Qin Yining froze, unable to react!
She never thought that a convoy of surrendered Yan officials would run into a group of bandits!
The trip had been very smooth up until now. As they’d surrendered, they had a contingent of Valiant Tiger escorts that was only a hundred men strong.
Most of the Valiant Tigers had already left to return to the Great Zhou capital ten days ago. Weichi Yan wasn’t allowed any troops with him at all, just a few loyal attendants.
The Qins were a bit better off. The emperor emeritus’ Silver Masks had lost their former master, but didn’t have a new one due to lack of trust from above. They were now beholden to Qin Huaiyuan, but most had been sent out on missions. There were only four following the caravan — five if they counted Cao Yuqing. How would that number possibly protect the everyone?
Qin Yining scrambled to put on her soft-soled boots. Another group of bandits came swinging at the front on the backs of horses, murderous light glinting coldly off their blades.
There were old, young, women, and infirmed all traveling together. A din rose of screams, shrieks, and agonized wails. People scattered helter-skelter, while others whipped their horses into a frenzy and steered their carriages elsewhere.
The entire convoy was swept apart. The three carriages in front of the Qins had panicked and run off in some unknown direction.
Through the carriage window, the Qin fourth miss happened to glimpse that Cao Yuqing had leapt onto née Sun and Qin Huaiyuan’s carriage. A crisp snap of the reins sent the carriage careening off into the northwest.
As for Jiyun, still standing in front of their own carriage, the guard was adroitly dodging the first arrow that was coming their way. “Miss, be careful!”
The enemies were firing arrows! This was a slaughter without discretion. They weren’t here for the goods and neither did they want to leave any survivors!
Inside the carriage, Qin Yining quickly turned a square table onto its side and grabbed a shrieking Qiulu and Bingtang to take shelter behind it together.
“Jiyun, you be careful!” Qin Yining tried to curl up as much as possible. Continual thuds rang out, as arrows embedded themselves into the carriage ceiling and walls. Her hands also shook a few times when the square table also took several hits.
Qin Yining’s horrified eyes were as wide as saucers. She screamed anxiously, “Jiyun, hide! don’t mind me!”
Outside the carriage, Jiyun tumbled several times over the snowy ground and made it to the shelter of a large tree with much difficulty. However, a dense rain of arrows forced her to keep her head down.
Unfortunately, Qin Yining’s groom was shot dead by a random arrow. When he toppled over, his grip loosened on the whip and reins.
Qin Yining’s silvery-white Ferghana horse, a gift from Pang Xiao, spooked and struggled free of its halter, galloping frantically into the distance from sheer fright. The horses pulling the carriage also spooked and charged haphazardly, overturning the carriage from their maddened efforts.
The world turned upside down for Qin Yining, Qiulu, and Bingtang and they fell into a heap.
The bandits seemed to have run out of arrows by now as they’d raised their weapons again, throwing themselves into the fray.
Qin Yining hastily pushed her maids. “Get out, run!”
“Miss, I’m scared!” Qiulu sobbed out.
“You have to run even if you’re scared! We’ll be sitting ducks if we stay here!”
Qin Yining was the first to scramble out of the wreckage of the carriage and met the eyes of a bandit flailing her way. She shrieked, whirled around, and ran. The burly man chased after her in hot pursuit, brandishing his sword.
Bingtang and Qiulu trembled in the carriage, peeking through a crack to see that Qin Yining had lured a bandit away. They heaved and sobbed from fright, clapping hands over their mouths so that they wouldn’t make a sound. They didn’t dare linger any longer and ran out when there was a lull in attention.
Qin Yining was wearing a solid outfit of thickly padded cotton, as well as a cape with a chinchilla collar. Calfskin boots adorned her feet, so she found it easy to run.
She wasn’t a fragile, delicate noble girl to begin with. She’d spent her youth hunting and picking medicinal herbs in the mountains. Though her injuries had harmed her constitution, untapped reserves of potential exploded in the face of fleeing for her life. She’d hiked her skirt up and sank ankle-deep into the snow with each step, but she still managed to leave the burly man far behind her.
Whilst during the chase, the man hacked at another two closer targets, which gave Qin Yining an opening to hide. She took quick stock of the terrain and ran to where the snow was a mess from footprints, charing up the mountain.
Chaos reigned in the clearing.
By now, the escort of a hundred Valiant Tigers were slowly regaining control of the situation, thanks to their valor and usual exercises with Pang Xiao. Under Lian Shengjie’s urging, they launched themselves to the front of the convoy, wanting to take the leader of the bandits alive.
Up on the road ahead, a chestnut battle horse blazed proudly against the sky. A beautiful man in snow-white fox fur was mounted on it. He was appraising a silvery-white Ferghana horse that an attendant was bringing over, no flicker of expression on his face save for a slowly tightening frown.
A horse that Pang Zhixi loved dearly. What was it doing in the Great Yan convoy?
“Milord! Let’s retreat!”
“That’s right milord! The Valiant Tigers don't have a fierce name just for show! We may not come off worse for the wear if we fight them, but we’ll easily reveal our identity!”
Ji Zeyu’s gaze darkened, coldly considering the raging Valiant Tigers tearing through their enemies. He truly didn’t want to engage them face-on.
“Team one, stay. Avoid the Valiant Tigers and search the mountain. Kill any Qins you find. The rest, come with me.” Ji Zeyu raised a hand and turned his horse around, taking Whitecloud’s reins and galloping off with it in hand.
His attendants and lieutenants looked at each other, perplexed.
So the marquis was here for the Qins? But in the mess of the ‘bandits’ killing without abandon, they had no idea how many Qins they’d killed.
Corpses lay scattered all over the ground. Crimson blood dotted the landscape as numerous fresh flowers.
The Dragon Riders who’d remained behind carefully avoided the main group and tracked footsteps into the mountain.
Lian Shengjie was beside himself at the tragic sight of dead and moaning injured on the ground. Some lucky enough to escape harm were clutching other bodies and wailing.
“Hurry! Count and see how many are still alive! Oh my heavens! How am I supposed to explain myself to the emperor? Is the commandery prince still alive? And the Qins…”
As the Valiant Tigers picked up the wreckage, yet others searched for survivors. Some headed into the mountain, just so happening to pick the direction that Qin Yining had gone in.
Not daring to delay, the Qin fourth miss had tucked her hem into her belt and tightly pulled her cape in, sprinting madly into the depths of the mountain.
If it hadn’t been wintertime, there wouldn’t have been any snow to record her footprints. She was rather confident of her ability to shake off pursuers in the forest.
But alas, snow was everywhere right now. Not only did she leave traces behind, it crunched wherever she set foot. An occasional branch hidden beneath the snow would snap crisply as well.
She seemed to catch two male voices behind her, “Up ahead! There’s sounds of footsteps!”
Breathing almost stopped spontaneously. Throwing weariness to the back of her mind, she made for the most difficult and hidden depths of the mountain.
By now, she was supremely grateful for her childhood experience. It enabled her not to panic after entering unfamiliar territory, and not to run her energy reserves dry when being chased.
Based on her experience, she continuously made her way further into the woods. The layer of snow on the ground diminished until only a few icy shards were left. Finally, even that gave way to damp ground with faint, white smoke rising off of it.
Qin Yining was delighted. There must be a hot spring beneath the surface!Previous Chapter Next Chapter
My heart was in my throat for this scene!