The young man grew increasingly nervous and stared wide-eyed at Qin Huaiyuan. His terror was obvious, but he stuck his neck out and declared mulishly, "Master Han is my dad!"
"Oh, so it's my sage nephew." Qin Huaiyuan nodded with a slight smile.
Sir Zheng relaxed to see the minster speak so mildly and call the young man his sage nephew. The young man also audibly heaved a sigh of relief.
The Qin patriarch continued gently, "This official is new in town and Vice Minister Han has provided me with a lot of help from the Ministry of Personnel and Rites. I've heard that his official son possesses high mastery of both the civil and martial subjects, and is equipped with both courage and intelligence. Now that I've been able to see things for myself, it's plain to see that this really is the case."
Young master Han tensed up again and swallowed hard, unsure of how to respond. The words sounded like compliments, but… there was something weird about them.
Sir Zheng joined in smilingly. "To think that the floodwaters surged into the Dragon King's temple!  It was all just a case of friendly fire! Minister Qin and Vice Minister Han are both part of the Ministry of Personnel and Rites. What do you make of this matter?"
In actuality, Sir Zheng knew full well who was behind the rampaging horses. His men had already gotten to the bottom of their investigation. However, the house supporting the main culprit was the Lu clan. This wasn't someone the warden could offend.
On the surface, it appeared to be some n.o.ble scions running into Master Qin. But in reality, it was a struggle between the Lus and surrendered Great Yan officials.
Sir Zheng felt that his bad luck really knew no bounds that he would be drawn into this conflict for no reason at all. He didn't dare take a side now. Neutrality had always been his position all these years. He didn't want to offend anyone and indeed, couldn't afford to offend anyone.
All Sir Zheng hoped for now was that Qin Huaiyuan would be willing to settle this peacefully. Perhaps the minister would be willing to turn a mountain into a molehill, and then into nothing at all, since he was colleagues with the young master's father.
Qin Yining also sensed the difficult straits that her father was in. They were newly arrived to the scene and he'd been suddenly promoted to overall head of the Ministry of Personnel and Rites. A sudden new boss out of nowhere easily turned into an ostracized target, especially for someone like the vice minister who'd already been highly placed himself.
It didn't seem plausible that the culprit was this cowardly fellow.
But since the warden's men had come back with him, that was who the culprit was, even if he wasn't.
In handling things this way, Sir Zheng was pus.h.i.+ng Qin Huaiyuan to the forefront. If the Qin patriarch set even a toe down incorrectly, a grudge would develop between him and Vice Minister Han, one that deepened the conflict between the Great Yan officials and Northern Ji ones.
It really was a dicey situation!
Qin Yining looked anxiously at her father, only to see him rise and raise cupped fists. "Sir Zheng, since we've caught the culprit, this matter should fall to the Wardens' Office of the Five Wards to handle. I'm an official of the Ministry of Personnel, after all. It's not within my jurisdiction to proclaim judgment on someone who sent their horses charging through the streets. Sir Zheng is a highly capable man of this fine office and has handled numerous cases like these over the years. I shan't overstep myself."
The sweat on Sir Zheng's brow became even more p.r.o.nounced. This was Wise Pan An alright! A hot potato that the warden of finally just gotten rid of had flown right back into his hands!
The Qin children heaved silent sighs of relief. Admiration flourished for Qin Huaiyuan's quick wits.
Unwilling to accept the turnabout, Sir Zheng protested. "Master Qin is a highly capable official favored by His Majesty. How can a crude brute like me compare? It's a walk in the park if such things are up to you to handle."
Qin Huaiyuan's smile was gently as he responded evenly, "Sir Zheng's talents are hardly any less, why overly humble yourself this way? I'll have to trouble you with this matter. I trust that Sir Zheng will give His Majesty a satisfactory answer."
If you dare try to cover this up or protect your cronies, I'll criticize you mercilessly in front of the emperor!
Sir Zheng had the sudden urge to cry, though tears weren't forthcoming. It suddenly occurred to him that no matter the Great Yan officials or the Great Zhou n.o.bles, both were the emperor's loyal faction.
With these two groups in his hand, it was a simple thing for the emperor to move against the Lu clan or the former Northern Ji officials!
It's time for me to take a side.
Though he would avoid giving offense if he remained neutral, that also meant he might just offend everyone.
A deeply worried warden sent off the Qins, still frowning even as he saw them into the carriage.
A smile clung to Qin Huaiyuan's face all the while and he remained pleasant, thanking Sir Zheng and affably taking his leave.
Qin Han burst into laughter when the carriage was quite far away from the Warden's Office.
"Senior uncle, that was masterful! I was just stumped when you resolve it in the blink of an eye!"
"That's right," piped in Qin Yu. "I'm sure that Sir Zheng knows who the real culprit is. Senior uncle came off worse for the wear out of that, but he wants senior uncle to protect his dignity and stop kicking up a fuss. Have you ever heard of such a ludicrous notion??"
"It's all because we just arrived in Great Zhou and haven't established ourselves yet," remarked Qin Yining.
Qin Huaiyuan shook his head with a smile. "All this is normal behavior, there's no need to mind it."
Qin Yining respected her father even more so to see him so open-minded.
"Father, were you hurt?"
"Not in the slightest. Née Cao's guards aren't just paper tigers. I'd already been rescued when the carriage started tipping over.
The girl chuckled. "Then you have to give them good rewards, father. They came in handy this time."
The male cousins didn't quite understand what Qin Huaiyuan and Qin Yining were talking about, but both of them smiled to see father and daughter talk like this.
They were right and proper Qins. It made them happy to witness someone else's happiness.
The carriage returned home before long. It had just creaked to a stop when a serving girl standing guard by the door sprinted inside with news. A pageboy came up to bow and place a footrest down.
Qin Yining alighted and followed her father and brothers into the yard. Née Sun had already flown out and finally relaxed when she saw her husband safe and sound.
"Were you hurt, my lord?" she asked tearfully.
A round of explanations were in order when Qin Huaiyuan saw his beloved wife like this.
The explanations were repeated when he set foot inside and saw the old dowager. Hearing that it was some Great Zhou n.o.ble scions racing horses through the streets both infuriated and vexed the Qin matriarch.
"These boys are so arrogantly lawless, don't their mothers know to keep them in line!? But Meng'er, can we afford to offend them, having just arrived town?" The old dowager was nothing if but consistent. She could concede defeat in Qin Yining's matter, and could do the same thing with her son.
Both Qin Yining and née Sun were very displeased by the reaction, but Qin Huaiyuan didn't mind.
"Don't worry, mother. Your son will handle it well."
1. There are four dragon kings in Chinese mythology responsible for ruling the four seas.