Lu Heng whipped his head back to see Anari behind him in bright-red, narrow-sleeved robes, a snow white fur cap, and a full face of makeup. Arms clasped behind her back, strings of beads dangling around her neck swayed to and fro as she strode pompously forward. She held in her hands a whip with a scarlet tassel at the tip; bells around her wrist swung, tinkling with a pleasing ring.
Lu Heng suppressed in his anger and raised a cupped fist salute. "Khan."
"I hadn't expected that bitch to be capable of drawing you here despite being locked up for two days. Don't you know she's a ravaged flower whose beauty is only superficial? Don't you feel it beneath your status to be seduced by someone like that? Are her good looks all you care about?"
"We have a saying in Great Zhou: those who keep flowers in their hearts will see flowers everywhere they turn,” replied Lu Heng with an icy look. “The khan sees a man speak a few words with a woman and assumes the presence of illicit affairs. What is the meaning of these most malicious and filthy accusations?"
"You!" Anari's eyes narrowed in anger, her voice low as she retorted, "Are you saying this khan’s heart is malicious and filthy?"
Lu Heng declined to grace her with a response, save for a cold smirk. Even if he didn't answer, his mockery was clear as day.
Anari's face turned ruddy with rage. Just as she was about to yell back, Lu Heng forestalled her.
Though his words were delivered in a slow, gentle manner, he wielded them like knives. "Great khan, you have a good head on your shoulders, so you should know what the people of Tatar need the most. Or is it that the khan assumed the throne not to bring prosperity to her people, but to show off your own greatness?"
"How dare you! Who do you think you are, speaking to me in such a manner?!" Anari flew into a rage. "What the people of Tatar need is for me to determine! Do you mean to say Tatars will suffer because you've been offended? Don't get ahead of yourself, Lu!"
Her guards drew their swords and pointed them at Lu Heng.
Though Lu Heng knew a thing or two about fighting, he only practiced martial arts to keep himself fit. If he were to go up against people wielding actual weapons, he would only get himself killed. What's more, how would someone of his status, who employed bodyguards for years, ever have had the chance to get into a real fight?
The men of Tatar were tall and strong with widened eyes as bright as copper bells, looking for all the world like they couldn't wait to eat their enemies alive. It would be a lie to say that his heart didn't tighten at the sight of gleaming swords pointed at him.
Despite the threatening aura, he didn't back down—he stepped forward instead, pressing his chest against the tip of the sword held by the guard at the forefront of the troops. If he moved another inch forward or if the guard’s hand shook, then blood spurting from his chest would be the next development.
The guard met Lu Heng's eyes. Dumbstruck, he didn't dare make a move.
The Lu second master addressed Anari in a low voice. "If you aren't worried you will disrupt your consort's plans, feel free to give the word. However, I still wish to impart some words of advice to the khan: though power is held in the hands of the one who wields the sword, the heart does not necessarily recognize that. If the khan keeps with her barbaric ways and draws her sword on others without a second thought, I find it very difficult to imagine the future she will create for Tatar."
His eyes narrowing, he continued, "Why not take a page from your consort's book? Not only is the khan's consort an adept scholar and a soldier, he is a benevolent man who cares a great deal about the well-being of his people. He would never allow his impulses to dictate his actions, like the khan currently is. Take a look at yourself, then reflect upon your consort's conduct and compare—are you not concerned you will lose the support of your people?"
Anari's face slowly turned purple as she listened. Her thoughts in a turmoil, she completely forgot her purpose for coming here. Was the people's adoration toward Siqin truly greater than their love for her?
Making her way to the throne had been no easy feat. Anari was trying to hold onto what she had, but Lu Heng's words could also mean her consort was capable of replacing her at any time.
No no no, that was impossible!
Siqin wasn't that kind of person!
They’d grown up with each other—the years of their friendship couldn't have been erased by a few words from an outsider! Lu Heng said those things because he was from Great Zhou and thus jealous at how close she and Siqin were! He sought to drive a wedge between her and her consort!
Anari took in a few deep breaths, eventually pushing down the fear in her heart. However, Lu Heng's words had planted a seed of doubt in her.
"I am the leader of a nation. The way I rule my nation is my own business—I hardly need a puny aristocrat like you to advise me!"
Lu Heng was adept at reading people and had a general grasp of what was going on in her mind from her expression. "The khan is indeed the leader of a nation. No one can deny this fact, but even the leader of a nation would be wise to mind their public image. You mustn't allow jealousy to mar your respectability."
He flippantly pushed aside the sword pointed at his chest. Seeing that their liege’s anger had died down, the guards sheathed their swords.
Lu Heng stepped closer to Anari to stand before her and raised a cupped fist salute. "Please consider what I said just now," he said in a polite tone. "It would serve you well."
Finished, he took his leave and walked away, seeming as if he wasn't at all concerned about what had just happened and didn't care to stay any longer.
Anari watched Lu Heng's retreating form, her grip on her whip growing tighter with each passing moment. In the end, she was unable to control her temper and kicked Qin Yining's doors. "Open up!"
As the doors were bolted shut, the chains jangled from the force of Anari's kick. The thudding of the wooden doors startled Qin Yining and her two mamas. Someone opened the doors from the outside.
The two old mamas rushed to greet Anari and bowed with their hands to their chests. "Great khan."
Anari fixed Qin Yining with a glare of pure fury, her red lips slowly tightening into a thin line. She carelessly waved her hand, dismissing everyone in the room. Not daring to defy her, they made themselves scarce.
Qin Yining's brows pinched together as she watched Anari approach step by step, her hands slowly clenching tightly behind her back. "How may I help the khan? Please speak directly."
"You have some nerve indeed." Having sized up Qin Yining, Anari hadn't expected that not only did the woman's confinement do nothing to dull her wits, she had in fact grown thinner, emphasizing the charm of her willowy stature.
The khan smirked coldly as she drew near. She lifted Qin Yining's chin with her whip, forcing her to look into Anari's burning eyes. "Née Qi, you indeed have a way with turning your charms on men. Why don't you impart your ways to me?"
Qin Yining had long grown weary of Anari's petty jealousy. "The khan slanders me again and again, and it can only be because you lack confidence in your hold on your husband's heart. You know full well I bear no ill intent toward the esteemed khan. If you must doubt someone, you should be directing your suspicions toward Siqin! As a woman myself, I would give you a word of warning: refrain from hurting others and guard yourself against those who wish to hurt you! It would appear the khan has it the other way around though!"
Her words hit the nail on the head and drove straight into Anari's heart. Infuriated, the khan’s brows snapped together and she raised a hand to bring her whip down on Qin Yining. "I can't stand slutty foxes like you who seduce men, yet claim otherwise without a shred of shame! People like you are an affront to all women!"Previous Chapter Next Chapter