Jun Huang was startled when strong arms suddenly wrapped around her. She turned around and met Nan Xun’s worried eyes. She felt a little embarrassed when she realized what he was worried about. She coughed. “I’m just here to cool off.”
“Then why are you standing here?” Nan Xun demanded.
She chuckled after a brief pause and pointed at the koi fish in the pond. “I saw how at ease they were swimming in the pond, and was wondering how it would feel to be one of them.”
He looked at her doubtfully. Under the moonlight, her cool eyes looked free of any impurities. She met his considering gaze headon.
He let out a sigh of relief. It seemed that she hadn’t intended to hurt herself.
He looked at where she had been staring at. The koi fish did seem carefree as they swimmed. “Even so, I don’t believe you’re someone who’d be happy confined to a little pond. You have a big heart that care about the world. You belong to a prosperous city, not a little pond.”
She chuckled. “If I were a koi fish, I wouldn’t care about the world or about getting revenge. My memory would be short-lived, and all that matter is the last moment and the present.” She sat down on a chair nearby, her expression impassive.
He didn’t like seeing her sorrowful look. He never wanted to see her frown.
“Why don’t you think about your future rather than dwelling on the past? Once you find Yin Yun and Jun Hao, you don’t have to worry about anything but leading a peaceful life. Then you can marry a man who loves you… like me. Won’t that be a happy ending?”
She stilled, transfixed by the picture he painted. That was something she had never considered. She didn’t need to be successful and shape the future of the world; she wanted only to spend her life with the company of someone she loved.
She woke herself from the dream and reminded herself of her illness-riddled body. She lowered her head and snorted. She had let emotions get the better of her. She nodded at Nan Xun with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. She didn’t want to worry him.
He looked at her silently. He knew better than anyone why her smile looked so forced and pale.
The picture he painted with his hopeful words was akin to the reflection of a beautiful flower. Others might be able to take it easily, but she couldn’t even touch it. It was merely a pale imitation of the real thing.
Ji Bo got to his feet and stretched his legs. He was getting bored sitting on his own. He wondered how Nan Xun and Jun Huang were. He decided to go find them. Perhaps there were things he could help with.
He got close to the pavilion and saw them staring into the distance without a word. He frowned. He figured out quickly what their disagreement must be. It was between the two of them. An outsider like him was in no place to intervene.
As for the current political climate, there wasn’t much he could do. Jun Huang’s plan was valid. His responsibility was to push the third prince to self-destruct. The rest was out of his hand.
When Ji Bo returned to the third prince’s manor, the prince was arguing with his honored guests in the main hall. Ji Bo’s eyebrows furrowed slightly. He thought for a few moments before entering.
“Where has the gentleman been?” The third prince closed their distance with a few big strides.
Ji Bo could feel the tension in the air, but he pretended to not notice. “I went to a new tea house,” he said with a smile. “It’s a nice place. This gentleman will take Your Highness there when you have the time.”
The third prince pursed his lips in displeasure. Ji Bo was his greatest asset, though. It would be to his detriment to lose Ji Bo’s help. He kept his irritation to himself and managed a smile. “I have things to discuss with the gentleman.”
“What is it?” Ji Bo raised an eyebrow and looked over at the other men in the room, hiding the calculating glint in his eyes.
The third prince never doubted Ji Bo. He told him everything, including their earlier discussion. “Second brother is the crown prince. Our actions so far are too trivial to harm his foundation. That is unless he makes a huge mistake. What’s worse, fourth brother has pledged himself to second brother. Things aren’t looking good for us.”
Ji Bo nodded after a pause. “That’s true.”
“So we mustn’t sit idle and do nothing,” said the third prince. “I summon you today to brainstorm a good solution. We can’t wait until second brother take the throne, can we? I’ve offended him already. He won’t go easy on me then.”
His concerns weren’t unfounded. Ji Bo scoffed inwardly. The prince reacted exactly as he expected. He frowned as he thought about the current situation. “What were you talking about earlier?”
“They think that our side doesn’t have as much influence as second brother, and we should find a way to change that.”
Ji Bo nodded. He had an idea. He looked at everyone in the room with a mysterious smile tugging his lips. “There’s not much we can do but to expand our force. Your Highness has control over only the soldiers guarding your manor. If you fight the crown prince headon, you’ll lose. We also lack good weapons. Even worse is our lack of money.”
The third prince looked at him curiously. “Money?”
Ji Bo nodded seriously. “Your Highness must know that the crown prince isn’t a law-abiding man. He’ll do anything for a quick money. It’s not unlikely that he’s accumulated a great number of weapons and suicide troops. Maybe he’s even hiding a dragon robe somewhere for the day he claims the throne.”
The third prince widened his eyes. Every possible crime Ji Bo listed was a capital offense, any one of which was enough to prompt the emperor to send Qi Chen to the gallow. The third prince was a cowardly man. He shuddered as he gaped at Ji Bo, drenched in cold sweat and unable to say a word.
His finger trembled as he pointed at Ji Bo. On the contrary, the other men in the room were perfectly calm. It took some time for the third prince to recover. He took a deep breath. “What are you basing your speculation on?”
“Does Your Highness think that the crown prince is a law-abiding man?” Ji Bo answered with a question of his own.
The third prince shook his head. “Of course not. He’s not one to sit idle. He’s an ambitious man whose modus operandi is to plot against others.”
“If so, does Your Highness think the crown prince would act perfectly within the boundaries?” he asked with a smile.
The third prince stared at him owlishly. Ji Bo had a point. Of course Qi Chen would dare to do things like that. He’s the crown prince, the future emperor. He can be forgiven for getting above his station to some degree.
“What does the gentleman propose we do?”
Ji Bo thought for a moment. “Counterbalance” was all he said before walking away without stopping. The third prince and his group of advisors strayed further and further away from the moral route after his little nudge.
He went back to his bedroom and lay down. The third prince and his men were foolish. Once Qi Chen noticed his brother’s wrongdoings, the two would be at each other’s throat again.
Having witnessed how the two princes fought endlessly, Ji Bo grew more and more appreciative of Qi Yun. He agreed with Jun Huang that Qi Yun was the right one for the throne.
Within the vast land of Northern Qi, very few men could be as patient as Qi Yun. Nothing seemed to faze him. It was as if he was unrelated to all that happened in the imperial court.
Anyone who knew where to look would know that Qi Yun wasn’t ignorant; he simply had a broader perspective and didn’t care about petty conflicts.
Ji Bo fell into deep slumber. A storm was brewing at the horizon. Once everything was exposed under the sunlight, they would get the outcome they wanted.
Jun Huang and Nan Xun went back to how they had been before. Both had put their argument that day out of their minds. Jun Huang returned to Qi Chen’s side, while Nan Xun continued to train the soldiers.
Today, Qi Chen was waiting for her when she reached the crown prince’s manor. She didn’t know what he needed her for, but she followed him to the study without a question.
Qi Chen handed her a letter with a dark expression. She opened it and gave it a quick glance. It said that the third prince was planning to upturn the emperor’s rule. He had crafted weapons without permission and cultivated an army of his own. He even hid a dragon robe and sold positions in the court for quick money. His crimes were listed on paper clearly. There was no way he would be able to get out of it.
Jun Huang didn’t know about any of these beforehand. Ji Bo had merely said a few words to the third prince. He couldn’t predict if the third prince would follow his implicit directions. It turned out that the third prince was indeed a man possessed by his greed. He foolishly committed offenses that could doom him for life.
Ji Bo was the one who sent the letter to Qi Chen, intending to push him to act. That was also why he hadn’t informed Jun Huang of the situation.
She frowned deeply. It boggled her mind that the throne would be enough to make so many men so greedy. She didn’t expect the third prince to go to such distance for power. He was even worse than Qi Chen.
Qi Chen kept an eye on her and saw her expression turn from shock to disgust. It didn’t seem like a pretense. He relaxed and said, “He’s getting bold. I won’t let him get away with this. The letter alone isn’t enough to convict him, however. I want you to investigate this matter. Find evidence of his plan to stage a coup.”
Jun Huang agreed that the third prince couldn’t be left unchecked, or Northern Qi would fall into chaos. She nodded and accepted the task.
Qi Chen fell in deep contemplation. Perhaps he should let Jun Huang meet his secret benefactor. She always provided strategies for him loyally. Even though he had doubted her before, the fact that she was willing to personally investigate Eastern Wu’s operation base for him proved her loyalty to him. Besides, Qi Yun had come to his side because of her. One day Nan Xun might be brought into his fold as well for Jun Huang. He worried that Jun Huang might leave before that happened. Then he would lose a valuable asset.Previous Chapter Next Chapter