“You! Shameless thing! Poisonous skank! B*tch!” Qin Huining shrieked in a trembling voice as she pressed herself against the column in vain.
“Just who’s the shameless one here?” Qin Yining grabbed Qin Huining’s collar and looked right into her eyes, the two a nose-width apart. “I’d never once thought of hurting you. I was perfectly fine to live together in peace. But you, you just wouldn’t stop causing trouble, making mother misunderstand me and causing our parents to fight without end! A foster daughter like you occupying my rightful place, I’d think of you as a human being when I’m in a good mood, and absolutely nothing when I’m not!”
Qin Huining’s eyes had gone bloodshot in her rage, but she was just a sheltered girl of the manor, how could she possibly stand up to a “barbarian” who’d scrapped and fought to survive? Her battle strength was completely dwarfed, so she could only resort to threats, “Grandmother will sweep you out the door when she finds out what you’ve done to me!”
“What a joke! I’ve already slapped you, so why would I be afraid of this? If that happens, I’ll just go back and be a ‘barbarian’. My life would be all the better for it!” Qin Yining’s cold, sharp gaze swept across the shell shocked maids frozen in the courtyard. She flicked a glance at née Cai and Ruilan still on the ground, revealing her pearly whites in a small smile. In the dusk of night, her stark white teeth coupled with her bloodthirsty expression only elicited more terror from those assembled. “I’ve killed wolves and eaten their flesh, and you think you lot can scare me!? I didn’t bother to quibble before because I didn’t think it was worth it, but did you really believe that I was afraid of you!? Don’t you forget that, as much as you all disdain me, I’m still the firstborn of the official wife!” She yanked Qin Huining hard, dragging her outside. “Come, we’re going to see Old Dowager! Don’t think I’ll let you off easy after you drove a wedge between father and mother!”
In all these years, Qin Huining had lived with the status of Qin Huaiyuan’s only official born daughter, the apple of the old dowager’s eye. When had anyone even harmed a hair on her head?! But now there was someone who slapped her and started to drag her around. Qin Huining lost every scrap of her self-control and composure. The girl struggled, sobbed, and cursed without pause, loudly, along the way, spewing every ugly and base insult that crossed her mind. It was not a sight fit for civilized company.
Yet, through it all, Qin Yining dragged her along serenely, so easily that it didn’t seem she was hauling anyone at all. It seemed more like she was carrying a chicken ready for the slaughter. Go on, keep cursing. Let’s have everyone in the manor see your true colors. Qin Yining’s feet had never been bound, and many years of scaling the mountain had left her as surefooted as a goat. Therefore, she naturally set a brisk pace on level ground.
On the other hand, Qin Huining had bound feet and was currently bent over at the waist, floundering mightily with every step. Even at a trot, she couldn’t keep up and kept getting tugged off balance when she tried to walk. She couldn’t convince Qin Yining to stop, couldn’t curse her into oblivion, couldn’t push her away, and couldn’t fight her off! The foster daughter’s most desperate struggles couldn’t free her from the death grip on her collar. None of the servants dared help her, though she gave them plenty of meaningful looks.
Qin Yining enjoyed an unobstructed journey to Garden of Loving Piety, the very picture of a hunter bringing in her catch of the day. A train of servants bumbled along in her wake, but not a one dared speak. Qin Huining anticipated seeing a friendly face when they reached the door, so she gave vent to a loud shriek, “Help me, grandmother! Someone wants to kill me!”
The shriek carried far into the night and scared the old dowager so badly that she almost dropped the long-stemmed pipe cradled in her hands. She had been livid just now when she’d heard of her eldest daughter-in-law going home. Qin-mama had expended an enormous amount of effort to placate her mistress and had just lit the pipe when the shriek pierced through the air. The old dowager jumped in startlement, causing the lit tobacco to plop onto the old dowager’s snowy white skirt. It immediately burned a hole through the garment.
“Oh dear, mistress!” Qin-mama reacted swiftly and upended a cup of tea onto the skirt, then frantically checked to see if her mistress had been harmed. Thankfully the weather recently had been cold, so everyone had long since put on cotton leggings, sparing the old dowager from any burns.
Old Dowager threw the tobacco pouch aside, her temper back to livid levels, and bellowed, “Who dares make such a fuss?!”
The maid behind the door was frightened out of her wits as she stammered, “I-in response to O-old Dowager, i-i-it’s Fourth Miss and, and Miss Huining.”
The old dowager rose to her feet with a furrowed brow. “What are these two doing so late at night! What kind of strumpet is Née Sun to have such daughters!”
“Don’t be angry, Old Dowager. Here, I’ll help you dress.” Qin-mama and the head maid Jixiang placated the old lady, deftly helping her into a new skirt and a peacock blue satin, padded jacket. They completed the outfit by fixing a ribbon embedded with sapphires across her forehead. The old dowager’s ire had abated slightly with this pause, but her expression was still stormy as she walked to the Flower Hall with the servants. Normally used for banquets, today it was graced by a kneeling Qin Huining and Qin Yining. Both girls had disheveled hair and reddened faces. Qin Huining’s face was now swollen beyond belief, and her makeup a streaky ruin from crying. Her face was a mess from tears and snot.
At the sight of a friendly face, Qin Huining broke into louder sobs, crawling forward on her knees to hug the old lady’s thigh. Qin Huining was wailing so brokenheartedly that it seemed like the sky was moments away from falling. Her sobs were so all-pervasive that she couldn’t even summon the breath to speak a word. The old dowager couldn’t bear to see Qin Huining in such straits and instantly bent down to help the girl up. Distress suffused her voice, “What’s this now? Don’t cry dear!” Old Dowager turned to née Cai and Qiulu, anxiously asking, “Tell me! What happened here?!”
The old servant’s upper arm still hurt from the whip-like strike, so her trembling lips couldn’t summon the courage to voice a word. Meanwhile, Qiulu kept her head lowered, staying quiet as usual. It was Qin Yining who responded calmly, “Please quell your anger, Old Dowager. Qin Huining sowed discord between mother and father, making them fight until father went to spend the night in the outer residence, and mother went back to her family home. I’ve already taught her a lesson, so please don’t harm your body with anger. If you wish to punish her further, please leave it to the servants.”
“What?!” The old dowager frowned fiercely. She was already angry about née Sun returning to her parents’ home, but that matter had something to do with her much doted upon granddaughter Hui?
Qin Huining shook her head rapidly, her words mangled by her swollen cheek, “That’s not true! Mother herself suspected that an outside mistress is Little Creek’s mother... Mother only slapped Little Creek once and yelled at her a bit. Then father got angry over that and started arguing with mother...” She was truly very skilled at turning things around.
Née Cai chose this moment to pipe up, “In response to Old Dowager, the fourth miss is truly too arrogant. Not only did she slap Miss Huining, but she even beat me and two other maids. Even now my arm is in too much pain to be lifted.” She moaned some more for effect, clutching at her arm.
Qin-mama looked at those assembled, then helped the old dowager to the luohan bed by the window. Jixiang was at her side as well, helping the old lady settle down on the thick padded brocade seat cushions while the old servant fetched a hand warmer. The time they spent in walking and sitting back down allowed the old dowager to calm down a bit. When Qin Yining returned to the manor earlier today, she had given off the impression of a docile, steady, and somewhat overawed country girl. The old dowager would never believe that the girl she’s seen back then would hit someone on her first day. However, the throbbing handprint on Qin Huining’s face spoke otherwise.
Qin Huining panicked when her grandmother didn’t immediately speak up for her. They’re true family alright. The ties of blood run thicker than water, and I’m already nobody after her real granddaughter’s come back. In her anxiety, Qin Huining lost some of the filter on her mouth as she started to plead her case. “Grandmother, no matter what, she hit me and beat my wet nurse and maid. She’s the one at fault here! How can daughters of a noble family act like this? What will happen to our family’s dignity if word of this gets out? Isn’t this losing face for father? This kind of barbarian is...”
“Shut your mouth.” Although Qin Yining was kneeling, her back was ramrod straight. Her eyes, so similar to Qin Huaiyuan’s, shone coldly. Her slender brows were locked tightly and a sharp aura flared around her. “How dare you try to sow more discord in front of Old Dowager? Mother didn’t suspect my identity at all at first. It was only after all of your hints and snide words that she thought a mistress to be my mother. Father’s character speaks for itself! He can bring back any woman he likes, why would he secretly keep her outside? And even if he really did have an illegitimate child, why wouldn’t he be responsible enough to bring it back home?
“And that’s after discounting the fact that father wouldn’t stoop so low to begin with! With his character and talents, how many ladies wish to enter our doors and become a concubine? When has father ever been tempted? But you, you were the one who drove mother to suspecting father and created a wedge between them! Prosperity comes only when the family is peaceful. Qin Huining, you used public means for a private grudge. You fed your conscience to the dogs, did you?!”
Qin Huining hastily retorted, “Don’t speak so self-righteously. Aren’t you doing all this for yourself? You say you’re the daughter of the official wife, but who knows what really happened that year? It’s only normal that mother suspects you! I’m not starting anything at all!”
“Father is a noble and righteous person. Can there be any falsehood left after his men were done investigating? Daring to bring this up even in front of Old Dowager, how could you possibly say that you’re not starting anything?” Qin Yining slammed her final point home, concluding the debate, and looked towards the old dowager.
Qin Huining trembled as the impact of Qin Yining’s words hit her and her overexcited mind slowly calmed down. I’ve fallen into her trap! This barbarian isn’t an idiot at all! She provoked me into saying all this when I was caught up in everything!However, words spoken were like spilled water. They couldn’t be taken back!
The old dowager’s forehead was tightly furrowed as a bit of dissatisfaction towards Qin Huining grew in her heart. She didn’t doubt Qin Yining’s origins at all. The girl’s face was the spitting image of Qin Huaiyuan’s in his youth, how could there be any doubt? It was true that the old lady favored Huining, but just as her son had said, the bloodline of a noble family could not be muddled. A child of the blood was completely different from a foster child.
The old dowager did indeed look down on Qin Yining, but as much as she didn’t like the girl, this was still her most important firstborn’s only official daughter. The old dowager truly liked Qin Huining, but as much as she liked the girl, this one was just a foster daughter. And now, the foster daughter was creating disharmony between her son and his wife in order to solidify her position. Causing all sorts of trouble at home, and making that impulsive, brainless daughter-in-law rush home... What will the in-laws make of this! When this matter spreads tomorrow, how will all the other officials and courtiers gossip about this? What of our Qin family’s dignity?!
It was wrong for Qin Yining to resort to physical violence, but the old dowager was well aware of the seed that had germinated to cause this. She had been in charge of the inner residence for many years, she knew the tricks. A dark expression appeared on her face as she looked at Qin Huining. The old dowager was unable to conceal her disappointment.
Incidentally, that look of disappointment thoroughly froze Qin Huining’s heart. Her internal sarcastic diatribe was stoked to new levels. You’re the true family alright! You’re already treating me as an outsider! What kind of nonsense was that earlier about loving me the most? You’re already favoring your real granddaughter!
The old dowager couldn’t bear to see Qin Huining sniffling in distress. One would have feelings for even a stray dog or cat after keeping them a while, much less a pretty little girl. Even though Qin Huining was a foster daughter, they had still spent more than a decade together. The old dowager rubbed her temple with one hand and turned to Qin Yining in a resigned tone, “Although granddaughter Hui was in the wrong, you were also too excessive today, granddaughter Yi. No matter what, you shouldn’t have used force. As a girl from a noble family, you represent the Qin family in public. Do I have to teach you even this?”
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