“I understand your reservations, but you’re sick and can’t rest properly because of me. You fell sick because you had to suffer in the wind and rain by my side. This really doesn't sit well with me.”
Pang Xiao held Qin Yining’s hand, the unnatural flush of her cheeks the only sight in his eyes. Cold sweat beaded her forehead and her lips were white.
She shook her head with a slight smile and swung his coarse hands. “Why think about things this way? You and I are husband and wife. We’re one entity. No matter what happens, I’ll stay by your side.”
“Do you not like me keeping you company?”
“I do, of course I do.” Pang Xiao’s low voice was tender as he spoke of his deep love for her.
“Then that’s that.” Qin Yining beamed radiantly. “I also like keeping you company, isn’t that enough? Besides, who doesn’t get sick throughout the course of life? We’re not immortals. If I didn’t come with you on this trip, you wouldn’t have known about it if I got sick at home and didn’t tell you. Not knowing doesn’t mean never having been sick.”
That was the logic, yes, but Pang Xiao still felt the guilt of not adequately protecting his loved ones. Though it plagued him, he smiled reassuringly. “Anything you say is right.”
His wife gifted him an eye roll.
“What do you mean by that? Of course everything I say is right. You sound like I’m bullying you.”
Pang Xiao adored the impish side of her. Some notes of mischief rang out amidst her frail discomfort. Her voice was charmingly mild and marked with a hint of raspiness, like she was putting on cute airs for him.
Head over heels in love, the prince bent down to hug her tightly and rub his face against hers. He never wanted to let go of this warm, smooth sensation.
“My dear, I like you so much. You’re so soft and smell so good. I want to spend every day with you like this and do nothing at all.”
Chuckles rang out in the air. “Now do you understand why some emperors of old never held morning court?”
Pang Xiao buried his face in her neck and nodded rapidly, huffing out hot air all over her.
Qin Yining smiled despite herself and laid a kiss of precious tenderness on his forehead.
As sensitive as he was, he immediately discovered her kiss and dropped one back in kind on her neck.
He’d wanted to give her more time to rest, but Qin Yining insisted that they couldn’t delay the relief efforts. The prince also understood the gravity of the matter. There were still many pairs of eyes watching them. If he didn’t immediately execute the imperial orders, Li Qitian would likely levy the crime of delaying the mission onto the two of them. Then any delays occurred thus far would somehow become Pang Xiao’s fault as well.
Preparations were swiftly made, and the convoy set out in the wee hours of the next day.
Qin Yining was highly feverish in the night; her temperature didn’t break until dawn. Therefore, she fell into a deep sleep as soon as she entered the carriage.
Pang Xiao was of no mind whatsoever to ride with the men outside. He sat with anxiously furrowed brows within the carriage, leaning on a wall and cradling his wife’s upper body. He would decrease any of the vehicle’s lurching and bumpiness that he could.
Bingtang and Jiyun sat closer to the carriage door. When she saw how worried the prince was, Bingtang couldn’t help but speak up.
“Your Highness, the princess consort will be fine. There was some venom in that mosquito, which is why the wound grew infected. She’ll be fine after two more days.”
Realizing Bingtang’s kind intentions, Pang Xiao quirked his lips and nodded. They actually all misunderstood him.
His sorrow, worries, and anguish had nothing to do with how sick his darling was. He’d be the same way even if she’d only pricked herself when patching his clothes. He was this way because her suffering was due to him.
When he’d brought her over his threshold, he’d wanted to give her a carefree life without worry.
But in the end, he was the one who brought further hardship upon her.
The helpless sense of failure that descended was far worse than any self-condemnation.
Bingtang and Jiyun had no idea what the prince was thinking, but they remained silent when they noted his despondent mood. They followed Qin Yining out of true loyalty, so they were absolutely happy for their mistress that her husband cared for her so deeply.
The closer the convoy drew to the old capital, the bleaker the landscape became.
It didn’t register to the Dragon Riders or Elite Tigers, but the people Qin Yining had brought with her were all once denizens of the old capital and had lived through the great disasters.
The roads grew worse the more they traveled. Gradients appeared in the road and cracks or fissures spontaneously marked the surface. Travel via carriage grew nigh impossible.
The original river was now a dried up riverbed, and a deep crack within it was the culprit that sucked away all of the waters. Once flourishing forest now fell helter-skelter to the sides.
Qin Yining finally felt better on the second day. A fever no longer plagued her, but she had no strength in her limbs. Thus, she lifted the carriage curtains to see what she could take in from the outside world.
The disaster relief convoy could now finally observe in full the conditions after the earthquake.
After rounding an enormous boulder the size of half a house, the group found themselves on a corner turn of a mountain road leading to the city. It offered a vantage point of the entire city.
The sight that greeted them was one of toppled and collapsed houses, rubble and ruin strewn throughout the city like an overturned bowl of congee with plenty of fillings.
It was a mess.
They didn’t need to draw near to understand the ghastly conditions that the people must be suffering through.
It wasn’t a matter of the local government not having enough silver to purchase food and thus having a famine develop instead. Even if people had silver, deliveries couldn’t be made because the roads were blocked. There also weren’t any places to purchase from.
Not to mention, the people had to gather together everyday to dig out those trapped beneath the debris.
White smoke wafted from the northwest and southeast corners of the old capital, which drew Bingtang’s attention.
“What’s going on there? There weren’t any factories or workshops there when we left.”
Qin Yining shook her head and responded in a choked voice, “That, that may be massive funeral pyres.”
The shocking answer slammed a lid on all of the questions swirling in Bingtang’s mind.
The bodies that could be pulled from the wreckage had to be burned to decrease the chances of plague occurring. There was no other way for it.
The closer they drew to town, the more difficult travel became. Qin Yining alighted from the carriage to walk, but Pang Xiao carried her on his back, not wanting her to unduly suffer.
They quickly approached the city gates.
After the earth dragon’s exertions, chunks of outer layers were shaken off the previously stalwart city walls. Cracks criss-crossed the structure, and a scene of disaster could be glimpsed through a hole in the city gate.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
This is so bad, sigh. In these days of the coronavirus, please stay safe, everyone! Wash hands often and avoid gatherings.