A rather worried Qin Yining watched as her father and the others departed the manor.
Though she’d fully gone over the plan again and again, thinking of all possible undesirable outcomes again and again, she still worried when reality descended.
The girl returned to her room to wait quietly.
Meanwhile, the summons of Qin Huaiyuan, Cao Yuqing, and the remaining guards in the family elicited panic from the Qins.
They’d gone through so much that they’d long since realized their current circumstances were no stable environment at all. There were too many dangers they had to eliminate in order to remain in their position.
The old dowager lit her pipe, but didn’t take a single puff of it. She merely held it in her hand, looking dazedly out over the verdant green of the small garden.
Qin-mama comforted her in a low voice off to her side. “Don’t worry, Old Dowager. The lord is such a very smart person that this servant think there’s nothing he can handle. Perhaps the emperor has an urgent mission to give to him this time.”
“That’s certainly possible.” The old dowager was much comforted upon hearing this.
Née Sun and the second madame nodded as well. “Look at how polite Grand Supervisor Li was to our lord just now. There were even a few hints of currying favor. I’m sure it’s nothing serious.”
The explanation further set people at ease. Freed minds could further speculate why Li Qitian wished to see their guard captain.
“Can it be because of née Cao’s beauty?” The second wife supported her stomach with a frown, ready to deliver any day now.
After all, Cao Yuqing really was an exceedingly beautiful woman. Even setting her face aside, her natural romantic airs of seduction lured even fellow women, causing them to reflect embarrassingly on themselves.
As the emperor, Li Qitian possessed the world and it was very normal for him to love beauties.
This proposition met with general acceptance.
Only née Sun remained a bit worried. “We aren’t thoroughly familiar with the emperor’s temper yet. He seems mercurial. Née Cao’s settled down quite nicely, and it’s not like we can’t afford to feed a guard. Life might be very difficult for her in the palace.”
“What kind of talk is that? You may have long hair, but you’re very short on wit.” The old dowager snorted. “Entering the palace makes her another master of all. She’ll be someone next to the emperor! If someone like that comes from our family, we’ll see no end of wealth and fortune in the future!”
“But not all happy endings look like that!”
“You really do like sticking your nose in everything!”
The old dowager and née Sun embroiled themselves in yet another argument while the second madame and wife tried to calm the two sides down.
Qin Yining didn’t care about the petty concerns the womenfolk were fretting over. She was relieved that none of them knew about the truth. There’d be fewer hearts roasting over a spitfire like hers, then.
Sleep was nowhere to be found that night.
Jiyun, Xianyun, Bingtang, and Qiulu all remained within the room, keeping their mistress company. They didn’t understand what was going on behind the scenes, but they were quite anguished to see Qin Yining unable to sleep.
“It’s been just a week and you’ve lost what weight you’ve been able to put on your bones. His Highness will be ever so worried when he sees you next.” A resigned Bingtang offered a bowl of warm red bean congee to Qin Yining. “You should think more of yourself. Do you not care about your own health either, working yourself to the bone like this?”
Qin Yining compressed her lips with a shake of her head. “Don’t worry needlessly. I’m fine.”
“How am I worrying needlessly? How many times have I nursed you back to good health? You haven’t fully recovered ever since losing all that blood last time.
“Then it was the famine. After that was the move and running for your life. Even after arriving at Great Zhou, you have to plot and scheme through all your days. I’m telling you, even the best body will collapse with how you’re using it!”
Wincing at the maid’s nagging, Qin Yining took a few more bites of the congee.
“You should do this for the prince, if not yourself. He’s sent away all of the women by his side to prepare for marrying you. Worried that you might be bullied, he sent away any contrary granny servants as well. He has no other womenfolk, so you’re the only one who can bear him children. If you don’t rest well and nurse yourself back to good health, what will you do in the future?”
Qin Yining almost spat her congee out at what she was hearing. She jabbed a finger at Bingtang’s forehead.
“You awful wench!” The girl thought for a moment. “Honestly, all of us should regulate our health. You all have grown older and reached the age to be wedded yourselves.”
‘I knew it’ crossed Xianyun and Jiyun’s faces. “I knew that the miss would pull us down with her!”
The group’s laughter and chatter dispersed much of Qin Yining’s dejection. As they chattered on, a granny servant suddenly called out loudly from outside, “Milord is back!”
The fourth miss jumped to her feet, threw down her bowl, and dashed outside for a look. She saw Qin Huaiyuan at the front, Cao Yuqing trailing him, and a group of hidden guards following behind them.
Qin Yining counted every single one of the guards, her gaze resting on the last to enter the manor: Jingzhe, Xiaoxue, Xiaoman, and Dahan.
She flashed a smile of relief.
“Miss!” The four Silver Masks assigned to her strode up and knelt for a grand gesture of greeting.
Jingzhe kowtowed. “My gratitude to the miss saving my life!”
“Please, spare the formalities and rise! Are you hurt anywhere? We’ll have the doctor look at you in a moment.”
Jingzhe shook his head quickly and refused to get up from his kneeling position. He tilted his head back at Qin Yining. “The miss is a courageous sage! The emperor didn’t make things difficult for us at all.”
The remaining Silver Masks all bowed respectfully to the fourth miss. “Our thanks to the miss!”
Although her scheme wouldn’t exempt them from suspicion or investigation, it would protect their lives.
The messenger pigeon she’d sent out that day had fomented rumors in the old Great Yan capital that only the Silver Masks knew where the Great Yan treasure was.
After Qin Yining met with Cao Yuqing, another story was passed down to the secret agents.
They’d once been brought into a secret chamber and individually hypnotized by experts. Some information was planted in their minds, to be released only by specific watchwords. Only then would they remember the contents of the information, of which everyone knew a different part.
There were twenty four Silver Masks in total, and only sixteen currently in the capital. As much as Li Qitian wanted to interrogate them with torture, he had to restrain himself.
As soon as word got out of anything happening to their brethren in the capital, the eight agents outside would never come back.
Whatever was tortured out of them wouldn’t be complete, either. How would Li Qitian locate the treasure then?
Given this, not only would the emperor not kill Jingzhe, he wouldn’t touch the rest of the Silver Masks either. He had to keep these secret agents safe so that he could find the treasure.
“Miss, you really are a female Zhuge Liang! We all respect you so much!” The Silver Masks laughed.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Aw, cute banter and the safe return of Jingzhe! Woot woot!
Quick update about my laptop going kaput as the repair center finally got back to me. It's also been why my productivity has been dipping, because my other laptop has a keyboard that hurts my fingers to use for a long time. Good news: repairs cost several hundred dollars less than previously anticipated. Bad news, repair time is twice as long as originally quoted! @@ My fingers will just burn for a bit longer until my work laptop is back... but thank you all for supporting me on KoFi.
All the support that came in was for an etvo pin, so I'd like to extend the offer and say that anyone who buys me 5+ coffees in the month of October will receive a sleepy etvo pin, previously showcased here: https://twitter.com/etvofluff/status/1163278347373170691 Thank you all again so much! *cupped fist salute*