Nan Xun nodded and turned to Yin Yun. “What have you found in the manor?”
“I’ve been watching members of the family,” said Yin Yun. “I noticed something strange about the Grand Chancellor.”
“Everyday after work, he’ll leave the manor for some time. I asked around. The servants said the Grand Chancellor has started doing that recently. No one knows where he’s going or why.” Yin Yun explained his findings.
Jun Huang glanced at Nan Xun. She was pretty sure the Grand Chancellor must have been the one who moved Jun Hao. He left the manor every day to check on him.
Jun Huang lowered her eyes bemusedly. They’d have to follow the Grand Chancellor and see for themselves.
She kept quiet about it. They couldn’t afford to alert the Grand Chancellor. She had to observe him some more and waited for an opening.
The next few days, Jun Huang kept an eye on the Grand Chancellor and sometimes chatted with him. He’d always been polite to her and made time to talk to her. Her eloquence surprised the Grand Chancellor. On the surface, they seemed like a father and daughter with a close relationship.
The mistress was pleased. She asked her husband to make more time for Jun Huang, which Jun Huang pretended to not notice.
She soon figured out the Grand Chancellor’s schedule. The day she decided to follow the Grand Chancellor, she dismissed her servants first, saying that she was going to the study to seek her “father” out. The servants left her be.
She spotted the Grand Chancellor inside the study. She didn’t enter the door and instead hid in the shadows. The Grand Chancellor left the study and made his way outside. He hadn’t brought any servants or guards with him, which made it easier for Jun Huang to stalk him.
She carefully stayed out of sight. The Grand Chancellor was cautious, looking around every now and then to make sure he wasn’t followed. To avoid detection, Jun Huang didn’t get too close to him.
They made many turns and finally arrived at a deep alleyway. There was a small house inside. Jun Huang stayed away and observed from behind a large tree.
Suddenly, someone approached her. She whirled around. Nan Xun quickly covered her mouth to stop her from making any sounds.
Jun Huang relaxed when she saw that it was him. Nan Xun shook his head at her and pointed at the house.
“Why are you here?” whispered Jun Huang.
Nan Xun pulled her closer and didn’t immediately respond. Jun Huang frowned, worried that Nan Xun was angry at her for making a move without telling him.
He chuckled and assured her, “I know you’ll do this, so I’ve been keeping an eye on you. It turns out my worry isn’t unfounded.”
Jun Huang lowered her eyes. “I… didn’t mean to leave you in the dark.”
“I know,” Nan Xun said reassuringly, stopping her from thinking too much. “This is a rare opportunity. You don’t have the time to get prepared. It’s reasonable for you to think on your feet.”
The Grand Chancellor walked out of the house. Nan Xun flattened himself to the tree and pulled Jun Huang closer, keeping both of them out of the Grand Chancellor’s line of sight.
He let go of Jun Huang after the Grand Chancellor was far enough away. They vaulted over the wall and entered the small quadrangle compound, which was composed of a good number of houses.
“You’re clever enough to see through everything,” Jun Huang said admiringly. Nan Xun paused and couldn’t help feeling a little proud.
“I’m just prepared,” he said, controlling his excitement. “Remember to always be careful, especially when I’m not around.”
Jun Huang nodded. “I will. Don’t worry.” She looked up at Nan Xun and smiled softly, uncharacteristically meek.
A chuckle escaped Nan Xun’s mouth. She’d always been calm and collected. This was a side of her he had never seen. It fascinated him.
He ruffled her hair. “I’m going to fall for you again if you smile like that once more.”
Jun Huang started and realized that Nan Xun was teasing her. She glared at him and kicked at him. Unfortunately she missed and lost her balance. Nan Xun quickly caught her wrist.
He sighed in relief once she’d regained her balance. He took a step back, accidentally knocking into a jug. The sound was almost deafening in the silence.
Someone opened the door and rushed out, alerted by the noise. Nan Xun managed to pull Jun Huang to a corner and hold her close to stay out of sight. Another set of footsteps approached them.
“Who was it?” a man called out.
Nan Xun frowned and, struck with inspiration, mimicked the sound of a cat.
“Just a stray,” the other man said, patting his companion’s shoulder. “Alright, don’t be so tense. We’ve remained undetected so far. We aren’t going to be discovered so suddenly.”
The man nodded and returned to the building. Nan Xun and Jun Huang exchanged a knowing look.
“Jun Hao must be here,” said Nan Xun.
Jun Huang nodded. “There must be more than two guards. We should find him quickly.”
“Alright, follow me.”
Nan Xun took her hand and carefully went through the different rooms. Both of them kept their breathing silent as they quietly navigated the house. Nan Xun took point and surveyed the rooms carefully. Many of them were empty. Some were occupied by a couple guards who were resting and killing time.
There were too many rooms. It wouldn’t help for them to stick together. After some discussion, they decided to each take a side of the hallway and went in the same direction.
In one of the rooms Nan Xun went through, there was a woman breastfeeding a child. The child lay in her arms, their face obscured. Nan Xun averted his eyes from the woman’s bare skin and kept going.
Jun Huang noticed Nan Xun’s pause, but since he hadn’t said anything, she assumed there was nothing unusual. She kept searching as well.
They’d gone through every room lining this hallway. Jun Huang was getting agitated. “Let’s check the other side.”
Nan Xun nodded and trailed after her, but then quickly turned back to where they’d come from.
“What’s wrong?” Jun Huang turned to him in question.
“Something’s not right,” muttered Nan Xun. He rushed back to one of the rooms he’d checked. Jun Huang didn’t know what that was about, but she kept close to him.
Without hesitation, Nan Xun pushed the door open. The woman turned to the door when she heard the creak and widened her eyes, but Nan Xun knocked her out with a hit to the nape of her neck before she could make a sound.
The woman slumped on the chair. When Jun Huang entered the door, Nan Xun was carefully holding a boy in his arms. He looked to be seven, or at most eight. Something about the boy was familiar to her, but she couldn’t remember anything.
Nan Xun gave her a glance. “I saw her feeding the boy and didn’t think too much of it, but upon reconsideration, it’s odd for this room to be occupied by civilians when the others aren’t. I get suspicious...”
Jun Huang didn’t need him to continue. She made sure the woman was still breathing before shifting her focus to the boy in Nan Xun’s arms.
Nan Xun looked at her, then at Jun Hao. He shook his head. “We haven’t been loud, but I don’t want to risk alerting anyone by staying. Let’s leave the compound first.”
Jun Huang nodded and followed after Nan Xun. They snuck to where the wall was the shortest. Nan Xun was holding a boy. It was better to be more cautious than they’d been when they entered
Nan Xun was going to take Jun Hao out and come back for Jun Huang, but she thought that was too much hassle, and she didn’t want Jun Hao to be left alone. She shook her head and said she’d climb over herself.
Nan Xun didn’t argue. Jun Huang was stubborn, and she had a point. It would be risky to leave Jun Hao outside unsupervised. He brought the boy to the other side of the wall.
Jun Huang took a deep breath and held her dress up so that she could step on the bricks and climb onto the wall. Up here, she could see everything happening in the compound. Just when she was going to jump down, she saw someone coming her way. Her pupils contracted.
Nan Xun could tell from her reaction that someone was coming. He quickly pulled Jun Huang down by her ankles and covered her mouth before she could yelp in surprise.
Jun Huang leaned against him with her heart in her throat. She could hear her blood pumping in her ears. They stayed close to the wall, listening for any unusual sounds. Only when the footsteps faded away did Nan Xun let go of Jun Huang. She gasped for air, knocking her own chest.