Chapter 197: A Time of Leisure
The slap rang out cleanly, shunting Weichi Yan’s face to the side. Some blood trickled down from a split lip. He was frozen with his hands held out to Qin Huaiyuan, wanting to help the marquis up.
Weichi Yan turned incredulously to look at the emperor, the latter breathing hard with bloodshot eyes. All of a sudden, the crown prince didn’t recognize the man.
Choice punishments for the crown prince were to berate, ground, or beating that didn’t hit the face. Slapping the prince also meant shattering all of his dignity and authority. How would Weichi Yan command anyone in the future?
But the terrified and panicked emperor didn’t have time to consider this at all. Apart from resentment of useless subjects, all the emperor felt at the moment was horror that Great Zhou was advancing on the capital. He didn’t have energy to spare for anything else.
“I say you’ve been crown prince so long that your ambitions have grown out of control! How dare you talk back to me in front of my subjects?! Won’t you stick your nose up to the sky when you’re the emperor?? How will you treat me then??” Just shouting his outrage wasn’t enough to vent the emperor’s feelings. The imperial majesty grabbed the ink stone and flung it at Weichi Yan.
Thankfully, the Prince of Ning was one step faster and caught the heavy projectile, preventing the crown prince’s brains from splattering all over the study. The ink stone was the size of a grown man’s palm. The Prince of Ning didn’t dare wipe off the ink on his hand and sleeve. He only lowered his head to kowtow once again.
“Please quell your anger, royal brother.”
“This is mutiny, mutiny!” The emperor pointed at the Prince of Ning and hopped up and down with fury.
“Royal brother, it was just a momentary misstep from the crown prince. You only have this one son. Won’t your heart ache if anything happens to him?”
The Prince of Ning meant well with his words. The emperor didn’t have many children and the crown prince was his only son. Who would inherit the throne if Weichi Yan was killed in a fit of anger?
However, the words took on a different flavor in the emperor’s ears. His thoughts churned furiously and he cast a sidelong glance at the previous speaker, wondering if he was being mocked.
Grand Preceptor Cao redirected fire back onto Qin Huaiyuan when he saw that the emperor was distracted. He denounced righteously, “Please quell your anger, Your Majesty. The crown prince’s heart is pure and right. He must have offended Your Majesty today only after being taught by others. His good nature is being led astray! Please investigate this thoroughly, Your Majesty.”
Being taught by others? Who was the crown prince the closest to normally, and who had been his teacher in recent times? It went without saying who was the villain behind all this.
The emperor turned to Qin Huaiyuan and snorted with a dark expression. He pointed a trembling finger at the marquis for a long while before brandishing his sleeves viciously. However, there were no further denouncements. He looked back at the grand preceptor.
“Has there been any word from the Tatars? Great Zhou’s armies will be here before long if they still don’t respond!” The emperor sat down impatiently in his formal chair. 
The grand preceptor’s expression took an ugly turn and he smiled apologetically. “Your Majesty, I’ve tried my best to convince the Tatars, but they’ve had some things happen lately as well.”
“I’ve gotten word that the Tatar khan was recently assassinated by his only son.”
“What? Patricide?” The emperor flicked a subconscious look at Weichi Yan.
Grand Preceptor Cao nodded. “Yes. Apparently the khan lusted after his daughter-in-law and forced her to do certain things in front of others. She committed suicide out of humiliation and his only son killed him out of fury. Princess Anari killed her brother in revenge for her father, and the Tatar court has handed power over to her. The three major Tatar factions are locked in fierce combat for supremacy. I’m afraid Princess Anari won’t have the ability to send troops out on our behalf.”
The emperor’s brow knit together tightly. “Then it seems like that wench won’t be able to hold onto her seat! Why didn’t you find someone better to contact? Why good is a woman?” the emperor complained petulantly.
Grand Preceptor Cao’s expression grew even uglier. The emperor was the height of incompetence and couldn’t handle his own country’s matters in critical times. He’d circled around Great Zhou to beg for Tatar help, but now he was disdaining that his counterpart was a woman?
The grand preceptor sniffed derisively. “Don’t be angry, Your Majesty. Whether it’s a man or woman who holds the reins of Tatar power, our first order of business is to convince them to send out their troops. Tatar has fought Great Zhou for many years already. I don’t believe that the Great Zhou treasury can support war on two fronts. They wouldn’t have swindled us otherwise!
“The Great Zhou emperor can attack us with such peace of mind because they’ve got Ji Zeyu holding down the fort in the north! Without Ji Zeyu, the Tatars will thrust straight into Great Zhou. When Great Zhou is dealing with enemies in her homeland, our mighty Great Yan warriors will surely be able to make them halt outside the pass and force them back to their own territory!”
Grand Preceptor Cao’s words thrummed with high emotions that made the emperor’s blood boil. He could almost see Great Yan flags unfurling over the cities that he’d let go before.
“Then it seems we must trouble the grand preceptor to continue contacting the Tatars. Our crisis will be resolved if they’re willing to send out their troops.” The emperor stroked his beard with satisfaction.
Grand Preceptor Cao raised his hands in a cupped fist salute of acknowledge.
However, Qin Huaiyuan’s brow was tightly furrowed and he offered a note of disagreement. “Please listen to my words of caution, Your Majesty. Grand Preceptor Cao’s analysis makes sense, but the Tatars are far away and might not be able to save us in our hour of pressing need.
“Pang Zhixi’s stratagems are unparalleled and his wily tricks are unfathomable. His Valiant Tigers are all well trained, highly skilled soldiers. Now that they’ve taken Xihua, they’re looking right down at us. With Pang Zhixi’s valor, the Valiant Tigers will be beating down our gates if we just sit here and wait for the Tatars to distract Great Zhou.
“Our joint eastern, western, and northern armies are outside the city gates right now. Combined with the Division of the Five Armies, the Division of Three Thousand, and the Firearms Division, that makes thirty five thousand troops. With our geographical advantage, if we select an excellent general to lead them all, we can use the army to make the capital an impregnable fortress when Pang Zhixi attacks. We’ll still have a chance then!”
Grand Preceptor Cao jeered back before the emperor had a chance to respond. “Oh? Then according to the Marquis of Anping, Pang Zhixi is the reincarnation of a war god and impossible to defeat! Our Great Yan has the son of heaven and the protection of the gods. Would we be afraid of a brat still wet behind the ears? I say the marquis thinks Pang Zhixi is his son-in-law! Look at how much you’re praising him!”
Qin Huaiyuan looked at the grand preceptor with a stern frown. He knew there was no point in arguing. “We can take care of our differences in private if the grand preceptor has certain thoughts about me. At the end of the day, you’re still my father-in-law. You can hit and berate me however you wish. But please don’t bring personal feelings into court. We’re facing the continued survival of our nation, not a joke!”
“You…” The grand preceptor jabbed a finger at Qin Huaiyuan in preparation for a rebuttal, but he was interrupted by the emperor before he had a chance to say anything.
Both lords stopped talking and bowed.
“Neither of you can handle any serious business, but you’re each better than the last when it comes to bickering. Did I keep you around for so many years to erupt in internal conflict when you’re needed the most?!”
“Please quell your anger, Your Majesty.” Everyone bowed once more.
The emperor snorted. “Do as the grand preceptor says in this matter. Grand Preceptor Cao, hurry and contact the Tatars.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” The grand preceptor smirked at Qin Huaiyuan as he bowed.
The emperor turned to Qin Huaiyuan. “I’ll forgive you for now due to your many years of service. Go and reflect on your wrongs!”
Qin Huaiyuan’s face was as white as a sheet. He stared calmly at the emperor, the light in his eyes slowly dimming. In the end, his forehead touched the ground again and he responded, “This subject, obeys.”
Dismissing the majority of the servants and concentrating the family into two residences ended up unifying hearts more. No one was panicking in the face of disaster. There were 39 servants left in the manor, each with their own master or mistress. Qin Yining dispensed with the twice daily reports. She would make decisions on an ad-hoc basis. This way, she found it much easier to run a small household compared to the one before.
Ever since his last summons to the palace, Qin Huaiyuan stayed home after his return. He spent his days in the study or admiring the flowers and view by the pond in the rear garden. He sometimes erected an umbrella by the pond to spend the day fishing. The days passed in a leisurely fashion.
He hadn’t enjoyed such ease in many years. And so though the war was tense and the capital chaotic, he found a measure of peace that he hadn’t had in a very long time.
Qin Yining knew that her father was immensely depressed. She often kept him company after finishing her duties for the day. She’d stay by his side when he fished or bring him tea and snacks. Sometimes, she’d ask him about something she read in a book.
Qin Huaiyuan was much more learned than her old teacher. He knew all the classics and could even use current events as examples. He was witty and humorous, many times enthralling his daughter with his lecture. Father and daughter often spent the entire day sitting in a garden pavilion or a tent by the fish pond.
“The nation is troubled this year and I’m busy. I haven’t been able to give you a proper coming-of-age ceremony, much less a proper birthday celebration.” Qin Huaiyuan’s tone was light as he sat on a stool dressed in a simple shirt and pants, a straw hat on his head and a fishing rod in hand.
“I’ve never celebrated my birthday anyways. I ate longevity noodles by myself on the fifth of the month this year, and it doesn’t matter when the ceremony is held. As long as we do it before I’m 20, it’s all the same to me.”
It was an ancient custom that a coming-of-age ceremony could be held when a girl turned fifteen. However, it didn’t have to be held right at that year. The timing didn’t matter as long as it was held before the girl turned twenty.
“That’s true. We can do it when you marry.” Qin Huaiyuan smiled.
Marry? Pang Xiao’s masculine and handsome face suddenly popped into Qin Yining’s mind. She shook her head with a wry smile. With how things were now, how was it possible that there could be anything between her and Pang Xiao?
“Miss, miss!” Songlan trotted in. Father and daughter both looked at her with a smile. The maid curtsied. “Miss, Steward Zhong’s here. He’s in the side hall and he doesn’t seem too happy.”
Qin Yining rose to her feet. “I’ll go take a look, father. Perhaps something’s happened at Ning Park.”
“Mm, go on.” Qin Huaiyuan responded lazily and turned back to his pole. The sight made Qin Yining sigh inwardly before she quickly made for the side hall.