The housekeeper nodded, watching Nan Xun leave. He sighed. Not even Nan Xun could resist the call of love.
The herbs arrived at Southern Mu before Nan Xun did. He’d ordered his men to go as quick as possible, worried that Jun Huang might need the herbs soon. They didn’t even know if Nan Xun would come as well.
Once they met up with the guards Jun Huang had taken with her, they sought out Oleg Cragfiend, who silently took them to the palace and then to the building Jun Huang was staying in.
“She hasn’t been feeling well lately,” Oleg Cragfiend said before they entered. “Don’t keep her up too long. Be brief with whatever you’re going to say. We still need to draw her blood.”
The guards were Nan Xun’s confidantes. They knew how serious Jun Huang’s condition was. They nodded before entering the room. Jun Huang turned to the door, her eyes lighting up when she recognized Nan Xun’s personal shadow guard. She propped herself up. “Why are you here?”
The shadow guard told her everything. She was a little disappointed that Nan Xun wasn’t here, but she managed a smile. The guard pursed his lips and offered, “Don’t think too much. The prince is deeply worried about you.”
Jun Huang chuckled and shook her head. “I know. I’m just a little tired. It’s been a long trip for you. You must be exhausted as well. You should get some rest.”
The guard knew Jun Huang didn’t want to continue the conversation. He nodded and took the other guards out of the room. Once outside, one of them couldn’t help asking, “Aren’t we here for Gentleman Feng? That is a girl, isn’t it?”
Someone else added, “She’s beautiful. She must be the emperor’s consort. Isn’t it inappropriate for us to barge in?”
It dawned on the leading shadow guard that the others didn’t know Jun Huang was a woman. Noting their confused expressions, he told them everything he knew and reminded them to watch themselves when they were with Jun Huang. They shouldn’t treat Jun Huang like they would a man.
The guards fell silent once the realization set in. They silently followed a maid to their temporary residence.
After some time, Nan Xun arrived at the imperial city as well. However, all the guards had entered the palace. He could only contact Nan Jihan through the House of Heavenly Fiends.
Early the next morning, Nan Xun was led to the palace. He exchanged a few words with Nan Jihan before making his way to Jun Huang’s residence. She was still asleep. The maid was busy doing chores. His shadow guards were training in the garden. And Oleg Cragfiend was grinding herbs.
Nan Jihan introduced Nan Xun to Oleg Cragfiend, who gave Nan Xun a considering look. Nan Xun nodded to acknowledge him and gingerly opened the door to Jun Huang’s bedroom, his footsteps faint as he approached the bed.
Jun Huang lay on the bed with her eyes shut, her eyelashes fluttering in the breeze. Her face was pale and cool and her form thin and sickly. He froze, his throat tightening.
Jun Huang opened her eyes slowly, seemingly woken up by Nan Xun’s gaze. She blinked the haziness in her eyes away and spotted Nan Xun. For a moment, she was too stunned to say anything.
“Why haven’t you been taking care of yourself?” Nan Xun asked gently, carefully pulling her into his arms.
“Why are you here? What’s happening in Northern Qi? It’s careless of you to just leave.” She was thrilled that Nan Xun had come, but her more logical mind urge her to question Nan Xun, her voice disapproving.
“Don’t worry. We’ve caught Qi Chen.” Nan Xun patted her lightly on the back. “With Ji Bo there, Northern Qi will be fine.”
Jun Huang allowed herself to relax, her heart filled with adoration and content. She looked up at the dark shadow under Nan Xun’s eyes. He must have hurry here without a lick of rest. “It’s still early. You should get some sleep.”
Nan Xun shook his head, his lips curved into a smile. “It’s fine. I actually arrived yesterday. I just didn’t have a way to enter the palace. I’ve had a good night sleep already.”
Jun Huang didn’t argue with him.
Oleg Cragfiend knocked. Nan Xun let go of Jun Huang and went to get the door. He frowned when he saw the equipment in the poison master’s hands.
Nan Jihan realized then that Jun Huang hadn’t told Nan Xun about the blood drawing. Jun Huang noted Nan Xun’s expression as well. She put on a smile and beckoned Nan Xun over.
“What is that for?” Nan Xun asked bluntly.
“The lotus has to be fed with my blood before it can be used to cure me,” Jun Huang admitted. Nan Xun would know sooner or later.
Nan Xun stilled, his heart aching.
Jun Huang turned to Oleg Cragfiend and nodded, who brought a dagger and a ceramic bottle to Jun Huang without missing a beat. He rolled up her sleeve and made a cut, filling the bottle with her blood. Nan Jihan hurriedly retrieved a handkerchief and some medicine to stop the bleeding and patch her up.
Nan Xun frowned when he saw how used to the action Nan Jihan was. Before he could think about it, Oleg Cragfiend had already handed the bottle to the head shadow guard. His light body technique was the best among them. He could rush to the mountain and pour it over the lotus quickly.
“Can’t others do this for her?” Nan Xun asked, pained to see color drain from her face due to blood loss.
Oleg Cragfiend wiped the dagger clean and shook his head. “No. The blood has to be from the patient.”
Nan Jihan snorted. “If it’s possible, I wouldn’t have let her donate the blood herself. We wouldn’t wait until you’re here.”
Nan Xun fell silent. He could read Nan Jihan’s feelings as clear as day, which bothered him. Once Oleg Cragfiend left with the equipment, Nan Xun sat down beside Jun Huang and put his arm around her, staring at her with pain in his eyes.
Nan Jihan snorted at Nan Xun’s possessive reaction. “Who would have thought the general of Northern Qi would do something so childish? How amusing.”
Nan Xun threw Nan Jihan a cool glance and didn’t spare him any attention. Jun Huang snuggled closer to Nan Xun. She knew why Nan Xun would react like this. It was childish, but it warmed her heart. She lowered her eyes and smiled.
The two of them looked like the perfect couple. Nan Jihan felt out of place. It was difficult for him to stay here, so he turned and walked out of the room, giving them their privacy.
Jun Huang and Nan Xun held onto each other without a word. They were content with this simple intimacy.
After some time, Jun Huang’s breathing slowed and evened out. Nan Xun lowered his head and saw Jun Huang’s eyes had closed. Her brows were furrowed, probably due to the pain from the cut on her arm. Nan Xun smoothed a hand over her forehead, hoping to wipe away the crease, but worried that she’d wake up.
Jun Huang hadn’t been sleeping well lately. She assumed it was because of her health, but now, laying against Nan Xun’s chest, she fell into a peaceful slumber, undisturbed even when the maid entered the room.
The maid saw how Nan Xun was watching Jun Huang. The sunlight streaming in from the window covered them in a faint glow, transfixing her.
Nan Xun looked up at the maid when the door creaked. She blushed, feeling like she was interrupting. She struggled to form a complete sentence. “It’s time for lunch.”
“Has she had breakfast?” Nan Xun asked quietly.
The maid shook her head. “She needs to take medicine every morning, which is so bitter it leaves her with no appetite. In the beginning, she can still get some food in her, but now she always throw up afterwards.”
Nan Xun’s forehead creased deeply. He nodded in understanding after a while and dismissed the maid with a wave of his hand, saying that they’d be outside shortly. The maid nodded and closed the door after her.
Jun Huang woke up at some point during their conversation. She opened her eyes to look at Nan Xun, her eyes crinkling. Nan Xun’s heart softened and he held on tight to her.
When Nan Xun started to worry that she’d be hungry, he let go of her. He retrieved a robe for Jun Huang and put a cloak around her on top of that. He helped Jun Huang up and led her to the dining hall.
Jun Huang had been having a lot of supplementary food. She frowned when she saw the dishes. She didn’t feel like eating at all. She paled and couldn’t help but sigh.
Nan Xun hadn’t planned to join their lunch, but after hearing about Jun Huang’s lack of appetite, he changed his mind.
“At least eat something,” Nan Xun said with a frown, holding a spoon up to her..
Jun Huang was usually a calm and disciplined person, but now she put on a child-like expression and shook her head. “I can’t. Just go ahead and eat without me.”
“You mustn’t,” Oleg Cragfiend said. “You’ve been losing weight. The blood drawing process is going to take a heavy toll on you. If you don’t eat well, you won’t be able to survive it.”
“Once you’ve recovered, you can have whatever food you want,” added Nan Xun. “You should prioritize your health.”