The second elder master remained silent as he calculated the current situation.
“Will the emperor believe us after this, having searched our residence and finding nobody?” worried the third elder master. “Brother, the emperor will hardly believe you if you say you have nothing to do with it at all.”
“That’s right.” Qin Huaiyuan forced a smile. “However, the emperor currently has no evidence to prove I’m hiding the in-laws. Furthermore, the emperor won’t do anything even if he catches them. At most, they’d be kept in the palace as hostages.”
“It’s a job well done to prevent them from being taken as hostages. That will keep my nephew-in-law’s mind at peace, and he’ll be able to go about his business unfettered,” the third elder master declared soundly, “Brother, you don’t have to worry. With the prince’s exceptional skill, he’ll be able to find and bring back Yining safely. As for the emperor’s suspicions, well, just let him be suspicious then. In any case, we don’t have any secrets to hide, nor are we really sheltering them. He can think whatever he thinks.”
“Be that as it may, I’m just worried that the emperor will suspect and no longer value our brother because of this,” said the second elder master.
Hearing that, Qin Huaiyuan couldn’t help but a chuckle. “Don’t worry. Although the emperor doesn’t completely trust me, he still needs to make use of me. Our household is safe for now, but we should use this time to make sure we have a way out for ourselves.”
“A way out?” the second and third elder masters echoed in unison.
“Right,” sighed Qin Huaiyuan. “It’s better to be safe than sorry. I’ve learned from my past mistakes.”
Collective chills ran through the group when they recalled the assassins that had killed off half their family in Great Yan. The atmosphere took a downward dip again, especially for Qin Yu and the third elder master. They’d both lost their wives, with the third elder master even losing his official son in that incident.
The general mood turned despondent.
“These are turbulent days, but we must temper our courage and continue.” Qin Huaiyuan heaved another sigh. “Everybody must prepare themselves and support each other going forward. We will be fine. I’ll carefully observe the situation and make sure everything stays under control. There’s no need to worry.”
“Alright. I can always feel reassured with elder brother in the lead.”
“I as well. Uncle always chooses the best direction for our household. We all believe in you.”
When Qin Huaiyuan saw the wholehearted trust his younger brothers and nephews placed in him, he couldn’t help but flash the first genuine smile he’d had all day.
However, he still silently prayed to the heavens in his heart. He just wanted his daughter to be safe and for Pang Xiao to find her a little faster. It would be perfectly alright if they roamed the world forever and never returned after he found her. That was at least far better than being yet another sacrifice in the coming war.
Qin Yining, the subject of her family’s concerns, was currently in dire straits.
The terrain of the uninhabited desert was constantly changing. A hill right in front of them would have completely leveled out when they awakened on the morrow. Furthermore, though it wasn’t too hot in the days of the winter desert, it was terribly cold at night.
Although the tribesmen had packed sufficient rations and water, their journey through the desert was still tumultuous. When Qin Yining rejected Cao Yuqing’s offer to leave and stuck with the tribesmen instead, she’d already resigned herself to death. Whether in body or spirit, they were both stretched to their limits.
Upon consideration and acceptance that this might be her final trek in life, it felt like a string snapped in her mind. The dogged inner strength that kept her putting one step ahead of the next slipped away, and her body grew weaker by the day. Her earlier injuries were all called to the surface again, summoned by the winter desert chill.
The silver lining was that this time, they were in possession of carts and weapons. Constant consumption of provisions freed up space, so after Qin Yining fell sick, worried tribesmen cleared out a cart for her to rest in.
She was bundled in a thick, cotton-padded jacket, lying in the cart alone as she drifted in and out of sleep.
Lu Heng and Uncle Alham flanked the sides of the cart. Each with a shawl covering their nose and mouth, their eyes were narrowed to resist the harsh desert winds as they occasionally glanced at Qin Yining with concern.
“We still don’t know where we’re going. If we continue on like this, I fear the chief won’t be able to go on!” After witnessing the pair’s steadfast loyalty, Uncle Alham had started to call Qin Yining and Lu Heng the chiefs in private.
“Sadly, we just don’t have any other choice available to us right now,” responded Lu Heng. “We already gave her medicine, but the desert’s climate is just too bleak and bad for her recovery.”
“It’s a good thing we have the carts.” Uncle Alham sighed.
Caganbhara spat out some sand that’d traveled into his mouth before speaking, “How about we turn back and let the chief recover outside the desert? The circumstances outside must certainly be better than here.”
“You think I haven’t thought about that?” Lu Heng smiled wryly. “Our pursuers were already hot on our tails when we entered the desert. Since they’re following our trail, they should’ve seen us enter the desert. They won’t dare to follow, but they also won’t dare return to the khan with a failed mission. It’s extremely likely that they set up an encampment outside and are lying in wait for us to come out.”
Uncle Alham nodded in agreement. “Right, and it’s hard to flee while carrying our chief. They’re all elite calvary. As for us, even with food and water in the desert, we’ve used up a lot of strength. If we run into them, it’ll be extremely difficult to escape.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter