Nan Xun was glad that Jun Huang had regained some of her memory, but it pained him to see her face pale. He knew what she remembered couldn’t have been pleasant. “It’s alright. Those things are in the past. I won’t let you get hurt like that again. And we’ll soon get your revenge.”
Nan Xun had been thinking about killing the emperor of Eastern Wu for a while. He had to wait until he found out what their mysterious foe was planning so as to not alert them. Nevertheless, he wasn’t going to let the emperor off the hook.
“Don’t worry, I won’t forgive anyone who’s hurt you.” Nan Xun’s eyes turned ferocious, his tone frigid.
Jun Huang pursed her lips in concern. However, the emperor of Eastern Wu had fallen from his grace. It wouldn’t be difficult for Nan Xun to give him another push.
There had always been tension between the emperor and the Eastern Wu’s royal clan. Eastern Wu was established by the royal clan. In the beginning, every emperor had been handpicked from the clan. Later, however, some of them started to get greedy. They wanted their descendents to inherit the throne.
The royal clan intervened and stipulated that only the empress’s son could become the next emperor. If that didn’t happen, the clan would pick the heir from its members.
The current empress never got pregnant. If not for the royal clan, the emperor would’ve replaced her with another consort. The royal clan asked the emperor to take in a clan member as the heir, but the emperor saw that as part of their conspiracy. He worried that the clan would turn on him in the future, and therefore hadn’t given them an answer.
No one expected things to turn out this way. The emperor’s sons were not his real sons. He was being forced to adopt a child from the clan. However, he knew what a difficult position he was in. He was even more concerned that he’d be the bridge the clan burned down after they achieved their goal.
“Why must you be so stubborn, Your Majesty?” the patriarch said at a deliberate pace, sitting across from the emperor. “Look around you. If you don’t adopt, are you going to let someone else’s child take the throne? You’ve raised other men’s children for many years. Do you really intend to give what is yours away?”
He laid down the facts without sugarcoating his words.
The emperor could taste blood in his throat. He scowled and glared at the patriarch with a scoff. “I was the one who expanded Eastern Wu’s territory. My child should be the one to rule over it. Why should I share my achievement with you?”
“Don’t forget that you can’t have a child, Your Majesty,” The patriarch said bluntly. He didn’t care at all about the emperor’s ego.
The emperor’s face darkened further. He clenched his fists, wanting nothing but to kill everyone who had been mocking him behind his back. However, he knew he couldn’t do that. He was as free as a captive could be.
The patriarch rose to his feet and continued to explain the situation. The other members of the clan echoed his words and tried to sway the emperor.
Finally, the emperor flew into a rage and shot to his feet, knocking teapot and cups off the table. “You’re making a fool out of me! This is my nation. I will not allow you to put a finger in it. Get out of here if you value your lives.”
The clan members shared a look. The patriarch pursed his lips and said “Your Majesty should reconsider,” before walking away with the others.
The emperor couldn’t quell the fury in his heart. The more he thought about it, the angrier he became. He took off a sword from the rack on the wall and slashed at a waiting maid.
The blade hit the maid squarely. She collapsed to the floor, dead. The emperor laughed hysterically. The other maids dropped to the floor and trembled, but their pleading didn’t stop them from getting killed.
The emperor’s personal eunuch witnessed everything from a hidden corner of the room. He watched as the emperor continued to stab the dead maids aggressively, as if he was trying to turn their bodies into paste.
The eunuch touched his face and arm, feeling the scars left by the emperor from the banquet throb. He took a deep breath and frowned when he smelled the blood. While the emperor wasn’t watching, he snuck out of the back door.
He didn’t realize how scared he was until he got out of the room. He trembled and almost fell to the floor. With a hand on the wall to support himself, he made his way back to his residence and started packing, putting in his rucksack the items the consorts gave him as bribes. Once that was done, he hid the rucksack under his bed. Then he retrieved a small pack of white powder.
His eyes darted around. If he was to keep himself safe, he had to do something. The powder was an insurance.
He brought a bowl of congee to the emperor. He’d added some powder inside. His back was covered in sweat. Although the maids’ bodies had been cleaned up, he was still scared. He was even more nervous that he’d anger the emperor.
Fortunately, the emperor had gone back to normal and didn’t do anything to the eunuch. He sighed in relief and walked away, but not before adding some medicine into the tea the emperor was drinking as well. That happened to be seen by one of Nan Xun’s men.
Nan Xun didn’t expect things to turn out this way. He smiled. Here came his opportunity. Once he’d decided what to do, he snuck into the palace with the night as his cover and waited for the eunuch in his room.
The eunuch started when he opened the door and saw a stranger. Before he could open his mouth, Nan Xun unsheathed his sword, the blade reflecting the moonlight. The eunuch covered his mouth to stop himself from making a sound.
“I’m here to make you a deal, gongong,” Nan Xun said coldly.
“What deal?” the eunuch asked, alerted.
Nan Xun chuckled. “You’re bold enough to drug the emperor. Why are you so jumpy when facing me?”
The eunuch widened his eyes, breaking into a cold sweat. He was too afraid to respond.
“I can keep your secret and keep you alive,” said Nan Xun. “However...”
“You have to keep drugging the emperor.”
The eunuch had always been a coward. He nodded hurriedly but asked worriedly, “How do I know I can trust you?”
Nan Xun laughed quietly, his eyes looking even colder in the dark. His dead stare was chilling. The eunuch backed away until his back hit the door, his heart in his throat.
“You don’t have a reason not to trust me, and you don’t have any choices.”
The eunuch took a deep, shuddering breath and nodded. “Yes… of course. However, you must keep me alive and help me escape afterwards.”
Nan Xun’s only response was a smile. The eunuch relaxed slightly.
It wasn’t a good place for Nan Xun to stay. He remembered something when he was about to leave and put a pill in the eunuchs’ mouth when he wasn’t expecting it.
The eunuch clutched at his neck and coughed, but he couldn’t get the pill out. It had gone down his throat. There was nothing he could do to change that.
“What did you just give me?” he asked with his face flushed, staring up at Nan Xun.
“Insurance,” said Nan Xun. “It won’t kill you just yet. As long as you do as I said, I’ll give you the cure after your task is completed.”
With that, he walked away.
The eunuch stared after him with a conflicted expression before falling unconscious.
Nan Xun had snuck away while Jun Huang was asleep. He was going to return to his safehouse, but his impulse took him to the outside of the Grand Chancellor’s manor. After some hesitation, he quietly made his way to Jun Huang’s residence, evading the patrols along the way.
Jun Huang had shut her window tonight. He took the front door. The maid didn’t say anything when she saw Nan Xun and continued to make shoes for her lover. Nan Xun threw her a glance. She blushed in embarrassment and stammered without forming a complete sentence.
Nan Xun didn’t intend to tease the maid. He went upstairs and gingerly opened the door. He walked past the screen. Before he could get close, Jun Huang woke up violently.
He started, puzzled. His first reaction was to light the candle. Then he parted the silk canopy and stood by the bed. Jun Huang’s eyes were unfocused and unreadable. Her face was covered in tears. It hit him like a dagger to the chest.
Once Jun Huang finally came to her senses, she turned to Nan Xun and croaked, “Why did you come from the outside? Did you go out at night?”
Nan Xun nodded. He didn’t tell her where he’d gone. He could tell immediately that she’d woken up from a nightmare. He didn’t want to burden her further with the cruel reality. She didn’t belong to that world. He was willing to walk in the shadow for her.
He sighed and poured her a cup of tea. She lowered her bright eyes and took a sip. Her tears shone under the candlelight. Nan Xun wiped them away for her with a handkerchief. “Don’t be scared about the ghosts that can only show up at night. Don’t worry about them, and you’ll have a good night's sleep.”
Jun Huang leaned toward Nan Xun and chuckled. “Ghosts?” She lowered her eyes. “No, I didn’t dream about ghosts, but about the destruction of Western Que, about the bodies scattering the land...”
Nan Xun’s breath hitched. He’d fought in wars himself. He knew what it was like. He looked at Jun Huang’s pale face and finally understood what was happening.
Instead of giving her empty platitudes, he caressed her back to comfort her.