Qin Yining and Bao-mama made for the outer doors, the fourth miss dwelling happily on the memory of Qin Huining’s sour face from moments ago. The foster girl had been hopping up and down like an over excited monkey ever since she’d come home. She hadn’t even had a day of peace, what with the attempts to trip her up, frame her, and then frame those by her side.
Even though Qin Yining had no intention of directly moving against the foster girl, the latter was sure to judge others by her own set of values and think that Qin Yining would definitely be out to get her. Since Qin Huining already thought this way, it’d certainly be a pity not to live up to her expectations.
And this was just the beginning.
The two exited the inner doors and were met by a pageboy to escort them to the carriage waiting by the side door. When Bao-mama saw that the pageboy was still a ways away and confirmed that no one else was with them, she smiled in explanation.
“I acted like this today on my mistress’ orders. The elder madame pities the miss’ tough days and know that you have suffered much during this time. She means to indicate that those who should be taken down a peg should meet that fate. Since our lady won’t do so, then the elder madame doesn’t mind being the villain in her stead.”
“I understand grandmother’s intentions, but I’m afraid this creates enemies for her instead.” Although Qin Yining knew that the duchess wasn’t simply doting on her with this gesture, that it was also an attempt to balance the scales of power between the two girls, she could still sense the implicit kindness in the gesture.
Bao-mama’s smile grew more genuine when she saw how mature Qin Yining was. “Don’t worry, miss. The elder madame said that with all that happens in life, it’s difficult to ensure that everything happens according to our wishes. We just need to make sure we live up to our conscience. Now that Miss Huining is setting off on a crooked path, it would only harm the lady in the future if we don’t suppress her some. The elder madame is also doing this for her daughter.”
“Mother is a fortunate daughter.” Qin Yining nodded understandingly, but she couldn’t help but smile when she thought of née Sun’s antics.
The old servant smiled ruefully as well. Wasn’t that so very true compared to Qin Yining? What a pity that the madame didn’t understand how to cherish her privileged circumstances, instead always thinking that she was a victim of something or another.
“Miss, the elder madame sent a calling card to the nunnery yesterday, saying that we’ll be visiting today to commission rites. Everything’s been set up accordingly, and the mistress had someone fetch Miss Tang from Cloudsoar Inn earlier. We can be on our way momentarily.”
“Grandmother thinks most thoroughly.”
Bao-mama pointed Qin Yining in the direction of the luxurious, spacious carriage in the middle of the convoy as soon as they exited the outer doors. She held the mama’s hand, stepped up on the red lacquer footstool, and was greeted with the sight of the duchess as soon as she lifted the carriage curtains.
Her grandmother was wearing a navy blue cape decorated with intertwined branches. She occupied the head seat, while Tang Meng sat next to the duchess, still wearing her nun’s outfit.
“Grandmother, you’re here as well!” Qin Yining took a seat opposite the two and pulled the mama in closer as well. There was a lot of room, so the four didn’t feel crowded at all. Bao-mama leaned forward, discreetly giving orders to those outside to set off.
The duchess reached out for Qin Yining’s hand. “What, did you think I’d be waiting at home? I wanted to set off immediately and forgo another bout of running back and forth. We’d have to pass by this road on the way to the nunnery, so I decided we might as well pick you up on the way.”
“However you’d like to arrange things is fine, grandmother.” Qin Yining nodded with a smile; she understood that the duchess wasn’t at liberty to easily enter the Qin Manor. “As long as you take me out often.”
“Oh, you child, you.” The duchess chuckled tolerantly.
It was a four hour carriage ride to the nunnery. Although the days had become cold, there had been no snow over the past two days. Add the southern location of Great Yan territories to the mix, making winters half snow and half rain, and the roads were nice and clear on this bright, sunny day. They paused only once during the four hour trip and spent the rest of the journey in cheerful chatter.
Qin Yining and the duchess knew that after the execution of Tang Meng’s family, family gatherings were likely a painful point for her. They didn’t want to touch on a sad matter, so they went to great lengths to include her in the conversation so that she wouldn’t feel despondent. As time wore on, Tang Meng was greatly admiring of the duchess’ wisdom and had grown closer to Qin Yining.
“Mistress, we’re here.” A maid called out to them from outside as the carriage slowly rolled to a halt. The guards took up protective positions at the two ends of the convoy. Qin Yining and Tang Meng alighted first, then helped the duchess off. The groomsman drove off while granny servants lifted gifts up the flights of stairs.
Qin Yining tilted her head up to see hundreds of stairs, roughly three meters wide, coiling upwards not too far in the distance. Trees and patches of bamboo lined the passageway, casting shadows along the stairs. It looked particularly tranquil. One could glimpse the main doors at the very top of the stairs.
“Grandmother, have them bring the sedan chair. You’ll be tired after climbing so many steps.”
“No worries, it’s only 208 steps. how can that be tiring? We’ll just slowly make our way upwards.” The duchess’ mind was quite set, and nothing Bao-mama or the others said made a difference. Qin Yining and Tang Meng had to settle for carefully helping the duchess walk.
The duchess started huffing after a few dozen steps, and she was flushed bright red at the halfway mark. Sweat had already begun to bead on her forehead. Yet, Qin Yining was as composed as she was walking on flat ground. The duchess stuck her hands on her hips and stretched her back, laughing.
“Look at our dear Yi. A couple more dozen steps would still be a piece of cake for her. She’s showing all of you up!”
The maids and granny servants following behind were all huffing and panting as well, complimenting Qin Yining in between gasps of air. The fourth miss found the sight particularly amusing.
“I’ve been walking the mountain paths since I was a child, so I’m used to them. But grandmother is still so spritely at your age. If you take care of your body well and keep from overexerting yourself, your health will surely be even better.”
The duchess spent another moment catching her breath before straightening, waving her hand at the rest of them. “Come, let’s make it to the top in one go this time!”
By the time they all reached the top, Qin Yining’s cheeks were only touched with the faintest blush, while the others desperately drew great breaths, chests heaving with exertion. As they swayed on their feet, panting, Qin Yining took a moment to inspect her surroundings.
Rose pink doors created a welcome break in a wall that stretched around a spacious complex. A bluestone path led through the flat ground right to the doors, with tufts of wilted grass poking up between the tiles. The words “Celestial Nunnery” were written in golden script on a placard over the doors. Through the open doors, one could vaguely make out redwood pillars that held up a magnificently decorated ceiling, seemingly a main hall.
Several Taoist nuns garbed in deep blue had come out in welcome while Qin Yining was absorbed in the view, folding one hand over the other to greet the duchess. 1 A skinny nun just over thirty approached, her hands folded before her in greeting. “Immeasurable fortune flows from Buddha! Is the elder madame well? Long time no see, but you are looking quite well!”
“It’s all thanks to you. Is Priestess Liu in?”
“Honored mistress has been waiting for your arrival. Please follow this humble nun.”
Qin Yining and Tang Meng flanked the duchess as the large group entered the doors in great fanfare, following the bluestone path to a moon gate and past the main hall to a residence in the backyard. Bao-mama stepped to the side to wait outside with the rest of the maids. The duchess entered the residence with only Qin Yining and Tang Meng beside her.
They were greeted by the sight of a stocky and plain looking nun, who didn’t look a day under fifty, sitting at the head seat. Some more nuns were dancing attendance on her, and even a young man seated in the guest seat.
The young man had slender eyebrows and phoenix-shaped eyes, a high nose and thin lips. He was wearing an ivory, one-piece robe complemented by a gray, fur cloak. It was apparent at a glance that this handsome person was no ordinary character. The duchess looked downwards politely after a quick once over. The man had an eighteen year old, stalwart follower behind him. Being filled with the vigor of youth, the follower snuck several peeks at Qin Yining’s face.
The duchess was dissatisfied at this petty rudeness. “Priestess Liu, did you receive my calling card yesterday?” I noted that I would be bringing girls with me, so why is an outside male here?”
“In the name of Buddha. Are you doing well, Elder Madame? I did receive your calling card, but this is my greatest patron. It should be fine that he’s here, no?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter