Chapter 271: Surrender (III)
Qin Yining could tell from Weichi Yan’s expression that he’d misunderstood. She’d only wanted to encourage him to ease up on his current mentality and stop splitting hairs on this issue, but his mind seemed to have gone down another path.
“Your Majesty, this subject only feels that nothing is as important as your health.” The girl had to kneel and explain in a gentle voice. “You are the legitimacy of Great Yan. Only with your existence do the people have the motivation to carry on.”
Weichi Yan stared fixedly at Qin Yining, the suspicion in his eyes slowly morphing to tenderness. He laughed wryly. “How am I fit to be the ruler of a nation with how I am now? How am I worthy to be the reason that keeps the people going on? It’s because of me that they’re suffering like this.”
He didn’t dare leave the palace with the emperor’s retinue anymore. Not only because everyone was too hungry to put on the appropriate pomp and circumstance, but even more that he was afraid the vengeful commoners would rip him to pieces if they saw him strolling around in the imperial dragon robes.
He’d asked himself several times whether it was right or wrong that he fought Great Zhou like this. South Yan now existed to their rear, splitting his empire in two. He was clinging on with clenched teeth simply because he didn’t want the historians to record this shameful act in the books, that he had been at the helm when the nation fell. He wouldn’t be able to face generations of family ancestors after his death.
But when he saw all of the bark stripped off the city’s trees and children curled into balls by the wall corners, dead of hunger, he really felt that he was the most selfish person in the world. He was plowing in countless lives of innocent citizens out of concern for personal face and dignity.
“You may rise, I know your family’s loyalty.” Weichi Yan shook his head with a rueful smile. “I’m just… really lost right now.”
Qin Yining rose and reclaimed her seat on the rock, lowering her head without another word. Presumptuous discussion about politics would attract fire to herself — of that she was aware of.
The emperor sat there blankly for a very long time with the Qin fourth miss keeping him company. When he came back to himself, one could catch males voices coming from the direction of Ning Park. He looked inquiringly at Qin Yining.
“Perhaps those who’ve gone hunting and foraging have returned.”
“You’re quite smart to take shelter in the mountains and by the water with so many commoners,” smiled Weichi Yan. “You all can take care of each other.” He helped himself up with the aid of the tree trunk and dusted himself off. “Little Lu.”
“Here.” Despite standing far away, Lu-gonggong quickly presented himself. “Your Majesty.”
“Give them to the fourth miss.”
“Understood.” The eunuch immediately summoned the palace guards who’d accompanied them earlier. It was then that Qin Yining noticed they were all wearing wicker baskets on their backs.
Two of them lowered their baskets to reveal a bag of the fist-sized, black, mixed grain flat cake army rations, and another bag of packaged medicinal ingredients.
Awkwardness set in with Weichi Yan and he laughed in a self-deprecating manner. “With the kind of emperor We’ve been… We know that there are many people here and was worried that you’d gone hungry for a while. Sadly, all the gold and silver in the vaults can’t be exchanged for food, so I hope you don’t dislike what’s available. There’s not much in terms of dry foodstuffs. Fill you and your servants’ bellies first, then take the rest back with you.
“The medicine was specifically prepared to nurture the body and enrich the blood. You’re not fully recovered, after all… and don’t you be so silly as to give everything to others. Fill your stomach for a few meals. Look at how skinny you are.” Weichi Yan shook his head with a sigh.
He was the mighty ruler of a nation, but he couldn’t even get a full meal to the girl he liked. It was really something, to be impoverished to this degree.
However, Qin Yining gratefully knelt in the grand gesture of greeting and kowtowed. “This subject will remember Your Majesty’s friendship of giving aid in times sorely needed. Our deepest gratitude to Your Majesty.”
“Hurry and rise.” It was unbearable for Weichi Yan to see her so fragile that she might be blown away with the wind. Her little face was pale as a sheet and her lips bloodless. “Eat a flat cake here first.”
Qin Yining looked at him with some surprise.
“Your maids are loyal enough — they haven’t left you even in these times. Call them over so they can get a full meal too. This is an imperial order. We will watch you eat. You may return only after you finish.”
Qin Yining looked down, giving emotional thanks. She called Jiyun, Bingtang, and Qiulu over. The four girls picked up a dry hunk of flat cake each and started nibbling.
Weichi Yan’s nose twinged to see Qin Yining like a little hamster, working at cold, rock-hard flat cake like it was an imperial meal. He almost teared up.
Things can’t go on like this!
If this continues, everyone in the city will be burial goods for my selfishness!
When Qin Huaiyuan opened his eyes, he discovered that he was in an unfamiliar room. Darkness met his eyes when he looked out a window. It must be night.
He didn’t immediately rise, but calmly thought back to the events of the day.
Drowsiness had descended after a bowl of watery porridge, and he’d fallen asleep on the table. He was already here when he next opened his eyes.
It looked like the person who’d brought him here didn’t want to kill him. At least not yet.
As wild thoughts filled the marquis’ mind, the door creaked open and a tall, large shadow came in with a tray. There was a large bowl on it, and the next person to enter carried a candlestick holder. Since the light source was to the rear of both people, Qin Huaiyuan wasn’t able to make out who they were until the candle was placed on the table.
He sat up and looked expressionlessly at the steaming bowl of plain noodles on the table. He then cast a glance at Pang Xiao, who was dressed in patched clothes of a refugee, and snorted coldly. “So it’s you. What, did you bring this old man here to treat me to a meal?”
Pang Xiao didn’t mind Qin Huaiyuan’s cold mocking and made a circumspect bow. “Father-in-law, your son-in-law has given offense. This was indeed a brash operation, but it might have been inconvenient had you known beforehand, plus I didn’t want to place you in a disloyal position. Hence I rashly used a sleeping powder. Please forgive me.”
Qin Huaiyuan’s eyebrows twitched when he heard these words. What was this about a father-in-law and son-in-law? With the current relations between the two countries, how would their families possibly have such an association and shared destiny?
“This old man wouldn’t dare. Please pick your words carefully, Your Highness. My daughter is clean as ice and pure as jade. She’s never had any entanglements with anyone. What circumstances are you trying to put my daughter in with your words?”
Pang Xiao wiped off a forehead of sweat. Crap. I’ve completely offended my father-in-law now. My darling is cut from the same cloth alright! They’re equally hard to handle when they’re mad.
“Please quell your anger, father-in-law. It’s just that Yining and I have promised ourselves to each other. I will take no other wife than her in this life, and she will marry none other than me.”
“How ludicrous! What gives you the confidence that she will marry no one but you?” Qin Huaiyuan surged angrily to his feet and brandished his sleeves. “If it had been before, she might’ve been moved by your gestures. But now that she’s seen people eat their own children and personally experienced hell, how dare you expect that she remains unbothered by it all? My daughter is a human being, not a saint! Where do you get such high self-worth to be so confident that you can do whatever you want? Where is she in all of this?!”
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