Cao Yuqing’s unexpected bluntness took Qin Yining aback. Knowing that the guard captain was a straightforward person, the girl felt that it was better to just clear everything up today.
“Auntie Cao, I know what you mean. I believe that with my father’s smarts, he will also understand. My father must’ve had a reason for doing what he did, especially since it’s something between the older generation. It’s only natural for my mother to feel jealous. This won’t sound very pleasant, but if someone like Auntie Cao, whose appearance, talent, and character are all many times better than mine, was devoted to my husband, I would also be jealous.
“But Auntie Cao, no matter how jealous my mother is or what my father’s thinking, you are a wonderful elder in my heart. In fact, you’re more like my older sister to me. Even though our family’s gone through so many hardships, you’ve always remained steadfast by my father’s side. If you hadn’t been here when the prince besieged Great Yan, I fear my father would’ve long passed.
“I can’t do anything about the matters of love and hate between the older generation. In any case, I believe you are a loving and sincere person. I’ve always felt like you and I are kindred spirits, so other people won’t impact our relationship. Auntie Cao truly treats me like your own, so how can I not love you like a real stepmother?”
These words dove deep into Cao Yuqing’s heart.
She could offer up the world for Qin Huaiyuan, but alas, the fortunes of life proved fickle. She’d been forced into so many inevitable moves, ones that had deposited her in this current station of life after everything.
She wasn’t afraid of being alone for the rest of her life, she only feared not being by Qin Huaiyan’s side. She knew Qin Huyaiyan was loyal to his own wife and children and disliked her—fine, that was all right. In any case, it was she who adored Qin Huaiyuan. That was all her own business, and she’d never demanded Qin Huaiyuan to take responsibility for it.
But sometimes, in the dead of the night, she also had moments when she felt lost. When Née Sun treated her as the enemy, she felt that torturing herself like this was really quite masochistic.
But with Qin Huaiyuan’s status and that kind of environment, how could he not have somebody by his side to protect him?
She just wanted him to live well. Even if he lived to a hundred and still just regarded her as a close friend, her life would be as sweet as honey.
Cao Yuqing had never dreamed that Qin Yining would one day accept her with sincerity. This was a girl who valued relationships and loyalty very much. Because of her childhood, she longed for the warmth of a family and the maternal love of née Sun. However, she’d gained maternal acceptance only after experiencing untold hardships. As a result, she returned née Sun’s affections with single minded devotion and filial piety.
At first, when given imperial orders to pretend to be Qin Huaiyuan’s concubine, there’d been times when she lost herself in the act. Her admiration and envy of née Sun had sometimes been on full display, and Qin Yining defended née Sun zealously in those moments, like a little beast waving their claws and fangs.
But after a long period of going through thick and thin, fire and water together, she’d finally won the little beast over, lulling her into retracting her little sharp claws and fangs.
Cao Yuqing finally felt like all the effort she’d put in over the years hadn’t been wasted.
Even if she never received Qin Huaiyuan’s love in return, she had Qin Yining’s wholehearted acceptance and had gained a family member. It had all been worth it.
She was a strong person and wasn’t the sort to cry so easily. But right now, her nose twinged and eyes burned, brimming with tears. She looked away in embarrassment, not wanting Qin Yining to see her like that.
Her keen perception picked up on the development, but Qin Yining only wrapped Cao Yuqing in a hug without saying anything.
“Auntie Cao, I will treat you with utmost filial piety in the future. If you ever get tired, just come to my home and I’ll take care of you. If I have a son with Pang Zhixi later, you can teach him martial arts. Knowing how skilled you are, I can rest easy with you as his teacher.”
Cao Yuqing wiped her tears at an angle Qin Yining couldn’t see, taking a while to calm down before lecturing in mock anger, “You brat, you sure do dream, huh? Now you covet my martial art skills too? If we’re talking about martial arts in a serious fight where I can’t use poison or assassination, I’d probably be defeated in less than twenty moves by your prince. You still want me to teach your child?”
“That’s different. With both you and His Highness as teachers, the effects will be better than with just one teacher.”
“You really are a greedy chit. Just wait until we tell your prince that, he’ll definitely laugh at you!” Cao Yuqing chuckled teasingly.
Qin Yining heard that and couldn’t help but bark in laughter, with Cai Yuqing joining in the merriment.
The two chatted deep into the night before falling asleep together. This was the warmest and most comfortable slumber Qin Yining had in as many recent nights as she could remember.
Early the next morning, the Minuo went to scout the path ahead. Cao Yuqing finished her morning rations before joining them.
After ascertaining their route, the group departed from the valley and set out towards the west. Qin Yining was very happy that Cao Yuqing joined them, a feeling that seemed to transfer to a smooth journey.
At noon on the third day, the forward scouts suddenly came back with a report. “There’s five people up ahead and from their clothes, they appear to be from Great Zhou. They’re all on horseback. If we continue ahead, it’s very likely we’ll run into them.”
Cao Yuqing arched a brow and tightened the reins in her hands. “I’ll go take a look.” She galloped off in a cloud of dust.
Qin Yining observed the terrain before having everyone assemble in formation, prepared to fight at any moment.
But just a moment later, Cao Yuqing urged her horse back. Five people followed behind her, each dressed in a cotton overcoat and a hat. From their height, they were clearly citizens of Great Zhou.
Cao Yuqing smiled when she pulled up in front of the group. “They’re acquaintances, Yining, you know them.”
Before Qin Yining could speak, Lu Heng exclaimed in surprise. “Feiying, Feilian?”
Hearing this, two stern-faced and wary middle aged men looked over, lighting up when they saw Lu Heng. They dismounted and rushed over, falling down into a kowtow.
“Second Master! We’ve finally found you!”
Lu Heng hurriedly helped them up and prevented their foreheads from hitting the snow. “It really is you two!”
“Second Master, thank goodness you’re safe!”
On the other side, the three dismounted before walking to Qin Yining and bowing. “Alliance Head, we’ve finally found you!”
“How are you here?” Qin Yining was rather amazed.
Their term of address rather upset her. The three who’d come were the three hallmasters she’d seen when inheriting Azure Justice from her grandmother a long time ago. They were Liao Zhibing of the slippery bladework, and the two mountain-bandit brothers, Zhao Promise and Zhao Unbreakable.
But when she saw Liao Zhibing, Qin Yining couldn’t help but recall Missus Liao, who Siqin had abandoned in the desert. She wasn’t sure how much Liao Zhibing knew about what happened with the treasure, if he knew about Madame Liao, or how much she could even trust Azure Justice now.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Aw, such a heartwarming scene with Cao Yuqing. I'm so glad! I like her a lot and I'm glad she's found some happiness. :D