“Alright, we won’t stay here and get in your way,” said Jun Huang. “Remember, you should find a good woman to settle down with, living a life of mutual support and respect.”
She started to get a little choked up. She had only wanted to offer Jun Hao comfort.
Nan Xun could read the concerns in her tone. She’d always been worried that her health wouldn’t allow her a lifetime with him. If only they could start over...
“Come on, let’s go.” Nan Xun didn’t want Jun Huang to dwell on that. He put an arm around her and led her away. Jun Huang took a deep breath and schooled her expression into one of indifference. They walked out of the courtyard house one after the other.
Jun Huang lowered her head in contemplation, her strides faster than usual. Her pursed lips and pale face made Nan Xun’s heart ache, but there wasn’t much he could do.
He reached out for the illusory glow surrounding her. She turned to him suddenly, her eyes reflecting a hopeful light. “We’ve walked home together at night, haven’t we, Nan Xun?”
Nan Xun’s mouthed dried. He felt the urge to pick Jun Huang up then and there, but her downcast eyes gave him pause.
“My memory is fuzzy. The cold moonlight is all I can remember.” She chuckled, but it was a bitter one.
It hit Nan Xun hard. He took a deep breath and walked up to Jun Huang, gently pulling her close to him. “It’s alright. If you can’t remember, I’ll tell you about us. If you don’t want to hear it, I’ll retread our tracks with you.”
Jun Huang laughed into Nan Xun’s arms, the sound as carefree as she’d ever been. She snuck a glance at him. “There are other things I remember. The memories are unclear, but I have a feeling that you’re in all those memories.”
Nan Xun couldn’t be more pleased. His earlier frustration melted away. He wanted nothing but for Jun Huang to become part of him.
Jun Huang had been slowly recovering her memory. Although many of her recollections had nothing to do with him, he was glad to see her becoming healthier, lighter. When the time came, he’d be able to tie up his plan and take Jun Huang away, living a life free of care.
Before he could do that, however, a letter from Northern Qi arrived.
Nan Xun had been in a good mood that day. He’d gone outside with Jun Huang in the morning, listening to her talk about what she remembered about her childhood. Then his shadowguard came suddenly. He wasn’t able to walk Jun Huang home himself, so he had a shadowguard keep an eye on Jun Huang while he returned to his safehouse.
“What’s the emergency?” Nan Xun asked with a frown as he opened the door.
“Northern Qi sent a message,” the shadowguard took out an envelope as he said. “This subordinate worried that it might be something important, so I sought you out immediately.”
Nan Xun took the envelope and nodded. His expression changed when he read the letter.
“A temporary peace has been reached. I hope you’ll return soon. Do not dally around in Eastern Wu. There are many affairs to take care of in the imperial city, and many problems have arisen. It’s better that you return before the officials get suspicious.”
Qi Yun had told him about the current situation in Northern Qi and asked him to go back at once.
“What do we do, Your Highness?” the shadowguard asked, looking over at Nan Xun. The general stood before a window with a thoughtful look on his face.
Nan Xun broke out of his trance. “He must have a reason to ask for my return. It is true that the courtiers may get suspicious if I stay after the war ceased. Moreover, this is an opportunity for us to get out. We should seize it in case something goes wrong.”
The shadowguard admired Nan Xun for his calmness. They had something that could send Eastern Wu into chaos, which would be perfect for their purpose. “What about Miss Jun Huang? That’s a tricky issue we’ll have to solve properly. If we leave anything that can be used against us, the tide may be turned. After all, we don’t know what the hidden forces at work want.”
“I’ll take care of it.” Nan Xun’s expression clouded. Getting Jun Huang out was the most difficult part of their departure. Everyone in the Grand Chancellor manor was tied to Jun Huang. He had to come up with a solution.
The shadowguard quietly left the room. Nan Xun stood there for a long time until it started to get windy. He walked out and made his way to the Grand Chancellor’s manor.
As he expected, Jun Huang was sitting in a pavilion, her expression cool. The light-colored dress waved in the wind, and her hair tangled and danced. She looked ethereal and untouchable.
“What is it?” Jun Huang gave him a small smile and walked up to him.
Nan Xun averted his eyes and cleared his throat, brushing Jun Huang’s hair back. “Northern Qi’s emperor urged us to return.”
Something flashed through Jun Huang’s eyes. She’d wanted to leave Eastern Wu for a long time. This place made her uneasy. And she wanted to take a look at the nation she and Nan Xun had called home.
Nan Xun knew what she was thinking. Her brightened mood made him less worried, but there was still one issue. “It’s a little complicated with you, however...”
“The mistress is taking everyone to pay tribute to their ancestors tomorrow,” Jun Huang said without hesitation. “That’s our chance.”
Nan Xun thought for a moment. They discussed what they were going to do and settled on a plan. He nodded and said he’d make the necessary arrangements. Jun Huang should focus on her safety and not to worry too much.
With that settled, what was left was his parting gift to Eastern Wu.
The next day, the mistress took Jun Huang and the others into the mountain. Nan Xun stayed in the city and spread the news that the emperor wasn’t of the royal blood. The true righteous heir to the throne was left wandering outside the palace.
The rumor shouldn’t have reached the royal clan, but it did. The emperor and the royal clan had been at odds lately, and the latter had been trying to get something against him. The rumor could be of use even if it wasn’t true.
After investigation, they found out that it was true. The emperor had been swapped with the real crown prince when he was young. The real crown prince ‘s whereabouts was unknown.
Although the emperor wasn’t to blame for the swap, he was an incompetent leader. The royal clan wasn’t going to let him wreck havoc in the nation. The patriarch banished the emperor and sent a search party to look for the real descendents of the royal family.
The ensuing chaos gave Nan Xun and the others an opening to arrange for their escape.
Jun Huang and the Grand Chancellor’s family made their way up the mountain. The road they traversed went along the edge of a cliff. Jun Huang opted to stay in the same coach as the other young mistresses rather than the mistress this time.
The young mistresses had always disliked Jun Huang. They pretended she didn’t exist. Jun Huang didn’t care. She counted down in her mind and motioned at the rider to halt the coach when they reached the right place.
“The view is nice outside,” Jun Huang said slowly. “I’d like to take a look. Let’s take a break.”
The first young mistress frowned. She wanted to object, but her attention was caught by the magnificent view when she parted the curtains. She swallowed her protest and exchanged a glance with her sisters. They got off the coach after Jun Huang did.
Jun Huang walked further away from the coach. The maid looked at her from afar and reminded her to be careful. Jun Huang ignored her words and stood at the edge of the cliff.
She took a deep breath. Deafening wind whipped through her ears. In the distance were gentle creaks and streams. It felt as if she’d be able to touch the sky by reaching out.
“Be careful, sister. We can’t afford to have you fall off.”
Jun Huang frowned. The third young mistress’s voice never failed to put her in a bad mood. She turned to her, scowling.
The third young mistress scoffed. “Oh? Not going to keep up your pretense when mother isn’t here? And people think you’re pure-hearted. Ha, what a joke. They’ve all been deceived by a poor excuse of a woman.”
“Oh, I can’t compare with you. I hear you have a reputation. I wonder if it’s true.”
Jun Huang huffed. Her expression was as calm as ever, but it somehow made her words even more infuriating.
The third young mistress’s face darkened. She balled her hands up into fists and glared at Jun Huang. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t you know?” Jun Huang asked with feigned surprise. Then she put on a knowing smile and chuckled, covering her mouth. “When Gentleman Li was trying to court me, he told me a lot of your embarrassing stories to please me. Those obscene words shouldn’t be uttered in polite company, but Gentleman Li didn’t seem to care. I never expected third sister to be so… passionate. He also said that regular men wouldn’t be able to handle a woman like you.”
The third young mistress’s face contorted. Jun Huang’s calm face and nonchalant tone made her even more furious. In the heat of the moment, she pushed Jun Huang, knocking her off balance.
Jun Huang had been standing by the edge of the cliff. She staggered and stumbled on a rock. Before either of them could react, she’d disappeared.
The others had witnessed the third young mistress pushing Jun Huang off. The young mistress stared at where Jun Huang had been with wide eyes, unable to recover from her shock.