"You're right." Teeth clenched from the cold, Harbhara looked at the haziness around them and rubbed his chapped hands together. "We can't go on like this. If we press on, I don't think anyone will be able to withstand the trials of the desert. We were trying to go as fast as we could to shake them off, but with the way things are, the entire tribe might just fall apart."
Caganbhara nodded, his tongue practically frozen stiff. "How about we set up camp for the day and build a fire so that everyone can get warm? Then we can calm down and think of our next course of action."
In truth, it would've been better if they had pressed onward instead of stopping. But if they continued like this, they would lose a good number of their weak and elderly before their pursuers even caught up with them. Their hearts ached at the thought of their people dying in such a manner.
More importantly, the morale of the group would take a heavy hit if so many died. Who would still have the courage to rebel if they then had to stand up against Siqin?
They were truly stuck between a rock and a hard place. To ensure the majority would live, they had no choice but to stop and make camp, using what simple supplies they had to set up tents. The four thousand of them threw themselves into a frenzy. Though they were starving and freezing amidst a blizzard, they got straight to work as soon as they heard they could rest.
Qin Yining, Lu Heng, Caganbhara, Harbhara, a few elders and a former battalion commander who’d lost an arm gathered in Harbhara's tent. Silence fell as they huddled around a campfire.
As Qin Yining couldn't speak the Tatar tongue, she had to leave the talking to Lu Heng.
Lu Heng coughed into his fist several times, face turning red from exertion. "What I mean is that we can’t have the tribespeople throwing their lives away for nothing. Things will go wrong even if we attempt such a major move sufficiently prepared. Furthermore, we still have the soldiers in pursuit to consider."
"My thoughts exactly," said Alham, the amputee. "It's nearly impossible to get everyone to charge across the desert. I'm suggesting we leave some of our able men behind to protect the weak and elderly who can't keep up. They can find a vacant place and temporarily move in. Then, they will wait for our good news."
Harbhara nodded. "I agree with Uncle Alham's proposition. A majority of us can traverse the desert together and find sanctuary within Great Zhou's borders. Once we've settled in, we can come back for the others."
"But won't the others feel like we’ve abandoned them?" Caganbhara piped up, concerned. "We finally made it through everything. If they’re left behind just like this, won’t they feel hurt?"
"But if we bring them along, I fear their deaths will become a certainty. If they stay behind, perhaps the new khan will take pity on the women and children, and thus spare their lives." Lu Heng glanced at Qin Yining, who’d stayed quiet, and translated their conversation thus far.
Qin Yining pondered. "To be honest, I don’t think resentment will arise because those of us crossing the desert are doing so to seek out a better life for everyone. The Minuo once stood tall and strong and could provide for themselves, but they now live as slaves that are lower than even swine and dogs. Even one of Anari's horses is worth more than a person.
"If those people stay behind, perhaps we'll be able to survive. But is a life of crawling in the dust truly what everyone desires? Is the revival of the Minuo tribe not what everyone really cares about?"
Of everyone else in the tent, no one understood Qin Yining save for the amputee, Uncle Alham.
In a stilted rendition of the Great Zhou tongue, he replied. "As you say. We can't be khan's slaves forever. Minuo tribe is big tribe. If we go down like this, and disappear, we have no face to meet ancestors when we die."
Qin Yining dimpled and nodded. "Uncle is quite right. We must be able to breathe freely, not struggle for our lives face down in the dirt. If we fold now, our descendants will have to live under the khan's oppression as slaves for their entire lives, which will continue for generations. If that’s the case, it would be so awful for our children.
"We’re fighting back for that breath of fresh air so that our future generations may stand tall and hold their head high! Men, women, the elderly, children—everyone must be present if a tribe is to be complete. Every person embodies the hope of their tribe. Though I would advise those who aren't physically capable to remain outside the desert—that means most of the elderly, women and children. But they are the tribe’s greatest asset when the time comes for us to rebuild our home.
"I trust that if we tell them this, they will understand. After all, those of us journeying across the desert do so as courageous warriors who fight for the greater good of the tribe."Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Don't forget about the ROS art contest! And mega apologies for the delays in chapters, everyone. Looking into getting helpers and getting back up to speed next week!