Chapter 206: Setting Up a Plot (I)
Over the next couple of days, the Qin Manor was completely upended by Grand Preceptor Cao.
He came with men almost everyday, first to mock and insult Qin Huaiyuan, then taking things a step further to personally search the manor for evidence of embezzlement. Even locked and unused residences were rifled through, to say nothing of the old dowager’s Garden of Loving Piety.
The so-called search was just a pretty name for wrecking the Qin belongings. All manner of bookshelves and cabinets were turned inside out, items thrown to the ground to be trampled on. Even the Venerable Study Hall, where the girls were now living in, wasn’t spared. The Cao men dragged out winter clothing sitting in trunks, to say nothing of books and valuables on the decorative shelves. Wreckage prevailed in all of the residences, making it seem that robbers had looted the marquis’ residence.
A minor mistake that the second elder master made in the Ministry of Personnel and Rites resulted in Grand Preceptor Cao filling an accusation with the emperor. The grand preceptor implied that the second Qin elder master was in cahoots with Qin Huaiyuan’s embezzlement. Given the emperor already in a rage, he didn’t even bother asking for proof before lambasting the second elder master.
Aside from Qin Huaiyuan keeping his position of marquis, there was no other Qin member who could speak up at court. Whatever Grand Preceptor Cao said went; the Qins didn’t have a chance to defend themselves.
It was normal for Qin Yining to lose her appetite and some weight during the summer time. However, the events of the past few days filled her with so much anger that she was unable to eat for two days. Thankfully, she was young and healthy, but someone like the old dowager grew sick with anger and had to take medicine for a few days before somewhat recovering.
Qin Huaiyuan had also never suffered such disgrace in his life. As a man, he didn’t have the face to live with the shame of not being able to provide his family a quiet sanctuary at home! Having no other recourse available to him, an exceptionally furious Qin Huaiyuan kept sending petitions to the emperor.
And yet, the imperial response was, “Grand Preceptor Cao is investigating the whereabouts of the Ministry of Revenue’s silver and the embezzlement case on Our orders. Our beloved subject should think of the greater picture and cooperate with harmony.”
The Qins would be swallowed whole if they cooperated any further!
The marquis refused to stand for this. The more the grand preceptor harassed the Qins, the more petitions Qin Huaiyuan sent.
The emperor had sent him a dozen verbal edicts a day when the marquis had overseen the peace talks at Xihua. What prevented him from mimicking those actions in the capital?
Therefore, Qin Huaiyuan sent two petitions into the palace almost everyday. He would even send three or four if Grand Preceptor Cao was particularly out of line on a given day.
Perhaps the marquis’ sincerity moved the emperor, or the imperial majesty finally became fed up with all the disturbances. On this day, the emperor made the rare move of having Grand Supervisor Wang deliver a verbal edict.
The summer afternoon sun was blistering hot, cooking the stones on the courtyard in front of the Qin Manor, making it slightly painful to kneel on them. Qin Yining and the womenfolk frowned when the heat attacked their skin through insubstantial summer clothes.
The fourth miss was kneeling in the back, lifting worried eyes to look at Qin Huaiyuan at the very front. An exceedingly familiar scene floated to the front of her mind.
It’d been at the Duke of Ding Manor when she and Qin Huining, along with their mother, had knelt in the midst of the Sun females. Grand Supervisor Wang then had delivered an imperial edict that called for Sun Yu’s head. That had set into motion Sun Yu’s tragically heroic charge and the beginning of the end for the Suns. The sight of red and white matter splattering into gory flowers was one that would never be wiped from her mind.
It was Grand Supervisor Wang again today, and the Qins were just like the Suns, helpless and hapless fodder on the chopping block.
Qin Yining could feel née Sun shaking next to her. It was plain to see that the fourth miss wasn’t the only one who found the scene horrifyingly familiar. She offered an arm in support and a reassuring squeeze, imparting some reassurance to the senior madame.
Grand Supervisor Wang brandished his sleeve with a smile. “Marquis of Anping, I’m here to deliver the emperor’s verbal edict. I’m to thoroughly convey His Majesty’s words without missing a single one, so please listen carefully.”
“I will, many thanks to the honorable gonggong.” Qin Huaiyuan gestured solemnly.
The eunuch’s shrill voice rose in a close imitation of the emperor’s tones.
“In light of your years of hard work, We were not going to admonish you for recent actions. But to think that you exhort others to think of the nation and refuse to set a personal example when it comes to a simple investigation? Or is it that you really have embezzled the ministry’s silver and are feeling guilty??
“…your malpractice is an affront to Our trust in you, and you’ve corrupted Our only crown prince as well!
“The crown prince of before was one polite, respectful, learned, and genteel, but now he dares shout and holler at Us! Your actions have been an immense disappointment, so how dare you come crying with accusations against the elder statesman…”
The Qins were kneeling on the ground in the grand gesture of greeting, their foreheads touching the stone tiles and thoroughly taking in all of the grand overseer’s words. Utter silence reigned. The condemnation were invisible blades that sliced their hearts to pieces.
Qin Yining lifted her head to sneak a look at her father. His tall posture had collapsed; he was hunched in on himself, about to crumble any second from the unbearable pressure. After a moment, his dry voice rang out. “Many thanks to Grand Supervisor Wang. Please relay my sentiments to His Majesty that we thank him for his admonishments.”
Grand Supervisor Wang sighed. “Don’t be overly fixated on this, sir. Just take a small step back. Have you forgotten how the Duke of Ding ended up? You’re a marvelously talented person, there’s no need to be caught up in the details of right and wrong at a time like this.”
The eunuch had served the emperor for many years and was highly adept at observing people, if nothing else. He was witnessing first hand how the Caos were instigating conflict between the emperor and Qin Huaiyuan, but there was nothing he could do about it. It was a sign of his conscience and his respect for the marquis that he volunteered this reminder.
Qin Huaiyuan naturally understood the intricacies within and was grateful for the grand supervisor’s thought. He saw the eunuch out the door himself and gifted a generous red envelope.
The womenfolk helped each other to their feet. Tears were already streaming down the old dowager’s face. “This is going too far, this is much too far! They’re bullying us we have no one else to rely on! Do the heavens wish to end the Qins?!”
Née Sun was reminded of what’d happened to her own family. Heartache gripped her when she thought of Qin Huaiyuan’s defeated posture from moments ago. Tears trickled down her face as well.
Everyone returned to the Garden of Loving Piety, a pallor of depression and unease cast over all. Some faces were pinched with anxiety while others cried silently. The soft sounds of sobbing quieted down only after Qin Huaiyuan returned to the residence with the second and third elder master.
The marquis wasn’t like before, wanting to discuss matters with everyone. He calmly greeted the old dowager, comforted his mother a bit, and then excused himself for a nap.
Naturally, the old dowager didn’t voice a single word of protest and dismissed everyone.
Qin Yining, Bingtang, and Jiyun were leaving the Garden of Loving Piety when the fourth miss suddenly stopped. “Who do you girls think can help my father at this time?”
Jiyun had been itching to charge over and visit terror and violence after seeing how Grand Preceptor Cao was oppressing her mistress’ family. Her eyes lit up when she heard the question and she whispered, “Miss, just give me the word and I’ll do it tonight! I’ll take care of that old fart!”
Qin Yining didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “An assassination?”
“Yes, an assassination!” Jiyun spat out through grit teeth. “The sooner a pestilence like that dies, the more lives we save!”
“We can’t do that.” The fourth miss shook her head. “Setting aside how many guards the cautious grand preceptor must surely have, there’s still no guarantee of success. You might lose your own life. And so what if we succeed?”
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