Qin Yining cooled Lu Heng's forehead with her hand. Doing so sounded rather silly, but they were fortunate that the nights of the desert were bone-chillingly cold and that it happened to be a cooler time of the year. Otherwise, Qin Yining's body temperature wouldn't have been as low as it was.
However, it was still extremely improper for the women of Great Zhou and Great Yan to touch the foreheads of men whom they weren’t married to.
It was already the dead of the night; many of the tribesmen were huddled against each other for warmth and had fallen asleep against one another, exhausted as they were. With her hand pressed against Lu Heng's forehead, Qin Yining curled up against his side. Before she knew it, she fell into a very light slumber.
Gales of wind swept across the desert at irregular intervals, the cold cutting against their skin like knives. Qin Yining knew not how the others were faring, but she, for one, slept fitfully.
In her dreams, she saw flashes of a vast, grassy plain. There, Pang Xiao dashed across the terrain on his warhorse with its glossy, jet black mane, his scarlet cape billowing in the wind behind him. Backlit by the brilliant sun, he steered his steed toward her, laughing heartily as he called out to her. "My darling!"
Qin Yining couldn't help smiling. She gently called, "Highness."
Then the scene shifted; she found herself in an ancient temple atop a mountain surrounded by trees. A scene of chaotic carnage greeted her eyes.
Blood sprayed as battle cries shook the heavens. An archer had scaled the rooftop of a building across from her and was aiming an arrow at her! However, she couldn't run, for behind her was her mother and maternal grandmother.
In that moment, Pang Xiao appeared before her like a god descended from the heavens and swept her into an embrace to block the arrow with his body. Hot blood splattered all over her face as she screamed with horror, yet the prince merely snapped off the shaft of the arrow with his bare hand and dashed at their enemies. She could see the remaining half of the arrow stuck in his shoulder shift with his movements as blood poured from the wound.
Frantic, Qin Yining cried, "Highness!"
"Your Highness, wake up, wake up." Feeling as if someone was gently nudging her, Qin Yining's eyes flew open.
She was greeted by the sight of Lu Heng, lying down on his side with his face toward her. The two of them lay on the desert ground with their ratty baggage cushioning their heads, the starry sky above them twinkling reminders of where they were.
Her waking thoughts seemed to have followed her into her dreams—she missed Pang Xiao, which was why she dreamed about their past memories.
They’d been parted for too long; what's more, her perilous predicament had instilled in her a fear that she wouldn’t live to see her beloved again. This fear had crept up on her in the quiet of the night when she was at her weakest.
Qin Yining wasn’t made of stone—she would also experience fear and other emotions. It was just that her childhood had taught her how to be resilient. Most of the time, she was able to keep a cool head and remain aware of what she could and had to do.
The way things were presently, she didn't want to show weakness in front of others so as not to garner their pity. She tucked away her sorrows and smiled politely at Lu Heng. Sitting up, she tested the temperature of his forehead.
"Your temperature has gone down a notch, Second Master Lu. How are you feeling?"
Lu Heng stared at Qin Yining. Her expertly-concealed weakness hadn't escaped his notice, but since she didn't wish to discuss her feelings, he didn't ask. Chuckling briefly, he replied, "Well enough. And how are you feeling? I noticed you’ve been sleeping fretfully."
In truth, he was aware the princess consort had just had a nightmare from the way she murmured "Highness" in her sleep. He had no one to speak to about his desolation, and his wishes were to remain unanswered. The pain of not even being allowed his wishful thinking was about to drown him completely.
Having been in her company for so long, his infatuation with her grew greater the more time he spent with her and the more he witnessed her displays of bravery and maturity. Most of all, her wit had him bowled over in admiration. It wasn't just him that felt this way—her indomitable tenacity had inspired the entirety of the Minuo to grit their teeth and persevere as they pressed onward in the search of hope.
When they first met, Lu Heng had taken a liking to her because of her beauty. But after spending so much time together, he found himself attracted to her character. They hardly had enough water for drinking in this desert, much less for washing up, yet, this calico kitten's eyes continued to gleam with hope and reflect the stars above amid the endless yellow sand!
Such a sight left him believing there was hope for the future.
Lu Heng knew he ought to admit he had no chance and cut his losses. In truth, he hadn’t been unconscious moments earlier; he’d just been in too much pain and was too exhausted to utter a single word. Thus, he’d closed his eyes to rest and attempt at sleep, since falling asleep would’ve alleviated his discomfort.
Then, she’d placed her hand over his forehead.
How wonderful her cool touch had felt upon his head!
This was perhaps the closest they’d ever been in proximity with one another. Even if he knew she’d done so to save his life, his heart sang and leapt with joy all the same. If such a woman was willing to be with him, he was truly willing to offer up all he had to her—even his own life—if she would just return his feelings.
Sometimes, Lu Heng wished he were a lesser man who was vile enough to take her by force.
However, his reason told him this was the closest he would get to her in this lifetime; he could only be her friend, for she was a woman with principles and upstanding morals. Once married, she wouldn't fall for any other men, nor would she give other men any reason to get close to her.
Her decision filled him with both admiration and resignation. Only when she fell asleep did he dare to stare so brazenly at her.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Awww, my heart twinges for Lu Heng now.