In contrast to Li Helan’s struggles, Qin Yining was very happy today. Grand Steward Zhong and a group of her confidantes had finally made it to the capital!
“Have you been well, miss? When we were on our way, we heard that the first convoy had been attacked by bandits. I was scared out of my mind! Thank goodness you and your family are alright. The heavens bless the kind, the heavens bless the kind!” Steward Zhong looked emotionally at Qin Yining, finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.
The fourth miss had undergone quite a great deal since arriving in the capital. Though no one had given her the cold shoulder at the Pang Manor, and she had Xianyun and Xiaozhou for company, she still had no visibility into or hold on her own finances.
Oh, she trusted Steward Zhong completely, of course, but he and therefore support was far away.
Now that he was by her side again, she would have full backup in whatever she did. Besides, it was just a good thing to see the loyal elder after such a long time.
“It was certainly a trip and quite a long story. I’ll tell you some other time.” Qin Yining looked at the two standing behind the steward and couldn’t help but smile. “Missus Nine and Brother Lu, you're here as well.”
Liu Jiu’er and Lu Dehan had been part of the refugees that Qin Yining had taken in at Ning Park.
“Benefactor.” Hot tears came to their eyes when they saw that Qin Yining still remembered them. They knelt down to kowtow to her.
Qin Yining hastily helped them back up. “What’s all this? Please hurry and get up.”
When taking shelter at Ning Park, they’d all starved and suffered together. The refugees were the picture of gratitude when thinking of the Qin fourth miss’ altruistic deeds. Lu Dehan and Liu Jiu’er wielded more authority out of the refugees and so were closer to Qin Yining as they worked together more often.
Liu Jiu’er stood up and flashed an easy grin. “Benefactor, when Steward Zhong said that he was bringing his entire family to join you, the two of us talked it over and decided to come with. We don’t have much skill, but we’re absolutely loyal to you. Please give us any orders you wish and tell us whatever you want to do. Don’t be modest with us at all.”
Lu Dehan bobbed his head rapidly in agreement.
“Okay then, that’s actually rather perfect. I am indeed short on people. I’ll be at ease with your help. Where’s Mister Ni then?”
The two chuckled to see that Qin Yining even remembered old man Ni Liping.
“Mister Ni is getting up in the years and said that his old bones couldn’t handle the hardships of travel,” responded Lu Dehan. “That’s why he’s not here with us. Steward Zhong found jobs for all of us, just like how you said. Everyone at Ning Park now has a farm to tend, a house to live in, and food to eat. The steward pitied the old and poor and found a place for the elderly and orphaned. Mister Ni has his own little residence and is taking care of the orphans there. He’s teaching them their characters and numbers. With the benefactor’s help, they’re all living well.”
“That’s good, absolutely wonderful!” Qin Yining beamed merrily. “Great fortune always follows in the wake of great disaster. Our good days stretch out long ahead of us.”
Liu Jiu’er smiled. “It’s already our good fortune to follow you, miss.”
The Qin fourth miss turned to her steward with a smile. “It’s not convenient to talk here. Let me get ready and we’ll go find a restaurant for some food. We can talk more seriously then.”
“Understood.” The three assented respectfully.
Qin Yining returned inside her room to change, but the welcoming inns were only so big. The disturbance at her place immediately made its way to the old dowager.
When the matriarch heard that Qin Yining’s prized helper in Great Yan had arrived in town, her eyes glinted enthusiastically.
“Quick, quick, have the girl come here!”
Qin-mama had no choice but to carry out the instruction.
Qin Yining had just finished changing when the mama arrived. The girl immediately knew what the servant was here for, but welcomed the visitor with a pleasant smile. “Hello Qin-mama, does Old Dowager have any instructions?”
Awkwardness flashed across the granny servant’s face as she sighed. “The old dowager has heard that the miss’ former grand steward has arrived. She sent me to invite you over for a conversation.”
It was incredibly, blatantly obvious what the old dowager wanted to talk about.
The Qin family fortune had been lost in the bandit attack, the second elder master was waiting on the emperor for a position, the third elder master’s businesses were all in Great Yan and he was still establishing contact with them. All of the womenfolk were doing needlework to help with the family finances.
And now, Qin Yining’s grand steward had arrived before the third elder master’s! Of course he was here with money for household expenses!
Qin Yining smiled faintly. “In that case, I’ll go see the old dowager first.”
Qin-mama relaxed with her agreeable response. She’d been afraid that the fourth miss would mulishly dig her heels in because she didn’t like the old dowager’s style. The family was already a mess these days and couldn’t withstand any further disruptions. If they kept having fall-outs like these, it’d be a humiliating show to the Lis and Gus across the way, much less making life difficult for themselves.
Normally suffocated with resentment whenever she saw Qin Yining, today the old dowager craned her neck forward with anticipation of seeing her granddaughter.
The fourth miss had just entered through the door curtains when the question spilled out, “Granddaughter Yi, did the grand steward of your businesses arrive today?”
Qin Yining came forward to bend her knee and smiled wryly, “Surely you jest, Old Dowager, what businesses do I have now?”
The unexpected response stopped the Qin matriarch dead in her tracks. Her granddaughter continued lowly, “There is no more Institute of Luminous Charm after the fall of Great Yan. The income that the Institute generated was long confiscated by the Great Zhou officials. All of the inns, taverns, and properties have been taken as well.”
“What?!” The old dowager shrieked in anger and skepticism. “Are you trying to pull the wool over the eyes of an old woman?! If they’re not here with a business update, what are they here to meet you for?! You’re a Qin daughter through and through, are you thinking of ditching the family to die?? We’re depending on someone else for survival now and have almost nothing to cook in the pots, but here you are getting stingy! Girls are biased to outsiders alright, we’ve raised you for fifteen years for nothing!”
The Qin matriarch completely forgot propriety in the depths of her anger.
Off to the side, the second madame, second wife, and eighth miss were the epitome of awkwardness. They really wanted to point out that Qin Yining hadn’t returned home for long, and she hadn’t taken one bit of Qin resources for the first fourteen years of her life. In fact, she’d come back for a tremendous share of suffering after returning home. She was the unluckiest of them all!
The fourth miss sighed instead of flying into a rage. “Please quell your anger, Old Dowager. Why would I try to pull the wool over your eyes? Have you forgotten how much I’ve sacrificed for this family?”
This finally reminded the Qin matriarch of the family’s history. Her righteous anger slunk away when she thought of how Qin Yining had been sent to the peace negotiations, then to the Great Yan palace, then forced to become a nun, then almost entering the Great Zhou palace… the girl really had given a lot to the family.
“Great Yan is no more—even the national treasury and the commandery prince’s private purse have been confiscated by Great Zhou. The Institute was a business that the former imperial family gave to my maternal grandfather’s clan. It was recorded in the Yan imperial records as well. What kind of defense could Steward Zhong muster? He had to hand over keys and books when the Great Zhou officials wanted them, or he’d be struck down as a rebel.”
“Well… even though that’s the case, you’ve run the business for so long, didn’t you stash away any personal savings?”
“Personal savings? I did indeed have some, but my bundle was lost when we were attacked by bandits on the way here. Didn't the old dowager pick up my bundle from my carriage?”
A frown deeply creased the Qin matriarch’s forehead. “Do you think I’d want that trifling bit of personal possessions? The personal savings I’m talking about is the silver on your accounts!”
Qin Yining arched an eyebrow, chuckling softly. “I understand your meaning now, Old Dowager. I know things are tight at home, but it’s not like Great Zhou sent fools to us when we surrendered. They took all that when they took the books. Steward Zhong isn’t my servant, just a steward that I hired as a manager. We no longer have an employer-employee relationship, so it’s nothing to do with me anymore how much silver he has.”
Her words were rational, logical, and made perfect sense. The old dowager couldn’t find anything to refute.
She didn’t believe that the girl didn’t have a bit of personal wealth. But she was the honored grandmother of the family, her dignity and status self apparent. She couldn’t search her granddaughter now, could she? If she searched Qin Yining, wouldn’t she have to search everyone else too?
The old dowager irritably flapped her hand. “Since you have no relationship with Steward Zhong anymore, why are you still meeting with him?”
The Qin matriarch must truly have lost her senses in her anger or her anxious fretting over money. How else would her words be so flawed and have so many openings for others to seize?
“Surely you jest, Old Dowager. Even if I’m no longer his employer, we are still more than acquaintances. Now that everyone’s in Great Zhou, we count as being from the same hometown. It’s only right that I see him. Father often taught me how to the proper way of conducting myself with others. I would never dare forget any of his lessons.” She dipped a curtsey. “Your granddaughter must see to my guest. I will disturb you no longer.”
Qin Yining fully saw through all of the courtesies with the second madame, second wife, and others before she left.
The old dowager flushed red and white. Frustrated rage brewed when she thought of how such a large sum of silver no longer belonged to the Qins just because Great Yan had fallen. There could never be too much silver when it was needed. The family couldn’t make ends meet now and the whereabouts of her firstborn still unknown. Life in the welcoming inns meant being restricted at every turn. They didn’t even have their own house in the capital! How could she not be anxious?
The second madame and wife looked at each other, then quietly snuck out of the room, leaving only Qin-mama, Qin Huining, and the eighth miss on duty inside.
The atmosphere was so heavy that it felt it’d physically congealed.
Qin Yining left Lian Xiaozhou in Xianyun and Qiulu’s hands, bringing Bingtang and Jiyun with her as she left with Steward Zhong.
Since they weren’t familiar with the capital yet, the steward proposed, “If you don’t mind, miss, why don’t you come to the residence that I’ve rented? My family’s all there, and it’ll be more convenient for us to eat and drink there.”
“That would be wonderful. I’m just afraid that it’ll be a bother for the lady, my brothers and sisters-in-law.”
“Not at all! It’s their honor to have you visit, miss!” Steward Zhong beamed at Qin Yining’s intimate titles for his family.
Qin Yining followed the steward to a neighborhood where musicians abounded, entering a residence that was one house wide and deep.
“We haven’t found our footing yet since we’ve just arrived, so I had someone rent this place first. In either case it’s a place for the family to rest,” explained Steward Zhong as they stood in front of a speckled door that was mostly black.
The Qin fourth miss nodded with a smile, “Steward Zhong has always had a conscientious mind.”
The group entered with chatter and laughter. Qin Yining first met all of the Zhong womenfolk, fully greeting Madame Zhong and her daughters-in-law before heading to the study.
“Miss, I’ve properly settled all of the businesses in Great Yan. Though we don't have the Institute anymore, the fields that you bought out of the goodness of your heart are being used to great effect now! I’m not exaggerating at all when I say that the crops your fields produce in one year can feed one third of the original Great Yan country!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
OKAY YOU KNOW WHAT. OFF WITH HER HEAD!