Qin Yining flashed a smile brilliant enough to take one’s breath away.
“The khan quite knows how to jest. To persuade others, you must present them with concrete facts and logic. If one is unable to win a debate, it simply means their views don’t make sense or that they can’t think in a logical manner.
“The khan should not belittle all Tatar women. Women of Great Zhou follow certain rules and manners due to the traditions in which they were raised. Likewise, Tatar women learn many incredible things thanks to the nomadic lifestyle. As long as women are able to carry out their duties and make a living, there is no question of who is superior.
“Different environments call for different ways of life and different fields of expertise—that is all there is to it. The khan is a formidable woman in her own right, no less than any man. You must not downplay your own merits.”
The philosophies Qin Yining spoke of were too deep for Anari to wrap her head around. She glared at the repulsive face, itching to carve a few lines into it to let off steam. How dare a hostage challenge her in front of her subjects!
“Stop playing up your little bit of learning! Of course I’m no less than any man—I just don’t hide behind men like a parasitic flower, the way you do! If you really have anything real about you, bring it out and show me! All you know how to do is prance around with flowery words. What’s so impressive about that?” 
Qin Yining dimpled. “What does the khan think a noble, official daughter of a Great Zhou minister and a princess consort should possess, then?”
“You! Don’t brag about your father or your man if you have the guts to! How about you and I compete against each other, fair and square?” Anari had her mind set on embarrassing Qin Yining. She looked left and right before flicking her whip. “A horse-riding competition!”
The princess consort arched an eyebrow, her eyes looking around as she politely declined. “The khan is a master equestrian. How can I hope to be your equal? Perhaps this is not a good idea.”
Her soft words were spoken with the gentleness unique to the woman of the south. Those who understood the tongue of Great Zhou translated her words to others around them.
The crowd thought the delicate young lady sounded sincere enough.
The khan had been riding horses since she was a child—how could a rich young miss from Great Zhou ever hope to best her? They’d even heard many Great Zhou noblewomen had to cripple themselves by binding their feet; that was what those people thought to be beautiful. How could women who could hardly stand without falling over ride a horse?
Thinking about this, some of the more forward nomads attempted to look at Qin Yining’s feet out of curiosity. Unfortunately, they were obscured by her long robes, so no one was able to get a good look.
Anari laughed with satisfaction and jeered, “In other words, you’re just a useless vase who only knows how to run her mouth. If you don’t want to compete, that’s fine. I will take that to mean that the women of Great Zhou are just pretty faces with nothing underneath. It’s one thing for the common woman to not know how to ride—I just didn’t expect the Wise Pan An to raise such a spineless daughter who doesn’t even have the guts to answer a challenge.”
She shook her head in mock regret. “I truly feel sorry for Wise Pan An. His great legacy will be destroyed in your hands.”
By now, everyone could see what was going on—the khan despised this Great Zhou woman with every fiber of her being. The reason was likely because there was something going on between this beautiful lady and the khan’s consort.
Above all, married women hated it when their husbands hung around young and pretty girls. They understood all too well why Anari scrutinized Qin Yining relentlessly. A ruckus started brewing with murmurs that Qin Yining would be a disgrace to all the women of Great Zhou if she didn’t accept the challenge.
Qin Yining didn’t want to compete against the khan. Whether she won or lost, challenging someone in their own territory left her open for denunciation regardless of the outcome. What’s more, she knew her wounds and ordeal through the desert left her much weaker than she used to be—she didn’t possess her usual stamina at all.
However, she’d never been one to give up easily.
Anari’s taunts had succeeded in rousing her competitive nature. She would rather lose than tap out without even fighting! Otherwise, she had no right to call herself the daughter of the Wise Pan An or the wife of the Faithful Prince of the First Rank!
“Very well.” Qin Yining took a few steps forward and circled around a gap in the wooden fence to stand before Anari. “However, I do not have a horse.”
With a wave of her hand, Anari ordered one the men competing in the long-suspended horse race to bring forth a chestnut horse.
From its tall, stocky stature and its long mane, one could tell it was a feral stallion. Those who recognized this horse broke out in a cold sweat for the fragile princess consort.
This was a feral horse they’d taken in only because it had been injured. When it recovered, attempts were made at taming the stallion, but it took the finest rider of them all three months just to get it to bow its head to him. It had a fiery temper and only recognized the one who tamed him as its master—no one else could even touch him.
Anari had seen the horse in action in the horse race earlier, so she knew all too well how wild it was. She shot Qin Yining a mocking smirk. “This one will be your ride then.”
The man led the horse over to Qin Yining and threw over its reins and a whip. Those in the know held their breaths as the dainty girl walked toward the chestnut.
“Your Highness, you must be careful.” Lu Heng had come with Siqin and joined the crowd without her noticing. He fretted as he watched her approach the chestnut. “If you can’t do it, just admit defeat. There will always be wood to burn so long as the hills remain green—there’s no need to get yourself hurt just to prove yourself.
Blatant worry was written all over his elegant features, having watched from the sidelines for quite some time as the scene unfolded. As a hostage, his life was helplessly grasped in the hands of others; all of his men were already long dead. Qin Yining was the woman he fancied, and they were both of Great Zhou—he couldn’t help calling out to her.
Qin Yining looked back at Lu Heng and nodded with a smile, but deep down, she didn’t agree with his words at all. Admit defeat?
She’d never admitted defeat to anyone from the moment she was born!
When she had encountered wild beasts as a child living in the mountains—especially wolves—showing any sign of fear toward them would’ve meant being devoured until nothing remained.
The best way to deal with a feral animal was to be even more ferocious than it was! She held the whip in one hand and pulled its reins with the other.
Displeased, the chestnut’s nostrils flared as it huffed, stomped its hooves, and defiantly shook its neck hard, refusing to be led by the human.
However, Qin Yining's fighting spirit flared up in full force. Eyes blazing bright like two infernos, she completely forgot about how weak her body was. Yanking its reins hard, she stepped into a stirrup and flipped herself onto its back with a flourish.
The chestnut screamed a long whinny and immediately kicked its hind legs into the air in an attempt to throw off the unwanted rider.
The crowd gasped in horror, the more timid women and children covering their eyes fearfully.
Qin Yining’s hat of red agate beads flew away and landed far away, her raven black hair flying in the wind.
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