Qin Huaiyuan was much thinner and his bearded cheeks had sunken in. However, his aura was even more self-possessed and sharper than before. The edge between his brows was impossible to ignore, even when he was in a merry mood.
Qin Yining knew that her father must’ve experienced a great deal in the outside world during this period of time.
A smile softened the face of the former marquis when he saw his daughter run out, hem in hand. He clapped his beloved child’s shoulder with a grin. “I knew you’d be safe and sound!”
Qin Yining beamed back at him. “Father, have you been well? How about my mother?”
“Your mother’s right behind me.” Qin Huaiyuan smiled.
The old dowager came speeding over, flanked by the second madame and Qin-mama.
“Meng’er! Oh my Meng’er! You’ve finally come back! Why did you vanish without a word? You’re going to be the death of your poor mother!” The Qin matriarch pounced with a wail and hugged Qin Huaiyuan tightly, sobbing without stop and bringing tears to the eyes of onlookers.
He immediately knelt in front of the old dowager and responded in a slightly shaking voice. “Mother, it’s all your unfilial son’s fault. I made you worry. You can hit me or curse at me, but please don’t hurt yourself with crying too much.”
The old dowager shook her head repeatedly, beside herself with weeping. She was hugging her son so tightly that she couldn’t say a single word.
A faint smile crossed Qin Yining’s face to see the scene of reunion. She quickly turned around when she thought of née Sun.
Stepping just outside the small yard brought to her the sight of née Sun wrapped in a thick cloak with a large collar. She was walking side-by-side with Cao Yuqing, followed by Jin-mama and two unfamiliar maids. All of them were carrying large bundles.
“Mother!” The girl yelled and charged up to the madame for a bear hug. “Mother! You’re back!”
Née Sun ardently returned the hug, her voice choked up as well. “I’m back, I’m back. I’ve been worried about you all this time, but your father said that with your smarts, you were sure to land on your feet. He hasn’t lied to me alright! You’re hale and hearty.”
“What could’ve happened to me, mother?? I was worried about you!” Qin Yining pulled on née Sun’s arm for a close once-over, scrutinizing her incredibly carefully to see if even a hair had been lost.
That sent Jin-mama into chuckles. “Don’t worry, fourth miss, the madame’s been very well these days.”
Qin Yining nodded and then turned to Cao Yuqing. She flashed a dazzling smile. “Thank you so much, Auntie Cao!”
Cao Yuqing had been quietly standing off to the side, watching mother and daughter be reunited. Some traces of loneliness and dismalness had stolen into her heart, so she was flattered by the attention when the Qin fourth miss addressed her in thanks.
“You don’t need to thank me, fourth miss. I was just doing what I was supposed to.” Cao Yuqing smiled gently, her beauty eclipsing everything in her radius.
The girl shook her head at that response. “No matter what your reasons were, you gave everything you had that day to save my mother and father. I saw it all. If it wasn’t for you, my parents would’ve ended up in grave peril.”
Her cheeks pink, Cao Yuqing shook her head. “You praise me too highly, fourth miss.”
Née Sun interjected at this time. “You’re worthy of these thanks. If it hadn’t been for you and your men during this time, we wouldn’t have remained safe at all.”
Cao Yuqing smiled happily. “The madame is treating me like an outsider by saying this.”
Qin Yining breathed in relief to see that née Sun didn’t bear as much hostility to Cao Yuqing as before, and that the concubine was also very respectful to the madame.
Father will never cast Cao Yuqing aside. Ignoring the concubine’s feelings for the lord of the house, she had saved him multiple times already. The debt from this was insurmountable, to say nothing of how the Silver Masks were in Qin Huaiyuan’s employ now.
There were hundreds and thousands of tendrils tying to the two together. It wouldn’t be a simple and easy stroke to cut them apart.
Since life demanded that they associate with each other, it was preferable to spend the days together amiably than in hot anger or cutting sarcasm. They weren’t in Great Yan anymore. A family had to stick together so that unsavory sorts wouldn’t have an opening.
It would seem that her mother had changed a lot too during this trial.
Qin Yining and Cao Yuqing flanked née Sun back to the Qin house. Coincidentally, the door to the house on the right opened. Lu-gonggong stuck a head out, addressing Qin Yining in a delighted whisper when he saw the girl.
“Miss Qin, has something good happened in your family? Has Grand Preceptor Qin been found?”
The girl affirmed with a jovial nod. “Yes, my mother and father have finally come back.”
“That’s wonderful!” The eunuch turned around in several gleeful circles before running back with a dizzy head. “This servant will go tell His Ma—Highness immediately!”
Though he was already far away, the excited shrillness of his voice still carried over the fences.
A smile couldn’t help but cross Qin Yining’s face. Though they couldn’t be too close with Yuchi Yan now, that warm relationship still remained since they were all from Great Yan, and Qin Huaiyuan having been Yuchi Yan’s teacher before.
Qin Yining, née Sun, and Cao Yuqing returned to the yard to curtsey to the old dowager. Another round of delighted reunions followed.
As the womenfolk chatted, the elder masters, Qin Yu, and Qin Han also came rushing back. They buzzed around Qin Huaiyuan to ask about everything they could think of. It made for quite a bustling scene.
The Qin matriarch laughed uproariously. “I haven’t been this happy in a very long time. Everything is perfect now that the family is together again. We need to celebrate!”
“Mother is right. I’ll have the kitchens make more dishes immediately.” Though the family was feeling the pinch in finances, one meal wouldn’t make a difference. An overjoyed third elder master trotted off with new instructions.
The old dowager tugged Qin Huaiyuan’s hand to have him sit by her. She kept looking her son over.
“Meng’er’s gotten thinner. You’ve all suffered during this time outside. The bandits originally said that they would kill you and your wife if I didn’t send granddaughter Yi off to the imperial selection. But your second brother and daughter both said that it wasn’t an appropriate time to send our girls to the palace. I’ve been worried to death for you, afraid that we doomed you in not sending granddaughter Yi in, and have have had to make plans for the family.”
Tears trickled out at this point, but the old dowager wiped them away with a sleeve. “I can rest easy now that you’re home. Ah, how were they willing to let you go?”
Qin Huaiyuan however, was frowning slightly. “What let me go? We weren’t kidnapped. Mother, I’m afraid you were deceived!”
Shocked silence blossomed inside the house. Surprise and bafflement reigned.
The second elder master shook his head. “We were deceived?”
“So if we really had sent granddaughter Yi to the selection, we would’ve fallen into someone’s trap!” The old dowager cut to the heart of the matter and slammed the tea table angrily. “These people are animals!”
Their reactions let Qin Huaiyuan know that much had happened in his absence.
“Father, where were you during this time?” interjected Qin Yining. Why had all of Pang Xiao’s men failed to find any signs of him?
“When we escaped the ambush, we found a small village to rest in. I stayed there because I wanted to observe things for a while. We didn’t leave until we heard the news that the Great Zhou emperor had sent an escort for you and everyone had left.
“We stopped to look at the sights along the way and didn’t bother heading into the capital when we reached it. Turning north instead, we scoped out some of the cities on the Tartar border. We actually lost track of time for a little bit! I decided to stay away for a bit longer after learning of a few things to do with the Great Zhou court.
“When the dust settled was the best time for my return. If it wasn’t for the Tartar internal unrest at the moment, I would’ve wanted to journey there as well.”
What! Father had taken his wife and concubine on a vacation! No wonder Pang Xiao couldn’t find them—father had already reached the Tartar border! The prince’s men had been searching their original route and nearby villages. They would’ve never found Qin Huaiyuan.
The old dowager’s mouth twitched and she pinched her son ferociously. “Since that was the case, why didn’t you send a letter home! Do you know how worried we were about you! There you were, off on your trip, but do you know the days we were living in?”
It was Qin Huaiyuan’s turn to be surprised. “I sent a letter. Did my messenger not arrive?”
The old dowager blinked blankly. “We saw no messenger at all. Who did you send?”
“A new follower that I picked up on the way. Maybe there was an accident, or greed overcame him and he ran off with the money. We have no way of knowing.” Qin Huaiyuan smiled ruefully. “And I was, having a wonderfully free and unrestrained time outside. I felt that since everyone knew I was fine, it didn’t matter if I came back a little later. It didn’t even occur to me that you hadn’t gotten my letter!”
Looks were exchanged in the crowd before everyone burst out laughing. To think that the careful and conscientious Qin Huaiyuan would drop the ball like this!
“Good thing you’re back, big brother,” said the second elder master. “So much has happened lately. We haven’t had a pillar in the family with your absence, and mother was so worried that she couldn’t eat. Thankfully niece Yi heard about the capital evaluations and told us about them. That’s how we were able to pass the days peacefully until now.”
“That’s right. So granddaughter Yi didn’t guess wrongly, you really did come back at this time.” Elated by the return of her precious son, even Qin Yining’s actions were more pleasing in the old dowager’s eyes.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
A mature née Sun?? Color me surprised and knock me over with a feather! Wouldn't that be something?
And wow, trololol for QHY dropping the ball?