Chapter 220: Plan of Attack
“Something must have happened in the palace,” Jun Huang said, meeting Nan Xun’s gaze. “If the illness claimed the emperor’s life, all we’ve worked for will be for nothing. We must return as soon as we can. We can’t let this affect our plan.”
Nan Xun nodded. “We’ll depart tomorrow and rushed back.”
The next morning, Jun Huang and Nan Xun hurried toward the imperial city of Northern Qi. They dared not even stop to rest. When they arrived at the city, they were again informed of the emperor’s condition.
Nan Xun told Jun Huang to wait at his manor before going to the palace to check the validity of the news. He was stopped by a eunuch at the door.
The eunuch was the one the emperor trusted the most, and he was friendly with Nan Xun. Nan Xun frowned. “What happened? Wasn’t the emperor hale and hearty when I left? How did he suddenly fall ill?”
The eunuch made sure there were no unwanted eyes before whispering, “It’s not a simple disease. The emperor was poisoned. He almost didn’t make it.”
Nan Xun stilled. It took a moment for him to recover. He rushed into the room. Qi Yun was at the emperor’s side attending to his needs. Nan Xun relaxed a little. At least Qi Yun knew what should be done at time like this.
Qi Yun helped the emperor sit up. The emperor’s face was pale, and he had lost a lot of weight. The dragon robe hang loosely over his slight frame. He coughed with his hands on the bed to keep himself upright. Slowly, he said, “I order you to find the one who poisoned me, Nan Xun.”
Nan Xun knelt on the floor and cupped his hands in obedience. The emperor told him to be at ease before beckoning him over. He didn’t know what the emperor wanted, but he obliged anyway.
The emperor pointed at Qi Yun. “Qi Yun’s still too inexperienced. Let him assist you in your investigation. Offer him some guidance during the process.”
Surprised, Nan Xun glanced up at the emperor. Realization dawned on him when he saw the way the emperor looked at Qi Yun. The emperor had grown more and more fond of Qi Yun for his company. It bode well for their plan. Nan Xun nodded agreeably. “With the fourth prince’s help, the truth will be revealed soon enough.”
The emperor was prone to exhaustion after being poisoned. The brief conversation was enough to drain him. Qi Yun hurriedly help him lie down.
The emperor waved a hand at Nan Xun to dismiss him. “You must be tired from traveling nonstop. You’re free to go now. The investigation can start tomorrow.”
Nan Xun bid them farewell. Before he left, he snuck a few glances at the father and son. Qi Yun patiently smoothed a hand over the emperor’s back to help him breathe. He poured water for the emperor upon request, and massaged the emperor’s legs to relax the muscles. It was clear that he took his role as the emperor’s caretaker seriously.
Nan Xun walked out of the room, leaving the father and son their privacy.
As soon as he arrived at the manor, Jun Huang came up to him, asking him how the emperor was. Nan Xun told her everything in details, including how the emperor treated Qi Yun. Jun Huang nodded, her brows drawn closely in deep thoughts.
“What are you going to do?” asked Nan Xun.
Jun Huang mapped out the interrelationship between different factions in her head. “Originally, I planned to deal with Qi Chen first. He couldn’t be allowed to remain as the crown prince even if we were to let him live. Unfortunately, the emperor has fallen ill. If we took Qi Chen down now, Northern Qi would fall into chaos. A country must not be without a leader. Now that the emperor is ill, no accidents should befall Qi Chen.”
“Why don’t we put Qi Yun on the throne now?” suggested Nan Xun.
“No, we can’t,” she said without hesitation. “Qi Chen is the crown prince. We need the emperor to take the title away from him. If we push for Qi Yun to become the crown prince without the emperor’s support, the trust and affection Qi Yun has worked hard to earn will vanish immediately, and we’ll risk exposing ourselves That’s not a trade off we should take. We must not do anything reckless until the day Qi Chen’s title is taken away.”
Nan Xun nodded in agreement to her analysis. “Then are we to do nothing?”
“Of course not. It’s time that we make a move against Eastern Wu. If we let them do whatever they want, they won’t even realize how many deaths they’re responsible for.”
Jun Huang’s tone was frigid. Even the sun shining on her face couldn’t melt the ice encasing her heart. Nan Xun silently took her hand in his, trying to offer comfort.
She took a deep breath to suppress her resentment and managed a small smile. “Qi Chen must know about my return,” she said as she stood up. “If I don’t go to him, he’s going to get suspicious again. I’m paying the crown prince a visit. We’ll talk about the rest once I’m back.”
Nan Xun didn’t say anything to stop her. Once she’d left, he went to his study for a meeting with his subordinates. They discussed the situation in the city, and how they were going to investigate the poisoning.
Qi Chen did get wind of Jun Huang’s return as soon as she set foot in the city. He’d been waiting for her. The housekeeper led Jun Huang to the study. When she entered the door, Qi Chen turned to look at her with a frown. “I heard that you’ve been back for a while. Why haven’t you come to me until now?”
“I was waiting for Prince Nan Xun to return from the palace. Moreover, the journey took a lot out of me. I needed a short rest.”
Jun Huang had not uttered a word of lie. She knew Qi Chen must have put his men to watch both her and Nan Xun. He must know Nan Xun had gone to the palace right after their return.
Qi Chen’s expression relaxed a little. He took a seat at the table and poured Jun Huang a cup of tea. “Then you must know that Royal Father has been poisoned.”
Jun Huang nodded in response.
Qi Chen motioned at her to take a seat before handing her the cup of tea.
“What have you found out during your trip to Eastern Wu?” asked Qi Chen.
“There’s going to be a civil unrest within Eastern Wu,” Jun Huang said after a moment of silence. “This gentleman believes that our troop will be able to catch Eastern Wu off guard if we deploy them now. If we can defeat Eastern Wu and sign a treaty, Your Highness will be able to earn your glory and the emperor’s approval.”
Qi Chen didn’t immediately respond. He agonized over what he should do. This was a great opportunity for him. The third prince had stolen his thunder the last time in discovering the spies, which caused the emperor to give him the cold shoulders. He heard that Qi Yun was the one who had been taking care of the emperor since he was poisoned. Qi Chen had wanted to go, but the emperor turned him down and told him to take care of the affairs in the court. Qi Chen could feel the emperor getting more and more aloof to him.
Jun Huang saw right through him. She scoffed inwardly and said, “This gentleman believes Your Highness should give it some consideration. If you continue to do nothing, this gentleman doesn’t know what the officials will think.”
She was using Qi Chen’s pride against him. If he didn’t care so much about his face, he wouldn’t have second guessed himself even after he had a plan in mind, and he wouldn’t have kept Nan Guyue around even after they had a falling out.
Jun Huang knew him well enough to exploit his weakness, making it so that he was unable to think with a clear head.
Even if Jun Huang had not reminded him, Qi Chen knew a war between Northern Qi and Eastern Wu was inevitable. He had to earned his glory on battlefields in order to build a solid foundation in the court. He vehemently agreed with Jun Huang’s words.
“Even so, we need a justification for our invasion,” said Qi Chen. He looked to Jun Huang for a suggestion.
Her expression turned thoughtful. “This gentleman believes that Eastern Wu must have been behind the use of poison on the emperor. I’ve heard their spies talk about it myself as well. There’s little chance that it was someone else. They must have planted someone at the emperor’s side, but there’s something else we have to take care of first.”
“No matter what Your Highness has planned, we must not interfere with the investigation led by Prince Nan Xun and the fourth prince. If they find evidence proving that Eastern Wu was responsible, we’ll be justified to march into Eastern Wu.”
Qi Chen coughed awkwardly. He knew before Jun Huang visited that the emperor had put Nan Xun and Qi Yun in charge of the investigation. He’d been wondering how he could undermine their efforts. Originally he had wanted to ask for her advice, but she rejected the idea before he even brought it up.
He knew that he could not afford to make any mistakes at this critical juncture. He nodded. “I’ll listen to you, Brother Feng. I won’t be reckless. Brother Feng can tell Nan Xun for me that if there’s anything he needs, he may ask me. I’ll do all I can to help him. We must make Eastern Wu’s atrocities known to the world this time.”
Jun Huang let out a sigh of relief. At least Qi Chen knew when to back away. That was one less thing for her to worry about.
“If it was Eastern Wu, though, this gentleman believes that Your Highness should take the initiative to propose an attack.”
“I know what you mean. Don’t worry. I’ve made the necessary arrangements. As soon as the investigation proved Eastern Wu’s guilt, my people will propose an invasion and nominate me as the candidate.”
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