Qin Yining’s words immediately raised a frown on Lu Heng’s face and a tug on her sleeve. He too could tell something was wrong with Siqin, but this was Tatar internal affairs and no place for foreigners to meddle in. Not to mention, she was saying all this right in front of the khan consort!
He slightly resented her impulsiveness and was even more worried that she’d be dragged into the conflict. As expected, Siqin moved in front of Anari and looked at Qin Yining with eyes that glittered malevolently.
However, the princess consort hadn’t run her mouth without thought—a lot of consideration had gone into what she’d said. If the rulers of Tatar were a united front, what good was that for Great Zhou? It’d be best to set Anari and Siqin at odds with each other, leaving them no leisure to consider invasion.
She’d gleaned by now that Siqin was a man with a heavy craving for power. If Anari kept bumbling through her days, she would sooner or later be on the receiving end of a coup. If Siqin became the Tatar master, then this people’s pace to invade the south would only quicken. Great Zhou’s coffers laid empty, what strength could they muster to resist attackers?
Pang Xiao and Ji Zeyu would have long and arduous battles ahead of them, not to mention the scores of soldiers whose blood would dye the fields and untold innocents who would die in war.
War was the last thing Qin Yining wanted to see, so it was best to keep Anari and Siqin busy fighting each other. She stared back fearlessly at Siqin and smiled faintly. “Does the khan consort also think my words make sense?”
“It seems the Faithful Princess Consort of the First Rank is well read. There is a saying in Great Zhou that asserts the greatest virtue of a woman is to be without talent. Are you not departing from your culture’s rules and manners to be a rebellious heretic?”
Anari quite agreed with her husband. “I can just tell from this tramp’s looks that she’s not one to be content with her place.”
Qin Yining could tell from the khan’s expression that her kind reminder was a waste of effort. She shook her head and sighed at Anari’s furious, yet envious glare. “The khan would be well served to think of your status when you speak.”
Anari finally recalled that they were still out in public. She was the khan of Tatar! So many pairs of eyes scrutinized her word and move. Such vicious jealousy would indeed be a source of consternation. She immediately turned back to her retinue, “We return to the palace.”
The soldiers announced their understanding and moved according to their new directions. The crowd scattered when the entourage set course for the palace, recovering their earlier enthusiasm.
Qin Yining took her seat in the cart again, prompting Lu Heng’s whispers, “I know what you’re thinking, but you also need to think of your own safety. You need to stay alive until we return to Great Zhou. You don’t want to lose your life here for no reason, do you?”
The princess consort knew that her fellow countrymen was truly worried about her. “I know, but Siqin won’t kill me for now because he still wants to make use of me. I just think that he has a deeper scheme in place. You need to be careful too. Though you’re a Lu, who knows what’s happened back home given how long you’ve been missing? You should keep a contingency plan in mind when you negotiate terms with them. Don’t place too much trust in your clan.”
Qin Yining was one to return kindness from others. She and Lu Heng were in the same boat and the Lu scion genuinely cared about her wellbeing. Of course she would offer sincere suggestions in return.
Though it was a bucket of cold water dumped over his head, such heartfelt attention still warmed Lu Heng’s heart. He naturally knew what else might be in play here.
The Lus were an aristocratic house with a hundred years of history. Its web of relationships was complex and interwoven, and it was also hardly one united strand of rope. He’d departed the family residence so long ago and was now ‘missing’; perhaps familial factions were already shuffling the cards of power around. Though Siqin showed him mercy for now because of his daily background, the khan consort wouldn’t hesitate to swiftly change his mind if the Lus showed an inclination to give up on Lu Heng.
To be honest, the two Great Zhou citizens were both in the same predicament.
The architectural style of the Tatar palace was at complete odds with that of Great Zhou’s palace. Buildings here traded details of exquisite craftsmanship for notes of grand magnificence. Rows of servants lined up neatly to greet the return of their khan.
Nicely worked up, Anari leveled a finger at Qin Yining the moment she returned to familiar surroundings. “Throw her into the dungeon and keep a close watch on her! No one is to let her out without my orders!”
“Understood.” Guards rushed up to take the princess consort into custody, but a raised hand from Siqin stopped them.
“Khan, we still need to make use of these two. The dungeons are dark and damp, easily leading to sickness if women are kept in them. That will affect our plans then.”
Anari looked at Siqin with narrowed eyes, drawing close to grab his collar. “Can’t bear to see her thrown into the dungeon?”
The khan consort had more than had enough of Anari’s domineering attitude along the way. Her continued theatrics and tantrums now continued to stoke his anger. Keeping control of himself with great effort, he responded, “Khan, please do not continue to talk like this. We are husband and wife, not enemies. Do you still not know my feelings for you after all these years? I am well aware of how much you care for me and am very touched by it, but I am equally saddened by how you continuously misunderstand me.”
Born with genteel looks and holding himself with a refined, scholarly air, Siqin’s stance of his hands behind his back with furrowed brows exceeded a natural bearing of persuasiveness.
Her feelings for him did run very deeply and the two of them had supported each other to where they were now. Anari both loved and worshipped this man. His words made her heart thump painfully, and some regret crept in when she thought of what she’d said and done.
However, her pride as khan didn’t permit her to capitulate. She stubbornly bit her lip and said nothing.
Siqin sighed and turned to the servants. “Take our two guests to separate halls to rest. Arrange servants to take care of them.”
“Understood.” Maids led Qin Yining and Lu Heng off in different directions.
Casting an assessing eye at the two senior servants leading her, Qin Yining noted that their footsteps were light and they looked well trained. They were surely well versed in martial arts.
Setting aside thoughts of how Siqin would calm down Anari this time, the princess consort made careful observation of the residences on either side of the covered hallway and the various towering, rugged buildings they passed by. She diligently committed the surroundings and their route to memory.
Her temporary accommodations were a spacious side hall, and a gust of cold air greeted her as soon as they set foot through the door. A red carpet lay atop a floor neatly tiled with stone. Two circular windows on the side walls were shut tight, and a sizable sitting platform was set up behind a divider. A square floor furnace was set in the floor in front of the platform, the fire within not yet lit.
“Please rest here, madame.” Fluent in Great Zhou, the servant’s voice echoed in the empty hall. Her counterpart walked forward to light the fire.
Qin Yining nodded and took a seat on the platform, reaching her hands out to the warm flames.
Some more maids came in with a delivery of blankets and fur linens. Instead of politely holding herself back, the princess consort wrapped herself into the blankets and shoved her face inside, breathing out a long sigh as she slowly warmed up.
Tatar lay further north than the Great Zhou capital. At this time of the year, the Great Yan capital would be alternating between autumn rains and biting cold. Here, the northerly wind scraped across skin like knives whenever it blew.
Qin Yining shivered until she fully warmed up, then laid down to rest. A maid brought in a message at this time. “The khan orders that the madame be present for the morning hunt tomorrow.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter