“Do you mean that??” The old dowager surged to her feet and grabbed Qin Yining’s hand. “Has your father sent word?” Without waiting for a response, she grumbled, “He really has no heart! Why didn’t he write to me! He didn’t even tell me that he’s safe, does he not care about his mother anymore?”
The old dowager’s tears spilled forth again and Qin-mama hastily fished out a handkerchief for her mistress.
Qin Yining looked helplessly at her second uncle, then quickly looked away.
The second elder master knew that it would look bad if he didn’t speak up now. “What kind of words are these, mother? You know big brother the best. If there had been a letter, he would’ve asked about you first.”
“No letter?” The old dowager blinked and forgot to keep crying. She exclaimed, “Did granddaughter Yi hear it from somewhere then? Is your father well? Where is he now?”
“I don’t know where my father is either, but I trust that with his intelligence, he’s doing very well.”
“What do you mean by that? What is going on here??”
Sensing that the old dowager was about to kick up another tantrum in her urgency for information, Qin Yining quickly went over the capital evaluations. But when the only response was blank looks, she looked to her second uncle for help.
With the absence of Qin Huaiyuan, the second elder master was the pillar of the family and hence, his words carried more weight. Joy bloomed on their faces after they listened to his breakdown of the situation.
“Do you, do you really mean this?” The old dowager laughed and pointed at her second son, her face shining with happiness.
He smiled back wryly. “Of course I mean it. Would I try to pull the wool over your eyes?”
“Wonderful, wonderful! Something good is finally coming out of the new year!” The Qin matriarch smiled through her tears and exhaled heavily with pleasure.
The atmosphere immediately warmed up. Their matriarch loved Qin Huaiyuan to bits and the rest only felt truly on stable footing when their head of the household was home.
The second elder master however, had mixed feelings. He’d done his best during this period of time—doing this and that and everything for the family. Everyone had the habit of coming to him for help with whatever issue, no matter how small. But just the news of Qin Huaiyuan’s imminent return was greeted with more enthusiasm than him actually leading and advising the family.
Still, he was quite relieved and content that his big brother was about to return. His brother conducted himself properly and possessed equal servings of talent and virtue. He wasn’t biased towards anyone and never singled any member out for oppression. He always helped whenever someone was in trouble. It was a very comforting thing to have such a good elder brother.
Just as an amiable atmosphere wrapped itself around the Qins, their neighbor Yuchi Yan was standing in an empty yard, a cloak with a black sable fur collar around his shoulders. He had his head tilted up to the brilliant fireworks blossoming in the night sky.
Translucent crystals of snow drifted through the air, coalescing into a thin layer of radiance on his shoulders.
The twinkling bits of white snow on his black collar echoed the hoarfrost color of the hair on his temples.
He was a young man not yet twenty five, but the ends of his hair were already greying. The deep grooves between his brows had deepened significantly, like a dead knot that couldn’t be undone.
A paper umbrella appeared over his head, shielding him from the light snowfall, but also blocking his view.
He turned back to see Li Yanyan, clad in a white fox fur coat, smiling back at him. Next to her stood Gu Chang, dressed in a downy-pink silk jacket.
“Your Highness, it’s cold in the yard. Won’t you please come back inside? It’ll be no fun to fall sick with a cold.” Li Yanyan’s voice was warm and soft, measured and logical. It sounded a lot like someone else who liked to wear white fox fur.
Gu Chang piped in, “You didn’t have much of dinner. Would you like to come back and have some more?”
Yuchi Yan shook his head and brushed away the paper umbrella, looking back up at the sky again.
The fireworks were gone. There were just a few tendrils of smoke drifting through the pitch black sky.
He’d wanted to watch the beautiful light show, but hadn’t had his fill. That was just like his destiny, always having the wrong timing because of this and that…
And so what of it all? He was just a commandery prince now and would never have real power for the rest of his life, to say nothing of his freedom. If he wanted to live, he had to play nice beneath Li Qitian’s watchful eye. He could never overstep himself or give cause for Li Qitian to suspect him. He would only ever be a sparrow in a cage, and freedom wouldn’t be waiting for him when his master finally got bored.
Driven to distraction with dejection, Yuchi Yan’s white hairs were particularly on display beneath the hue of the lanterns.
Li Yanyan’s nose twinged and tears almost fell.
No matter what her father had once done against the imperial family, all of that was in the past now that Great Yan had fallen.
She would stay by Yuchi Yan’s side for the rest of his life. They would be a regular, ordinary couple. She would serve him like any family’s official wife. It would be enough to bear his children and keep the inner residence in order.
As for the other imperial consorts and concubines, they had all been lost on the journey here. Only Gu Chang was left, demoted from consort to concubine. Any children she birthed would only be lower status concubine-born ones.
So what if Li Yanyan was no longer empress? She was satisfied just with peaceful days.
Having endured so much loss and separation, she felt that she had a new perspective on life. As long as her husband was alright and her family fine, what else did she want for?
“Don't be sad, Your Highness. We’ll live our life well when everything settles down. We’ll have children and live out the rest of our lives peacefully. Won’t that be lovely?” Li Yanyan comforted with a smile.
“Indeed. This concubine has heard that the Qin fourth miss’ reputation has been destroyed by the Faithful Prince of the First Rank. The prince carried her off and humiliated her in a million ways. That Miss Qin is a pitiful thing as well. When our situation stabilizes, you could go to the Qins to ask for her hand in marriage. She can be an honored concubine in our household. I’m sure the Qins will agree given that you don’t think less of her and are willing to give her a future. Us sisters will have another companion then.”
Gu Chang was a stunning beauty and had a delightful smile. Her words were perfectly reasonable, shining a few rays of hope in Yuchi Yan’s bleak and desolate heart.
Li Yanyan frowned and ground her teeth at Gu Chang, but didn’t dare show her emotions. Whether she was the empress or an ordinary official wife, she could only nod in acceptance when her husband wanted to take a concubine. She’d be committing the vice of jealousy otherwise.
Gu Chang arched her brow proudly. She’d already fallen from an imperial consort to being just a concubine, what else did she have to lose? Yuchi Yan had always been cool towards her. As opposed to letting Li Yanyan strut around, she might as well get Qin Yining into the household too so that no one would have good days ahead.
“Let’s go inside,” remarked an aloof Yuchi Yan as he turned.
The two ladies looked at each other and bestowed a contemptuous smile upon the other before following their husband inside.
All families peacefully saw through new year’s eve.
On new year’s day, Huzi secretly delivered three big red envelopes to Qin Yining, saying they were from the grand-lord, grand-madame, and old madame. When the girl asked about Pang Xiao’s official mother, the guard only smiled and said everything was alright.
The yamen resumed business on the fifth day of the new year, and the capital evaluations were underway in full swing.
On the fifteenth day of the new year, Qin Yining happened to be teaching Xiaozhou how to read when a shout travelled through the yard.
“He’s back! Milord is back, milord is back!”
Qin Yining surged to her feet and almost knocked over the porcelain water container for washing brushes. She sprinted for the door.
The sight of Qin Huaiyuan, clad in a cloak with a gray mouse fur collar, striding into the yard greeted her as soon she arrived.
“Father!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Goodness gracious, will these ladies give it a rest already?