Meanwhile, Qin Yining and her group of a thousand sought refuge in the frigid desert behind the alee side of sand dunes. They sat on the ground in quiet clumps, too tired to speak. Under such circumstances, they had to conserve all the strength they could. Every excessive sentence uttered felt like a waste of food and water.
Qin Yining looked over Lu Heng, who had wrapped his cotton robes around his shivering form and laid beside her, eyes squeezed shut and lips pale. She couldn't help but pinch her brows out of concern.
They’d taken utmost care throughout their journey, yet still progressed slower than before; Lu Heng had caught a terrible cold that they hadn’t been able to attend to in a timely fashion. With their scarce medical supplies, he was greatly hindered by his illness.
As someone accustomed to being waited on hand and foot, Lu Heng had never experienced such great misfortunes, nor did he ever have to suffer hardships. Since fleeing from Khanbaliq, the tightly-bound cord that’d kept him together seemed to have abruptly snapped. He was no longer able to muster the energy he needed. Considering the trials they had faced on the run, it was only expected that he would fall terribly ill.
The group had initially thought Qin Yining would have been the first to be ill, but that guess had proven wrong. Lu Heng—who looked significantly healthier—was the one to be taken out by sickness.
Qin Yining, Harbhara and Caganbhara became responsible for looking after him.
Ever the attentive one, the princess consort gave Lu Heng her horse and pulled it along by the reins. She took very good care of him, leaving only certain tasks to Harbhara and Caganbhara out of propriety.
The brothers had initially thought Qin Yining to be an exquisite but spoiled lady. Her decision to give up her horse already surprised them enough. What was even more astounding was how she was able to persevere through the desert on foot. Though she didn’t have the best stamina, not once did she encumber her companions, nor did she throw any fits. She always exercised great restraint when drinking water, making sure no one was left without their sip because of her.
This beautiful woman was truly someone to admire, and the free-spirited peoples of Tatar especially found themselves enraptured by such a beautiful and strong lady.
Her strength was unexpected and admirable, her intelligence and cool-headedness also inspiring much confidence. Even though the tribe knew she was a married woman, quite a few of the young lads fancied her. They were even willing to give her a share of their own dried rations and water, but she never accepted their offers.
Qin Yining felt their kindness in full, but she was never one to seize that which belonged to others. To survive in the desert, water and food was of utmost importance. If she ate or drank from the others, they would be at greater risk for dying. That wasn’t something she could ever bring herself to do.
Lu Heng's illness worried her greatly. They’d been through much together, after all, and he had saved her life. This friend had done all he could for her, so she wanted to repay him in any way she could. Abandoning him wasn’t open for consideration. However, there was presently very little she could do owing to their circumstances, and they had to hurry through the desert. It was impossible for Lu Heng to recuperate, which only worsened his predicament.
The other problem was that Qin Yining was unable to communicate with the others.
She only knew a few simple phrases such as to eat, rest, bathroom break and so on. Anything more complicated than that was beyond her capabilities. As long as Lu Heng remained unconscious, conversing with the others was her greatest problem.
Because he’d been slipping in and out of consciousness, he often missed important matters that Qin Yining had to take over for, but most of the group didn’t understand her instructions.
Luckily, Qin Yining was able to communicate with the amputee Uncle Alham as long as she spoke in simple statements, who then translated to his fellow tribesmen. Using easy words, he could come back with the group’s response, which made it much easier for her to receive updates and issue orders.
"He still has a fever," Alham fretted. "What should we do if he doesn't get better? None of us are doctors, and he doesn't look very strong."
Equally worried, Qin Yining wrapped Lu Heng's cotton robes around him even more tightly. It would’ve been best if they could place a cold wet handkerchief on his forehead or wipe down his body with alcohol, but their situation meant they had to ration every drop of water so they didn't die of dehydration. Likewise, giving Lu Heng a wet handkerchief was out of the question.
They were all at death's door—there was nothing Qin Yining could do but lay her own hand, frozen stiff from the cold, across his forehead. He looked slightly more comfortable at that. "Cold," he muttered with pale chapped lips as he rubbed against her palm.
Qin Yining's brows furrowed out of helplessness. If she let Lu Heng lose his life, she would be letting him down.
If Mu Jinghu and Lu Heng hadn't sensed that something was wrong that day and broken her out—with Lu Heng throwing away everything he had negotiated with Siqin to help her—she probably would’ve been humiliated and then killed.
She would absolutely thank Mu Jinghu for his kindness, but she had yet to repay her debts to Lu Heng—how could she let him die in the desert before that?Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Sigh, I'm really worried one of the main cast will die of sickness or dehydration before they make it back to Great Zhou.