Chapter 196: Reproach
Venerable Study Hall was Qin Huaiyuan’s place of residence before he married. The library within was very valuable. Since it neighbored the rear gardens, every window opened up to a beautiful sight. To live in it was a great honor, and here was Qin Yining willing to share such a precious residence with her sisters!
Qin Huaiyuan smiled with satisfaction. “Daughter Yi’s idea is sound.”
The girls brightened with this agreement. The sixth miss compressed her lips stubbornly. Maybe Qin Yining wasn’t as irritating as she’d always felt?
The seventh and eighth miss were delighted, first making their thanks to Qin Huaiyuan and then to Qin Yining. The eighth miss pulled on Qin Yining’s hand. “Yay! Fourth sister has the prettiest house and a large library! I don’t want to live in an empty house, I want to live with fourth sister! You also have a very cute bunny, right? I want to pet it!”
The third madame spluttered with laughter. “Oh, you girl. Don’t you get ahead of yourself!”
The eighth miss blushed and stuck her tongue out shyly.
However, the eighth miss’ straightforward and innocent personality was right to Qin Yining’s taste. She tugged on the girl’s hand in response. “But of course! If you like, all of us sisters can live together.” She smiled at the sixth and seventh miss. “Sixth and seventh sister can choose which house you like as well.”
“Alright!” The seventh miss beamed merrily.
However, the sixth miss snuck a quick look at Qin Yining and murmured softly, “Fourth sister, you haven’t said where Miss Huining should stay.”
It was the first time that Qin Yining had heard such a neutral ‘fourth sister’ from the sixth miss. The latter had always been on the same side as Qin Huining, filled with nothing but contempt for this ‘barbarian’ sister. It was rather amusing that, despite the awkward expression, she was still thinking of her good friend.
She’s a young girl after all. She might have some schemes here and there, but she’s not evil to the core. But someone with such a blackened soul and as hopeless as Qin Huining… Qin Yining wouldn’t forgive someone like that as easily.
“I understand sixth sister’s meaning. But, Miss Huining is a guest and there’s limited space in my residence. Not only will all the sisters be with me, but our servants as well. I’m afraid we won’t have room for her.”
The sixth miss pressed her lips together tightly. She knew that Qin Huining had created a voodoo doll of the old dowager in order to frame their senior aunt. She could understand why at first, but suspicions grew after Qin Huining moved to the country manor. The sixth miss’ birth mother (concubine) had mentioned more than once how the foster girl was nothing good and was using the sixth miss as cannon fodder. The miss also discovered that her days at home were much more peaceful without Qin Huining around. Even her official mother (official wife of her father) started to show her a friendlier face.
After some time for reflection and observation of all that’d happened in the manor, she had a new understanding of this so-called ‘barbarian’, ‘uncouth, crude,’ and ‘bitterly sarcastic, harsh towards sisters’ Qin Yining. The sixth miss now didn’t think Qin Yining was as bad as Qin Huining made her out to be.
She might not like Qin Yining much, but she didn’t hate the fourth miss. At least she’s someone genuine and really takes care of the family.
Everyone was rather surprised by the sixth miss’ uncharacteristic lack of argument. The second madame was very pleased with this concubine-born daughter’s performance. “This is lovely. You sisters can grow closer to each other and discuss things with each other. This is actually a very good arrangement!”
The most critical was that everyone would be in one place together, contrary to before. The new arrangements would be much easier protection-wise and appropriate responses could be made more quickly if anything happened.
Qin Yining nodded while her father started discussing living arrangements with the men. The third elder master, madame, and concubines would move into the little houses in the rear gardens of the Garden of Loving Piety.
The second elder master, madame, and concubines would move into the east wing and ear rooms in the front of the residence.
The fourteen year old fifth master Qin Ding would take up residence in the west wing with his three younger male cousins.
Qin Han and Qin Yu had both formed families, so they would live with their families in the northeast side wing.
Qin Huaiyuan and née Sun would like in the ear room to the direct east of the old dowager’s main room, and Cao Yuqing had the ear room to the west.
The girls would all be in the the Venerable Study Hall, a small path away. That would prevent people from living too close to each other.
Qin Huaiyuan thought for a moment and summoned Qin Yining to his side. “Now that the family is together and we’ve opened the door for Qin Huining to return, why don’t you give her a spot in the residence? If it wasn’t for me telling her birth father to come into the city, he might not have been stampeded to death by the refugee crowd.”
Qin Yining was shocked. “You mean… that Qin Huining’s birth father is dead?”
“Mm.” Qin Huaiyuan responded lowly. “I sent men to look for him and take care of his corpse. Although he wasn’t any decent sort of person and had no feelings for Qin Huining, she wouldn’t have lost him if not for me. I still feel some guilt towards her, and now in these dangerous times, she’s still someone who bore the Qin surname for more than a dozen years. I don’t want to throw her out to fend for herself. I know her nature isn’t good and that you’re worried she’ll lead the others astray, but she won’t be able to do much, not with you around. And if she makes mistakes again, you can take care of her. If not, there’s always me.”
“Alright.” Qin Yining nodded with a smile. “As long as father won’t be heartbroken if I punish her, then I’ll obey your instructions.”
Qin Huaiyuan burst out laughing. “What, would you let her off easily if I said you couldn’t punish her?”
“I won’t make trouble for her on purpose in our troubled times. I just want her to behave herself and not do anything disgraceful.”
Father and daughter chatted and laughed together. The two looked so similar that if Qin Yining was wearing a boy’s outfit, she’d look the spitting image of a young ‘Wise Pan An’. Such a scene was very different from the usual of the father sternly lecturing a woebegone son.
Née Sun watched smilingly on the side. The second and third madame also teased gently out of admiration. When father and daughter came back, the third madame smiled widely. “What did you two boys get off to now?”
Qin Huaiyuan smiled faintly. “I was discussing having daughter Hui live in the Venerable Study Hall as well. Darling Yi softened her heart in the end and agreed.”
These words made everyone look at Qin Yining in a new light. Fathers would usually just give the order, but Qin Huaiyuan had only made the decision after discussing with Qin Yining. It was more than evident from these gestures just how much he loved and respected his daughter.
Add to that the methods that the fourth miss had displayed in her capacity as head of the household and her political sensitivity, even her own peers naturally looked up to her now, much less the second and third madame.
The family dispersed with their servants to get ready to move while the third elder master hastened to the outer residence to dismiss another batch of servants.
At this moment, the new inner door messenger, a little serving girl, came tearing back.
“Milord, milord! A messenger’s come from the palace. The emperor wants to see you immediately!”
A bucket of icy water had been dumped over the relatively happy and carefree scene. Expressions grew ugly again.
The old dowager grasped Qin Huaiyuan’s hand anxiously. “Meng’er, what does, what does the emperor want now! Don’t go, we’re not going!”
Qin Huaiyuan patted his mother’s arm comfortingly with a sigh. “How can I ignore an imperial command?”
He’d actually already guessed that the emperor would summon him when Xihua was lost. The marquis turned back to look at Qin Yining.
“Don’t worry father, leave the house to us. Come back soon.”
“Alright.” Qin Huaiyuan smiled with gratification and left with a turn. The womenfolk looked at each other, hearts in their throats.
Qin Yining was also worried, but she couldn’t display it. She could only organize people for the move and personally lead patrols in the inner residence. She locked away unused items into storage, redrew up which kitchens were to be in use, and how the servants should arrange their matters.
While the Qin fourth miss busied herself with this, Qin Huaiyuan had already changed to enter the palace. Within the imperial study, the emperor viciously threw down a report from the frontlines.
“Idiots! Useless idiots! A bunch of good-for-nothing wastes of air! An army is fed for a thousand days for a moment’s use. What use is there in feeding such idiots?!”
Grand Preceptor Cao, Qin Huaiyuan, Weichi Yan, and the Prince of Ning were all on their knees in the face of such imperial wrath. “Please quell your anger, Your Majesty.”
The eunuchs were absolutely nowhere to be seen. They were taking shelter in the yard, deathly afraid of being swept up in the onslaught.
“Quell my anger? How am I to quell my anger when I’m surrounded by a bunch of useless fops?! Pang Zhixi is bastardly scum! He was feted in our nation and immediately charges over with his army when he leaves! What Tatars assassinating him! He’s just using this as an excuse to raise hostilities! Qin Meng!”
“Your subject is here.” Qin Huaiyuan kowtowed in response.
“Is this how you handled the peace talks at Xihua?! Couldn’t you tell those Great Zhou swine just wanted to scam us out of silver? Look at this! Xihua’s been taken and our combined armies from the north, east, and west thirty thousand men strong are continuously beaten by ten thousand Valiant Tigers! Is it that my generals don’t know how to lead men? Do only people surnamed Pang know how to lead troops? This is all your fault! The peace talks were a mistake and now everything is a mistake! How dare you kneel here!”
The emperor grew angrier the more he spoke and dashed around the paulownia wood table laid out with a golden tablecloth. He ran up to Qin Huaiyuan and kicked the marquis in the shoulder, sending the man rolling on the ground.
“Royal father!” Weichi Yan quickly helped up the marquis. “Don’t be angry, royal father! Great Zhou is wily and slippery. The marquis already analyzed the gains and losses when we were negotiating with them. He signed the treaty only with your nod, royal father. How can you blame everything on him now? It’s Great Zhou who’ve broken their word in this, what does it have to do with the Marquis of Anping? Aren’t you worried of breaking the hearts of your subjects like this, father?”
“How dare you! Blasphemy! You want to lecture me?!” The emperor flew into a rage and flung a vicious slap over.
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