Chapter 43: Gifts
“Oh you dote on your daughter so.” The old dowager started laughing. “I was just thinking about those two empty places in granddaughter Yi’s house today and wanted to pick someone from Garden of Loving Piety for her. But it’s perfect if you have those two in mind.”
Qin Yining ignored the vengeful look that Qin Huining was not so secretly giving her. It almost felt like that latter wanted to stab her with a dinner fork. Despite her initial reluctance, she curtsied happily. “Thank you to Old Dowager and father.” She wanted to make Snowpear Courtyard an impenetrable fortress—how would she do that with new faces popping up by her side? But her father was showing her face, and she absolutely couldn’t reject his gesture. The maids were going to come to her anyways, she could make some arrangements for them later. There was no need to make father unhappy here.
Qin Huaiyuan was in wonderfully high spirits thanks to the joyous occasion. The satisfaction of a father bestowing gifts onto his children suffused his heart for the first time when he saw Qin Yining give thanks, and his mood grew ever brighter.
The crowd chatted a bit more and then lined up according to seniority when the auspicious hour arrived, presenting themselves in batches to kowtow to the ancestors and pray with incense. Qin Yining was naturally standing with the rest of the girls. They were arranged in two rows, each holding a stick of incense. They kowtowed respectfully to the ancestor plaques and bobbed the incense sticks in their hands when they rose before leaving. As the ceremony drew to a close, the men withdrew to the outer residence.
“You may all leave now,” the old dowager said. “The lord will be holding a banquet in the manor to thank his peers. Take care not to disturb the guests.”
“Understood,” the women chorused together.
The second madame thought for a moment and smiled. “Now that eldest brother-in-law is Grand Preceptor of the Heir Apparent, I’m sure that the crown prince will attend the banquet as well?”
The old dowager shook her head. “His banquet is in three days. The crown prince will be personally attending to pay his respects to his teacher. We’ll have plenty to be busy with then.”
“The crown prince is coming here?” The third madame clapped her hands with a smile. “Aiyaya, that is tremendous respect! This is all thanks to our eldest brother-in-law that our house gains such glory!”
The old dowager beamed merrily at these words, adding a few more creases to her face as she smiled widely. The second madame wrapped her arm around Qin Yining’s shoulder. “This is why I say our niece Yi is a lucky star. So many good things have come one after another since she’s come home!”
All of the girls murmured in agreement. Qin Huining, however, clenched her fists tightly. What do you mean by that?! Was it because I was the official daughter before that father didn’t become the grand preceptor?!
The old dowager nodded in agreement and put her hands together, bowing in the direction of the ancestral hall. “I’ve also noticed that my eldest son’s career has been smooth since granddaughter Yi’s return. It’s all thanks to the protection of the ancestors that one of our children, lost in the outside world, could be found like a needle in a haystack.”
The second and third madame imitated the old dowager and devoutly bowed three times as well.
“Alright, there’s much happening today, we should all go back now.” The third madame smiled. “Mother, let me and sister-in-law take you back.”
The old dowager inclined her head. Qin-mama had long since had granny servants standing by with a sedan chair and helped her mistress in. The second and third madame accompanied the chair, their maids at their sides, and were the first to leave the ancestral hall.
When they saw their elders had departed, the girls all headed for the inner residence. The third and eighth miss were closer to Qin Yining to begin with, and they laughed and chatted as usual. Although the seventh miss wasn’t as close to Qin Yining, she was more respectful and affable than before. Qin Huining and the sixth miss walked behind them, feeling sour that the others were all hovering around and making a fuss out of Qin Yining.
As if to rid herself of that feeling, the sixth miss laughed loudly. “So what if she has a noble status? That still doesn’t cover up her crookedness. Her maid is a thief, you can’t blame that on senior aunt this time, can you? That maid was last in your company.”
The previously happy atmosphere was shattered in an instant. Qin Huining shook the sixth miss’ arm. “Don’t be like this, sister Shuang. Come, let’s hurry and go back.” She looked fearfully at Qin Yining when she said this, as if completely terrorized by the girl.
When the sixth miss saw this charade, imaginary scenes of Qin Yining mercilessly bullying Qin Huining immediately floated into her mind, and she grew ever more indignant on Qin Huining’s behalf. “Don’t be afraid, there are still those out there who don’t pander to power. You still have me!”
Qin Huining grasped the sixth miss’ hand with a grateful look, her eyes looking watery, as if she was about to cry. Meanwhile, Qin Yining and the third, seventh, and eighth miss all looked at each other. In unspoken agreement, the four quickly walked off. When Qin Huining and the sixth miss finally tore their eyes from each other, the group was already a dozen steps away.
The sixth miss’ temper flared. “How dare she ignore me!”
Qin Yining was in the middle of speaking to the third miss, “Just let them throw whatever tantrum they want. We shouldn’t lower ourselves to their level.”
“Precisely. Senior uncle is holding a banquet today and having one fewer thing to worry about is most preferable.” The third miss nodded in agreement. “Don’t dwell on it, fourth sister. Passing the days peacefully is most important.”
“That’s why they say you’re the most virtuous among us,” Qin Yining teased the third miss. “You’ll have pleasant days ahead in the Earl of Jiannan’s manor.
“Don’t you tease me!” The third miss blushed fiercely and pinched Qin Yining’s cheeks. “I’m third, but you’re fourth in line. You’re next! Now that senior uncle is the grand preceptor, your husband’s family is sure to be either wealthy or noble. How do you have time to laugh at me!”
The seventh and eighth miss started laughing as well. The eighth miss jumped in, “Third sister’s right. I’ve even heard some speculate that fourth sister will be the crown prince’s consort in the future.”
“Precisely,” the seventh miss nodded as well. “With your family background, you are eminently suited to be the crown prince’s consort. I’ve heard that the crown prince is a genteel and elegant person, someone exceedingly refined. He’s also very talented at painting. Apparently his skill in painting has reached extreme peaks. Although he has a concubine already, a concubine is just a concubine in the end. The crown prince is sure to inherit the dragon seat in the future, and his consort will become the empress.”
“Aiya, look at you all saying more and more nonsense. The emperor’s in fine health, so what are you all talking about?” Qin Yining tickled the seventh miss. “If I go tell Zhan-mama any of this, I’m sure she’ll beat you!”
The first part of Qin Yining’s response caused frissons of alarm in the third, seventh, and eighth miss as they realized they’d misspoke. It would be seen as grave disrespect if these words travelled to another’s ears. However, the second part was a purposeful joke to change the subject. The seventh miss started bantering with Qin Yining. She’s shrewd and quick witted, I really should get closer to her.
Qin Yining parted from them at the crossroads, taking the turn to Snowpear Courtyard. Everything was as usual in her residence, except for the absence of Ruilan. After greeting Zhan-mama, Qin Yining returned to her house to rest.
Qiulu and Liuya were serving at her side. Qiulu was the same as usual, but Liuya was a bit dissatisfied. She was a third-rank maid, and had ambitions to climb higher. Now that the two second-rank maids above her had finally disappeared, those remaining should’ve been promoted. Who would’ve thought that her mistress would be grounded and not bother thinking of them, and then those two from the outer study would be one step ahead? Yaoqin and Yuqi were both first-rank maids, a level even higher than Ruilan and Yuxiang! Liuya was quite irritated. How long until it’s my turn?!
Qin Yining was toying with a teacup and seemingly lost in thought, gazing out the gridded window, but she could clearly see every bit of Liuya’s disgruntlement in the reflection. She didn’t understand what was wrong with the maid, but she didn’t want someone with such a dark expression by her side. “Liuya, go rest. Qiulu, you stay.”
Resentment took root in Liuya’s heart. There’s no one by her side anymore, and she still doesn’t want me! Fine! Whatever! She’d be delighted to rest! She was a third-rank maid anyways, it’s not like her stipend would increase if she took on more duties. Liuya curtsied curtly and left.
When only Qin Yining and Qiulu were left, the maid spoke up, “Don’t be bothered by her, miss.”
“I didn’t mind, but I don’t know what’s gotten into her. Has something happened these days?”
“Nothing else has happened apart from sister Ruilan’s matter.” Qiulu shook her head. “Miss, how is sister Ruilan now? Everyone says that she’s been beaten to death. You weren’t home, and we were grounded. Although Zhan-mama can walk around, we didn’t dare ask her.”
Qin Yining smiled and took Ruilan’s hands. “Don’t worry, Ruilan is recovering at Cloudsoar Inn right now with Miss Tang. But I have something I’d like to do and need your help.”
Qiulu grew solemn and still. “Tell me anything you need, miss. This servant will do everything she can to accomplish it.”
“I’m not too certain about this yet, so I’m just guessing. My father is holding a banquet for his peers today, and there should be some Clearists among them. They must already know that I’ve taken in Miss Tang. With their concern for her, they’ll certainly make some moves here. I’d like to use this matter to…” Qin Yining murmured the remainder next to Qiulu’s ear.
“Miss, is this really alright?” Qiulu widened her eyes.
“What’s not alright about it? I’m not harming any innocents, but anyone with evil intentions won’t be able to escape.”
Liuya’s voice traveled in from outside. “Miss, there are people here with a gift for you.”
Qiulu’s eyes widened even further. “Miss, you guessed too rightly!” Her mistress had just told her that there would be people by with gifts today.
Qin Yining dimpled and went out with Qiulu to accept the gift. It was a painting scroll, and she was briefly halted in her tracks when she unfurled it. It was the painting of horse herd that had hung in the Prince of Ning’s manor! She laid it flat on a table to examine it and ran her fingertip lightly over the surface of the painting, finally resting it on the artist’s signature in the bottom left. When she’d last seen this painting, there had been no signature. But today, it was stamped and signed, “Bright and Clear Peace”.
Anyone who saw this name would recognize it. She hadn’t known before, but Zhan-mama had explained it to her. The crown prince adored painting and was an acclaimed artist. “Bright and Clear Peace” was the name he was accustomed to using as a signature. It was derived from the notion of an age of peace, prosperity, and security on all sides. The crown prince painted this!?
Liuya smiled. “Miss, the messenger from the Prince of Ning is still waiting in the outer courtyard. He says that the prince has something to say to the miss.”
Qin Yining started and quickly nodded. “Understood. Qiulu, accompany me.” She certainly had to meet with someone from the Prince of Ning.
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