Qin Yining hadn’t expected that Zhou Meng would actually agree to her request. As it were, leaving the palace and returning to the Minuo put her slightly more at ease, even if it meant she’d be under stricter surveillance.
No matter what plans the prince might have, she would take things one step at a time.
Qin Yining rose to ready her departure, then glanced at the injured Biyu and the trembling Xinyu. What if the senior princess consort vented her anger on the two after she left?
“I still have one more request, Your Grace. My two maids, Xinyu and Biyu, have served me wholeheartedly. Will the lord allow me to take them with me?”
Zhou Meng was fretting that he’d have to escort the beauty out after losing face in front of her. Although she’d still be in Xiyue territory and couldn’t escape him, he didn’t feel reassured with how the situation had turned out.
However, Qin Yining requesting people from him alleviated some of his apprehensions. Didn’t this mean that she no longer saw him as a stranger?
“Naturally. Miss Pang’s request isn’t much at all, why would I refuse?” Zhou Meng hastily took two steps forward. “How would just two maids be enough to serve you? How about I arrange for a few more?”
“Thank you for your kind intentions, Your Grace, but I already have my own maids. These two caught my eye, so I couldn’t help but make a presumptuous request. Just them in addition to my current entourage is enough.” Qin Yining performed a curtsey of thanks.
Her figure was willowy and graceful, and she had specially studied etiquette under the imperial mamas in Great Yan. Thus, this bout of courtesy was something Zhou Meng had never seen before in his entire life. It was indescribably delightful, eliciting embarrassment from the three princess consorts off to the side. Their inferiority was clear, every movement of theirs was simply too crude to be compared.
For a moment, the prince fell into a trance. By the time he scrambled forward to help her up, Qin Yining had already risen and walked away. Regret brimmed at the lost chance to touch her, but to protect his dignity, he could only act like it didn’t matter.
“No one here is allowed to leave. Remain kneeling for questioning when I return.” He pointed at Biyu, Xinyu, and Imperial Physician Wang. “Follow me.”
The two maids and imperial physician immediately bowed and fell into step behind their lord.
The three princess consorts bore looks of despair when the prince left and sagged to sitting positions on the ground. They’d thought it’d all be over with the girl’s departure. They’d served the prince for so many years, so after his anger, the issue should’ve been let go.
Who would’ve thought things were far from finished? The prince really did plan to punish them for this!
Regret overwhelmed the senior princess consort. If she’d been gentler or more subtle, she wouldn’t have incurred the prince’s wrath like this. Chances abounded to slowly deal with the vixen later on. Now look at how things were! Not only had she revealed her intentions and inspired the prince’s hatred, but that vixen had gotten to escape her zone of control.
Once the temptress was out of the palace, dealing with her would be harder than scaling the skies. Furthermore, from what she’d heard just now, the vixen would be staying with her clansmen.
It wasn’t just the senior princess consort berating herself, the other two princess consorts were secretly grumbling about their sister’s foolishness.
By now, Qin Yining had donned a cotton cape and a warm hat and climbed into a horse-drawn carriage to leave the palace.
The palace appeared crudely magnificent in the evening darkness. It appeared that the structure was constructed of wood and mud; conditions here most likely didn’t allow for a more remarkable palace to be built.
A very large plaza greeted the eye upon exiting the palace, the high platform in the middle seemingly designated for ceremonial use. After passing through it, one set foot on a spacious street with rows of houses crowding both sides.
As the carriage trundled on, Zhou Meng took a seat by Qin Yining and introduced every sight that came into view through the carriage windows. She diligently made a mental note of everything and casually agreed with whatever the prince said, putting him in delighted spirits.
Qin Yining also bent her mind to careful observation of everything about the journey and found that a city was starting to form in the oasis. The tallest structures included the palace she’d just departed and some three-storied buildings. Dirt roads formed the latticework of transportation infrastructure, and buildings were made of either wood or mud bricks.
Night had fallen, but the streets still bustled with people, showing no signs of a night curfew. Commoners were dressed in similar outfits that were embroidered with characteristic totemic designs; the cut and design all looked virtually the same.
When they saw the chariot approach, some even saluted and greeted the inhabitants. Quite satisfied with this development, a hint of cockiness seeped into Zhou Meng’s tones.
They traveled unimpeded to the southeast of the town. This was a very desolate location compared to the locale they’d just passed through. Although the desert couldn’t be glimpsed here and the spot looked for all intents and purposes like a neighboring town, one only needed to ride out for another two hours to reach the edges of the oasis.
The Minuo had been arranged to camp here.
Zhou Meng had offered everybody houses, but the Minuo had declined his good intentions. All of their wealth was tied to their supplies. If they relaxed their guard and something happened to the provisions, they would have no way to survive.
So when Qin Yining and Zhou Meng’s carriage neared, the outermost guard watched them on high alert. He shouted in Tatar, “Who goes there?!”
Qin Yining alighted from the chariot. She could understand some very basic Tatar, so she understood what the tribesman was saying and flashed him a smile. “I’ve come back.”
The tribespeople keeping watch outside were overjoyed when they saw Qin Yining. Some went in to report her arrival, while others remained put, taking advantage of the chance for a detailed observation of Zhou Meng.
The prince struck a lofty attitude. “You have trained your tribesmen well. They’re all very obedient to you.”
“They do this of their own free will, not because I trained them. It’s late, you should go back and rest, Your Grace. I’m sure you still have a lot of very important things to do,” said Qin Yining.
Zhou Meng was very reluctant to leave, but since he’d already escorted the goddess back to her people, forcibly sticking around wouldn’t look too good. Their oasis was surrounded by the desert, and she wouldn’t survive if she ran away. There was plenty of time to improve their relationship; the days ahead were long.
“Indeed, I still have things to do, so I’ll be going. May you rest well here.” The prince adopted a gracious attitude and turned to the imperial physician. “Remember this location. From now on, report here every day to look after the goddess. You are not to shirk your duties.”
“Understood!” Imperial Physician Wang gave a hasty bow to show he understood.
Lu Heng, Uncle Alham and the rest had come out by now, and general delight and worry spread when they saw that Qin Yining really had been returned to them.
Lu Heng asked eagerly after Zhou Meng’s carriage left, “Are you alright? Did they bully you?”
Qin Yining heaved a long sigh before speaking. “Something did happen, but it doesn’t really matter.” She turned to introduce Biyu and Xinyu to Lu Heng, explaining their situation before concluding, “I hadn’t thought that Biyu would be dragged down by me and hurt her head like that.”
Lu Heng was also worried about her. “Good thing you were clever and used that to come back to us.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Happiest of New Years!! We have finally sent 2020 off!!
Everyone, ten thousand and my deepest, deepest apologies for going MIA during the December holiday season. I failed epicly at keeping up with my schedule, and I'll try to make up some of the chapters that I missed out on.