Chapter 100: Letter of Indictment
The general could see that the scale had been tipped. He knew he would be sacrificing his men's lives for nothing if he continued this fight. The smart thing to do was to send for reinforcements. Nan Xun and Jun Huang were both injured. They wouldn't be able to run very far. Once reinforcements came, he would be able to catch them.
He didn't want to lose any more of his soldiers. They had suffered enough casualties.
The soldiers pulled back and mounted their horses. Before they could retreat, Jun Huang scoffed and whistled. The general was riding on her horse. It reared its front legs up suddenly, catching the general off guard. He fell off and face-planted into the sand, which sent him into a coughing fit until there were tears in his eyes.
He knew that a smart man must pick his battles. He ground his teeth together and threw Jun Huang a venomous glare. His subordinates helped him get on another horse. They rode away.
Nan Xun could no longer keep himself upright. He dropped down to his knees. Jun Huang turned to him. This stoic man was kneeling in a pool of his own blood. His hair was dishevelled, but he didn't look unkempt. His robe was tattered. His wounds on both his arm and his back were still bleeding. The crimson blood made his black robe a shade darker. He had to prop himself up with his sword to stop himself from falling down.
Jun Huang helped him up and walked him to the white horse. They got on. Nan Xun took a deep breath and covered the wound on his arm. "Let us go in the opposite direction of the imperial city," he said quietly. "They will be back. When they see that we have left, they will search through the route to the imperial city. Moreover, we are both hurt. We have to treat our injuries first."
Jun Huang didn't respond.
"There are still some time before the metropolitan exam comes," said Nan Xun. "Do you really want to return in this state? Do you want to risk rousing Qi Chen's suspicion?"
Jun Huang tightened her grip on the reign and squeezed the horse's torso with her teeth clenched. She rode towards the woods not far from them.
Near the tree which was tall enough to reach the sky was a cave. It was located on a high ground. The terrain acted as a natural barrier and stopped wild animals from approaching. Jun Huang decided that it was a good place for them to rest. She jumped off the horse and scouted the area before she came back for Nan Xun. She helped him dismount and led him to the cave.
The inside of the cave was chilly. Jun Huang covered the ground with wilted grass before going out to gather some herbs that could stop hemorrhaging . She patched both herself and Nan Xun up. Afterwards, she looked through her rucksack and found the few poison needles she had left. She sighed.
"If I had had more silver needles with me, things would have turned out differently," she said with a chuckle.
Nan Xun leaned against the wall. His face seemed a lot less intimidating when he was injured. In response to Jun Huang's self-deprecating words, he said, "You are not a god. How could you have known we would be faced with such danger?"
"Let us rest before we move out again," added Nan Xun.
Jun Huang nodded.
She went outside and looked down from the cliff. There was a woman running away from a group of armed men. She wasn't that far away, so Jun Huang was able to get a clear look at her face. The woman was young. She couldn't be older than eighteen. She struggled to escape, but the men persisted in their pursuit.
Jun Huang did not like to get involved in other people's business, but what she saw reminded her of the days when she was running away from Eastern Wu's soldiers. She had been as alone as this woman.
She saw herself in the young woman. That was a good enough reason for her to step in. Jun Huang told Nan Xun what she was going to do and brought with her the remaining needles.
When Jun Huang returned, she had an arm around a limping woman. The makeup on the woman's face was smeared, and her face was covered in dust. She looked like a mess.
The woman thanked Jun Huang profusely for coming to her rescue. The only response she got from Jun Huang was a simple nod.
Inside the cave, the woman glanced at Nan Xun, then at Jun Huang. Jun Huang cut her off before she could speak, "Rest. I'll treat the wound on your leg."
The woman nodded. "Thank you."
Jun Huang had changed into her silk robe earlier. Her elegance was difficult to miss. The woman couldn't help sneaking a few more glances at her.
Nan Xun had changed into a new robe as well, which covered the wounds on his body. If not for the smell of blood in the air, no one would be able to tell he was injured. Neither Nan Xun nor Jun Huang looked like your average man.
After stopping the bleeding and finishing dressing the woman's wound. Jun Huang got to her feet and sighed, her eyes focusing on the scenery outside. The woman quickly propped herself up by the wall and cupped her hands. "Thank you for saving my life."
Jun Huang waved a careless hand at her. She had saved her, but it was only a spur-of-the-moment decision.
"Where are the gentlemen going?" the woman asked. She could tell from their clothes that they weren't from around the area.
Jun Huang shot her an intimidating glance.
The woman hurriedly said, "I don't mean you any harm. It's only an innocent question. Besides… the gentlemen don't seem to be in good shape. Perhaps we can watch one another's back."
Jun Huang turned to Nan Xun, who shook his head at her. She knew she couldn't tell the woman the truth. Therefore she told the woman they were going to a town near the imperial city. "How about you?"
The woman's eyes were ablaze with hatred. She ground her teeth together and answered, "I'm going to the imperial city."
Jun Huang nodded. She didn't ask any more question. She didn't have the right, and she didn't want to alert the woman.
Jun Huang continued to grind the herbs she had collected earlier. Her heart ached when she saw the wounds on Nan Xun's back. Thinking back to that moment still made her tense up.
There were other scars on Nan Xun's back, but they had faded over the years. And yet she couldn't stop her fingers from trembling when she touched the uneven tissues.
No generals could survive unscathed.
She only felt the truth of the statement at this moment. Nan Xun earned everything he had through hard work. No one could argue otherwise.
After resting for the night, Nan Xun had recovered enough to stand on his own. He had been through deadly battles before. As long as his tendons weren't cut and his bones weren't broken, he would be able to pull himself together. Jun Huang wanted to give him more time to rest, but they couldn't afford to stay any longer. If the prefect of Yangzhou reported back to Qi Chen before they returned, things would become complicated.
The woman she rescued would be traveling with them. Jun Huang put the evidence she had hidden into her rucksack when the woman was looking away. They made their way to the imperial city.
They had told the woman that their destination was another town. Therefore, when they reached the outskirt of the city, they bid the woman farewell and waited for some time before entering themselves. Nan Xun's instinct told him that the woman was here for some important business. As soon as he returned to his manor, he drew a portrait of the woman and handed it to his shadowguard. The shadowguard was to find the woman immediately and kept an eye on her without her noticing. The shadowguard made a sound of assent and left the manor.
Nan Xun had taken a sick leave. The housekeeper immediately sent for a doctor when he saw Nan Xun's injury, which was in line with his story.
Jun Huang's injury was a lot less serious compared to Nan Xun's. The only wound that inconvenienced her was the cut on her palm.
The doctor also checked over Jun Huang's injury when he came to Nan Xun's manor. The wound on Jun Huang's palm was best left unbandaged. The doctor gave her some ointment before leaving.
Once she and Nan Xun were left alone in the room, Jun Huang debated over how she was going to hand the emperor the evidence. She couldn't do it herself. Neither could Nan Xun do it for her. As for Qi Yun, he had been attracting a bit too much attention lately. It was better for him to lay low for a while. If he was the one who gave the emperor the evidence, Qi Chen would start to see him as a threat.
She couldn't think of a good candidate. Nan Xun said gently, "There is still time before the metropolitan exam. Don't be too worried. We will discuss this matter further and make a decision."
Jun Huang nodded before taking her leave. Not long after, the shadowguard returned. He knelt before Nan Xun and said, "This subordinate has found the woman you were looking for, Your Highness."
Nan Xun hummed. "Have you found out why she came to the imperial city?"
"When this subordinate found her, she was in a residence compound looking for someone. She met up with an old man who appeared to be her relative. From their conversation, it seems that the woman had attracted the attention of the prefect's son. He tried to force her to marry him. She refused. In the end that lead to a great tragedy. Her entire family was slaughtered by the prefect's people. If not for gentleman Feng, the woman would have died as well."
After ordering the shadowguard to leave the room, Nan Xun fell into a deep contemplation. The woman would be the perfect candidate to submit the evidence to the emperor. However, she might not be willing to do so.
The next day, he went straight to the woman. She was surprised to see him. With a finger pointing at Nan Xun, she asked, "Why is the gentleman in the imperial city?"
Nan Xun quirked his lips up. "It's a long story. And this gentleman isn't here to talk about myself. I'm here to ask you for a favor." Nan Xun didn't know how to be anything other than straightforward, so he didn't try.
The woman frowned. "The gentleman may tell me what you need from me. If it's something I can do, I will help you."
"Despicable men now run rampant in the country. People are suffering. The prefect of Yangzhou is a good example. He disregards the law and exploits the people he should be protecting. He must be punished. We have already gathered the evidence, but we cannot turn it in to the emperor ourselves. If you are willing, I hope you can help us deliver the evidence. This gentleman will be in your debt."
The woman gaped at Nan Xun with wide eyes. Seeing Nan Xun's puzzled expression, she cleared her throat and said, "To be honest with the gentleman, I am here to appeal to the emperor myself. Before, I have gone to a few officials, but they protected their own. Not only did they refuse to help me, they also assisted the prefect in his attempt to eliminate me. If your friend had not stepped in, I would have… I would have disappeared from this world."