Qin Yining had absolutely no energy for idle conversation. She’d already bled quite a bit from her injuries, further draining her wane strength, and now she’d been kidnapped. She hadn’t had a moment of respite to recover.
Presently, she was incredibly frail. If she hadn’t persevered by nagging herself not to relax and forcing herself onwards, she might’ve already been labelled a burden better off left behind.
“Nothing, really. I only wish to live.” She couldn’t even begin to describe how dry her throat was. Having no desire to mince words, she gave a curt response without even sparing Siqin a glance.
His interest in her was piqued even further by the cold answer. “Most women would be trying their best to ingratiate themselves with me so they can receive better treatment. You’re different.”
Qin Yining stared fixedly at him. “You’d be wise to talk less and conserve your strength.”
Siqin wasn't angered in the slightest by the disrespect and laughed as he continued to walk alongside her. There was genuine amusement in the mirth that escaped his scratchy throat, turning the heads of the deathsworn in front of them before they looked back to resume whispering among themselves.
Despite their arduous journey through the desert thus far, Qin Yining’s beauty remained untarnished in their eyes. It was a different beauty from the tall and strong physiques of Tatar women—she was an exquisite piece of jade fished out from the waters of the Jiangnan River. To them, she was so exotic.
Were she not the princess consort of Pang Zhixi, they would’ve wanted to have their way with her. However, Siqin had forbidden them from touching her. After seeing him laugh, they understood why—it seemed the great khan consort had fallen for this beautiful woman!
Though Anari Khan was also a sight to behold, they had long grown tired of her looks because of her savage ways and tyranny. This fragile beauty, however, was the very antithesis of her. As the men walked, they promised to themselves to help Siqin cover up his tracks, should he try anything with this one.
Yet just as these thoughts solidified in their minds, a cloud of dust before them drew near. A horse caravan was approaching them from far away!
“Sire, look!” The men shielded their eyes to squint off into the distance. “It’s our people!” they shouted, ecstatic. “It’s the khan! The khan has arrived!”
“It really is the khan!”
“Sire, we’re saved!”
The men shed their low spirits from earlier and began yelling excitedly. Siqin also wore an expression of joy as he hurried forward to greet Anari.
Qin Yining leaned on her stick and stood in place, meeting the eyes of the equally haggard Lu Heng. There’d been almost a dozen of them when they had been abducted—now only the two of them were left.
Joy of reaching the calm after the storm and uncertainty of what the future had in store for them shone in their eyes. Neither of them could guess how Anari would treat them.
Siqin had already strided to the front of the group. “Anari, you’ve come.”
A well-built woman clad in bright-red riding attire and a cloak lined with a white arctic fox pelt collar steered her horse in their direction. Her features were nothing extraordinary, just passably easy on the eyes. However, there was a commanding air of strength about her that permeated her every movement.
A smile spread across her face when she saw Siqin. She pulled her horse to a stop and jumped off, quickly making her way to him like a young maiden seeking affection. “It was no easy feat tracking you down. You went away for so long without so much sending word—I’ve been worried sick.”
Siqin held Anari’s hands, a gentle smile upon his handsome face. “How did you think to search the desert?”
“I traveled down the road with some of my men to receive you, but you never came. I heard a caravan had switched course for the desert after being raided by bandits, so I was worried you had run into trouble. I wanted to head into the desert to look for you, but my subordinates proposed that I may as well follow the road back to the capital and meet you in the desert from there. Otherwise, we would’ve also gotten caught in the sandstorm ourselves.”
Siqin laughed and stroked Anari's cheeks. “You are so good to me.”
Her face burned with bashfulness. “I must do everything I can to ensure your safety. Did you have fun in Great Zhou?”
“Somewhat. I was unable to obtain the treasure, but I’ve got some people with me. We didn’t have enough water, so I left some of them behind. These two are what’s left of them.” Siqin pointed behind him.
Anari followed the direction of his finger and met the gaze of Lu Heng and Qin Yining. Even a fairy descended from the heavens would be hard-pressed to maintain a beautiful appearance after braving the stormy winds and scorching sun of the desert. What’s more, Qin Yining and Lu Heng were clothed in coarse cloth, the filthy scarves wrapped around their heads covered in sand and their hair in matted disarray.
The Tatar khan spared them a cursory glance. “Who are these people?”
“This one’s the second son of the prestigious Lu family of Great Zhou. That one’s the Faithful Princess Consort of the First Rank. I also originally brought what was left of the Azure Justice, but they refused to tell me where the treasure was. Allowing them to remain with us would have only wasted our water and food, so I threw them all away.”
“Mn, well done.” Anari ordered her subordinates to distribute water flasks and dried food among the group. She and her consort sat off to the side, speaking to each other in low voices and laughing.
Qin Yining and Lu Heng were each given a half-empty water flask and a dry flat cake.
Fearing yet another setback on the road, the princess consort didn't dare eat all of it at once; she took a few bites of the tasteless cake and swallowed it down with cool water.
Lu Heng’s brows furrowed as he ate. “This must be hard on you,” he murmured, “especially considering your weakened state.”
Qin Yining smiled wryly. “I’m fortunate enough to have survived at all,” she replied quietly. “If the khan had arrived any later, I would’ve been the next to be left behind.”
Lu Heng flashed a sardonic grin of his own. Neither of them had anticipated ending up in these straits after coming in search for the treasure. They still didn't know how Anari would treat them once they arrived at the Tatar capital.
The Tatar rulers watched Qin Yining and Lu Heng as the two conversed.
Siqin murmured, “The second young master of the Lu family and the daughter of Minister Qin are truly something. Let’s take them back with us and house them for some time. Even if we can’t get any information about the treasure out of them, we can still get a large ransom from the Zhou emperor. I think they’ll be worth infinitely more than whatever the treasure is.”
Anari smiled. “Very well. It shall be as you say then.”
“You always indulge me so much that I feel guilty about it.” The khan consort replied, his cheeks red.
Anari gazed at Siqin’s handsome face, her own face flushing. “We are husband and wife. Should it not go without saying that I support you? What is this indulgence you speak of?” She gave Qin Yining a sidelong glance and continued half-jokingly, “As long as you don’t fall for that vixen, anything is fine.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Oh, no. I see what trouble will brew already.