Hence, even if they abandoned the provisions, the troops were very likely to continue pursuing them until capture. Once they were in Siqin’s hands, the Tartars would have another excuse with which to incite a war with Great Zhou. On closer examination, this prospect was horrifying.
Qin Yining and Lu Heng’s conversation was clearly overheard by Uncle Alham. He quietly translated them for the Harabhara brothers and the few other key members of the tribe. As they heard him speak, their expressions also grew grave. After a round of discussion, they unanimously rejected the idea of abandoning the wagons.
“We will never hand over the provisions. We took these provisions for the future of our tribe. There are still many elderly and children waiting for us to bring these provisions back to them! We will never hand over the provisions, even on the threat of death!”
Uncle Alham wholly agreed with this sentiment.
“That’s right, I disagree with abandoning the provisions as well. Utkin Khan is Anari Khan’s husband, and one is as tyrannical as the other. Even if we were able to obtain temporary peace, we Minuo will be tormented to death sooner or later while living under their rule. We would rather gamble with our lives now than live a life worse than death!”
When Lu Heng heard this, he couldn’t help but smile at Qin Yining. “Looks like you still understand everyone better.”
“This is a choice made out of desperation.” Qin Yining ruefully waved off the compliment. “If people can choose freely, who wishes to place themselves in the path of danger?”
Lu Heng sighed, “That’s true.”
“Since we’ve decided, which direction should we take?” asked Uncle Alham.
Lu Heng drew out a map from within his robes. This was one that had been roughly sketched out over the past few days, together with a few Minuo who were familiar with the nearby terrain and accurately included major landmarks and cardinal directions.
“We’re here right now.” Lu Heng pointed at a spot in the west where Tartar bordered Great Zhou. “The troops after us are cavalry and can travel very fast. Since they’re not just after the provisions, they are sure to pursue us at full strength. If we just continued with our initial tactic of using the weather and terrain to our advantage, they will catch up to us very quickly.”
“I didn’t expect that they’d still catch us even though we deliberately chose such a desolate spot in the west,” Uncle Alham commented. “If we have to fight at close quarters, we’ll definitely be at a disadvantage and have to sacrifice many of our tribesmen. Thus, we must choose a direction where they can’t catch up to us.”
“But which direction avoids pursuit? They have horses, after all.” Qin Yining looked at the map and muttered, “We can’t escape now. Either we stay here and wait for death, or they catch us and we die, or… we choose a direction they don’t dare chase us into.”
“Do you mean…” Lu Heng looked fearfully at the uninhabited area located not too far from where they were on the map, “You can’t mean this area?”
Qin Yining’s pale and slender forefinger tapped lightly on the spot that Lu Heng mentioned. “Yes, right here.”
That was a patch of barren desert, quite different from the stretch they had just passed through. Although their previous path was fraught with danger, they knew that if they walked in the correct direction, it would be a shortcut between Great Zhou and the Tartar capital. With sufficient preparation, crossing that stretch of desert would take less time than the official paths.
However, the part of the desert Qin Yining was talking about was different. It was a true no-man’s land because that area was simply too big. No one had ever come out of this stretch of desert, nor did anyone know what lay on the other side. It was also unknown what awaited in the desert, or if there was any oasis within. If they barged into this barren area, they possibly would never come out alive.
Uncle Alham translated Qin Yining and Lu Heng’s conversation for the Minuo tribesmen, upon which they all fell silent in thought. Fear blanketed them.
“I can’t make the decision for everyone; this is merely a suggestion. The decision of whether we truly take this path must be made by everyone together. However, according to my understanding of Utkin Khan, he will surely want to catch us in order to vent his frustrations, in addition to retrieving the provisions. If we’re caught, the tribesmen are likely to meet with a terrible end.
“If we stay outside, it’ll be very easy to catch us and the consequences will be unimaginable. Since we’ll die outside anyway, why not take the risk and charge into this stretch of desert? The pursuing troops definitely won’t dare follow us in; They’re simply carrying out orders in the pursuit of fame and fortune, why would they risk their lives to head directly into barren desert? Perhaps we can wait for them to leave before we come out, or we might be able walk out of that stretch of land.”
“But what’s more likely is the possibility that we never walk out of that desert and perish within,” objected Lu Yun.
Qin Yining nodded in agreement. “That’s right. It’s possible as well. But if we’re caught, we will certainly lose our lives.”
The surrounding Minuo tribesmen were silent as they listened to the two of them talk.
Uncle Alham thought for a long while before he said lowly, “You two should go.”
Qin Yining and Lu Heng lifted their heads to look at him.
“You never needed to risk your lives with us. Our tribesmen will never hand over the provisions, and will fight against Utkin Khan to our last breath because of how he destroyed our tribe. But the two of you are not Tartar to begin with. Our tribesmen are already very grateful that you were willing to travel with us up till now.
“We are right on the border with Great Zhou today and you two have experts protecting you. It should be easy for you to sneak past the pursuing troops and go home to Great Zhou. You should go back to your country and not come with us any more.”
Lu Heng and Qin Yining sighed as they heard his words.
When Uncle Alham repeated his words for the benefit of his tribesmen, their expressions revealed their reluctance. Even though they were obviously reluctant, they still nodded understandingly and said words that Qin Yining could not understand, but were obviously urging for them to leave.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
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