Her breath hitched, Jun Huang turned around and grabbed one of the men by the collar, her voice steely as she demanded, “Is this all of them?”
The man had been scared witless. He answered every one of her questions obediently.
Jun Huang frowned. “Did any of you see an eight years old boy?”
The man thought for a moment. “Is it a finely dressed, well-mannered boy?”
“Where is he?” Jun Huang demanded.
“We didn’t take him,” the man stuttered. “He was drugged and taken away.”
Jun Huang’s pupils contracted. She let go of the man, who fell to the ground and fainted from his fear. Nan Xun couldn’t bear seeing the regretful look on Jun Huang’s face. He pulled Jun Huang into his arms. “Perhaps Jun Hao was rescued. We’ll gather more information first. Don’t be too worried.”
Jun Huang nodded without thinking and blindly followed Nan Xun outside. Nan Xun reminded the soldiers who’d arrived to take the kidnapped children home and to investigate the circus, hoping that they would find something about Jun Hao.
Once they were back to Nan Xun’s manor, Jun Huang finally regained the ability to think clearly. With a dark expression, she grabbed Nan Xun’s sleeve. “No, we were wrong. Jun Hao wasn’t rescued. He was taken by someone else.”
“Why would you think that?”
“The man said he was drugged, so he hadn’t been knocked out by the circus crew. Someone took him first. If the man had lied to me, and Jun Hao had been knocked unconscious by them already, why would someone rescue him but leave the other children behind?”
Jun Huang’s expression tensed as she spoke, her fear growing stronger. “The answer is clear. The kidnapper wants something, and that something has to do with us.”
Nan Xun’s face clouded. He’d come to the same conclusion earlier, but he’d been trying to calm her down. She realized the truth sooner than he’d expected.
He sighed and massaged her temples, trying to relax her.
The next couple of days, Nan Xun frequented the city’s yamen. He didn’t have to get involved himself, but this was about Jun Hao. He had to take matters into his own hands. Besides, it’d make Jun Huang feel better.
Jun Huang had been in a dark mood. She had trouble sleeping or eating. She couldn’t help but worry about Jun Hao. And yet they hadn’t heard anything about him.
She tried to occupied her mind by reading. She became sickly and pale. Nan Xun didn’t try to talk her out of worrying despite his concern for her.
Just when they were growing desperate, Jun Huang received a letter. It was from the kidnapper. They said that if she wanted to find Jun Hao, she was to make her way to the Ten Miles Pavilion at nine tonight on her own. If she didn’t show up, Jun Hao would be punished.
Jun Huang’s heart sank, her breaths shallow. Nan Xun took the letter from her and frowned.
“Are you sure you’re going, Jun Huang?”
Jun Huang nodded after a pause.
“What if it’s a trap?” asked Nan Xun. “Perhaps someone else noticed the searching party. Besides, we know nothing about what the kidnapper wants. Even if they have Jun Hao, the fact that they want you to go at night on your own spells trouble. You have to be cautious.”
Jun Huang shot him a glance and took a deep breath to suppress her emotions. “I’ve made up my mind.”
She got to her feet and left.
Nan Xun didn’t expect her to discard his concern like it was troublesome. Upset, he didn’t even think about convincing her to stay put.
He knew how important Jun Hao was to Jun Huang, but he didn’t want her to risk her life for anyone, not even her family.
He sat in the garden for a long time until the sky went dark. He let out a long breath and arranged a rescue team for Jun Hao.
Jun Huang left the manor on her own as soon as the sun set. Worried that Nan Xun would stop her again, she snuck out through the back door without anyone noticing.
Outside the city gate, everything seemed barren. She warily looked around and reached the Ten Miles Pavilion. There was no one around, and the wind was chilling. There was something strange about the place. Even Jun Huang couldn’t help but get nervous despite her attempt to stay calm.
She’d forgotten to put on warmer clothes. It was getting cold.
After some time with no signs of human activity, Jun Huang began to regret her decision. She was about to leave when an arrow split through the dark and whipped past her. Her heart pounded.
“Tell the guards to leave,” said a voice from the dark. Jun Huang turned and realized that Nan Xun had assigned his men to follow her.
Before she could make a decision, a burly man emerged from the shadows. “Tell them to leave, and I’ll take you to your brother.”
Jun Huang had no choice but to drive Nan Xun’s men away. After that, the burly man covered her eyes and led her to a manor.
Jun Huang balled her hands into fists. She didn’t know what was going to happen. It was a gamble. Something told her that the one responsible for the kidnapping was telling the truth.
Jun Hao was her only family. She would not let him get hurt.
She didn’t know how long they’d been walking. She could hear dogs barking, but then, silence.
The man came to a stop. The silence was unsettling. She clenched her fists as the man took off the blindfold.
The lamp was too bright for her previously blindfolded eyes. It took some time for her to adjust to the light. She looked up and saw the man sitting on the main seat.
Her eyes widened. “You.”
Ji Bo met her gaze and chuckled, putting down the cup in his hand. “It’s me.”
Jun Huang wasn’t sure how to feel. She didn’t really expect Ji Bo to be responsible. She had her doubt before, but she didn’t have any proof, which made her feel guilty for suspecting the man. But her instinct had been right.
With her lips pursed, she took a deep breath to calm herself, her expression carefully impassive.
“Why are you here? Or should I ask, who are you?”
Ji Bo’s eyes flashed. The amusement in his eyes turned into something softer. There was a mix of yearning and other emotions in his gaze.
Jun Huang frowned. She didn’t like the way Ji Bo looked at her. His eyes were piercing and, strangely, pitying.
Ji Bo let out a low laugh. He gazed at the flickering candlelight in deep thought. Finally, he said, “Would you like to know a secret?”
He wasn’t actually asking. “You and I are both descendents of the imperial clan of Tianyu, the lost dynasty. I’m… your uncle. Your mother was Tianyu’s last princess.”
Jun Huang scoffed and stared at Ji Bo coldly. “Do you take me as a fool?” she asked sharply. “You have no proof. There’s nothing backing up your high tale. I’m not gullible enough to believe your words.”
Ji Bo didn’t blame her for her rude comeback. He knew why she would have doubts. He sighed softly. “I understand your suspicion. Big sister was a lot older than I am. That’s the truth. I wasn’t lying to you.”
“Sister was a smart woman. She was beautiful but also remarkably talented. However, she forgot about rebuilding our homeland after growing up and instead fell in love with the man who had destroyed our nation. She knew full well that the emperor of Western Que was responsible for the destruction of Tianyu, and yet she couldn’t control her heart. Ha, how laughable.” Ji Bo’s expression turned dark. He looked terrifying in the darkness.
Jun Huang stilled, feeling a lump in her throat. She couldn’t make a sound. Notig her pale face, Ji Bo laughed. “That’s right. Western Que deserves to be punished after destroying Tianyu. Fate had spared that man, but I wouldn’t. Hahaha, of course I wouldn’t. I couldn’t not do anything when my sister had married our enemy and gave birth to his children. Western Que shouldn’t have existed. A few tricks were enough to push it to destruction. Hahaha.”
“Why would you do that? If what you said was true, your sister, my mother, died because of you. You killed her. Weren’t you close to her? How could you do something like that?!” Jun Huang growled, her eyes red. Tears fell down her face. Her nails dug into her palms. However, the pain was overpowered by the overwhelming sorrow in her heart.