The atmosphere within the carriage was exceedingly stiff. Qin Yining hadn’t slept a wink all night, and morning greeted her with news of Jingzhe to be executed. Her head throbbed painfully. She leaned against the wooden walls of the carriage, closing her eyes for a bit of rest as she squeezed the center of her forehead, her complexion looking utterly ghastly.
“I’d thought you returned home already and didn’t anticipate that you would wait at the yamen. Your mother was very worried when I returned home. That’s when I learned that you were here.”
“It’s my fault for making father worry.” Qin Yining opened bloodshot eyes. “Did you not return last night either? Were you with the emperor the entire time?”
“Mmhmm.” Qin Huaiyuan likewise looked just as weary. “I happened to be present when Minister Cheng entered the palace yesterday.”
His daughter chuckled ruefully. “I know without even hearing about it that it must’ve been a mighty battle of words. It’s all my fault for causing so much trouble, father.”
The Qin patriarch smiled at that. “How is this your fault? You’re actually an innocent bystander who got dragged into all of this. It all originated that day when their group startled my carriage, and I didn’t want to just let them off the hook like that. Neither did I want them to harass the citizenry with their unbridled behavior, which is why I kept after them so hard and ended up attracting this sort of trouble.”
“Father, I’m not afraid of trouble. Just that… is Jingzhe really beyond saving?”
Qin Huaiyuan nodded with a sigh. “My daughter, you’re a smart girl. I don’t need to explain things for you to understand. His Majesty punishing Jingzhe is just a way to stopper Minister Cheng’s complaints with a servant. We lose only one person to be able to maintain this hard-fought equilibrium. We’re not the ones who lose anything, but rather Minister Cheng.”
“But there’s a human life involved in all of this!” Qin Yining’s voice was slightly hoarse.
“I know your thoughts, my dear, and that you’re kind. But what else can we do now that the imperial decree has been written? My daughter, I know you’re smart and might even think of a way to save Jingzhe. But you must remember that you’re a Qin daughter, that you must think carefully before taking action.”
Her father’s meaning was very clear.
Jingzhe was just a servant. If it really came down to things, it was no big deal to sacrifice a servant if necessary. The Qins hadn’t established their foundations in the capital city yet, so they needed the emperor’s favor and protection. Now that he’d ordered Jingzhe’s execution, that was set in stone. If they dared beg for mercy, that would be blindly striking at the emperor’s face.
From the perspective of a bystander, Qin Yining knew that she shouldn’t intervene and make things even worse.
But Jingzhe had acted to protect her! If it wasn’t for her, why would he be losing his life?
He was one of her men after all. If she shrank inwards and cowered whenever anything happened, what would she bring out to win loyalty in the future? Not to mention, she didn’t want Jingzhe to become her sacrificial goods anyhow.
When her thoughts travelled here, she declared, “Father, I promise not to harm the family’s interests.”
Your daughter is saving Jingzhe no matter what!
The girl looked apprehensively at Qin Huaiyuan. What should I do if father overrules my decision, harshly rebukes me, or even stops me?
To her great shock, Qin Huaiyuan burst out in chuckles in the next instant.
“I know that you’re as ornery as a mule. You’re just like me in my youth. I always acted to how I decided on something, and didn’t care if those around me would stop me or not.”
Qin Yining dimpled at the clarification. “Father is such a rational and dependable person, when were you ever like that? You’re just teasing me.”
“How am I teasing you? Everyone starts off brash and self-assured, slowly maturing to solid dependability after their personality settles down.” Qin Huaiyuan took off the hat of his official uniform and rubbed his face. “Daughter Yi, do whatever you’d like. Just remember what I said and don’t forget that you’re a Qin. You must ensure the safety of the family first. Only when the clan grows stronger will you have more backing outside the manor.”
“I will remember everything that father says,” Qin Yining responded gratefully. “Thank you for your understanding.”
The minister responded with only a smile as he patted his daughter’s head.
Back home, Qin Yining visited née Sun before going back to catch up on sleep. All of the servants could tell that the fourth miss’ complexion was exceedingly poor, especially those around her who knew the full situation.
The Qin fourth miss sat cross-legged on the heated platform next to the window. Though she was extremely tired, she wasn’t the least bit sleepy because of how worried she was about Jingzhe.
Li Qitian had personally given the order to execute Jingzhe. Since they couldn’t beg for mercy on his behalf, they had to think of a way to make the emperor voluntarily rescind the death sentence.
But why would Li Qitian pardon the guard for no reason at all?
In the emperor’s eyes, he was already biased towards the Qins by having them lose only a singular servant and making the Chengs eat such a loss. Qin Yining could easily anger the emperor if she set a single toe wrong. The consequences were sure to be disastrous.
She pinched the forehead between her brows and sat wordlessly on the platform, furiously brainstorming ideas.
When Jiyun and the others saw that Qin Yining refused to rest, they could only opt for silently keeping her company when their entreaties had no effect.
The fourth miss didn’t eat a single bite of lunch.
Neither did she touch her dinner.
Her refusal to eat or sleep worried Jiyun and Xianyun to no end. Xiaoman, Xiaoxue, and Dahan were also extraordinary touched.
Their mistress had done all she could in this matter; it had nothing to do with her that Jingzhe had bene dragged in. Though their hearts ached for their brother, they wouldn’t vent their spleen on Qin Yining.
Just as a frantic Bingtang and Jiyun were about to notify Qin Huaiyuan, the fourth miss suddenly hopped off the platform. “Have Xiaoman and the others come here. I have orders for them. Jiyun, make a trip to Steward Zhong’s. Tell him I want to utilize the people we left behind in Great Yan. Have him make a surreptitious trip over.”
Seeing that Qin Yining’s eyes were clear and she blazed with good spirits, the maids wondered if she’d thought of a plan.
Seeing Jiyun and Bingtang stare unblinkingly at her, the girl smiled. “I thought of a plan that should work, so hurry and do as I say.”
“Understood.” The group quickly split off in different directions.
After summoning the hidden guards, Qin Yining gave them orders in a low voice. They looked at each other with bafflement, but nodded in the end and went off to carry out Qin Yining’s orders.
Steward Zhong arrived before long. As it was already dark, it wasn’t convenient to visit inside the manor. Qin Yining flung on an outfit before meeting the steward in a carriage outside.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
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