Née Sun sent Qin Huining back to Garden of Loving Piety to rest, but the image of Qin Yining on her knees, looking up at her with tears swimming in her eyes lingered in her mind.
She dismissed all the other servants, keeping just Bao-mama back, asking solemnly, “You’ve been by mother’s side for a very long time and have eaten more salt than I have rice. You see things more clearly than I do. In your eyes, did darling Hui really purposefully cause drama?”
“My lady see things clearly,” Bao-mama smiled. “You’ve just been blinded by your motherly heart. You already know the answer, don’t you?”
“Answer?” Née Sun mused.
“Indeed. The duchess always says that if one wants to see one’s true nature, we just need to look at the results of their actions and disregard their words. This will lead to the surest picture of that person. Although you said you’d never forgive Lord Qin, you still came back. This is a sign of your genuine feelings for Lord Qin. In the same vein, I feel that he must understand your sincerity and so has loved and respected you all these years.”
These words comforted née Sun, relaxing her taut heartstrings. Upon further thought, wasn’t that actually the case? She might kick up a right royal fuss, but she still cared about Qin Huaiyuan. Although he might glare and huff at her, he still very much respected her.
Née Sun murmured to herself, “Darling Hui is mature and her every word is a balm to my heart. But I really did start suspecting daughter Yi’s origins because of a careless word from my dear. Then I started arguing with my lord because of my suspicions. And… I’d decided to acknowledge daughter Yi when I returned today, but couldn’t control my temper just now and almost hit her…”
Bao-mama lowered her eyes and smiled, not saying anything.
Née Sun shook her head incredulously. “Nonono, darling Hui is so kindhearted. This is probably all a coincidence! Wouldn’t you say so, Bao-mama?”
The old servant swallowed her words of, “How can there be so many coincidences?” when she saw the direction née Sun had taken. She was just a servant; even the duchess hadn’t been able to set née Sun down the right path after so many years of explanations and exhortations.
What use would her words be now? Bao-mama spoke a few more words of comfort and quickly took her leave to return to the Ding Manor, leaving née Sun in silent thought.
At the same time, Qin Yining was returning to Snowpear Courtyard with Ruilan and Qiulu.
At this time, the paths were seldom traveled, so it was quiet all around. An occasional flock of birds would take startled flight into the air from a withered tree in the distance. The skies of early winter were a vivid sapphire, and the temperature a tad more brisk than the previous day.
Qin Yining strolled along serenely, her beige, damask cloak flaring open slightly with each step. Qiulu and Ruilan supported her on both sides, the former not letting a word escape from tightly compressed lips.
Ruilan, on the other hand, felt that Qin Yining was sure to rely on her in the future since she’d been pardoned today. Since she was going to be a trusted maid, it should be fine to say a word or two. “That was an ordeal just now, miss.”
Qin Yining smiled at the maid.
“Bao-mama is the duchess’ trusted confidante,” Ruilan continued, encouraged by the response. “A word from her is more important even the misses of Ding Manor. Miss Huining was clearly trying to make the senior madame slap you just now, why didn’t you make a big fuss about it in front of Bao-mama? You should let her know how tough life in this manor actually is, so that the duchess will come to know as well.”
Qin Yining dimpled in a slight smile, responding softly, “With the madame’s personality, it might not be a good thing to make a fuss. It might only drive her to further anger and hurt her health.”
Ruilan nodded and sighed at those words. “Fourth Miss truly cares for the senior madame. You’re not like Miss Huining at all, who incites the senior madame to rage just for her own matters…”
Ruilan’s voice trailed off as she realized the point Qin Yining had made. If someone like her could see it this clearly, how would someone as experienced as Bao-mama possibly miss it?!
If the fourth miss really had called upon her strong side from yesterday and gone head to head with the senior madame, she might not have come off worse for the wear, but it would detract from her nonetheless. A wild reputation of being domineering and overbearing might even make its way to the Ding Manor.
But allowing matters to develop as they had without saying a single word or reacting so forcefully had caused Qin Huining’s provocation to be repeated in front of Bao-mama once again!
It’d only been Qin Yining’s words before that claimed that Qin Huining was sowing discord. That clearly wasn’t enough to convince anyone. And after all, nothing was more convincing than seeing the truth with one’s own eyes, and hadn’t Bao-mama done exactly that today?
Ruilan looked at Qin Yining with worshipful eyes. “You did perfect, miss. This servant thought wrongly.”
Although Qiulu didn’t speak much, her wits weren’t blunt. She quickly caught up as her eyes were opened to what was going on. “Miss Huining brought this on her own head. She can’t blame our miss now if the duchess dislikes her.”
“Indeed, her intentions are malicious, so why cover up for her?” Qin Yining smiled slightly. The two maids also smiled as they shared the same, unspoken thought.
They were both greatly impressed by Qin Yining. She hadn’t said much, just a few noncommittal phrases. But that’d been enough to make the madame hesitate, then change her mind about hitting the girl. This was proof that they followed one who possessed wisdom and foresight! She had already thoroughly grasped née Sun’s personality.
Although much had occurred today, the group returned to Snowpear Courtyard in light spirits. Zhu-mama met them at the door with a smile. “You’ve returned, miss! The mama that the lord requested from the palace has arrived.”
Qin Yining looked askance at the yard at these words to see a demure woman of roughly forty years walk out. The woman smiled happy and bent her knee in greeting. “This servant is née Zhan. I’m in charge of teaching manners and rules in the palace. I’m here under the empress’ orders to keep the miss company for a few days.”
“The empress?” Qin Yining was a bit surprised at that particular revelation.
“The emperor was delighted to hear that the prime minister has found his official daughter. When His Majesty heard the prime minister speak of matters at home, he gave orders accordingly to the empress. Her Majesty is the model of the nation and arranged for this servant to come.”
“Please don’t stand on ceremony, Zhan-mama. This girl is coarse and will need much help from you.” Qin Yining politely welcomed the mama into the main residence, settling down to study hard.
The Duke of Ding Manor.
Bao-mama carefully relayed all that had happened in the prime minister manor to the duchess. The duchess had a strand of jade rosary beads in her hand. She stroked the beads idly with a thumb, causing them to click crisply against each other. The pale-purple tassel adorned with gold beads at the bottom of it swayed slightly with each contemplative movement, perfectly complementing the duchess’ jade ring. The jewelry set looked quite beautiful.
After a moment of silence, her hands slowed, and halted, “So it looks like granddaughter Hui really did do it.”
The old servant nodded. “Yes, I could tell that the miss did indeed provoke the lady. You know of the lady’s temperament.”
The duchess rubbed her forehead with her right hand. “Daughter Han is straight as an arrow. She’d be the first to shoot off a cannon if someone rolled it next to her and loaded it with powder. I’d thought granddaughter Hui was a good sort. Why is she now…”
Bao-mama knew that the duchess was simply speaking rhetorically. She knew of everything and just wasn’t happy with how things had developed. She didn’t say anything else and busied herself with massaging the duchess’ temples.
The duchess gave a long sigh, “Granddaughter Yi really looks similar to Qin Meng?”
“Yes, just like a young Lord Qin. I actually feel that she looks a bit more perceptive than the prime minister, and is very filial as well. She quietly took the punishment even when the lady purposefully gave her trouble. She didn’t cause the lady any anger at all. She’s had such a hard life all these years, so it’s a wonder that she’s so mature and that her personality hasn’t been warped.
“It’s a rare situation where you have endless praise for someone.” The duchess started to chuckle.
Bao-mama gave an embarrassed smile. “That’s because the girl really is likable.”
“I won’t tease you any further. As opposed to waiting for daughter Han to remember to bring the girl to me, I might as well go get her myself.” Duchess of Ding sat back in thought for a moment, “Send someone to take a look at the outer residence. Grandson Ming ought to be back by now.”
Grandson Ming was the duke and duchess’ eldest grandson, Sun Yu 
“Does the mistress mean to send the eldest master as the messenger?” Bao-mama was surprised.
“Yes.” The duchess thoughtfully tapped her chin, “If we send a servant, it will appear as if we don’t value her much. Since we want to invite her over for a visit, and granddaughter Yi seems like a good sort, then it is only right for me to prop up her status as her maternal grandmother. Grandson Ming has a good reputation outside and a high status amongst the scholars. He also gets along well with his uncle-in-law, so it’d be best for him to make a trip on my behalf.”
“The mistress is most thorough. The eldest master more than gets along with his uncle-in-law! Lord Qin likes the eldest master so much that he wishes Sir Yu was his own son!” Bao-mama passed the duchess’ orders to a maid with a smile, revising Qin Yining’s position in her own heart as well.
One had to know that the duke’s grandson wasn’t just any ordinary renowned noble. He was a legend amongst the younger generation of Great Yan!
Sun Yu, secondary personal name of Ming, was twenty six years old and yet unmarried. It wasn’t that he’d refused to get married, but that he was waiting for mutual love to flower with an unparalleled beauty.
He was a proper gentleman, refined and handsome, a leader among his peers. The most important was that he brimmed with talent and a nigh perfect comprehension of history, rules, and politics.
When Zhou and Yan had officially declared war on each other two years ago, Sun Yu had written an eloquent and vicious denunciation that flayed every bit of skin off Great Zhou, utterly humiliating them to the depths of despair.
Great Yan’s morale had soared, and his public denunciation inspired a great many hot-blooded youths to join the army. The emperor was greatly admiring of this kind of achievement and personally decreed Sun Yu to join the ranks of the imperial scholars.
This was when the saying of, “if I could have a son like Sun Yu” had first started spreading among the populace.
Even someone as cautious as Qin Huaiyuan had started publicly lauding this youth instead of staying away to avoid accusations of nepotism. The prime minister public praised him as “the talent of our era”. Because of Sun Yu’s official publication, his name was known throughout Great Yan and Great Zhou. It was said that the Prosperous Emperor  of Great Zhou had been so incensed by the diatribe that he’d fallen gravely ill for a while.
Such an unparalleled, talented, and handsome grandson was the treasure the duchess cherished above all else. To be willing to send him to the prime minister’s manor was a clear indication of how highly the duchess appraised Qin Yining!
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