Qin Yining was quite displeased by Priestess Liu’s words.
Why does this person immediately speak of money when they open their mouth? That shrewd look in her eye and greasy smile, she reminds me of those merchants in the markets. She doesn’t seem like an ascetic at all. She looks like even more of a business person than Steward Zhong... and a crooked businessman at that!
She couldn’t help but worry about Tang Meng. The girl had spent half a year here, could she possibly have suffered at the hands of this materialistic master?
But Tang Meng was wreathed with smiles as she flung herself into Priestess Liu’s embrace. She called out cutely, “Honored master.”
“Aiya, it’s Jing Zhen. Have you been well these days?”
“I’ve been very well, honored master. Miss Qin took me in and I’ll be by her side in the future. She’s a kindhearted person and will surely treat me well. You can rest at ease as well.”
The priestess’ eyes flicked over to Qin Yining, sizing up the girl behind the duchess. The Qin fourth miss felt very ill at ease under the priestess’ sharp scrutiny. She felt like a commodity at the market being weighed and priced.
As Priestess Liu examined Qin Yining, the young man off to the side also carelessly looked over. The stocky follower behind him also cast curious glances at her, plainly interested in the duchess’s entourage.
Qin Yining grew further irritated by the young man’s gaze. This person looks genteel and refined, so why doesn't he have any manners at all? With other ladies here, someone who is truly well-mannered will take their own leave even if the host doesn’t ask them to go. Why is he staring at me instead??
Priestess Liu didn’t pay any attention to her guest, smiling as she completed her assessment. “This old nun’s memory isn’t as robust as before and was only focused on this exquisite miss. I’ve completely failed to ask you all to sit down! Please, do sit.”
She directed the duchess to the round chair on the right, one directly in front of the young man.
Qin Yining stood respectfully behind the duchess, while Tang Meng and two other Taoist nuns stood behind Priestess Liu.
It seemed that Tang Meng was very close to the priestess since she was still hanging onto the latter’s arm. This made Qin Yining revise her impression of the apparently money-grubbing priestess.
Tang Meng’s not a fool. Would she act like this if the priestess was bad to her? It looks like Priestess Liu isn’t necessarily a bad person. Maybe I’m going off of appearances too much.
The duchess struck up a conversation with the priestess, exchanging inane pleasantries and greetings.
Anyone with a bit of self awareness would’ve removed themselves, but the young man sat unmoving in his chair. He played with a blue and white porcelain tea cup and saucer, taking the occasional sip but showing no signs of leaving at all.
The Duchess of Ding was well aware of the priestess’s temperament. The latter had just stated that the young man was her major patron and so would never ask him to leave. She herself wasn’t familiar with the young man, so it was even more inappropriate to have him leave. She sighed inwardly with resignation and turned back to glance at Qin Yining.
The girl understood and spoke up. “Priestess Liu, we’re here to discuss the matter of Jing Zhen resuming secular life. We’d like to request the priestess to release her identification certificate so that her presence by my side is legitimate.”
The light in Priestess Liu’s eyes twinkled even more brightly and she broke out in a wide smile.
“By Buddha’s name! This miss has a common destiny with us, but the Celestial Nunnery has spent a great deal of effort on Jing Zhen during her practice with us.” She shook her fingers to emphasize her points. “You all know of Jing Zhen’s background. Although we avoid interacting with secular conflicts, they come find us all the same. Do you know how much trouble we’ve endured in order to keep Jing Zhen safe? It’s truly been such a heartbreaking affair, wouldn’t you say, Jing Zhen?”
“Indeed. I wouldn’t be here today if not for honored master’s protection.” Tang Meng nodded seriously.
“That’s right!” The priestess grew even more animated when Tang Meng agreed with her. “Not to mention that we haven’t shorted Jing Zhen on anything in the past year, whether in terms of food, clothing, or other necessities. We couldn’t even bear to have her do tough chores. I even arranged for others to take care of her. Jing Zhen, is your master speaking correctly?”
“That’s right, honored master arranged for two senior nuns to take care of me.”
“In conclusion, a small nunnery like ours has gone to all sorts of trouble for Jing Zhen. We’ve had to endure pressure all the while and worried ourselves sick. It’s been such an anxious and fearful time, this nun has even lost quite a bit of weight!”
How would Qin Yining not understand Priestess Liu’s tactics? She hadn’t been able to take two steps in the outside world without running into something of this sort.
“The priestess’ benevolence and magnanimity fills me with deep admiration. Jing Zhen’s secular family truly did suffer some hardship as well. We’re here firstly on behalf of reestablishing Jing Zhen in the secular world, so that she can easily remain by my side in the future.
“But secondly, we’d also like to commission the priestess for rites of peace for the Tang family, praying for peace and tranquility for forty nine days.” Qin Yining took out several bank notes as she spoke and slowly walked up to Priestess Liu, offering them with both hands. “These are notes for four hundred taels, I’ll have servants send over the remaining 1,600 taels later on. Please look over the rites of blessings carefully. Both of us are people who care about Jing Zhen, and this matter has to do with her future as well.”
Priestess Liu’s expression had completely changed when the first fold of bank notes had appeared. She’d already murmured quite a few ‘yes’s and ‘absolutely’s as the fourth miss had been walking towards her. When the latter finished, the priestess nodded heatedly.
“This nun can tell that the miss has a pure heart and spirit, and is as benevolent as she is kind. My heart is at ease that Jing Zhen will be by your side. I’ll make a trip to the Central Taoist Registry  to settle the certificate. I’ll be sure to send a message to you, miss, when it’s all done.”
In this dynasty, one couldn’t become a monk or a nun just because they wanted to. They had to obtain a certificate from the Central Taoist Registry in order to validate their identity, and certain procedures had to be followed if they wished to once again resume secular life.
“In that case, many thanks to the High Priestess.” Qin Yining smiled understandingly.
“It’s no trouble, no trouble at all.” Priestess Liu was clutching the bank notes tightly as her eyes twinkled. Fine lines had appeared at the corners of her eyes from the force of her smile and she reached back to tug eagerly on Tang Meng’s hand. “This miss is kindhearted and is treating you sincerely. You can follow her in the future.”
Tang Meng’s smile was a bit awkward, but she still nodded docilely. “Yes, master.”
Priestess Liu tsk’ed when she looked at the bank notes again. “Look at this now. It’s as if I’ve gone and begged alms off you.”
“Oh no, that isn't the case at all.” The duchess was gratified to see Qin Yining so generously settle the matter. “Even if that were so, giving alms is a way to accumulate our own good karma. Since my granddaughter is of the mind to, all it means is that her time to accumulate goodwill has arrived. Priestess Liu is the destined path through which she can do so. Exchanging secular goods for blessings of a lifetime… it’s likely that my granddaughter has received much more, if it comes down to a discussion of give and take.”
“The elder madame is wise indeed.” Priestess Liu nodded with a smile and finally stowed the bank notes. She made a few hand seals and spoke in a joking tone, “I see that the roots of your hair have become overshadowed and sunken in. I’m afraid things won’t be too smooth at home lately. If I could take a look at your palm?”
Qin Yining was amused at this behavior. The priestess has just gotten alms from me, so now she’s looking for a donation from grandmother?
However, the duchess leaned forward with a smile and offered both hands. When the priestess had taken a careful look at the duchess’ palms, her expression became stern.
“By the Great Qinghua! Elder Madame, please listen to this humble nun. There will be blood shed at your home within two months. Things look very dire.”
Qin Yining’s brow furrowed slightly, and even the young man and his follower off on the side grew serious. The duchess’ heart skipped a beat and she asked hurriedly, “Where does this disaster come from? You just said that my roots are dark and sunk is, is it my lord…”
The nun flew through another series of hand gestures, but shook her head with a sigh. “The wheel of time turns and so does fate call. If the elder madame has accumulated good karma normally, then your family might have a ray of hope. Otherwise, I’m afraid your family will be wiped out.”
These words were simply too harsh. Qin Yining was beginning to doubt her earlier thoughts. Is Priestess Liu not just looking for another donation?
Who would speak such alarming words if they were just begging for alms? The mere threat of bloodshed was enough to send chills down one’s back. Was there a need to speak of a family being wiped out? Has she really seen something?
The duchess’ expression was tense. Her heart had been uneasy these past few years. The war between Great Zhou and Yan had been burning ever fiercer and inching closer to the capital. She felt that her family was rotating on a spit over an open fire, and that something would happen, sooner or later. When Priestess Liu had mentioned the threat of bloodshed and family annihilation during a time when the duchess was already treading on thin ice… she felt her heart go cold.
She took a deep breath. “I didn’t bring too much silver with me today. But I’d like to commission the priestess to commence forty nine days of rites of peace and security for my family. I’ll have servants bring over two thousand taels of silver when I return home. May this count as accruing good karma for the Suns when I have the ability to.”
Priestess Liu nodded and didn’t look quite as money grubbing as before. She smiled at Qin Yining. “Come here miss, let this humble nun take a look for you as well.”
Qin Yining naturally wouldn’t protest and walked over with a smile.
Priestess Liu first carefully considered Qin Yining’s face, squeezed her hand, and finally took a look at both of her palms.
“The miss is one with great fortune. Although your life is hard, you were always able to resolve a good outcome out of threats. Your ears are higher than your brows, and you have an egg shaped face. You’ll have a life of fortune and wealth. In addition, you have a very good love line. The propitious star governing marriage has already started its movement.”
The priestess actually snuck a glance out of the corner of her eye at the silently listening young man even as she expounded on Qin Yining’s palms. He seemed to not have noticed and continued drinking his tea silently.
Meanwhile, Qin Yining was steadily growing more irate. Is this Taoist nun reliable or not?! How can she say things like that in front of others? She was definitely just putting on a show just now!
Priestess Liu smiled and pushed Qin Yining back towards the duchess. “Elder Madame, your granddaughter is exceedingly kind and imbued with great luck. Perhaps your karma and hope lie with her.”
“Many thanks to the priestess, my granddaughter is exceedingly good-natured.” The duchess wrapped her arm around Qin Yining and patted her hand comfortingly before getting up. “Since we’ve made our way here today, we must look around and pay our respects to Mother of the Great Chariot.” ]
“Please do as you wish, Elder Madame and miss.”
The smiling duchess pulled Qin Yining out with her just as a small nun hurried in. “Honored master, Lady Yurou has arrived!”
Priestess Liu immediately surged to her feet and turned to her patron, whom she still hadn’t sent away. “Sir Patron, please take a walk with your follower."
1. A central government agency responsible for certifying and disciplining Taoist religious practitioners