March 9, 2023Merchie
Qi Changyi’s body suddenly jolted forward, before he reached over and covered the back of his neck.
The area that had just been licked felt like it had been set on fire; it was burning so hotly that the back of his neck was a bit red.
Qi Changyi stuttered, “I-I, you-”
Pei Zheng looked at him, amused, waiting for him to continue.
But under his gaze, Qi Changyi found it even more difficult to speak, so he slowly scooted toward the back of the cart.
At some point, he had already shifted all the way to the edge of the cart. If he scooted just a bit further, he would definitely fall off.
Pei Zheng quickly pulled him up, right back into his embrace.
“Be careful, you silly goose.”
Qi Changyi’s cheeks immediately reddened.
But immediately after, Pei Zheng realized that not only were his cheeks red, but even his body was beginning to burn up.
It wasn’t because he was shy; he had a fever again.
There was one person in the caravan who had some knowledge of medicine, but without any medicinal herbs, he couldn’t alleviate Qi Changyi’s fever.
Pei Zheng could only wipe his cheeks and hands with a soaked cloth strip to cool him down.
Water in the desert was such a precious commodity, but Boss Liu still left enough for Pei Zheng.
Everyone else retired for the night. But because he was too worried about the small man’s condition, Pei Zheng hardly slept a wink.
The next day, the caravan set off once again.
Qi Changyi’s temperature rose and fell. Pei Zheng’s heart rose and fell along with it.
Who knew how long they had walked for when a patch of verdant greenery suddenly appeared amidst the vast desert.
The others in the caravan began to whoop and cheer.
Boss Liu walked to the end of the convoy and said to Pei Zheng, “Lord Pei, I think we’ll arrive at a river in a little bit. Once we’re there, we’ll be able to replenish our water supply.”
Pei Zheng nodded.
The convoy continued onward for a little while longer. Indeed, more and more patches of green were appearing in front of them, lacing a few threads of life into the desert.
They could feel a faint breeze blowing over their faces. Unlike the waves of heat that rained down from the sun over their heads, this wind carried a light, refreshing coolness.
A deep, clear pool appeared in front of the convoy.
The merchants unharnessed their camels and had them drink from the pool. Then, they also retrieved their flasks to refill them.
Pei Zheng glanced at the small man lying quietly in the cart and didn’t disturb him. He pushed off of the edge of the cart and landed on the ground.
He walked over to the side of the pool. Pei Zheng cupped water in his hands and drank, and the dryness in his throat finally subsided a bit.
He rolled up his sleeves. The wounds underneath those wide cuffs had already been wrapped up, but at some point, the bandages had been thoroughly soaked by blood.
Pei Zheng carefully tugged his collar down with one hand, before he twisted around, looking at the wounds on his back reflected in the pool.
Unfortunately, he could only see the rough, messy gauze wrapped around his body; he couldn’t see the condition of his wounds. Although, the once snow-white gauze was now dyed with blood.
The wounds were too deep, and they didn’t have any potent medicinal herbs, so it would be quite difficult for the injuries to heal on their own.
Footsteps sounded from behind Pei Zheng. He readjusted his robe, covering up his wound-riddled body once more.
It was the leader of the caravan, Boss Liu.
“Lord Pei, we can get ready to leave now.”
Pei Zheng asked, “Boss Liu, since there’s a pool here, doesn’t that mean that there’s an oasis nearby?”
Boss Liu said, “Good, I was just about to tell you. If my memory serves me correctly, that oasis shouldn’t be far from here, so we should leave as soon as possible, and try to get there earlier.”
The two returned to where the rest of the caravan was waiting. Qi Changyi was still laying in the cart; he still hadn’t woken up yet.
Pei Zheng boarded the cart, and the caravan began to move once again.
After replenishing their water supply earlier, everyone seemed to be a bit more spirited. The pace quickened quite a bit, and the group was full of energy.
Some people in the convoy began to sing; they were folk songs passed down from the smaller ethnic groups within the Celestial Dynasty.
Pei Zheng had never heard any of them before, but he thought that a few songs sounded quite nice. Even the sleeping little prince’s brow relaxed as singing rang out around him.
Under the evening glow of the sunset, a line of people walked toward the blood-red horizon.
It would have been the picture of harmony and tranquility, if that group of soldiers riding tall horses hadn’t appeared.
As the caravan was tightly encircled, Pei Zheng secretly gripped the small man’s hand.
They were barbarian soldiers. Who could have expected that they would move this quickly, and end up finding Pei Zheng and Qi Changyi first.
But the barbarians were much more familiar with this desert, so it wasn’t an impossibility for them to be a step ahead.
A soldier on horseback approached them, wielding a long knife. His expression was ferocious as he carefully scanned the caravan.
Although Boss Liu was frightened, he had encountered these kinds of situations before. He stepped forward, “Sir, may I ask why you are stopping my caravan?”
That soldier completely ignored him, and rested the blade of his long knife on Boss Liu’s neck.
Everyone else in the caravan became nervous. Many people clenched their fists and wanted to charge over, but they were stopped by the hand Boss Liu held up behind his back.
That barbarian soldier hadn’t done anything yet. He merely used his blade to shove Boss Liu aside.
“You all, have you seen someone in this desert that doesn’t belong here?”
Boss Liu asked doubtfully, “May I ask, sir, what you mean by ‘someone who doesn’t belong here?”
“An offender of our barbarian tribe, your Celestial Dynasty’s Prime Minister-“
That barbarian guard suddenly glanced toward the last cart in the caravan, “Pei Zheng.”
Boss Liu saw that he was making a beeline toward the last cart. His heart seized, and he sprinted over to that horse’s side.
“Sir, sir, now that you mention that, I think I did see him.”
Indeed, that barbarian soldier stopped and stared at him, “Is that so? Then hurry up and tell me, which direction did they go in?”
Everyone in the caravan stifled their breaths; no one dared to even breathe too loudly, afraid that it would expose their ruse.
Everyone present had their eyes pinned on Boss Liu.
Pei Zheng was no exception. He held the small man’s palm in one hand, while he gripped the dagger beneath his cuff with the other. His eyes were slightly downcast, as he glanced toward the soldier that was closest to them.
Under everyone’s gaze, Boss Liu thought for a moment. Pretending as though he had recalled something, he said, “I remember now. Sir, they went that way. It’s been quite some time. You must hurry and pursue him, you’ll definitely still be able to catch him.”
That barbarian soldier glanced in Boss Liu’s direction. There was a hint of suspicion in his tone, “Is that really true? If you dare to lie to me-“
“There’s no doubt about it! Sir, how could I dare to lie to you?”
That barbarian soldier seemed to believe his words. He shot the other soldiers a look, and it looked as though they were about to follow him and leave.
Everyone in the caravan sighed in relief. Boss Liu also relaxed and wiped the sweat that had accumulated on the top of his head.
Unexpectedly, those soldiers who had been planning to give chase hadn’t actually left. Instead, the lead guard’s eyes changed, and he mounted his horse.
“I said, if you dare to lie to me-”
As he spoke, that barbarian soldier had already galloped up to Boss Liu. That long knife sliced across his throat, and instantly hacked off part of his head.
Boss Liu collapsed to the ground, twitching. His eyes hadn’t even closed, as he continued to bleed profusely into the sand.
“All of you will be sent to your deaths as well.”
That barbarian soldier’s long knife swung toward another merchant next to him, and blood immediately sprayed in all directions.
The other merchants in the caravan had recovered their senses after the initial shock. They all began to shout, before they drew the swords they had hidden in their carts and began to fight with the other soldiers around them.
The sounds of battle and shouting began to echo over the desert.
When Pei Zheng heard the first sounds of swords clashing, the dagger in his hand flew toward the soldier next to him, shooting him off of his horse.
Then, Pei Zheng lifted the small man, before he jumped and mounted that horse.
His hands gripped the reins, and he looked back at the people from the caravan as blood flowed over them.
Everyone here… was dying for him. This kindness and this hatred, he would remember it all.
After passing by a few people, Pei Zheng spotted Boss Liu collapsed on the ground.
He couldn’t bear to look any longer and turned back around.
The other people in the caravan behind were still helping them stall the horde of barbarian soldiers. They couldn’t waste any more time here; they had to cherish every minute and every second that those people had bought with their lives and leave as soon as possible.
But Pei Zheng suddenly felt that the path ahead was weighed down by suffering.
His eyes reddened slightly, his gaze as cold as a raging blizzard.
The horse finally began to gallop amidst the cloud of dust that had been kicked upward.
Pei Zheng told himself not to look back, don’t look back.
The small man he was hugging was bothered by the horse’s lurching movements and woke up with a creased brow.
The moment Qi Changyi opened his eyes, he heard the sounds of battle not far away. His eyes shifted to the side. All he could see were the corpses of the caravan’s merchants who had fallen under the swirling dust.
His eyes widened in shock, and he grabbed Pei Zheng’s lapel, calling his name, panicked and fearful, “P-Pei-gege, Pei-gege-“
He had even forgotten about the misunderstandings that still existed between him and Pei Zheng.
“Pei-gege, they’re going to- save them, w-we have to save them, we can’t leave-”
Qi Changyi’s tears flooded out. These merchants were all very kind and funny. During the two days he had been with them, although he had been unconscious most of the time, the moment he woke up, someone would come over and talk with him, telling him about interesting things and making him laugh.
Sometimes, the whole lot of them would sing together, their voices melodious and vivid.
But now, they were being ruthlessly slaughtered, while he and Pei-gege were simply leaving like this, disregarding them completely.
Pei Zheng pushed the small man’s head into his chest, blocking his vision with his robe. His voice was deep and hoarse, as though he were desperately trying to suppress his emotions.
“Don’t look, be good. Stop looking.”
“Why? Pei-gege, is it, is it because of us-”
Qi Changyi’s tears fell uncontrollably. He buried his head in Pei Zheng’s chest, his voice muffled, but it was filled with terrible grief, “They’re all going to die because of us, it’s all because of us…”