Chapter 21: Severe Disaster Zone
“Do you see, Your Highness? This is the border of Northern Qi. The people here are your people as well. Your Highness’ goal here is to rebuild their homes.” Jun Huang remarked faintly.
“B-brother Feng, d-don’t make jokes like this… this place…” Qi Chen stammered, his face knit in a frown as he pointed at the scene before him that looked like it came straight out of hell.
Jun Huang walked two steps forward and seemed like she was about to fall down the slope. Nan Xun shifted his weight forward, ready to pull her back, but breathed a sigh of relief when she halted.
“Does Your Highness think I am joking? Heh, I don’t know if Your Highness is joking with me, or if I’m joking with Your Highness. In the current situation, the people’s days are filled with fear and agony. Their only hope is that the imperial court will help them in their time of need, and not just leave them to rot in their misery.” Jun Huang’s every word pierced straight through to the heart, her eyes a frozen tundra.
Nan Xun gazed at Jun Huang’s profile, marveling that there was still someone in this world who cared so much for the people of the country. He couldn’t help but curve his lips slightly into a smile. “Feng Baiyu speaks truthfully. Since Your Highness has promised the emperor that he would travel to the border, it would greatly disappoint him if you were to do nothing.”
Qi Chen looked at Nan Xun with gritted teeth, unable to say a single word in response. This common born prince had always been more influential at court than Qi Chen. So many people fawned over him, hoping against all odds for closer ties. That alone was enough for the second prince to hate Nan Xun. Who didn’t know of Nan Xun in Northern Qi? He possessed stunning skill in martial arts at his young age, and everyone spoke highly of him. Several royal princes wanted to recruit Nan Xun, including Qi Chen, who had once sent gifts. But the general had actually returned the second prince’s gifts without even opening them. It was an enormous slap to the face, and Qi Chen had viewed Nan Xun as an enemy ever since.
Jun Huang tilted her head to look at Nan Xun. It was a single glance, but an absolutely spellbinding sight. With lowered eyes, she opened her jade fan with a crack and descended down the slope by a path to the side, truly setting foot onto Northern Qi’s border territory.
The people had long since heard that the imperial capital was sending people and many supplies to their aid. They’d been waiting on the edges of the desolate land for a long time, and their eyes brightened when they saw Jun Huang and the others.
“They’re here, they’re here! The people from the imperial court are here! We’re saved!” Tears streaked down a woman’s face. Dressed in tattered clothes, she clutched a newborn, not even a year old, to her chest. In their eyes, Jun Huang and the others were saviors sent by the gods, here to lift them out of their current situation.
The group was surrounded by people before they even reached the city gates. Nan Xun subconsciously shielded Jun Huang behind him and looked coldly at the refugees. Perhaps due to his frigid stare, none of the refugees dared make too much of a fuss. Jun Huang coughed lightly and spoke to them, “Worry not. We’re here now and won’t allow you to drift further along in homelessness.”
They entered the city surrounded by people. Qi Chen sent someone to find a clean (but sadly run down) inn to arrange for their quarters. Jun Huang and Nan Xun walked the streets, taking in the lay of the land. Their hearts ached slightly when they saw the number of people slumped by the side of the streets. Nan Xun cocked his head after walking for a while and saw that Jun Huang’s complexion had turned a bit ashen. He asked worriedly, “Are you tired after the long journey?”
She shook her head and didn’t stop walking. “I just hadn’t thought I’d see such sights.”
They quickly arrived at the yamen.  Porridge was already being distributed as Qi Chen had already sent messengers with money over a while ago. But when Jun Huang noted that only clear broth and rice was being served, she frowned.
Nan Xun also furrowed his brow and pulled aside the yamen runner next to him. “Was the relief support not enough or what? Why is this the only thing offered?”
The runner was caught off guard at the sudden action, and was badly startled when he looked up at the imposing appearance of the man who had grabbed him. His eagle eyes were so sharp that it seemed like they could kill. The runner stammered out, “I-I’m only f-following orders. This is what my superiors gave me. It’s nothing to do with me!”
Jun Huang narrowed her eyes and looked at the opulent yamen buildings. The county magistrate here must lead a rich life. Nan Xun restrained her just when she was about to charge in. “Things aren’t clear at the moment. We won’t get a satisfactory answer if we demand an explanation now.” He led Jun Huang by the wrist away from the location and heard Qi Chen’s voice just as they rounded the corner.
“Ah, Your Highness has arrived! My house’s master has been anticipating your arrival!” The yamen runner was wreathed in smiles as he showed Qi Chen inside. Jun Huang and Nan Xun took in the scene from not too far away. Both of them understood what was going on, but didn’t bother putting it into words.
When Nan Xun asked Jun Huang if she wanted to head back to the inn, she shook her head. “I want to take a walk.”
“Then I’ll keep you company.”
Jun Huang didn’t turn down his offer and allowed Nan Xun to follow along. She knew that danger always lurked in the shadows of a place like this, so it was a good thing to have someone by her side. And so, the two began their inspection tour.
They walked for a long while and saw no end of collapsed houses and people who were skin and bones by the side of the street. When these people saw Jun Huang and Nan Xun, they didn’t even have the strength to wave. They could only murmur that they were hungry and wanted food.
After a round of questioning, the two learned that the local officials weren’t taking care of the people at all. The porridge distribution today had just been a show put on for the group from the capital. This vast border region had turned into a living hell. There were no hospitals and no one teaching them how to ward off pestilence. None of the houses had been repaired, and there wasn’t a single drop of water to be found for the crops.
A little girl tottered her way to Jun Huang’s side when they were talking to the people and tugged on her sleeves. “Big brother, please give me some water.” The little girl’s eyes were bright, but her face was smudged and dirty. Her lips had cracked open and her voice almost a rasped whisper. One could tell that she hadn’t had water in a very long time. Nan Xun immediately took off the water bottle attached to his waist before Jun Huang could even react, handing the entire thing to the little girl.
Jun Huang stood in the city, taking in the scenes of devastation and couldn’t help but wonder, “Why are things like this? It’s heart wrenching to see the people so destitute.”
Nan Xun tilted his head at Jun Huang and saw tears welling up in her eyes. In those eyes was deep pity for the unfairness of the world. He sighed, “Why feel this way? We knew something like this would happen.”
“Come on, let’s go back.” Jun Huang didn’t want to say anything else and turned in the direction of the inn, Nan Xun following behind her.
- This is where the local bureaucrat administered the government of a region, including local finance, capital works, judging of civil and criminal cases, and issuing decrees and policies. Sadly, there is no real English equivalent and having the word remain in pinyin seems to be an acceptable practice.