Nan Xun huffed, a little resigned. He never expected to fall so deeply for another person. His heart fluttered and a chuckle escaped his mouth. He knew Jun Huang was the one for him. He’d never met anyone quite like her.
He unfolded the letter, hurriedly but carefully, worried that he’d damage the paper and obscure even a word or a sentence Jun Huang had penned.
Although she’d kept the bad news from him, he could tell her wrist was weak when she wrote the letter. Her handwriting was usually elegant and unique - not delicate like most women’s and not crude and hard-edged like most men’s. It had a presence to it that drew the eyes. Now, though, her handwriting wasn’t as coherent and strong as it’d been, which worried him.
He put aside the letter and sat on the divan for a long time, his head swirling with thoughts. In the end, he came to a decision.
It’d be more polite for him to enter the palace to see Qi Yun, but Qi Yun had only just taken over the throne. Things had yet to settle down. Many hidden forces were waiting for an opening to strike. They both had to be careful. The palace had many unwanted ears and gossip traveled fast. Nan Xun’s manor was relatively more secure.
Qi Yun arrived not long after. Instead of showing him Jun Huang’s letter, Nan Xun kept it to himself and summarized what she’d written. Qi Yun snorted. This man sure was possessive.
“I don’t believe Prince Duan’s people will be able to do much now. They are no more than a swarm of headless flies after Prince Duan was arrested. Meanwhile, we know little about what’s happening in Southern Mu, and if it’s safe.” Nan Xun frowned as he spoke, his chest growing tighter and a sense of melancholy creeping up on him.
“Do you mean you want to go?” Qi Yun wasn’t surprised by Nan Xun’s decision. In truth, he shared the same sentiment. He was worried about Jun Huang as well.
Nann Xun nodded. “I’m considering that. I have been considering that. Our biggest enemy is locked behind bars. His remaining supporters won’t be much of a threat. You’re a talented and clever man. I’ll have my men - ‘
The sound was faint, but it didn’t escape Nan Xun’s attention. Although Qi Yun hadn’t heard it, Nan Xun’s expression was telling enough. They shared a look.
“ - protect you and make sure nothing goes wrong,” Nan Xun continued without pause, silently approaching the window with Qi Yun. He looked outside with cold eyes and gestured at Qi Yun to be quiet. Qi Yun nodded in understanding. Nan Xun leaned over to take a look, his brows furrowed.
They continued their smalltalk so that whoever outside wouldn’t be alerted. Both their expression clouded when they turned around.
They calmly made their way back to the table, keeping up the amicable chatter. Qi Yun urged Nan Xun to reconsider his decision with feign seriousness, while Nan Xun took a writing brush and wrote, “That man is dressed like a eunuch. He must have been planted by Qi Chen to keep watch over you.”
Nan Xun had decided what to do. Qi Yun nodded without missing a beat.
Nan Xun put away the brush and cleared his throat. “You know I’m worried. What good will it do for me to stay here? Qi Chen is weak. Without Prince Duan, he’s nothing. He’s even less likely to do anything now.”
“Then go,” Qi Yun said. “I’ll have some rare medicinal herbs prepared. It may be of use.”
Nan Xun thanked him and saw him off. The man outside left, unaware of the fact that he’d been discovered. Nan Xun looked into the distance and spotted a few Qi Chen’s men outside his manor. He calmly continued with his day.
Back in the palace, Qi Yun had the servants prepare for some rare herbs, while Nan Xun started preparing for his departure.
When the herbs were delivered, Nan Xun was ready to go. He made the final preparations before making his way to the city gate. The man who had been keeping an eye on Nan Xun’s manor reported back to Qi Chen.
As soon as Qi Chen received the information, Qi Yun’s invitation arrived as well. He didn’t know what his brother wanted. To brag, perhaps. He followed the messenger to the palace.
“Have a seat, Royal Brother.” Qi Yun sat at the table and drank some tea, his lips curved into a smile. He didn’t even stand up to greet Qi Chen.
Qi Chen was angry, but there wasn’t anything he could do. Qi Yun was going to become the next emperor. Even he would have to kneel before his brother then. The rescue mission tonight must succeed.
Qi Yun poured Qi Chen a cup of tea, turning a blind eye to the disgust on his face. “I have some time today, so I invited you here to catch up. I thought you wouldn’t be willing. I’m glad to be wrong.”
Qi Chen gave him a stilted smile and downed his cup of tea, reluctant to speak. Qi Yun continued to say, “Has Royal Brother heard about the story of how Zhou Xing from the Tang Dynasty was arrested?”
Qi Chen shot Qi Yun a glance, who calmly met his gaze. Qi Chen narrowed his eyes. He knew Qi Yun loved his literature and art. Old stories must interest him as well.
I’ll play this game with you, Qi Chen thought. Once I get Prince Duan out, it’ll be your doomed.
They were both occupied with their own thoughts as they talked. When the conversation came to an end, the sun had set and the lamps were lit. Qi Yun invited Qi Chen to stay, but he turned down the offer after some deliberation. Qi Yun saw Qi Chen off with an unreadable expression.
After about an hour, the old eunuch showed up and whispered into Qi Yun’s ear that all preparations had been made. Qi Yun nodded, his lips curved into a sharp smile.
When Qi Chen took his men to break Prince Duan out of the prison, the place was much more heavily guarded than usual. He frowned. Something was wrong.
Before he could react, he and his men were quickly surrounded. He cursed under his breath. They were trapped.
Nan Xun, who should have left already, walked into the prison with Qi Yun. Qi Chen widened his eyes. He’d been tricked!. He couldn’t believe he’d fallen into such an obvious trap.
“Doesn’t Royal Brother plan to explain why you’d come to the prison with so many people so late at night?” Qi Yun’s face was completely free of emotions. He called Qi Chen brother, but it sounded more like a threat.
Qi Chen shot him a glare. “I didn’t take you as such a cunning man, Qi Yun.”
Qi Yun chuckled, then his smile turned cold. “Royal Brother has misjudged me. I’ve been trying to warn you not to do anything reckless, but you insisted on making a mistake. I don’t want this to happen, either.”
Qi Chen’s expression darkened. He recalled the story Qi Yun had brought up. He trembled in fury and couldn’t form a word.
Nan Xun didn’t want to waste his time watching the brothers quibble. He beckoned his men over to arrest all the intruders.
It was the worst humiliation Qi Chen had ever suffered - to be held up by people he deemed inferior to him. He shot Nan Xun a glare, which Nan Xun ignored. When he passed by Nan Xun, he broke into laughter, attracting everyone’s questioning eyes.
“Don’t you think you’ve made the wrong choice, Nan Xun? Ha, what good is it going to do for you to help Qi Yun gain the throne? What can he give you? Nothing! And you’re going to lose the person you love as a result! Do you know what’s happening to Feng Baiyu? You’ll never see him again!”
Qi Chen laughed hysterically and ended up choked by his saliva. He broke into a coughing fit, his face red.
Nan Xun stared at Qi Chen with a frown. He couldn’t forget about the prince’s words. It rattled him. He stormed away, leaving his men to take care of the mess.
Qi Yun knew what Nan Xun was worrying about, so he didn’t stop him, silently praying for Jun Huang to be safe.
Back to his manor, Nan Xun couldn’t stop himself from imagining the worst. Jun Huang had intentionally refrained from talking about her health. He couldn’t stay and do nothing.
He had decided to go to Southern Mu already, but the eavesdropper interrupted his plan. To relax Qi Chen’s guard, he’d pretended to leave the city. He ordered his soldiers to change into servants’ clothes and split them into three groups: One to guard the city gate. Another to depart the city with the herbs gifted by Qi Yun. The rest had returned to the palace, waiting for Qi Chen to show up.
Nan Xun was glad they had apprehended Qi Chen, but his concern for Jun Huang grew more and more intense. The housekeeper didn’t like seeing him this rattled. He offered, “If Your Highness wants to go to Southern Mu, you should. This old servant has heard about what happened to the second prince. Since he’d been caught, the fourth prince will be able to take care of the rest on his own.”
Nan Xun glanced at the housekeeper. The old man’s serious expression helped him settle down. He thought for a moment and nodded. “Right. I’ll go to Southern Mu as soon as I can. I won’t be able to rest easy without seeing her with my own eyes. I’m not going to enter the palace again. Tomorrow, inform Qi Yun that I’ve departed. He’ll understand.”