“Milord, milord, a great eunuch’s come from the palace. He says he's here with the miss’ rewards,” a pageboy by the door called out happily. Overjoyed by the visitor, the group headed to the front yard together.
The eunuch read out Qin Yining’s newly bestowed paramount rank in ringing tones and directed her rewards of gold, bolts of silk, and head ornaments into neat placements in the yard. The family happily looked over everything and gifted a large red envelope in turn before sending the delighted eunuch off on his way.
Congratulations abounded in the yard after the messenger’s departure. What further honors and glory could a woman want for in life, other than entering the palace to become part of the royal harem?
Qin Yining was less than twenty years old, but she was a princess consort of the paramount rank, partnered with a loving and doting husband, and now heavy with child. It seemed that she held in her hands everything that any woman could ever desire.
The family stood around and happily chattered about what’d just happened. Née Sun couldn’t stop smiling as she held her daughter’s hands and the old dowager’s eyes were caught by the rows of silver and gold ingots. She looked at them again and again with an eager glint in her eyes.
“His Majesty greatly values brother-in-law alright!” exclaimed the second madame. “His Majesty knew that Yining was sure to return home after morning court, so he sent the rewards here.”
She meant to flatter Pang Xiao with these comments, but Qin Huaiyuan and Pang Xiao understood the gesture for what it was.
Li Qitian was keeping them under surveillance. Sending Qin Yining’s rewards directly to the Qin Manor was a message that the emperor knew their relationship was overly close.
Normally speaking, it was inevitable and reasonable that father and son-in-law were close to each other. However, Qin Huaiyuan and Pang Xiao’s relationship was no ordinary one. They’d joined efforts to craft a story that they loathed each other, which had been the key to Li Qitian personally arranging the marriage for the couple.
If Li Qitian had known that the two interacted like one family when they were together and even frequently brainstormed ideas for each other, his regret would know no bounds.
And now, it seemed that he was indeed aware.
Qin Huaiyuan had abstained from doing anything in court today and stayed away from Li Qitian’s faction when they were censuring the prince. Now that everything had calmed down, so did the emperor have spare time to muse over the situation and contemplate his way to the right answer.
Pang Xiao looked worriedly at Qin Huaiyuan. “Father-in-law…”
Smiling, Qin Huaiyuan clapped the prince’s muscular shoulders. “There is nothing to worry about.” He was perfectly at ease, as if none of this mattered to him. His smile widened when he saw Pang Xiao looking at him. “I’m no spring chicken anymore, it is time for me to take a step back and enjoy life with my grandchildren.”
The sudden declaration seemed to speak of an intent to remove himself from worldly affairs. The second elder master and second madame registered this with a wave of concern. Qin Huaiyuan was in the prime of his life and as the Minister of the Rites, was poised to enter the inner council in the future. That he suddenly expressed such sentiments was a puzzling and unwelcome development.
An urgent clatter of hooves sounded outside the front door. When a gray-robed eunuch swung open the door and saw everyone gathered in the front yard, he unfurled his imperial decree and read it out loud.
“The Emperor, who governs with the Mandate of Heaven, does hereby decree that any Qin surnamed male who serves at court is summarily dismissed from office, never to be employed again. Proclaimed to all under the Heavens, let it be known!”
The announcement bombed the bustling yard into stillness. Other than Qin Huaiyuan who retained his calm, everyone else was so shocked that they couldn't find the words to express their feelings.
Apart from Qin Huaiyuan, second elder master Qin Xiuyuan was also an official at court. Though Qin Yining’s cousins weren’t in service yet, they were all eagerly preparing for civil examinations to lay down the foundations for their future career.
The imperial decree completely severed any hope of an illustrious future in a government position. Though the emperor meant to remove Qin Huaiyuan and Qin Xiuyuan from their positions, and to forever bar only those two from imperial employment, how would anyone dare associate with the Qins after this? No one would keep company with Qin Han and Qin Yu with this precedent!
Qin Huaiyuan received the imperial decree with equanimity and gave thanks. Dazed for a long while, Qin Xiuyuan jolted into action when his brother bowed and offered his gratitude as well.
In the stunned silence, the old dowager suddenly wailed and burst into tears.
“What's the reason for this, how can this be?? Didn't the emperor just bestow a paramount rank onto our young miss?! How come he takes away her father’s position in the next breath?? What’s going on?!”
Her cry articulated the question in everyone's hearts, but to question an imperial decree was a grave crime. Beside her, the second madame and Qin-mama quickly clapped hands over her mouth with unspoken accord.
Still standing within the yard, the eunuch wanted to angrily rebuke the old woman. But when he saw the imposing Pang Xiao standing off to the side with his hands behind his back, he was so frightened by the sight that he swallowed his remarks.
No one dared antagonize this one! He’d be killed on the spot if things went south, and if that happened, the eunuch was certain that the emperor would only say, “well done” and nothing else. There’d be absolutely no value in his death!
The eunuch didn’t want to linger any longer or catch wind of anything he wasn't supposed to hear. He took his leave with a much more polite attitude than he’d shown upon his arrival.
Pang Xiao sent off the eunuch and the group returned indoors. No one stoppered the old dowager’s mouth now, so her noisy sobs rang up to the rafters.
“Woe betide us, woe is me! Why has something like this happened?! The son that I’ve raised for so many years has been removed from his position! How is this possible? Yining received rewards just moments before Meng’er and Xiu’er were removed!
“What should we do now?? How will the Qins find any glory or honor in the future?!” The old dowager’s weeping caused the second madame’s eyes to redden as well.
Staring blankly, née Sun didn’t know what else to do other than hold her daughter’s hand.
Qin Huaiyuan patted his brother’s shoulder. “Second brother, I’ve dragged you down with me.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
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