Qin Yining naturally understood the difficult quandary that Mu Jinghu found himself in. Being a loyal man, he would never go back on his word to protect the Soothsayer. Defying her will to save them was already an agonizing decision, so the princess consort couldn’t very well keep him with them forever, could she now?
No, that wasn’t the proper course of action, even with how much they needed someone of his talents at the moment.
By now, Lu Heng had employed fluent Tatar and superb socialization skills to cement a favorable impression with the Minuo tribe. During a lull in the conversation, Qin Yining whispered her desire to allow Mu Jinghu to go back.
The Lu scion gave a lighthearted explanation, which was answered with understanding smiles from the crowd. Though she didn’t understand the language, Qin Yining found herself able to heave an enormous sigh of relief.
Lu Heng turned back to speak to Mu Jinghu in the language of Great Zhou, “Since your family elders need your care, hurry on back. Thank you for your help today,” he concluded with a bow.
Mu Jinghu returned the courtesy. “I feel quite guilty at not being able to continue to protect you.”
“You’ve already helped us so much, why feel guilty? If anyone’s to feel guilty, then it’s us for dragging you into this boundless quagmire of chaos and confusion.”
Unused to conversation, Mu Jinghu was even less equipped with pleasantries. He flashed a bashful smile and again bid his farewell.
Caganbhara rose and showed him out the side door, while Harbhara brought Lu Yun and Qin Yining to a room in the back of the large house.
“We have too many people here and have split the rooms up between the women and children. The rest of us bunk together in the front where the fire is. But I think the two of you aren’t used to sharing rooms with others, so sleep here for the night. I’ll figure out a way to contact the rest of the tribe and get out of here together.”
Lu Heng smiled. “Alright, we’ll follow your arrangements.”
Harbhara left with a smile.
Qin Yining was now burning with a fever. Whip marks of varying severity on her body had progressed past the stage of fiery pain to the depths of where even lifting a finger might tug on a wound. Pain kept her brow tightly knit together. She’d been able to gird her loins and put on a calm facade in front of others, but now left alone, there was no need to keep up the act.
Seeing the princess consort’s face twist with pain, Lu Heng knew that her wounds must be giving her difficult. Hovering helpfully as she made her way to a bed of dry grass on the ground, he looked on worriedly while Qin Yining lowered herself to old bedsheets. “Are you alright? Are you running a fever?”
Trembling from cold, the princess consort hugged her bundle to herself and curled up in a chilly corner. She squeezed out a smile, “I’m fine, the wound’s infected, so a fever is normal. I’m in good health to begin with, so I’ll be fine after some rest.”
“I’ll go ask them for some more firewood and build a fire here. I’ll heat some water for you.” Lu Heng made to rush out of the room. However, Qin Yining quickly tugged on his hem. “Don’t bother, Anari tormented the Minuo tribe to no end—they’re barely hanging on. Didn’t you see the three dozen people huddled around one firepit in the front hall? Firewood and kindling seem to be in short supply for them.”
“But this won’t do either, you’re gravely injured and running a fever. We can’t treat this lightly. You’ve got to at least have clean hot water to drink. We finally made our escape after all this time, it won’t be worth it at all if you lost your life for this minor detail.”
Qin Yining could no longer control her shaking and chattering teeth; even her fingers were so cold that she balled them into a fist for warmth.
Seeing her grow weaker, Lu Heng rushed out to discuss with Caganbhara and Harbhara.
The two teenagers shook their heads woefully when they heard that the late khan had whipped their savior. “We don’t have any medicine here. All of our men were killed and the rest taken to serve that witch as slaves. We’re insulted and beaten for any reason possible. A lot of people have died from wound infections and other illnesses… I’ll find a way to get more firewood for you. But we don’t have a doctor here and no way to hire any.”
Their faces were scrunched up from worry.
“It’ll already be a great help if she can have some hot water. There are soldiers outside looking for us because we killed the khan. Hiring a doctor would be too conspicuous anyway,” reassured Lu Heng.
The two boys nodded and grabbed a handful of firestuffs, built a fire in the room, and erected a stand with a broken porcelain jug to boil water.
Qin Yining was delirious at this point, trying to curl herself into an ever tighter ball in the corner. Employing the light of the fire, Lu Heng noted the cold sweat on her forehead, unnaturally flushed cheeks, and pale lips. Greatly anxious, he put all thoughts of decorum outside his mind and reached out to feel her forehead.
It’s so hot!
Qin Yining had hastily packed her wounds just now; she hadn’t had time to properly apply her medicine. The wounds also needed to be cleaned and redressed. When his thoughts traveled here, Lu Heng once again sought help. Thankfully it was all women, children, and the elderly here. Some grannies with experience handling injuries volunteered to help.
Lu Heng stayed outside while the grannies did their work in the room. Caganbhara sidled up to him and whispered, “I thought you were a couple with that fairy-like lady. I can tell you like her a lot, so why don’t you take advantage of this opportunity to take care of her? You can get closer this way and have her be grateful to you.”
The Lu scion shook his head with a wry grin. “She’s actually married and only here because Anari and Siqin captured her. Though I like her, she is a noble and virtuous lady, completely loyal to her husband. I also don’t want to take advantage of someone’s difficulties and nor do I want to force her. If I stayed to take care of her, she would indeed be grateful, but she’d also pull away from me.”
Caganbhara chuckled at the explanation. “You guys sure have a lot of rules! If it was in the tribe, anyone can pursue a girl or warrior they like. If two people aren’t happy together, they can ask the chief to separate them. They’re free as a bird after separation and can seek someone else. I hear that girls in your country have to commit suicide if someone even touches them?”
“Well, it’s not that severe. There are common women who work and do business as their means of livelihood. We’ve just emerged from the fires of war ourselves and have barely known two years of peace. Those kinds of high and mighty rules are for the high and mighty. Us common folk can’t be tied down by them, so we place greater importance on ethics and morals.”
“Morals, that’s right. Only those of us suffering at the bottom think like this. High and mighty people like the female khan never think about ethics or morals when they do stuff. They only care if they’re happy or not.”
“That’s right, thankfully the witch is dead.”
“That’s right, and it’s all thanks to you two.”
Lu Heng and the brothers smiled at each other.
After suffering an agonizing night, Qin Yining’s fever finally broke at dawn of the next morning. Lu Heng finally heaved with relief to see her temperature ease.
They remained in the Minuo house over the next couple of days. With the heavy guard presence in the streets, they didn’t dare walk around. Gradual probing for information was the only thing they could do.
Capital of Great Zhou, Manor of Faithful Prince of the First Rank.
Pang Xiao started shaking as he read the note in his hand. “Alive, she’s alive! Do you see that, she’s alive!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter