Though she was the landlord, Qin Yining felt much more at ease upon seeing familiar faces that she’d once helped.
“Benefactor, what makes you come here in person? The roads aren’t in good condition after the earth dragon turned over,” inquired Zhang Zhuangtou.
“That’s right. It’s dangerous to travel, and did you know the earth dragon still isn’t quiet? There’s a shake every few days, whether big or small. Who knows just what’s going on here!” remarked née Ding, Zhang Zhuangtou’s wife.
“Is everything alright on the farmstead? Has anyone been hurt?”
“Ai, some families’ homes were destroyed and we have roughly a dozen casualties. A beam landed on one of the families’ granny. She died on the spot.”
Qin Yining sighed. “Ai. Whether it be natural disaster or manmade, it’s always the people who suffer.”
“Our benefactor is kind, it’s all because of you that we survived those times. We’re so lucky that we can settle down here and have food to eat, clothes to wear, and houses to live in. We even spent the new year in peace. You’ve done your best for us, so please don’t be sad,” comforted née Ding.
Zhang Zhuangtou concurred eagerly, “That’s right, our farm is actually better off, thanks to Steward Zhong building sturdy houses for us. Most of them were just fine after the earthquake.”
“That’s good,” sighed Qin Yining. “I’m here with the prince at this time because of an imperial decree The nation’s coffers are empty and His Majesty hasn’t given us silver or provisions for relief aid. I’m sure you all know of the ghastly conditions within town. It really pains me to see so many starving in the streets. Do we have any extra food stored here?”
“Benefactor, we had the drought last year and then too much rain this year. We have some food stored away, but not much. We do have a bit of sweet potatoes though.”
“Leave enough food for everyone on the farmstead and put the rest onto carts for me. I’ll bring it back to the soup kitchens in town. Hopefully, that helps more people survive.”
Zhang Zhuangtou nodded and ran off to execute his orders. Née Ding looked like she had something to say.
“Missus Ding, please feel free to say whatever’s on your mind.”
“Mm, Benefactor, I know it’s not my place to say any of this. You’re selfless, big-hearted, and only think of saving more people. But how does such a large imperial court fail to send a single bank note? I feel that some people are counting on your kindness, that you won’t be able to help yourself with donating money and food when you see the people suffering.
“Secondly, our abilities are limited. Even if you donate all of the food, it won’t save that many people. At that time, the people won’t remember how much you donated, just how many died. Ai! I know these are your possessions, but I really can’t stand to see you come off worse for the wear.”
Touched, Qin Yining smiled when she heard this. “Thank you for your candor, Missus Ding. I understand what you mean. I’ll consider this carefully, and the prince will also be brainstorming ways to solve the food shortage. I’m just trying to help more people survive until the solution hits him.”
“You are such a kind-hearted person. It’s because of your caring tendencies that we were able to survive. We’ll do everything you say.” Née Ding suddenly felt that her thoughts were so very dirty. Was the princess consort only allowed to spend her wealth on saving the Ning Park refugees? Her benefactor wanted to save more people, but here she was, being petty and small-minded!
Qin Yining rested in the house while those on the farmstead bustled with action. Deeming the poor road condition too difficult for carriages, they strapped the food onto the backs of mules. All of it added together was the equivalent of a large wagon.
The princess consort pulled Zhang Zhuangtao aside. “You’ve brought out so much, does that leave enough for the people on the farm? Don’t donate your own dinners just because I said something.”
Warmth wrapped itself around the man’s heart. “Don’t worry, Benefactor. We kept enough for ourselves, like you instructed. Don’t worry at all. I hear that some plague is starting in the city though. Please be careful when you go out and about!”
“You too.” Qin Yining nodded with a smile. “Look after the farmstead well. Don’t be in a rush to do anything these days. Just live well. The days ahead are long as long as we’re alive.”
She couldn’t delay any further. Any food she got her hands on had to be transported back as soon as possible. Saving lives was as urgent as putting out a fire. She didn’t want to see the people die for nothing, their only crime to live under an useless emperor.
The roads were indeed very difficult to travel. Thankfully their group consisted only of four-legged creatures, so any obstacles were surmounted by carefully leading their steeds across.
Even so, it was late afternoon by the time they returned to Yang City proper.
Worried about his wife, Pang Xiao had taken up residence by the door. Happiness brewed in the bottom of his eyes to see her return; even more so given that she led mules laden with provisions. However, heartache overpowered his joy at seeing Qin Yining.
“You’re back.” He welcomed the group with a smile.
The princess consort flipped down from her horse. “You guys came back first!”
“Mmhmm, we came back right after noon. How are you feeling? Are you tired after riding for so long?”
“I’m doing well.” The two walked side by side back to the yamen. Qin Yining added in a low chuckle, “Just a bit chafed from the saddle. This used to never happen to me before, but I’m afraid I’ve become spoiled after living in the lap of luxury.”
“How is that spoiled? You’re a tender, fragile lady to begin with! But here you are, having to suffer with me.” Pang Xiao reached out to flick her messy hairstyle.
The tow stood beneath the shade of a tree, watching their men lead the horses back inside.
When there was no one around, Pang Xiao whispered, “My scouts have discovered that the entire old capital is surrounded by Dragon Riders. They’re most likely the emperor’s personal escort. Some of them are headed to Yang County. They’ve been delayed by the road conditions, but I’m sure they’ll be here soon.”
Qin Yining’s heart skipped a beat. “Then that means the treasure really is in Yang County.”
“That’s right, he wouldn’t act like this otherwise. We just don’t know where the treasure is yet, and don’t know what side Azure Justice has taken. Who knows if their marks really lead to the treasure?”
“Since troops have been deployed and the emperor’s secretly made his way here, we need to stay on our guard,” huffed Qin Yining with resignation. “We can’t go probing the waters no matter how curious we get. It would be much more of a loss than a gain if we were to be dragged into everything. Finding a proper way to handle the earthquake aftermath is what we should focus on. Our little bit of silver won’t hold out for long, and court isn’t sending any provisions. We still need to find a way to deal with those rich families.”
Pang Xiao smiled wryly. “All of them are highly dissatisfied with Great Zhou, and they’re also heartless bastards as well. Nothing panned out from visiting one family, so I’ll have to keep thinking of better plans.”
“I’ll go with you tomorrow. Maybe there’s a way.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
...the emperor is here?! He's actually here?? AND HE ONLY CARES ABOUT HIS DAMN TREASURE?!