Chapter 221: The Army Deployed
Jun Huang sighed and nodded in silent agreement with Qi Chen’s decision.
After days of sleepless investigation, Nan Xun finally found something. All evidence pointed to a young eunuch at the emperor’s side. He entered the palace not long ago. He was assigned to serve the emperor because of his honest appearance.
Nan Xun wasn’t going to judge a book by its cover. The eunuch turned out to be from Eastern Wu! A few months ago he infiltrated the palace on his master’s order. The emperor happened to see him when he was being punished for making a trivial mistake. His young age won him the emperor’s pity, and the emperor took him under his wing, unaware of the fact that the eunuch was a hidden threat.
Nan Xun thought it would take some time to get information out of the eunuch’s mouth, but before he could interrogate him, the eunuch spilled out everything he knew out of fear. Nan Xun ordered some men to go through the eunuch’s bedroom and found the poison. The royal doctors stayed up analyzing the poison and concluded that it was from Eastern Wu.
Nan Xun was going to ask the eunuch who his master was, but the he committed suicide before another round of questioning. That was the end of the ordeal.
Instinct told Jun Huang that things were more complicated than they appeared to be, but she couldn’t pinpoint what it was that triggered her concern. Something was wrong; that much she was sure of. But they could still continue their plans.
“The royal doctors said that the poison wasn’t potent enough to make the emperor collapse so quickly, but upon further checkup, they didn’t find anything else wrong with his body.”
Nan Xun thought back to what the royal doctors had told him. He couldn’t wrap his head around the situation.
Jun Huang was wondering why a cowardly eunuch would suddenly muster enough courage to take his own life when Nan Xun interrupted her thoughts. She turned to Nan Xun and asked what the poison was.
He knew that Jun Huang was trained in medicine. He told her everything the royal doctors told him. She frowned. She knew why the emperor fell ill suddenly.
The answer was the drug she gave Consort Zhen. The drug was of cold property. The effect would only present after months or even a year. The poison Eastern Wu used on the emperor was of hot property. The two substances together caused an unforeseen reaction, accelerating the effects of the poison.
She kept it from Nan Xun. After all, he didn’t know she had colluded with the honored consort to drug the emperor. She was afraid that Nan Xun might find her insidious, but she didn’t have a choice. It wouldn’t help for her to admit her guilt now.
The investigation found Eastern Wu to be the perpetrator. The honored consort finally could breathe easily. She had thought the drug Jun Huang gave her had unintended effects. Qi Chen too relaxed considerably. He took a group of officials into the palace.
He made such a big commotion that the emperor went red in rage. He stopped anyone but Qi Chen from entering his room. Qi Chen went inside, pushing aside his lingering concerns.
He ran into Qi Yun at the door. Qi Yun gracefully greeted him and walked away. The doubt in Qi Chen’s heart intensified, but he couldn’t afford to make the emperor wait. He went inside and knelt down.
“This son is here to make a proposal,” Qi Chen said bowing down.
The emperor had received the reports submitted by a group of officials. Seeing Qi Chen kneeling before him filled his chest with anger. He huffed and threw the reports at Qi Chen.
“Do you think I don’t know about the crimes you’ve committed?” yelled the emperor. “Now you dare to pressure me by colluding with the officials? What are you trying to do? Staging a coup?”
He got into a coughing fit. Qi Chen’s breath hitched. “This son will never! I dare not even think of it! It’s just that Eastern Wu has crossed a line this time. I cannot tolerate what they’ve done. So I - ”
“Enough! This is out of your hands now. Do your job and nothing more. Get out.”
The emperor wasn’t willing to say another word. Qi Chen knew his father would only be angrier if he stayed. He bid him farewell and slowly walked out.
The eunuch who had served the emperor for decades had never witnessed such a strong reaction from the emperor. He hurriedly poured the emperor a cup of water and sighed. “Your Majesty should treat yourself better. The prince may simply want to shoulder your burden. Your collapse has scared the royal princes.”
The emperor threw him a glance and scoffed. “I won’t let Eastern Wu off the hook, but he’s not going to lead the army.”
The eunuch was an expert at reading people. He put on a smile and said, “Your Majesty turned the crown prince down because you have someone in mind.”
“Originally I thought he could be a good candidate,” the emperor explained. “However, I’ve turned a blind eye to his collusion with the courtiers long enough. He hasn’t showed any restraint. The third prince is incompetent and put what little intelligence he possesses into pleasing other people. He’s not even on the same playing field as the crown prince. That leaves Qi Yun. His loyalty is commendable. If he holds some influence over the army, he would be able to protect himself even after the crown prince takes the throne.”
The eunuch agreed with the emperor. Qi Yun had been visiting the emperor frequently. His loyalty and care to the emperor were evident. “Your Majesty makes a good point. The fourth prince may be interested in only literature and arts, but he respects and cares about his father. He’ll need some forces on his side even if he never plans to engage in politics. Your Majesty is right to worry for him.”
The emperor nodded. “Qi Yun is humble and disciplined, which made him a good candidate for the throne,” he said with a sigh. “But he has no one to support him, and he doesn’t care for power himself. Naturally I should give him a helping hand.”
The master and servant conversed about the past. The emperor’s thoughts went back to the march toward Eastern Wu. He ordered a servant to retrieve Nan Xun.
Nan Xun knew the emperor wanted to deploy the army, but he was surprised by the emperor’s plan.
Even with most of the poison cleansed, the emperor appeared to be frail and pale. He invited Nan Xun to sit at his side and patted him on the back of his hand. “You’ll lead the charge against Eastern Wu. Let Qi Yun assist you. Deaths spared no one on battlefields. Qi Yun wasn’t a soldier. You’ll have to keep an eye on him.”
Nan Xun could read between the lines. He cupped his hands and nodded. “Rest assured, Your Majesty, this official will bring the prince back safely.”
“He still needs to fight his own fight,” added the emperor. “Northern Qi’s territory was established by our ancestors in battles. A man born into this country must not forget about our origin.”
“Worry not, Your Majesty. This official knows what to do.”
Qi Chen soon heard that the emperor put Nan Xun in charge of the army with Qi Yun aiding him. He was convinced that Qi Yun must have talked behind his back for the emperor to grow distant to him and choose Qi Yun over him.
When Jun Huang arrived at Prince Chen Manor, Qi Chen was throwing a tantrum, shattering everything within his reach. The servants knelt on the floor, breathing shallowly in fear.
Jun Huang stayed outside, wondering why the emperor would make such a decision. She knew the battlefields were ladened with dangers. If it was Qi Chen who accompanied the army, no one would suspect anything should he die in battle. Unexpectedly, the emperor appointed Qi Yun. That warranted a rethinking of her plan.
Qi Chen did his best to suppress his anger and approached Jun Huang with a deep breath. “You’re close to Nan Xun. He’ll let you follow him to battle. I order you to keep an eye on him and Qi Yun to determine if they’ve become allies. If not, you should try recruiting Nan Xun.”
She had been wondering how she should talk to Qi Chen about this. It was convenient that he wanted her to follow the army. She agreed to accompany the army, but ignored the other parts.
Jun Huang told Nan Xun about it once she was back at his manor. Nan Xun turned her down without thinking.
“Death is the great equalizer in war. Who’s going to protect you in battle? This is not something to be taken lightly.”
Nan Xun tried reasoning with her. She huffed, gazing at him with cold eyes. “You know that I won’t listen to you. I have to go. I don’t need you to protect me. I’m capable enough to protect myself.”
Nan Xun frowned. “Yes, you’re a good fighter, but don’t forget that there are going to be thousands of enemies. You may be able to take on ten people, but how about a hundred? This is no time for you to be stubborn.”
“I’ve made up my mind.” Jun Huang fell silent and stared at him with clear eyes. Nan Xun resigned himself to surrendering to her will again.
He sighed. “Alright, I’m not going to argue with you. If you want to come with me, so be it. It’s going to be difficult, however. You must listen to my orders. Understand?”
Jun Huang accepted all his conditions, her expression softening into a smile. Nan Xun snorted.
He knew that there would not be a full-blown war. Eastern Wu wasn’t prepared for that. Still, he had to do his job.
Jun Huang had agreed to listen to him before they departed, so she obediently got into the coach with Qi Yun when they left the city. She used the time to catch up with Qi Yun.
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