Seeing that there was no one else around, Miss Liao gravely knelt and performed a gesture of greeting. She whispered, “Alliance Head, apologies for my impertinence just now.”
Qin Yining quickly helped the older woman back up. “Not at all, you don’t need to stand on ceremony with me. Please, do rise.”
Missus Liao returned to her seat. “The others were worried that since we hadn’t met before, your guards would arrest me when I came to meet you. Thank goodness for your sharp wits in recognizing me instantly.”
The Qin fourth miss smiled. “You’re the wife of Hallmaster Liao. Why would I not know who you are?”
“You are a noble’s daughter, which makes it inappropriate for a rough-and-tumble group like the men to stay by your side. Thus, we came up with the idea of having me be your contact in the future. Please tell me whatever instructions you have. That will take some of the awkwardness in operations out of the equation.”
“Thank you all for the careful effort. Are you here alone, or has everyone left Great Yan?”
Awkwardness flashed across Miss Liao’s face, which she concealed with a smile. “In response to the alliance head, we only have left a core of roughly a hundred from before. There’s so many mouths to feed, and since we don’t need to oppose the tyranny of Great Yan anymore, everyone’s turned their attention to doing business. The four hallmasters have reached an agreement to do business on the Tartar border.”
“The Tartar border? So you’re doing business with the Tartars?”
“Precisely. We wouldn’t travel so far otherwise.”
Qin Yining arched a brow. “That’s a good idea, but you can do business anywhere in this vast world, no? Though the Tartars have a truce with Great Zhou at the moment because of their own internal conflict, trade relations haven’t been restored between the two nations. Do you know that your ‘business’ is actually smuggling?”
“Oh dearie me, Alliance Head, don’t scare me like that! If this matter isn’t publicized, then we’re just doing business. Only if someone reports us does it become smuggling. Besides, don’t we have you? You’re smart and resourceful, and now your father is a principal second rank minister. We have quite a patron backing us, so it doesn’t matter even if someone does report us.”
To think that Missus Liao would trot out the song and dance often found in city marketplaces and start up this shameless act with her!
Qin Yining’s expression darkened and she laughed softly, responding in a measured pace. “When the old alliance head passed the position to me, I declined it in every way possible. I’m young with limited worldly experience—what right do I have to lead Azure Justice? All of you are famous wandering heroes in the jianghu, while I’m just a little girl sheltered in the inner residence. Even my hair is longer than the breadth of my experience in this world. But the four hallmasters agreed with the old alliance head and wanted none other than me.
“I was really very happy then, feeling that the brothers in Azure Justice were good men and heroes united in their shared aspiration to restore peace to the world. These were fighters of justice bravely taking a stand against the tyranny of the Great Yan trash emperor! I was both ashamed and proud to be your leader.”
Missus Liao had been in the alliance for quite a while. She drew herself up straight when she heard this and declared with some pride, “Azure Justice members are naturally all fighters of justice!”
“But now the fighters of justice have turned to smuggling?”
The older woman’s expression shifted and she readied to defend herself. However, Qin Yining raised a hand and continued evenly. “I know that you won’t listen to everything I say. I’m alliance head in but name only, and you’ve never looked to me as your leader in anything you do. You never ask about my opinions when you make decisions. Are you waiting to push me to the front to take the blame when something happens?”
“Now that really goes overboard! We’ve always been open and honest. When have we ever pushed someone else out to take the blame?”
“No need to be in a hurry, Missus Liao.” Qin Yining saved a hand. “To obstruct someone’s path of wealth is to kill their entire family. I won’t prevent you from conducting business, and it’s not like you’ll listen to anything I say. You guys will probably only think of me when you run into real trouble. But no matter what, I hope you don’t forget the original intentions that you formed Azure Justice with. Money and physical temptations will entrance the eyes and cloud the heart. You can make money, but you cannot commit evil.”
Miss Liao’s complexion alternated between red and white. She’d come prepared with a mountain of arguments. The other party was just a noble girl—a little nothing who would be overwhelmed with several hoity toity compliments. The older woman just needed to spend a little time coaxing the Qin fourth miss.
But when she met Qin Yining’s beautiful, knowing eyes and took in words that stabbed into her heart, not a single word of her prepared platitudes floated out.
The conversation hurt because Qin Yining spoke only the truth. Azure Justice now did indeed harbor some of these thoughts.
No wonder Qiao Shangfei had reminded her, before she set off, to show some more respect to the alliance head.
Missus Liao had thought it a function of the four hallmasters highly respecting the old alliance head, so the same courtesy extended to the granddaughter. But it now seemed that she’d thought too simply of the situation.
“Alliance Head.” Missus Liao drew herself to attention. “I’m committing everything you say to memory. I’ll be sure to tell them when I return.”
Qin Yining nodded. “That would be lovely. Is there anything else with your point of contact this time?”
Such a blatant question put the older woman on the spot.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Ah darn it, I was hoping Azure Justice would've stayed the same. :(