Chapter 152: Joining the Troop
For a moment, neither of them said anything. Jun Huang coughed to break the silence and told Qi Chen what she had heard that night. She added, “This is a serious matter. Please do an in-depth investigation, Your Highness. Don’t let those despicable men get to the emperor.”
A frown had settled between Qi Chen’s eyebrows ever since Jun Huang started describing what happened that night. Qi Chen nodded. “Rest assured, brother Feng, that I will get to the bottom of this. I will not let anyone hurt Royal Father.”
“This gentleman has alerted them, however; there’s no telling if those men will continue to look for me.” Jun Huang looked up to take in Qi Chen’s expression. “This gentleman doesn’t think going into hiding is a good solution in the long term. It may be better for me to stay away from the imperial city for some time. I hope Your Highness approve of my plan.”
Qi Chen nodded. “Brother Feng is right. Someone like you are going to attract a lot of attention. Those villainous men aside, even I sometimes fall victim to your charm. If you are caught by those men, there will be terrible consequences.
Qi Chen’s words were suggestive, but Jun Huang didn’t give them too much thoughts. She pulled her lips into an awkward smile and exchanged a few more words with Qi Chen. Before she took her leave, she turned to Qi Chen and said, “I hope Your Highness would take this issue seriously. Please let this gentleman know if Your Highness has found anything.”
Qi Chen got to his feet to walk her out and nodded. “Take some day to relax, brother Feng. As soon as I find anything, I’ll send a message to you.”
Qi Chen’s promise made Jun Huang a little less concerned. She turned down Qi Chen’s offer to walk her out and made her way to the door on her own.
When she reached one of the corners of the hallway, she heard two maids talking on the other side of the wall.
“Do you remember gentleman Feng?” asked a maid with her voice lowered. She was wearing a light-yellow dress. “He used to live in this manor.”
The other maid nodded. “Of course. He is such a gentle and handsome man. His smile, especially, is like a breeze in springtime. It makes me swoon just thinking of it.”
“Do you know that...” The maid in yellow dress looked around before leaning into the other maid. “People said that gentleman Feng has become Prince Nan Xun’s male lover. They sleep together and are always seen together.”
The maid gaped and stuttered, “That - that can’t be! Gentleman Feng looks - ”
“Tsk, why can’t it be? Everyone knows that gentleman Feng is pretty. I heard it’s how all men like him look. Gentleman Feng is only the most good-looking one.”
“Alright, let’s stop here. Don’t bring this up to another person. If someone hears it and tells the prince, we’ll be in trouble.”
The two maids walked away, nudging and pushing at one another.
Jun Huang walked out of the shadow. She was embarrassed, but it didn’t show on her face. She was used to hiding her feelings. Now some of her questions were answered.
She stood there for some time before leaving the manor. She went back to her house and quickly packed up. Before she set out, she called in some of her most reliable servants and told them to notify her should something happened on Qi Chen’s side. She then made her way to the city gate to meet up with Nan Xun.
Nan Xun was leading an army out of the city. They weren’t marching that quickly. Even though they had had a head start, Jun Huang was able to catch up with them shortly.
Nan Xun let out a sigh of relief when he saw her. He kept looking back on his way out of the city, worried that Jun Huang hadn't been able to convince Qi Chen. He wouldn’t return to the city for a good while. He didn’t want to be apart from Jun Huang for such a long time.
Jun Huang was preoccupied. The rumors about Nan Xun and herself had been long forgotten. She was thrilled to have the opportunity to look for Jun Hao and Yin Yun, but at the same time she was worried that she might not be able to find them.
It would take at least ten days for them to reach Yunzhou. A few days later, Jun Huang received a message from Qi Chen. The messenger was the guard who had brought the clue leading Jun Huang to Yun Town in the first place.
The guard came to Jun Huang when Jun Huang and the other were making camps. She knew it must have been about Qi Chen. “Is there a message for me?”
The guard nodded and handed her a letter. “The crown prince ordered me to deliver this letter to the gentleman.”
Jun Huang nodded and opened the letter. It said, “I’ve ordered my men to investigate. So far, they have not found anything suspicious in the imperial city. As for within the palace, I have discreetly talked to some of the eunuchs serving at Royal Father’s side. I hope nothing will go wrong.”
Jun Huang threw the letter into the campfire after reading it. She contemplated the matter with her brows furrowed. “Go back and tell the crown prince that I am well.”
The guard disappeared into the night without a word. Afterwards, Nan Xun showed up and asked, “Is something wrong?”
Jun Huang turned back to him and shook her head. “Not much. Before I left, I asked Qi Chen to look into the spies from Eastern Wu, but he hasn’t found anything useful.”
Nan Xun frowned. He wondered how those men had erased their tracks. Eastern Wu was obviously planning something big this time. Those three men they saw that night couldn’t be operating alone.
“Has he really looked everywhere? This is big. If the spies aren’t rooted out before Eastern Wu makes their moves, things may go very wrong.”
Nan Xun just had an argument with the emperor, but still he didn’t want the emperor to get hurt. It was clear from his scowl that he was worried.
Jun Huang looked up at him. Nan Xun fell silent when he realized that he had been overreacting.
Light went out in Jun Huang’s eyes. Nan Xun didn’t notice in the dark.
They sat side by side without a word. Jun Huang gave Nan Xun another sideway glance.
If one day you know that I have poisoned the emperor through another person’s hand for my own goal, will you be as concerned then? You want nothing but to tear those men from Eastern Wu to pieces. When you know about what I’ve done… will you hate me just as much?
Jun Huang didn’t dare to ask, and she couldn’t tell Nan Xun the truth. They were friends. She enjoyed the simple bond they shared. She didn’t want them to become enemies one day.
“What?” Nan Xun asked worriedly at Jun Huang’s tensed expression. Had the journey been too taxing for her? “Have we been too in a rush? If so, I can make the order to delay our schedule.”
Jun Huang shook her head and put on a smile. The fire illuminated her face with a warm glow. Her eyes were as bright as stars. A single glance was enough for her beauty to leave a lasting impression in Nan Xun’s mind. He wouldn’t be able to forget how she looked at this moment, and he didn’t want to.
“I’m not that tired,” Jun Huang said with a reassuring smile. “There’s no need to let others suffer because of me. I can take it. If not, I’ll tell you. You don’t have to be worried about me.”
It could get chilly at night, and there was nothing to serve as a cover in this area. Nan Xun was concerned for Jun Huang. He wanted to let her stay in a tent on her own. She was a woman after all. The other soldiers could make do lying together to keep one another warm.
Jun Huang, however, turned him down. She didn’t want Nan Xun to grant her any privileges during this trip.
Nan Xun couldn’t force her to do anything. He arranged for Jun Huang to rest in an area away from the others and took the liberty to take the spot next to her. A couple soldiers were ordered to set up a campfire.
The constant breezes made the fire waver. Jun Huang stared at the fire, her thoughts indiscernible. At that moment, the usual calculating glint in her eyes seemed to have disappeared, which made her look more like her age. But her expression was still calm and collected.
It was getting colder. Nan Xun put his robe around Jun Huang’s shoulders. She threw him a glance without a word. Nan Xun wasn’t going to take it back no matter what she said.
The sky was free of any dark clouds. The stars were bright and the moon hung high above them, covering the land with a layer of silver.
“Do you miss your home?” Nan Xun asked hesitantly. He had been agonizing over this for a while. His tone was careful. He didn’t want to upset Jun Huang.
Jun Huang turned to Nan Xun and smiled when she saw how nervous Nan Xun was. She sighed. “It’s been some time. My home no longer exists. There’s nothing for me to miss. I worry only about my brother. There is someone protecting him, but I can’t stop worrying after this long without any news.”
Nan Xun kept his eyes on Jun Huang as she spoke. He didn’t want Jun Huang to humor him. Her moonlit face, however, was more serious than she had been for a while. Nan Xun knew Jun Huang was telling the truth. There wasn’t a day when she hadn’t thought about Jun Hao.
It was getting late. Jun Huang hadn’t been sleeping well or eating much. Nan Xun didn’t want to bother her further, or she wouldn’t be able to endure the trip tomorrow. He patted her on the shoulder. “Take it easy. It’s time to sleep.”
Jun Huang nodded and lay on the ground with Nan Xun’s robe around her shoulders. She closed her eyes.
She didn’t feel like sleeping. She had thought that Qi Chen would be able to find something, but he hadn’t. It made her wonder what Eastern Wu was planning.
She had thought about the possibility that Qi Chen was keeping something from her. Eastern Wu, however, was ambitious. Qi Chen might have made up his mind to fight for the throne, but he wouldn’t sell out his country for fortunes and glory like her brother had with Western Que. She knew what Qi Chen wanted was an unharmed Northern Qi. There was no reason for him to keep any findings from her.