Chapter 7: The Slap
Qin Huining’s pupils contracted violently when she saw the other walking over, looking stately beneath the setting sun. Qin Yining’s tall figure was eye catching in the light of evening, her beige cloak flaring open slightly with every step, revealing ripples of her downy-yellow long skirt. The movement of the fabric made her appear quite light-footed, lending a hint of athleticism to her fragile looks. Her spine was upright, and she smiled slightly when she saw Qin Huining. That uncanny resemblance to a young Prime Minister Qin left Qin Huining feeling like she came off worse in the comparison.
Taking a deep breath in, Qin Huining reminded herself sternly, I’m the official firstborn! I’m well versed in the zither, chess, calligraphy, and painting! That’s just a barbarian! This is my home territory! It should be Qin Yining who should be nervous!
After shoring up her mentality some, Qin Huining walked up to Qin Yining with a smile and reached out for the other’s hands, bending her knees in greeting.
“You’re here, younger sister Little Creek. I was just about to send someone to Snowpear Courtyard and summon you. We have a rule of greeting our parents every morning and dusk.”
She’s still making an issue out of my name? Is there no end to her antics?! Qin Yining smiled and returned the greeting.
“Thank you for your kind intentions, Miss Huining. Jin-mama told me of this already and prevented me from embarrassing myself in front of the madame. But I thank you for your thoughts.”
Qin Huining’s smile froze for a second when she heard “Miss Huining”. When she heard that it’d been Jin-mama to offer this information, she began to suspect the senior madame’s intentions. She flicked a surreptitious glance to née Cai, who immediately blinked back at her with great understanding. Qin Huining took Qin Yining’s arm and gracefully strolled into Garden of Tranquility together.
She spoke gently, “Since you’re newly returned and don’t understand much of the manor, you can come ask me if you have any questions. I’m no sage, but I still understand some of the basics.” An exploratory jab started the conversation; the implication being that Qin Yining didn’t even understand the most basic of rules.
“Many thanks to Miss Huining. Father will naturally arrange teachers and a mama for the rules.” Qin Yining spoke slowly, warmth in every word. “I grew up in the countryside and wasn’t so lucky as Miss Huining to grow up in the manor.” A riposte with sharp fangs ended it; an imposter who took another’s place by luck was feeling this proud?
The two walked across the flagstones to the covered hallway, small smiles on their faces as they gazed at each other. Qin Huining kept her eyes trained on Qin Yining’s at first, but possibly due to the latter’s resemblance to her father, Qin Yining’s eyes seemed to be able to see through everything.
A merciless glint that would be more appropriate in a wild beast gleamed deep in her eyes. It was ruthless enough to make Qin Huining subconsciously evade the other’s look, but when she realized what she was doing, she began sulking again. This girl’s fangs haven’t been blunted at all by what’s happened so far!
“Fourth Miss and Miss Huining, you’ve come!” Head maid Caiju’s voice cut through the awkward situation as she bent her knee in greeting, lifting the door curtains to one side.
Qin Huining’s emotions instantly hit rock bottom. That title of “fourth miss” was no longer hers. A single word from father had turned her from the daughter of the official wife to a foster child. Qin Yining caught all the changes in her expression clearly, her brows knitting together slightly.
The lights lit at dusk reflected a faint hue on the ground beneath the two girls’ feet. A gust of warm air and the soft fragrance of nuts wafted towards them, as if it were spring. The two girls handed their cloaks over to the maids as Qin Yining couldn’t help but look around with avid curiosity. She’d thought that her place was well off enough already, but finally knew what the word ‘luxury’ meant when she arrived at Garden of Tranquility. At the very least, her place wasn’t as warm as here.
They circled around the room divider into the side hall, and Qin Huining took the initiative to smile sweetly, “Mother, have you had dinner?” She bent her knee in greeting and swiftly took a place at née Sun’s side, looking at Qin Yining with clear provocation in her eyes.
Qin Yining made a mannerly curtsey and called out, “Madame.” She was a bit envious at the proximity that née Sun allowed with Qin Huining.
Née Sun patted Qin Huining’s hand and looked at Qin Yining with a complicated look. She responded coolly, “You may sit down as well. Have you had dinner?”
Caiju instantly brought over a garden stool [1. The Baidu entry gives the English name as “pier”, but after looking up both Merriam-Webster and Oxford dictionaries, I don’t actually see “an ancient, bowed Chinese stool” given as one of the definitions. It’s more known as garden stool: a ceramic stool with an embroidered cover. Click for pic! https://baike.baidu.com/item/绣墩/3124908] and placed it five steps in front of née Sun.
Qin Yining sat down sideways, her lowered eyes flicking towards Qin Huining’s position and how her hand was tightly clasped with née Sun’s. Her gaze began to chill, but she responded politely.
“In response to the madame, yes.”
Née Sun snorted in response. She didn’t know what else to say.
The atmosphere grew a bit stiff.
Qin Huining seemed to understand née Sun’s awkward straits and smiled. “Are you getting used to Snowpear Courtyard, Little Creek? Are you missing anything?”
“Right, tell the servants if you’re missing anything and have them prepare it.” Née Sun immediately seized on the chance to break the awkward silence and tapped Qin Huining’s nose approvingly.
The intimate gesture made Qin Yining feel even more like an outsider. In truth, she’d become an outsider the moment that née Sun suspected her of being a mistress’ daughter, hadn’t she? The girl buried both hope and disappointment deep in her heart and curved her lips up in a self deprecating smile. Two dimples appeared on her cheeks. “Yes, many thanks for the madame’s concern.”
Née Sun looked at Qin Yining, her gaze softening slightly. This was a girl who looked so similar to Qin Huaiyuan and didn’t have an ounce of his irritating personality. It really was difficult to dislike her. But there was still a trace of suspicion in née Sun’s heart, she just didn’t know for sure if this girl’s mother was a mistress from the outside.
Qin Huining grew a little uneasy when she saw née Sun’s attitude begin to soften. She acted cutely, asking a question that she knew very well shouldn’t be asked, “Mother, where’s father? Is he coming back today?”
Née Sun’s expression instantly darkened at the question. Qin Huaiyuan had four concubines, and it was Concubine Hua’s turn today. He had just sent word earlier that he wouldn’t be returning tonight. When her mind was once again reminded of the fact that they’d argued over this wench, and now that she was denied the chance to clear the air tonight, née Sun couldn’t help but grow angry again. Unconcealed disgust and hate grew in her eyes as she continued to gaze at Qin Yining.
“My lord dotes on you and has already requested a mama from the palace to teach you manners and rules. He’s even spent good money to hire a teacher for you.” She couldn’t contain her urge to speak sourly. “This is all treatment that daughter Hui and the others never had.”
Née Sun felt more aggrieved the more she talked, and she now believed her own words before anything had been confirmed. She felt that Qin Huaiyuan treating Qin Yining so well was a reflection of his feelings for that unknown mistress, and her voice unconsciously grew in volume as well.
“I don’t care where your mother is, but if you are to live in this manor, you must obey our manor’s rules. If I tell you to learn well, you better bend your back to the task. Don’t think about being lazy or making excuses! A family like ours has plenty of opportunities to meet others in the future, and if you disgrace yourself outside and lose face for the manor, I’ll have your skin!”
This diatribe had sent Qin Yining surging to her feet. Even though her face remained expressionless and her long lashes hid her eyes, part of her heart was cut out by the knife née Sun had just unleashed. In that moment, her heart froze over into an icy scab. Her mother, her birth mother refused to acknowledge her and suspected her origins. She’s been in this manor for just half a day, but her grandmother didn’t like her, the servants tried to bully her, and now her mother treated her like this!?
Had she come back just to act as everyone’s favorite target? She had endured blow after blow already, seeking to win these people over with a docile and mature attitude, but what had she gotten in return!?
Perhaps she’d been too naive, dreaming of an idyllic life in a powerful noble family. Everyone who lived here seemed to harbor malicious intentions as they speculated on one’s every thought, motion or remark. There was nothing that remained for them to vanquish, but they still wanted to step on others to highlight how mighty they were. These people were even more terrifying than wild beasts! Wild beasts ate men in order to live, but these people ate men for their own selfish desires!
In that moment of heartbreak and icy realization, Qin Yining suddenly understood that giving way, showing weakness of any kind, would not result in affection or pity. If she continued to be so genteel, even her own servants might dump poison in her food one day!
“Madame, do you still not believe my identity? You have been a married couple with father for many years already, has he ever lied to you about something of this importance? Father has few children to begin with, so if he really did have another child outside, he could bring the child back openly with no one saying anything! Why would he have to lie to you, a woman? Grasping wildly at straws and making something out of nothing without a care for hurting your daughter is one thing, but don’t you care about hurting father?!”
Née Sun’s face went beet red in anger. The words of “few children” had stabbed deeply at her, not to mention all the accusatory questions that came after it. Her mother-in-law had already made her opinion on née Sun clear when it came to the topic of Qin Huaiyuan’s lack of children. Née Sun was unable to bear more, so she could only allow Qin Huaiyuan to take concubines. But when the concubines couldn’t bear children either, it clearly pointed to the problem lying with the man.
However, that capricious mother-in-law of hers doggedly believed that née Sun was simply jealous of the concubines and had doctored their food and drink. This wench was now openly mentioning this hot coal of a topic, how would née Sun not fly into a rage?
“Shut your mouth!” Née Sun pointed at Qin Yining with a trembling finger. “Who the hell do you think you are?! How dare you retort when I lecture you out of kindness? I give you an inch, and you run with it to take a mile?! Servants, come and teach this wild brat a lesson!” Née Sun gestured randomly, summoning head maid Caiju.
Caiju made a affirmative noise, rolling up her sleeves. She marched forward, her hand rising to slap the impertinent girl when Qin Yining’s eyes snapped to hers. A cold shudder traveled down her back as she quailed under that arctic gaze. Her hand remained in the air, she didn’t dare to bring it down. This miss is a wild barbarian alright! The look in her eyes is just like a wild beast!
Née Sun was incensed at Qin Yining’s display of nerve and strode forward, pushing Caiju aside. Her hand flashed out, and the sound of a full force slap rang in the air.
Qin Yining reeled back, one hand holding her face. The incredulous look in her eyes slowly turned into one of jade acceptance. The crisp slap had numbed née Sun’s hand, but she was feeling so much better for it. She reached out, twisting Qin Yining’s collar with one hand and pulling her in as she bit off her words.
“I will naturally investigate whether you are my daughter or not, but in either case, you have no right to speak in front of me! Is it my fault that Qin Meng lacks children? If you think he’s been wronged, then just recognize him as your father. There’s no need to recognize me, ‘a woman’, as your mother!”
“Madame, please quell your anger.” Jin-mama hastily stepped forward to call for calm when she saw that née Sun was saying any and everything that crossed her mind in her anger.
Qin Huining also picked the right timing to tug at née Sun to the side, tears swimming in her eyes. “Don’t be angry mother, it’s all your daughter’s fault. None of this would’ve happened if I hadn’t been swapped at birth. You wouldn’t be suffering like this either! Don’t be angry anymore mother, isn’t that stabbing further into my heart?”
Née Sun pursed her lips when she heard her daughter’s words, her anger turning to grief again as fat tears started to trickle down and plop onto her lap as well. When she looked at the girl who’d been dazed by her slap, née Sun felt a tinge of guilt and heartache. But she resolutely stomped it out, focusing on the fact that she, as the official wife, had the right and obligation to educate the children whether or not they were her own.
“Get the hell out!” She spoke coldly, having successfully suppressed her guilt.
Qin Yining watched the act that Qin Huining was putting on, learning a few more things in the process. She lowered her head and hid her cold smile, responding gently, “Please don’t be angry anymore, madame.”
Née Sun turned her head aside, refusing to look at the girl. Qin Yining was about to leave when the sound of the door curtains being lifted traveled into the room. Qin Huaiyuan stepped into the room, wearing a light grey cloak with a large collar and bearing an extremely dark expression on his face.
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