When Qin Huaiyuan heard the note of distress in the old dowager’s voice, he raised his hands slightly and injected a comforting tone into his own.
“Don’t be anxious, mother. I have no intention of sending daughter Hui away. It’s just that the Qin bloodline should remain clear, and the family books should not be confused. Qin Yining will be entered into the family books and Qin Huining taken off. We will report to the ancestors that daughter Hui was mistakenly brought into our family and is now our foster daughter. She will not be listed on the family tree in the future. Qin Yining will be the official firstborn of the main family branch, the fourth miss of the Qin family.”
Everyone scanned Qin Yining and Qin Huining with varying looks. The old dowager was silent. The family books indeed shouldn’t have errors in them, but she couldn’t bear to give up Qin Huining!
Qin Huining felt like a thunderbolt had struck her. She’d be a foster daughter with unknown origins from now on, no longer the official firstborn daughter of Prime Minister Qin! She would be of age next year, and Prime Minister Qin had been scouting for good marital matches over these past few years. She wasn’t married yet, what would she do when her status plunges into the abyss?
Why did this bad luck have to fall on my head at this time?! Why did Qin Yining have to come back!
She couldn’t accept these blows to her future, and once again started to bawl. But unlike previous, these tears were real.
In the end, she was the daughter that née Sun had raised, so the senior madame couldn’t bear to see Qin Huining so grief-stricken. She pulled on the girl’s hand and turned to Qin Huaiyuan anxiously. “My lord, can’t you…"
“Even if daughter Hui becomes a foster daughter, she stays by your side and uses the same things as your own flesh and blood.” Qin Huaiyuan looked at née Sun; his eyes brooked not the slightest sign of dissension as they narrowed. “Must I send daughter Hui to the Hall of Fosters, or search out and return her to her birth parents before the madame is satisfied?”
This was a naked threat! He was denying her face for the sake of a wild brat he’d just brought back!
Née Sun flushed beet red in her anger and blurted out, “Is a wild brat worth you acting like this? You didn’t even watch her grow up! Qin Meng, which mistress did you have this girl with!? Why didn’t you bring back her fox of a mother too, instead of just her!? You’ve disliked me and dear Hui for a long while anyways, so just go and enjoy life with your mistress in the future!”
Née Sun was a daughter from the official wife of the Duke of Ding, a vaunted duke of the state. Her birth was lofty and so her personality naturally a bit more haughty. Her sisters-in-law usually gave way to her in the past since she was Qin Huaiyuan’s official wife. The old dowager loved her first born grandson and fourth granddaughter the most, so she was more tolerant of née Sun as well.
The combination had nurtured the senior madame’s personality as a domineering spitfire. Anyone else wouldn’t have dared argue with their husband in public like this. But née Sun’s family was a strong bulwark for her to rely on, so she wasn’t afraid at all.
When Qin Huining saw that her mother was still willing to defend a foster daughter like this, she was so touched that she wrapped her arms around née Sun and called out in a little mewling voice, “Mother, don’t be angry. Don’t be angry at father because of me…”
Née Sun didn’t pay her any attention and just kept glaring at Qin Huaiyuan. He couldn’t take any more of his wife, “What ridiculous slander!”
“You’re ridiculous!” Née Sun jabbed Qin Yining’s forehead with a red lacquered fingernail.  “Well? Where’s your mother? Is your father putting her up in some house?”
Qin Yining looked at née Sun with incredulous disbelief, taking two steps backwards after being poked. Her heart felt like a desolate wasteland. When she saw Qin Huining hanging onto her mother’s arm yet still allowing née Sun to push forward as she would, Qin Yining seemed to understand something.
It looks like good acting skills are needed even to survive in a great manor.
Qin Yining’s eyes filled with tears, and she knelt before née Sun, her voice quavering, “Please don’t be angry, madame. I know you find it hard to accept at face value, but I really do come from the city of Liang. I lost the last soul who would support me when I was eight, do you know how I’ve lived until today?”
She gently caught née Sun’s well maintained hands with her callused, scarred ones. “Look at the calluses and scars on my hand. They’re proof enough that I’m not someone who’s enjoyed a good life. With father’s character, he accepted Huining even though he knew that she wasn’t his. If I really was his bastard, would he have let me live such a hard life?
“Besides, father is the prime minister, the treasured subject of the emperor. He is above all and below only one. If he really did have a woman he liked, why would he need to keep her as a mistress? He can just bring her home. Who could stop him? He has no need to lie. I can wait for you to accept me if you can’t right now. I’m also willing to live amiably with Huining. So please don’t be impulsive and harm your relationship with father because of some angry words.”
Qin Yining was a beautiful child, and her arms were rail thin to begin with. Her piteous remarks and looks were enough to send most of the womenfolk reaching for their eyes to dab tears away.
Née Sun remained where she was, looking down at a heart-rending face covered with tears from her lofty position. As she felt the calluses on the girl’s rough hands, she believed Qin Yining a little bit. Besides, the girl’s words didn’t induce any distaste, particularly that last line.
The senior madame looked at Qin Huaiyuan out of the corner of her eye. Her husband had an extremely dark expression on his face. If Qin Huaiyuan gives me a way out that saves face, I will let this pass.
However, Qin Huaiyuan was moved to pity after hearing his daughter’s words. When he recalled how ravaged Liang had been and Qin Yining’s experiences over the past six years, pain and anger suffused his heart. He’d been frazzled enough lately!
The two countries had been locked in war for many years, and Great Yan was showing signs of defeat. The supreme commander of Great Zhou’s armies was now Pang Xiao, the child of Northern Ji’s Protector of the Nation, Pang Zhongzheng. The child had been born shortly after Qin Huaiyuan had consigned his father to death with a scheme.
Pang Xiao, secondary name Xi, was twenty two years old this year. Great Zhou’s emperor had awarded his father the title of “Faithful Prince of the First Rank” after Pang Zhongzheng had been acquitted of his crimes. Pang Xiao had inherited the position, and was known as “the little prince” in the jianghu. He was the only common born prince since Great Zhou had been founded two years ago, and was quite loved by the people.
He'd risen up in arms with the Great Zhou emperor Li Qitian to opposed Northern Ji’s tyranny when he was only fourteen. His authority was now well established in the army. He didn’t even need the proper command tokens to command and deploy troops. His very presence was legitimacy enough.
Although young, he’d already spent eight years on the battlefield. His tactics were strange and treacherous, and Pang Xiao was well known for being ruthless and cold-hearted in battle.
Back in the day, the Northern Ji emperor had sentenced Pang Zhongzheng to death via slicing. The man was slowly sliced into pieces while alive and fed to the dogs. It also turned out to be the instrument which Pang Xiao used to exact revenge.
Of the officials who framed and set up his father, he personally skinned and dismembered three. Who knew how many there were that he hadn’t personally handled? It was said that servants hadn’t been able to get rid of the stench of blood even after scrubbing the ground outside the Meridian Gate  for three straight days.
And he, Qin Huaiyuan, was the “culprit” of the scheme that had cost Pang Zhongzheng his life!
After Great Zhou was founded, it had set out a path of domination towards Great Yan.
The two had fought for many years and weakness had long since set into Great Yan. How was it supposed to contend with a Great Zhou that was now in its prime? If the walls of the capital were breached one day, how would Pang Xiao forgo revenge for his father?
Qin Huaiyuan found it hard to sleep whenever he thought of that murderous demon being out there. War had emptied the nation’s coffers long ago, but the war hawks and two other main factions at court spent their days arguing. No one actually did anything.
He was already being slowly crushed by his workload, but these ignorant women at home were also raising a ruckus in his household. How dare they cause trouble over such a minor matter?!
Qin Huaiyuan couldn’t be bothered to go into all the details, and cared even less to cater to née Sun’s tantrum. His frustration boiled over, and he snapped harshly, “This matter is so decided”.
Without another word, he left with a flourish of his sleeves, leaving née Sun frozen in place. Everyone could tell that Qin Huaiyuan was truly angry this time. In the end, he was the master of the house. If truly angered, there existed no one who could go against his wishes.
Née Sun was also a bit frightened at her husband’s response. She’d started the fight, but softening her stance first would be a loss of face. She was caught between a rock and a hard place, and could only sniffle with great injury.
The old dowager was also displeased that née Sun had openly called her son’s character into question. Her eyes fell on Qin Yining; this chit was the cause of everything that had gone wrong. She disliked this new granddaughter even more now.
“Clean up Snowpear Courtyard for the fourth miss. Darling Hui will move in with me.” She commanded, her tone low. The old dowager was forced to acknowledge Qin Yining’s identity, but that didn’t mean she was left without a response. She arranged for Qin Yining to live in the remote Snowpear Courtyard, while moving Qin Huining into the Garden of Loving Piety. Although Qin Huining had lost her status as the official firstborn, Old Dowager’s actions in suppressing one granddaughter while raising the other were obvious.
Seeing that the old dowager had already made up her mind, everyone else could only assent. Née Sun was still brimming with tears. She felt like she’d been dealt a great injustice. She didn’t want to stay any longer either. She spoke a few hushed words with Qin Huining and took her leave without looking back. Qin Yining received not even a sliver of care.
It was rather née Sun’s trusted old servant, Jin-mama, who curtseyed to the old dowager and then the same to Qin Yining. “This servant wishes Fourth Miss good health.”
Qin Yining didn’t recognize this person, and it was the first time someone called themselves a servant in front of her. She didn’t quite know how to respond to something like that.
However, a girl of about twelve years old, her hair in twin buns, wearing light powder and a flowery cotton-padded jacket, sidled up to her and whispered softly in her ear, “This is senior madame’s wet nurse, Jin-mama. She’s the senior madame’s most competent mama.”
Qin Yining smiled gratefully at the girl and then nodded at Jin-mama. “Hello Jin-mama.”
“The madame has put in a lot of thought for you. She picked out your maids from her own staff early this morning. This servant will bring them to you later.” Jin-mama smiled at her.
“Many thanks to Jin-mama.” Qin Yining nodded, and the old servant took her leave with another smile.
The old dowager had already given orders to Qin-mama to bring Qin Huining’s things to Garden of Loving Piety. When she saw the crowd still loitering around, she bade them all disperse.
Qin Yining imitated what the girls around her were doing and curtseyed. She turned with the crowd and had just reached the door when she heard the old dowager call her back, “Qin Yining.”
The girls all hesitated for a moment, but had to leave with their curiosity afire since the old dowager hadn’t summoned them.
The new Qin fourth miss turned back to curtsy again. “Grandmother.”
The old dowager immediately rolled her eyes impatiently. “Didn’t your mother tell you just now that a great family such as ours doesn’t use such terms? You should be using our titles.”
Qin Yining shifted her gaze to the floor and tried again, “Old Dowager.”
“Mm.” The old dowager drew out a note. “Although you can stay in the manor, I’m still slightly worried. You need to move and speak with care. We’ll hire teachers for you later. You must learn well and refrain from bringing in any of those city airs. The girls are all purehearted and the finest of nobility, so don’t you corrupt them.”
In her sleeves, Qin Yining’s hands had balled themselves into fists again. She didn’t look up, but her jaw had locked into place. After a long moment of silence, a docile voice slipped out from between clenched teeth, “Old Dowager speaks truly, I will be careful.”
“Don’t think you can lord it over granddaughter Hui either just because you’ve come back. She was the official firstborn daughter for fourteen years. Her manners and etiquette are exquisite, and her skill at the zither, chess, calligraphy, and drawing are all quite advanced. Her talent isn’t something that a wild thing like you can measure up to. Make sure to learn from her in the future.”
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