“I shouldn’t harp at you given what’s happened with your family, but don’t you forget who you are! Although you were and still are a Sun, crossing our threshold made you first and foremost a Qin! You need to think of the Qin clan in whatever you do. Don’t forget that your husband is grand preceptor!”
The old dowager had been nursing this breath of ill will for a long time now. Although it certainly was a great pity that a talent like Sun Yuanming had died just like that, the old dowager was more worried as to whether the Qin clan would be dragged down by the Duke of Ding’s household.
The emperor had given a decree. Regardless of its reasonableness, an imperial decree was an imperial decree. Sun Yuanming may have made himself a martyr for the country, but defying an imperial decree was a crime he’d forever be painted with. The old dowager had tried stopping Qin Huaiyuan from going to the Ding Manor after everything had happened on that fateful day, but her son was now an adult and had his own ideas.
She’d thought that he’d just gone for appearance’s sake, but then he’d actually stayed and started helping! When she’d sent servants with messages that she’d taken ill, he’d only come back to confirm that she was faking, and spouted all sorts of noble ideals before leaving again.
But what was he doing all this for?! Her son wasn’t the sort to forget his mother after taking a wife, so maybe née Sun had said or done something. Now that the old dowager finally had her daughter-in-law under her thumb again, it was the perfect opportunity for her to vent her irritation.
Née Sun was already grief-stricken, and the diatribe she just suffered had only served to muddle her even more. She wasn’t the sort to analyze the bigger picture to begin with, and her thoughts were a complete churned up mess at the moment. She didn’t think deeply about the old dowager’s words. She just felt that her mother-in-law was faulting her for spending so much time at home.
Qin Yining needed only one look at née Sun’s expression to know that her mother’s fiery temper was going to make an appearance even faster than usual. She stepped forward to try and forestall the impending explosion, but née Sun moved even faster.
“Old Dowager, you’re simply too heartless! Such a tragic thing has happened at home, and even my parents have taken ill with grief. Yuanming’s funeral wasn’t yet wrapped up either, so how could I possibly have just left them behind? You should be putting yourselves in their shoes, not throwing a tantrum!” Née Sun’s voice was a bit hoarse from the crying, so her words were even scratchier than usual as she fired back at the old dowager.
With that, Qin Yining’s options had narrowed to damage control. She hurriedly spoke up to explain, “Don’t be angry, Old Dowager. Mother didn’t mean that…”
But the old dowager had already shot to her feet in anger, completely ignoring her granddaughter. “Me, throwing a tantrum?! Is there any daughter-in-law in this world that speaks to their mother-in-law like this?! Just because I’ve been lenient towards you all these years, have you begun to think that I’ve gone soft? Put myself in their shoes? I don’t have a grandson who would die for his cause, so I really can’t empathize!”
“You!” Née Sun trembled in pure fury. Her greatest regret in life was that she hadn’t been able to give Qin Huaiyuan a boy after all these years of marriage. How much derision had she suffered from her mother-in-law for that all these years? And here she was, using that to attack née Sun again?
Tears trickled down née Sun’s face as she clutched her chest, unable to catch her breath in between sobs. “I know the old dowager doesn’t like the sight of me. I’ll…”
“What, you want to go home?” The old dowager was both infuriated and vindicated when she saw née Sun start to cry. She snorted coldly. “Do you think the Ding Manor is still the Ding Manor of old? I’ll give you a word of advice since you’re my daughter-in-law. Although Yuanming’s now a martyr, he still showed disrespect towards the emperor. For as long as the emperor doesn’t express his stance, there’s a blade that hangs above the Ding Manor. If you’re truly filial, then you should think about your family!
“You’re not a child, so surely you’re not worse at life than your daughter? Look at how a perfectly fine darling Hui’s turned out under your care! When looking at you, I should be rejoicing that my dear Yi was stolen away all those years ago so that she remained free from your influence!”
Such devastating words caused née Sun’s face to drain of all color. The old dowager shouldn’t be lecturing her like this in front of her daughter and servants. How would she have any face or dignity in the manor in the future? She felt that her dignity had already been trampled firmly into the dust by the old dowager!
Meanwhile, off to the side, Qin Huining had been unable to eat or drink for the past couple of days because her secret crush had died right in front of her. Her complexion was ashen and she’d lost a great deal of weight. She felt humiliated, furious, and resigned when she heard the old dowager’s words, heavily laden with undertones. So were they saying that in occupying Qin Yining’s rightful place, she’d actually saved the old dowager’s real granddaughter?
Qin Yining looked at the bawling née Sun, the hotly glaring old dowager, then at Qin Huining’s lowered head as the foster girl suppressed her emotions. She had no clue what direction to take this in.
Née Sun didn’t have a clear mind. The old dowager prioritized self interest above all else. Qin Huining was so very sensitive and easily jealous… Something serious would likely happen if the three continued down this road.
Qin Yining glanced over at Qin-mama, silently asking for help. The old servant nodded subtly back at her, moving beside the old dowager to pat her mistress’ chest and calm her down. She coaxed the old dowager back into her seat, “Don’t be angry, mistress. Senior Madame is straightforward and never means anything else with her words. After all, we’re all one family. You were also concerned about her family, no?”
She then turned to née Sun as the old dowager simply glowered. “Senior Madame, don’t blame Old Dowager for speaking too harshly. She’s just in too much of a rush. You know how difficult court has been for the lord these days. Don’t be sad, the old dowager just means well for the family.”
Not only did this pacify the old dowager, it also gave née Sun a way out that saved face. A smart person would have gone with the flow and offered an apology, thus closing the book on the matter.
Née Sun, however, was made of different stock, shooting back, “I know the old dowager just wants to distance herself now that something’s happened to my family! What happened to that fawning enthusiasm for my marriage when our family was mighty and awe-inspiring? Now that the lord is ascending in the world, has she forgotten who made it all possible! Shirking away whenever anything happens, where is your heart and conscience?! What a low-down display!”
Née Sun certainly spoke the truth, but some truths had a time and place where they could be aired. Did she want to continue living in the Qin Manor after saying that?! Qin Yining pinched the bridge of her nose, before forcibly bringing née Sun down to her knees. “Please don’t be angry, Old Dowager. My mother is confused in her grief. She didn’t mean that.”
“Didn’t mean that?” The old dowager’s face was now flushed beet red. No one was certain whether it was due to fury or embarrassment. Either way, it certainly wasn’t pleasant to have intentions so boldly shouted out.
“If it wasn’t for the fact that you have such a mature daughter Yi, I’d have my son divorce you today!”
“Then have him divorce me! We’ll see how fast the rumors of your son kissing up to those in power and kicking them away when their use is up travels then! I’ve had enough of in-laws like this!”
Née Sun flung off Qin Yining’s hand and whirled to leave. The girl quickly caught up to arrest her mother’s feet, throwing a look at Qin Huining as well.
Qin Huining was at least more quick witted that née Sun. Even though the two girls didn’t get along in normal circumstances, they still knew who was family at critical moments. They were all members of the main branch, and all of them would lose face with née Sun’s actions. Sadly, Qin Yining had overestimated Qin Huining’s emotional intelligence and underestimated the girl’s selfishness.
“Old Dowager.” Qin Huining knelt, a layer of mist welling up in eyes swollen from crying all these days. “Don’t be mad. Mother didn’t mean what she said. She has a very loving relationship with father, so please forgive her on account of father, if nothing else.”
These sounded like persuasive words, but they were just a ladle of hot fuel to the fireball that was currently the old dowager. She loved sons more than daughters and felt very possessive about them.
Although she wanted her sons to coexist peacefully with her daughters-in-law and grew angry whenever the latter did something wrong, she was still secretly gleeful when her daughters-in-law showed their failings. This way, her sons would realize more firmly who was closest to them.
This mentality was precisely what Qin Huining grasped. Née Sun already didn’t love her, why should the girl speak on her behalf? There wasn’t a single good thing in this family!
As expected, the old dowager exploded once again, throwing the teapot and teacups across the room in new fury. “You idiot woman! I knew you were goading Meng’er and making him stay at the Ding Manor to help your family! Take a look around and see the times we’re in! Your nephew’s dead, do you want your husband to be dragged in as well?!”
Née Sun had just been pulled to a stop in the courtyard. At those words, she lost all restraint, and opened her mouth to retort. But just at that moment, something in her chest gave way and grey ate at her vision. Her body softened. As her world faded to black, she toppled over in a faint.
“Mother! Mother!” Qin Yining caught the unconscious née Sun.
“Oh no, Senior Madame’s fainted!” Qin-mama quickly summoned servants and sent more running to fetch a doctor.
The old dowager was jolted out of her rage. Was this a new trick? Had née Sun really fainted or was this an act? Was she trying to pull the wool over the old dowager’s eyes or something else?!
Qin-mama came running out. “Quick quick quick! Bring Senior Madame into the house!”
The serving girls and granny servants moved into flustered action.
“Don’t move her randomly.” Qin Yining forcibly peeled off the people wanting to help. “I’ve seen people who’ve suddenly fainted actually fail to recover after being moved. The doctors later said it was palpitations and that patients shouldn’t be moved when it flares up. Hurry, go find Bingtang!”
That last command was to head maid Jixiang, who nodded rapidly and sprinted off at a dead run. Qin Yining had sent Bingtang and Songlan back to prepare a bath after they’d returned to the Qin Manor. While she waited for Bingtang, she repeatedly pressed the acupuncture points beneath the nose and between thumb and index finger.
Qin Huining had also made her way through the confusion and flopped to her knees at née Sun’s side, sobbing over her mother. “Mother, don’t scare me! Hurry and wake up!”
Distracted, Qin Yining looked up. When she caught sight of the pale, tear stained Qin Huining, her mouth twisted. Right then, she didn’t care that the old dowager and Qin-mama were behind her. She cared even less that a yard full of servants were standing around them. Her hand blurred as she gave Qin Huining a resounding slap!
She held nothing back in this slap and sent Qin Huining crashing to the ground seeing stars. The foster girl turned to the side and spat out a mouthful of blood. A tooth mixed in with the blood!
“Ah! My tooth! You!”
“Let me tell you something, Qin Huining! I’ll let you off the hook if mother turns out fine. But if anything happens to her, I’ll rip you apart myself!”
“How dare you?!”
“Just try me!” There was a look in Qin Yining’s eyes that Qin Huining had never seen before. It promised a savagery best left in nightmares, and it made her shiver in dread. She didn’t dare meet the fourth miss’ eyes, resorting to her trademark obfuscating response.
“How is this my fault?”
“Then is it the old dowager’s?! The old dowager is benevolent and wasn’t thinking those thoughts before. It was you stirring up trouble, who’d lead her to say those words!” Qin Yining continued to rub née Sun’s clammy and spasming hands, pressing down on acupuncture points without hesitation. Her tone had gone terse from suppressed anxiety, “I won’t argue with you now. If mother wakes up fine, I’ll let you live. If she’s not, wash your neck and wait for me!”
This. utter. biatch of a foster daughter!