When the old dowager took the invitation, she didn’t immediately open it. She perused it carefully again and again, then caressed it lovingly with a jade ring adorned finger. The smile blossoming on her lips was one of both relief and satisfaction.
Her most beloved Meng’er was the one with true talent, alright! Good tidings had visited the family one after another ever since her eldest son’s return. They’d moved out of the inns, then the emperor showed high regard for her son, and now even Great Zhou aristocrats were sending invites to the family!
Wasn’t that the greatest sign that the Qins had finally vaulted back into the upper echelon of society, that they no longer needed to depend on the goodwill of others?
The Qin matriarch had been most afraid of the family crumbling while she was at the head of it. If that really happened, she wouldn’t be able to face the Qin ancestors after her death.
But everything would be fine now, her heart could finally dislodge from her throat.
Various thoughts ran through everyone’s minds when they saw how tenderly the old dowager stroked a piece of parchment. She was treating the paper more gently than her own grandchildren!
Amused, Qin Yining shook her head wordlessly. It looks like the old dowager could finally be at ease now that the luxurious days of old were once more upon them.
After taking in her fill of the invite, the old dowager opened it to peruse the contents inside. She immediately chuckled merrily, “The marchioness is certainly a pleasant and agreeable person.”
Thinking back to Madame Lu’s pretty face and arrogant countenance, those would’ve been the last words that Qin Yining would’ve use on the marchioness. That woman was no ordinary run-of-the-mill character. If Qin Yining were to attend the banquet, she’d have to make quite a bit of preparations.
“Old Dowager is very right. We’re new in town, and those who take the initiative to extend a branch of friendship right now must all be pleasant people.” Qin Huining smiled in agreement.
“It’s all thanks to elder brother-in-law coming back,” piped in the second madame. “We’d still be living in the inns otherwise, and definitely wouldn’t have such wonderful things happening to us.”
Given how much the old dowager loved her eldest son, nothing made her happier than compliments of him. “The second branch is right, it’s all thanks to Meng’er this time as well.”
The two other elder masters looked at each other, then silently returned to their tea. They’d long since accepted their lot in life. Their mother’s bias knew no bounds.
Thankfully, big brother treated them very well and he was indeed very talented. Though the two brothers might be jealous sometimes, they never viewed Qin Huaiyuan as an enemy.
The second wife interjected, “But the marchioness didn’t do things well enough. She only invited cousin Yi—there’s other girls at home too.”
The fourth miss just looked at Qin Han’s wife quietly without protest.
When she’d first returned to the manor, Qin Han had helped her a great deal. After spending a long period of time together, she’d realized that this cousin of hers was a very open-minded and genuine person. This endeared him greatly to her.
Though his wife occasionally displayed the airs of a more selfish or small-minded person, she wasn’t a bad sort. But to speak so thoughtlessly would create some awkwardness.
Indeed, the smile on Qin Huining’s face became a bit stiff and turned wry. “Second cousin-in-law must be joking. I’m a foster girl and eighth sister is concubine-born. We’re naturally not fit for important occasions and aren’t as respectable as the fourth miss.”
The second madame glared at her daughter-in-law when she heard this; so did Qin-mama shake her head behind the old dowager.
The eighth miss cast a sidelong glance at Qin Huining and smiled naively. “It’s not a matter of concubine or official-born at all. They sent us a banquet invite for no reason at all—it’s obviously because of senior uncle’s influence. Senior uncle only has one official daughter, so it makes sense that fourth sister was the only one invited.”
Qin Huining struggled to keep a smile on her face. She really didn’t understand what the eighth miss was thinking! Aside from Qin Yining, only the eighth miss was a Qin descendent out of all the girls left. Didn’t she want to fight for herself?
There was nothing Qin Huining could do, being a foster daughter, or she would’ve plotted on how to get her own back a long time ago.
The second elder master coughed lowly. “The eighth lass is right. Although we don’t need you to do women's work to chip in with household finances, the most proper thing for girls to do is stay at home and practice your embroidery. Don’t become involved in outside matters. We’re lucky that only family is here today. If you’d acted like this outside, people would laugh at you for being so petty!”
He’d never liked Qin Huining’s style, so his tone was naturally harsh.
Humiliated by the lecture, Qin Huining’s face flushed hotly and she lowered her head without another word, tears spinning around in her eyes.
Qin Yining shook her head with exasperation. If she were the foster girl, she would be quietly preparing to be married off. The Qins wouldn’t find her a bad match, if only for the sake of their own dignity. Wouldn’t it be nice to live out a peaceful, undisturbed life?
But Qin Huining seemed blind to that philosophy and refused to give up.
Since the fourth miss had to go to the banquet, the old dowager was already rushing her off to go change before Qin Yining had stirred into action.
The girl called Xianyun to her side and asked softly, “Just who is this Madame Lu? When I saw her in the palace last time, she seemed to possess more dignity than the Princess of Anyang. Even the eldest princess called her big sister.”
Having resided in the capital for a long time, Xianyun was very familiar with everyone and everything in the capital. She whispered back, “What you don’t know, miss, is that Madame Lu is an official daughter of one of the Lu family side branches. The Lus are a great aristocratic family with more than a hundred years of history. Their roots were deep back in the Northern Ji times. Their family business span the entire nation and cross into all industries. Their network and mobilization is not to be underestimated.
“When His Majesty undertook the revolution, he wouldn’t have taken the capital if not for the Lus' financial help. Therefore, he values them highly and anyone from that clan has a high status and rank.
“Madame Lu was betrothed to General Mi. Ah, you might not know that General Mi, the prince, and the marquis were all battle comrades. Their bonds were forged in the fires of war.
“But General Mi came from a family of farmers, had ordinary looks, and was a decade older than Madame Lu. Therefore, the madame never liked him. Even when the general doted on her and loved her greatly, she was never satisfied. Playing off the fact that she was a Lu and so the general wouldn’t dare do anything to her, she began to openly keep male companions.”
“Companions? Ah, escorts? Male prostitutes??” Qin Yining froze in the act of applying powder and looked back incredulously at the maid.
“It’s very true, miss,” piped in Jiyun. “General Mi was cuckolded more times than we can count. He was made the Marquis of Valiant Faith when he died in battle, which made the madame a marchioness. She grew even more out of control then. The gossips all say that General Mi fell in battle because he was so enraged by the madame. A right and proper man like him was held down into the ground by a wife like that! The pressure from his in-laws was too great and the emperor valued the Lus too much. The only way the general could be free of it all was if he died.”
Slack-jawed with surprise, Qin Yining nodded after a long while. “She really is something.”
A person like that would have no bottom line. She had to be extra careful.
After fixing her hair and makeup, Qin Yining took Jiyun and Xianyun with her in a carriage to the manor of the Marquis of Valiant Faith.
Their carriage had just paused in front of the main doors when a deft maid came up to curtsey. “Are you Miss Qin? The marchioness gave specific instructions for this servant to welcome you inside.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Alright, the next block of chapters are alllll 50-60% longer than usual. This was already longer than usual lol. It's a spicy development and it's obvious that the author was quite excited and inspired when writing it. That's fantastic!
I think though, that going forward when I split chapters, I'll label them .1 and .2. For example, 351.1 and 351.2, so that the proper updates will filter through everyone's reading list and it's easier to keep track of.
Does that sound alright to everyone? Or do you still prefer to keep it all on one page?