In the main residence of Snowpear Courtyard, Zhan-mama snuck a look at the burnt incense stick and nodded with a smile.
“Miss, you’re Prime Minister Qin’s official firstborn alright! You’re indeed uncommonly smart and only need a hint before comprehension dawns on you. You’ve learned this standing position quite well! You should be tired by now, why not rest a bit?”
“Many thanks to Zhan-mama,” Qin Yining replied but didn’t allow her proper posture to lapse. Only her expression relaxed slightly.
The palace servant was even happier to see this perseverance. “You’re putting what you’ve learned into practice immediately. This shows a high degree of perception. Everyone understands rules and manners, but not everyone can execute them beautifully. What you need to do is imprint these new habits into your bones. Make it so that every bone and muscle has these new memories. Only then will you gain a bearing that remains constant in the face of all changes.”
“Zhan-mama speaks truly.” Qin Yining nodded quite seriously. She too felt the same way.
“I will thoroughly explain your every move and gesture in the future, whether when sitting, lying down, or walking. Every movement of your hand and feet, and every smile and frown. I will help you understand what feelings you induce in others with simply movement and looks.”
Qin Yining blinked, trying to parse what the mama had just said. Zhan-mama couldn’t help but continue on when she saw the girl untangling her words, “You’re a grown-up miss and will come to understand some things without me having to explain them. For a noble daughter like you, your future entirely depends on the marriage you enter.
“You have an exceedingly strong family background, so your future husband will be of a similar position. As such, it is important to focus on the proficiency of your household duties, embroidery, character, and talents so that your in-laws like you. Interacting with others is a large part of life in these manors, so it’s vital that you honor your elders and coexist peacefully with the ladies.
“To precisely express a multitude of thoughts with simple movements, and to analyze others’ moods and mentalities from their mannerisms, isn’t something that everyone can learn. But you, miss, can try to understand it.”
Qin Yining looked at her with eyes full of gratitude. It was the first time that someone had laid out her future path so clearly since she’d arrived at the manor. And yet, the person who’d done so wasn’t her mother, grandmother, or any female relative, but a mama here to teach her rules and manners.
These sentiments weren’t within the scope of the mama’s responsibilities, yet the palace servant had gone out of her way to address them. Qin Yining was quite thankful for this additional attention.
Zhan-mama was quite delighted by Qin Yining’s limpid, expressive eyes.
“Just like I can tell from the look in your eyes right now that you’re both happy and grateful—this is precisely what I mean. If you can use your own body language to convey meaning and be able to read that of others, you’ll have a much easier time in your future life. You might not have consciously thought it, but you’re already using the skills subconsciously. I can also sense your kind intentions.”
A faint blush had appeared on Qin Yining’s face as she nodded, “I understand.”
Zhan-mama continued, “Rules and manners can actually be split apart into two concepts. Rules must be followed. Breaking them would make a fool out of yourself, or even invite fatal attention. Manners, on the other hand, is the ability to make others feel comfortable when you interact with them.
“This doesn’t only cover gestures, but also words and tone in conversation, one’s outfit, colors used and others. During this time, this servant will go over the principles of wearing clothes with the miss, explaining how different color combinations will change another’s perception of you, and what accessories go with what outfits. This will help you understand a person’s traits from just what they’re wearing.”
“Therefore, when I see someone, they may be wearing something on purpose to lure in others or enhance a certain feeling they’re projecting? Or it could all be a purposeful act for me?”
“Precisely, the miss is quite smart.” Zhan-mama’s smile deepened.
“No, this is due to the mama’s care. I grew up in the countryside and mountains, and have never been exposed to any of this. It’s also likely that no one would explain all this to me in such detail. I have learned greatly from your pointers. This will help me immensely in the future.” Qin Yining performed a curtsey out of gratitude. “I will have to rely on Zhan-mama in the future as well.”
The mama gracefully avoided accepting the girl’s gesture of thanks and returned a grand gesture as well. Although she was here on the empress’ orders, she truly liked and respected the young girl in front of her after spending an afternoon together. Trained as she was, the palace servant was confident in her assessment that the Qin fourth miss was both sincere and adorable, without a hint of superficiality to her.
Having served in the palace all these years, she’d seen all sorts of women walk those halls. There had been beautiful ones and smart ones, but one that was so pleasing to her eye like Qin Yining was a first.
She never once had the feeling that Qin Yining was over-fawningly polite to the point where she lost her dignity as the prime minister’s daughter, but also never had the feeling that the girl’s pride was off-putting. She had maintained their relationship at a comfortable distance, which made it easy for someone as worldly as Zhan-mama to impart some more knowledge to her.
“The hour is growing late today and you must have other affairs to attend to, miss. This servant will take my leave now.” Zhan-mama rose with a smile.
“Mama’s had a long afternoon. I’ve already ordered servants to prepare dinner. Will you stay and share a meal with me?”
“This servant is quite gratified by the miss’ offer. However, you are the apple of the lord’s eye and have a noble identity besides. I would not dare impose on you. I thank you for your good intentions.” Zhan-mama declined with a smile.
“You are my manners and rules teacher,” Qin Yining shook her head with a smile. “In that case, you’re my master as well. A disciple sharing a table with the master actually counts as the disciple overstepping themselves. Please don’t stand on ceremony.”
These words deftly left the palace servant without recourse. Well, she too wanted to spend more time with Qin Yining, so she accepted the latter’s offer with thanks.
Dinner wasn’t all that sumptuous, but Qin Yining had purposefully sent Zhu-mama to the main kitchen with silver to order some additional dishes. The list included four meat and four vegetarian dishes, as well as one soup.
Since Zhu-mama’s daughter-in-law worked in the main kitchens, the food tasted more sophisticated than the ordinary offerings of a young miss. Although the two kept to the rule of not speaking when eating, they felt like they’d grown closer after one meal. They took their time to enjoy tea afterwards, and Qin Yining had Ruilan and Qiulu accompany the mama back to the guest quarters after dinner. Qiulu also remained at the mama’s side as a personal maid, with standing orders not to be lax on care at all.
In actuality, the manor hadn’t paid much attention to a simple mama here to teach rules and had arranged for the palace servant to take up residence in the west wing of Snowpear Courtyard. Qin Yining had sent Ruilan to the Garden of Tranquility that afternoon to speak with Jin-mama, explaining that the mama was here on the empress’ orders. Née Sun immediately placed more importance on their visitor and set up the guest residence of her courtyard after a discussion with the old dowager.
Zhu-mama had already set up the paper, ink, and brush for the fourth miss to copy “The Classic of Filial Piety” when Ruilan returned from accompanying Zhan-mama to the guest residence.
“Miss.” The maid took the mama’s position with a smile after making her greeting. “Everything’s been arranged for properly. Jin-mama has put Zhu-mama in the Jade Bamboo Veranda, to the east of the bamboo forest. It’s a very elegant residence.
Qin Yining didn’t lift her head as her brush flew over paper. “I see.”
Those in the manor had been too lackadaisical. She herself would've been fine if the mama lived in the same residence as her, but if the palace servant felt like she’d been insulted, then they would receive hard questions from the empress.
When Ruilan thought of how exquisite Jade Bamboo Veranda was compared to Snowpear Courtyard and took a look at her mistress’ charming profile, she heaved an imperceptible sigh. Qin Yining also wanted to sigh when she looked at the chicken scratches that resembled writing on the paper. She was certain that the old dowager would be utterly disdainful of this copy of the classic, and might even fly into a rage. She might even say that Qin Yining hadn’t treated this matter with the proper gravity. She’d tried to summon the best of her handwriting, but her writing was extremely ugly. She had to give up on this.
Penmanship wouldn’t be mastered overnight, but the deadline to hand in her punishment wasn’t far off. She had to think of a way to pass this challenge…
In the warm interior of the Garden of Loving Piety.
“What? The mama here to teach Qin Yining manners is here by order of the empress herself?” Qin Huining paused from applying lotion to her face and turned away from the mirror. “The empress is such an exalted figure. How could she possibly think of arranging a mama for that wild brat? It has to be father!”
Cai-mama sighed, “That must be the case.”
“Father’s never cared about me like this before…” Qin Huining felt adrift all of a sudden, but her eyes quickly regained their cold glint. “What kind of person is that mama?”
“Apparently, she used to serve Dowager Consort Xuanyi and Imperial Noble Consort Luming. She then went to the Palace of Accumulated Purity and oversaw the education of the selected ladies during the imperial harem selection.”
“What a strong background!” Qin Huining pursed her lips and gazed upon her reflection in the mirror, slowly losing herself in her thoughts. She knew that her origins were now unknown, and although she could vie with Qin Yining for a bit in terms of status, that was entirely due to her foundation of spending fourteen years within the manor. What if Qin Yining surpassed her one day? Her parents and Old Dowager were already biased towards their real daughter.
Although Qin Huining was superior when it came to literature, she had to admit that her looks weren’t as striking as that barbarian. Even though Qin Huining was outwardly dismissive and mouthed the words “take a wife for her virtues, take a concubine for her looks”, and hinted that her future in-laws might not like a temptress for their daughter-in-law, what man didn’t like a good looking woman?
Her position as the official firstborn had already been replaced, making her future marriage a difficult thing. If she allowed Qin Yining to have such an outstanding mama teach her rules and manners, to help the barbarian never make a mistake when it came to manners, wouldn’t that give Qin Yining yet another arrow in her quiver? No! No! She couldn’t let matters proceed like this!
Qin Huining bolted to her feet and tightened her hands around the hem of her skirt until her fingertips were white. She stared at herself in the mirror, only loosening her fingers after the look in her eyes turned into one of happy confidence. “Wet nurse, go see if grandmother’s had her tea yet. I should go wash grandmother’s feet at this time.”
A short while later, Cai-mama responded affirmatively.
Qin Huining appeared in the old dowager’s house before long, wearing a placid and docile expression on her face, washing the old dowager’s feet and lighting her tobacco pipe.
As the two chattered, the girl casually slipped in, “…Zhan-mama has such an illustrious background, it would be so helpful for all the girls in the manor if they could learn together. …Second Uncle and Third Uncle would be so thankful to father if they learned that their daughters were benefiting as well.”
It didn’t take long for the old dowager to begin musing.