"Dead?" The teen blinked in disbelief and shook his head furiously. "That can't be, our aav and eej are both very healthy. They can’t have died. Please show them mercy, great khan—let them go!"
Anari sneered back, "They were trash who lost in battle! They're all dead. It's their fault for being so useless. They accompanied me on my hunt, yet they got themselves eaten by wolves. I have nothing else to say about these sorts of people. Stand aside, or I'll feed you to the wolves so you can join your aav and eej!"
Eaten by wolves?
The two teens paled, their eyes blank with shock. The older of the two stared dumbly at Anari as the younger strained his neck to search the group, evidently hoping that their khan’s words were a joke. The surrounding crowd of Tatar citizens grew, each and every one clueless about what was going on.
Qin Yining, however, already knew everything thanks to Lu Heng's explanations. Looking at the two youths who’d lost their parents, her heart filled with grief. Anari was too cruel—there’d been no need for those slaves to die.
She was no saint herself; she also knew full well that success was built on a foundation of sacrifice, just as the Great Zhou Dynasty was built atop countless corpses. If the mountains crumbled and the rivers swallowed the earth, then displaced citizens were obligated to join the final stand. Even if slaves who lost their lives on the battlefield were dead all the same, their deaths were still honorable in that manner. Qin Yining wasn’t opposed to such a heroic way of dying.
However, there was no honor in the way these slaves had died; they were merely Anari's playthings. The only meaning to their deaths was to provide her with temporary amusement.
What kind of a leader was this? Anari's absurdity was almost on par with that of Great Yan's trash emperor!
While Qin Yining lambasted Anari in her mind, Siqin reached out to stop Anari from cracking her whip again. "Your parents have indeed passed," he sighed. "You must live on well, as the Minuo tribe still looks to you as their leader."
The two brothers stared vacantly at Siqin, whose eyes were tinged with pity. Overcome with sorrow, big, fat tears trickled down their faces.
Irked by their crying, Anari made a move to lash out at them, only to be restrained with a tight grip around her wrist by Siqin. The two had only just argued, so he showed no intention of loosening his grip. He looked as if he meant to break her arm, which fanned the flames of Anari's rage even further.
Yet she didn’t wish to lose Siqin. She had to exercise restraint, lest she continue to lose his face for him. Thus, she allowed her husband to pull at her wrist and made no further attempt to punish the two teens.
The remaining four thousand of the Minuo tribe were all elderly, weak, ill, or disabled. Without a leader acting as their pillar, the only thing the tribe could do was submit to her in servitude. There was no need to rush into killing them all. Wasn't it even better if they became slaves like the rest?
Her killing intent dissipated, Anari gave word to continue their journey. The entourage thus pressed onward and did nothing but walk around the two teens.
When Qin Yining walked past the two, the tears and despair in their eyes had her grieving along with them. And yet, her situation wasn't much better than theirs. As much as she wished to help them, there was nothing she could do when she could hardly save herself. Her primary concern was, in truth, what would become of her after returning to the palace.
Considering Anari’s animosity toward her, one false move could very well mean forfeiting her life.
When she returned to the room that served as her prison, she noticed that all of her guards and servant girls had been changed. Anari was indeed thorough. How was Qin Yining to escape, as a physically weak woman who wasn't proficient at martial arts or the Tatar tongue? Anari didn't even allow her the opportunity to bribe those watching over her.
In any case, Qin Yining thought little of it—she only needed to keep an eye on what she ate and used while exercising caution outdoors.
She didn’t have the faintest idea how Anari and Siqin worked things out upon returning to the palace, but when she saw them three days later, they seemed to be as close as they had always been. In fact, it seemed that they were more intimate with each other than before.
What astonished Qin Yining most, however, wasn't the fact that Anari and Siqin made up, but a familiar face before her.
Seated on the red wooden chair across from her and merrily smiling back was none other than the Soothsayer, Priestess Liu! She wore dark blue Taoist robes and appeared virtually unchanged, despite how long it had been since they last meant. Her flushed face beaming with vitality bore testament that life had been treating her well.
Standing behind the soothsayer was someone she also knew very well: Mu Jinghu, a man who had once protected her and saved her life.
The sight of the soothsayer raised a few alarms, but Mu Jinghu was a different story. Though the soothsayer was officially Mu Jinghu's uncle-master, she was also his actual master. It went without saying that master and disciple were extremely close.
The sight of them bolstered Qin Yining hopes of escaping. If Mu Jinghu was willing to help, she could go home. She had been away for so long; she truly worried how her family was faring.
The soothsayer spoke freely with Anari and Siqin, but she equally had no inhibitions about speaking to Qin Yining.
"Miss Qin, we meet again," she greeted. "It seems my calculations were correct, that the propitious star governing marriage did indeed move in your favor?"
Qin Yining flushed at her words; if it weren't for growing a thicker skin, she wouldn't have known how to respond to that. "It’s been quite some time since we last met. Priestess Liu seems as lively as ever. I didn't expect we would meet again at a place like this."
"Heh, I'm someone who goes with the flow, so of course I go wherever the living is good." The soothsayer chuckled. "With the khan and her consort taking care of me, I live in much greater comfort than I did in Great Yan. How about you? What are your thoughts on becoming a princess consort?"
"My thoughts?" Qin Yining nearly snapped at her. Was she, a prisoner, supposed to recount the heartbreak she’d endured after being forced apart from Pang Xiao?
The soothsayer smiled. "It's fine, if you don't want to speak, then don't. But you needn't worry—fate continues to smile upon you. I reckon a bit of your husband's luck has rubbed off on you, seeing as your good fortune has yet to run out. Just take it easy and look after yourself. You seem much weaker than you were before marriage."
Whatever her motives were, at least that last statement was made out of genuine concern. It seemed they were indeed old friends who had met each other in foreign lands by chance.
The first time she met the soothsayer was by her maternal grandmother's introduction. Thinking of her grandmother's home in the south, Qin Yining wondered if the women there were well. She dearly wished to return to Great Zhou, but she had absolutely no way of doing so.
Seeing Qin Yining and the soothsayer chat amicably with one another, Anari’s heart filled with jealousy. "It appears the soothsayer knows her well then."
Dimpling, the soothsayer replied, "We have crossed paths a few times. She is destined for greatness beyond words. Not unlike the khan, might I add."Previous Chapter Next Chapter