Chapter 284: Death of the Emperor Emeritus
Née Sun buried her face in Qin Huaiyuan’s embrace, dampening his shirt and collar with her tears. “Qitai came the other day and said that you had business to discuss with daughter Yi. She was to wait at the bottom at the mountain that night so that he could take her to you. I let her go because I thought that since Qitai had been by your side for so many years, he would never betray us.
“Yet not only did our daughter go missing, but our men found Qitai’s body as well! He died from a single stab through the neck! That’s when I realized our darling might’ve been kidnapped! She’s such a wonderful girl and I’m such a useless mother! She lives such a hard life these days and I couldn’t even keep an eye on her!”
Pain wracked Qin Huaiyuan’s heart when he hugged his wife, noting that she was all skin and bones. “Don’t panic, don’t cry. Daughter Yi is fine.”
“Really? You’re not lying to me?” Née Sun lifted a teary face to look at her husband.
“Of course, she’s my only daughter and her safety is incredibly important. Why would I lie to you about this?” Qin Huaiyuan wiped her face off with his sleeve and comforted. “Come, let’s go in first. I’ll tell you what’s going on.”
Née Sun had a deep understanding of Qin Huaiyuan’s personality. If he said that Qin Yining was fine, then she was fine. This was when she realized that she’d pounced on her husband in front of everyone and bawled her eyes out. Her face instantly flamed red and she quickly took a few steps back.
Qin Huaiyuan didn’t mind at all and led the way while holding née Sun’s hand. He greeted everyone who came out to welcome him along the way. Cao Yuqing followed behind the two with a lowered head, heading upstairs as well.
The old dowager was overwhelmed with joy that Qin Huaiyuan had returned. She came out on Qin-mama’s arm to welcome her son.
“My Meng’er’s finally returned!”
The man walked up with a smile to bow. “Greetings to you, mother.”
“Hurry and get up, hurry hurry! I missed you so!” The old dowager grasped Qin Huaiyuan’s arm and looked him up and down, remarking with heartache, “You’ve gotten tanned and lost weight.”
Qin Huaiyuan smiled, bidding a hello to the second and third elder master off to the side, as well as the other members of the family.
Née Sun could hold back her questions anymore after a round of catching up. “My lord, where is daughter Yi?”
The old dowager finally recalled that her granddaughter was missing.
Qin Huaiyuan brought the family inside to relay what the emperor had said to him. He might’ve guessed at the exact sordid details, but didn’t mention them since they had to do with the nation’s dignity.
“…the emperor has decided to surrender to Great Zhou. The days to come will be busy ones,” he concluded.
Collective sighs echoed around the room. Though everyone shared the sorrow of the country being no more, it was a relief that these days were finally at an end.
“Senior uncle, will the Great Zhou army retreat once the emperor agrees to surrender?” asked Qin Han.
“Will they raze the city?” This quite concerned the second madame.
Qin Huaiyuan shook his head with a reassuring smile. “The Zhou emperor is a very shrewd person. He’s very adept at winning people’s hearts. I think not only will he refrain from killing people, but he’ll also send over food as soon as possible.”
Everyone understood that since the former Yan emperor hadn’t given a hoot for the people and hidden all the silver, if the Zhou emperor ended mass starvation, the extreme contrast would build a highly favorable impression for the latter.
To the starving people, they didn’t care about the country falling! They just wanted to know if they could stay alive. Even the Qins were happily expectant, to say nothing about the commoners.
Only the old dowager had an ugly expression on her face. She’d just eaten the bunny that the Faithful Prince of the First Rank had given Qin Yining, and rubbed it in the girl’s face!
Who would’ve thought that the emperor would send Qin Yining to the prince??
If Great Yan surrendered, it was very likely that Qin Yining would become the prince’s bed warmer, or even a concubine if she was lucky! She would become a most noble mistress of Great Zhou in one leap!
As for them? They would be the family of surrendered subjects. Their life and deaths would be held in someone else’s hands, their fates sealed with a word…
“Does this mean that the prince is still very fond of granddaughter Yi?” The old dowager’s voice was a bit hoarse.
Qin Han’s wife also looked to the marquis with watery eyes, obviously sharing the same thoughts as the old dowager. Regret draped suffocatingly over her. When momentary cravings had struck, she’d egged on the old dowager into eating Qin Yining’s pet. But just like the girl said, the animal had been all skin and bones. There hadn’t even been enough meat for a full mouthful!
All she’d been thinking then was that any bit of meat was better than none. She’d inwardly cursed out Qin Yining, thinking that the girl was putting up a pure and holy front for not eating that rabbit even when starving to death.
Who would’ve ever thought that it had been a token of affection from the prince to Qin Yining, and that her cousin-in-law was going to be the princess consort??
The second wife regretted her actions from the bottom of her heart!
Qin Huaiyuan surmised from his mother and niece-in-law’s expressions that he must be in the dark about something. He continued without a flicker of change in his expression. “Mm. The Faithful Prince of the First Rank quite likes daughter Yi. If nothing else happens, she’ll be the princess consort in the future.”
The old dowager laughed dryly. “Now isn’t that just wonderful. So wonderful. Our granddaughter Yi has the true ability alright. We’ll have to rely on her much in the future.”
The second wife nodded smilingly as well, but for some reason, her smile looked stiff no matter how one looked at it. Even her husband, helping her stand, could tell that something was off. However, Qin Han didn’t ask her publicly in the end.
Qin Huaiyuan spent two peaceful days on the mountain. The Valiant Tigers did indeed retreat during this period, and the city doors opened up again to allow entry and exit as before.
Refugees on their last legs stumbled out of the city, looking for any chance of life in the outside world. Many of them were faint with hunger, scrambling out on hands and knees.
None too far from the main city gate, a Valiant Tiger called out, “His Imperial Majesty of Great Zhou pities those affected by war and has given orders to provide two meals a day. Congee stations will be set up inside the city gates of the inner and outer city, and at various places inside the city. Everyone will have congee to eat!”
Carriages arrived after he spoke, people jumping down to unload enormous pots, rice, and kindling. They busied themselves with starting fires, emitting the fragrance of rice cooking in short order.
How were the blankly staring refugees able to withstand the wide-ranging, delicious smell of food? They swarmed to the congee stations.
Starvation had sapped all the strength from some of them. Those were no longer able struggle back up when the anxious crowd swept them off their feet. No one had the mind to spare for anyone who fell down. Everyone was equally hungry, and it’d already be quite a feat if they lived. Who cared about what was beneath their feet?
This was why no one heard a hoarse voice rasp out, “Get away from me. Move your stinking feet.” More breath was exhaled than inhaled. “We… We will kill you. How dare you attempt regicide…”
Countless pairs of feet stomping over him was the only answer. A few more footprints were added to clothes so dirty that no one could make out their original color.
He wanted to howl with pain, but couldn’t voice a single sound. A mouthful of blood spewed out when he opened his mouth. Though he wanted to crawl back up, he just didn’t have the strength to. His vision began to blur and only one signal was left in his mind.
Heart-wrenching, bone-breaking pain.
The congee station wasn’t too far away from his dirty, outstretched hand. But he didn’t get a single bite in the end.
No one would’ve ever thought that Emperor Qinglong, pestilence of Great Yan for 35 years, would end up being trampled to death by those he despised the most — refugees.Previous Chapter Next Chapter