Chapter 191: Hope
Everyone put down their cups and looked at Qin Huaiyuan, demonstrating the respect he commanded in the family. He smiled slightly. “I owe second and third brother thanks for looking after the family when I was away.”
“What kind of words are these, big brother? Nothing major happened in the family these days, so we didn’t need to do anything. The inner residence has the old dowager, senior sister-in-law, and niece Yi holding down the fort. We kept our doors shut tight and turned away all visitors. We were as cautious as could be. We just wanted big brother to come back safe and sound. As long as you’re alright, the family is alright and has a pillar of strength.” The group nodded along with the second elder master’s exceedingly sincere words.
Qin Huaiyuan shook his head wryly and waved a hand. “Your words put me to shame, second brother. If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have lost your position and been demoted to the Ministry of Rites.”
This warmed the second elder master’s heart. He shook his head rapidly. “If it wasn’t for big brother’s help, if it wasn’t for the other officials giving you face, it’d be dozens of years more before I could make it to a third rank position in the Ministry of Education. Who knows how much more hard work I’d have to put in with my lowly seniority? I haven’t forgotten all the help that you’ve given me over the years. It’s not your fault that we’re in this situation. You’re innocent too, brother! We’re family, why talk about things as if we’re not!?”
“Precisely.” The third elder master nodded. He greatly respected Qin Huaiyuan. His big brother was a moral, clear headed person and when growing up, had never used his status as an official son to bully the concubine-born third elder master.
When the third elder master had realized that he wasn’t a good student and decided to take over the family business, Qin Huaiyuan had helped enormously and eased many paths until the third elder master could stand on his own feet. Therefore, the latter nodded in great agreement when he heard his second brother’s words.
The old dowager to see her three sons in such harmony and murmured to Qin-mama and the second madame next to her. “Just look at them.”
The second madame covered a smile and the old servant murmured back, “It’s hard to find a set of brothers who get along better than them. This is all thanks to your teachings, mistress.”
The matriarch was further soothed by these words and she flushed happily from this happy occasion.
“Second and third brother,” Qin Huaiyuan sighed. “You don’t mind because you’re noble and virtuous. I know that all of this is because I stuck my neck out.” He turned to the rest of the family. “All of you know that by now that Great Zhou’s armies are on our doorstep. Xihua can fall at any time. Once it does, the Valiant Tigers will no longer have any reservations and will set their sights on the capital. The emperor is out of plans and has resorted to employing Grand Preceptor Cao again. I’ve never gotten along with the grand preceptor, so the emperor is also looking to suppress us with this move. Even though I’ve been released from the dungeons, our days ahead will be filled with danger.”
The relaxed atmosphere tightened again with these words. The second and third madame wanted to dismiss the younger children since heavy subjects were being discussed. After all, Qin Yining’s eleventh male cousin was only seven years old. Children might accidentally let the wrong thing slip outside.
But Qin Huaiyuan waved a hand. “Second and third sister-in-law, the world is changing and the children should know about this too. I’m having people guard the doors. These words won’t travel.”
Eleventh master Qin Zong nodded and turned to the second madame. “Don’t worry, mother. I’m not a baby anymore. I know what can’t be said.”
The second and third madame nodded at this and took their seats again.
“We’ve always conducted ourselves with honor and within the confines of the law. But with the current way of the world, being good person isn’t a guarantee of a long life. I need to make some arrangements beforehand, just in case. Second brother will be the one in charge of the family if anything happens to me. He’s spent many years at court and has seen quite a lot. He’ll be able to grasp the right direction in times of necessity. He can be a good head of the Qin clan. All of you should listen to him when the time comes.”
“My lord, you…” Tears welled up in née Sun’s eyes again.
The old dowager was also frowning and color drained from her face. “Meng’er, don’t speak of this nonsense. You’ll be fine. You’ll live a long and healthy life!”
He smiled comfortingly at his mother and wife. “This is just a contingency plan in light of the current times we live in. This is what I should do as the head of the family clan. Don’t stop me, mother.”
The matriarch sniffled silently for a while and didn’t say anything else. Her face was still white as a sheet as she dabbed at her eyes.
The marquis ignored their tears and gave solemn instructions to his younger brother. “Once I’m assassinated, you should take the family and immediately leave the capital. Go back to our ancestral home. I purchased the sacrificial fields around our ancestral graves a long time ago. Although they won’t keep the family in style and splendor, they’ll be enough to keep everyone alive. The emperor won’t seize our ancestral fields even if he wants to raid and confiscate our home. We’ll all stay alive this way and the family legacy can be passed down.”
“Big brother…” The second elder master’s heart quailed and he didn’t know what to say. So his elder brother had already thought of an escape plan for the family even when he was enjoying great honors and fortune.
“This is just one possibility.” Qin Huaiyuan sighed and scanned his family. “If I’m not assassinated, then surely my political enemies will be up to something. Things might be even worse then if they get in a few kicks at court. Our entire family may be dragged into it. The Duke of Ding’s circumstances might be a foretelling of our end.”
Deathly silence blanketed the hall after these words. Shock and fright showed on many faces, and some of the younger children burst out crying. The old dowager, née Sun, second and third madame were all as white as a sheet.
If that really happened, then the Qins were completely done for. tHey wouldn’t even have the ability to go back to their ancestral home and be farmers.
The marquis cast his glance at Qin Yining. “Daughter Yi, you have the Soothsayer’s proclamation that you possess unparalleled fortune. The emperor won’t do anything to you so that his luck is preserved. You’ll have to think of a way to keep all of the women safe then.” As for the men, none of us will be getting away.
Qin Yining rose and curtsied with utmost seriousness. “Don’t worry, father. If that day really comes, I’ll take on my responsibilities. I know what you’re worried about. Don’t worry, I’ll be able to do it all.”
Qin Huaiyuan’s eyes curved into crescents as he smiled at his beloved daughter. “Very good, I’m reassured by how mature you are, darling Yi.”
Cold sweat broke out all over Qin Yining as she listened to her father’s crestfallen tone giving instructions for affairs after his death. However, she maintained a serious expression on her face. “Don’t be too pessimistic, father. Things haven’t gotten to that stage yet. We still have a lot of room to maneuver in. Everything depends on our own efforts. You can’t lose hope in life, father, even if you’re completely heartbroken by others. We shouldn’t lose hope as long as we’re still breathing!”
Qin Yining’s words jabbed straight into Qin Huaiyuan’s heart, cracking his placid smile. No one else but his daughter had noticed it.
Yes, he was heartbroken.
Heartbroken by the emperor, by the affairs of court, and completely despairing of Great Yan’s bleak future. He’d worked so hard for so many years and hadn’t thought of quitting even when serving an incompetent emperor. He just wanted to do his job well, advise the emperor so that court would be run efficiently, and to help the people life happy lives of stability. That was his life’s wish.
The emperor was still the same, incompetent fool. Great Zhou’s iron hooves were about to trample Great Yan into the ground. The people he’d tried so hard to protect were treated like animals. The refugees had no roof over their heads and and no floor beneath their feet. They were doled out one bowl of watery porridge a day. When children and the elderly died of illnesses in the street, they were piled onto carts and disposed of in mass cremations.
The emperor’s actions were far less than Qin Yining’s!
Qin Huaiyuan’s daughter had no silver but still knew to sell valuables to keep the refugees alive. What did the emperor know to do at his age? Not to save his people, but commission new clothes and accessories for the trampress!
His men had given him a full report of the emperor’s movements over the past couple of days when he’d been released from the dungeons. In that moment, Qin Huaiyuan really felt that his heart, burning with enthusiasm, had been thrown it into an icy pit. He’d been such a fool before, to hold out any hope for this kind of emperor.
And yet, there was an ancient saying that spoke to him. “A chaste woman marries not again and a servant serves not a second master”. He hadn’t been born in the right times to serve a worthy liege, but neither would he be a treasonous subject.
He was disconsolate and no longer wanted to do anything for an emperor like this. He wouldn’t be a traitor, but neither would he put forth all his efforts anymore. He’d thought that no one would understand or even see through his sentiments, but Qin Yining had.
The scene was still once more. Everyone looked mutely at Qin Huaiyuan and Qin Yining, seeming to understand the bleak inner landscape of the lord’s heart. The second and third elder master frowned ferociously and the ladies wept with shared anguish.
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