Chapter 270: Surrender (II)
Some guilt assailed the the old dowager at the sight of her crying granddaughter, but she exhorted harshly, “It’s just an animal! Why are you acting like this?? Don’t think I don’t know where that rabbit comes from! It came back with you after the peace talks at Xihua, and then that devil Pang came strutting to our nation.
“After all the harm he’d done to the family, I’m only eating the rabbit he gave you. I haven’t even taught you a lesson yet! You’re overly intimate with him, are you thinking of mutiny??”
Clapping a high crime on her out of guilt?
Qin Yining waved a hand, not wanting to exchange another word with someone like the old dowager. She picked up the plum blossom-shaped knot from the blood drenched rabbit fur and left.
“Miss.” Bingtang and Qiulu came dashing out, each taking one of their mistress’ arms.
Meanwhile, Jiyun laughed coldly. “I’ve really learned something today! I can’t believe that such an ungrateful, shameless, scheming old bitch like you exists in the world! How can such an open minded and aboveboard person like Grand Preceptor Qin have you for a mother?? Just like black sheep can come from a good family, so can a good one come from rot! Or did you steal him from another family? How foul and disgusting!”
“You! How dare you, how dare you! Servants, attend to me!”
“Servants? You’re the biggest burden on us all. You need people waiting on you all day. Do you think you’re still at the manor?” Jiyun raked the old dowager with a contemptuous glare and took off running. She was afraid that something would happen to Qin Yining.
The guard found Qin Yining, Bingtang, and Qiulu by a small creek outside Ning Park. The Qin fourth miss was crouched by the water as she washed off the bloodstains on the knot. She wasn’t crying anymore.
Jiyun’s nose twinged at the sight of the thin, fragile girl stooped on the floor, her shoulder blades about to poke through her clothes at any moment. The guard almost burst into tears.
When are you coming, Your Highness?! If you don’t come soon, the future princess consort will be tortured to death! Not just from hunger, but from emotional anguish as well!
Jiyun wanted to comfort her mistress, but she didn’t know what to say after opening and closing her mouth a few times.
Footsteps suddenly sounded at this time. A slightly raspy male voice huffed out with suppressed surprise, “Yi’er, is, is that you?”
Qin Yining lifted her head to see Weichi Yan, so skinny that his cheeks had sunken in. He was wearing worn, long robes and had made it up the mountain with the help of a few guards and palace servants.
What’s he doing here?
An astonished Qin Yining put the now clean knot carefully away and walked up to make the grand gesture of greeting. “This subject greets Your Majesty.”
The maids also followed suit.
Drenched in sweat, Weichi Yan leaned against a small tree to catch his breath. He waved off Qin Yining. “Rise, all of you. No need to stand on formality.”
The Qin fourth miss rose and asked respectfully with a bowed head, “What brings Your Majesty here?”
Weichi Yan panted a bit more before regaining some of his breath. “We heard that your family’s manor was overrun by a mob, but no one from your family could be found. This was greatly worrying, so We investigated and learned that you had moved here a while ago with the rest of your clan.”
He raised his head to look at the painted walls and black tiles of Ning Park. The emperor frowned with displeasure when he recalled that this residence had been a gift from Pang Xiao.
Yet there was nothing he could find fault with Qin Yining for. She was just a weak girl, and if she hadn’t made arrangements for her family early on, the Qins would’ve been harmed by the mob.
Weichi Yan smiled mockingly at himself. He was the emperor, but all he could do was starve. There was nothing he could give Qin Yining, so what basis did he have to pursue her? Would paintings or calligraphy feed the people?
“All of you are dismissed, We have words to exchange with Xuan Su.” Weichi Yan’s mood was much calmer when he waved off those around them.
Lu-gonggong and the palace guards backed away after making their bows, leaving Qiulu, Jiyun, and Bingtang no choice but to follow. The premises was vacated for the two of them.
The emperor held onto the tree trunk, looking closely at the person who occupied his thoughts day and night.
She’d lost a lot of weight. Her face was the size of a palm, but it only made her eyes appear larger and brighter. A delicate nose seemingly carved of jade and beautiful lips enhanced her charm. Though she wore skirts and tops of rough cloth, her hair done simply in one long braid, the lack of powder and rouge only further put her looks on display. It wasn’t something that beauties made of cosmetics could compare to.
So I still like her, and my heart still pounds when I see her.
A resigned smile crossed Weichi Yan’s face. The nation was in peril, but here he was, still of a mind to think about things like this. Life had simply been too miserable lately, and he had no outlet to vent his bottled-up feelings.
Though the Duke of An was commander-in-chief of the armies, he refused to take the field. In fact, he’d pushed several times for restarting the peace talks, and there even seemed to be the desire to surrender in his tones.
How could the dignity of an emperor bear to be trampled upon in such a way? But with how the times were, there was nothing Weichi Yan could do otherwise. He took a weary seat on the ground. “You sit down as well. Save your energy and keep me company.”
Qin Yining’s wariness decreased somewhat to see the emperor this way. She perched on a rock three steps away from him.
Weichi Yan tilted his head to look at the leaves rustling in the wind, leaning back on the tree trunk and closing his eyes. He spoke slowly after a while. “Have you heard? The former emperor disappeared yesterday.”
Qin Yining looked askance at Weichi Yan.
He continued tiredly, “The eunuch in charge of delivering food to my royal father found that the food hadn’t been touched. He thought that something might’ve happened, but failed to find my father after scouring the entire residence. My father’s just vanished into thin air.”
“Do you really believe that, Your Majesty?” Qin Yining frowned.
“What?” Weichi Yan looked at the girl.
“No one just disappears like that. If there wasn’t someone helping the former emperor escape, that means there’s secret passages in his residence.”
“Secret passages?” Weichi Yan sat bolt upright. “What makes you think of that?”
“Because when Grand Preceptor Cao was arrested, they discovered underground tunnels in his residence.” The wily hare has three holes to his burrow. Which old fox wouldn’t leave a way out for himself?
Grand Preceptor Cao and the emperor emeritus had known each other for their entire lives. As decrepit the former emperor had been, he wasn’t lacking when it came to plots and schemes. If even the dead grand preceptor had secret tunnels, the emperor emeritus surely had them as well.
It took a beat for Weichi Yan to fully react, but he quickly grasped the crux of the issue. “You’re right, why didn’t I think of that?” He looked back to call for a guard and whispered some instructions. The guard bowed before flying down the mountain.
The emperor leaned back on the tree and stared blankly into the distance. “It looks like my royal father wants to take the silver to South Yan.”
Qin Yining smiled and didn’t say anything.
If the emperor emeritus really did take that large sum to the south to make Liu Yingshi and South Yan’s new emperor accept him as their liege again, then that would be entirely too naive. Those in the south would take the silver, and the previous emperor would lose his life.
The rebels had finally managed to occupy their lofty positions. Even if South Yan was just a small country comprised of several former Great Yan provinces, it was still as large as the sum of neighboring Japan and Goryeo. No one would voluntarily give that up.
During the girl’s silence, Weichi Yan went through much in his mind. In the end, he leaned back with closed eyes and remarked quietly, “It looks like the heavens really aren’t helping me. Everyday, that old fart Li Mian encourages me to parley. I trusted him and made his daughter empress, but he can’t be bothered to lead the troops into battle. He’s a lazy coward!
“He’s only met the enemy once in all this time, and that was because he fell for a trap. Not only did he lose twenty thousand men, that old fart would’ve died in the wilderness as well if not for Grand Preceptor Qin’s timely assistance. The heavens refuse to assist Great Yan, natural and manmade disasters abound, and we have no talent to support the nation at all!”
Qin Yining finally understood what the emperor was here for. He’d kept all this moroseness and dejection to himself all this time. He was here to find a sympathetic ear.
At the same time, he was thinking of retreating and wanted to sue for peace. But conducting negotiations now was an absolute daydream. She didn’t mind dumping cold water over Weichi Yan.
“The peace talks that the Duke of An speaks of aren’t appropriate.”
“Oh?” Eyes filled with hope turned to Qin Yining.
“Peace talks can only be conducted when the two countries are on similar footing. We need to be able to offer terms and conditions that will satisfy both sides. That’s what a negotiation is. Not to speak ill of ourselves and raise the enemy up, but Great Zhou has overwhelming, one-sided advantage at the moment. What right do we have to sue for peace? And even if they agree to talk, what can we offer that will satisfy them?”
Those simple words plunged Weichi Yan into an icy cavern. That little bit of hope he’d nursed was crushed to smithereens.
That was right, he was a dog without a master. Why would the other side deign to parley at all?
But if there was no hope to do so, why did the duke continuously encourage him to try for negotiations?
“That old fart is just pretending he wants me to sue for peace, he’s actually pushing me to surrender! He wants to put me in a disloyal and unfilial position! How will I face the Weichi ancestors?? He wants me to be the ruler of a ruined nation!”
Weichi Yan thought of his father disappearing with a large sum of money and everything he’d said, and the hypocrisy of his officials in perilous times — it felt like needles jabbing at his heart.
“What can we do, being born in the wrong times? Please don’t be overly sad, Your Majesty. There’s hope as long as we’re alive.” Qin Yining looked down and comforted softly.
Weichi Yan blinked and looked blankly at the girl. “As long as we’re alive? You think so too?”
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