Book 2: The Path of Love is Long
Chapter 107: Wholehearted Devotion
The old dowager put her hands together in prayer and made a few worshipful gestures.
"Amitabha, praise Buddha! Thank goodness we still have such a virtuous and helpful person at home, unlike some who stirs up trouble everyday and only knows how to lose their temper in every situation. They are of no use to the family at all."
She was obviously talking about née Sun. Qin Huaiyuan frowned.
"Mother, it's getting late. We'll be setting off tomorrow morning, so I'll have to take my leave to make preparations." He didn't wait for the old dowager to respond and circled past the divider to née Sun's side. He coaxed, "Come, let's go home."
Née Sun's tears broke through the last vestiges of her will, her anger at the old dowager's oblique insults vanishing. She nodded mutely.
The old dowager was stunned, and didn't collect her senses again until the two were far away. "Let's all go back. Give them some room for their preparations," she commanded awkwardly.
The sudden development had doused everyone's enthusiasm. The group left for their own respective residences. Qin Yining returned to Venerable Study Hall and rested after her customary washing up.
The next day, officials from the Ministry of Rites were waiting outside the manor doors early in the morning. Qin Yining followed Qin Huaiyuan in bidding farewell to her family, going in for a round of "you must be mature and docile" from the old dowager. Bingtang and Songlan helped her into the carriage decorated with eight treasures and tassels before settling in themselves. Qin Yining pushed open the carriage windows and lifted the aqucolored tassel curtains. She took off her veiled hat and raised her eyes to take a last look at the Qin Manor front doors.
Under the piercing winter sunlight, the large words, 'Qin Manor', on the gold trimmed board over the doors made her squint. The matte black tiled walls stretched to both sides, encircling the large Qin household in their arms. Girls and women wearing cheery clothing and jade ornaments stood in front of the doors, both real and fake tears brimming in their eyes. They looked at her in helpless longing as née Sun leaned against Jin-mama's shoulder, her body wracked with heartbreaking sobs.
This home wasn't always warm, but the existence of this manor had given her an anchor in life. Sadly, fortune was capricious. Even though she'd finally come to have a true home, she was bidding it farewell today, her return up to the whims of fate.
Qin Huaiyuan's red-wheeled carriage, decorated with brocade coverings, had taken its place in front of Qin Yining's carriage. He too was looking out the window at the moment. The accompanying officials noted that the auspicious hour had arrived and pulled up to his carriage to make a cupped fist salute.
"Sir, the hour has arrived."
"Then let's be on our way." Qin Huaiyuan nodded and let down the curtains. Qin Yining smiled at née Sun, Qiulu, and the others when she heard this. She also let down the curtains and closed the window. She'd already asked Jin-mama to take care of all the servants in Venerable Study Hall. This was the last of the arrangements she could make for those she cared for. If she couldn't make her way back, her heart would be satisfied that she had done all she could for them.
She didn't actually want to take Bingtang and Songlan with her, but they'd been adamant about it. Songlan had sworn up and down that she would drown herself if she was left behind, and Bingtang had gone silent and steely-eyed as she'd gathered her poisons, ready to go down with the trampress in a fiery blaze. Qin Yining couldn't convince them no matter what she said, so she ended up taking them with her.
The carriages swayed as the entourage slowly set off. Née Sun pulled Jin-mama with her and took two steps forward. She drew a shaky breath, and called out loudly, her voice still choked up, "Daughter Yi, you come back, do you hear?! I'll be waiting for you to come back!"
Qin Yining's firmly suppressed sorrow at parting came rushing to the fore with her mother's words. She screwed her eyes tightly shut and tilted her head back as she tried to will her tears away.
Née Sun sobbed soundlessly as she watched the retinue vanish into the distance. "The child's only come back for two months. I haven't even started treating her well yet!"
Hardships were the true test of relationships. Née Sun no longer suspected Qin Yining anymore and could also tell who treated her with sincerity in this household. Qin Yining was a genuinely filial girl and had thought only for her mother. But in return, née Sun hadn't taken care of the child even when she had the ability to. At that moment, the madame truly regretted her actions over the past two months.
Jin-mama, the third and eighth miss were all trying to comfort née Sun.
"The fourth miss will surely return safely. Don't worry, madame."
"Indeed, senior aunt. Fourth sister has courage and wits. Surely she'll return safely."
The old dowager wasn't feeling well about this entire matter either. On that carriage was a beautiful girl, a child with a personality and looks so similar to that of her most beloved son. But such were the times they were in. There was nothing they could do but accept fate's ham-fisted grip.
"Let's go back." The old dowager sighed. But just as the words escaped her mouth, scattered and urgent hoof steps traveled in from the distance.
Everyone turned back questioningly, and was greeted by the sight of the crown prince, garbed in light purple and a cape with a white fox fur collar, riding hard towards them on the back of a fast horse. He was trailed by a group of panting eunuchs wearing gray cotton uniforms.
Weichi Yan didn't dismount, only asking hurriedly, "Where's the fourth miss? Is she already gone?"
He didn't ask about his tutor, Qin Huaiyuan, but was concerned only with Qin Yining. Who would still be oblivious to the crown prince's thoughts now? If it wasn't for this imperial decree, they could've had a crown princess consort and a potential future empress!
It felt like knives were slicing themselves across the old dowager's heart when she thought of all this. Regret dyed her tone as she shook her head slowly. "Gone, she's gone."
"Gone?!" Weichi Yan's heart skipped a beat. Did she take her own life because she wasn't willing to suffer humiliation?
The second madame quickly piped up when she saw the crown prince's face suddenly drain of all color. "Your Highness, the fourth miss and Grand Preceptor Qin have just started their journey. You still have time to catch up to them if you ride fast."
Weichi Yan came back alive at those words, color returning to his pallid face. He nodded sharply to the second madame and old dowager and whipped his horse in hot pursuit without another word.
"Your Highness! Your Highness! Oh my goodness." The eunuchs tore off in mad chase.
The retinue had taken a large road away from the crowds. On the other hand, Weichi Yan hadn't picked his path carefully in his haste. He made his way straight through the market and so naturally didn't meet up with them. When he reached the northern city gate and saw that the carriages hadn't arrived yet, he wanted to double back to find them. One of his eunuchs, panting heavily, acted as a voice of reason. "What if you choose the wrong path again, Your Highness? Why not wait on a path outside the city that they're sure to take?"
Weichi Yan smacked his forehead and heaved a long sigh. "I've completely lost my wits in my panic." Calming himself down, he chose to wait in a copse of trees about twenty miles out from the city.
Within that same copse, Pang Xiao was perched up in the branches of a large tree with Huzi, the two munching on buns. They slowly stilled when they heard footsteps draw near.
"Master, it seems that someone's coming here." Huzi muttered.
"Mm." Pang Xiao shoved the last bit of his bun into his mouth, popping his cheeks out as he swallowed slowly.
Huzi also finished off his bun and rose to look in the direction of the road. He whispered back, "It looks like they're here to send the group off. Judging from their outfit and those followers, it should be the crown prince of Great Yan."
"Mm." Pang Xiao leisurely tightened the fine cotton cloak around him. He clearly couldn't be bothered with more words.
Huzi rolled his eyes privately at his master. You turn into a scoundrel whenever you see the Qin miss, but you can't be bothered with more than a word for me? The difference in this treatment is too much! He sat down next to the prince. "Master, should we take advantage of this to kill him?"
"Do you serve the Great Yan emperor?" Pang Xiao arched a brow.
Huzi blinked and shook his head dumbly. "No."
"Then why are you helping that scum?"
Even though the Great Yan emperor had only one heir, he was still wary of his own son. He wasn't willing to admit that the years had caught up to him and refused to vacate the position he was occupying. In fact, he wished desperately his son would die so there would be one less threat to his imperial throne.
"Leave him." Pang Xiao closed his eyes lazily.
"But then we don't need to wait here. With the speed of their carriage, they'll reach Xihua in two days no matter how slow they're traveling. What can happen in two days?"
Pang Xiao closed his eyes as if he hadn't heard anything. Huzi knew that he was being thoroughly ignored again and could only squat on the branches and pick at the tree bark for entertainment.
The sound of carriages rattling on the road sounded before long. Pang Xiao's eyes flew open, but he remained absolutely still, concentrating to listen to what was going on.
Weichi Yan immediately steered his horse forward when he saw the retinue approach.
"Halt!" The accompanying one hundred soldiers and fifty guards dismounted and bowed when they saw the crown prince. Someone ran back quickly to report, "Sir, the crown prince is here."
Weichi Yan snapped his reins and steered his horse to the side of Qin Huaiyuan's carriage. He raised his hands. "Grand Preceptor Qin."
"Your Highness." Qin Huaiyuan alighted and returned the gesture with a slight smile. He wanted to exchange some pleasantries, but the crown prince quickly interrupted him.
"Grand Preceptor Qin, I have some words for the fourth miss. I hope you'll allow me to delay the convoy for a bit."
Qin Huaiyuan blinked and then looked at the carriage behind them. The door was pushed open, and Qin Yining looked blankly out, wrapped warmly in a white rabbit fur collar cloak.
When Weichi Yan's eyes met with Qin Yining's, his heartbeat sped out of control as he dismounted and sped unconsciously towards her.
"Fourth Miss, I'm so glad I caught you! Don't worry, no matter what happens, I'll request an imperial decree from my royal father as long as you come back! I swear that only you can sit in the crown princess consort seat!"
Qin Yining's mouth was agape as she looked at Weichi Yan. He looked ardently back at her. Everyone had fallen silent in the wake of such a declaration. Within the trees, Pang Xiao snorted softly, his face now thunderous. Huzi scrambled away from his master as quickly and silently as he could, almost falling from the tree in his haste. Aiya! My master is too scary when he's angry!