Just when Jun Huang was starting to wonder if Prince Duan would ever talk, he looked up at her and said, “I know your true purpose, Feng Baiyu. You think you’ve hidden that well, but you made a lot of mistakes.”
Jun Huang widened her eyes, her heart pounding. She didn’t know how much he knew. Apprehension rose in her heart. She held her breath as she silently stared at him.
Prince Duan scoffed and continued, “I don’t know your true identity, but I’m sure that you are someone of higher status. You help Qi Yun not because he could promise you glory and future. You have a history together. Whatever your relationship is, I don’t know for sure, but you’re not merely his strategist. Otherwise you wouldn’t have gone undercover for him.”
Jun Huang’s chest felt tight as she listened to Prince Duan’s analysis. He’d made a lot of right guesses. She must treat him like the threat he was. What hidden force was there supporting him?
After a long, silent moment, Jun Huang chuckled. Prince Duan frowned at her.
She had recovered her composure when she said, “Many called you a well-mannered but cunning man. Now I know they were telling the truth. Your shrewdness is admirable, but your imagination is indeed wild. I should thank you for labeling me a man of high status.”
She kept an eye on Prince Duan’s expression as she spoke. As she predicted, doubt flashed through his eyes after she responded. Prince Duan had only been speculating. He didn’t have any concrete evidence.
The fact that he could maintain his status in the court was enough to prove his competence. He wasn’t going to let Jun Huang fool him so easily. Their conversation seemed meandering and diplomatic, but underneath the calm illusion was an intense duel of wit.
“Ha, do you think I’ll believe you?” Prince Duan demanded.
Jun Huang had figured out what Prince Duan was doing. Her safety was no longer on her mind. She knew it wouldn’t be easy for her to escape the moment Prince Duan walked into the room. She stayed silent in face of his questioning.
Although she was frustrated, she recognized her own mistake. There was nothing for her to say.
Prince Duan didn’t expect her to be so bold as to ignore him. In anger, he seized her collar and forced her to look at him.
Jun Huang held onto her remaining strand of dignity and sneered, “So easily triggered. I thought Prince Duan was a patient man who didn’t know anger. Didn’t expect you to lose your calm so quickly. What are you planning, I wonder. Do you think you’ll be able to manipulate Northern Qi as you wish?”
“That’s none of your business,” snapped Prince Duan. “I’m not going to kill you, for now. You betrayed Qi Chen, but I still have some use for you. You’ll be the tool to file away Qi Chen’s sharp edges. Once I deem him mature enough, it’ll be your doom.”
Prince Duan’s face contorted in fury and his tone dripped with menace. Before Jun Huang could make a retort, she was knocked unconscious again.
The one who knocked her out looked down at her, then at Prince Duan. “Is Your Highness going to let him live?”
“He’s still useful to us,” said Prince Duan. “No need to kill him just yet. Leave him at Nan Xun’s doorstep. Don’t do anything unnecessary.”
The man nodded. He still had some doubt, but he wasn’t going to question his master. Once Prince Duan left, he bent down and picked Jun Huang up. With the night as his cover, he dropped her at the entrance to Nan Xun’s manor.
He was going to just leave, but he thought better of it. He knocked on the door and quickly went into hiding.
Nan Xun had been panicking ever since Jun Huang’s sudden disappearance. He’d taken almost everyone out to search for her, leaving only the old housekeeper and the page boy watching the door.
The page boy thought it was Nan Xun when he heard the knock. He rushed to get the door. There was, however, no one but Jun Huang, who lay unconscious on the ground. He hurriedly took her into the manor.
The man in hiding left to report back to Prince Duan.
The housekeeper heard the commotion at the door and walked outside the building. Noticing the person the page boy was holding, he rushed towards him. “What happened?”
“I don’t know. I heard someone knock. When I opened the door, Gentleman Feng was right outside. I’ve checked his breathing. He’s just unconscious.”
The housekeeper looked at Jun Huang, then at the darkening sky. He helped the page boy carry Jun Huang to the bedroom. “Go find the prince. I’ll stay with him.”
“Understood.” The page boy ran outside at full speed and quickly found Nan Xun. He panted as he explained what had happened. Without waiting for other people to react, Nan Xun rushed straight back to the manor.
He went to the bedroom without delay. Jun Huang lay peacefully on the bed with her eyes closed. He hurriedly took her pulse and let out a sigh of relief when he felt the steady beats. He told the housekeeper to go rest. He’d stay here with her.
The housekeeper knew how much Nan Xun cared about Jun Huang. He sighed and wobbled out of the room without a word, leaving Nan Xun and Jun Huang alone.
“Where have you been?” Nan Xun asked with a frown, holding Jun Huang’s hand, still recovering from his panic.
She lay there, motionless. His grip tightened around her cool fingers, his heart pounding painfully.
He almost lost his mind when he heard that Jun Huang had gone missing. He ran around the city looking for her like a mad man in despair. He suddenly realized just how deep his feelings for her were. She could single-handedly destroyed his sanity.
He only went back to normal after seeing her with his own eyes. He was unwilling to let her go. He feared that she’d disappear again.
It was morning when Jun Huang came to. She opened her eyes slowly, her neck sore. She was going to rub at her muscle when she realized her arm was caught. She turned to the side and saw Nan Xun holding onto her arm in his sleep.
Nan Xun had always been a light sleeper. He woke up as soon as Jun Huang moved her hand. Tension drained out of his body. He’d kept watch throughout the night and only fell asleep when the sun rose from the horizon. The short sleep wasn’t enough to alleviate his exhaustion.
Jun Huang looked at him, opening her mouth to say something, but her throat too sore for her to utter a word. Nan Xun hurriedly let go of her hand and poured her a cup of water.
She felt a little better after drinking the water. She cleared her throat. “How did I get here?”
Nan Xun told her how the page boy had found her unconscious at the door. She frowned without a word, the gears in her head turning. Nan Xun waited for her to explain.
She admitted that she’d been caught by Prince Duan and told him what Prince Duan had said. Nan Xun felt as if someone had shoved a hand into his chest and seized his heart.
He knew Qi Chen must hate Jun Huang with his entire being and wouldn’t have let Jun Huang go easily. It was fortunate that Qi Chen hadn’t been present yesterday. Prince Duan took her because he was suspicious of her identity. That might also be the reason he hadn’t killed her.
“He’s hidden himself well,” said Nan Xun. “Indeed a cunning man.”
Jun Huang took a deep breath. She didn’t enjoy thinking about what happened yesterday. She rubbed at her aching neck. “I don’t know what they’re planning, but they will eventually make a move. Prince Duan must be the one who took Qi Chen away.”
Nan Xun nodded. “But there’s a silver lining - Prince Duan’s showed his true nature now. We’ll get rid of him when the opportunity presents itself.”
Jun Huang laughed quietly. “That’ll be ideal. What’s been happening in the palace?”
“After Qi Chen vanished without a trace, the emperor’s tried and failed to locate him,” said Nan Xun. “He was now trying to cultivate another prince to take the throne one day. Because of Qi Chen’s attempt, though, he isn’t going to make anyone a crown prince just yet.”
Jun Huang mused. The emperor had gotten apprehensive. The only candidate he could consider, however, was Qi Yun, who was also the most talented among the remaining princes. Qi Yun was bound to become the crown prince if nothing went wrong. They just had to worry about Qi Chen.
Nan Xun knew what she was concerned about. He patted her on the back of her hand. “Qi Chen won’t make his move anytime soon. Don’t worry too much. Besides, the emperor has lost all hope in him after what happened. He won’t be able to do much even after he returns. Qi Yun, on the other hand, has loyally stayed by the emperor, earning his trust.”
Jun Huang didn’t voice her unease. She was still reeling from what happened yesterday.
They both knew there was an underlying turbulence beneath the superficial peace in the court. One wrong move could mean the difference between life and death.
Ever since Prince Duan took Jun Huang, Nan Xun had been extra careful about keeping her safe. Every time she left the manor, he’d either accompany her himself, or order a few shadow guards to follow her.Previous Chapter Next Chapter