The other officials laughed. “That’s right. The fourth prince seems like a good candidate. He’s polite and friendly to others. While the second prince and the third prince were at each other’s throat, he stayed loyally at the emperor’s side, attending to his needs as he recovered. Never has the young prince done anything untoward. Besides, no one knows exactly what happened during the second prince’s coup. Whatever we say does nothing but to challenge the authority.”
Another man who believed that Qi Yun had been pulling the strings spoke up, “The rule of thumb is to ask who’s the one who benefits. Think about it. The fourth prince must be the one behind everything. He just managed to hide from us until now. It’s chilling to think of the possibility, doesn’t it?”
The room fell silent. No one could come to an agreement, but the points brought up were worthy of consideration. As the man had said, Qi Yun was the one who ended up benefiting. He seemed to have done nothing, and yet he became the biggest winner. That shouldn’t happen to a young man obsessed with arts and literature. Perhaps he truly was the shrewdest of all the princes.
The officials broke into sweat. A trace of doubt snuck into their hearts. They feared that they might suffer the same fate as Qi Chen if they got on Qi Yun’s bad side.
The officials had agreed to stay put until the emperor decided on the crown prince. They’d see where the currents go. The one thing they mustn’t do was to offend Qi Yun. Even those who had been friendly with Qi Yun started dreading him.
Nan Xun and Jun Huang could feel the atmosphere in the imperial city growing tense. There must be something they were missing, but they couldn’t figure out what it was. Jun Huang had the House of Heavenly Fiends keep an eye on where the courtiers went after the morning meetings.
An uninvited guest came to Nan Xun’s doorstep. Jun Huang shot to her feet when Nan Jihan showed up with Nan Xun, her brows knitted tightly.
Nan Xun explained hurriedly, “He came to me on the street claiming to have urgent business to discuss with us. I reckon it’s better to have the conversation here than in public, so I took him here.”
Nan Jihan knew why Jun Huang was this displeased by his presence. He’d done unforgivable things. It’d be odd if she’d forgotten. He couldn’t stand the tense atmosphere. He took a step forward and cupped his hands. “This gentleman has crossed a line back then. I hope you may forgive me.”
She considered him without a word. He was dressed plainly, followed by only two guards. It seemed that he’d come on his own accord rather being invited here.
“What did Your Highness visit us so suddenly for?” Jun Huang sat down and looked away, showing him no respect. Her voice was cold enough to cut.
Nan Jihan looked at her, his thoughts a tangled mess. It’d been a few days since he came to Northern Qi. He’d heard rumors about Jun Huang and Nan Xun. He didn’t want to believe the rumors, but now he saw for himself that the two of them were living together. It pained him.
After a long stretch of silence, he said, “I came uninvited because I’m in dire need of you and Prince Nan’s help.”
Jun Huang and Nan Xun exchanged a look. Nan Xun asked, “What is it?”
Nan Jihan looked at the servants in the room hesitantly. Nan Xun got the message and dismissed them. “Your Highness may be honest with us. It doesn’t matter even if the servants hear you. They’re loyal to me.”
Nan Jihan waved a hand in the air. “Your Highness has misunderstood. That’s not what I’m worried about. It’s just difficult to say what I need your help for.”
Jun Huang rolled her eyes. His indecisiveness stoked the fire in her heart. She said harshly, “Your Highness may be frank. No need to beat around the bush. Or perhaps you never intend to be honest with us? If so, we won’t ask you anything.”
Nan Jihan paused. He threw his reservation out of the window and admitted, “I’d like to ask Prince Nan to lend me some troops to help me become the emperor.”
Jun Huang and Nan Xun were shocked. That wasn’t what they expected, and the decision couldn’t be made lightly. Nan Jihan knew that as well. He didn’t ask for an answer and simply told them where he’d be staying. Once Nan Xun made up his mind, they’d talk.
Nan Xun and Jun Huang were still reeling from what they heard after Nan Jihan’s departure. The world was indeed in an unstable state. Nan Xun looked up at her and asked, “What do you think?”
“This can have serious repercussions,” she said calmly. “Northern Qi’s far from stable now. The emperor’s extremely sensitive after what Qi Chen did. We can’t be sure that the emperor won’t get suspicious of us if we do something. Besides, Nan Jihan went over the emperor and came straight to us. We have to think carefully before we act to avoid backlash.”
Nan Xun nodded in agreement. Nan Jihan had come personally, however, and they were allies. Bluntly turning him down wouldn’t be appropriate. They couldn’t say yes, but they couldn’t say no either. It was a difficult decision to make.
After a long moment of silence, Jun Huang looked up and said, “We can find an alternative. We aren’t going to turn him down directly, but we mustn’t send out a troop for him. We’ll offer him some other form of help to appease him.”
Nan Xun nodded. “Makes sense. I’ll lend him some of my best officers. That should be enough.”
Nan Xun went off to make the arrangements. He took his men to Nan Jihan, who couldn’t say no to Nan Xun’s offer. The officers Nan Xun lent him were masterful fighters. He took them back to his country.
Some days later, Nan Xun and Jun Huang received a letter of gratitude from Nan Jihan, who said that he’d taken the throne successfully, and that Nan Xun’s soldiers were on their way back.
It wasn’t surprising. Southern Mu wasn’t particularly strong, and Nan Jihan was a capable man. He couldn’t be stopped once he put his mind to it.
Jun Huang and Nan Xun shared a smile. It’d be best for them to congratulate Nan Jihan on his feat. They sent him a letter and some gifts. Jun Huang also asked after Nan Guyue.
Nan Guyue quickly replied with a letter addressed to Feng Baiyu. Nan Xun pursed his lips when he saw. Jun Huang smiled with a blush noticing his obvious jealousy.
She opened the letter before Nan Xun. Nan Guyue said that she was leading a good life. At the end of her letter, she wrote, “If the gentleman is tired of Nan Xun, you may come to Southern Mu to find me. Southern Mu isn’t as strong as Northern Qi, but it’s a good place. We’ll be happy if you come.”
Jun Huang laughed. Nan Xun took the letter from her and fumed when he saw what Nan Guyue had written. He realized that he was in no place to be angry. The two of them weren’t anything. He turned his back to Jun Huang, upset and stubbornly quiet.
Jun Huang snorted at his childlike behavior. This was a side of Nan Xun she didn’t know. She wrote a response to Nan Guyue, turning her offer down. Nan Xun felt a little better reading her serious rejection.
Things calmed down afterwards. It was as if nothing had happened. The change of power in Southern Mu didn’t disturb the peace at all. It was akin to throwing a stone into a lake. Once the ripples calmed, the lake remained unchanged.
Jun Huang thought Qi Chen had decided to lay low for a while. Even Prince Duan had been quiet in the court, reverting to how he’d been before Qi Chen came into power.
She relaxed her guard after a while. It was getting difficult for her to stay in Nan Xun’s manor. She went out for a walk. Not long after she left, however, she sensed someone tailing her. When she turned around, there was no one suspicious. All she could hear were the vendors’ cries.
She remained vigilant. When she walked past an alleyway, she heard footsteps coming her way. She whirled around. Before she could take a good look, she was hit in the nape of her neck and blacked out.
Her neck was sore when she came to. A small movement was enough for her eyes to brim with tears in pain. She sucked in a breath and opened her eyes. She was placed on a divan. The place looked like a tea house.
She looked around, rubbing her neck. The door creaked open suddenly and in came a haughty Prince Duan.
“Does the gentleman have a good nap?” Prince Duan asked mockingly.
Jun Huang’s heart sank. She had been reckless. One wrong move was enough for Prince Duan to grab her off the street. She took a deep breath. She must not panic.
She put on a calm face and looked at him. “This gentleman has experienced for myself how Prince Duan treats your guest. What did you take me here for?”
Prince Duan huffed and took a seat without sparing her a glance. He silently poured himself a cup of tea, his expression betraying none of his thoughts.
Jun Huang’s calmness was merely a front. She was uneasy not knowing what had happened and what the old prince wanted. She tried her best to tamp down her anxiety, but she wasn’t particularly successful. Her palms were soon covered in sweat.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
And! Here's my least favorite male side character! Who, unfortunately, is going to appear quite a lot in later chapters... not for a while though.