Chapter 266: A Fallback Position
Qin Yining continued with a grim expression. “The situation outside is very tense. Steward Zhong sent word just now that the capital city has been surrounded by the Great Zhou army. It was our army guarding the gates before, not letting people leave. But now our men have been scared back inside, the gates shut up tight. They wouldn’t be able to let anyone out even if they wanted to.”
Color drained from the family’s faces as they heard the dire news. It was an oppressive feeling of thunderclouds looming over the city walls, of towering buildings about to collapse.
“But what should we do? Is our country about to be destroyed?” Tears swam in the frightened old dowager’s eyes. Qin-mama quickly offered a handkerchief to wipe away tears.
The second madame asked, “Niece Yi, if this is the case, we should defend the manor with everything we’ve got. Where would we move to?”
“Second aunt, what we should do now isn’t defend the manor unto death. We need to leave. Think about it. The city gates are sealed off and what rations we have left are earmarked for the troops. Even so, how long do you think the rations will last us given the 320 thousand soldiers we have?
“The people will be far worse off than the army. They can’t afford to buy food and they can’t escape. The emperor can’t give us a concrete plan. I’m afraid we’ll have revolts soon! When the commoners turn into mobs, where do you think they’ll head for first? The granaries? The offices of government? Or the rich families in the city?”
“That’s, that’s too frightening.” Née Sun wrung her handkerchief with shaking hands. “We still have guards…”
“A single pair of hands will be hard pressed to defend against two others. Our guards won’t be enough.” The fourth miss pursed her lips. “My father is a famous official and I’m a nun with official providence. Our family has too bright a target painted on our backs. When the mobs form, none of us will be able to get away. Besides, there’s another matter at hand.”
She turned her gaze to the old dowager, second madame, and née Sun. “We don’t have much food left either. If we stay here, not only will we face the looting and revenge of the mobs, but what do we do after we finish our stores? The capital will soon run short on food.”
“Oh heavens!” The old dowager wailed loudly with frightened tears. “Wolves to our fore and tigers to our rear. How will we possibly survive? Damnation take all of them! The old trash emperor hid the silver and refused to buy grain everyone — wasn’t it my son who thought of how to resolve the situation for everyone? Not only are they not grateful, but they want revenge on us!”
Née Sun and the second madame also wept out of fear, while tears had long since streamed down the eighth miss and Qin Huining’s faces. The second wife was three months pregnant and started retching from the terrified atmosphere, infusing further concern into the scene.
Qin Yining quickly comforted them. “This is why I say that we should pack our things and leave before things are really a mess. Bring your valuables and useful items, come with me to Mt. Eternal Spring.”
A few looked at Qin Yining, fear of the unknown written in their eyes.
“I’ve put up quite a few refugees in the park on the mountain. You remember, right? I’ve been sending them supplies that I bought with silver from the Institute. They’re grateful to me. Come with me, they’ll protect us from the mobs.
“The most important thing is that once food runs out and can’t be bought, we can still feed ourselves from the mountain. Thankfully it’s not winter. We can hunt in the woods, dig up wild vegetables, fish in the rivers, and catch birds in the trees. We won’t starve, at any rate.” The girl laughed lightheartedly. “Don’t worry at all, everyone. I lived in the mountains for six years! I’m well versed in hunting, trapping birds, and skills like that. I can keep all of us alive. No one will starve.”
The family sniffled as they looked at the optimistic Qin Yining, deeply pitying her with true sincerity for the first time. They’d always lived under the shelter of the Qin name, being served hand and foot and wanting for nothing. Upon hearing that food wasn’t to be found in the city, they’d panicked and had no idea what to do.
But Qin Yining had had to face this difficulty since eight years old. She had nothing to eat or drink she was just a little child eking out survival in the mountains. Six years passed in the blink of an eye, almost half of her lifespan…
What was most precious was that she hadn’t been defeated by this hardship. Rather, she’d adamantly lived on and grown into a fine girl of intelligence and resilience.
Née Sun enveloped Qin Yining in a tight hug, bawling loudly. “Daughter Yi! My good child, my good child!”
The girl hugged her mother back, not sure whether to laugh or cry as she comforted the madame. “Don’t cry, mother. To be honest, we have a great chance of survival if we head into the mountains. There’s quite a few of us. We can look out for each other, and we’ll have the support and help from those in Ning Park. There’s strength in numbers. We won’t starve no matter what. We’ll at least have someone to talk to, no?”
Née Sun was even more pain-stricken with the last line. Not only had her darling girl been forced to scrabble in the wilderness, she’d lived by herself for six years and hadn’t had a single person to talk to…
The senior madame howled with fresh sobs as she clung to her daughter, bringing answering twinges to the old dowager and the others. They felt for Qin Yining, and even more for themselves that they had to endures ‘lives not fit for anyone’.
Qin Yining soothed her mother and the old dowager to no avail. The second and third elder master, Qin Yu and Qin Han returned at this point.
When they saw all the womenfolk clasping each other in tears, they were alarmed that something had happened. Qin Yining’s explanation set them at ease.
“Niece Yi and big brother are father and ‘son’ alright,” the second elder master declared. “That’s what our brother said as well. He sent us back with instructions to make haste while bedlam has yet to engulf the city. We need to hurry and pack our things to seek shelter from the refugees that Niece Yi is housing on Mt. Eternal Spring. The people will remember what she’s done for them. No place else will, and they’ll be able to protect us.”
Hearing that Qin Huaiyuan had proposed the same idea, the old dowager no longer hesitated. “Since we’re to flee, let’s release all of the new servants we’ve bought. We can waive their freedom price. We won’t be able to feed so many anyways.”
But Qin Yining shook her head. “Even if we release them, where will they find new jobs in a time like this? They’ll starve to death if they don’t work. Let’s bring them with us. Even if we eat rice husks and pick at vegetables, that’s still a way forward. There’s no reason that the Qins can coexist peacefully with the refugees on the mountain, but not with the servants that have served us for so long.”
“Niece Yi is right, let’s leave together as a family,” the second elder master concurred. “We can’t do something so heartless. How will my brother maintain his footing in the army if word of this spreads? Don’t forget that the soldiers are also people, that they have family in the city too. Who knows if someone’s relative is in our household? It’s best not to create unnecessary trouble.”
Old Dowager flushed from embarrassment with Qin Yining and the second elder master’s responses. She waved a hand awkwardly. “Alright, alright. Let’s do what both of you say. I’m getting muddleheaded in my age, so don’t pay attention to me.”
It was the first time that the old dowager had yielded with self-deprecating remarks. The Qin fourth miss and second elder master looked at each other, each heaving an inward sigh of relief. They really couldn’t afford to have any further trouble crop up at this time. If the old dowager had refused to come to her senses, they’d have to waste time talking her around. It was only a good thing that the matriarch wasn’t being obstinate anymore.
They quickly summoned all of the family to give instructions for a journey. Qin Yining specifically reminded everyone, “Carefully lock up all the valuables that can’t be moved and put them into the cellars. We won’t be seeing any of the remaining furniture and decorations again. Bring practical clothing with you, and for all seasons, not just summer. If the war continues to the new year, we’ll be spending the winter on the mountain…”
The Qins made fretful preparations and dismissed the craftsmen working on repairing the rear residence.
All of the family branches and residences huddled together for hushed meetings. When it reached half an hour after midnight and thanks to the second elder master buying off the night patrol, the Qins hurriedly left the ruins of the Anping Manor. Carriages carrying the Qins, servants, and belongings made quick time to the outskirts of the city.
Qin Yining, Jiyun, Qiulu, Bingtang, née Sun, and Jin-mama occupied one large carriage. The granny servant softly consoled the crying senior madame. Bingtang and Qiulu were infected by the mood and welled up as well.
Qin Yining found the situation amusing. “Don’t be sad, mother. Fortune and disaster come hand-in-hand in life. One lives to an old age after weathering three great rises and falls. Don’t worry, even if we aren’t in the lap of luxury, I can ensure that you won’t go hungry.”
Née Sun shook her head. “I’m worried about your father, your maternal grandmother and aunts.”
The girl smiled. “Don’t even worry about that! Father’s in the army and won’t be the first to go hungry at all. With his smarts, he won’t get the short end of the stick at all. You need to worry even less about grandmother. She’ll definitely find a way to take the entire family to Bao Chang or down the coastline.”
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