Chapter 136: Sparring
Jun Huang’s breath hitched. As someone who had witnessed her fair share of deaths and violence, she was able to recover shortly and apply medicine to Nan Xun’s wound to stop the bleeding. She exhaled slowly, letting tension drain out of her body.
She looked closely at the cut on Nan Xun’s back. She had cleaned the wound to prevent infection with a heated dagger. The newly grown flesh was pink and raw. It should have healed in a couple of days.
However, Nan Xun had sparred with the emperor and hurt his shoulder again. The wound was reopened and his nerves had been damaged.
Jun Huang felt a pang of guilt. If not for her, Nan Xun wouldn’t be suffering so much. If not for her, Nan Xun could have dealt with those villains without such serious injury. She had been the one dragging Nan Xun down. She got him hurt.
Nan Xun looked over at Jun Huang questioningly and saw the guilt in her expression. It was the rare time that the calm mask she was used to wearing broke and revealed her true feelings. He wondered if he should be worried or pleased.
Nan Xun held onto Jun Huang’s icy fingers. “I told you it’s not your fault. I was to blame, not you. They wanted to hurt me. I’m sorry for getting you involved.”
Jun Huang shook her head and took a deep breath to steady herself. “If you haven’t shielded me with your own body, I may have died that night...”
An idea struck her. She looked up at Nan Xun with bright eyes. “I’m not good enough in fighting. You’ve always been the one protecting me. Would you mind training me? I can’t promise that I will become as good as fighting as you are, but at least I won’t be a burden to you anymore.”
Nan Xun was going to say no, but the hopeful look in Jun Huang’s eyes made him swallow down his words.
It’s not a bad thing for Jun Huang to be able to defend herself, he thought. He couldn’t stay at Jun Huang’s side always. And the training might improve her health. Jun Huang had been getting weaker by the day. He had to do something.
Nan Xun sighed. He had to make sure Jun Huang knew what she was getting into. “I can train you, but a strong will is required to learn martial arts. You won’t be able to get better overnight. I hope you won’t blame me when it gets too difficult.”
“Of course I won’t,” said Jun Huang. “I’m not that easily deterred.” A brilliant smile tugged at her lips. Nan Xun darted his eyes away. He could barely suppress his feelings for her.
Jun Huang awkwardly scratched at her nose. She went back to applying ointment to Nan Xun’s wound and wrapping his shoulder up. When that was done, her forehead was covered in sweat. She returned to the room she was staying in.
Nan Xun was going to train her in basic hand-to-hand combat. Jun Huang woke up at the crack of dawn and tied her hair up neatly. She checked herself before a bronze mirror and left her room.
Today, she wore a short robe with narrow sleeves and a pair of dark pants, which were suitable for a training session. She had a delicate face, however, and didn’t look particularly like a fighter. Instead, she looked more like a study companion.
When Jun Huang arrived, Nan Xun had already been practicing with his sword for a while. He covered up a smile when he saw her.
Jun Huang ignored his reaction. She took a seat in the garden and drank some tea before saying, “Have you decided what you are going to teach me?”
Sheathing his sword, Nan Xun calmed the energy circulating in his body and threw his sword to the shadowguard who had been sparring with him. He approached Jun Huang and picked up a teacup to have some tea. “I’ll spar with you and see what level you’re at.”
Jun Huang didn’t know much about martial arts, but what Nan Xun said made sense to her. Teachers often tested new students when they entered schools. This must have been a similar situation.
She was worried about Nan Xun’s injury, however. With a frown, she said, “How about I spar with the shadow guard? You can evaluate me by watching. You’re hurt and I - ”
“It’s nothing. Since I’m going to be the one to train you, it makes sense that I should be the one to test you.” Nan Xun threw the shadow guard a cold glare, who didn’t know what he had done to deserve the glare, but got the hint and walked away. “I can fight you with one arm. You won’t hurt me.”
Jun Huang pursed her lips. Once Nan Xun had taken his rest, they walked to the training ground. As he had said, Nan Xun put his injured arm behind his back and faced Jun Huang with one hand.
Nan Xun had taught her a few tricks before. Jun Huang hadn’t had a lot of time to practice, but she remembered some of the moves.
Watching Nan Xun with narrowed eyes, she put her fist before herself. With lightning speed, she charged at Nan Xun, who moved forward instead of backing away. When Jun Huang struck him with her fist, Nan Xun seized her arm to stop the blow. Jun Huang threw her weight against Nan Xun and forced Nan Xun to let go of her before coming to Nan Xun’s back.
Nan Xun was experienced. With a quick step he whirled around and caught Jun Huang’s striking fist in a viselike grip. He let go when Jun Huang grimaced. He took a step back and said, “You need to have a plan. You can’t keep attacking and forget about defending yourself. Otherwise your foe may catch you off guard.”
Jun Huang knew she had a lot to learn, and she gladly took the advice. She nodded and started with the basics - the horse stance.
She kept at it until the sun had risen to the top of the sky. The heat was smothering. Jun Huang squatted at the center of the garden without moving. The sunlight was scorching against her skin. She persisted with a clenched jaw. Sweat fell from her forehead to her chin before dropping to the ground. In an instant the sweat was dried.
Past noon, a servant announced that lunch was ready. Nan Xun walked up to Jun Huang and said, “Alright. Let’s eat something. Then you can practice some more.”
Jun Huang let out a breath and nodded. Her legs had gone numb and sore from the strain. She almost stumbled when she tried to stand up. Nan Xun caught her before she hit the ground.
“You alright?” Nan Xun asked worriedly.
“I’m alright,” said Jun Huang. She gave Nan Xun a smile and inhaled deeply. After massaging her aching calves, she stumbled her way to the dining hall with Nan Xun.
After lunch, they took a short break. Nan Xun was worried that Jun Huang might not be able to endure more training, so he told her to rest for the day. Jun Huang was eager to learn, however, and wasn’t willing to stop training so early. She was worried that she would get lazy. She turned Nan Xun’s offer down in a determined voice.
Nan Xun wasn’t going to argue. Once the temperature had dropped to a more comfortable level, he led Jun Huang to the garden. Jun Huang’s steps were steadier now. It wasn’t as easy to make her lose her balance. Maybe it’s time to teach her some simple moves, Nan Xun thought.
He told Jun Huang to stand upright. He then took Jun Huang’s arm in his hand and pulled at it before telling Jun Huang to break his hold.
Jun Huang tried his grip, but Nan Xun was too strong for her to fight against with brute force. She had to fight smartly.
In the morning Nan Xun had showed her some moves she could use to fight in close quarter. She stepped forward and used her left leg to lock one of Nan Xun’s leg before whirling around to try throwing Nan Xun to the ground.
Nan Xun reacted before she could do so. He seized her shoulder and used her weight to bring her down. Jun Huang hit the ground with a pained grunt, the impact sending dust into the air. She had to clench her teeth to stop herself from crying out.
“Are you hurt?” Nan Xun had tried to use as little force as he could and had lessened the impact with some tricks. He didn’t want it to hurt too much for her. Jun Huang’s reaction made him panic. He was worried that he had still been too forceful.
It took a moment for the pain to fade. Jun Huang took a deep breath and, while Nan Xun was least expecting it, yanked Nan Xun down with all her force. She shot to her feet and pulled her hand away from Nan Xun.
Before Nan Xun could hit the ground, he broke the fall with his elbows and jumped back to his feet.
“I didn’t expect you to make a foul move like that,” Nan Xun said resignedly.
“A fighter has to be cunning.” Jun Huang raised an eyebrow at him.
Nan Xun could tell that Jun Huang had potential. With more training, she would be able to defend herself. He didn’t like seeing her get hurt, but training in martial arts always came with pain. Compared to getting hurt by their enemies, Nan Xun would rather Jun Huang experienced what a real fight would entail by sparring with him. Then she would know what to expect when dangers struck.
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