Chapter 202: Reluctance to Part
The hour was growing late, Qin Yining had to return to the manor. Neither could the commander of the Valiant Tigers spend the night in the enemy’s capital. He had to travel through the night so he didn’t impact military affairs. Making this trip had already been the greatest of risks.
Huzi had long since readied horses in the yard.
Pang Xiao raised a cupped fist salute to Steward Zhong. “Thank you for taking care of my darling Yi during this time. It’s incredibly rare that you would remain so loyal to her in light of the circumstances. She’s a thorough planner and loves to worry about things. If it wasn’t for such a competent person like you by her side, she might’ve fallen to danger multiple times. I’m far away and can’t do much for her even though I want to. I’ll have to continue troubling you in the future. My thanks to you.”
The steward quickly returned the gesture, both flattered and stunned by the praise. “You’re too polite, Your Highness. It’s only right and proper that I’m loyal to the owner. I’m not worthy of your thanks.”
“You haven’t betrayed her in the face of danger. How are you unworthy of thanks?” Pang Xiao smiled faintly.
Complicated emotions assaulted the steward, who responded with a small smile as well. Logically speaking, the man in front of him was an enemy. He was here to destroy Great Yan and the steward should’ve hated him.
But somehow, the legendary god of slaughter was a loyal, outstanding, and hot-blooded man. The rumors were obviously highly inaccurate and the steward couldn’t bring himself to dislike the prince at all. He actually admired the prince’s magnanimity and devotion to relationships.
Pang Xiao was purchasing large numbers of real estate in the capital and had taken over most of the forfeited shops from Qin Yining. He basically owned half of the storefronts in the capital, a fact that made the steward believe even more firmly that talk of ‘looting and razing the city’ was just hot air.
The people wouldn’t be harmed and the capital wouldn’t be trampled into the ground. Steward Zhong actually even wished that the prince would hurry up and finish his conquest. The trash emperor and trampress were a blight on the nation and had long since lost the people’s hearts. Their lives might actually be better with a different emperor in charge.
The steward wished for a stable country, but the Great Yan royals could no longer guarantee that. They fleeced their own subjects and completely disregarded human rights. The Weichi clan had lost their qualification to reign over all.
The two exchanged some more pleasantries before Pang Xiao turned to Qin Yining. “Be careful in the days to come. Stay home if you can.”
“I know. You be careful as well.” The radiant setting sun dyed her cheeks an auburn red, imparting a shade of warmth to her pale-blue outfit.
Pang Xiao smiled. “Don’t worry, the one who can kill me hasn’t been born yet.”
He reached out a hand, wanting to stroke her cheek, but settled for patting her head lovingly given the others present. “I’ll be off, dearest Yi.”
Qin Yining nodded docilely, the reluctance in her eyes giving Pang Xiao the urge to just swing her onto his horse and ride off. He purposefully averted his eyes and took in a few deep breaths to tamp down his longing. He took the reins from Huzi and turned back to flash a smile at her, shaking the whip in his other hand. “We’re off!”
The two led their horses out of the yard and cantered off in a cloud of dust after they cleared the door.
Qin Yining and Steward Zhong remained where they were, looking at two departing figures draped in the rays of the evening sun until the dust settled once more. They stopped looking when only golden-russet soil greeted their eyes.
The girl was downcast, feeling like a pail of cold water had been dumped on her previously light mood. She felt empty and lost.
Seeing the fourth miss’ despondency, Steward Zhong shook his head. “Miss, I’ll take you back?”
Qin Yining nodded. “It’s about time to return anyhow.”
The carriage avoided the crowds on the way back, leaving her to quietly go over Pang Xiao’s every word and gesture earlier.
The sadness of parting didn’t afflict the steward. He was only filled with the joy of knowing that home and city would be safe. He clapped loudly. “We don’t have any worries this way now. I can tell the family not to be in such a hurry to leave.”
Qin Yining dimpled. “Indeed. It’s a pity that we can’t share this information with the people. They wouldn’t believe me even if I told them.”
“Not only would no one believe you, miss, but you might even be labelled a traitor. This wouldn’t be a good thing for your family either.”
“Indeed, so sometimes it really is such a heavy feeling of helplessness. We can tell there’s more things at play beneath the surface, but we can’t say anything. The people selling their homes and lands to flee will continue to do so, because only after escaping will they feel safer.”
Steward Zhong nodded, equally resigned. After a moment, he asked another question. “Miss, we have a lot of farmland after selling off the shops and houses. Since we have silver again, do we keep buying more farmland?”
Qin Yining thought silently for a moment. “Why do I think I’m profiting off of a national calamity? I bought their land before so they could flee with silver in their pockets, so I didn’t bring the price down too much. But now that we know full well the city will be safe, I’m…”
“Miss.” Steward Zhong interrupted with a smile. “You’re very kindhearted. But if you don’t buy their land, they’ll probably set off on their path with empty hands. They have their hearts set on running away. If the country does fall in the end, won’t all land without an owner end up in the hands of the Great Zhou emperor?”
The girl nodded, forced to agree with the steward.
“Plus, we only know that Great Zhou won’t raze the city or raid the people — little Prince Pang wouldn’t have used an alternate identity to purchase property otherwise. But you’re still the daughter of Wise Pan An, and the Institute of Luminous Charm is such a unique business. It’s not a given that the new emperor won’t confiscate the Qin family properties. After all, the prince did refrain from putting his own name on the deeds. He probably doesn’t want his emperor to know of his wealth either.”
“I understand.” Qin Yining sighed. “What are the good farmlands around the capital going for now?”
“Lands that went for twelve silver an acre now still lack buyers at even two silver an acre. The fields around Huizhou are even worse off. What was worth twenty to thirty silver an acre before has no buyers at even five silver.”
The fourth miss frowned. “Then like we discussed before, please go ahead and purchase land at the most reasonable price we can swing. Use up all of my silver. This way, at least the people can still work in the fields if they want to come back in the future. They might not own the land anymore, but they won’t starve to death if they’re a tenant.”
“Precisely. You’re not a black-hearted merchant, miss. In my opinion, you can resettle the people at Ning Park onto these fields and farms in the future.”
Qin Yining nodded as well. “They’ll have livelihoods this way. Although I feel guilty because I really do feel that I’m making money at the expense of the nation, there’s nothing to be done about it. But one thing to keep in mind. Pang Zhixi being able to find you to buy the shops means that we haven’t concealed our actions deeply enough. Hide the field purchases as deeply as you can so that no one can trace it back to us.”
“No worries! Be at ease, miss. I know what to do now that the future isn’t so uncertain.”
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