Chapter 256: Returning Home (I)
Weichi Yan’s outstretched hand froze in mid air. He was stooped over, looking down at the top of the girl’s head in front of him. His heart was especially heavy as he gazed at her inky black locks. It was even heavier than when he’d learned of his father hiding the tax grain and national silver.
He’d finally thought of a solution that neatly resolved everything and placed her where he could easily see her. Were all his efforts to be rendered useless in the end?
When he’d left with Qin Huaiyuan and the Duke of An, visions of her communing with the gods had repeated endlessly in his mind. He couldn’t wait for some alone time with her, so he sent the two men away with a random excuse halfway through and swung back around.
Who knew that he’d run into one of the imperial guards carrying a message before he made it back to the residence?
His heart sank after understanding the ins and outs of the situation. However, his primary concern wasn’t how to punish the interfering empress; it was a frantic brainstorm how to calm Qin Yining down and convince her to stay.
But her reaction like a bird startled by the merest twang of a bow truly did send him into disarray.
“What are you doing, Yi’er? Who’s not letting you live? You…”
“Your Majesty!” Qin Yining backed up once again and kowtowed. “If Your Majesty refuses to allow me to live, then please bestow a bolt of white silk for me to hang myself with.”
“What kind of talk is this? Do get up first.” Weichi Yan stubbornly wanted to help Qin Yining up.
The girl scooted backwards again and remained planted into the ground. “Your Majesty, I am very grateful to receive Xuan Su Temple. I am also exceedingly happy to be able to do something for my country. However, long term residence here will only give rise to certain speculations.”
“Who does speculate about you? Who dares pass around wild rumors? We will have their head! Don’t be like this. Stand up first, alright?” Weichi Yan stooped down to the girl’s level when he saw that he was unable to convince her to stand.
But the Qin fourth miss still refused to look at him and kept to her kneeling position. “Your Majesty, please allow this subject to return home to further walk the path of dao. Your subject was once a candidate for empress. There will certainly be those who think that we have an unspeakable relationship. This was once a royal residence, after all. It’s very close to the palace.
“Though we are completely innocent with nothing between us, there will be those who say that Your Majesty has done all this to make it easier to reach me. If Your Majesty’s character is gossiped about, then even my death ten thousand times over wouldn’t be enough to wash clean of that crime!”
Anguished, Weichi Yan’s gaze flitted past Qin Yining and alighted on Jiyun, who was kneeling behind her mistress. The maid was sniffling and her cheek red and swollen. The sight stoked the fires of anger again.
According to the guard, the empress and Qin Yining had clashed with each other just now. If it hadn’t been for the maid loyally protecting her mistress, wouldn’t it be Qin Yining who’d been slapped?
The emperor glared resentfully at Li Yanyan.
Meanwhile, Qin Yining was still speaking. “I was struck with disaster when young and have just reunited with my family. But since I’ve come home, we’ve been hit with trouble after trouble. I spend more time apart from my parents than with them. Being unable to perform my filial duties by their side is my greatest distress and difficulty. Your Majesty, you know best just how much actual ability this subject has. I’ve never hidden anything from you, so please show mercy and allow me to return home to practice.”
Absolute pain gripped Weichi Yan’s heart when he thought of Qin Yining’s circumstances, but he really couldn’t bear to let her go. Once she went home, it would be easier for him to touch the skies than for the two to meet again, and it would be absolutely impossible for the two to meet privately like this.
But when he looked at the swollen cheek of the maid next to her, thought of her high birth and dignity, and what’d happened in her childhood, Weichi Yan really didn’t have the heart to subject her to such wild rumors on top of everything.
As someone by his side, even the empress suspected that Qin Yining was his illicit mistress. What about those who didn’t know him at all? Would they think that relations between the two of them were even more sordid?
Weichi Yan felt knives stab his heart. “You…”
“Please approve my request, Your Majesty.” Qin Yining kowtowed.
Weichi Yan pursed his lips and closed his eyes. He thought through much in that split second. He thought of Qin Huaiyuan’s stratagems, Qin Yining’s intelligence, the accomplishments that the Qins had made for the government, and how resolute Qin Yining’s rejection had been that day in the palace.
In terms of open and aboveboard avenues, there was no hope for anything to develop between the two of them. His heart had then turned to cherishing a dream that she’d change her mind and give him a chance to pursue her.
But now it looked like even this simple wish would never come true, and it was his new empress that’d made things this way.
“Forget it, forget it.” Weichi Yan sat down dejectedly. “Don’t be sad. We permit you to return home. Be a layman Taoist at home. Xuan Su Temple will remain yours — the fires of worship here will burn ever brighter. If you want, you can come back for a stay anytime. We… we will no longer compel you.”
Qin Yining’s heart could finally settle back down.
She hadn’t wanted to do all this, but Li Yanyan had come with ill intentions that were impossible to reconcile. When faced with someone hostile to her, the Qin fourth miss felt no guilt at all in making a mountain out of a molehill.
When she’d seen the empress increasingly lose her temper, Qin Yining had furthered things along with provocative words. This way, Weichi Yan would finally let her go amidst a mixture of guilt and anger.
As for how the emperor would punish his new wife, well, he wouldn’t do anything to her if he had the slightest bit of a brain left. With the Prince of Ning heavily injured, the only one who could lead the armies against Great Zhou was Li Yanyan’s father, the Duke of An.
It wasn’t the thing to do to ask the duke fight the war, but punish his daughter.
Seeing that the emperor had finally softened his stance and voiced the ambiguous “will no longer compel you”, Qin Yining gave a proper kowtow. “This subject thanks Your Majesty’s kindness.”
Weichi Yan felt his heart bleed. He could be kind and allow Qin Yining’s request, but who could show him the same kindness?
He whipped his head back furiously to glare at the culprit of this situation. He really wanted to choke Li Yanyan to death!
With Eunuch Lu helping him up, Weichi Yan was about to speak when someone hurriedly ran in from outside. Thumping to their knees, the servant kowtowed with tears streaming down his face. “Your Majesty! The Prince of Ning! He’s… he’s… no more!”
“What?!” The room dimmed before Weichi Yan’s eyes as he stumbled backwards. It was thanks to Lu-gonggong’s quick reaction prevented his master from crashing to the ground.
Deep grief settled in after incomprehensible shock, given Weichi Yan’s deep relationship with the prince. Tears streamed down his face.
“Royal uncle, royal uncle, it’s all my fault!”
“Your Majesty, please be mindful of your health!” Lu-gonggong spoke through his tears.
The adverse tidings had drained the color from Qin Yining’s face. When she thought of the hot-blooded man that was the Prince of Ning, grief welled up and she too started crying.
“Ready the horses, We go to Ning Manor immediately!” Weichi Yan paid no attention to Li Yanyan as he stumbled his way outside.
The empress was hot on his heels with Li-mama and Liu Bao’s support.
Qin Yining wiped at her eyes with her sleeves.
“Miss, do you want to Ning Manor as well?” Jiyun asked.
The Qin fourth miss pursed her lips and shook her head. “It’s not appropriate for me to go at this time. Those gathered at the manor are family and royal relatives. I need to follow father’s arrangements if I want to express my condolences.”
Jiyun nodded. Though she was from Great Zhou, she quite respected valiant heroes with moral integrity. As she watched her mistress wipe away tears, she thought of the fact that the prince had been harmed by Pang Xiao. The guard grew uneasy again, wanting to say something, but not sure what she could say.
Qin Yining sighed to see the guard thus. “War is war. There will be casualties as soon as it begins. Pang Zhixi and the Prince of Ning were on opposing sides, so I knew this day would come sooner or later. If it wasn’t the prince, it’d be Pang Zhixi. It was Pang Zhixi who came off better in the exchange this time. If he had…”
She tilted her head back in sucked in a deep breath. “I’m still selfish after all.”
“Don’t think so much, miss.” Qiulu comforted gently off to the side. “You’re just a girl at the end of the day. There was nothing you could’ve done here. Let men take care of their business.”
Qin Yining smiled wryly. “What else can I do other than that?”
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