Chapter 203: Embezzlement
The manor doors weren’t tightly shut as usual when Qin Yining returned to the manor. They were half open, with the footman stooped despondently by the stone lions by the door, almost completely curled up on himself like a quail.
Next to him, dressed in Cao clan uniforms, were two men frostily guarding the door. It seemed more like the Cao Manor than the Qin Manor.
Qin Yining’s heart skipped a beat and she frowned ferociously. Something was amiss. What are the Caos pulling now?
Steward Zhong also noted the abnormalities and quickly called out the groom, “Keep going, don’t stop.”
The groom was the steward’s confidante and knew a little about the conflict between the Qins and the Caos. He didn’t slow down at all, instead turning into a nearby alley and halting only when they’d found a quiet corner.
“Miss, there might be something happening at home. Don’t be in a rush to go back yet, let your people probe the situation first.”
Jiyun interjected, “Don’t worry, miss. Wait here. I’ll sneak back in for a look. I won’t alarm anymore and I’ll come straight back.”
“Be careful.” Qin Yining pulled on Jiyun’s hand with worry. “Your own safety is more important. We don’t know what’s happening in the manor, so don’t take any risks if you sense there’s too many enemies or the situation is turning bad. There will always be another way.”
Jiyun nodded, touched. Qin Yining had never been the sort to disregard the lives of those around her in pursuit of her own goals. She’d merely respected the fourth miss before and viewed Pang Xiao as her only master, but now viewed Qin Yining as her mistress.
“Don’t worry, miss. My levitation skills are quite good. I won’t seek out trouble. Simply probing the situation should be easy enough. I’ll be back shortly.” The guard smiled reassuringly at the Qin fourth miss and hopped off the carriage, making for the manor.
The skies had fully darkened by now. All was quiet within the alley, and the steward didn’t give instructions for the groom to light the lanterns. It was pitch black within the carriage.
Bingtang took Qin Yining’s hand comfortingly and murmured, “Don’t worry, miss. It’ll be fine.”
“Mm, it’ll be fine. Let’s wait and see.” The fourth miss’ tone was calm enough, but she was unsettled.
She’d already thought of many possibilities in this short period of time. Her father had stayed indoors after being reprimanded by the emperor and been commanded to reflect on his wrongs. He’d rebuffed all guests and spent his days fishing and reading. It was as if he was no longer a Great Yan official.
Although he didn’t say anything, Qin Yining knew her father’s thoughts given how she constantly kept him company. The disillusionment and dejection he was suffering through wasn’t anything that anyone else could understand.
He was full of wisdom and stratagems, but was a sparkling pearl that had been cast into the dark. Qin Yining knew that her father was often torn between loyalty and aspirations.
If Qin Huaiyuan was someone who only cared about the prosperity of his family, promotions, and wealth, he had more than a thousand ways to ensure his own fortunes.
But his aspirations were peace beneath the heavens and happiness for the people. Someone with the trash emperor’s talents would never help Qin Huaiyuan realize his ambitions.
The dog emperor only saw his subjects as tools to strengthen his reign so that he could do whatever he wanted. He used the authority of a liege to cull wealth from his people, knowing only pleasure and was less than useless when it came time to play his part as emperor.
Take the current circumstances for example. He was primarily concerned with maintaining face and hoping for a lucky break, so it didn’t matter that the army of 350 thousand was left to their own devices outside the city walls, and that the seat of commander-in-chief still sat empty. Instead, he had the frame of mind to restore the position of someone who everyone knew should be avoided, and contact the Tatars for help.
The Tatars were far away. Would they really pose a double threat to Great Zhou when Tatar cavalry crested the mountaintops? Regardless, Great Yan would’ve fallen long before then.
Even a girl stuck in the inner residence could clearly see all of this. Even Qin Yining found their current circumstances ludicrous and damnable, much less Qin Huaiyuan. She was sure that her father had long since mentioned to the emperor anything she could think of. But the results were her father being censured and told to reflect.
Qin Huaiyuan knew that her father no longer had any hopes for the trash emperor now. In fact, his heart was probably dead.
What kind of threat would someone whose heart was like ashes, completely lacking ambition, merely wanting to spend his days fishing and reading, waiting to live and die with his country, and even lost all of his positions and tangible power possibly pose to the Caos?
Qin Yining’s thoughts spun furiously and she bit her lip unconsciously, slowly breathing out with frustration.
“This only goes to show that the kind are always bullied. My father’s desire to be sidelined is so obvious, but the enemy refuses to believe it, much less consider our feelings. He’ll only take advantage of our weak position to get a few kicks in. Therefore, my thoughts have always been that if there’s a way, I must become stronger. Only this way will I be able to speak with a loud voice. We’ll just be stomped on otherwise.”
“Your’e right, miss.” Steward Zhong nodded with immense agreement and then sighed. “Don’t worry too much, the marquis’ reputation is still there. The Caos can’t really do much.”
Qin Yining could only console herself with that for now, but her hands still grew clammy despite the hot summer weather.
Jiyun returned before long.
“Miss, I snuck into the manor and discovered that Grand Preceptor Cao is in the outer study with his men, the marquis, and second elder master. Everything is fine in the inner residence apart from the old dowager suffering some fright. The senior madame and second madame are waiting on her. The outer study has been surrounded. I didn’t dare alarm the occupants so I couldn't get closer to eavesdrop. I came right back after that. But in my opinion, the manor is safe enough for now. Perhaps the grand preceptor has something to discuss with the marquis.”
The fourth miss heaved a sigh of relief at that. As long as the grand preceptor wasn’t here to raid the Qin Manor. If he really had the courage to do that, that meant the emperor was ready to make moves against them.
“What would you like to do now, miss?” That was the steward.
“I’ll go back then. If anyone asks, say that I went to visit some of the sick refugees at Ning Park. Handle this matter for me, we can’t reveal Pang Zhixi’s movements, no matter the cost.”
“Yes, don’t worry miss.”
Qin Yining returned to the manor with Jiyun and Bingtang after giving some more instructions to the steward.
The Cao family guards at the door flicked a few looks at Qin Yining. They didn’t block her way. She passed through the main doors and headed for the inner residence door, as was her custom.
However, she’d just rounded the corner when footsteps sounded behind her. A low, resonant voice denounced frostily, “…it has to do with the Ministry of Revenue, which was once under your purview. Even though that was a long time ago, do you really think that you could keep proof of your embezzlement from everyone? Qin Meng, don’t think you got away with it! Me being here means that I know that you led your second brother in embezzling from the government! Think long and hard over the next few days. The emperor has treated you well, so turn back when you can!”
“You speak rightly, Grand Preceptor Cao. His Majesty is vast and mighty, so we subjects naturally have to do all that we can for country and liege. We can’t do anything that would bring us shame before our ruler. Now that you have the grave responsibility of contacting the Tatars, make sure you don’t let the emperor down.
“But we all have our limits, and for someone as advanced in your years like Grand Preceptor Cao, it’s inevitable that you’re occasionally muddleheaded. It’s most impressive that you have time to pay me a visit despite how busy contacting the Tatars must be. But I must give you a reminder out of goodwill. Don’t make the mistake of misjudging what’s most urgent and has highest priority. Don’t disappoint the emperor’s trust in you.”
Qin Huaiyuan’s voice was calmly measured, reserved, and refined as always. There even seemed to be faint tones of amusement. However, his words were sharp jabs at Grand Preceptor Cao. They thoroughly jeered at the grand preceptor hugging the Tatar princess’ thigh to curry favor with the emperor, and the fact that the Caos couldn’t wait to stomp on the Qins when the former was in power again.
The grand preceptor flushed beet red with indignation and his footsteps ground to a halt. He turned back to glare at Qin Huaiyuan, his beard shaking with anger. “Good, very good hmm! The Marquis of Anping has a fine temper! Perhaps the death of your old father-in-law has made you forgotten what attitude you should have when speaking with your current father-in-law??”
Qin Huaiyuan smiled faintly. “Surely you jest, Grand Preceptor Cao. I’d thought you’d forgotten that I was your son-in-law.”
“You!” The grand preceptor jabbed a shaking finger at Qin Huaiyuan. He swept his sleeves aside after a moment. “Just you wait!”
“There’s no rush, Grand Preceptor. I’ll be right here waiting for you.” Qin Huaiyuan smiled, a chilly clarity in his eyes.
The grand preceptor somehow felt all of his regained glory after restoration of his positions was completely stripped away by Qin Huaiyuan’s all-seeing eyes. He was a beauty stripped of her clothes, leaving nothing but humiliation behind.
They’d almost reached the main doors by now, and the grand preceptor saw Qin Yining standing in front of the flower-hung gate.
He couldn’t be bothered with paying attention to the Qin daughters, but Qin Yining’s charming appearance was so incredibly similar to a young Qin Huaiyuan, not to mention the deep grudge between the girl and the empress. The empress had wanted to consume a beauty to enhance her owns looks. She’d failed at getting her hands on Qin Yining, and two imperial concubines had died instead.
Grand Preceptor Cao disapproved of the empress’ methods, but that was his daughter. As wrong as the empress might be, the grand preceptor would never admit that things were her fault. He dumped all blame onto Qin Yining.
If it wasn’t for the girl angering the empress, why would the latter have ever done all that?
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