He wanted to call Cao Yuqing "auntie" as Qin Yining did, but her youthful beauty was too overwhelming. The years seemed to have been kind to her, for they left no marks of weathering on that charming face.
Looking at her, Lu Heng even surmised Cao Yuqing was younger than he was. Either she outranked him despite being younger, or she was Qin Huaiyuan's concubine. Thus, he didn't dare address her carelessly.
Uncle Alham's face had gone as red as a cut of scarlet cloth. Even though Qin Yining was beautiful indeed, he viewed her as a pretty young lady who could’ve been his daughter. Cao Yuqing's beauty however, was a different class of its own—though she was also young, her mature allure and elegant bearing made it hard for his heart not to race.
He frantically waved his hand and stammered at her in his clumsy rendition of the Great Zhou tongue. "No problem, no problem, Princess is our chief, helped us avenge! We all protect her, protecting her is what we should do!"
Cao Yuqing understood what was going on, the ghost of a laugh upon her lips. "My thanks are still due to you all," she replied softly before proceeding to curtsey once more.
In this world, beautiful women tended to receive special treatment. Apart from her beauty, she also had good manners and conversed in a gentle manner. Not to mention, Cao Yuqing was a relative of their ‘chief’, so the people of the Minuo tribe accepted her quite readily.
The two continued exchanging pleasantries as the rest of the tribe watched. Though they didn't understand what was said, the conversation seemed pleasant, so they were happy enough with that.
Qin Yining glanced at Lu Heng and turned to ask, "Auntie Cao, do you have any news of the Lu family?"
Lu Heng started at this and turned toward the princess consort, a gentle look in his eyes.
Cao Yuqing acutely noticed Lu Heng's odd behavior and understood what it meant, though she showed no visible reaction.
"I've been out looking for you, so I’ve been largely unaware about what is happening in the capital. Something’s happened in the Lu family that’s gotten out of hand, though, so I've heard a thing or two, but I can’t vouch for how true the rumors are."
"Is it that my grandfather has fallen ill," Lu Heng inquired with a note of concern, "so someone else has taken his place as the patriarch of Lu family?"
Cao Yuqing blinked in astonishment.
Seeing the woman's reaction, Lu Heng sighed. "It appears I’ve guessed correctly."
Cao Yuqing found herself abruptly reevaluating just how intelligent Lu Heng was. Curiosity got the better of her, so she asked, "How did you guess that?"
"That’s how the Lu family is.” Lu Heng smiled wryly. “Leaving the country has already angered His Majesty. Now that there’s been the assassination incident, the family will surely disown me and let me take the fall for it all. My grandfather and I are of the same faction, so… in any case, it is only natural for such a shift in power to occur due to the trouble I’ve gotten into."
Cao Yuqing nodded. "Though Patriarch Lu has yet to request retirement, his health has not been the best as of late."
Lu Heng's heart couldn't help but ache greatly at that.
Growing up, not even his father paid much mind to him; the only one who doted after him and gave him guidance was his grandfather. He had let his grandfather down for not being a filial grandson waiting on his every need, and now his once healthy grandfather's health had taken a toll because of him.
He knew that Cao Yuqing had definitely softened her words. It was very likely for "his health has not been the best as of late" to mean that his grandfather had actually fallen extremely ill.
He well understood his family's power struggles. Because of his incident, his uncles would seize upon the opportunity to strike and usurp his grandfather's place as the head of the family. Therefore, even if he did make it back to the Lu family alive, there was no place left for him there anymore.
Qin Yining witnessed a look of despondency cross Lu Heng's face, an expression that she had never seen before.
"Second Master Lu mustn't worry," she assured. "My Auntie Cao has been out of the country, so she doesn’t know the details of what is happening in the capital. Perhaps there’s still something about this that we are unaware about. Even if your family is facing problems, we can think of a way to fix them together once we return. We have already braved the grueling desert twice. We only need to use our brains for these other matters, so what is there to fear?"
Lu Heng's frozen heart felt as if it had suddenly been placed in a hot spring, warming him from inside out. A glimmer of hope began to peek into his heart. An involuntary smile creased his lips, his eyes filling with a gentle warmth. "As you say."
In truth, he wanted to ask Qin Yining this: are you willing to help me think of a way to face this together?
Yet he could have guessed the answer even if he stayed quiet.
Qin Yining would surely agree to help him because she saw him as a comrade and friend, certainly not as her lover.
Twinges of sympathy assailed Cao Yuqing when she saw the look in Lu Heng's eyes; the way he was now was incredibly similar to how she once was. Her wishes were unattainable, nor did she wish to force things that were not to be, out of fear that once she did, she would lose everything she already had.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Oh $(%#@($% that's right, I've been so preoccupied with Qin Yining that I forgot about LH's family situation. Poor guy's gonna go home to a shattered family...