Chapter 83: The Domineering Newcomer
Qin Huining’s face had gone as white as a new sheet. Her limbs prickled as tendrils of fear crept along her limbs. It felt like the blood in her veins were just a few degrees shy of freezing.
“Father speaks truly.” Her dry voice cracked. She wanted to mount some kind of defense, but she couldn’t force another word past her lips. She hadn’t really reasoned out her argument, simply feeling that she was completely innocent. The old dowager, née Sun, and her maternal grandmother were just biased to a fault.
Not only had Qin Yining taken everything from her after returning, she’d even hit and cursed at Qin Huining, going to so far as to firmly trample the latter!
But she’d never once thought about the fact that her mere existence was proof that Qin Huaiyuan had once been made a complete fool. Father commanded the winds and rain! How had he allowed such a blight on his life to remain, especially by his side as a constant reminder? So is he going to send me away now?
The old dowager was also nervous, and anxiously spoke up, “Meng’er.”
Qin Huaiyuan smiled gently at his mother, settling her worries with a wave of his hand before turning to Qin Huining with a firm gaze. “You’ve been a Qin daughter for fourteen years. Although we have recently come to know that we aren’t related by blood, I, your mother, nor the old dowager have ever viewed you as an outsider since. But it seems you’ve actually placed yourself in that category first.”
It was deathly silent inside the house as everyone looked at Qin Huining with various expressions.
“Even after daughter Yi returned, you were still accorded the same food and trappings as all the other young misses in the household. We’ve never shorted you on anything. Think back carefully, isn’t that the case? I hope you will use your wiles on proper pursuits in the future. Up until now, I can pretend that things of the past didn’t happen, but the future is up to you. That’s all I’ll say, you can go take care of your mother now.”
Qin Huining felt like she’d been tossed into a cavern of permafrost, but her face was burning hotly. She’d assumed that father was unaware of the affairs around the house since he spent his days at court. She’d presumed that as long as she kept the old dowager happy, she would escape any consequences of her actions.
But Qin Huaiyuan’s words today completely upended all of her thoughts. She didn’t dare stammer anything, skittishly curtseying before walking out, fighting to keep control with every step.
Qin Huaiyuan shook his head as he looked at her retreating figure, his slender hands lifting the teacup to this lips.
Off to the side, the second madame felt even more awkward. So senior uncle-in-law knows everything! He’s just normally too lazy to bother with things at home. Née Sun had charged out of the ancestral hall because she’d been goaded by the sixth miss’ message. She’d then promptly fainted in the Garden of Loving Piety and was still resting in bed. If Qin Huaiyuan blamed the second branch of the family for this… then how will my husband have any future at all!
The second master held an unimportant position in the Ministry of Rites and just quietly drew his salary every so often. The Qins were one family, and there was no reason for the second branch to offend the head of the household for an immature, concubine-born daughter! Why, there were lines and lines of people waiting, just hoping for an opportunity to reach the grand preceptor!
“Sixth daughter was brash yesterday. I’ve already yelled at her,” the second madame smiled hesitantly. “She made her senior aunt faint from anger! It really is negligence on my part. I hope you don’t take it to heart, brother-in-law.”
“Don’t worry, this matter started with daughter Hui.” Qin Huaiyuan smiled back in response. “It’s really not your fault.”
The second madame heaved a silent sigh of relief. Qin Huaiyuan’s sight was as clear as ever. He was also aware that the foster girl was the origin of the trouble.
“The fourth miss has arrived!” A serving girl had quietly made her way to the hall, halting outside to announce the newcomer.
Qin Yining walked in, her gait reserved and stately. She was dressed in a plain white vest, her ensemble completed by the eight-panel skirt of dark green paired beneath it. Part of her long hair had been quickly twisted into small buns that were secured by dark green ribbons. The remaining hair trailed loosely down her back. She’d forgone powder or any ornaments.
Qin Yining was tall, slender, and pretty to begin with. With her almost austere outfit, her pale complexion and the pronounced dark circles under her eyes from staying up, the family’s hearts went out to her.
Compared to the perfectly dressed Qin Huining, this seemed much more congruent with the image of a daughter whose maternal relations had just been executed. The group’s minds ran a bit further with their fantasies. Blood will speak to blood after all. Qin Huining is really too cold about it all.
Qin Yining walked up to curtsey to the old dowager and Qin Huaiyuan, then made her greetings to all the females in the house before quietly taking her spot off on the side.
“Is your mother better?”
“In response to father, mother is alright. She’s just overly sad and not thinking very clearly. She even spoke in her dreams last night. It was really heart wrenching to watch.”
No one would be in good spirits if anything even remotely similar had happened to their family. Everyone sighed softly, and Qin Huaiyuan responded, “Comfort your mother well, but take care of your own health as well. I know you’re a good daughter, but there are things that the servants can take care of just as well. Look at how wan you look already. You’re still young and still growing. Keep an eye out for yourself.”
“Understood. Thank you for your concern, father.” Qin Yining smiled, touched. Her limpid eyes seem to speak of her gratitude as well.
Qin Huaiyuan smiled to see his daughter look at him with the look of a little animal. “The citizens have taken it upon themselves to give the Sun males a proper burial. You can go back and tell your mother that the emperor won’t be able to pursue this further, even if he wanted to. The books have closed on this.”
His father was telling her that her plans had been successful, and that the emperor wouldn’t be looking further into it out of considerations of face? After all, he couldn’t dig up the bodies again, not unless he wanted to completely enrage the citizens.
Qin Yining heaved a great sigh of relief and nodded with a bit of energy. “Understood, I’ll be sure to tell mother. She will be very happy to learn that the Sun’s nobility and loyalty haven’t been for nothing.”
“Mm.” Qin Huaiyuan nodded and turned to the old dowager. “There’s one thing that I’d like to request mother’s help with.”
“What is it? You can ask me for anything.”
“The emperor has given orders for Statesman Cao’s eldest daughter to become my concubine. He wishes for us to bring her in before New Year’s Eve. Now that née Sun has fallen ill and a certain Cao lady has particular status, I hope mother will take care of things such that we live up to this imperial favor.”
Pin drop silence followed this announcement. Wasn’t Stateman Cao’s eldest daughter born of the official wife, and the empress’ blood sister?!
The soon-to-be Concubine Cao was thirty years old and had taken a bit too long in choosing her husband because her beauty was enough to fell cities. She hadn’t married until she was twenty, but had ended up widowed in but three years. Having resided by herself all this time, there were many who said that she should marry again. But to think that the emperor would decree her as Qin Huaiyuan’s concubine!
Even though the family may not follow the twists and turns of court too closely, it was simplicity itself to understand why a feud had risen between the two families after Statesman Cao had been demoted and Qin Huaiyuan immediately elevated to grand preceptor.
Just what was the emperor thinking!? Not to mention, this was the trampress’ own sister! It was a given they’d look alike, but who could make any guarantees about her personality? What if the new concubine was arrogant and domineering and was secure in her support from Statesman Cao and the trampress? There wouldn’t be a day of peace left in the household!
Everyone grew uneasy, but the old dowager smiled after she spent a moment in thought. “Good... good! Although you’re grand preceptor now, Elder Statesman Cao has held power for many years. He’ll have many subordinates and connections. In fact, his foundations may even be deeper than yours. The emperor is also helping you in decreeing this marriage.
"What misunderstandings could continue to exist after two families are joined by marriage? With the Caos as your in-laws, you’ll be connected to the emperor himself by marriage. This is wonderful, wonderful!” The old dowager grew happier the more she thought and talked things through. Her voice contained nothing but suppressed joy, “Don’t worry, just leave this to me. I’ll make this a magnificent affair so as to not shortchange née Cao.”
Qin Huaiyuan nodded at his mother, and second and third madame began congratulating their brother-in-law. When he saw nothing else that needed his attention, he rose. “Then I’ll be off. I’ll look in on née Sun before leaving.”
“Maybe you should take a nap first,” the old dowager fussed over him. “What matter could possibly be so urgent? Don’t tire yourself out.”
The old dowager personally saw Qin Huaiyuan out, nagging and worrying along the way. After she sent him off down the covered hallway, she came back excitedly to pull the second and third madame into a quick meeting, discussing on how they could best go about this.
The various girls were summarily dismissed. Qin Yining swung her dark-green, cotton cape around her shoulders before entering the yard. The third, seventh, and eighth miss had all spent a while comforting her before they left. Now alone in the hallway, she smiled resignedly. Had she once again sunk to the level of inviting pity?
There seemed to be no dearth of sharp minded individuals in the household. They had all sensed that the newly arriving née Cao occupied a high position in the old dowager’s heart before she’d even joined the family. Mostly likely, how the old dowager fawns over the Caos in a few days time would be a mirror of the time she’d fawned over the Duke of Ding’s household.
The laughter of newcomers had always taken center stage, while the tears of the old wasted away behind the curtains. Now that a concubine with such an eminent family background was entering their doors, how would her proud and straightforward mother handle it? It was one thing if one had been suppressed all their life. But née Sun had always been used to an unassailable position. Such a great fall would likely come as an enormous shock.
I guess father’s going to visit mother because he wants to explain this himself and comfort her. Qin Yining sighed, drew a deep breath in, and walked out of the the Garden of Loving Piety.