Yining looked at each other before springing into action, dressing hastily and quick-stepping to the old dowager’s residence. The second and third madame, as well as the second and third wife (wives of the younger generation), and some of the other misses, had also rushed over. Even senior master Yu and Han had entered from the outer residence.
Qitai knelt on the floor. “Old Dowager.”
“Speak! How is Meng’er?!” The old dowager was on her feet and clutching Qin-mama’s hand.
“We’ve just received news that the emperor censured the lord, stripping the lord of his positions of the Grand Preceptor of the Heir Apparent and Prime Minister. He’s retained the position of Marquis of Anping but has been thrown into the dungeons. A crime hasn’t been identified, and a trial has yet to be scheduled; His Majesty only told the lord to reflect on his wrongs. His life is in no danger, but who knows when the imperial temper will calm, and when the lord will be released.”
The room darkened before the old dowager’s eyes.
“My son!” she shrieked before fainting.
Née Sun covered her mouth to stifle her horrified sobs while the ladies within the house cried from fear and panic. Some went to take care of the old dowager; some went to comfort née Sun. Everything was a frantic mess.
Qin Yining’s lips we compressed as she took a quick step to Qitai. “Are you certain that there’s no present danger to father’s life?”
“Yes, we’re sure of that.”
“Is there any other news from outside?”
“The emperor is once again making use of Elder Statesman Cao. The statesman has been promoted to Grand Preceptor of the Heir Apparent and put in charge of handling this new flare-up of war. Unfortunately, this servant doesn’t know any more details.”
Qin Yining was stunned by what she heard. Qin Han and Qin Yu were immensely angered as well. Qin Yu was a mature, dependable sort and could hold his tongue, but Qin Han broke out in loud curses.
“What does the emperor mean by this? He was the one who made heavy use of senior uncle. Now he’s punishing our uncle on a whim and restoring Grand Preceptor Cao’s position? Our family has a huge feud with the Caos. With Grand Preceptor Cao back in power, will there be any good days ahead for us? Senior uncle and my father are all loyal subjects, His Majesty is…”
“Second brother!” Qin Yining clamped down on Qin Han’s wrist and looked at him sternly. His wife was shaking his other arm and crying silently. Qin Han finally realized that he’d been about to speak out of line and shut up with a despondent expression.
“I think I know why Grand Preceptor Cao is once again in favor. I’ll explain my thoughts to you later, brothers.” Qin Yining turned back to Qitai. “How was the situation in the city when you returned?”
Qitai’s complexion was slightly sallow as he replied with a dry voice, “The amount of refugees within the city is slowly increasing as more citizens flee towards the capital. It’s been a long year of drought, and the nation’s coffers are empty after years of war. Another large sum of silver was paid as war reparations. The emperor is calling for the release of grain stores, but how long will the stores last with so many mouths to feed? The refugees have yet to be settled in properly, and citizens living in the city are starting to feel afraid. Many are starting to sell their land and houses.”
The old dowager awoke after being pinched on the acupuncture point beneath the nose. She sniffled her way through Qitai’s words.
Everyone was feeling equally unsettled and clammy after hearing all this. The suffocating feeling of impending armageddon had slithered around their necks and was slowly tightening like a boa constrictor.
“Granddaughter Yi, should we, should we sell our house and land as well?” the old dowager asked weakly.
Qin Yining turned back to respond. “What do we after that, Old Dowager?”
The matriarch had no answer for that.
The room was deathly silent; the atmosphere broken only by the occasional sniffle. Qin Yining shifted back to solemnly address the group.
“None of us can run away from this. We’re all under the emperor’s eyes. Given our long-standing reputation, even if our country were to one day fall, we still wouldn’t be able to escape from Great Zhou’s people.”
“But, we’re a family. We weather trials together and share our fortune. I won’t forget this, and neither will any of you. The Qins have at times suffered and other times reveled. We’ve banded together in the face of danger and charged through it all, emerging unscathed on the other side. The Qins have a strong spine and the intelligence to respond to external danger. We’ll think of a way as long as we calm down.”
“Fourth sister is right.” Qin Han nodded heavily. “It’s normal to be afraid. In fact, anyone who isn’t at a time like this is probably a block of wood. But, there are things men can and cannot do. Even if the emperor sentences us all to execution, we’ll go bravely with dry eyes. We won’t bring shame to our family name!”
“Second brother speaks wisely. Besides, things haven’t gotten to that stage yet. We still have a lot of room to maneuver in.”
Qin Yining and Qin Han’s words might’ve been depressing, but they were also filled with encouragement. Even girls who only knew of the world within the inner residence felt their blood boiling at the sentiments.
Indignation had replaced fear. Even though they were girls who’d never seen much of the outside world and were panicking at the thought of turbulent times to come, Qin Yining and Qin Han were right. They were all Qins; their family had never done anything against the law of the world or brought shame to their ancestors. Even if the Qins were to lose their lives, they wouldn’t do so in cowardly manner!
The emperor was a trash emperor hated by all, but the Qins weren’t the same as him! People would die sooner or later. They’d be able to do it too when the time came if it was all for the sake of their name!
Although the womenfolk were still scared, angry was slowly burning the senseless panic out of them, so that they could steadily stay on their feet.
Qin Han, however, latched onto something Qin Yining had just said. “Fourth sister, have you already thought of how to save senior uncle?”
The old dowager shot to her feet when she heard this. “Granddaughter Yi, what good plans do you have?”
The girl smiled back comfortingly. “Don’t worry, Old Dowager. I have a plan that I need to discuss with my uncles and brothers.I’ll do my best. Father will be fine.”
“Good, good.” The old dowager nodded repeatedly. “I’m much reassured with all of you working together.”
Née Sun also relaxed and wiped at her face with a handkerchief.
The third madame helped the old dowager back to her seat. “Don’t worry, Old Dowager. Our fourth niece isn’t an ordinary girl. She was taught by senior brother-in-law himself!”
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