“He's not so bad.”
--Natasha Romanoff, regarding The Hulk
Chapter 116 – Meanwhile
While Huang Ming and Sunli were away at the royal banquet, Qiong Ying was busy. Still in her Quan Lu persona, she took Zhen Tian the guard and Tian Zhu the former bandit to look into the matter of Huang Lang’s disappearance. The rough and rugged men looked extremely appropriate as bodyguards as they followed handsome Quan Lu into the busy streets of the capital. Such was the hustle and bustle of the city that few pedestrians could afford the time to stop and stare at Qiong Ying’s striking male disguise.
Eventually they arrived at a large manor, the home of someone wealthy. Not as grand as the Li Clan’s, but still respectable.
“I wish to speak with your master,” Quan Lu told the servant, who was sweeping the grounds. The servant was about to say something in annoyance when he looked up and saw Quan Lu’s stunning visage.
“Ah, eh, uh…” the servant said intelligently.
“Your master,” Quan Lu repeated patiently. “Is he in?”
The servant mumbled one thing or another and fled into the residence, causing Tian Zhu and Zhen Tian to snicker in amusement.
Quan Lu sighed. “Was it something I said?”
“No offense Sir Quan Lu, but your looks are quite uncommon,” the older Zhen Tian guffawed.
The younger Tian Zhu was less diplomatic, saying quite bluntly, “You’re the most feminine man I’ve ever seen.”
Quan Lu narrowed his eyes at them. “You two fancy yourselves as manly men, is that it?”
The two men blinked but knew better than to audibly agree. Fortunately for them, the servant reappeared to forestall any further interrogation. The servant wordlessly beckoned for them to follow him into the greeting hall, where the lady of the house was waiting.
The young woman was in her late teens, her eyes intelligent and worldly. She was not exceptionally beautiful, but there was an air of elegance that men respect and women yearn for. She was dressed in rich silk robes and there was an ornamental vermilion design pasted on her forehead, adding the colour of wisdom to her aura despite her youth.
Upon seeing Quan Lu, the young woman’s brows raised in recognition.
“Benefactor!” she called out emotionally.
Quan Lu cupped his hands. “You are looking well,” he said.
“All thanks to you,” the woman said, and bade the servants to withdraw to the corners of the hall. She led Quan Lu to the table and personally poured a cup of tea reverently.
Quan Lu drained the cup twice, and both times the woman stood in attendance like a serving girl to refill it. After the third cup had been filled, Quan Lu smiled.
“Enough. Sit down before your servants start to gossip,” Qiong Ying whispered in her real voice.
The young woman grinned and sat down across ‘Quan Lu’. “Benefactor,” she greeted respectfully.
‘Quan Lu’ grimaced. “Do not call me that any more, it makes me sound so old!”
“You saved my life, and I will forever be grateful,” the young woman insisted.
“You are already a grown woman, and also married. No need to be so differential to me,” Quan Lu smiled.
The young woman frowned and shook her head negatively. One could almost see her regret at not being able to pay her respects publicly to the one she had called benefactor.
Qiong Ying gazed at her face and memories flooded into her mind. The young woman before her was one of the many that she had rescued from dire circumstances and then housed at the Lichun. Little Yin the Silvermoon was her name, and she was one of Qiong Ying’s trusted confidants in the Lichun that knew of her disguises.
Little Yin’s talent and enthusiasm for herbalism was soon discovered and Qiong Ying spared no resources to have her educated and trained in the medicinal arts. Little Yin became skillful enough to be the in-house physician, an invaluable asset to the Lichun considering the nature of its business.
Eventually a reputable patron caught sight of her and after a period of courtship of mutual affection, was allowed to buy out her contract. On the day she left, Little Yin tearfully said her farewells to the Lichun and to her benefactor, the lady Qiong Ying. Now she was a grown woman with grace and poise, a far cry from the snivelling little girl she was when Qiong Ying first saw her.
“Benefactor, how is it that you are here?” Little Yin asked.
“I am in the capital for some business, and decided to look you up,” Qiong Ying said. Then she looked at Little Yin square in the eyes and asked quietly, “Are you treated well? Are you happy?”
A smile blossomed on Little Yin’s face. “Yes, I am happy,” she said, and Qiong Ying knew that she was completely honest. Little Yin was positively radiant, the sort of glow that could not be faked.
A weighty stone lifted from Qiong Ying’s heart as one of her worries was dispelled. Despite her intelligence, Little Yin was after all someone from the Lichun, it would not be uncommon for someone of her lowly status to be bullied and ill-treated at her new home. But from the looks of things, Little Yin commanded respect and admiration in the new household.
Little Yin raised her eyes and saw the two unfamiliar men that had accompanied her benefactor. Tian Zhu and Zhen Tian were outside idling.
“Are you in trouble?” Little Yin asked.
Qiong Ying laughed softly. “No, they are my helpers.”
“Helpers? What is the matter?” Little Yin asked worriedly.
Qiong Ying lowered her voice even further. “You remember the one they called the Celestial Qilin?”
Little Yin nodded enthusiastically. “Of course! The most handsome man of Tianxin City,” she gushed. Then she blinked, before giving Qiong Ying a sly smile. “Benefactor, do you fancy him?”
Qiong Ying rolled her eyes. “He is already married,” she droned.
“Oh. A pity,” Little Yin muttered in slight disappointment. If they were in a private place, Qiong Ying would have rapped her knuckles on Little Yin’s head.
“I thought you said you’re happy,” Qiong Ying said dryly with half-lidded eyes.
“This and that are different,” Little Yin replied unabashedly, causing Qiong Ying to laugh.
“You little rascal, you have really changed.”
“Benefactor, what was that about Huang Lang?” Little Yin asked.
“I, ah, actually travelled to the capital with his youngest brother, Huang Ming,” Qiong Ying began.
A look of horror surfaced on Little Yin’s face. “Huang Ming? The beast? But why!”
Qiong Ying waved her off. “Don’t worry, let’s just say that the truth is far from the rumours,” she said quickly. There was a look of disbelief on Little Yin, but the young woman decided not to interrupt. Surely her wise benefactor knew better… right?
Qiong Ying did not know whether to laugh or cry at the doubtful look on the young woman.
“He’s the same Huang Ming the Hero of Tigertrap Pass,” Qiong Ying clarified.
“What?” Little Yin blurted in astonishment.
Qiong Ying didn’t want to be bogged down, so she quickly plunged ahead. “His brother Huang Lang came to the capital before him, and they were supposed to meet. But Huang Lang has disappeared, and I am helping Huang Ming to look for him.”
Little Yin nodded. “I understand. This time, let me help you,” she said warmly.
Repaying the favour,
To one’s saviour.