Chapter 146: Watching the Two Beasts fight
Nan Xun’s smile dropped. He sat up and asked if Jun Huang was alright.
“I am, but...” Jun Huang trailed off, pointing at the open door with a finger. It took no time for Nan Xun to figure out what her unspoken words were.
He let out a silent laugh and blinked at Jun Huang like a kicked puppy. “He has misunderstood our pure relationship! After a lifetime of fighting on battlefields, I’ve never felt this insecure… Gentleman Feng should take responsibility.”
Jun Huang was used to Nan Xun’s stoic look and half-smile. She had never seen Nan Xun acted so shamelessly. She snorted, tension draining out her body. She put aside her awkwardness and put what had happened behind her.
Nan Xun relaxed when he saw the carefree look on Jun Huang’s face. He sat up and helped Jun Huang up. He then started massaging her arms.
Jun Huang had felt much better after soaking in the medicinal bath, but her limbs and eyelids started to grow heavy when Nan Xun massaged her. The soreness in her muscles seemed to spread through her entire body. She leaned against the bed frame and slowly closed her eyes.
Nan Xun considered her openly. Every inch of her face radiated a bone deep tiredness. Jun Huang had been training hard and making arrangements for Wan’er’s wedding the past few days. Her health was bad enough as it had been, and now she had taken on so many responsibilities… Nan Xun didn’t like to see her push herself. He wanted to give her a life free of concerns. She shouldn’t be running herself to the ground for other people.
He let go of Jun Huang’s hand when he noticed that Jun Huang had fallen asleep. He lay her on the bed and tucked her in before leaving the room.
Nan Xun’s second in command was waiting for him in his study. The man gave him an awkward smile and briefed him on the affairs at the border.
Nan Xun was tired as well, and it showed. He supported his head with a hand and rubbed at his forehead with the other.
After a good while, the officer had finally finished his report. He snuck a few glances at Nan Xun. He couldn’t suppress his curiosity. “Are you serious about him, Your Highness?”
Nan Xun opened his eyes and gave his second in command a puzzled look. The officer didn’t know what else to say. He sighed and left without another word.
As he walked through the winding hallway, the officer thought back to what he had witnessed. Nan Xun and Jun Huang actually looked like a good match -
He quickly shook away his thoughts. It was Nan Xun he was thinking about, for heaven’s sake! Nan Xun was a general in command of the army. He stood above many others. Jun Huang, similarly, was a graceful gentleman known to many as an ethereal figure. How could people like them be into men?
It must have been a misunderstanding, the officer thought. He shook his head again and quickened his pace.
The third prince had not met with Ji Bo for a while. Today, he went straight to Ji Bo after returning from the palace. Ji Bo invited him to take a seat and poured him a cup of tea, which pleased the prince.
“This gentleman can tell that Your Highness is in a good mood,” Ji Bo said with feign nonchalance as he handed the cup of tea to the prince. “Has something good happened?”
The smile on the third prince’s face deepened. “The gentleman is observant. A few days ago some of the courtiers started talking to me personally. Today quite a few of them came to me and expressed their interest in an alliance.”
Ji Bo thought for a moment before breaking into a smile. “Congratulation, Your Highness, for winning their support. It won’t take long before Your Highness gains the same level of influence in the imperial court as the crown prince. Then you will be able to easily replace him.”
Ji Bo had as good a silver tongue as Jun Huang. The third prince had been in a good mood already. Ji Bo’s words made him feel even better about himself. His eyes crinkled.
Ji Bo looked up at the prince, who had clearly forgotten himself, and drank some of the herbal tea. “What does Your Highness plan to do next?”
The third prince thought for a moment before pulling his lips into a grin. “The gentleman has proposed a good plan earlier. I’ll like to do that.”
Ji Bo had advised him to try to fit in with the other courtiers. He told the prince to undermine Qi Chen’s influence under the table to the best of his ability. The third prince had been hesitant; he hadn’t wanted to go head to head with Qi Chen. Now he was seriously considering Ji Bo’s words.
“To do great things, one must put aside all trivial considerations. It’s said that to catch a tiger cub, one must venture into a tiger den. Besides, does Your Highness truly think that everyone in the crown prince’s circle is loyal to him? Some only join the crown prince because they can’t afford to get on Qi Chen’s bad side. If Your Highness lets them know that you are a candidate for the throne as well, they will reconsider their options.”
“On the surface, the crown prince seems to be in control of the court. Anyone observant, however, will be able to tell that the crown prince doesn’t have real power. His relationship with the emperor is troubled. He won’t be able to put too much attention on Your Highness. The officials will weigh the pros and cons and decide to defect to Your Highness.”
Ji Bo had not said anything that another strategist would not be able to say, but the third prince’s honored guests never told the prince their true opinions for fear of angering the prince. They usually showered the prince in only praises.
Ji Bo looked closely at the third prince. It was a good thing that he had accidentally uncovered the third prince’s ambition. Otherwise the prince would have become a bigger trouble if he had been allowed to conserve his power.
“What is the gentleman thinking?” the third prince asked, putting down his teacup. “Do you think I’ve made the wrong decision?”
Ji Bo shook his head. “It’s good that Your Highness has decided to take the initiative. We have to treat the people we have won over from the crown prince well. We must show them that Your Highness is as determined to become the emperor as the crown prince, if not more. Only then will they be able to feel confident in their decisions, and they may even bring their friends to our side.”
The third prince nodded in agreement. He drank some tea and said, “However, I’ve been having troubles attracting Royal Father’s attention. If I can’t change that, everything else I do will be in vain. I’ll be making enemies without gaining anything. Under the circumstances, I don’t dare to do anything. I hope the gentleman can enlighten me.”
“If Your Highness is so scared of antagonizing the crown prince, there’s nothing this gentleman can do for you,” Ji Bo said with an indifferent expression.
The third prince thought back to the tricks Ji Bo had show him. He still remember the awe filling his heart that day. He trusted that Ji Bo must have good reasons backing his advice up.
The third prince put aside his reservations and took a deep breath as if he was preparing himself for a trial. He looked into Ji Bo’s eyes and promised, “I have nothing to fear now. I hope the gentleman can point me to the right direction.”
Ji Bo lowered his eyes, contemplating how he could best utilize the third prince. What would make Qi Chen feel threatened?
He remembered the canal construction the third prince mentioned a few days ago. The emperor had been troubled by the issue. Qi Chen had shown interest in taking on the responsibility, as the potential to profit was great.
“Will Your Highness be willing to sacrifice some of your interest for the throne?” asked Ji Bo.
“What does the gentleman mean?” The third prince sat up with his eyes fixed on Ji Bo, waiting for Ji Bo to continue.
Ji Bo didn’t immediately respond. “The emperor and many officials are now trying to solve the issues facing the construction of the canal. They do not yet have a set plan or a candidate. The crown prince, however, is eager to profit off the construction. He wants nothing more than to rush to the site right now. Let’s ignore the potential profit for the time being. If the matter is well taken care of, the emperor will be pleased. That’s not what we should think about though. Your Highness isn’t going to take on the task yourself.”
The third prince frowned at Ji Bo in confusion. What was he talking about?
“The emperor has been trying to find a solution to the problems with the construction. If Your Highness fight for the job with the crown prince, the emperor will be displeased. The image Your Highness has tried so hard to build will be destroyed instantly. On the contrary, if Your Highness can help the emperor solve the problem, the emperor will look at you differently.”
“Does the gentleman mean that I should just let second brother have the job?” The third prince is unwilling to take that as an answer. Everyone, including him, knew that there was profit to be made from the construction. If he gave up on the opportunity, he would become the butt of the joke.
Ji Bo scoffed inwardly, but his derision never showed on his face. Instead, he put on a mysterious smile. “Your Highness has misunderstood me. This gentleman means that neither Your Highness nor the crown prince is going to take the responsibility. Once Your Highness helps the emperor find a solution, he will ask Your Highness who you think is the right person to take on the job. Your Highness can then recommend an official who is loyal to you. Then the emperor will believe that you are more selfless and can look at the big picture better than the crown prince.”
The third prince had never been smart. His head was spinning and he didn’t know what Ji Bo’s point was. He wanted to argue, but everything Ji Bo said seemed to make sense. He couldn’t find a good argument.
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