Chapter 198: Deep in the Bamboo Forest
Jun Huang stayed on the ground for a good moment. She finally came to terms with the fact that she couldn’t catch up with Nan Xun. The panic on her face gave way to quiet resignation. She propped herself up and wiped away her sweats. After taking a deep breath, she shakily got herself onto the wheelchair.
Her knees had been scrapped because of her earlier struggle. She sighed. Nan Xun must have left already. She decided to get some fresh air to lighten her heavy mood.
The sky went dark before she quite realized it. She had been wandering in the forest for a good while. The path before her was difficult to see. She stopped and tried to find her way back.
Nan Xun had stormed away in the heat of the moment, but he regretted it as soon as his head cleared. He shouldn’t have left Jun Huang in the forest on her own.
He hurried back to the spot he had left Jun Huang at, but there was no one around. On the ground he noticed tracks left by wild beasts. There were two droplets of dried blood on the blue stone step next to it. Realization chilled him to the bone. It couldn’t be...
The sun had set and it was getting dark. Nan Xun forced himself to remain calm. He knew that it was unwise to blindly look for Jun Huang on his own. He wiped away his cold sweat and took a deep breath to clear his head. The smart thing to do would be to go to the temple to seek out help. He had left his servants at the temple because he wanted to be alone with Jun Huang.
Once he made up his mind, he rushed to the temple as quickly as a gust of wind. He had not stopped to rest even once on his way.
The servants were puzzled to see him on his own. Before they could ask, Nan Xun ordered them to go search for Jun Huang. That was a clear enough indication that Jun Huang was missing.
One of the servants went off to ask the monks for help. The other followed Nan Xun into the bamboo forest. Nan Xun didn’t know if there were any dangers lying await in the forest. He didn’t dare to think about what might happen to Jun Huang, of if she was safe. He didn’t know how he would react if he knew that Jun Huang was hurt.
She has to be safe, he told himself. He had not seen any signs of struggle earlier in the forest, and Jun Huang’s wheelchair was nowhere to be seen. His heart slowed down to a steady pace.
It was dark when Jun Huang started to find her way back. The forest wasn’t exactly brightly lit in the morning, let alone now. She got lost not long after and couldn’t find the right way. She forced herself to calm down. She must not panic. If Nan Xun had been with her, she could depend on him. Without him by her side, she had to stay calm and depend on herself.
She looked around. All she could see were bamboo trees. Every path looked identical. It didn’t help that there was no light source.
Inhale, then exhale. She let her anxiety flowed out of her body with her breath. She took off the robe she had over her shoulders and tore it into strands. As she navigated around the forest, she used the strands of clothing to mark her track. On one hand, it would tell her if she had been led around. On the other hand, Nan Xun would be able to follow the breadcrumbs if he came to find her.
Without the robe to guard her against the chilling wind, the cold air bit into the open wounds on her knees. It felt as if her flesh had been torn out. She sucked in a breath in pain, her face going pale. Her sweat dropped down onto her hands.
It was getting darker and darker. Nan Xun couldn’t help the fear festering in his heart. He kept walking around the forest trying to locate Jun Huang. He couldn’t stop. It felt as if he would lose Jun Huang forever if he stopped moving.
He was getting tired, but the cold wind kept him awake. His servants roamed through the forest with torches in their hands. They were as worried about Jun Huang as Nan Xun was. They all knew about the rumors. Even though they weren’t sure that Nan Xun would truly fall for a man, they knew how much Nan Xun cared about Jun Huang. If anything happened to her, they didn’t know if Nan Xun could take it.
Jun Huang had walked for a long time. There didn’t seem to be an end to this path. All she could see was all-consuming shadow that devoured even light itself. Jun Huang tightened her fists and kept her guard up.
Meanwhile, a monk had seen one of the strands of cloth Jun Huang tied around a bamboo tree. “Look! This must be left by gentleman Feng!”
Nan Xun went up to the monk. He untied the piece of cloth with trembling hands. Under the light of the torch, he could see the dark patterns on the fabric. This was from the robe the honored consort gifted him sometime ago. He had personally draped this robe on Jun Huang’s shoulders earlier.
“It’s her, it’s her!” Nan Xun said in an unsteady voice. “Let’s split up and meet again here.”
He rushed ahead. The others followed his instruction and divided into two teams. One followed after Nan Xun, while the other followed his confidante.
He had been searching blindly like a headless fly. Now that he had a trail to follow, his heart finally started to beat normally again. He let out a sigh of relief, but he didn’t allow himself to relax. He wouldn’t until he found Jun Huang.
After about the time for an incense stick to burn, the trail Jun Huang left ended. Nan Xun frowned and took a couple steps forward with a torch in his hand.
There she is!
Jun Huang must have been exhausted. She had fallen asleep sitting on the wheelchair. Her face looked pale under the torchlight. Nan Xun’s breath hitched as he stared at her.
The others had not seen her. They thought that something bad had happened when they saw Nan Xun’s expression. Before they could get close, Nan Xun held up a hand to stop them.
He took a deep breath and croaked, “Without my order, no one is to get closer.”
Nan Xun took careful steps toward Jun Huang. Her eyelashes fluttered in the cold wind. In her hand was what remained of the robe Nan Xun had put on her. From her furrowed brows he could tell that her sleep was not a restful one.
Nan Xun stopped before her. It felt as if a lifetime had passed. He knelt down to look at Jun Huang’s delicate face. His eyes stung. He had to blink away the tears. His trembling hands found their way to Jun Huang’s face and caressed her cheeks tenderly.
Jun Huang muttered something in her sleep. Nan Xun didn’t understand her, and he didn’t try. He carefully put his arms around her. He could see the scrapes on Jun Huang’s knees. The blood had dried, but the sight hit him hard.
He didn’t wake Jun Huang up. He didn’t know how Jun Huang had endured the time they were apart. He didn’t dare to and wasn’t willing to think about it.
He took a deep breath and picked Jun Huang up. Subconsciously she seemed to know what was happening. Her arms looped around Nan Xun’s neck without her waking up. Her reaction smoothed away the knot in Nan Xun’s heart. He picked up his pace.
The servants were glad to see that Jun Huang was safe. Nan Xun said in a low voice, “Bring the wheelchair. One of you tell the others that gentleman Feng has been found. Also, send for a doctor.”
“Understood,” the servants responded in a quiet voice to avoid rousing Jun Huang from her slumber. They watched Nan Xun left before following his orders.
When Nan Xun returned to one of the rooms in the temple with Jun Huang, the doctor had arrived as well. The doctor carefully checked up on Jun Huang’s condition. He let out a long breath and let go of Jun Huang’s hand. “Don’t worry, Your Highness. The gentleman is alright. There is no added injury except for the scrapes on his knees.”
Nan Xun let the last of his worries drain out of him. He poured himself a cup of tea and watched the doctor clean the wounds on Jun Huang’s knees. He didn’t stand up to walk the doctor out once the treatment had ended. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to. He simply couldn’t pick himself up after the intense emotions he had gone through.
He stared at Jun Huang quietly. There was a lump in his throat, and his eyes were stinging. He squeezed his eyes shut to stop himself from crying.
Night fell. The incident had come to an end. Jun Huang had been found. Nan Xun’s eyelids started growing heavy. He cleaned up and lay down next to Jun Huang.
He had planned to keep a polite distance from her, but he couldn’t help being overwhelmed by the fear of losing her. He moved a little closer to Jun Huang until their hand touched. He held onto her fingers and turned to her.
Through the window came a ray of moonlight, illuminating Jun Huang’s profile. Nan Xun could spend his lifetime staring at her. He tightened his grip on Jun Huang’s fingers. He was worried that he would lose Jun Huang again. He was fortunate to be able to find Jun Huang. This must not happen again. The despair and fear were not something he was eager to go through. He couldn’t imagine what he would do if one day Jun Huang disappeared and he couldn’t find her.
Nan Xun’s grip tightened, which woke Jun Huang. Her eyes fluttered open and she looked at Nan Xun blearily. Was this a dream, or was it reality? She curled herself into Nan Xun’s arms and murmured, “I know you’ll find me.”
Nan Xun’s heart skipped a beat. He put his arms around her and whispered, “I won’t ever lose you again. I swear.”
Jun Huang had quickly fallen asleep again. She had not heard his promise. Nan Xun chuckled and left a feather-light kiss on her forehead before closing his eyes, satisfied. He fell asleep with Jun Huang in his arms.
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