Now that the little Great Khan was asleep, Ning Chen picked up his pace even more. Under the slivers of moonlight, a white silhouette flickered briefly for a moment before disappearing into thin air.
Because of the unimaginable vastness of the desert, the pair ended up lost after hours of running. Thanks to that, they had no choice but to settle on their current plan: pick a direction and hope for the best.
Thankfully, while it wasn’t guaranteed that the moon would rise from the east, its westward movement was an unchanging fact. As long as he continued along the path of moon, he would be able to leave the desert sooner or later.
Looking at the young girl, he could still make out the weariness on Ming Yue’s petite little face even though she was already deep in slumber.
That matter must have truly scared her to no end, lucky for her, he wasn’t a bad man. At least that was what Ning Chen thought of himself.
However, now that he had managed to kidnap their Great Khan, the Mongolian Empire would definitely be in turmoil for a while. At the end of the day, there was only one Fan Lingyue and she couldn’t exactly run the country and fight the war at the same time. For Grand Xia, this was the best chance it had at recovering.
Given how formidable that woman was, who knows what would happen if they continued fighting like that.
Thus, the night passed in the blink of an eye and soon it was dawn once more. Gazing into the distance, Ning Chen managed to spot a smattering of greenery in the plains ahead. The majority of the Mongolian territories were deserts or steppes. Given how desolate those were, their animal husbandry was limited to mostly horses and goats. Thanks to that, the Mongols lived a nomadic lifestyle.
With the end of the desert in sight, that meant that food and water was near as well. Eyes fixed on the prize, Ning Chen picked up his pace even more in hopes that they could encounter some herdsmen earlier.
In the midst of all that, little Ming Yue was still sound asleep on his shoulders. Looking at her sleeping expression, one couldn’t help but marvel at her endearing face, a face that was completely unlike her misbehaving self yesterday.
Unfortunately, Ning Chen didn’t manage to find any signs of the herdsmen he was looking for. Truth be told, it wasn’t all that strange that there weren’t any herdsmen nearby. The lands of the Mongolian Empire were sparsely populated and encountering a settlement was a rarity in of itself.
He did however managed to find a stream. It wasn’t a particularly large one but it had fish in it and that was all that mattered. Having fled with him for a whole day, little Ming Yue was probably starving by now and needed food.
With that in mind, he gently lowered Ming Yue onto the ground and walked up to the river by himself. Slicing the air with his right hand, a silvery aura flashed across the river and instantly, it was parted and frozen.
The fishes who were unfortunate enough to be caught in Ning Chen’s river parting promptly dropped to the ground, gills desperately gasping for water as they flopped futilely about on top of the icy bed. However, their suffering was short lived as Ning Chen soon picked them up and prepared to roast them.
By now, Ming Yue had begun to awaken. Groggily and without knowing her south from her north, she looked around while rubbing her eyes. Only after noticing that she was in the deserted steppes did she finally remember that she had been kidnapped.
“What are you doing?” Ming Yue sat up and continued rubbing her eyes.
The mornings in the steppes were particularly cold and that only made her even more reluctant to leave the warmth of Ning Chen’s much larger garment.
In the past, this would be time that the daily court session ended; this was the first time she had ever slept for so long.
“Cooking breakfast.” Ning Chen casually answered as he continued packing up the fish.
“How are you planning to start a fire?” She nodded her head and promptly asked an extremely practical question.
“We’re eating it raw of course.”
As expected, Ming Yue was fooled by his little fib. Nose crinkled and face slightly concerned, she said, “We, I’m not hungry.”
As if on purpose, her stomach immediately rumbled in protest and the apprehension on her face grew even more.
Having gathered the last bit of fish, Ning Chen scavenged the surroundings for some tinder before walking up to the little girl. Plopping himself down, he calmly took out the fire-inch stick he kept in his clothes.
As a person who often found the need to blow up another person’s manor, how could he not have a fire-inch stick handy? Besides, even if he didn’t have such an item, he was already a seventh-grade expert, at the very least he should be able to start a fire with some sticks and friction.
Seeing that, little Ming Yue couldn’t help but pout, clearly unsatisfied with the bad man’s lie.
Moments later, the fire roared to life and Ning Chen began the slow process of skewering the fishes and roasting them over the fire.
It was at that moment that Ming Yue’s face turned slightly red. Fidgeting about for a while, she finally stood up and quietly ran off to somewhere out of sight. Several minutes later, she came back once more.
Naturally, Ning Chen wasn’t dense enough to ask her where she went; a little girl was prone to embarrassment as well after all.
After returning from her break, she was noticeably refreshed. Her eyes were much clearer now though that grossly oversized still seemed horribly out of place on her body.
The bloodlines of the Mongolian royal family differed from the people of the central plains, they tended to have a certain exotic feel to them. The little girl had inherited all the good points from her mother so while she was still extremely young, she had begun to show the makings of a breathtaking beauty.
At that, Ning Chen couldn’t help but be curious. It was fine for now but once she grew up, how was she going to fool those wily court officials?
Given the sickly state of Fan Lingyue’s body, she probably couldn’t last long enough to see Ming Yue grow up. At that time, who would allow a girl like her to govern an empire?
The moment that thought crossed his mind, Ning Chen couldn’t help but feel a little irritated with himself. When did he become so sentimental, wasn’t he hoping that Fan Lingyue died sooner so that the Mongolian Empire would be thrown into turmoil?
“Fish’s ready, be careful not to scald yourself.”
Ning Chen handed over the cooked fish while suppressing the hotchpotch of wild thoughts in his mind. Matters of the future should be left for the future; who could say that this little girl won’t turn into a second Fan Lingyue.
From the very start, Ming Yue had been hungrily eyeing the fish in his hands. The moment he handed it over to her, her eyes immediately curved into a pair of smiling crescent moons.
However, she merely took nibbles out of the fish in a bid to maintain that cultured and visually appealing posture.
In comparison, Ning Chen was a lot less picky about he how looked as he sat opposite the nibbling girl. With just three bites, he gobbled down a fish without even spitting out the bones.
Of the ten fishes he caught, Ming Yue ate two while the remaining eight ended up in Ning Chen’s stomach. While it might have sounded like a lot, that was merely an appetiser for him, if he truly wanted to fill his stomach, it would probably take the whole river to satiate him.
After having her fill of food, Ming Yue’s mood had noticeably improved. Without an inkling of a hostage’s self awareness, she even pushed for them to start their journey.
Hearing that, Ning Chen couldn’t help but sigh to himself. He had truly kidnapped a little ancestor.
Thus, the two of them set off following the road south. Along the way, Ming Yue, who had never stepped out of the palace not even once, took the opportunity to admire the beautiful steppes scenery. In her entire life, she had never heard or seen such a vast plains so full of wondrous things.
As they passed by more and more patches of green, she would stop running every couple of steps in order to pick a random flower on the side, eyes practically sparkling as she did so.
For the most part, Ning Chen didn’t bother about her but merely kept her within his field of vision.
“By the way, what’s your name?” Ming Yue ran up to his front before turning around to ask. Even now, she still didn’t know what his true name was. As for the name Bai Yutang, even a fool knew that it was fake by now.
Hearing that, her brows furrowed in thought after which she said, “Big Sister Lingyue mentioned you before in a letter, she said that you are a bad man and I should be careful.”
Ning Chen fell silent the moment he heard that. That woman must have really held him in high regard in order for her to instill such a sense of wariness in Ming Yue at a young age.
Truth be told, both of them were bad. He was ruthless but Fan Lingyue even more so, it was merely a difference of fifty steps versus a hundred.
“Once we encounter some herdsmen, I need you to change out of those clothes, they are too eye catching.” Not intending to argue with a child over such matters, he promptly made that suggestion.
Because they left in a hurry, Ming Yue was still dressed in the imperial yellow robes she wore to court. Without a doubt, it was eye catching, painfully so even.
She crinkled her nose at that and a moment later, as if she had just thought of something, she reached for her head and felt around her crownless noggin. “Where’s our, my crown?” She asked in a panicked voice.
“I threw it away.” Ning Chen answered in an offhand manner.
What good was that piece of scrap metal anyway, wearing it just stunted the kid’s growth.
“How could you toss away my stuff like that?!” Ming Yue angrily pointed her milky white finger at him as she yelled in that crisp voice of hers.
“You’re my hostage now, why can’t I toss it away?”
“You’re a bad man!” She yelled once more, chest heaving.
“Hah, I never said I was a good person.” Would a good person even kidnap people? Furthermore, the one he kidnapped was the monarch of an empire.
She immediately turned her away head and decided not to pay him any attention as she stomped off into the distance.
Ning Chen however, didn’t mind that one bit. Wherever she went, he merely followed. After all, he wasn’t technically in a rush to go anywhere. The one who should be anxious wasn’t him but rather Fan Lingyue and the Mongolian Horde.
Finally, she got bored of being by herself and took the initiative to seek peace.
Making a huge concession once more, she waited for him to catch up before saying, “I’ll forgive you this time.”
Hearing that, Ning Chen couldn’t help but chuckle to himself. This little girl was rather big hearted. He had honestly thought that she would throw a tantrum for much longer than this.
“Alright, let’s make up then.” He extended his hand with a smile on his face.
“Okay.” She placed her tiny hands in his much larger palm and allowed him to hold it.
“We’re heading to Grand Xia right?” Ming Yue suddenly asked.
“That’s right.” Ning Chen nodded his head at that. At the end of the day, their end goal was still to return to Grand Xia.
“Are you going to hand me over to the emperor of Grand Xia?” As she said that, a hint of sadness crossed her eyes. She wasn’t dumb after all, she naturally knew what value she held for him.
“No.” Was the teen’s firm reply.
Little Ming Yue was the hostage he risked life and limb to bring out of the Mongolian palace. Why should he have to hand her over to that Emperor? Besides, that Emperor seemed like an entirely different person nowadays. Should he hand her over to him, there was no way she could leave the empire alive.
At that, she raised her tiny head and exclaimed in shock, “Then what did you even kidnap me for?”
Strangely enough, he didn’t know the answer to that question either. He hadn’t really considered what to do after kidnapping her. All he wanted was to keep Fan Lingyue in check, as for what to do with little Ming Yue after he kidnapped her, he really hadn’t thought about it at all.
“Well, we’ll see how the situation develops. If Fan Lingyue withdraws her troops, I’ll return you to her.” He answered after giving it some thought.
“If Big Sister Lingyue won’t withdraw the troops?”
“We can talk about that when it happens, either way I’m not handing you over to the Xia Emperor so you don’t have to worry.”
Her lips cracked into a broad grin the moment she heard that. This bad man wasn’t as bad as she had thought after all.
“If you send me back, I’ll give you a huge post.” Ming Yue promised in serious voice.
She paused to give that some thought before answering, “I’ll make you a great general.”
Truly, it was a rather huge post. A great general in Grand Xia should almost be the equivalent of a military marquis or a governor of some city.
“What if Fan Lingyue tries to kill me?”
“I’ll protect you. Big Sister Lingyue has a soft spot for me so I’ll put in a good word for you.” She patted her tiny chest as she said that.
Seeing that, Ning Chen smiled as well. At least the kid had some conscience in her so he hadn’t treated her well for nothing. Should the day come where he was no longer welcome in Grand Xia, at the very least he could have little Ming Yue take him in.
“Alright, once the war is over, I’ll send you back.” He answered in a soft voice.
Ming Yue furiously nodded her head and gripped tightly on his large hands, no matter what anyone said, she wasn’t going to let go of his hands anymore. More than anyone else, she knew that these hands were going to be only support she had in Grand Xia.
Amidst the vast steppes, a large pair of hands gripped firmly around a smaller pair as they continued strolling along, neither too hurriedly nor too slowly. Looking at them from a distance, there was nothing more harmonious or picturesque in this world…