Utter shock continued to paint Qin Huaiyuan’s face. Dumbstruck and at an utter loss for words, he seemed to not even notice Li Qitian's fury. He knelt on the ground for a moment before straightening to ask, "What did His Highness leave the capital for? Did he leave alone, or is he with company? What of his family? Are they still at home?"
Li Qitian stared at Qin Huaiyuan suspiciously.
The look of astonishment and helplessness was no act, nor was the bewilderment and shock in his eyes. The emperor had never seen Qin Huaiyuan in such a state. Not even when members of the court deliberately picked on him and shunned him when he first arrived as a surrendered enemy minister—not once had he been as frantic as he was now.
Perhaps he was panicking because he also knew that Pang Zhixi's departure meant all crimes and pressures would fall on his shoulders as the father-in-law?
The doubts lurking in Li Qitian's heart lessened. However, he still couldn't bring himself to trust Qin Huaiyuan.
"The servants of the prince's manor said that before the prince left with his soldiers, his mother and his maternal family packed up their bags saying they were going to visit relatives. As far as We know, all of their relatives died long ago save for the Qins. We ask you this: did they not come to your residence?"
"Your Majesty, this subject dares not deceive his liege. I have remained at home as it is my day off today, so I most certainly did not see the family come to my complex. His Majesty can ask any of my servants personally or have your subordinates investigate. This subject will have no objections at all." He kowtowed heavily after his emotional display of loyalty.
Seeing Qin Huaiyuan's sincerity, Li Qitian's doubts lessened even more.
Only by a slight degree, however.
"Since beloved subject Qin is being so sincere, how can We not give you a chance to prove your innocence? If We do not order men to investigate your residence, others will say something is afoot with the Qins. How about We personally oversee a cursory search and say no more of this afterward, what say you?"
"This subject cannot thank His Majesty enough for his benevolence." Qin Huaiyuan continued kowtowing.
Li Qitian gave a bark of soft laughter, then looked toward Li Guanwen who promptly turned to give the command to the royal guards. Soon, the modestly-sized yard grew clamorous.
Because the eunuch stressed that His Majesty wasn’t looking to search and confiscate since he still wished to keep Minister Qin in a position of importance, the investigating guards didn't dare get ahead of themselves; they didn’t damage the Qin family's possessions, nor did they dare shove the women around.
Despite their precautions, the old dowager and the other womenfolk were beside themselves with fright. They watched the royal guards conduct their search as the few servants they had attended to them.
Though they didn't know what was happening, the women of the Qin family had gone through so much in Great Zhou that they felt as if they’d returned to the time when their family had to abandon their home to escape slaughter.
The old dowager dabbed at her eyes and sobbed, "Oh heavens, heavens above! What sins have we committed to merit something like this yet again?!"
The eighth miss and Qin Huining supported the old dowager from both sides.
The second wife hid among the crowd while clutching her child. Seeing the royal guards come out of the house without taking any of their family possessions, it didn’t appear that they were here to take the opportunity to ransack their home.
Upon observing this, she summoned the courage to ask, "What are you looking for? Tell us and we may be able to help."
Née Sun, the second madame, and the old dowager all turned their heads to glare viciously at her. Was she worried these ruthless men wouldn't take notice of the women?!
Wilting beneath their glares, the second wife promptly nudged at her husband Qin Han from behind.
Qin Han, Qin Yu, and Qin Xian stepped forward and shielded the womenfolk with their bodies.
Since the royal guards had special orders from Li Guanwen, they had no wish to make things difficult for the Qins. As such, they inquired, "Have you seen the Faithful Grand-Lord, Old Madame, and the Grand-Madame of the First Rank?"
Stunned, the old dowager responded, "You are here to search for our in-laws?"
"Of course we’ve seen them before, but it has been a long time since then," said the second madame.
The guards spoke no more with the women and moved to the front hall to await further instruction. Seeing the outsiders exit in a single file line, the family let out sighs of relief.
Qin Han quietly scolded his wife. "Don't run your mouth in the future. You might find it easy to chatter on since you're a married woman, but does that mean the girls are the same?"
The second wife flushed all the way to her ears and lowered her head, not daring to say anything more.
Seeing that Qin Han had already disciplined his wife, the old dowager didn’t put in her own comments. She turned and quietly addressed Qin-mama, "Go quietly and take a look. What can possibly have happened? Why come to our home in search of the in-laws and make a fuss about it, like they’ve come to confiscate our belongings?"
"Understood." Qin-mama replied, then carefully made her way to the second door.
Meanwhile in the front hall, the guards reported back to Li Qitian how those left at the Qin manor reacted more or less the same. The emperor’s doubts lessened considerably, though he still had his suspicions since Qin Huaiyuan would certainly try to cover for his son-in-law. But he presently didn’t have any concrete proof, so it was difficult to convict the minister with any sort of crime.Previous Chapter Next Chapter