Chapter 224: Alliance Head
When it came to Qin Huaiyuan’s character, the four were quite accepting of that judgment. “The Marquis of Anping is indeed a praiseworthy person. A lot of people forget who they once were when they gain power, but he’s never changed in the face of favor or disgrace. He’s been upright and moral all of these years. He loves the people like his own and he is indeed smarter than normal.”
If their alliance head had a father with connections at court, Azure Justice would have a better grasp of the shifts in political winds. That would be quite a very good thing.
Qin Yining was naturally happy to hear her father complimented, but that didn’t mean she felt the same about her maternal grandmother passing on something so important to her!
“Grandmother, although I know how to play a few tricks, I’ve never really seen much of grand occasions. It’d be too hard for me to lead Azure Justice. I struggle enough with the different personalities aplenty in the families of officials. Consolidating the enormous number of members in the organization would be far beyond my abilities as a little girl. I don’t have the ability to run Azure Justice at all. Please don’t make things difficult for your granddaughter.”
“I know what you’re worried about. I actually have a few things to bring up with all of you as well.” The duchess quite understood her granddaughter’s concerns and turned to the four men. “Our alliance shouldn’t continue growing stronger. We should stop taking in more people.”
Her decision surprised the four subordinates.
“It’s difficult to make sure we’re all of one heart when we grow in numbers. Our initial goal was just to collect a group of like-minded people. We could take action if the royal family didn’t make a move against people like Grand Preceptor Cao and the trampress. We’d be regular citizens if peace reigned beneath the heavens, or summon help with a wave of a hand in the face of injustice.
“But when we have too many, it’s inevitable that other elements will slip into our organization. It’s difficult to prevent the rise of greater ambitions rising depart from our original objective of championing the causes of the people.”
“Though you make sense, Alliance Head, it’s not the best time to decrease our numbers when the Great Zhou army is at our doorstep.” The quartet were gravely worried about the future.
But the duchess smiled instead. “It doesn’t matter who calls the shots in our world, as long as the people can enjoy days of peace. I once felt that Great Yan belonged to the house of Weichi, but look at what this august family has done to the nation! So in my view, it doesn’t matter who rules as long as they’re a virtuous character who can bring lasting harmony. It doesn’t matter if the government changes hands.”
Her words were high treason, but no one present was blindly loyal. They all understood after thinking about it carefully.
The leader of the four chuckled. “You think the most clearly, Alliance Head. We understand. The trampress has been turned into a candle and the Caos have been stamped out like the plague they are. With the Prince of Ning as the commander-in-chief, that fool of an emperor won’t be able to do much even if he wants to.”
“Precisely,” another man added. “I understand what you mean, Alliance Head. Our call to arms was for the happiness of the people. Now that stability seems at hand, we’ll become the second force disturbing general order if we allow ourselves to grow stronger. We should put our own affairs in order and let go of some people.”
The duchess smiled along with them. “You’re all smart people and understand things with a single hint. I’ve actually heard that the news from Xihua a while ago was fake. Pang Zhixi’s men didn’t kill and loot at all. The ones put to death were corrupt Great Yan officials and local merchants known as scalpers or demon kings.
“Much of the wealth they took ended up in the army’s coffers, but the hundred thousand Valiant Tigers are camped outside of the city to avoid disturbing the people. Not only did they not raid the citizens, but their soldiers head into town with silver and transact honestly when they need something. This has actually brought a lot of business to the local shops.”
“So it turns out that Pang’s men aren’t that hateful,” one of the men interjected.
Qin Yining thought for a moment and added her thoughts as well. “I heard father say that long before the peace talks, Pang Zhixi was censured and stripped of his position as Supreme Commander of Southern Pacification because he refused to follow an imperial command to raze the city. He didn’t want to slaughter the innocents, which is why the Great Zhou emperor failed with using the Xihua population to threaten our emperor.”
Understanding struck the duchess. “Then… the Zhou emperor slaughtered the war captives because of this?”
Qin Yining nodded. “I’m not biased towards little Prince Pang just because I know him. He really did defy an imperial order to not kill innocent people.”
“Mm. Seems like Pang’s not that bad after all.” The four men discussed enthusiastically and laughed when their eyes met each others’.
“This is why rumors can’t be fully trusted. Pang Zhixi is Pang Zhongzheng’s son, and even though his father was the Protector of the Nation for Northern Ji, that doesn’t mean he was an evil person. Just like us brothers have an awful reputation in the jianghu, how people say that we’re bandits who are complete cannibals, that we’re scum who rob even beggars, we know best what we do.”
“That’s right! The trash emperor says Azure Justice is a bunch of rebels, but everything we do is for everything that’s good and right!”
The four laughed uproariously as they looked at each other. Infected by the heroic air, Qin Yining chuckled as well.
Her grandmother took her hand again. “I’ve said all this because I wanted to tell you that after the alliance is in your hands, just choose a good path for them. They all have their own livelihoods and don’t depend on stipends from the organization. We didn’t gather together for profit, but for the hot-blooded thrum of serving our nation coursing through our veins. We lead our own lives when nothing’s going on, and all can lay our lives on the line when trouble strikes. So my darling Yi, don’t disappointment their pure enthusiasm.”
Qin Yining felt a bit resigned. She’d have to be the alliance head at this rate. But in these trouble times, it might be very handy to have this network in hand.
The duchess had already turned to introduce the four. “Granddaughter Yi, come and make the acquaintances of the four lieutenants of Azure Justice. This is Gallant Liao. All of the jianghu knows that the blade work of the Liao family is unparalleled.”
The thirty-some year old leader of the quartet had an honest demeanor about him. He raised a cupped fist salute. “I’m Liao Zhibing.”
The Qin fourth miss quickly returned the courtesy. “Greeting to Gallant Liao.”
“These two are the Zhao brothers. They were heroes on Mt. Redtop before and descended the mountain to join us when they heard about our cruel emperor.”
“Miss Qin.” The Zhao brothers also raised cupped fist salutes. “I’m Zhao Promise and my brother’s Zhao Unbreakable.” 1
Qin Yining quickly returned the gesture as well.
The last of them was also the most delicately featured of them all. He looked young, roughly twenty five years old.
“This is Sir Qiao Shangfei, secondary name Yongming. He’s mature and dependable, always able to brainstorm numerous plans. He ranked overall sixth in the Metropolitan Graduate with Honors in the second year of our current calendar cycle. 2 Sir Qiao a talented character person with ambition, but refused to become an official due to some family affairs and disdain for the trash emperor. You can ask him when there’s anything you don’t understand.”
“Not at all, not at all.” Qiao Shangfei rushed to cup his fists, very respectful and accepting of the duchess’ leadership.
Qin Yining curstied to Qiao Shangfei as well, rounding out her understanding of the crouching tigers and hidden dragons within Azure Justice.
Of the four lieutenants, one was a renowned jianghu hero that even Mu Jinghu looked at respectfully, two were brawny men who gave off the aura of bandits, and one was a Metropolitan Graduate! There were very few graduates who were this young.
Having conducted a round of introductions, the duchess turned to curtsey to the quartet.
“Thank you all for your steadfast support during this time and allowing an old woman like me to order you around. Since we got along so readily with each other to form Azure Justice, we must live up to the organization’s name.”
“You’re too kind, Alliance Head.”
“The alliance head is right. We’ve always conducted ourselves honorably, so we mustn’t do anything that goes against our consciousness.”
“Then I look to all of you for the care of my granddaughter.” The duchess curtsied again.
The four men looked at each other, no further protestations on their lips. They offered cupped fist salutes to Qin Yining in unison.
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- Alright, I took some heavy liberties with the Zhao brothers’ names because together, their given names put together form a Chinese idiom that’s literally “a promise is worth ten thousand gold”, or a promise given is a promise kept aka promises won’t be broken. I really wanted to keep the connotations of this, but kept their surnames in pinyin so we can easily identify that they’re brothers. Let me know if this feels awkward. ↩
- A designation for the best graduates of the national civil service recruitment examinations ↩