Chapter 248: Petitioning the Heavens (III)
Xuan Su Temple was a royal residence previously and thus off-limits to commoners. The only thing they could glimpse when passing by were the magnificent, tall walls and the opulent great hall halfway up the mountain.
As they filtered through the main doors, they were greeted by the sight of a brightly lit residence. White marble lamp posts were set at regular intervals along the lake. Flickering candlelight within sketched out a wondrous reflection on the surface, making the great hall even more resplendent in the night sky.
Like the tides, the people surged down the path through the white marble, arched bridge and circled around the waters to reach the main hall.
Orderly tiles paved the spacious square. Elegant and simple potted plants graced the outskirts while flowers bloomed in the flowerbeds. The refreshing fragrance of flora and incensed wafted into noses with each inhale.
There were a hundred nuns already sitting cross-legged, meditating in the square. In front of the great hall, imperial guards stood at the ready on a raised platform, one that jutted out from beneath the roof. Each of them were at solemn attention, their gazes sharp and alert.
Beneath the lanterns swinging from high rafters, two beautiful maids dressed in turquoise flanked a girl clad in white. The latter stood with her back facing the crowd. She was wearing layered views of white veil and a cotton padded skirt. Her long locks poured down behind her shoulders, like a bolt of satin in the lantern-light. Night wind tugging at her hair and skirt imparted an ethereal aura to her.
The people rushing at the front stumbled to a halt, staring dumbly at the figure that looked like a fairy. Others turned to maintain order and make sure that no pushing or shoving was happening.
The square, bridge, and path around the lake were soon full of people. There were many more who couldn’t come closer and climbed up the artificial mountain or even the walls for a look.
Though there was a dense mass of humanity, a bizarre silence spread from the square in front of the hall. No one dared talk loudly, for fear of startling the one on the platform.
Qin Huaiyuan and his brothers were standing on the steps leading to the square. They were still unable to see clearly, so they clambered onto the railings and used tree trunks for balance.
The glimmerings of an idea formed in the marquis’ mind when he saw his daughter’s outfit and he was put more at ease.
“Holy girl,” An unknown voice cried out from the crowd, prompting waves of people falling to their knees.
“Holy girl, please show us the way forward!”
Some were weeping and sniffling, but no one was shrieking or wailing. Everyone cast hopefully expectant looks upon the figure brighter than snow.
Qin Yining turned around and with the help of her maids, made her way below the lights.
Those closer to her were flabbergasted by her beauty. Who’d ever seen such a comely person??
Those further away could only see her pristine clothes. But wait, she seemed to be holding something fuzzy in her arms. A closer look confirmed it to be a snow-white bunny!
With the Soothsayer’s fortune already putting them in the proper frame of mind and now overwhelmed by the holy girl in the flesh, the people’s faith in her grew even deeper. The strikingly extravagant great hall only served to further enhance a presence of holiness and mysteriousness.
“This little girl is unworthy and lacking. It is the fortune of three lifetimes to receive imperial trust and be granted the opportunity to pray for the nation. I am just doing whatever little I can do here. But it is indeed a great honor to meet so many fellow countrymen today. What might be on everyone’s mind today?”
Mountains were to the residence’s rear and a body of water to its fore. During construction, some forethought had gone into the possibility that ceremonies or public speeches might be held here in the future. Therefore, painstaking care had been devoted to crafting the acoustics of the place. Qin Yining wasn’t straining her voice in the slightest, but all those in the square could easily hear her.
This enhanced the sanctity of the situation.
A woman mustered up the courage to ask, “Your Holiness, do you think we’ll make it through all of this alive?”
“The heavenly law cycles ever onwards and everyone has their own destiny. But the heavens treasure life and always leaves behind a wisp of hope. Hope will surely dawn as long everyone continues to stay the course.”
Moved expressions crossed faces when the crowd heard this and optimism began to spring forth in hearts. Some whispers flourished, but the atmosphere as a whole had lightened greatly.
“Your Holiness, will the capital remain standing?”
“His Majesty is a wise ruler. The soldiers and generals are all hot-blooded men who think only of our country. Everyone should remain of one heart and refrain from giving in to fear or panic. Don’t add to our men’s burdens by doing anything to harm Great Yan either. I believe that as long as we try our best, the end result will be good even if the journey is difficult and bumpy. We will surely continue to live on.”
Smiles finally broke out on faces when the people heard this. They were most afraid of losing their homes along with a crumbling of their nation.
To be blunt, everyone was afraid of dying.
But their holy girl had reassured that they could make it through this crisis as long as everyone worked hard; peace finally settled down over them.
Meanwhile, the second and third elder master were open mouthed with surprise from their position in the crowd. They’d never thought that their niece knew how to ‘commune’ with the gods and handle such a large scene!
Qin Huaiyuan however, could finally relax. He’d been worried that Qin Yining would be apprehensive at seeing so many people. That would take her ethereal demeanor down a notch, and her words would seem less plausible.
Just now, she’d actually delivered some regular pleasantries used in social settings. What sounded impressive and sophisticated left her plenty of room to maneuver with. No matter what the end result was, the fault wouldn’t be hers.
But with the people’s faith that she was a holy girl who could protect the nation, Qin Yining appeared saintly no matter what she did. Add to that her purposeful crafting of an immortal palace setting, her outfit, and the general atmosphere — all of it was an enormous impact to people who hadn’t seen much of the world.
Qin Huaiyuan nodded. It seemed that his daughter had grasped the heart of the situation. Since she’d been clapped with the label of a ‘holy girl’, she had to play her role to the hilt. It would be an ugly death for her if she was pulled off her pedestal.
“Your Holiness.” An elder asked tremulously. “They say that the former emperor sold off all the grain collected for tax and in the warehouses. There’s nothing left in storage! Us commoners don’t have much at home, but the evil merchants have raised prices to ten taels of silver per half kilogram! Can you punish the vile merchants and make them hand over the grain?”
“Yeah, that’s right, Your Holiness! The traders are too awful!” The people clamored loudly with insults. Though they hated what the emperor emeritus had done, no one was bold enough to openly curse his name.
This was currently the greatest dilemma facing Qin Yining. The situation was far too complex and she couldn’t say to them that cooperation from the emperor was needed to resolve this problem. She settled for a smile.
“I understand your concerns. Tomorrow, at the hour of the snake, I will set up an altar to petition the heavens. I’m sure they will give us some sort of answer.”
The people erupted with amazement. Their holy girl was going to ask the gods what to do about their food? She was the real deal if she could talk to the gods. She was absolutely a holy girl who could ensure Great Yan’s security!
Surprise and joy intermingling, the crowd hastily kowtowed and cried out their thanks. Qin Yining heaved a silent sigh of relief when this was the reaction that ensued. Still holding Riceball, she walked into the great hall with Jiyun and Qiulu.
Imperial guards stepped forward to organize the crowd’s departure. “Don’t push, don’t shove! Walk slowly!”
Qin Huaiyuan and his brothers likewise breathed sighs of relief from their position in the corner. The thousands of people were retreating docilely like the receding tide.
“My niece is something else alright! She could keep it together in front of so many people. I would be paralyzed with indecision if it was me!” The second elder master patted his chest.
Qin Huaiyuan waved a hand with a wry smile. “She was just forced into doing something she doesn’t do. Brothers, let’s go see daughter Yi and discuss our next steps.”
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