Chapter 249: A Strategic Decision (I)
Back in the rear hall, an ashen-faced Qin Yining finally relaxed completely. Running her hand across her forehead, it came back full of sweat. Her heart was still pounding as well.
Qiulu quickly wrung out a handkerchief to wipe her mistress’ face. She too palpitated with fear. “That was really too scary! There were so many people there, it was a sea of black! If they’d all charged in, they could drown us all with a mouthful of spit each! Thank goodness you’re so smart, miss! Your answers were perfect. If we’d angered the crowd instead, we’d be trampled to death already!”
Qin Yining chugged down the honey water that Jiyun offered before feeling alive again.
“Me? Smart? My nerves were killing me.” Qin Yining patted her chest after putting down a white porcelain teacup with patterns traced on it in gold. “It’s a hideous task to pretend to be able to speak with the gods. I was thinking about every single word I was saying and didn’t dare say anything wrong. I also had to pretend to be a real ‘holy girl’, but you ladies know better than anyone what kind of person I am. I’m the farthest away from projecting an otherworldly aura. My mind was racing with what I needed to say and what posture I needed to pose with. Thankfully I’d already guessed some of what they were going to ask, or I really wouldn’t have known what to answer with.”
“Isn’t that right! I was supporting the miss, so I could feel how she was shaking and trembling. I started shaking too because I was so nervous.” Jiyun smiled ruefully. “How did you know they were going to ask these questions, miss?”
“That was the easier part. I could easily guess what the people might be most concerned about at times like these.” Qin Yining was about to continue onwards when a guard reported in.
“Reporting to the honored master, visitors from the Marquis of An Manor are here.”
Joy crossed the girl’s face. “Quick, have them come in.” She rushed downstairs with Jiyun and Qiulu.
She grinned happily when she saw her father and uncles. When she noted their sweat-soaked clothes and how wrinkled they also were, Qin Yining knew that the three men must’ve been crammed into the crowd earlier. They must’ve rushed here as soon as receiving the word.
Moved, the Qin fourth miss dropped a curtsey. “Father, second uncle, third uncle. My apologies for having you make a trip when it’s so late at night.” She shooed off her maids. “Hurry, go fetch something to drink.”
Qiulu and Jiyun returned with a tray after Qin Yining helped the men take their seats.
“This is chilled sour prune drink. It’s both refreshing and drives the heat away. Please enjoy, milords.”
A large bowl was served to each of the men while Qin Yining held a pitcher at the side, ready for refills. Between the three men, they drained half the pitcher before finally setting the bowls down.
“We rushed here as soon as we heard. There were too many people though, so we had to give up the carriage and follow the crowd. I saw your entire performance just now. Well done.” Qin Huaiyuan smiled faintly.
Qin Yining blushed. “You saw all that? I was just pretending.”
The second elder master smiled. “It was a very good act. Really convincing, in fact! And you had a little rabbit? You looked just like Chang’e beneath the lantern light. The commoners have never seen a sight like this, so they were awed just by the setup at first glance.”
“That’s right. You did very well. No one would’ve believed you if you just spoke plainly.” The third elder master chimed in.
“I was afraid that whatever I said wouldn’t be listened to, which is why I thought of this less-than-ideal plan. Thankfully the danger is over for now.”
“What are you going to do for the altar and petitioning the heavens tomorrow?”
Qin Yining smiled wryly. “What do I know about altars and petitioning the gods? I can only ask a real Taoist to come teach me. I think I’ll be able to save myself from embarrassment if I follow their steps. As for what kind of explanation to give to the people, that’s up to the emperor.”
Qin Huaiyuan raised an eyebrow at this. “So you’ve already thought of how to solve the food issue?”
“I’m not sure if it’ll be that easy to resolve. I wanted to discuss my thoughts with father, but you read my mind and here you are!”
Qin Huaiyuan grinned widely at this.
Qin Yining was about to elaborate on her plan when a slightly shrill voice called in from outside, “Announcing His Majesty the emperor!”
A frown creased the girl’s brow when she heard this. It really was very late. Even though a great matter had occurred, the emperor only needed to send a trusted aide to come make inquiries. What was he making a personal trip for?
Thankfully her father and uncles were here today. If they weren’t, what kind of rumors would develop if the emperor was left alone with her?
It was obvious that Qin Huaiyuan and his brothers had come to the same conclusion. Their expressions weren’t exactly a picture of welcome.
All rose to greet the emperor. “Long life to Your Majesty.”
“Greetings to Your Majesty!”
Weichi Yan was wearing a head scarf and dressed plainly, but indoor, soft-soled slippers protected his feet. His face was flushed red due to his haste and the furrows between his brows quite deep. It was obvious that he’d made due haste after receiving the word.
Upon charging through the door, there was no one else in his eyes other than Qin Yining clad in white chiffon and a padded skirt. He hastily reached out with both hands to help her up. “Are you alright, Xuan Su?”
Qin Yining’s brow was tightly knit. She quickly shrugged off Weichi Yan’s warm hands and responded to the floor, “Many thanks for Your Majesty’s concern. All is well with this subject.”
Qin Huaiyuan and his brothers were all knowledgeable man. Everyone was in the know when they noted how the emperor looked at Qin Yining with unconcealed adoration. Though the girl had been forced to become a nun, the emperor hadn’t given up at all! Things would’ve been a done deal a long time ago had she the slightest intention of going from rags to riches.
“This subject (this lowly one) greets Your Majesty.” Qin Huaiyuan and his brothers all made the grand gesture of greeting.
This finally alerted Weichi Yan that there were others present as well. He coughed a bit awkwardly. “You may rise.”
“Many thanks, Your Majesty.”
Weichi Yan took the head seat within the residence. “We had just returned to the palace when We heard that the people were gathered here. We immediately rushed here. Are you alright? Are you hurt?”
“In response to Your Majesty, your subject is well.” Qin Yining responded respectfully.
Weichi Yan nodded. “That’s good. You’ve done very well this time. I asked the guards earlier and your responses were very appropriate. You soothed the crowds and prevented a disturbance. If the people rioted, then we would’ve fallen apart even before the Great Zhou army charges in.”
“Your subject only thought of this subpar plan because of how urgent the situation was.”
As he looked down on Qin Yining’s meek demeanor and her outfit of white, though Weichi Yan hadn’t personally witnessed her charm earlier, it was easy enough to imagine how unearthly she’d been. The affection in his eyes almost materialized tangibly, and his tone was as gentle as could be.
“The guards said that you’re planning on setting up an altar and petitioning the gods tomorrow?”
“Yes.” Qin Yining purposefully ignored the tender tones.
“You’re the one who the Soothsayer said can protect the nation and ensure our prosperity. Surely you can talk to the gods too, no?”
Qin Yining raised her head and met Weichi Yan’s interested gaze. How on earth should she answer that question? It was important that he didn’t feel she was growing arrogant because of the situation, but also vital that she reached her goal.
“In response to Your Majesty, to be frank, all talk of an altar and asking the gods are just a delaying tactic.”
“Oh?” The emperor’s smile deepened.
Surprise flitted across the second and third elder master’s face.
“Though your subject has received the Soothsayer’s fortune, that was just something I requested on a whim. I am but an ordinary girl, how could I have such incredible skills? I may have a good life chart, but the Soothsayer exaggerated it greatly. And I’d be the first to dismiss that I’m any sort of holy girl.”
“But you do have an excellent life chart and you’re someone who can protect the nation’s fortunes. If you say you’re not, then isn’t there no meaning to Us bestowing upon you the title of Master Xuan Su?”
“The point of your subject being in residence here is to steady the people’s hearts. Do you believe the rumors too, Your Majesty, that I can speak with the gods? If I really had that ability, I might as well just ask them to come help Great Yan.”
Her wholly lack of affectation and candor greatly amused Weichi Yan. The stifling negativity he’d felt over the past couple of days finally eased, and he laughed cheerfully. “Forget it, it’s one thing to talk like this in front of Us, but don’t say this outside.”
“Understood.” Qin Yining bowed and murmured, “I don’t know how the rumors have developed, but they’ve completely blown me out of proportion and turned me into some sort of mythical creature. I had no choice and had to try for this nonsense. With how many people that’d come today, mishandling things would’ve cause a shift in morale. I had the mindset of having nothing to lose when I tried.”
“Mm. You’re very smart and quick on your feet,” Weichi Yan praised wholeheartedly. “But how will you respond to the people after you pray on the altar tomorrow?”
Qin Yining responded without a flicker in her expression. “I’m just finding a way to drag things out further. Isn’t it Your Majesty who should be the one settling the issue?”
Weichi Yan found himself speechless with Qin Yining’s response. True, this was his problem to resolve. Awkwardness settled over his expression.
“That’s true, but what kind of answer will you be giving them tomorrow?”
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