Phoenix Ascending Chapter 210
Chapter 210: Disguise
Jun Huang was puzzled by her change of att.i.tude. She had been harshly demanding answers from Jun Huang. Why was she finding excuses for Qi Chen now?
Trying to force a thought into Nan Guyue's mind would be unwise, though. That Jun Huang recognized. She would risk giving away her intentions.
"The princess is right," said Jun Huang, her tone earnest, but the gears in her head were spinning. "The prince is fortunate to have you as his wife."
Nan Guyue considered Jun Huang. Jun Huang had lowered her eyes in contemplation. Nan Guyue interpreted that as Jun Huang's admission to defeat. Her mood lightened considerably. She smiled. "Let's not talk about the prince and me now. Let's talk about the gentleman. You've come to the imperial city for some time. Is there anyone you like?"
A lot of people have been spreading rumors about Jun Huang and Nan Xun, saying that they were involved. Jun Huang didn't believe that Nan Guyue would be oblivious to that. Perhaps she's simply asking, Jun Huang thought. Or maybe she's mocking me.
Jun Huang scoffed inwardly, but her tone was respectful when she said, "This gentleman is already in love with someone. The princess doesn't have to worry. If the princess doesn't have anything else you want, you should go ahead and return. This place is too plain and humble for someone like the princess. I don't want your dress to be dirtied. Moreover, this gentleman has some personal affairs to take care of."
Jun Huang was obviously asking Nan Guyue to leave. Nan Guyue would have to be spectacularly dense to not understand the subtext. She threw Jun Huang a glare that Jun Huang's lowered eyes had not seen. Nan Guyue refused to lose her composure for a mere strategist. She scoffed and got to her feet.
"I'll stop bothering the gentleman," she said in a strained voice. "The gentleman should go back to your business. Read books about morals such as The Way1 so that you won't ever do something disgraceful."
Nan Guyue stormed away with her entourage in tow. Once she was gone, Nan Xun walked out of the room he had been staying in, his brows furrowed. His bad mood was obvious from his expression.
Nan Xun had noticed something unusual when Nan Guyue demanded to know if there was anyone noteworthy by Qi Chen's side. The rest of the conversation proved his speculation right. He wasn't going to tell Jun Huang though. It was an added burden on her shoulders, and he didn't want her to be upset for someone irrelevant.
Nan Xun scowled at the teacup Nan Guyue had used. He quickly schooled his expression and ordered a servant to clean up the table. Then he turned to Jun Huang. "Have you found something about Eastern Wu?"
Nan Guyue's visit had caused Jun Huang to forget about what was important. Nan Xun's words jogged her memories. She cleared her throat and said, "I have. There's an organization called Water Cloud in Eastern Wu. The man I sent out came back with the news that Water Cloud was behind the a.s.sa.s.sination attempts against you. After some deliberation, I came to the conclusion that we have to go to Eastern Wu to have a look. We must get to the bottom of this to avoid future dangers."
Nan Xun had heard of the organization. He frowned. Jun Huang was right. Moreover, Eastern Wu had been making moves against Northern Qi lately. He had to do something now. A trip to Eastern Wu was a must.
"How about Qi Chen?" asked Nan Xun.
"He's too busy to pay attention to me. I'll go talk to him this evening. The rest we'll leave to Mister Ji Bo. The third prince is under his control. They only had to slowly take out Qi Chen's supporters. Then Qi Chen's influence would be destroyed little by little."
Jun Huang's eyes were calm even when her words turned cruel. Nan Xun, though, didn't see it in a negative light. He admired her for her careful att.i.tude and her ability to keep things under control.
In the evening, Jun Huang left for Prince Chen Manor. This was the best time for a conversation with Qi Chen. In the morning Qi Chen often had a lot of work to do. Jun Huang knew enough about him to know when he was free.
When she arrived, Qi Chen was drinking wine outside. He must have been in a bad mood due to recent incidents. The housekeeper went up to Jun Huang when he saw her and said, "The gentleman has come at the right time. The prince has been drinking for a while. No matter what other people said, he wouldn't be convinced. The gentleman is close to the prince. Please try to stop him."
Jun Huang nodded and walked toward Qi Chen. Hearing the footsteps, Qi Chen thought that it was the housekeeper coming to preach him again. He was startled by Jun Huang's appearance.
"Brother Feng is here," he said with a chuckle, pointing at the spot next to him. "Don't be formal with me. Have a seat."
Jun Huang sat down and gave Qi Chen a once over. She could tell that Qi Chen hadn't had enough to be drunk. He must have spent more time thinking than drinking. She relaxed and said, "This gentleman has come to the conclusion that I should go to Eastern Wu myself. They have spies among our ranks who can send them information about Northern Qi, and yet we know nothing about Eastern Wu. This gentleman believe that we have to venture into the tiger den to catch a cub. We must find out how powerful their army is."
Qi Chen thought that Jun Huang had noticed the odd atmosphere around the manor lately; that was why she wanted to get away. Gathering information was merely an added bonus. It wasn't a bad thing. Jun Huang was right to think ahead. He approved of her taking her role as his confidante seriously. He nodded. "If so, safe journey. Do you need me to a.s.sign some guards to help you?"
"There's no need," said Jun Huang. "This is too important a task; things should be kept to a need to know basis. Besides, I'm going to investigate in secret. Too big a group will be easy to spot. This gentleman can go on my own."
Qi Chen accepted her explanation readily. He told her to be careful and to retreat when dangers struck.
Jun Huang made a.s.senting noises at the right time. Before she left, she looked down at Qi Chen's cup and sighed. "Drinking is bad for health. Your Highness should stop indulging in alcohol."
Qi Chen blinked and put down the cup. He then got to his feet, intending to walk Jun Huang out. Jun Huang turned him down and left on her own.
Qi Chen sat there for a while before waving a servant over to clean up the mess. He stood up and walked away.
From the hallway, Nan Guyue had witnessed everything. Since she was a little far from Qi Chen, she didn't hear his conversation with Jun Huang, but she could tell it was a pleasant one. He had wanted to walk Jun Huang out! Moreover, even the housekeeper had been scolded for advising the prince, and yet as soon as Jun Huang left, Qi Chen stopped drinking. Anyone with an eye could see that it must be Jun Huang who had convinced Qi Chen.
Nan Guyue ground her teeth together as she looked at the direction Jun Huang had left in. There was a fire burning in her chest, and yet she was helpless against it. She knew how talented Jun Huang was. Qi Chen could not gain the throne without Jun Huang's a.s.sistance. For now, Nan Guyue could only tolerate Jun Huang.
Nan Xun had sent a message to the emperor before riding a horse out of the city gate. He didn't wait for long before Jun Huang came. They shared a silent look before riding toward Eastern Wu.
At the border, they stayed for two days and disguised themselves as people coming to visit their family before entering the gate to the border city. Nan Xun was well-known among Eastern Wu soldiers, and Jun Huang was the princess of Western Que; many soldiers had seen her too. They had to be careful to avoid detection.
The picture of Eastern Wu in Jun Huang's mind came from what her old teacher told her when she was a princess. Now, seeing Eastern Wu for herself, she realized that what she pictured might not be accurate.
Eastern Wu had a large territory, but a small population. There was a serious drought within the country, which affected the harvest. That compelled Eastern Wu to invade other countries to solve their food shortage.
Jun Huang thought that there were only barren lands within Eastern Wu. She didn't expect there to be cities as prosperous as those in other countries.
"This is not how I imagine Eastern Wu to be." Jun Huang dragged her eyes along the s.p.a.cious main street. It was covered in yellow soil rather than bluestone like the major roads in Northern Qi and Western Que were, and dust would be brought up whenever a coach pa.s.sed; still, what she saw came as a shock to her.
The road was lined with vendors crying out to attract customers. The wares they sold were fine and delicate. Within the city, tall buildings rose up into the sky. There were also a good number of taverns and relay stations. She felt a little excited.
"It's because we've picked the right gate," Nan Xun whispered. "If we entered through one of the other gates, the only living thing we would see were crows flying above the desert."
Jun Huang turned to Nan Xun with a raised eyebrow. "You've been here before?"
Nan Xun nodded. Jun Huang hummed. The two countries had engaged in battles before. It was said that one must know his enemies in order to ensure victory. Eastern Wu knew to plant spies in Northern Qi. Northern Qi must have tried something similar as well. Those were confidential information about the military, though. Jun Huang wasn't going to ask for details. She knew Nan Xun would tell her if she asked, but that was exactly why she shouldn't pry.
She had been turning a blind eye to Nan Xun's feelings for her, but she wanted to keep their relations.h.i.+p pure. Otherwise she wouldn't be able to stay at his side without feeling guilty.
Nan Xun was preoccupied as well. Originally he had planned to confess to Jun Huang when they were alone, but they had been busy riding. They barely had the time to eat, let alone have a proper conversation. He almost told her his feelings anyway, but he managed to stop himself. It didn't feel right for him to just blurt it out. In the end, he didn't manage to tell her even after they had reached Eastern Wu.
Nan Xun sighed. Well, he still had time. They were both exhausted. He and Jun Huang walked along the street trying to locate an inn.
Written by Laozi. It's a fundamental text for both philosophical and religious Taoism.