Chapter 37: Danger
The sudden arrival of the truth left Qin Yining at a loss for words. She had the vague feeling that she’d just fallen for a trap: hook, line, and sinker. But she also felt lucky when she looked at the cute girl with chubby cheeks and large eyes.
Thank goodness Tang Meng’s alright.
Thank goodness things weren’t as I thought.
“Many thanks to Your Highness.” Qin Yining dipped in a solemn curtsey at the prince. “Then I’ll be taking Miss Tang with me.”
Prince of Ning leaned back in his head seat, completely at ease, and waved Qin Yining off. She smiled at Tang Meng. “Please come with me, Miss Tang.”
“Don’t stand on ceremony, miss. Just use my name. In the future, you’re the mistress and I the servant. I’ll never forget your act of valor today.” Tang Meng blinked her round, large eyes. She was quite serious.
“How did I save you at all?” Qin Yining smiled wryly. “It looks like I did something unnecessary today.”
“Miss, ever since my father entrusted me with our family heritage, the ‘Compendium of Medicine’, for safekeeping, I knew that sooner or later, something would happen at home. And it really did happen…” Tang Meng shook her head. “Although I’ve renounced the world, I’ve witnessed the gamut of humanity with what happened to my family. When the Royal Academy captured me and wanted me to resume secular life, I refused, so they tortured me ceaselessly. The Institute of Luminous Grace hired me after that, and I only found a few days of peace after His Highness brought me here.”
Tears were brimming in her eyes. “Miss, other than His Highness, you’re the only person who’s offered me a helping hand of your own volition since my family fell. You and I met but by chance, with no rhyme or reason at all. You’re a noble daughter of the inner residence, but you braved the various rumors and gossip flying around to come save me. I understand all the risks you took! I won’t be able to repay your debt of gratitude for as long as I live!”
Her words moved Qin Yining, Steward Zhong, Ruilan, and Qiulu deeply. Qin Yining had saved Tang Meng only because she didn’t want another girl’s future to be ruined for nothing, and hadn’t wanted Steward Zhong’s innocent family to be dragged into hot water. She’d never expected anything in return, and so started blushing hotly at Tang Meng’s words. She hurriedly took her leave from the Prince of Ning once more and fled with her new maid in tow.
The prince had been taking in the sights all along, and suddenly smiled, amused. “Who would’ve thought that that old fox Qin Meng would father such a kind girl with a heroic spirit?”
“Indeed.” A person slowly walked out from behind the openwork screen. It was the young man Qin Yining had met earlier.
The prince raised a casual cupped fist salute to the young man. “Did Your Highness hear what she said just now?”
The young man nodded, a trace of worry in his face. “She was right. The old muleheads in the capital who think themselves invincible are completely short-sighted frogs in a well. All they’re focused on these days is whether they should fight or make peace.”
“I’ve long since seen through them. They’re all trash. If the city really is broken through in the future, wetting themselves from fear is the least they’ll do! Hahaha!” The prince laughed loudly.
The young man also burst out laughing. He moved to stand next to the prince with his hands clasped behind his back, perusing the painting of eight horses once again. A blush slowly floated across his face.
The Prince of Ning was sharp enough to notice what was going on, but knew better than to point it out. Instead, he adroitly changed the subject. “Has Your Highness really made up your mind?”
The young man started. “What, can it be that royal uncle isn’t willing and wants to retreat?”
The prince leveled a sharp look at the young man and sneered. “I? Retreat? I just didn’t think that Your Highness would actually propose censuring Grand Preceptor Cao. I’ve always thought that a painter like you would care nothing for politics.”
“Royal uncle, are you mocking me for having nothing to show after all these years of effort?” The young man smiled ruefully.
The prince laughed heartily. “I’d just wanted to pull that old bat Duke of Ding to my side, but that little fox Sun Yu refused to take a side. But now, even the heavens are helping us, we’ve got even Qin Meng! It’ll be much easier to take old fart Cao down a peg.”
“I’m only afraid that Prime Minister Qin still won’t be willing.” The young man was a bit worried.
“He has to even if he isn’t willing! His dear daughter made the decision for him! No matter what, Tang Meng is now his daughter’s maid and under the Qin Manor’s protection. The Clearists as well as all the other cowardly riffraff will definitely start picking sides after seeing this.” The prince clapped the young man’s shoulder reassuringly. “Don’t worry, Your Highness, this matter will absolutely succeed! That slutty bitch spends her days doing nothing good. She can’t give birth to crap, and she wants to end royal brother’s family line? Delusional bitch! Even a little girl knows how she’ll end, but she can’t! I laugh! I’m going to tear through her trampy skin this time, let’s see what she can do without her father to protect her!”
Qin Yining was sitting in the carriage with Tang Meng by now. Steward Zhong, Ruilan, and Qiulu were all following outside the carriage as the convoy slowly made their way to Windsoar Inn, one of the Institute’s businesses. Qin Yining smiled at Tang Meng. “We’ll settle you in first and then I’ll take you to officially depart the nunnery in the next two days. When you rejoin the secular world, I’ll take you back home with me. We can take care of each other then.”
“Understood.” Tang Meng nodded with a smile. “Don’t be so polite with me, miss. I’m your maid in the future, just order me as you will.”
Qin Yining nodded. She hadn’t thought that Tang Meng would so readily accept the reality of her situation. Perhaps it was easier for one to come to terms with a change in lifestyle after weathering great rises and falls, and when an inevitable, inexorable future was staring at them in the face.
When the group arrived at Cloudsoar Inn, Qin Yining instructed Steward Zhong to find a quiet residence and help Tang Meng settle in. “Please take good care of her. I’ll think of a way to slip out of the manor in the next two days.”
The steward’s crisis had been defused, so he was in absolutely lovely spirits. Qin Yining was his lifesaver, and a desire to grow closer to her was prevalent in his respectful posture. He bowed. “Don’t worry, miss. I’ll handle everything well.”
Qin Yining smiled when she heard his new title for her. “Good, there will be much I’ll need to depend on Steward Zhong for in the future. It’s getting late, so it looks like we can only look to review the accounts some other day.”
“Yes, feel easy, miss. This humble one has looked over the accounts I delivered. All you need to do is just scan them. If the titled old dowager of your manor asks, you can tell her that you toured all the Institute businesses today and surveyed them. You can pick another day to review the accounts. We have three taverns, respectively known as the Roamer’s Return, the Tippling Tower, and the Jade Vessel.  We also have two inns, the Cloudsoar Inn here and another Rising Delight Inn on East Main Street.”
“Very clever, Steward Zhong. That’s how I’ll respond.” Qin Yining glanced upwards at the sky. “It’s getting quite late, I should be going back.”
“Yes, this humble one will have someone escort the miss back. My family will repay this favor of saving our lives even after our deaths. Please accept my gratitude.” Steward Zhong dropped to his knees and kowtowed heavily.
Qin Yining helped him back to his feet with a smile. “There’s no need to be so polite, Steward Zhong. We have to support each other so that our path together goes further in the future.”
“Miss speaks truly.” Steward Zhong nodded. Qin Yining reminded the steward again to take good care of Tang Meng before she left, then made some arrangements for Tang Meng’s return to the secular world before finally leaving with Ruilan and Qiulu, quickly rushing back home.
In the carriage, Ruilan and Qiulu’s originally excited emotions changed to worry when they saw Qin Yining’s expression. They’d successfully saved the girl, why didn’t the miss look happy? Both were quite puzzled, but Ruilan didn’t ask directly since she was one to muse on things. In the end, it was Qiulu who popped the question.
“Miss, why aren’t you happy?”
“I’m afraid things aren’t good this time.” Qin Yining murmured as she returned from her thoughts.
“What?” Ruilan and Qiulu’s hearts skipped a beat. “Why do you say that? What isn’t good?”
“You can tell from the prince’s words and his attitude today,” Qin Yining responded lowly. “He took Miss Tang away to protect her, but made it look like he was carrying her off and didn’t explain things to the Institute. He allowed the alarming rumors of him taking Miss Tang to spread through the capital. Why?”
Ruilan and Qiulu were completely lost.
“He did so in order to use the Clearists to exert pressure on the Institute. If we had really been unable to bear up beneath the criticism and requested Miss Tang’s return, I’m sure it would’ve been accomplished as easily as I did today.”
“Miss, you mean…” Ruilan seemed to have grasped something as the color drained out of her face.
“Everyone knows that the Prince of Ning took the girl and wasn’t returning her. But when the Institute of Luminous Grace went to request her return, he seemingly returned her without a fuss. Everyone will come to the conclusion that these two parties are very close or in the same camp. Elder cousin was the owner of the Institute before, and he represents the Duke of Ding. If things had progressed like that, everyone would think the Duke of Ding and the Prince of Ning were close. But today, I was the one who stuck my head out. I’m the prime minister’s daughter, and the granddaughter of Duke of Ding…” Qin Yining’s face was very pale at this point, and her limbs felt like ice. “I think I took elder cousin’s place in a trap and accidentally put the Duke of Ding and Prime Minister Qin under the prince’s banner. Just wait and see. Before too long, news will spread that I successfully rescued Miss Tang.”
Qiulu’s eyes were red by now and she stomped her foot. “I thought the prince was a hero! But he’s completely evil, using such tactics to recruit the Duke of Ding!”
“Indeed,” Ruilan jumped in. “Then this means that the duchess’ plans…” She suddenly realized that she might be unnecessarily stirring the pot and quickly stopped speaking.
“Grandmother might’ve had innocent intentions,” Qin Yining continued. “She probably thought that a little girl like me would only scheme so far as to make Steward Zhong take the fall. I can just appoint another steward, so it didn’t matter at all if I did nothing. Neither grandmother nor my father probably ever thought that I’d personally go demand the return of Tang Meng…”
“Miss, you just wanted to do some good,” Ruilan spoke persuasively. “We should think about how to present this to Old Dowager and the lord. What if they blame you?”
Qin Yining smiled ruefully. She’d encountered quite the gauntlet of human emotions and a variety of schemes since her return. She’d thought that life would be smooth and easy after returning home. The rich families didn’t lack food or clothing, so she wouldn’t have to scrabble for survival like the lowest echelons of society and have her heart slowly consumed by darkness. But who would’ve thought that those in these aristocratic and wealthy houses would scheme and plot just as much as the general people, all for the pursuit of power and profit?
Qin Yining took a deep breath in and forced herself to calm down, starting to consider what this meant for her family, the Duke of Ding’s household, and herself. Since she’d already fallen into the trap and couldn’t turn back time, the only option left was to find a way to resolve this by herself.