Chapter 224: The Imperial Court
The burly man had been taken down, but Jun Huang was far from unharmed when the shadow guards finally got to her. In the chaos she got hit in her arms twice. Fortunately the cuts were shallow. She looked vulnerable with her torn sleeves and the dried blood all over her armor and clothes..
“Get on, Gentleman Feng.” One of the shadow guards who was closer to Nan Xun jumped off his horse and led it to her. She gave him a glance and, without another word, nodded and mounted the horse.
All the shadow guards knew about Nan Xun and Jun Huang’s relationship. Even though they’d only heard rumors, they dared not take her safety lightly. The shadow guard jumped onto another guard’s horse, and they turned back to join the troop.
Jun Huang had taken enough lives to quench her hatred, but her attention was caught by the noises behind her. She looked over and saw Qi Yun getting intercepted by a group of Eastern Wu soldiers. Qi Yun had been trained in martial arts, but mostly in hand-to-hand combat. If he hadn’t been accompanied by shadow guards Nan Xun assigned him, he would have been taken.
Jun Huang rode to him without hesitation. The shadow guards sighed in resignation and chased after her.
The group of shadow guards fought off the soldiers under her command. The soldiers of Eastern Wu had refrained from surrendering themselves because they were close to taking Qi Yun alive, but their effort were hindered by Jun Huang. They pulled back and retreated.
Nan Xun was the chief commander. He witnessed everything from on top of the border city wall rather than from within the midst of the battle himself. Cold sweat broke out when he saw Jun Huang falling off her horse. Once the battle concluded, he rushed toward the troop without pause.
He let out a sigh of relief when he made sure that Jun Huang was alright, but his expression was steely and hard. She looked back at him with cool eyes without a word.
Awkwardness filled the air. Qi Yun knew what Nan Xun was angry about. In his opinion, this was between Nan Xun and Jun Huang. He was in no place to intervene.
His waist was sore from a day of riding. He went back to his tent with the help of a guard. The other soldiers dispersed as well.
Once the two of them were alone, Nan Xun let out a long breath and pulled Jun Huang into his arms. After a good moment, he said in a quiet tone, “I’m not going to let you be stubborn again.”
She could hear his strong heartbeats with her face pressed to his chest. She slowly closed her eyes. “I didn’t get into fights I didn’t know I could win. Don’t worry too much. You know that I can’t let Qi Yun be taken in that moment.”
A soft “I know” was all he said. He could only take her words for it.
After that battle, the soldiers under Nan Xun had changed their attitudes towards Jun Huang and Qi Yun. Jun Huang, especially, had won their genuine affection. She always treated the soldiers like equals. Sometimes she would sit among them at the campfire and chatted with them. They shared their war stories and hatred toward Eastern Wu. Since that day, the soldiers often boasted about fighting alongside the brave and decisive young man named Feng Baiyu.
Eastern Wu could no longer stand against the pressure Nan Xun put on them. After their attempt to take Qi Yun, Nan Xun stopped holding back. Every engagement left Eastern Wu with great casualties. In the end, they had no choice but to report to the imperial court and sought a peaceful surrender.
It was Nan Xun who met with the diplomat from Eastern Wu. The diplomat had planned to maintain Eastern Wu’s pride, but he could barely stop himself from kneeling down when he saw the stoic war god Nan Xun.
Nan Xun scoffed at the way the diplomat froze in the middle of the tent. His unreserved disdain upset the diplomat. However, Nan Xun wasn’t someone he could afford to offend. He was a representative of Eastern Wu, and he was now in Northern Qi’s territory. A wrong move could mean a painful death.
He took a deep breath. He had to do something to break the ice. Finally, he mustered enough courage to say, “Eastern Wu is genuine in our intention to surrender. We’re willing to make compromises. What does Northern Qi plan to do?”
“We’ll have to consult the imperial court,” Nan Xun responded coolly. He got to his feet, unwilling to waste another word on the diplomat. The diplomat was immediately blocked when he tried to make chase.
Sweat popped out of his forehead. He was in the enemy’s camp. If Northern Qi didn’t give him a response, he’d have to stay here.
Qi Yun had reported to the court. The emperor soon gave the order to grant Qi Yun full authority to negotiate with Eastern Wu.
Qi Yun knew this was a demonstration of the emperor’s goodwill for him. His chest was filled with warmth, giving him strength to persist in this barren land.
At night, he went into Jun Huang’s tent with Nan Xun to discuss what treaty they should sign with Eastern Wu. She simply said that they should use this opportunity to take advantage of Eastern Wu. Nan Xun echoed her sentiments.
Qi Yun knew the emperor would approve of him if he could gain more compensation from Eastern Wu. However, the diplomat knew what he was doing. He was too inexperienced to gain an upper hand. After several rounds of negotiations, the diplomat refused to budge. Qi Yun could only turn to Jun Huang for help.
Jun Huang sat on his side, staring at the diplomat with steely eyes. The scrutiny sent a chill down his spine. He put on a calm face and snuck glances at her. She wasn’t even trying to hide the fact that she was staring.
That enraged the diplomat. He knew she was merely Qi Yun’s strategist despite her graceful appearance. He turned to her and scoffed. “What is the gentleman staring at me for?”
She calmly took a sip of tea and said, “It’s said that those from Eastern Wu are often shameless. I didn’t take that as the truth, but you serve as a convincing example.”
“You… do you know what we’re doing here? A mere strategist should know his place!” The diplomat flew into rage and pointed an accusing finger at her.
Jun Huang covered a smile. Her calm attitude made the diplomat look pathetic. She let out a dramatic sigh and said, “This gentleman was told that it was Eastern Wu who was surrendering to Northern Qi. In our territory, do you still think of yourself as superior? Ha, don’t you know how little respect the soldiers here have for you?”
The diplomat went pale. He turned to Qi Yun and said through clenched teeth, “Eastern Wu is surrendering, but we have our pride. From the way Northern Qi treats us, am I right to conclude that you don’t really want a deal with us?”
Qi Yun frowned. He did find Jun Huang’s words a little inappropriate, but he couldn’t undermine her in public. He threw her a pointed look, urging her to get to business.
“This is a conflict between our countries,” said Jun Huang. “Since you’re surrendering, tell us what you’re willing to give.”
The diplomat paused. He didn’t expect her to be this blunt. He had been leading Qi Yun on a merry chase, knowing the prince’s lack of experience. Jun Huang, though, was cunning and cautious. A slip of his tongue would be used against him. He didn’t dare treat her the way he did Qi Yun.
“Eastern Wu will not submit to Northern Qi, but every year, we’ll contribute a hundred scrolls of silk, ten horses, and a hundred taels of gold and silver to you.”
Jun Huang snorted, drawing everyone’s attention. The diplomat turned to her and gritted out, “What’s with the gentleman again?”
Jun Huang slowly turned to him and leveled him with a cold stare. “Are you here to surrender, or are you fishing for insults? Everyone knows Eastern Wu yielded because you couldn’t rival Northern Qi, and yet you treat us like beggars. Are you trying to make a joke out of Eastern Wu? You refused to submit to Northern Qi to preserve your pride, and yet you offer things of little value and expect us to accept them. What are you trying to do?”
The diplomat’s expression turned dark. He tightened his jaw and glared at Jun Huang. His heartbeats grew erratic in nervousness. He knew Jun Huang wasn’t easy to deceive, but he didn’t expect her to be this difficult.
He breathed in deeply and stared at her. “What does the gentleman propose?”
She threw a glance at Qi Yun and pretended to consider the question. “Northern Qi is magnanimous. We can allow Eastern Wu to preserve what little pride you have. Since you’re unwilling to submit to Northern Qi’s rule, you’ll have to pay the price. What about you offer yearly five hundred scrolls of silk, a hundred horses, a thousand taels of gold and silver, and fifty fine women to us?”
She put on a polite smile. Everyone knew her friendly appearance was merely a front, but the diplomat couldn’t fault her. He rolled his eyes and almost fainted. Jun Huang stood up and smiled at him. “There’s always another option: Eastern Wu can submit to Northern Qi as our subsidiary and turn over three border cities to us. You may take some time to think about it. This gentleman will take my leave.”
The diplomat blacked out in rage, leaving the room shocked and flabbergasted.
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