Though Azure Justice was larger in size, it lacked discipline. It was unlikely that its members could best the Silver Masks—the elite of the elite—in combat. If any of the former secret agents harbored duplicitous intentions, it was entirely possible for them to wipe out the alliance.
Such was the disadvantage of not having anyone under her personal command. Though it would seem as if she had the power of both groups at her disposal, few could resist the siren call of riches. In the end, internal discord had risen between the two.
Qin Yining’s face fell. It took a long moment before she was able to breathe again. Lifting the ed embroidered covering of a lantern, she lit the note on fire and watched its ashes flutter to the ground.
"Your Highness, are you alright?" Worried, Bingtang took Qin Yining by the arm and helped her sit down. Her mistress’ ice-cold fingers deepened her concerns.
"Summer has just arrived, but your hands are so cold. Please listen to my advice.” Bingtang covered her mistress’ hands with her own in entreaty. “You have yet to fully recover from your previous injuries, so don't worry yourself with these matters for the time being. You may have the prince to support you, but you must take care of yourself as well."
Jiyun sighed as well. "We know it's a tough situation to deal with, but you mustn't shoulder all of the responsibility or you'll fall ill. It's not worth the stress."
Qin Yining smiled wryly and nodded. "I'm aware of what you’re saying. But when things like this actually happen, it is difficult not to take it all to heart."
SinceBingtang and Jiyun couldn't ask about the details of what had transpired;,ll they could do was change the subject to divert her attention. When the prince returned, Qin Yining whispered the latest developments into his ear.
Pang Xiao wrapped his arms around her thin shoulders and pressed his lips against her forehead in comfort. "I see. Don’t worry—I’ll send people to investigate. I’m the one His Majesty distrusts the most, and seeing how he has soldiers lying in wait outside the city, we must act carefully to avoid suspicion."
"I know. Missus Liao came in the name of donating provisions and medicine, so that shouldn't be much cause for doubt."
"Indeed. Neighboring provinces have also gotten word of our situation and begun donating food. Things are slowly improving for the people."
Hearing this, Qin Yining's mood lightened a bit. "That’s the only thing we can feel good about lately," she sighed.
Pang Xiao gave a long sigh and held her tightly in his arms. His darling had been thrown into the same dangers he faced when she married him. There were times when even he despised his own selfishness—if it weren't for him, would Qin Yining have been bogged down by the mire?
The prince’s face darkened. Having seen those dear to him suffer, vague notions that had taken shape in his mind gradually began to solidify.
After a few days of investigation, it seemed Yang County was the worst hit during the earthquake, so Pang Xiao and Qin Yining kept themselves stationed there while giving Sir Gong full jurisdiction over the old capital.
The issue with provisions resolved and their survival ensured, the people simmered down and became much easier to manage. After what had happened to the Dings and Peis, other local wealthy families lowered their prices and even donated rice on their own accord.
In a short amount of time, they found themselves with much to do.
Pang Xiao and Sir Gong first arranged for the roads leading to the old capital to be cleared out to facilitate the smoother transportation of provisions. Meanwhile, Qin Yining spent most of her time in the yamen and quietly looked after her health at Pang Xiao's urging.
One day, while she read in her room, two light knocks sounded against her back window.
Jiyun started with alertness. "Who's there?" she called out quietly.
Their visitor remained for a moment, then abruptly opened the window and somersaulted into the room.
Qin Yining stared at the person before her, stunned. "Guard Captain Cao? What are you doing here?" she whispered. It was none other than Cao Yuqing, disguised as a man wearing a cropped, dark blue jacket.
The princess consort pulled her close and barraged her with a series of worried questions. "Has something happened in the capital? Is my father well? Is the rest of my family well?"
Seeing Qin Yining so nervous, Cao Yuqing couldn't help but chuckle. "Don't worry, everything’s under control in the capital. Your father is well. However, he felt that something big is sure to happen on your end after he heard of a few things. The identities of His Highness’ people have been exposed, so we couldn’t send them to you. Presently, the other Silver Masks can’t leave the capital either, but it’s easy for a woman like me to come up with an excuse. I said I was ill and needed to leave the city for a few months of solitude. This gave me the chance to come here in secret in case you required my protection."
Qin Yining blinked a few times before the truth dawned upon her. "My father announced he took you as a concubine, didn't he?"
Cao Yuqing blushed. "Yes. He planned to send me to you a month ago, but couldn't find a legitimate reason for me to leave. Thus, he came up with the excuse that I needed to recover from being frail and bedridden after childbirth. That created the perfect opportunity. Your mother is extremely jealous though—she still wasn’t speaking to your father when I left."
Qin Yining was intimately acquainted with her mother’s temper. She was deeply moved that her father had given up his reputation and peace just to send someone to protect her. However, the one she needed to thank the most was Cao Yuqing. Would anyone else have been willing to sully their name like this?
Qin Yining knew Cao Yuqing still carried a torch for Qin Huaiyuan. Because of this, the former concubine swore off marriage so she could continue serving him as a bodyguard; it was also her devotion that propelled her to agree to any of his plans. Such was the tragedy of unattainable love.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
AWWW Cao Yuqing!!
Yesterday's live reading/AMA was so much fun everyone! Thank you all, and a round of applause for those who trooped through two hours of it! O_O