Qin Yining nodded and didn’t give an immediate response. “Let’s have the tribe show them where to rest. Biyu’s injured, so please tell them to cook some porridge and take care of her well.”
Lu Heng understood and called two female tribesmen over, telling them to take Biyu and Xinyu elsewhere to rest. When there were no further outsiders, he asked, "Are you worried they're spies?"
"Although we aren't familiar with each other, Biyu did end up getting hurt because of me. If I can help them a little, I might as well. But, that doesn’t mean we should lower our guard either. The amount of provisions we have here is simply too eye catching, and I’m worried the Xiyue prince will grow impatient and start a fight over the supplies. It will come to unnecessary losses then.”
"It’s as you say." Lu Heng inspected their surroundings in passing as he walked around the camp with Qin Yining.
“We must prepare for everything though. Although that prince isn’t very shrewd, a person like him is also unpredictable and can do preposterous things.” She narrowed her eyes involuntarily and stuck her hands beneath her armpits when the frosty night winds came howling at them.
“You’re right. We can’t use logic to understand his way of thinking, so we have to be even more cautious,” Lu Heng continued, “The tribe has relaxed greatly and recovered since arriving here, so general health is much better now. The Minuo is a feisty people to begin with, and we have many skilled with the bow and cavalry.
“They were persecuted and suffered under Anari’s rule, causing even the womenfolk to bear an undying will unafraid of death. Compared to the unblooded children in the oasis who have never seen battle, our numbers and fighting strength mean that we won’t necessarily be at a disadvantage if it comes down to battle.”
“But both sides will suffer casualties if a fight breaks out.” Qin Yining frowned. “I’m not afraid of a battle, but I also don’t want needless injuries and fatalities. We only live once, and we can’t disregard other people's lives when we make our decisions.
“Back home, Pang Zhixi often said that everyone is born equal and that no one’s life is more precious than anyone else's. That’s why, when soldiers and generals die in the battlefield, that is a fulfillment of their duties. However, to drag the common people into war is absolutely a cruel act of heartless brutality. Most of the Minuo with us aren’t soldiers, and I don’t want them to throw their lives away because of us.”
A faint sourness couldn’t help but emerge in Lu Heng’s heart whenever he heard the pride and softness that unconsciously appeared in Qin Yining’s tones upon mentioning Pang Xiao. However, he was now capable of ignoring these moments of frustration and jealousy, instead focusing on analyzing the connotations of Qin Yining’s words. In fact, he was gaining a new level of understanding of the prince through their conversations.
“I didn’t know the prince was such a compassionate man. It looks like the rumors aren’t true at all.”
“Of course you can’t trust everything the rumors say,” chuckled Qin Yining. “The gossip mill churned out quite a few disgusting rumors about me in the past.”
Lu Heng involuntarily chuckled at that. “Nothing else matters so long as one has a clear conscience about their actions.”
“Yes, especially in our current situation.” Qin Yining tilted her head toward the sky. There wasn’t a single star in the night sky tonight; it was like a pitch black curtain had drawn across the cosmos. From the heavy overcast clouds, it seemed that a great snowfall would soon be upon them.
Lu Heng also looked up at the sky with her, remaining silent for a long time. “I’ve secretly arranged for the tribe to carry a portion of provisions with them at all times and prepared an adequate store of water. If something unexpected happens, we can take as much of the supplies with us as we can. We might have to stick with horseback and leave the wagons, but it still won’t be as bad as starving.”
“Mm, I was thinking of doing that too. Good thing that you’re here and already thought of it.” Qin Yining stopped walking and flashed a grin. “But don’t worry, I won’t allow a situation like that to happen.”
Lu Heng naturally knew of the princess consort’s stubborn temperament. Once she decided something was her responsibility, she would grit her teeth and persevere until the very end.
But the Minuo tribe wasn’t her responsibility to begin with. He didn’t want her to haul such a heavy burden onto her shoulders.
“Ah well, let’s just rest well tonight.” Qin Yining smiled, “Now that I’ve returned, I can finally sleep peacefully, surrounded by our people.”
Lu Heng bobbed his head up and down, knowing she was still ill and certainly exhausted after that bout in the palace earlier. “Let’s go, I’ll escort you to your room.”
He gave his warm mudbrick house to Qin Yining and went to bunk up with Caganhbara and Harbhara. The other tribesmen had just set up tents like they’d done countless times while fleeing through the desert. They took turns keeping guard, not daring to relax in the slightest.
Reassured, Qin Yining entered the land of dreams.
Perhaps due to her fragile condition, she fell into a deep sleep. The tribesmen all knew the state of her health, so nobody came to awaken her when the sun rose the next day. Everyone tacitly agreed to refrain from disturbing her rest. But just after noon, the guards on duty came back to Uncle Alham with a worrying report.
“There’s a group of people outside, and they seem to be led by that fellow who escorted the chief back yesterday.”
Alarmed, Uncle Alham ran in search of Lu Heng, not daring to tarry.
Lu Heng hummed with contemplation, swiftly turning over several possibilities in his mind but immediately headed out to welcome them. He cupped his hands in greeting when he saw the prince draped in a black cotton overcoat.
“So it’s Your Grace! Please pardon me for not waiting outside to welcome you.”
Zhou Meng lifted his chin arrogantly, indicating that Lu Heng could dispense with the courtesies. “This prince has come, but why haven’t Miss Pang come out to greet me?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter