And so, the Minuo split into two groups. Harbhara and Caganbhara were to lead a number of the men in fighting condition and a few of the stronger women across the desert.
The other group—the elderly, children, sick women, and handicapped who couldn't fight—was to find a place to stay elsewhere in the desert. There also were mothers and children, as well as married couples, among their number.
However, most able-bodied men and women willing to take up arms did so because they wanted to fight for the future of their people, even if it meant laying down their lives. To those who remained behind, these people were warriors and heroes—the hope they held of restoring their tribe to its former glory.
If all that remained of the Minuo were the elderly and the weak, they would have no choice but to be enslaved, dooming their descendants to oppression.
After preparing water and dried rations for the trip, Qin Yining's group of nearly one thousand —which included a few experts at finding water sources—set course for the desert. This journey was unlike her previous trip. Siqin had been unprepared for their travels then, as they had been chased into the desert by the pursuing Great Zhou soldiers.
That group had been in no ways small, but their supplies were limited. Thus, he had discarded the hostages one by one as they went. Even the Azure Justice members who knew the treasure's location had been left for dead in the end.
This time, however, Qin Yining was entering the desert with a plan, and the Minuo had made ample preparations for their travels. Though the hardships of the journey left them exhausted, at least the one thousand of them could rest assured that no one would die of dehydration.
Meanwhile, Utkin Khan's soldiers had already caught up with the other Minuo group. However, they all insisted in unison that they didn’t know where their other brethren were.
Just as Lu Heng and Qin Yining predicted, Siqin didn’t lift a finger against those who’d stayed behind in order to uphold his benevolent reputation. He only ordered them to remain where they were, to provide for themselves and not to disturb the other tribes. They were also forbidden from entering any of the neighboring cities and villages.
"The nerve of them indeed. I seem to have underestimated those two!" Siqin already knew with certainty that Qin Yining and her people had entered the desert.
He’d thought the people of Great Zhou were all lily-livered chickens who were too cowardly to do anything despite their highly developed brains. Never did he expect the two to have the courage to lead the Minuo—a group of strangers—across the desert!
Seeing the look on his face, his entourage of soldiers fearfully fell as silent as cicadas in winter. Even if Siqin was a just ruler who always forgave his subordinates for their shortcomings, everyone knew the khan and Anari were a young couple who’d shared a deep bond that dated back to their childhood friendship.
Though they knew where Anari’s killers had gone, they had yet to catch up with the murderers. They could only imagine how infuriated the khan was. They were so used to Anari Khan's ruthlessness that they feared Utkin Khan all the same, even if they knew he wasn’t the same.
Their leader was an elderly man who had followed Siqin since the khan's time in the army and was thus more familiar with his character. He knew Siqin wasn’t one to take out his anger on others. As the only one who dared to speak up, he inquired, "Noble khan, do we continue our pursuit?"
Siqin pursed his lips and contemplated for a moment. "Entering the desert will prove to be a difficult endeavor. It is far too dangerous, for one, and the climate so harsh that it wouldn’t be easy to maintain our bearings. I will not have my men throwing their lives away."
"As you say, great khan." As men of war, they weren’t inclined to continue their pursuit under such harsh conditions so as to avoid needless losses.
When training his soldiers, Siqin also often told them to "use their best steel for the cutting edge of their blades". Sending his warriors to their deaths for no reason wasn’t a wise course of action.
He rose to his feet, his head nearly touching the roof of the tent due to his tall stature. He walked over to a simple wooden table and carefully studied the map laid across the surface, hands clasped behind his back.
His men followed suit, with the more thoughtful of the group carrying lanterns to him. The map depicted the mountains and rivers of Tatar's grasslands and deserts. A finger callused from years of gripping a sword glided across the desert before stopping near a few locations near the borders of Great Zhou.
"Station soldiers outside the desert close to Great Zhou's borders, focusing on these places. Capture the ones who leave the desert and bring them back immediately."
"Yes sir!" His subordinates jolted into action and shouted back unanimously.
Seeing how Siqin didn’t let his desire to avenge Anari blind him to the lives of his soldiers, the admiration his men felt toward their new khan grew even more.
In the army, Siqin had won the unblinking respect of those beneath him through his decorated achievements on the battlefield and exemplary command. As a ruler, he was calm, wise and just, which gave everyone a heightened sense of stability.
The men all agreed Siqin's rule was indeed better than that of Anari’s, even if it was disrespectful to the late khan to say so.
In the short time he had taken power, Tatar turned over a new leaf overnight. People no longer feared they would be executed for no reason, for the new khan wasn’t a tyrant who didn't care about their lives. As long as they carried out their duties with due diligence, they would be treated well. Under this new khan, they could be at ease and focus on performing their jobs to the best of their abilities.
With renewed gusto, the men hurried to carry out Siqin's orders.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Siqin is certainly a better ruler than Anari, which is great for the people but ehhh, bad for our MC. :(