Lu Heng looked at Qin Yining with burning eyes and nodded approvingly. “You’re right.” His dry throat prompted a fit of coughing before he could continue. “I trust that everyone will understand this if we tell them. They’ll agree to our plan as well.”
When he and the princess consort conversed, Uncle Alham conveyed their gist to the Caganbhara brothers and others who didn't understand the Great Zhou tongue. They all nodded, agreement on their faces and gratitude in their hearts. Worries and concerns had swirled in all of their minds. Scurrying around and being herded around like rats wasn’t a future full of hope. What awaited ahead was an even harsher desert, and they were the woeful souls caught between a rock and a hard place.
They were worried and frightened, thoughts all snarled up with trepidation. Qin Yining’s clear analysis at this time cleared away the fog and laid out the most optimal path forward for the tribe.
All of them were the hope of the Minuo. They shouldered the task of revitalizing the tribe and keeping everyone alive. Now wasn’t the time to sacrifice the weak, the elderly, the women and children. Bringing them into the desert would be an act of hubris that would ultimately cost their lives.
The group discussed a bit longer before splitting up to their respective tents and spreading the word. Putting thought of how the tribesmen would take their decision out of her mind, Qin Yining took Lu Heng aside when everyone else was gone.
“You’ve been coughing all day—you must’ve caught a cold while we were running. I have some anti-fever and cooling medicines that I took a while ago. You take that first so your cold doesn’t get worse. We still need to make it past the desert, and your body won’t make it through if you fall sick.”
She opened her bundle as she spoke, rifling through it for the medicines. As Lu Heng watched Qin Yining’s yet-thin form despite heavy cotton clothing, the look in his eyes grew deep and soft. She cared about him, which delighted him.
He was a shrewd person and had built everything he owned today from scratch, adopting a bit of a businessman’s mindset in the process. At the same time, he possessed an upright moral character with a clear bottom line of what he would or would not do.
Qin Yining’s looks had caught his attention the first time he saw her, but it’d been her intelligence, methods, wits, and decisiveness that won him over when he got to know her more. He hadn’t hated her at all even when he’d fallen for her fake treasure map. On the contrary, he’d been amused and felt the thrill of meeting an opponent in stratagems.
Lu Heng knew her heart was claimed by another, and he himself had held back because she was married. But though he could control himself to not set a toe over the line of friendship, he couldn’t prevent his feelings from slowly deepening.
As fugitives, she never once muttered a word of complaint despite the bleak harshness of their difficulties. Her heartfelt stubbornness had never once wavered when she faced Anari’s spite and verbal abuse. Even when injured, even when facing death, she’d never once cowered.
And now, her faith yet remained strong when the crowd once again raised their concerns in traversing the desert.
Uncontrollably, his heart flitted ever closer to her. It would be a happy memory to be friends, even if they were never more than just that.
When Qin Yining found the medicine, she turned back and happened to catch Lu Heng’s overly gentle gaze, highlighted by the orange-red flames of the bonfire. Her thoughts on a proper path, she didn’t think much of it and smiled.
“I found it. I’ll go scoop up some clean snow and melt it to brew your medicine. Don’t worry, since we’re taking a break to regroup, you can take advantage of this time to rest with peace of mind.”
Lu Heng nodded smilingly. “I’ll do everything you say, thank you for going to the trouble.”
“There’s no need to be so polite,” Qin Yining dimpled. “We’re friends that have gone through life and death together. I haven’t even thanked you for saving my life. If it wasn’t for me, you would’ve already settled on your partnership with Siqin and wouldn’t be in these straits right now.”
Lu Heng shook his head. “Don’t think like that. I hadn’t actually talked any concrete terms with him. Though we’re deep behind enemy lines, I know where my roots are. How can I possibly give him any major concessions? I used ambiguous language to hold his interest, making so that he wouldn’t touch me for now out of hope for a potential deal. As for him making use of Anari’s death like this, neither you nor I thought of this possibility.”
“Who would’ve had the same idea as a wife-murdering aberration? Siqin will be visited with karma sooner or later. He might be proud of himself now, but I quite look forward to when he falls from grace.”
“Indeed. I also believe that he’s not necessarily the prince’s match in the battlefield, and he’ll have no hope of victory at all if Prince Consort Ji is in the mix.”
Longing surged like the floodwaters when the conversation mentioned Pang Xiao, but Qin Yining never allowed such things to make her weak. She had to grin and bear it. All this would pass, and she would see her husband soon again. She knew that he and her father must be thinking of ways to save her, that her family wouldn’t give up on her.
She wasn’t wrong, but Pang Xiao and Qin Huaiyuan had run into some trouble.Previous Chapter Next Chapter