Chapter 225: Confession
Eastern Wu sent another diplomat to Northern Qi the next day and accepted Jun Huang’s conditions. However, there weren’t a lot of beautiful women in Eastern Wu, so the condition was changed from fifty women to thirty. Qi Yun considered it a good enough outcome; he signed the treaty without further argument.
He returned to the imperial city triumphant. The sheer amount of spoils he won from Eastern Wu was impressive. Qi Chen and the third prince couldn’t be more jealous. They used to think of Qi Yun as a useless prince who lived in his own world. The task the emperor assigned him and the success he achieved prompted the two brothers to reconsider Qi Yun’s importance. He was someone both of them would like to ally with.
The third prince was the first to invite Qi Yun. He couldn’t wait any longer. The day after Qi Yun returned, the third prince held a banquet to celebrate the success. Qi Yun didn’t want to go at all, but he had to show some respect for his brother.
The third prince was never a tactful person. He bluntly told Qi Yun that he wanted his support. Qi Yun appeared to be a little drunk. He glared at the third prince and said, “Royal Father is still alive and healthy, and second brother is assisting him in ruling the country. Who told the third prince that a country needed more than a couple rulers? Even by himself, Royal Father would be able to take care of all the state affairs. He’s not yet impeded by his age.”
Qi Yun’s argument was valid and to the point. The third prince’s ears flushed red in mortification. His words were spread to outside the walls. Qi Yun came to be known and respected as a royalist.
Qi Yun had made sure to speak up for Qi Chen in his retort. Qi Chen couldn’t be more pleased when he heard the news. His informant had described to him how the third prince’s face contort that day. He was still laughing about it even in his sleep.
Qi Yun’s protectiveness reached the emperor’s ear. Delighted, the emperor awarded him a jade scepter. Qi Yun was garnering more and more respect. Teaming up with him would win Qi Chen considerable support from the court.
Qi Chen went to Jun Huang with his idea, asking her to introduce them. She pretended to be hesitant, saying that she was unfamiliar with Qi Yun, and that Qi Yun might not listen to her.
However, Qi Chen was sure that Qi Yun would agree to her invitation. He heard that she’d heroically saved Qi Yun during the battle. Qi Yun was a sentimental one. He wouldn’t say no to someone who’d saved his life.
Jun Huang scoffed inwardly, but kept up a respectful expression. She nodded in agreement.
Back to Nan Xun’s manor, she told Nan Xun about Qi Chen’s request. He nodded. He’d anticipated the reaction from Qi Chen. He asked her what she was going to do.
She lowered her eyes in contemplation. In the end, she shook her head. “This is out of our hand. Qi Yun has rejected the third prince openly and got commended as a result. Since Qi Chen intended to gain his support, we should see what Qi Yun thinks himself. It may not be a bad thing to let him take charge this time.”
“We’ll let them meet,” said Nan Xun.
Jun Huang nodded.
The next day, Qi Yun, Qi Chen, and Jun Huang went to the most luxurious tavern in the city. Jun Huang remained quiet as Qi Chen poured wine for Qi Yun with a fake smile. Qi Yun was perfectly polite and calm.
“I heard that third brother has invited you to a banquet,” Qi Chen said, playing ignorant.
Qi Yun looked up at him and nodded with a smile.
“What does fourth brother think of third brother?” asked Qi Chen, his neutral tone betraying none of his thoughts.
Qi Yun snuck a glance at Jun Huang, who had been drinking tea without a word. After a brief pause, he said, “This brother is a nobody. I’ll obey anything the emperor says. I have no intention to infringe upon the emperor’s authority.”
Qi Chen was the crown prince. He would become the emperor one day. He therefore assumed that Qi Yun was pledging his loyalty to him, the future emperor. Satisfied, he exchanged a few more words with Qi Yun.
When half of the jug of wine had been finished, Qi Yun stood up and claimed to have business to attend to. Qi Chen didn’t stop him from leaving.
Once Qi Yun was out of earshot, Qi Chen turned to Jun Huang and asked, “Do you believe what he said?”
She looked up at him and chuckled. “Your Highness already knows the answer. Why are you asking me?”
Qi Chen nodded. “Qi Yun is a clever one. He’s accepted our offer to form an alliance. The third prince is a nuisance. We should get rid of him as soon as possible.”
Qi Chen’s problem aligned with hers. She silently considered him and hid a smile behind the teacup.
Qi Chen was drunk when she took her leave. She told the servants to take good care of him and had her people spread news about their earlier conversation. She then returned to Nan Xun’s manor.
The third prince flew into rage when he heard about Qi Yun’s response. He wondered what Qi Yun meant. Ji Bo knew what Jun Huang was trying to do. But before he could stoke the prince’s anger himself, another strategist spoke up.
“Does Your Highness not see what the fourth prince meant?” an honored guest with a moustache said. “He’s going to support the crown prince.”
The third prince turned to him with a frown. “What does the gentleman mean?”
The honored guest said after a pause, “The fourth prince said to the crown prince that he listened to only the emperor. There are no signs showing that the current emperor is going to take away the crown prince’s title. Isn’t it clear who the future emperor will be? Does Mister Ji Bo agree?”
Ji Bo paused. He knew he was far from the most popular person in the manor, and yet this man had involved him in order to convince the prince. He scoffed.
“This gentleman agrees with what he said,” Ji Bo said matter-of-factly. “The fourth prince has been staying at the emperor’s side, though. I heard that the emperor has been close to him. He’s not easy to take down.”
The third prince understood their points. It was a shame that Qi Yun had not moved into his own manor. Instead, he’d been staying in the palace with the emperor most of the time. Even though the third prince was angry, there wasn’t much he could do.
Jun Huang was stopped by Nan Xun as soon as she reached the manor. She looked at him curiously. He dragged her inside without a word.
She assumed that he wanted to know what had happened today, so she stayed silent and followed him to the garden.
They came to a stop in the pavilion. She rubbed at her wrist where Nan Xun’s grip had left a mark. “Why are you in such a rush?”
Nan Xun stared deeply at her. To hell with consequences. His head had been filled with thoughts about Jun Huang the past couple of days. He needed an answer from her now.
He took a deep breath, his gaze landing heavily on Jun Huang. The tenderness in his eyes made her nervous, but she was unwilling to just run away. She let her emotions ripple through her heart and met his gaze.
“We’ve known each other for a while,” he said slowly, lovingly. “You must know about my feelings. You’re too observant to not to. Even so, I don’t want the unspoken words to remain unspoken, and our relationship to remain vague. Do you know what I mean?”
Jun Huang stilled, her eyes fixed on Nan Xun. Then she lowered her eyes without a word. Just when Nan Xun was going to be driven mad by the tense silence, she opened her mouth and said, “This gentleman knows about Your Highness’s feelings, and I’m deeply moved. Your consideration exceeds my expectation. I feel guilty for being the subject of the affection of a fierce fighter like Your Highness. I know why you’d want a clear answer. Please forgive this gentleman for not being able to return your feelings. I hope Your Highness will find the right person soon.”
Nan Xun stared dumbly at her. He didn’t expect her to reject him so decisively. A heavy weight settled on his chest. He took a step forward and grabbed her shoulders. “What are you worried about? Do you know that I’ve been falling for you slowly ever since I discovered your identity - no, since I met you? Do you really think it’s going to be easy to give my heart to someone else? It’s just as you said, Jun Huang, I don’t have a big heart. You’ve taken up all my capacity to love someone. How can I possibly find another person to love?”
Surprise flashed through her eyes. She stared at him, unable to utter a word. Nan Xun fell silent after realizing what he had admitted to in the heat of the moment.
Silence stretched. She took a deep breath and pulled away from him.
She waved a hand to stop him from talking. “Please don’t say another word, Nan Xun. Give me some time to myself.”
He knew she meant it, so he didn’t insist on keeping her. He nodded. “Please give it some consideration. I can take whatever answer you give me, but remember to put yourself first. I’ll leave you alone. Don’t stay here for too long. It’s a little chilly.”
He walked away from the pavilion, giving her some space.
Jun Huang knew he had kept his feelings bottled up. It couldn’t be easy for him to walk away. However, she needed some time to sort through her messy thoughts.
Even though summer had come, the shade provided by the pavilion kept the air cool, and the wind swept freely through her. After staying seated for two hours, she started to feel cold and a little dizzy.
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