Chapter 207: Seizing the Opportunity
Jun Huang scoffed, tilting her head to stare at the man coldly. “How are you going to further the investigation? People are panicked enough as they are. What do you propose we do? Eastern Wu is not a simple foe. If we provoke them into taking drastic actions, how are we going to clean up the messes? You’re not going to disregard the safety of the civilians for a quick resolution, are you?”
Jun Huang’s tone was slow and deliberate, but there was an edge to it. The man fell silent. He knew he had not thought through the issue before asking the question. This was something too big for any of them to shoulder the responsibility alone. The best thing to do now was to talk to Qi Chen.
The men looked at Jun Huang without a word. Jun Huang sighed. Her throbbing temples made her frown in discomfort. She rubbed at her forehead. “The procuress must have sent Qin’er here for a reason. The situation is complicated. We must be careful. Without any concrete evidence, we should refrain from doing anything, or it may come back to bite us. We should leave now.”
Jun Huang walked outside. The others waited until Qin’er regained consciousness to make sure she showed no sign of remembering before leaving.
The mission ended without accidents. Qi Chen didn’t expect them to resolve the problem once and for all. He asked only for them to find out more information. His men’s report smoothed away the suspicion in his heart. What Jun Huang said in the brothel made sense.
Qi Chen had started to doubt Jun Huang because she wasn’t able to turn Nan Xun into his ally despite her close relationship with Nan Xun. This time, however, Jun Huang had shown her devotion to him. It made Qi Chen feel a little more at ease. He ordered some of his men to keep watching the brothel. They were to notify him immediately should anything unusual happen.
Qi Chen might have stopped suspecting Jun Huang, but there were things he would continue to hide from her. He wanted to keep Jun Huang as his strategist, which meant she must not know too much that she became a threat. Now that some of his men had returned from their missions, he was able to dismiss the team he assigned Jun Huang from the manor.
Jun Huang went to talk to Qi Chen the day after she went to the brothel. When she returned to Nan Xun’s manor, it was close to noon. She was too tired to talk, but Nan Xun had been waiting for her. He knew what she had done last night.
Jun Huang was eager to find the spies; that he understood. But he didn’t expect Jun Huang to put herself in such danger. He grabbed Jun Huang’s arm in frustration and scowled at her. “Do you know how dangerous the mission last night could be? If you alerted Eastern Wu, you’d be doomed. You know better than anyone what they are capable of.”
Jun Huang knew Nan Xun was worried for her. She felt a lingering trace of fear after the adrenaline rush was over. She didn’t have to go on the mission herself, but she must take the risk in order to regain Qi Chen’s trust. Qi Chen must believe that she had his best interest at heart. Otherwise he would keep having his men watch her, and she would have to keep guessing what Qi Chen meant every time he said anything to her.
Jun Huang had a lot on her shoulders. She didn’t have the efforts to spare for Qi Chen. That was why she went to the brothel herself. Fortunately she was able to overcome the challenges and came back intact.
Even though Nan Xun’s tone was severe, his eyes were filled with concerns. It comforted Jun Huang. She curved her lips into a smile. “I know, I know. I didn’t have a choice, but I won’t do it again.”
Tension drained out of Nan Xun’s body. He led Jun Huang to a pavilion and asked, “I don’t know about the details of what happened yesterday. Were you hurt?”
Jun Huang shook her head and took Nan Xun’s hand. “I’m alright,” she whispered. “I know I must protect myself. I may have been a little hasty this time, but I’d made proper preparation before going on the mission. A mere brothel can’t be that dangerous a place. Besides, I’ve learned some valuable information. Eastern Wu is going to make their move, and it’s going to be something big.”
Nan Xun frowned. If the spies dared to come to the imperial city, they must have a plan in mind. There were things yet to be discovered. “You know where their operation base is now. What do you plan to do next?”
“That we’ll have to ask Mister Ji Bo for help.”
Jun Huang’s eyes were dark, but it didn’t intimidate Nan Xun. Quite the contrary, it was riveting for him to see this cunning side of hers.
Jun Huang woke up in the evening after resting for the whole day. She was told that Nan Xun had invited Ji Bo here for her, which saved her the troubles of doing so herself. She made herself presentable before walking outside.
Ji Bo and Nan Xun were having wine in the garden under the moon. They looked like they were enjoying themselves. As soon as Nan Xun saw Jun Huang, however, he told the servants to put away the cups and wine jugs. Ji Bo looked at Nan Xun with open amusement, while Jun Huang turned to him in exasperation.
“You can’t have alcohol,” Nan Xun said. “I don’t want to tempt you with the sight. Mister Ji Bo and I won’t drink either.”
Despite his words, Jun Huang could tell that the two of them had drunk quite a lot. She didn’t comment on it as she took a seat.
“I know what you’re planning,” said Ji Bo. He was a smart one. After Nan Xun told him what Jun Huang had done, he soon figured out what was going on and what Jun Huang would like him to do. It was the best course of action. He didn’t argue against it.
Jun Huang wasn’t surprised that Ji Bo was able to correctly guess her thoughts. He was a famous strategist after all. If he wasn’t smart enough to do that, he wouldn’t be so well-known. His intellect was why she had sought Ji Bo out in the first place.
Jun Huang nodded and said in a quiet voice, “I’ll leave the matter in your hand, Mister Ji Bo. Please be cautious. No one is to know about our true intentions.”
“Worry not,” Ji Bo said. “The third prince has come to abide to every word I say.”
Ji Bo should not stay out for too long. He got to his feet and bid Jun Huang and Nan Xun farewell.
Back to the third prince’s manor, Ji Bo saw that the third prince was still drinking in the main hall. Lately, Qi Chen had made the third prince his punching bag after losing Sir Shangguan’s support. He openly criticized the third prince for what he had done in the past with reckless abandon. It was a slap to the third prince’s face. The third prince could also tell that the emperor was growing distant from him again, but he didn’t know why. In frustration, he turned to alcohol.
He waved a hand at Ji Bo with his other hand supporting his chin. A hiccup escaped his mouth. “Come! Have a drink with me! I’ve been agonizing over what’s happened. I’d like the gentleman to answer my questions.”
Disdain flashed through Ji Bo’s eyes. He had no respect for people like the third prince. He gave up as soon as he ran into a challenge, and yet he foolishly yearned for the throne. How pathetic.
No matter how much Ji Bo hated him, though, he could be of use as a pawn.
Ji Bo walked up to him and sat down by his side. With one swift movement, he grabbed the cup from the third prince’s hand and leveled him with a cold stare.
The third prince looked up at him angrily. “What do you think you’re doing?!”
Ji Bo cut right to the point. “Is Your Highness going to give up because of a little obstacle?”
“What else am I going to do?” the third prince said tiredly, his body sliding down from the chair to the floor. He stayed there, unmoving. He didn’t care how pitiful he looked. “Royal Father suddenly started to ignore me again. In his eyes, I’ll never be as good as Qi Chen or Qi Yun. But why? What’s so wrong with me? Qi Chen cares only about power. Qi Yun is obsessed with poetry and literature. I, on the other hand, want only to sit on the throne and go down in history as a good leader. Why can’t he give me the opportunity?”
Ji Bo stared at him silently. Finally, he said, “It’s not difficult to figure out why the emperor changed his attitude. It’s simply because the crown prince is now more useful to the emperor. That’s why the emperor put all his focus on the crown prince, and spared none for Your Highness. Hasn’t Your Highness noticed anything unusual about the crown prince?”
Ji Bo words woke him like a blow to his hazy mind. The third prince thought back to the private conversations the emperor had with Qi Chen after the morning meetings. In addition, Prince Chan Manor had become more tightly controlled lately. Qi Chen must have found something.
The third prince had shaken away the effects of the alcohol. He looked up at Ji Bo, ignoring the sweat streaming down his face. Ji Bo looked back at him with an impassive expression.
The third prince took a deep breath and got to his feet. After some contemplation, he ordered a man to go retrieve the spy he had planted at Qi Chen’s side.
The spy came quickly and told the third prince everything he knew. So that’s why Royal Father has been spending so much time with Qi Chen, the third prince thought. There are men from Eastern Wu in the imperial city!
“He has found something, hasn’t he?” said the third prince in a low voice.
The man nodded. He told the third prince what he had overheard in the morning. After dismissing the man, the third prince turned to Ji Bo and asked respectfully, “What does the gentleman think that we should do?”
Ji Bo had reached an agreement with Jun Huang as to what should be done, but Ji Bo couldn’t give the prince the answer directly. He pretended to give it some thoughts.
After the time for a pot of tea to brew, Ji Bo said, “It isn’t difficult to figure out what the emperor is thinking now. Your Highness only needs to do something that will make the emperor happy.”
“Make him happy? What exactly do you mean?”
With a smile, Ji Bo leaned in closer to the third prince and murmured, “Hasn’t the crown prince given Your Highness the perfect opportunity? There’s no need for you to look elsewhere.”
Ji Bo’s spotless track record had won him the unconditional trust from his temporary master. Realization dawned on the third prince. He wasn’t so dense that he would fail to understand what Ji Bo was proposing. Every cell in his body seemed to be on fire due to his excitement. Ji Bo was right!
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