“I understand your good intentions and feel your sincerity, but wouldn’t it turn the tribe into a vassal of Great Zhou if we’re your new chief?” Lu Heng objected greatly to this. “We’re Great Zhou citizens, after all. But the two of us are friends and brothers with the Minuo, so this is something I’d never be able to do to the tribe. Our friendship can span generations and we can support and give aid to each other, but you two are the real masters of the tribe. I’m sure that your parents in heaven will agree with such a decision.”
His words quite moved the crowd, while Harbhara and Caganbhara grew teary-eyed at the thought of their dead parents. But a decision was a decision, not something they could go back on. This was a matter of principle and dignity.
Qin Yining floundered in the rapid-fire pace of their words. If they’d spoken just a little slower, she might’ve understood a few simple words and puzzled some sentences out.
When Lu Heng discussed his train of thought with Qin Yining, she agreed with his decision. They were foreigners, after all, and given the lessons learned from Azure Justice, she no longer dared easily take over any organization. With great profit came even greater danger.
“Now isn’t the time to discuss this, we first need to think about how to get out of the city. The soldiers came searching today, which means Siqin has enough free time on his hands now. We won’t get away as easily next time there’s a full-scale search, and the Minuo will be dragged in as well. The more frightening consideration is that the consequences will be disastrous if the tribe is targeted.”
Lu Heng nodded with a frown. “That’s very true. The problem is, we’ll have soldiers on our tail even after we make it out of the city. We won’t have an easy time of it, making it to the border between Great Zhou and Tatar.”
The princess consort thinned her lips. “Must we enter the desert once more?”
Lu Heng couldn’t suppress the shudder that ran through him when he thought of the difficulties they’d suffered on the way here. But if they really did make it out of Khanbaliq, it’d be impossible to leave no traces behind. They were up against Siqin’s wits and the Soothsayer’s predictions. Large amounts of soldiers would scour the surroundings for them, and they’d be easily caught if they stuck to the official roads.
On the flip side, if they ventured into the desert with sufficient preparation, that would greatly heighten their chances of escape. With the days growing colder, any trek through the desert would be fraught with difficulty and peril. Their preparations must be thoroughly comprehensive.
Lu Heng pressed his lips together and decided to keep discussing with the two brothers, who frowned upon hearing the proposal. However, they too agreed that the desert would be their greatest aid in escaping if they made it out of the city.
“Since this is the case, let’s get busy. I’ll head out of the city tomorrow and quietly contact the tribespeople outside. I’ll ask if they’re willing to migrate with us. Once we leave Khanbaliq and reach the border, there will be only a few of us spread out over a large amount of land. We’ll be able to eke out a survival, somehow. We need to make full preparations if we want to enter the desert,” said Caganbhara.
Harbhara frowned ferociously. “That’s easy enough, but how are we going to sneak you guys out without anyone discovering?”
Qin Yining tightened her pale lips and thought for a moment. “We’ll create a diversion.”
Lu Heng nodded with a smile. “Great minds think alike.”
The late khan’s funeral was grand and ceremonious, but at the same time rather crude because of how unexpected it was. Tatar’s royal family had been heavily pruned when Anari was the regent, and now there was no living member at all. Combined with Siqin’s benevolent and valiant reputation—the officials unanimously voted for him to take the throne.
After a short preparatory period and a solemn coronation ceremony, Siqin didn’t need to do much to consolidate the rest of Tatar political authority. He exercised a firm grasp on military power in the first place.
His first act upon enthronement was to decree the title of his reign as ‘Jianan’. Since his surname was Utkin, he was hailed as Utkin Khan. Such was the name on his first official proclamation, vowing vengeance for Anari and commanding that the entire nation be on the alert for her murderers. He also sent an official denunciation to Great Zhou, scathingly rebuking the nation for assassinating Anari and declaring that the price must be paid in blood.
Fires of fury and hate thoroughly fanned, the people grimly promised vengeance for their late khan and immense appreciation of Utkin Khan’s merciful policies. The nation was as united as they’d never been before, and everyone sang the praises of their noble and mighty khan.
After another day of public adoration and favor, Siqin received a report around dusk. His men sent word of having located Qin Yining and Lu Heng, and had already surrounded their premises.
“Have them brought back alive. This khan will have them die from a thousand cuts to comfort Anari’s soul in heaven!”
“Understood!” His man turned to leave when Siqin objected, “Wait, this khan will go myself!”
He changed into light robes and made quick time with his men to where the two were. All of his guards and followers were silently moved by the great love between their khan and the late Anari.
They arrived at an out-of-the way residence in the southern part of town. Seeing that only his men were present and all lights were out in the house, Siqin sneered and kicked his horse forward.
“Bring out those inside.”
“Understood!” A contingent of men leapt forward with overwhelming momentum and crashed into the house. A woman’s shriek sounded shortly thereafter, and two figures were shoved out into the moonlight-dappled yard.
After long periods of being on the run, though one could just make out that their clothing was made of the finest silks, all was ripped and stained, and even their hair a bedraggled, knotted mess.
Siqin called out in the Great Zhou language, “Second Master Lu, this khan had thought you someone to be friends with and trusted you a great deal. Who would’ve thought that you’d be unappreciative and ungrateful to double-cross us for a woman! You are such a disappointment.”
Lu Heng kept his head down and he shook slightly. Siqin narrowed his eyes, feeling that something was off. He jumped down his horse and ran forward to grip a handful of the princess consort’s hair, bringing into view the face of a middle-aged woman covered in scars.
Hate blazing in her eyes, she pulled out the dagger hidden in her sleeves and stabbed downward with it.
Flying into a rage, Siqin immediately understood that he’d fallen for a trap. He kicked out viciously at the woman’s chest, caving it in before the dagger touched his skin. She flew out six meters, spewing out blood before falling down dead.
Lu Heng’s trembling became even more pronounced and he tumbled to the ground. Siqin hauled him up by his collar and discovered the man was an elder roughly sixty years old, and blind in one eye.
“The Minuo tribe! Quick, send men to the city gates at once!”
“Understood!” His followers sprinted to the four city gates, as if wild beasts were after them.
It was time for the gates to be closed, and the guards on duty hadn’t noticed anything out of place all day. They didn’t recall who’d entered or left, and could only resolve to be even more strict from now on.
Siqin gave another order when he heard the report back. “Go the Minuo campground outside of Khanbaliq and arrest them all!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
For folks who are waiting on a thank you note/package from me, mail is HORRENDOUSLY delayed. It's taking 4x as long & most places (e.g. Europe) weren't accepting mail until last week or so. I'll keep going back to the post office to try to get them out.