Chapter 217: Revenge (III)
When Qin Yining rose the next morning, she had Mu Jinghu invited to the Venerable Study Hall for a chat.
The man was now dressed in pale-blue, long robes of fine cotton. His hair was done in a neat topknot, making him look like any other scholar.
The clothes had been a gift from the fourth miss and she’d sent Jiyun to make sure he put them on. But even so, Mu Jinghu couldn’t bear to throw away his patched robes and stored them at the bottom of a trunk.
“Please take a seat, Sir Mu.” Qin Yining met him in the study on the first floor.
Mu Jinghu sat down on a round chair and cocked his head curiously, sizing up Qin Yining.
This gentleman really is like how Jiyun said, a little… socially awkward. When does a man just stare at a girl like this?
However, the man’s gaze was also clear. Qin Yining could tell that he was just purely curious and meant nothing else by his attention. This made it impossible to dislike him.
“Did Prince Pang send you?” Qin Yining asked with a smile.
The question made Mu Jinghu slightly unhappy. “That sly fox doesn’t have the right to make me do anything.”
That sly fox…
Why did that sound a bit resentful?
Thinking of Pang Xiao’s slippery and varied personality, then of the somewhat silly and naive gentleman in front of her, Qin Yining felt that she’d touched upon the truth. Perhaps Pang Zhixi played a trick on this gentleman before and made out like a bandit.
“Eh, please forgive the offense. Did Pang Zhixi request your presence?”
Mu Jinghu nodded. “I lost a bet and owed him a favor. He’s never called it in all these years. I thought he’d forgotten. But he suddenly came for me a few days ago and asked me to protect his future wife.”
He took another look at Qin Yining. “And what’s with you? Why would you agree to marry that fox?”
Qin Yining: …
Could she say that she was just as much at a loss for words? She had no idea how things had developed like this with Pang Xiao. She’d unwittingly fallen into a trap at some point in time and couldn’t bear to leave now even if she wanted to.
Qin Yining coughed delicately. “I am deeply grateful to have such a mighty hero as Sir Mu protect me.”
“You haven’t seen me in action since you were out cold that day. How would you know that my skills are good?”
Qin Yining was getting used to Mu Jinghu’s personality and knew that this wasn’t sarcasm, nor was there anything else to it. He was asking questions purely because of his straightforward nature.
“Because Jiyun saw you in action.” She smiled. “I might not understand martial arts, but Jiyun said that you took them out in just a few moves.”
Mu Jinghu nodded and responded seriously, “My skills are indeed very good. That fox wants me to protect you until he captures your capital. When he conquers Great Yan, my debt will be paid. So I’m telling you in advance not to expect me to protect you for the rest of your life.”
What normal person would speak so highly of themselves? And who would voice words like ‘conquer Great Yan’? It would seem that this gentleman was socially awkward to a high degree. He was likely used to living alone and didn’t have to interact with people much; someone straightforward and honest to a fault.
Qin Yining rather liked interacting with people like these. She didn’t need to consider any hidden barbs or guess at other connotations. She just needed to think of what his words meant on the surface and respond accordingly.
She answered seriously, “Yes, I understand everything you’re saying. But could I possibly ask you to also protect my family during this time?” She added after a beat, “I don’t have much family left after this disaster…”
Mu Jinghu studied Qin Yining’s pale face. The Qins will be the fox’s in-laws in the future. He nodded. “Alright, that fox is my friend after all. I’ll cover your family as well. But I remind you, I’m not staying for long. I’m going back as soon as your city gates are kicked in. I have a lot of things to do in the mountain.”
Off to the side, Jiyun frowned despite herself. If anyone talked about Great Zhou like that in front of her, she would’ve flown into a rage after the first word. She wouldn't be so even-tempered like her mistress.
Qin Yining however, wasn’t angry at all. She nodded instead. “Alright, the gentleman is a straightforward and honest person. Your words are worth their weight in gold. I’ll have to trouble you in the future then. Although you’re here because of a favor, I still solemnly offer my appreciation.” She rose as she spoke, curtseying to the man.
The fox’s wife is much more polite than him. He returned the gesture with a smile.
Although Qin Yining was very weak from loss of blood, she insisted on going to the mourning hall everyday to pay her respects and light incense. Anguished tears were in order whenever she paid a visit. She was much more wan after a few days, with dark circles appearing beneath her eyes.
As their plan progressed, more and more people knew that the Qins had almost been exterminated by assassins sent by the Great Zhou emperor. There was an endless stream of people to express their condolences. Some were friends of the Qins, others fellow officials at court, and yet more who weren’t close with Qin Huaiyuan but admired his great sense of justice.
Another two days passed before news spread that the Qins would dismember the assassins when burying their kin. Purposefully exaggerated rumors flew thickly like flakes of snow.
This finally alarmed the emperor and Grand Preceptor Cao, notable for their silence during this period of time.
“Your Majesty, this subject feels that Qin Meng is being too brash. He’s lost his usual dependability! Dismembering the assassins will likely make Great Zhou want to take revenge. Xihua is already occupied by the Valiant Tigers. Once Pang is outraged, their attacks will redouble.” Grand Preceptor Cao bowed with a frown.
The emperor turned in several circles with his hands behind his back. An angry flourish of the sleeve brought him to a halt. “Qin Meng’s going senile. To think he would throw caution to the winds! Yes, it’s sad and terrible that so many of his family died, but he can’t just ignore our current situation! We’re in a hurry to contact the Tatars. Not only is he not employing delaying tactics, but he’s doing things that will anger the Zhous! He cares nothing for the fortunes of the country. To think that I thought he was a loyal subject before!”
“Please quell your anger, Your Majesty,” the grand preceptor fretted. “Our only plan now is for you to convince Qin Meng to dispense with this notion.”
The emperor nodded, but hesitated on giving the order. He didn’t really want to go to the Qin Manor. Who knew if there weren’t still assassins lingering there? It wouldn’t do if he hastily rushed there and was injured!
“Summon Qin Huaiyuan into the palace,” was the emperor’s final decision after thoughtful consideration.
It took only a second for the grand preceptor to understand the imperial concern. “This subject is willing to go. I can also talk some sense into Qin Meng on the way here.”
“That would be ideal.” The emperor nodded. “You may go immediately.”
“I hear and obey.” The grand preceptor left after a bow.
When there was no one else in the imperial study, the emperor called to the back, “Beloved subject Gu.”
“Your subject is here.” An elder with white hair strode out from the inner room to make his bow.
He was Gu Shixiong, an experienced politician and personal advisor to the emperor. Before he joined court, he’d once been the Grand Preceptor of the Heir Apparent. The Caos had occupied that position only after Gu Shixiong had retired from it.
Because of this, the emperor trusted this advisor deeply. The Gus might not have frolicked in the lap of luxury all these years, but they were still one of the eight most prosperous families in the capital.
“Beloved subject Gu, how goes your search for the adept craftsmen?”
“In response to Your Majesty, they’ve been found and started on their jobs. Except… Your Majesty, I feel that with the chaotic status of the war, that would make the best use of the wealth that Your Majesty has recently accumulated.” Gu Shixiong’s wizened body shook as he spoke.
The emperor frowned. “We earned that wealth through proper means. It’s a token of the people and merchants’ appreciation of Us. Besides, We’ve already decided how to handle this fortune. Just do as you’re told, unless you mean to defy Us as well?”
He had imposed several new taxes lately and shaved off a nice bit from the merchants, then fleeced the peasants good and proper for a few rounds. He presently held a large sum that not many knew about. He’d given it only to his confidantes to take care of.
Gu Shixiong bowed wisely when he saw how set the emperor was. “This subject wouldn’t dare. I was thinking randomly just now. As the ruler of the nation, Your Majesty most definitely has the right to decide where the silver goes. No one else can question you.”
“Mmhmm.” The emperor stroked his whiskers with satisfaction and spoke with the advisor for a while longer before sending him off with a confidante.
Qin Huaiyuan also entered the palace with Grand Preceptor Cao at this time.
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