Chuo continued on, riding through the Rouran lands with little idea of where to go. Where would General Heba be? He had no idea, in a state so large, where was he to go? Where was he to find this traitor general?

The Rouran Khaganate was vast. Covering portions of what was now China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia, it was one of the largest Proto-Mongol states at the time, if not the largest. In a land so large, where was Chuo to look? It was doubtful that Heba would be in the Rouran capital of Ting, if he was involved in the raids, the treacherous general would no doubt be fairly close to Tuoba Weis northern border, but if that was the case, where exactly was he to look? Were there any raider camps nearby? Alas, he knew not.

Seeing a flock of sheep with their shepherd nearby, the thought of simply asking seemed like the most logical choice. With Heba being known as the Scourge of the Rouran, no doubt many Rouran would gladly tell Chuo where to find him if it meant the Scourge being defeated.

Approaching the shepherd, Chuo saw that the individual was a woman, one and seventy at least. Had she no sons or daughters or even grandchildren to tend to her sheep?

Looking up at him, the old woman inquired: ”Is Buri Khan sending his host up one by one? ”

”Im not here as a member of the host. ” Replied Chuo. ”I seek General Heba. ”

An incredulous expression fell upon the old womans face. Looking him over, she exclaimed: ”What? Is Buri Khan mad to send someone so young after a traitor? What are you, boy? Eleven? Twelve! ”

”Thirteen! ” retuned Chuo, feeling more than a little disgruntled at being mistaken for a twelvemonth or two beneath his actual age. ”And I come on my own, independent of my khan to prove myself to my superiors in the host. ”

”Heba killed my sons, my daughters, their spouses, only my grandchildren remain and they are too young to tend to sheep. If you find Heba, your parents may be burying a child just as I have buried my children. ”

”My parents have already buried one child. ”

”Then why do you seek death, boy? There must be a better way to prove yourself to your superiors than by doing something could potentially kill you! ”

”Old woman, I did not know about General Heba! The daughter of one of the captains of the host had been abducted by raiders whose leader wore a leopards skin. I did not learn that the leader was Heba until a little while ago. ”

”And now that you do know it is him, you still wish to find him? ”

”Yes, I do? ”

”Why? Still because you wish to prove yourself to your superiors? ”

Gripping his reins tightly, Chuo stared at the old Rouran woman before looking over at the sheep, then to the sky. There was another reason, was there not? Yes… Yes, there was. Looking the old Rouran woman in the eye, Chuo answered: ”To show him that the sickly boy born before his time that Heba said should be left on the Steppe to die still lives. ”

”And you think you can defeat him? ” inquired the old woman.

”My objective is to rescue my captains daughter. ” Stated Chuo. ”If I can defeat him, then I can defeat him. If I cannot defeat him, then I cannot. Whatever the case may be, saving her is more important. ”

”And yet you still wish to show him that you live. ” Commented the old woman.

”Do you know where he is? ” inquired Chuo.

The old woman stared at the Young Tuyuhun for a moment before returning to tending to her sheep. Sighing, Chuo continued on at a slower pace, before he heard her say: ”There is a camp to the northeast of her where raiders go. You may find Heba there, but I advise you to go there without your armour and shield. Take your sword, take your bow, but your armour and shield leave behind. ”

”Wherefore? ” asked Chuo, turning his steed so he might look at the old woman.

”Clad in the armour of Tuoba Wei, you will be thought of as an enemy. We Rouran and Xianbei do not look that different, but with your armour and your shield you will identify yourself. Leave them hidden and only then enter the camp. ”

Nodding in thanks, Chuo began to ride northeast. The old womans advice was advice worth taking. It was better to enter the enemy camp with them thinking he was one of them rather than making it known he was their enemy, but would Heba recognize him as the son of General Tuyuhun? Alas, he knew not. He may not have known what Heba looked like, but the possibility that Heba would be able to recognize him based on the resemblance to his paterfamilias was a risk… A risk worth taking.

With any hope, Chuo would successfully rescue Captain Nas daughter and prove himself to his superiors in the host. If he didn , then he would die and who knew what fate would befall Captain Nas daughter. Was his desire to ultimately prove himself equal to his siblings worth risking death? Maybe it was, maybe it wasn , but Chuo could not help but feel that Captain Nas daughter still deserved to be rescued.

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