Chapter 529.1: Caretaking

“But we can’t even see the edge of this desert. When will it all end?” Harbhara felt helpless. Caganbhara narrowed his eyes and looked at whirling winds whipping up mounds of sand. Threads of despair couldn’t help but creep into his heart. 

Anyone would lose hope if they had to trudge endlessly through circumstances in which the future was unknown, or lack knowledge on when their journey would be over. Doubts of whether they would really be able to depart this patch of desert had occurred to them more than once. Would the tribe be buried in this desolate wilderness? 

Following by the side of the cart, Lu Heng rearranged the scarf that covered Qin Yining’s nose and mouth to protect her from the dust and sand. Sorrow washed over him as he looked at her sleeping visage. Those long lashes fluttered like butterfly wings with every breath, and her small face had grown even more gaunt and pale during this stretch of time. 

How should he save her? Even if she didn’t love him, he didn’t wish to see her die in front of him! 

His expression was so full of grief and worry that the hearts of those around him couldn’t help but ache as well. 

After spending day and night with each other for so long, they were one big family and comrades who had weathered life and death together. Qin Yining could have escaped on her own, but had stayed behind to weather this disaster with the rest of them in the name of fraternity. If they really had to witness her lose her life like this, no one would be able to forgive themselves. 

This was especially true for the tribesmen who’d spent more time with Qin Yining and Lu Heng, such as Uncle Alham and the two brothers. They were the ones most likely to know about the depths of Lu Heng’s feelings towards Qin Yining. 

The princess consort had fallen ill in such terrible conditions, and there was nothing they could do to help. Even the tribesmen felt anxious when they looked at her, much less Lu Heng who cared deeply for her. Everyone looked at each other, grief welling up from their hearts. 

Their group continued marching forward through wind and sand. Today’s sunset was greeted with gratitude, that they hadn’t run into a sandstorm like yesterday. 

Qin Yining slept the deep sleep of the gravely ill. When she woke, she looked around blearily and found herself in a tent brightly lit by a campfire and carpeted with soft, fine sand. Outside the triangular tent, sand filled the air, dancing from the strong gusts of wind that battered the walls of the tent. 

She shivered all over and her teeth chattered together. However, she didn’t have the strength to rise or even lift her hands to tuck the blanket more securely around herself.

Lu Heng entered the tent carrying an earthenware bowl. When he saw Qin Yining’s half-lidded eyes, pale face, and trembling form, his heart pricked with pain. He carefully walked forward and knelt down by her side. “You’re awake. How do you feel?” 

Qin Yining attempted to lift the corners of her lips in a smile. Her pale, cracked lips trembled, but her painfully dry throat was unable to produce any sound. After several failed attempts to speak, her long eyelashes drooped in disappointment. 

“Pardon me,” Lu Heng said softly. He raised up the shivering Qin Yining and cradled her upper body in the crook of one arm, while the other brought a spoonful of thin rice porridge to her mouth. 

“Drink some of this. You will get better only if you eat and get some nourishment. This is hot and will do nicely to warm you up once you drink it.”

Qin Yining felt a little uncomfortable with the situation, but her body was as weak as a limp noodle. The slightest movement made black spots vie for dominance in front of her eyes. She had no energy to spare for propriety, and could only move her lips to breath out a soundless, “thank you”, before she started sipping at the porridge. 

Her face was as white as a piece of paper and the fine hairs on her forehead soaked with cold sweat. Strands of hair stuck to her temples and by her ears, making her already thin face look even smaller. 

Lu Heng bent his head to look at the woman drinking porridge in his arms and felt like a sweet layer of honey had been brushed across his heart. 

If not for the fact that Qin Yining was shivering violently and obviously in terrible pain, he would’ve wished for time to stop at such a lovely, quiet moment that belonged to only the two of them. If the two of them could keep each other company, he would be more than happy to discard all of his positions and wealth. 

As warm rice porridge slid past her aching throat, down her gullet, and into her stomach, the warmth seemed to react adversely to the bone-piercing cold in her body. Her whole body quivered and jerked strongly in reaction. 

Lu Heng quickly put down the empty bowl and took out a clean cotton handkerchief from his robes, carefully wiping away the cold sweat on her face and neck. Qin Yining wanted to flinch away, but had no energy to avoid the ministrations and could only close her eyes and bear it for the moment. 

“How do you feel? Are you alright? Lu Heng asked worriedly.

Qin Yining smiled ruefully. “I don’t, feel too good.”

That simple sentence had to be split into two by a gasp before it was completed, but was still as thready as the whine of a mosquito. Even after the moisture of the porridge, the sound that emitted from her throat was horse and grating as sandpaper on a broken edge. It was almost inaudible and barely more than a breath by Lu Heng’s ear. 

His heart trembled to hear that, and his eyes burned as if tears were about to fall. 

“Don’t worry, we have plenty of grain and water, I even brought you some medicine. You just have to rest well, eat properly, and take your medicine. You’ll get better then.”

Qin Yining smiled tiredly and nodded jerkily, then shook her head, speaking in short bursts, “You don’t, have to be, too stubborn. People, will always, die. Life and death, are fated, cannot be forced.”

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