Their cockiness cost them dearly—battle cries rang across the grassy plains as great gusts of wind carried the thick stench of blood with them.
The Minuo emerged victorious from the skirmish, but at a great cost. They’d destroyed the one hundred soldiers and reaped their many horses, weapons, dried rations and water as spoils of war, but nearly two hundred of the tribesmen met their end here.
"If it wasn’t for the desert wearing us out with thirst and hunger, and our lack of weapons or battle equipment, we wouldn't have had to sacrifice so many of our people," noted a teary Uncle Alham.
Everyone mourned together. As Qin Yining watched them clean up the battlefield, she couldn't help but droop and wipe her tears away. The only thing worth celebrating was that they had obtained even more horses, weapons, water and rations. Furthermore, they had successfully made it out of the desert.
After pulling themselves together and exiting the desert, they took another headcount.
Qin Yining sipped a mouthful of water to wet her parched throat before conversing with Alham. "Uncle Alham, I'm certain those soldiers set up camp nearby. We should rest up and recover our strength, then think of a way to raid their camp. There must still be soldiers keeping watch there, but we have the element of surprise on our side. We’ll also be well rested, so we have a good chance at victory. Once we defeat them, we can replenish our rations and supplies."
Alham nodded rapidly. "We think the same. We came all this way through the desert to give our people a future. Why would we turn down provisions? What do you say, brothers?"
"Yeah! We don't need to feel bad about stealing from that dog of a khan!"
"Rob them, rob them!"
The grief they felt from losing their tribesmen turned into rage—spurred on by the memory of their deceased family members who had died horrible deaths at the two khans’ reign, they were willing to do anything that caused trouble for the royals.
"Alright! Let's put our heads together and think how we can cause some trouble!" Uncle Alham was a man of action—he quickly wove his way through the crowd to summon the squad leaders for a meeting.
They came to a decision to leave the physically weaker members behind with the able-bodied women, while Alham and Caganbhara led a group of three hundred to strategically ambush the camp.
When the two scouts returned, Alham, Caganbhara and three hundred tribesmen set off for the location they described.
In the meantime, Harbhara took charge and waited in place with Qin Yining, Lu Heng and the other remaining members of their party. Qin Yining was concerned, but she was ultimately an outsider when it came to matters of the battlefield—she had to trust Uncle Alham's experience.
She helped Lu Heng off his horse with the help of two young women and proceeded to melt snow in a jar over the fire, waiting for the boiled water to cool before feeding it to him.
Over the past few days, the weakened Lu Heng had been floating in and out of consciousness. Getting the water past his tightly sealed mouth proved to be a struggle since it kept trickling out of the corners of his lips.
Qin Yining dried his chin with her handkerchief again and scrunched her brows in worry. If Lu Heng's situation didn't improve soon, he was going to be in great danger. They had to quickly get to safety and procure medicine for him.
She located a clean handkerchief and soaked in water to wipe Lu Heng's face. He had been in such poor health as of late that his cheeks were sunken in; his stubble scratched at her hand as she carefully cleaned his face. Then, she washed the handkerchief clean before moving to wipe his hands.
Perhaps it felt too cold, for Lu Heng began to stir from his slumber.
"You’re awake?" Qin Yining rejoiced. "How are you feeling? Drink some water. We’ve made our way out of the desert!"
Her voice was so full of delight that Lu Heng couldn't help laughing as he looked at her, his voice raspy as sandpaper. "I know, I can feel that my face is clean." Why else would they have the water to spare for washing up if they hadn't left the desert?
Qin Yining laughed and served him warm water. "We’re no longer low on water. Have some more—I boiled this and left to cool. It’s clean, and you’ll recover quickly if you drink more."
Qin Yining helped Lu Heng to sit up and drink, then softened rice biscuits in hot water for him to eat. He tried to stay alert as he ate and inquired about how the tribe fared.
Qin Yining told him about Alham and Caganbhara leading an ambush on the soldiers' camp, to which he smiled and nodded. "I have no need to worry if you and them are the ones in charge."
"Is that why you passed out with nary a concern?" Qin Yining joked with mirth, which inspired an answering chuckle from Lu Heng.
He felt considerably better after drinking plenty of water and eating warm food. Though he was drowsy, he didn't immediately fall asleep. Instead, he remained wrapped in his thick cotton robes and insisted Qin Yining to update him on what had happened in the past few days until lethargy finally won out.
As the sun rose from the east, Uncle Alham returned with the goods. They’d succeeded in ambushing the camp and procuring an abundance of food and horses.
When the group heard the news, they cheered and began making their way to the camp.
As Qin Yining watched the Minuo tribesmen celebrate, she heaved a long sigh. "Let us rest for today. We can discuss our travel route tomorrow."Previous Chapter Next Chapter