Qin Yining had thought that her shelter was out of the way enough already, but Lotus' was even further away.
The two held hands and proceeded in the dark; moonlight filtering in through the trees their only source of illumination. Lotus seemed to be accustomed to this and slowed down to wait for Qin Yining. When they reached difficult to pass terrain, the child even pulled the girl up.
After an hour, a wooden house came into sight.
It was very simple, but also quite exquisite as it used mortise and tenon joints to connect semicircle logs together. From the front, it looked like two enormous wooden panels had come together to form a 人 character that was firmly planted into the ground, and from the side it looked like a rectangle.
“House, uncle made.” Pride shone out of Lotus' dirty face.
Qin Yining stroke the child’s greasy, matted hair with a smile. “Your uncle was a very smart, great man.”
To be able to take care of a child and build a log cabin by himself, which, under careful inspection, showed that not a single nail had been used, was more than enough proof of the man’s strength and intelligence.
Qin Yining pinched Lotus' soft cheeks. This little girl must have an uncommon background.
Her caretaker wouldn’t have taken shelter deep in the woods otherwise, and neither would he have fought three enemies to death in a location four hours away from here.
Emotions assailed the Qin fourth miss.
Lotus had already tramped her way through the snow and raised the animal pelts covering the entrance. She pushed open the door, gesturing with merrily shining eyes to invite Qin Yining inside.
Coming back to her senses, the Qin fourth miss followed the child through the door.
It was pitch black inside. Lotus disappeared in the blink of an eye, and the sound of wood rubbing against each other followed shortly thereafter.
Qin Yining blew on her fire starter to light it and found the child crouched on the ground. Lotus was rubbing her hands together furiously, drilling a piece of sharpened wood into the hole of another log. Some fine tinder lined the hole. They immediately glowed with ignition as sparks leapt from the child’s friction.
Lotus carefully used two sticks to transfer the flickering tinder to an earthen cooking stove well-stocked with firewood, immediately brightening the house. The child rose and pointed at fire on the ground. “Warm, warm.”
Her eyes next widened with surprise as she’d glimpsed the fire starter in Qin Yining’s hands. ”Fire?”
The Qin fourth miss nodded and capped the fire starter with a smile, handing it over. “This is for you.”
“For me?” The child accepted it with glee and pulled off the cap. She seemed to have received an utmost treasure and stowed it conscientiously into her clothes after Qin Yining taught her how to light it. When she next looked at the Qin fourth miss, her eyes sparkled with pleasure.
Qin Yining could tell that the child genuinely liked her. This kind and unsullied little girl was bringing forth the most purest of hearts, trying her best to connect with an unkind world. Perhaps she’d spent too much time alone in the mountains and so hadn’t been able to resist extending an olive branch when finally meeting her own kind?
Qin Yining took the child’s hand and sat down together next to the fire. She was thankful that it’d been her that Lotus had run into. The child was so innocent that if she’d run into someone with nefarious intentions, it would have spelled great danger.
The hearts of men contained more evil than the hearts of beasts.
Lotus rose and rummaged in a pile of random items, emerging with a bed of dirty blanket. She offered it up to Qin Yining like she was presenting a treasure.
“Big sister, warm.”
As Qin Yining glanced at the blanket, so dirty that its original colors couldn’t be discerned, then at the child’s bright eyes, she was so gripped by heartache that she almost cried. She nodded with a smile and pulled Lotus over to her side, covering them both.
Lotus smiled happily and stretched out a grimy hand for warmth from the fire.
This was a much more comfortable night for Qin Yining than last night. Because of the log cabin, the fire, a filthy blanket, and a child drooling next to her, she slept with complete peace of mind. No longer would she fretfully jerk awake, afraid that wild animals were here to eat her.
Her own coughing woke her up the next morning. She felt that her cold had gotten worse, but it was still within an acceptable range.
She sat up and discovered that there were no windows in the log cabin, just a door, but it wasn’t completely dark inside. Her head lifting to follow the source of light, she discovered a skylight the size of a bowl.
Looking around, she saw no sign of Lotus. I wonder where the child’s gone to now. But really, just look at how messy and soiled the cabin was! The dust on the floor had to be at least three inches thick!
Qin Yining rose for a close inspection. Though there was no furniture, there was signs of a fireplace being started. It was still half-lined with bricks. It looked like the uncle that Lotus spoke of had died before completing this task.
Apart from the unfinished fireplace, she also found a grimy bundle bundle in the corner. Some articles of men’s clothing fell out when it was unwrapped.
Stooping down for a closer look, Qin Yining found the accoutrements of a fourth rank Northern Ji general!
The Northern Ji military uniform was exceedingly conspicuous one. A big, crimson red collar was paired with narrow sleeves, leather soft armor, and a leather belt the width of a hand.
The expression on Qin Yining’s face grew grave. It looked like the uncle that Lotus spoke of was a fourth rank Northern Ji general — that meant her background was far from simple!
The Qin fourth miss rather respected the general that had brought Lotus into these mountains.
She didn’t know when they’d come, but judging from his decomposing articles of clothing, he’d been dead at least four years. That meant Lotus had only been five or six years old when they sought shelter in the mountain.
What kind of strength did it take for a general to flee into the deep mountains with a five year old girl, build this log cabin, raise her, and protect her from being persecuted?
Qin Yining repacked the bundle and tidied up the mess in the cabin. She picked up a rag and wrapped it around some snow, using it clean after melting the liquid over the fire.
After repeated wiping and throwing away several rags, she finally restored the wooden floor to its original color.
But after cleaning away the dust, an inconspicuous crack in the ground near a corner was revealed. Mystified, she stuck a dagger into the crack and wiggled it, prying a square piece of floorboard up. There was a rectangular wooden box within.
Baffled, Qin Yining retrieved it. There was a certain heft to it, making her imagination run wild.
She opened it to see a letter, the words ‘For the eyes of Jinxuan’ on it. There was also an official seal carved into a block of jade. What set it apart was the coiling dragon carved onto it!
The seal was the size of a man’s fist, and characters carved in the stylized script of a seal — “Treasure of Northern Ji” — delivered a bolt of lightning that was hard to recover from.
This was an imperial jade seal, and one that belonged to the destroyed Northern Ji!Previous Chapter Next Chapter
I present to everyone, a full chapter. Thank you all for your patience over the weeks, I think I'm slowly getting my schedule under control. Enjoy the chapter!