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Chapter 90: The Favor of Saving a Life
"Sir Yao's bearing is uncommon and martial arts sophisticated. It's truly admirable that you were able to lead my daughter's four guards in resisting the attacks of more than twenty assassins." Qin Huaiyuan's smile was elegant and expressed genuine gratitude, but was also tinged with suspicion.
Pang Xiao had resumed his genteel demeanor and was clutching his wound with the color drained from his face. "I'm a business person and once had a martial arts master when I was young. Thankfully my guard has the real skills, or I wouldn't have been able to manage by myself."
"No no no, young master's skills are very good." Huzi immediately smiled honestly and shook his head.
Qin Huaiyuan turned his attention to Huzi, seeing a young-looking, strong guard with very shrewd eyes. His taut muscles brimmed with vitality, and it was apparent at first glance that this was a very well-trained professional. When the grand preceptor looked back to the handsome gentleman, he noted that the latter was also tall and fit, but possessed a gentle and elegant air. Qin Huaiyuan mostly believed what he was being told after this. He had no option but to be suspicious. This person had just so happened to appear at the nunnery and saved his wife and daughter. He had to make a thorough investigation.
Qin Yining's lips were compressed and asked anxiously during a lull in their conversation. "Are the family members in the side yard alright?"
The duchess also looked nervously in their direction, while Qin Huaiyuan looked at Xu Mao off to the side.
"Don't worry, Grand Preceptor. We've already sent men over. The females in the side yard are all fine as the assassins didn't make their way over there. They came straight here," the East Area Commander responded. He looked at the duchess suspiciously as he spoke, and at Priestess Liu as well.
The duchess was very composed, albeit with a bad pallor to her face. Priestess Liu still had an unsettled, frightened expression on her face and was murmuring various things with her eyes closed. She was plainly still shaken.
Xu Mao finally turned his assessing gaze onto Pang Xiao and Huzi. Pang Xiao was frowning slightly and holding his shoulder, while Huzi was inwardly cursing up a storm. Qin Huaiyuan, you bloody ingrate! Isn't there a single good official left in this stupid Great Yan? And Qin Yining you're trouble, big big trouble! We could've left a long time ago and not get involved in any of this. It's all because of you, big trouble!
Meanwhile, Qin Yining's slender brows were knitted together in worry as she watched the look in Xu Mao's eyes. She was certain that the gentleman had complex origins, but he had saved her, mother, and grandmother today. If it hadn't been for him taking the arrows, she'd probably be dead by now. She was someone who repaid kindness. Besides, this was only the second time she'd met Sir Yao. It was natural that he wasn't telling the truth about who he was. She wouldn't negate the gratitude she felt for his life-saving actions just because he was keeping his identity a secret.
Qin Yining didn't have the best impression of Great Yan officials, and she deeply despised the corrupt government. She naturally wouldn't help them do ill to her lifesaver. Her brain flew furiously through ideas and plans.
Pang Xiao had been feeling a bit dejected, but his mood quickly took a turn for the better when he saw that Qin Yining was worried for him. His observation skills were were superb. Even if he wasn't staring at her, he still got a clear glimpse of her vaguely narrowed eyes set in slightly frowning face that was deep in thought. How can she be so cute? He really wanted to just carry her off and keep her by his side. The girl was as beautiful as a painting, and it would be nice to just look at her everyday.
However, Qin Huaiyuan had much to do with Pang Zhongzheng's death. Logically speaking, Pang Xiao knew that he couldn't put all the blame on Qin Huaiyuan. It was firstly the paranoid despot of Northern Ji's fault, and secondly just a matter of different positions. As a Great Yan citizen, it was normal that Qin Huaiyuan would try to take down invaders. But emotionally speaking, he felt awkward, uncomfortable, and conflicted whenever he saw Qin Huaiyuan. Why is such an interesting girl his daughter…
As the two rummaged through different thoughts, Qin Huaiyuan had already taken née Sun's hand and called out to his daughter. He turned to Xu Mao. "Since this is the case, I'll be taking my family home."
However, Xu Mao strode forward and blocked Qin Huaiyuan's way, raising his hands in a polite cupped fist salute. "Please hold your steps, grand preceptor! Your family are witnesses in today's matter and I'd like them to remain for questioning."
"The nuns are also witnesses, and the others as well." Qin Huaiyuan responded with dissatisfaction. "With all these people, isn't that enough for Sir Xu?"
Xu Mao remained smiling and bowed respectfully, but his words and attitude remained resolute. "Please forgive me, Grand Preceptor Qin. I'm just doing my duty. Grand Preceptor Qin is the foremost example for all officials. You won't deny me this small, reasonable request, will you? It would be bad for your reputation if word of this gets out."
Qin Huaiyuan's expression was dark as he frowned at Xu Mao. The commander remained smiling and firmly blocking Qin Huaiyuan's way. It was apparent to Qin Yining what exactly was going on. Sir Xu wasn't in the same camp as her father. He was likely part of Elder Statesman Cao's faction. The Caos had a complicated web of connections at court, and after many years of careful cultivation, their confidantes were present in every department. Although Qin Huaiyuan was domineering, he didn't have the empress backing him up like Statesman Cao did.
Qin Yining didn't want want her father to conflict with Statesman Cao because of this matter. It wasn't good to make enemies, even if the other party was Statesman Cao, not to mention that she wanted to help the gentleman. If she put in an appearance, his identity would seem much more believable. Even though she suspected him as well, helping his cover would be a payback for his earlier favor.
"Father, why don't you go home with mother first?" She walked up and curtsied. "Matters at home need your help as well. I can stay here to explain to Sir Xu and go home after."
"How will it appear if a girl like you goes out and about in public?"
"Father knows that I'm different from ordinary girls," Qin Yining responded. "Besides, I'm not by myself. Grandmother's here, as is my business partner and guards."
"Business partner?" Qin Huaiyuan arched a skeptical eyebrow.
"Yes, Sir Yao. Father also knows that the Institute has various businesses."
Qin Huaiyuan frowned at Pang Xiao again. He wanted to ask further, but knew that it was no time to do so. Who knew how many informants were present? He nodded. "Keep your wits sharp."
Née Cao was about to enter the manor and although he wanted to stay, he had to go back and take care of things. He'd already spent so much time here. If matters grew bigger, his plans would have to change as well. In cooperating with Xu Mao and leaving Qin Yining behind, the commander wouldn't dare do anything to her.
Qin Huaiyuan left quickly holding née Sun's hand. The madame was so touched and happy at this public display of affection that she left the nunnery without further thought of the new concubine to come. She even forgot to bid her mother farewell.
"You two go in first and check on Sir Yao's injury." Qin Yining ordered Bingtang and Qiulu as Xu Mao checked the yard with his men. She said "you two", but was actually looking at Bingtang. The maid nodded firmly.
"Don't worry, miss. I'll go right now."
Qin Yining then turned to Pang Xiao. "Be at ease, sir. My maid knows a bit of medicine. She'll dress you wound and stop the bleeding first, then have the doctor come over for a look."
Pang Xiao looked at Qin Yining with a hint of a smile, neither nodding nor declining. Her heart actually sped up at this look. Even the hand he'd grabbed earlier felt a bit on fire.
"Then I thank you for the trouble." He finally let her off that hook when she quickly lowered her lashes, a bit flustered.
Priestess Liu quickly showed everyone inside again. "Let's check it here. I have some herbs we can use."
When Pang Xiao and Huzi followed Bingtang and Qiulu into the house, Qin Yining took Songlan with her to answer a few questions. Xu Mao's questions dwelled on what had happened today, how had Qin Yining discovered the assassins, and how she'd sent people for help.
Qin Yining responded noncommittally, glossing over her answers. The more she chatted with Xu Mao, the less she liked him. He seemed friendly and smart, but was actually quite arrogant. She often wouldn't even finish before he interrupted with "yes yes I know" or "that's enough, I know". She refused to speak towards the end. He had drawn his own conclusions already anyways, so what was the point?
Xu Mao crossed his arms. "Is that Sir Yao really your friend?"
"Yes, Sir Yao and I are business partners."
"Business partners?" A sneer suffused Xu Mao's tone. "Miss Qin is a strong character, hmm?"
She naturally noted his disdain and smiled. "You're joking, sir. I'm just a girl of the inner residence. How strong can I be?"
The seemingly innocent response reminded Xu Mao who the girl in front of him represented. She was Qin Huaiyuan's daughter, the Duke of Ding's granddaughter! Although the Duke of Ding had fallen, his faction's supporters still existed. Qin Huaiyuan was the recipient of great royal favor lately, so he really couldn't afford to offend this girl!
He ignored the girl and began conjecturing about the bodies on the ground.
"After careful observation, these assassins are wearing Great Zhou army uniforms. Hah! Do they think the Warden's Office is that easy to fool? They're definitely not from Great Zhou!"
"Right right, you are so very right sir!" Someone instantly agreed fawningly.
"You are quite wise, milord! If they really were from Great Zhou, why would they wear their own uniform?