“What if I say I can help Eastern Wu turn the tide? Would Your Majesty welcome me then?” The masked man’s words sounded like they were uttered with a smile. Something about his tone demanded trust. His aggressive presence vanished without a trace, making him seem like a regular man.
The emperor looked at the man, his eyes inquisitive. If the man was bothered by the scrutiny, he didn’t show it.
After a long stretch of silence, the man scoffed and turned to leave. The emperor frowned and stopped him. “Why are you helping me? Who are you, and what do you want?”
The man laughed, but his smile didn’t reach his eyes. This close, he seemed to radiate coldness. The emperor suddenly felt his mouth turn dry.
“There are things Your Majesty is better off not knowing. We’ll see each other again.” The masked man left without looking back and disappeared without a trace.
“Your Highness, Mister Ji Bo is asking for you,” a shadow guard entered the room and said respectfully.
Nan Xun looked up at the guard and thought for a moment before putting down the bowl of medicine in his hands. He wiped Jun Huang’s mouth with a handkerchief and said, “Tell him to come in.”
Ji Bo followed the guard into the room and frowned when he saw Jun Huang lying on the bed. He heard that her poison had been cleansed, but it didn’t seem like she’d completely recovered.
“Are you well?” he asked gently.
Jun Huang nodded with a smile. “I’m fine. Thank you for your concern.”
“Is there anything the gentleman needs?” asked Nan Xun.
Ji Bo wondered how he should word his question. If he asked what he wanted to ask, Nan Xun and Jun Huang would no doubt be worried. He sighed and pulled a chair for himself. He gave them the usual spiel, congratulating them for their marriage.
Jun Huang and Nan Xun knew Ji Bo had something else he wanted to say. They smiled and waited for him to get to his point.
It didn’t seem like Ji Bo was going to do that anytime soon, though. Noting Jun Huang’s exhaustion and not wanting to stop her from resting, Nan Xun interrupted Ji Bo with a cough and said, “The gentleman may be frank with us. There’s no need for you to beat around the bush.”
Ji Bo coughed awkwardly. Nan Xun had seen through him. Jun Huang’s muffled laugh made him even more embarrassed.
“It’s not a big deal, really,” Ji Bo finally said. “I’m just wondering what the two of you plan to do after everything.”
Nan Xun frowned. His expression was replaced with a smile when he turned to Jun Huang. “We’ll leave for a peaceful land and spend the rest of our lives together. Neither of us want to endure being apart again.”
Ji Bo paused. He had a feeling that would be Nan Xun’s answer, but he still felt a sense of resignation when he heard it from Nan Xun. He smiled wryly. “You two truly have no desire for power.”
“It’s not something we should covet,” Nan Xun said with a smile, his eyes bright like stars as they settled on Jun Huang. “Besides, it’s rare enough for a couple to be able to live a life together. Why would we ask for more?”
Jun Huang’s smile slipped. She could hear what Ji Bo had left unsaid. After the war between Northern Qi and Eastern Wu, the world would be in chaos. That was when talented people would be needed the most. However, she no longer wanted to be the one to pull the strings. She simply wanted to spend her life with Nan Xun.
Ji Bo waved a hand in the air with a smile and had his belongings moved into the house. Clearly he’s decided to stay for long term. When asked, he only said the scenery was nice and his business at the border was about finished. He’d like to stay and enjoy the view.
Ji Bo had led a nomad life. He gave up his freedom because he shared the same ambition as Jun Huang. Jun Huang and Nan Xun didn’t object to his action and instead prepared a room for him.
Days passed without any events. Jun Huang and Nan Xun remained close. They weren’t passionate like most newlyweds, but theirs was a bond that didn’t break easily. They were close friends, companions, and also soulmates. There was a resemblance between the way they acted and talked. Their intimacy was worthy of envy.
Just when Jun Huang was starting to forget about the chaos around them, problems arose within the Northern Qi’s army.
The shadow guard Nan Xun had assigned to keep watch on the soldiers came back covered in wounds. Jun Huang knew things were bad as soon as she saw him. She immediately sent for Nan Xun, who was talking to Ji Bo in the backyard.
“What’s the emergency?” Nan Xun rushed to Jun Huang, thinking something had happened to her. He sighed in relief when he saw that she wasn’t hurt. His gaze turned cold when he spotted the shadow guard lying on the divan.
Jun Huang didn’t say anything. She didn’t need to. She knew Nan Xun could tell something big had happened. She stayed with him out of worry, intending to shoulder with him whatever was to come.
Nan Xun took a deep breath and went up to support the guard, who had been trying to bow to Nan Xun despite his inability to stay upright. “What happened?”
The shadow guard coughed, his face turning a shade paler. He steadied himself and responded, “Our army had been unstoppable, seemingly close to taking Eastern Wu down. However, things changed suddenly. Eastern Wu easily countered all our strategies like they knew our plans beforehand...”
“Why didn’t you come to me sooner?” Nan Xun leveled the guard with an icy glare, his presence terrifying. It was an air of intimidation inherent to him that no one could defend against.
The shadow guard lowered his head. “We thought it was a coincidence, but then it happened again and again. The second in command then sent me too seek you out.”
“What do you think is happening?” Nan Xun stared at the guard with piercing eyes. The guard broke into cold sweat and almost collapsed out of fear. He could only focus on breathing and wiping away his sweat.
Jun Huang listened to their conversation intently. Normally, she wouldn’t interrupt them. After all she was no expert in warfare. She might be clever, but she knew little about how to win a war. However, the man’s words made her curious.
She rested her chin on her hand and considered the shadow guard. In the end, she concluded that the shadow guard wasn’t working against them. For one, he was seriously injured. Moreover, he’d been Nan Xun’s confidante for a long time and never done anything untowards. However...
“There must be a reason why Northern Qi keeps losing, but how about you? Why are you injured? Did you fight with the army?” Jun Huang voiced her questions.
The shadow guard shook his head. “This subordinate has been hiding in the dark. The soldiers are the ones fighting the battle. I couldn’t even if I wanted to.” He paused. “As for my injury… I was pursued by people trying to kill me on my way here. A careless mistake put me in this condition.”
Jun Huang shot to her feet, knocking off a teacup on the table in her haste. In the silent room, the sound of the tea dripping was almost offensively loud.
She exchanged a glance with Nan Xun.
“There must be another traitor in the army,” said Jun Huang. “He’s smart enough to not fall for the trap you set up. Since he made a move on your shadow guard, he must already suspect that you’re alive. He’s not going to be easy to deal with.”
Her tone was paced and calm, but her words were a wakeup call. Everyone could hear her unspoken words. The shadow guard widened his eyes in apprehension.
Jun Huang couldn’t think of another explanation. She sighed. “It’s still speculation. We need to investigate in order to get an answer. You all have to be careful from now on. He’s going to find clues about you faking death soon.”
Nan Xun huffed and went up to Jun Huang, giving her a reassuring smile. He turned to the shadow guard and said coldly, “Then I can’t stay here. He’ll track me down sooner or later. We might as well make a move first to catch him and whoever is behind him off guard.”
“What’s the plan?”
“Get your wounds treated and rush back to the camp,” Nan Xun ordered the guard. “Tell my second in command to spread the news that you’ve found me, and that I’ll return soon.”
The shadow guard nodded without a question and left with the help of a few servants. Nan Xun turned to Jun Huang and took her hands, struggling to come up with something to say.
Jun Huang chuckled, her eyes curved like the moon, and patted his hands comfortingly. “Do you think I’m an unreasonable woman? You have important business to attend to. I want to be your support, not your burden. Don’t think too much.”
“I promised you a peaceful life, but...”