Lu Heng nodded with a smile. “An aristocracy with a centuries-long history, especially one that continues to tower without falling, will always have a collection of principles that shift with the times. I’m not afraid to speak of them to Your Highness either: the Lus survived all of the different monarchs in Northern Ji and gained important positions after the establishment of Great Zhou all because of our family’s core philosophy: to forever be imperialists.”
Pang Xiao immediately understood the Lu scion’s mention of ‘imperialists’. The notion of protecting the emperor didn’t mean supporting whoever was the emperor, but flocking to the banner of whoever had the best chances of becoming the emperor.
“So basically, the Lus have a very good eye for people.” Pang Xiao smiled.
Lu Heng nodded approvingly. “Of course Your Highness would understand. Though there’s been all sorts of changes in the palace throughout the years, our family has always been able to choose the right faction to support. We’ve continuously enjoyed imperial trust, allowing the clan to take root and become a strong tree that grows ever stronger.”
Listening to the two, Qin Yining couldn’t help but interject, “So do you mean that the crux of the issue with your current situation is due to your family’s traditions, and not because you lack the ability to vie with your second uncle?
“Since you’ve lost the emperor’s favor, the family has discarded you. As an abandoned son of the family, you have to know your place. Just like a gecko with a severed tail, you must remain silent and refrain from obstructing the other factions of the family. Is that correct?”
“That’s right.” Lu Heng sighed, “When it comes to the family’s interests, I’m not that important at all.”
Hearing that, Pang Xiao and Qin Yining both nodded in understanding.
Lu Heng’s way of thinking was very proper. The Lus owed their current survival and prosperity to generation after generation of stewardship from those who thought in the same manner as Lu Heng.
“Since it’s like that, it’s actually better for you to stay here then. If you return to Great Zhou, you’ll be faced with winds of violence and showers of gore. At that time, you’ll have to face pressure not only from court, but also from your family. The emperor is also very likely to single you out. Since your clan has such rules and you agree with them, wouldn’t staying here and starting a new leisurely life be better?”
“I understand what Your Highness means, but I can’t shirk my responsibilities. If I remain here, it might haunt my conscience for the rest of my life.” Lu Heng’s words resonated strongly with Pang Xiao and Qin Yining.
Their circumstances were identical to Lu Heng’s. Even though they knew they could live freely and happily by staying here, and would no longer have to wrack their brains in a dog-eat-dog world, they still wanted to return to Great Zhou. Despite all the dangers and hardships to come, they couldn’t leave the terrible mess they’d made for their elders to deal with.
“What are you planning to do once you return?” asked Pang Xiao.
Lu Heng pursed his lips with thought, pondering for a long while before his reply. “Perhaps the downfall of every large clan is caused by a person like me, one who causes trouble and refuses to look at the bigger picture.”
Qin Yining and Pang Xiao exchanged a glance, fully understanding what Lu Heng was implying. He wasn’t planning on giving up the patriarch’s seat to his second uncle, not without struggle.
Seeing guilt and conflict war in his face, Qin Yining gave him a comforting smile. “Nobody is certain about the future. If one faction holds all the power in the family, who can guarantee that your second uncle’s choices are correct? With two forces checking each other, it doesn’t matter which faction chooses right. Either way, House Lu will have one surviving branch. This is a much more dependable strategy than throwing all of your eggs into one basket.”
Startled, Lu Heng’s eyes lit up. “You’re right. I was too shortsighted earlier and became muddle-headed from all my concerns.”
Qin Yining had unexpectedly dispelled all of his pent up stress and anxiety with a single word. He’d always been confident in determining the situation and making decisions, but after wandering around in a dilapidated manner for so long, his confidence had long been exhausted and there were no foundations to rebuild from.
But when he thought of the situation in the capital and the grandfather who loved him so much, he pulled himself together. Sometimes, one found themselves in a situation that disallowed the slightest step back. He had to press onward.
Although Lu Heng’s complexion was still a little wan, his smile was resolute. The boulder weighing him down finally seemed to have rolled away, allowing him to breathe freely.
“Since you’ve also made your decision, I’ll ask Captain Cao to secretly take you into Great Zhou once we leave the desert and arrive in a safe area,” pondered Qin Yining. “If people see you traveling with us, they may grow suspicious of you.”
Lu Heng didn’t want to separate from the woman of his heart. However, Qin Yining had already reunited with Pang Xiao, so there was no point in lingering by their side. Furthermore, he wasn’t someone who fixated on something. There were more important matters waiting for him right now. The only way he could help Qin Yining and Pang Xiao was to get stronger himself.
When his thoughts traveled here, Lu Heng no longer hesitated and nodded firmly. “It is indeed better to split up and move separately. Let me thank you ahead of time for making you go to this trouble then.”
You and I are companions who’ve gone through life and death together.” Qin Yining smiled. “Thanking me would be treating me as an outsider.”
Qin Yining was aboveboard and forthright by nature, so her tone and smile were both very open. It actually made Lu Heng feel even worse that his thoughts had been wandering in other directions, as if any deeper affections would only be blaspheme of her friendly regard.
Thus, he nodded and conceded with a smile, “You’re right.”
Oh, real crafty this clan is.