Qi Yun announced that he’d hold a proper burial for his father before taking the throne, to which the courtiers responded positively. Some officials suggested preparation for both matters to commence at the same time to avoid delay. Qi Yun nodded in approval and left the tasks to the Ministry of Rites.
After the morning meeting, Nan Xun went straight to the prison. Prince Duan slumped in a pile of rice straw, his usual aplomb long gone.
“Don’t celebrate just yet,” Prince Duan growled, staring at Nan Xun. “I’m not done yet.”
Nan Xun huffed and locked eyes with him. “We’ll see.”
The former emperor had passed away, and Prince Duan had fallen from his grace. Everything was going in the right direction. Their work hadn’t been in vain.
Nan Xun felt much lighter. He returned to his manor for a short rest and went to his study afterwards.
He wrote to Jun Huang about everything that had happened in Northern Qi, leaving no details out. He sighed and ended the letter with an apology to her. Qi Yun was going to take the throne soon. This was a critical time. He must keep on his guard and couldn’t visit her just yet.
His yearning had no bound. He couldn’t fit everything on a piece of paper. He put away the writing brush and struggled to swallow down the lump in his throat. He’d been apart with Jun Huang for too long. Although they regularly exchanged letters, it simply wasn’t enough to express their feelings.
The more he thought, the antsier he felt. He wanted to quickly finish with his business here and went to Jun Huang’s side, but too many people were waiting to make their strike. He couldn’t allow himself to rest. He could only throw himself to work to suppress his yearning.
Meanwhile, Jun Huang had caught a serious cold not long after she started the blood-drawing process. Both the royal doctor and Oleg Cragfiend concluded that it was a mere cold, but she remained sick for a long time, which concerned Nan Jihan.
Jun Huang lay on the bed idly flipping through a book, her face pale but her expression calm. Nan Jihan sat by her bed without a word, silently watching her.
The maid looked at them by the door and covered a smile. In her mind, Jun Huang deserved the world, including Nan Jihan’s heart.
“What are you daydreaming about, girl?” Oleg Cragfiend asked suddenly. The maid yelped and jumped, startling both Jun Huang and Nan Jihan. She put down the book and looked outside. Nan Jihan went to get the door.
Oleg Cragfiend chuckled as he entered the room. “I don’t know what the girl was thinking about that made her so jumpy. Maybe she was missing her lover boy. Hahaha.”
The maid knew the poison master was teasing her, but she blushed and stormed away in feign anger. She wasn’t unwilling to tell them what she had actually been thinking, but how could a servant say anything when Nan Jihan himself had stayed silent?
“What is master here for today?” Jun Huang asked quietly.
That reminded Oleg Cragfiend. He approached her bed and handed her a letter. “This is from Northern Qi.”
Jun Huang nodded and put the letter beside her with a smile. It was clear what she meant by that, which made Nan Jihan and Oleg Cragfiend a little awkward.
Jun Huang didn’t seem to notice their reaction. She simply didn’t want to read Nan Xun’s letter before other people. It was something she wanted to savor on her own. Since they didn’t intend to leave just yet, though, she’d take care of other things first.
She lowered her eyes for a bemused moment. “Nan Jihan, there’s no need for your to stay here. Both my master and my maid are here. They won’t let anything happen to me. You, however, is Southern Mu’s emperor. You’ve stayed away from the imperial city for too long.”
“It’s fine,” Nan Jihan rushed out. He knew what she was implying. “You don’t have to worry. I’ve been staying here, but reports are delivered to me every day. It doesn’t impede my work.”
Jun Huang sighed. She’d started drawing her blood a few days ago. Since she had to go through the procedure every day at the time being, it’d be too troublesome to commute between the palace and the mountain. She therefore listened to her master’s advice and lived in the inn at the foot of the mountain. It was a short walk to the lotus every day.
Nan Jihan was too concerned to willingly leave her, but Jun Huang knew Southern Mu wasn’t entirely stable even if he didn’t admit it. If he stayed away from the imperial city for too long, people with malicious intent might make their move. She didn’t want to burden other people. Therefore she kept bringing it up to Nan Jihan. However, he always humored her and refused to listen.
Silence filled the air. Nan Jihan opened his mouth to say something, but stopped himself halfway. The court had started to pressure him more. He should return. But he worried something might happen to Jun Huang.
Oleg Cragfiend broke the silence. “She’s getting better. Your Majesty should stop worrying too much. Court affairs are much more important for you. There’s no need for Your Majesty to stay here for us peasants. I’ll keep her safe. Your Majesty may come back after you’ve dealt with the court affairs. She’ll feel guilty if you put aside your duty for her.”
“My master is right,” Jun Huang said bluntly, her tone was nonchalant, but insistent. “You should return to the palace. I know my myself. Besides, you aren’t going to be of much help here. Why not return to your duty?”
Nan Jihan silently nodded and walked away. Oleg Cragfiend said he was going to go prepare her medicine and left as well.
Jun Huang exhaled slowly, her face pale. She’d been trying to act tough, but the illusion broke as soon as she was alone. She was ill and tired.
Her fingers trembled because of the blood loss. The mountain was freezing cold. Since the lotus had to be fed warm blood, she must go up the mountain and have her blood drawn in harsh weather every time. Although everyone had done all they could to help her recover, she couldn’t stop herself from weakening. She’d been suppressing her discomfort to avoid worrying them.
Still, she was exhausted.
Her eyes stung when she saw the letter from Nan Xun, but she blinked her tears away. She had to be strong.
The familiar handwriting made her feel as if a lifetime had passed. She took a deep breath and pushed away her melancholy before unfolding the letter.
She smiled when she read that Qi Yun was on his way to becoming the emperor. She’d see Nan Xun soon. She could wait for him to take care of his duty.
She read through the letter again and again with a soft smile. Then she got out of bed and sat at the desk by the window. She smoothed a piece of paper over the desk and started writing a response, translating her yearning into words. She told Nan Xun she was doing well and not to worry. They’d see each other soon enough.
Oleg Cragfiend returned to the room with a bowl of dark, thick medicine. He frowned when he saw Jun Huang sitting on the mat with only a thin layer of clothes. He put the bowl aside and grabbed a robe for her.
“It’s cold. You have to take better care of yourself. Do you have a death wish?” Oleg Cragfiend noticed the letter. She didn’t try to hide it from him. He felt a pang of hurt seeing that she’d written only about the good news and not the pain she’d been through.
Jun Huang chuckled and pulled the robe around her shoulders. “Is there something you want to talk to me about?”
“You’re getting weak. You may be able to fool the others, but not me. How about we stop drawing blood for some time and wait until you recover? Or maybe we’ll come up with another solution. What do you say?”
Jun Huang frowned and shook her head. “I don’t want to stop halfway, master. Death is my only end if I do nothing. I might as well take a leap of faith. You said there may be another way, but we both know it’s unlikely.”
Oleg Cragfiend struggled to find the words. In the end, he sighed.
Jun Huang smiled a little. “It’s time for us to go up the mountain again.”
Oleg Cragfiend couldn’t change her mind. He reluctantly helped Jun Huang out of the door.
Nan Xun had just returned from the training ground when he heard that Jun Huang had written back. His mood visibly brightened, warming up his usually icy expression. The housekeeper shook his head. He’d been taking care of Nan Xun for a long time. Even he rarely saw Nan Xun like this.
He wasn’t some judgmental old man. He was happy with anyone Nan Xun loved. As long as Jun Huang treated Nan Xun well, he wasn’t going to object.
Once he entered the study, Nan Xun quickly gulped down some water to quell his thirst and exhaled deeply. He steadied himself before approaching the desk and picking up the letter. On the outside it said, “Addressed to Nan Xun.” He stared at the elegant handwriting, transfixed, picturing a graceful Jun Huang writing down his name with decisive strokes.