Despite much discussion, Li Qitian and Qin Huaiyuan were unable to come up with a solution. In the end, all they could do was to write a formal response. They couldn't show fear toward the Tatars—lest they undermine Great Zhou authority—and they had to clarify how Anari's death was unrelated to Great Zhou.
Naturally, the officials of Tatar erupted in outrage when they received the letter. The court petitioned for Siqin to declare war. Eventually, he did as they wished and began allocating rations in preparation.
In less than ten days, they had readied the amount they needed. Instead of loudly proclaiming their intent to go to war, Siqin sent a group of one hundred men disguised as merchants to transport a large shipment of rations to the front lines.
The Elite Tigers sent to search of Qin Yining arrived in Tatar and learned of this secret plan to deploy rations before they could find her. When Pang Xiao received word of this, he somberly requested an audience with Qin Huaiyuan.
"Father-in-law, my men have acquired this piece of intel. I cannot say for certain whether His Majesty also knows or not."
Qin Huaiyuan's brows furrowed as he pondered. "Are you uncertain whether you should report this to His Majesty?"
Li Qitian had been watching Pang Xiao's men like a hawk—if he reported this to Li Qitian, wouldn't that mean admitting that he’d sent men to Tatar? But as a citizen of Great Zhou, if he remained silent despite detecting something untoward from Tatar, soldiers would lose their lives because they missed a key opportunity to prepare themselves for battle.
Pang Xiao pondered this. "It would be of no consequence to me if I tell His Majesty. He’s always been aware of my bad temper, after all. Even if he has yet to pick up on what I’ve been up to, I wager he expects me to send people to look for my darling anyways."
Qin Huaiyuan laughed. "So you intend to inform His Majesty yourself?"
"What does father-in-law think? I have no desire for innocent civilians and soldiers to needlessly throw their lives away."
Qin Huaiyuan clapped Pang Xiao on his shoulder.
"You see the situation clearly. In truth, this is all inconsequential. If we allow ourselves to be weighed down by bureaucracy, we will easily lose sight of what is important to us. When we overturned Northern Ji's tyrannical rule, we did so for neither fame nor glory, no?"
Moved by his words, Pang Xiao smiled. "It is as father-in-law says. You see things with great clarity."
Qin Huaiyuan smiled. "You have done well enough already. Presently, His Majesty's primary concern is silver. He worries we don’t have enough to fund the war effort, not the prospect of going to war itself. We would be doing our duty as his subjects by telling him, in any case."
How would Pang Xiao not read between the lines of Qin Huaiyuan's words?
He was criticizing the hypocrisy of Li Qitian's self-righteousness of looking out for the people when in truth, his worries were actually about money!
Once the prince let go of his concerns, his mood instantly lifted.
"It is as father-in-law says. I don’t wish to be overly cautious, either. Should we go to war, I trust His Majesty will send me to the battlefield. His Majesty still values my abilities, so he won’t be too critical about me sending my men to Tatar."
"Oh?" Qin Huaiyuan sounded rather amused. "How can you be so certain His Majesty will send you to battle?"
Pang Xiao smiled briefly. "His Majesty trusts Ah Lan considerably, and he’s the master of the Valiant Tigers, in addition to the commander of the capital guard. The emperor will trust no one but Ah Lan with his personal safety."
Li Qitian no longer trusted Pang Xiao, and ever since the prince had defied over thirty royal decrees for Qin Yining, that distrust had reached an all-time high. Why would such a sensitive person such as Li Qitian entrust someone he doubted with his safety?
"There’s no need to dwell too much on the matter. His Majesty won’t take the initiative in declaring war, but it’s highly possible that Utkin Khan will. Over the next few days, you should first consider how you and the Dragon Riders are to work together, as well as battle tactics to employ. Siqin is a master of deceit, it will be no easy matter to obtain any benefits from him."
"Father-in-law is right. I will consider these matters thoroughly. I shall be informing His Majesty then?" Pang Xiao confirmed respectfully.
"There’s no need to be overly apprehensive," Qin Huaiyuan replied. "Trust your judgement."
Pang Xiao had long been aware of his father-in-law’s keen foresight, and the nod he received only gave him more confidence in his decision. When he reported his discovery of the Tatar deployment of rations, Li Qitian stared at him with a mixed expression for a good while before waving a hand to dismiss him.
Meanwhile, Qin Yining and her band of eight hundred were carefully making their way around two border sentry posts and finally approaching Great Zhou's borders. Everyone cheered with joy, but as they celebrated getting one step closer to success, their scouts suddenly returned in a hurry.
"We've spotted a group of a hundred people escorting a lot of horse-drawn carriages."
"Who were those people?" asked Alham.
"They're dressed like merchants, but they don't look the part judging from their body and mannerisms. In fact, they look more like… like soldiers!" These words were highly alarming.
If they truly were soldiers, it meant Siqin was very likely starting a war!
Color drained from Qin Yining’s face after hearing Lu Heng’s translation.
"This is no small matter." She mused with scrunched brows. "When Siqin did what he did, I had my suspicions about his ambitions. I didn’t think that I’d guessed correctly, that his every action seems to be a step toward that goal."
Qin Yining didn't bring up Anari's murder outright. However, even if others didn't understand what she was referring to, Lu Heng knew.
"An army marches on its stomach—if Utkin Khan is truly procuring rations, I fear this means Tatar and Great Zhou will be going to war."
As the two quietly discussed the development, the other Minuo started to cheer. "Who cares about what Utkin Khan plans to do? Look at all those provisions! We're running out of food, clothes, and tents. Rob 'em blind first, talk later!"
"Rob 'em! Rob 'em!" The Minuo seemed thrilled by the prospects.
Lu Heng found their reaction humorous highly amusing. He coughed twice before turning to Qin Yining. "It seems we’ve really been overthinking things."
"What’s the matter?" Qin Yining could also tell the tribesmen were excited, but she couldn't say why.
"The truth is often the most straightforward path," Lu Heng replied. "As the tribesmen say, who cares what Siqin's plans are? It so happens that we’re low on food and clothing, so we should just steal from them. We have so many mouths to feed, after all!"
Having overheard Lu Heng and Qin Yining's conversation, Alham couldn't help laughing heartily. He turned to relay their words to the rest of the tribe. Both Caganbhara and Harbhara were elated and volunteered to lead the mission.
Seeing the tribe's enthusiastic reaction, Qin Yining couldn't help but step in. "If those are truly the provisions Utkin Khan has prepared for war, we will be heavily pursued should we steal those. It’s imperative that we exercise more caution."Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Y'know, I'm suddenly thinking, what if one day Siqin somehow leaks it that Qin Yining and Lu Heng weren't the ones to kill Anari? Would the Minuo turn on them then?