Things were definitely not as simple as that. Anari was drunk with jealousy—in fact, she looked like she’d fallen into the entire vat of it just now. What's more, Siqin was obviously angling to use her to achieve something. Hidden motives must lurk beneath the sudden scheduling of a morning hunt. When Qin Yining had left, the two were still in the throes of a vigorous spat.
The princess consort’s feathery lashes fluttered as she looked down in silent thought, while the servant awaited an answer from the charmingly seductive face half hidden in the animal pelts. A fiery orange glow from the furnace highlighted that gentle elegance.
Even my heart melts at the sight, and I’m a woman. What’s it like for men to lay their eyes upon her? The khan’s hostility and wariness of the foreigner seemed much more understandable now.
"Madame?" ventured the maid. She was here on Anari's orders, so she had to return with a report on her instructions.
Qin Yining very much wished to decline, as her ailing health and the tolls of travel had utterly exhausted her. If they were presently in the Great Zhou capital, she would take time to fully relax and recuperate. She would engage in nothing but bed rest, eating and drinking in bed, sleeping her fill until she recovered, and perhaps even fall ill for a round or two.
However, being a lowly prisoner at present left her no room for self-indulgence. Likewise, she wasn’t in the position to decline or oppose Anari's wishes.
Frankly, these dire straits demanded her strength and resilience. With how things were now, she could either grit her teeth and last another round, or bare her neck and submit like a lamb to the slaughter.
"Very well. Please notify the khan I will attend."
Only then did the servant nod before taking a few steps back and circling around the divider to exit the side hall.
The door closed shut with a creak; silence blanketed the hall once more save for the popping of the burning firewood. Qin Yining, however, didn't let her guard down.
Though she couldn't see anyone else present in her quarters, she sensed there were at least two people watching her every move, and from two different locations at that. They were likely two lackeys of no great importance, since spying on a weak woman didn't require anyone highly trained. Considering the layers of security outside the hall, there was no worry about her running away.
Qin Yining rolled herself more firmly into the blanket and bundled herself into a ball, curling up on the platform before the fire.
I miss home in the Great Zhou capital. I miss Pang Xiao, my parents, née Ma, and née Yao. I wonder if Bingtang and Jiyun made it out? She also wondered if the heavily injured Cao Yuqing was alive or not.
She and Pang Xiao had been apart for more than three months by now. How anxious he must be knowing that she’d disappeared…
Her eyes and nose burned when she closed her eyes, tears welling up immediately. It took an enormous effort to keep herself from crying.
Tears made a person weak, something she couldn't afford to be right now. If she wanted to escape Tatar alive and survive Siqin's scheming and Anari's jealousy, she couldn't afford to show any sign of weakness—fear and cowardice were also out of the question. The moment she displayed such weak emotions was the moment she consigned herself to utter ruin.
Locked away and kept under watch in a place where safety was in scant supply, Qin Yining slept fitfully that night. She was on constant alert in case anyone came back for her, making a peaceful sleep impossible.
Yet when she rose early the next morning, she appeared as high-spirited and self-composed as usual.
Her servant girl, Uyahan, was the same one who had attended to her the day before. Based on Qin Yining's observations, Uyahan was most likely trained in martial arts as well. The servant walked soundlessly and often appeared behind her without warning.
Uyahan was decently likeable, and answered all questions within certain bounds of propriety. She also pointed out surrounding architecture trivia and taught Qin Yinin some of the local customs. The servant served the princess consort with sufficient care.
"Madame, it is about time."
"Very well." Qin Yining accepted the proferred cotton cloak and wrapped a gray rabbit pelt around her neck. Slipping into warm boots, she followed Uyahan outside the hall.
When they exited a side gate of the palace, an entourage of bodyguards and warriors greeted them. The guards were ready for departure in outfits of animal hides and equipment of long bows and quivers full of arrows.
In contrast, those tasked with leading the horses and readying the carriages were bedraggled slaves in disheveled condition. Universal expressions of anguish and woe on their faces, there were even children aged around eight years as well as wizened old men and women.
Furrowing her brows, Qin Yining followed her servant.
Uyahan pointed at a group of slaves. "Madame, the khan has ordered for you to wait here."
The princess consort understood Anari meant to humiliate her, but she was a lowly prisoner to begin with. Furthermore, the thought of being above a slave never quite crossed her mind. Everyone was born as a human being—what designated one as lowly from birth? Considering Anari, it was likely these slaves were merely ordinary nomads from tribes that’d lost to her in battle.
She took a spot amongst the group of slaves, thinking little of it. Heads drooped and bodies slightly hunched over, the slaves didn't even dare look up to see who had joined their number. Qin Yining's calm demeanor, however, colored Uyahan impressed.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Egads, I think I dislike Anari more than I did the trampress!