Chapter 529.2: Caretaking

Lu Heng felt as if a large, bleeding gash had opened in his heart. Her words struck him so hard that he could hardly breathe. He steadied himself after a moment and forced a smile, then continued helping her wipe off sweat with the handkerchief. 

“You’re right. Life and death are fated, and your life will surely not end here. You are fated to enjoy luck later in life, and your family as well as His Highness are waiting for you to go home. In the future you will live a blessed life filled with leisure, children, and grandchildren. You will never need to be on the run or suffer again. Those days are not far away, so you must remain confident in yourself.”

Qin Yining listened to Lu Heng’s placating words, but didn’t fully understand them. Her ears and mind buzzed, and his words also blended into the chaotic jumble. She only knew that the Lu scion must be trying to comfort her. 

Thus, she closed her eyes wearily and softly said, “Thank you.” She felt that she spoke quite loudly, but to Lu Heng’s ears, it was almost inaudible. 

There was an instant where Lu Heng wished that he could take her out of the desert to find a physician. 

However, their route had become more obscured the deeper into the desert they traveled; he almost couldn’t tell which direction they’d come from anymore. This was a hopeless situation that would trap them in the desert forever!

Lu Heng took off his padded robe and tightly hugged Qin Yining, who’d already fallen back asleep. He used the blanket and padded robe to cover the both of them. 

Qin Yining’s cheeks and hands were as cold as ice blocks. Even when unconscious, her entire body still shivered uncontrollably. Lu Heng wrapped his hand around both of hers, trying to pass on some of his warmth to her. However, after a while, his hands were chilled by hers, but she was still extremely cold. 

Anxiety nipping at his heels, there was no sleep forthcoming for the Lu scion. He got up to stoke the campfire higher and adjusted the tent to make it lower. Then, he carried Qin Yining to a spot closest to the fire before lying down again. This time, he cradled both of her hands and wrapped his arms tightly around her, hoping that his embrace would help her warm up. 

In actuality, Qin Yining wasn’t completely asleep. She could no longer determine where she was, whether it was the mountains where she’d spent her childhood or the noble residence that she’d later moved back into. 

She was dreaming. In that dream she made a mistake and couldn’t learn the rules the mama taught her, no matter how hard she tried. The old dowager and née Sun made her kneel in punishment and even threw her books into the pond. She couldn’t bear to lose them, so she jumped into the frozen pond even though it was deep winter and the last month of the lunar year. 

The water was so cold! 

She was so cold that her bones felt like they would freeze over, and her fingers were stiff and clumsy. No matter how deeply she waded into the depths of the pool, she couldn’t catch up to her books. The deeper she waded, the colder it got. 

Feeling that she couldn’t take it anymore, Qin Yining wanted to give up on those books. However, when she turned around, the buildings of the Qin residence had disappeared, along with everyone else around her. She was stuck in the middle of the frozen pond and couldn’t find the shore to climb out! 

Almost bursting into tears from fear, she kept muttering, “I shouldn’t have come, I shouldn't have come. It would have been better alone in the mountains. I shouldn’t have come back.” 

Lu Heng had drifted into a groggy, half-awake state. He heard someone muttering by his ear, but could only make out one phrase, ‘shouldn’t have come back’. 

With how much he liked the princess consort, he’d naturally fully investigated Qin Yining and her past. He knew all about how she’d been switched out when young and adopted by someone outside, how she’d survived all alone in the mountains, found her way back to the minister’s residence, and carved out a niche for herself. 

Thus, her delirious ramblings hit a soft spot in Lu Heng’s heart. How could such a weak and helpless person be so strong and determined? To his eyes, every bit of Qin Yining shone with hidden qualities awaiting discovery, and she was that distant star to be sealed away for safekeeping.

However, even the most brilliant star would someday dissipate and disappear. 

He sometimes really wished that he could turn back time. If he could, he would be the one to find the young Qin Yining first, seamlessly blend into and become part of her life, help her, and nurture her. She wouldn’t have had to depend on hunting and foraging for wild fruits to survive at a young age, and wouldn’t live such a difficult life. 

Unfortunately, there are no ‘what ifs’ in the world. He hadn’t been destined to meet her early on in life. Stuck as he was within the wheel of fate, it seemed to be set in stone that Qin Yining would meet Pang Xiao and they would fall in love. As for him, he could only despair that he hadn’t met her earlier. If he didn’t want to lose her completely, he could only silently watch over her off to the side.

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