Before long, Lu Heng appeared in a cloak made of gray squirrel pelt, alongside Anari and Siqin. The sight of a self-composed Qin Yining in the midst of a bunch of dusty-faced servants came into view as soon as they passed through the arched brick city gates. She stood out like a crane amid chickens, yet looked entirely in her element.
Lu Heng's heart immediately went out to her with a scrunch of his brows.
"Great General Siqin," he implored in a low voice, "the Faithful Princess Consort of the First Rank is of noble status. Even if she is a prisoner like myself, she should be treated with a certain degree of respect. How is it proper for her to be treated like a slave?"
Siqin very much enjoyed being called by such a title and followed Lu Heng's line of sight with a serious mentality. Seeing Qin Yining standing with slaves, he couldn't help agreeing with his companion’s opinion.
"This is indeed an oversight on my part." He waved a hand to summon Uyahan. "What are you waiting for? Bring the princess consort over here."
"I forbid it!" Lu Heng's plea for leniency on Qin Yining's behalf quickly irritated Anari. When Siqin agreed without hesitation, the khan flew into a rage and moved to stop the change. "I ordered her to stand there! That’s the place for base, loathsome wenches!”
Lu Heng quirked a brow and looked at Anari, baffled. "Is my understanding of the Tatar language so lacking? How is it that the consort of a common-born prince is referred to with ‘base’ and ‘loathsome’ in Tatar? I must ask, how many of the Tatar royal family hold similarly low ranks?"
"You!" Anari glared at Lu Heng. "Don't forget that you, too, are a prisoner! I only have to give the word to kill you, so you..."
"I see. General Siqin said I was a friend of the Tatars last night, and it goes without saying that friends should stand by and help each other. Since I am a prisoner in the khan's eyes, shall I go and join Her Highness then?" Highborn and of an honorable disposition, Lu Heng appeared even more authoritative than Anari. The displeasure written across his handsome features stoked the flames of Anari's rage even hotter.
Provoked, she pulled out her whip and moved to lash him. However, Siqin reached out just in time, gripping Anari's hand with a backhand. "Calm yourself, khan."
She stared at Siqin with disbelief. "You're standing up for that whore again!"
Siqin glowered darkly. "My khan, you must watch your words! You put me in a difficult position if you doubt me thusly."
Taking in Siqin’s very real fury, Anari felt wronged and irritable with anger. So many of their subordinates were watching them, which only added to the humiliation. She wanted to lash out and finish going over their fight from last night, but Siqin's angry stare reminded her of her wet nurse's words: "You shouldn't be so paranoid, my khan. The consort isn’t that sort of person, but if you continue to doubt and blame him, you will only steer his heart further toward other gentle, affectionate women."
Anari couldn't help a glance at Qin Yining. The hateful woman was still at ease and beautiful as ever even in a group of slaves! Despite that, she forcefully brought her temper under control.
I’ll get her killed during the hunt today! So what about cooperation or transaction—the Tatars could work with the Lu family alone. This woman deserved death!
Siqin's anger died down a fraction when Anari fell silent. "Is this how you guide your charge around?" he barked at Uyahan. "How could you lead Madame Qin to the slaves?"
As Uyahan had only been following Anari's orders, she felt quite aggrieved. However, she knew her mistress could only piece her pride back together by pushing the blame off onto her. Hence, she got to her knees and kowtowed. "This servant has erred. Please punish me as the khan's consort sees fit."
"Beg forgiveness from Madame Qin. If she won't spare you, there's nothing I can say either." Siqin said this in the language of Great Zhou and looked at Qin Yining.
They’d bickered for a long time in unintelligible chatter to Qin Yining’s ears. Even so, she could guess from the looks in their eyes they were arguing because of her, so the subject of their debate was most likely the issue of her standing with slaves.
She hadn't anticipated Lu Heng speaking up for her and was immensely gratified. Though she didn't know what he’d said, the sight of Anari's blotchy face cheered her up considerably. Siqin's words clarified the situation and she actually found his little plotting quite amusing.
If she went ahead and punished Uyahan, would life get any better if a different servant girl was assigned to her, much less how viciously Anari might enact revenge? Uyahan had just been following orders, after all, and she’d looked after Qin Yining with considerable care.
The princess consort waved her hand. "You may rise. You were just following orders."
Since she spoke in the language of Great Zhou, the slaves didn’t understand her. However, Uyahan was very fluent, and though she feared Anari would take out her anger on her, she felt very grateful toward Qin Yining. She bowed with a hand to her chest before standing.
The slaves only spoke the language of Tatar. Despite not knowing what the foreigner had said, they’d heard every word of the argument between the khan, her consort and Lu Heng. The princess consort’s mercy had them thinking even more highly of her.
The slaves were all once nobility in their own tribes. After being enslaved by Anari for a long time, they were very sympathetic to Qin Yining's plight. What's more, this was a woman with the looks of a fairy! Even if she was the princess consort of the Great Zhou war god, that didn’t change how they now viewed her.
Qin Yining was invited to stand beside Lu Heng. Anari tamped down the flames of fury inside her and ordered the girl be given a horse and her own bow and arrows. Eager to depart, she shouted, "Onward!"
After they entered the mountains, she more than had her ways of killing that loathsome bitch!Previous Chapter Next Chapter