Qin Yining didn’t want to go, but it was a rare opportunity to take in the lay of the land. Whether or not she eventually came up with an escape plan, it was better to be familiar with the surroundings.
The maid lifted the door curtain and respectfully helped the Great Zhou princess consort out.
A verdant, grassy plain greeted her eyes. Round, white-roofed tents were arranged in neat rows while colorful pennants fluttered in the wind. A great many people were gathered in a spot five hundred paces away, whooping and hollering at a group of mixed gender horse riders.
The riders were hunched over their steeds, reins in hand and legs clamped tightly around horse bellies. Rider buttocks raised slightly as dashing horses sped across the field like arrows loosed from bows. Every pass they made in front of the crowd resulted in raucous cheers, the loudest of which were reserved when Anari galloped past, her red riding outfit brilliantly offset by her white horse.
“Our khan is mighty!”
“The khan is a hero among women!”
“The khan is the best woman among the Tatars!”
The crowd bubbled with excitement, a loud hubbub accompanied by the drumming of horse hooves. A delightful sense of free spiritedness rose from one’s heart, lifting the spirits of even a hostage like Qin Yining.
Her maid pointed at the riding range and murmured something. She then looked at the princess consort with a merry expression, evidently waiting for a reply.
Now Qin Yining understood. The maid wanted her to go look at the horses. She expressed her thanks with a nod and a smile. “Alright, let’s go with your suggestion. Thank you for telling me how lively it is outside.”
The maid didn’t understand Great Zhou speech, but a blush crossed her face nonetheless when she looked back at the princess consort’s gentle smile. She is so stunning when she smiles! Eyes sparkling, the maid said something and pointed again at the riding range, tugging Qin Yining in that direction.
The princess consort looked to her left and right, affirming that though there’d been people surveilling her since she left the tent, no one made a move to stop her. This obviously was out of the purview of a little maid, so Siqin must’ve sanctioned her freedom of movement.
Just how confident is this man? Isn’t he worried I’ll take advantage of this to escape?
Qin Yining followed the maid’s footsteps, slowly padding over the grassy plain to the range. The scent of grass and livestock wafted into her nostrils as she breathed. It didn't make for a bad odor, but rather relaxed the body and mind. Even the sky and white clouds here seemed further away than usual.
As Qin Yining made her way closer, many tall and stocky men watching the horses noticed her. Though she was tall and limber for a Jiangnan woman, she was of middling height in Tatar. However, she was much wispier and frailer than most Tatar women, and crucially on display were the manners and gestures she’d learned from strict teachers.
She walked with a natural elegance that was wholly different from what the simple, honest Tatar girls showed on a daily basis. An innate bearing of nobility flowed from her very bones; plus, she had a stunning face that was difficult to describe or draw.
The men on the outskirts stared dumbly at her and parted to the sides. As more people saw her, all came under her spell, no matter their gender and they too parted way before her. The constant whoops and cheers from the crowd abruptly died down.
Qin Yining was a bit discomfited by the attention. Whether in Great Zhou or Great Yan, she’d always worn a hat with a veil when she ventured outside. Though she’d had to be in the public eye when she was young, no one had stared at her like this. With the simple honesty of the Tatar people, they directly expressed their likes and dislikes. Their gazes upon her were hardly restrained, and the fervor of their looks made her wholly uncomfortable.
But even so, she couldn’t reveal any fear.
Expressionless, she smoothly made her way to the riding range and observed the charging horses from behind a wooden slatted fence. She pretended to be engrossed in the animals, but her gaze was surreptitiously scanning the terrain in the distance.
Anari adored receiving her people’s compliments and cheers. The repeated cries of awe and accolades brought her great satisfaction. It spurred her to new heights in displaying her riding skills, so that even more people would praise her. It also served to show her people that though she was their first ever female khan, she was in no way inferior to men.
But for some reason, the heart-pounding hurrahs and applause suddenly grew weak. Confusion crossed her mind, as well as some displeasure.
She hauled her horse around to where the people were gathered and flashed a confident grin, but instead saw a charming figure in the middle of the crowd, obviously out of place in a group of herdsmen.
She drew her brows together with irritation and yanked on the reins. The white horse protested with a long whinny to be suddenly yanked to a stop, reared back on its hooves, then stomped fretfully a few times on the ground.
Anari perched primly on her horse, casting a look of supercilious disdain down on Qin Yining. She raised an eyebrow and lifted her chin. “Who let you out? This khan has not permitted an ugly thing like you to walk around the campground!”
Qin Yining responded with a faint smile. “No one stopped me from moving around and with how weak I am, I would never make it out of your campground. I hear that the Tatars are a warm and hospitable people. Surely the khan still respects the customs of your ancestors?”
“You…” Anari had no comeback to that. She frowned grumpily, then burst into laughter. “Everyone knows you’ve got a silver tongue and can talk your way out of any situation. You just use your looks to make life easy for you and go around seducing any man you see.”
Qin Yining frowned ferociously. As a fellow woman, how could the khan show this kind of attitude and voice such vicious things in public? The crimes she mentioned were completely baseless and extrapolated from speculation!
This khan had obviously been spoiled in childhood and continued to get her way in everything after marriage. And someone with such a straightforward temper has a very extraordinary consort.
Qin Yining didn’t want to stick her nose where it didn’t belong and didn’t care to warn her enemy either. She only knew that she couldn’t lose here and be made a fool of.
“Why does such a young and beautiful khan say such atrocious things? I’ve always thought that only women who suffered from low self-esteem would doubt their husbands like this. Besides, I have a husband, and he happens to be a hero who shakes the heavens. I studied Admonitions for Women and the Domestic Lessons when I was a child, as well as Biographies of Exemplary Women. I understand the logic of a woman not serving a second husband. I would never do something like that that brings dishonor upon my ancestors. If the khan wishes to make up a crime for me, it’s best to find one that’s worthy of your station.”
Though there wasn't a single curse word in her response, Qin Yining managed to mock everything about Anari from her education to moral character to worldview.
The herdsmen whispered to each other, wondering who this girl was. The buzz of the crowd added fuel to Anari’s flames of rage, and she pointed at Qin Yining with her whip.
“You Great Zhou people only know how to flap your lips! We Tatar women don’t follow your tricky twists and turns. You can only strut around when it comes to words!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter