One couldn’t bear to hit or scold such a stunning beauty. Instead, soft coaxing was the only way forward. Besides, he couldn’t keep her cousin locked up forever, could he?
As for whether there was something vile going on between her and her cousin or not, he didn’t really care, even though it was a little vexing. There was nothing bad about her already having some experience in bed—maybe that’d spice things up some!
When his thoughts traveled here, Zhou Meng beamed broadly. “Alright, alright, my beauty. There’s no need to get angry, this prince will listen to you.”
Qin Yining still didn’t agree to turn around, electing to take a seat on the wooden stool at the side.
Zhou Meng rubbed his hands, a foolish grin spreading across his face as he paced behind Qin Yining’s back. He wanted to reach out and pull her towards him a few times, but ultimately repressed the urge.
No rush, no rush, there’s plenty of time. If he angered her now, wouldn’t things be very boring later?
After a round of cautioning himself, Zhou Meng refrained from any forceful moves and strategically chooschoseing to chat with her instead.
“Beauty, where does your family live? How did you come here with so much grain?”
Qin Yining turned her head with a sneer. “Aren’t I a goddess?”
Zhou Meng’s whole body turned soft and pliable when he was pierced by the charming and flirtatious look in her eyes, despite her sharp words. He stood there in a daze, taking in a few deep breaths as he suppressed the agitation in his heart.
“Ai, with the way you arrived surrounded in grain, it’s only natural that you’re a goddess. However, even if you are a goddess, you were born in the mortal world and should have a birthplace, right?
Qin Yining glanced at him coolly, not saying a word. Her first impression of him had been that of a steady, cold, and authoritative man. But now, it seemed he’d only projected that because he’d been trying quite hard to hide his true self.
She knew that the more she spoke, the likelier the chances of making a mistake. Before proper countermeasures were in place, the less she revealed about herself, the better. Thus, she propped her chin up on her hand and closed her eyes, completely ignoring the person behind her.
Zhou Meng put his hands behind his back as he looked at Qin Yining, his lips pursed. The ardent look in his eyes burned so hot that it was almost as if he could see through her clothes, peeking at what was available beneath. Although he looked upright and proper, in reality, it made Qin Yining feel like there were ants crawling all over her back.
Before long, a voice sounded outside the door, “Your Grace, we’ve brought the people you wished to see.”
“Let them enter.” Zhou Meng turned to the door and saw a maid lead a group of people into the spacious inner hall.
“Beau—Miss Pang, the people you want are here.” Calling her ‘Beauty’ in front of outsiders would seem too vulgar, calling her ‘Goddess’ would elevate her to overly grand heights, so he could only address her as such.
Qin Yining stood up. “My thanks. Your Grace must be tired by now and is surely very busy. You should go about your business, there’s no need to feel obligated to attend to me further.”
Zhou Meng wasn’t mad at all after being asked to leave. Instead, he just gave her a generous smile. The warmth in the smile seemed like it could melt ice as he spoke in pampering tones, “Alright, alright, I’ll listen to you. I’ll take my leave.”
After that, he glanced wistfully at Qin Yining a few more times. When he saw she had no intention of urging him to stay, he could only depart with resignation.
After watching him leave, Qin Yining waved to the maids, “You are also dismissed.”
The maids glanced at each other and ultimately listened to the order, retreating with a curtsey.
Once she was sure they were the only ones left in the hall, Qin Yining quickly walked towards Lu Heng and the rest. Although she hadn’t fully recovered and was struck with a dizzy spell when she walked too quickly, the joy at meeting her companions again made her smile.
“Is everyone alright?”
“Fine, we’re all fine. Chief, thank goodness you’ve recovered!” Uncle Alham said happily.
Qin Yining nodded with a smile, “I’m much better. Thank you for not abandoning me.”
She also smiled at Lu Heng with specific gratitude. “And many thanks to you. I saw you before I fell asleep.”
Lu Heng smiled as well when he’d noticed the princess consort had recovered much of her energy and no longer appeared as weak and helpless as before. “I’m glad you’ve recovered. I didn’t trust the skill of the doctors here at first, but clearly, I was wrong.”
Qin Yining urged them to sit before speaking in a low voice. “Is everyone else okay? Has anything happened to the tribe? How did we end up here?”
“On the fourth day after you’d fallen into a delirious sleep, our group glimpsed this oasis,” explained Lu Heng. “At first, we thought it was just a mirage, but when we got closer, we were encircled by a group of soldiers in rattan armour.
“When they saw our wagons filled with rations, then you sleeping in the cart, they started saying that a goddess had come. They made such a fuss that we didn’t know what to do.”
Qin Yining could imagine the scene and felt awkward just thinking about it.
Uncle Alham continued with a smile. “That’s right. Luckily, they do believe in a goddess here, which was what enabled us to take up peaceful residence. The tribe’s all made camp here and are protecting our supplies. I scouted out some information over the past couple of days and discovered that this Xiyue tribe probably came from your country of Great Zhou more than a hundred years ago. The imperial court then had wiped out a vassal state that’d colluded with a Xiyue sect. The remnants of that partnership fled here to escape punishment.
“I asked all sorts of people and heard a lot of stories. Basically, when their group first came here, they had nothing. Everything here was built from the ground up over the past hundred years. When the first arrived, the Xiyue followers were in a constant state of hunger. Fortunately, the religion they followed gave them hope, saying that one day, a goddess would come with wagons of food for everyone.
“The Xiyue attempted to leave a few times, but the groups they sent out never succeeded. Most of the time, they ended up lost in no man’s land and only rarely did a few manage to return. After several generations of hard work, although they’ve reached a state of self-sufficiency in the oasis, there’s still a shortage food.”
This was pretty much the same as what Qin Yining had analyzed of the situation earlier.
“What’s the population here? How many soldiers do they have?”
“I made a careful count and found that there are roughly five thousand people here, a thousand of which are soldiers,” answered Uncle Alham. “However, the soldiers here are all young’uns. These people haven’t fought for several generations. If these young, unblooded soldiers see an actual battlefield, they’d probably piss their pants from terror. They’re no match for our tribesmen, who are all skilled and seasoned warriors.”
Qin Yining and Lu Heng both nodded in approval.
Soldiers raised and carefully sheltered in a greenhouse wouldn’t even come close to soldiers who’d shed blood on a battlefield. Veterans would prove the worth of their experience in the end and save them all a lot of trouble.
So Qin Yining pondered this and came to a conclusion—if fighting actually ended up breaking out, the Minuo might not necessarily lose. They had the strength to protect their supplies.
“So we still have control over the rations right now? The people here didn’t make reckless moves against them?”
“Right.” Uncle Alham nodded. “I believe they also don’t want to start a fight, thus their leader wants to marry you.”
Qin Yining nodded in understanding. Two tribes lost in the desert were likely to live together in this oasis for the rest of their lives. If one wasn’t to be forcefully absorbed by the other, the best option was for the two to assimilate as one through various marriages.Previous Chapter Next Chapter