Chapter 105: Mister Ji Bo
"What did you find out?" asked Nan Xun.
Jun Huang shook her head. "Qi Chen is hiding something from me. He didn't talk about the corruption among the court officials in detail. He was being deliberately ambiguous, and it seemed like he was talking around something. His change of attitude must be his secret benefactor's doing."
Nan Xun echoed her feelings. After a pause, he said, "The people I ordered to keep watch outside Prince Chen Manor spotted someone suspicious a few days ago. However, their face was hidden, and it was late at night. My people had to keep their distance to avoid detection. The figure is likely to be the one who has been helping Qi Chen."
"We've been attracting too much attention," Jun Huang said with a sigh. "They must have gotten wary. Now it will be difficult for us to find information to use against them."
They fell silent. Qi Chen must have ordered his people to destroy any incriminating evidence still in their possession. It was likely that he hadn't informed Jun Huang because Jun Huang had never gotten her hands dirty. There wasn't anything for her to get rid of.
Jun Huang let out a sigh of relief. Perhaps she had not lost Qi Chen's trust. Well, technically Qi Chen was still wary of her, but he didn't know it was her.
"We have rattled the snake," said Nan Xun. "To be on the safe side, we should stop trying to sway Qi Chen's people, or we risk being exposed."
Jun Huang disagreed. She looked up at the night sky with misty eyes, her lips quirked up in a half-smile. She didn't respond immediately. "If we stop now, they will be suspicious of us. I say we continue to do what we've been doing, but we stop going to the meetings in person. And we don't let those people join us. They will be our channels when we want to pass down certain information."
Nan Xun nodded. What she said made sense.
A pageboy came to inform Jun Huang that Qi Yun had come. Jun Huang exchanged a look with Nan Xun before ordering a servant to lead Qi Yun in.
Recently, Qi Yun had been visiting Jun Huang more and more often. Whenever he had some free time, he almost always invited himself in to have a chat with her.
Seeing Nan Xun was a surprise for Qi Yun, but he didn't comment on it.
Jun Huang had just been thinking of discussing the issue with Qi Yun. Since he was here already, she might as well talk to him about what they should do next. She ordered Little Girl to brew a pot of refreshing tea.
Jun Huang was going to talk business, so Little Girl couldn't object to her order. She brought them a pot of tea and reminded Jun Huang not to drink too much before stepping aside.
Jun Huang was a tea lover. She ignored the advice and finished a cup in one go. It woke her up a little. She poured a cup each for Nan Xun and Qi Yun before saying, "Qi Chen's benefactor has gotten suspicious. What do we do next?"
"Qi Chen has been ruling his people with a tighter grip. What we do to in the future will not escape his notice. I don't know what we should do." Qi Yun was feeling helpless. Things had not gone as he had expected. He had oversimplified everything. Once the situation became more complicated, he lost his sense of direction.
Nan Xun was a general; he had never been that adept at political maneuvering in court. Jun Huang was smart, but she wasn't that good at plotting for power. The stress on her mind had accelerated the decline of her health.
They continued brainstorming for the time it took an incense stick to burn, but they couldn't reach a conclusion. Jun Huang leaned against the stone table. She had to fight to keep her eyes open.
Seeing how thin her clothes were, Nan Xun gave Little Girl a pointed look, silently telling her to bring Jun Huang something warmer. Little Girl left to retrieve a robe.
"Being hasty won't help us in any way," said Nan Xun. He didn't want Jun Huang to exhaust herself. "You are tired. We can continue this discussion tomorrow."
Jun Huang looked up at him and shook her head. Inhaling deeply, she stared at the sky. "I'm fine."
It was late. The chilly winds cleared away the fog in Jun Huang's drowsy mind. Nan Xun lowered his head in bemusement, while Qi Yun held tightly onto his teacup, his thoughts indiscernible.
Nan Xun suddenly snapped his head up and said, "We want to gain the world not through brute force, but through careful planning. The three of us won't be enough. Our priority is to find new followers."
Jun Huang paused. Nan Xun's suggestion was reasonable. Qi Yun too nodded. The same name came to the three of them- Mister Ji Bo. They shared a knowing smile.
The sky grew a shade darker. Qi Yun had matters to attend to the next day. He couldn't stay. Before he left, he said in a serious tone, "I will leave the task of searching for Mister Ji Bo in your hands."
Once he was gone, Jun Huang felt weak in the knees and almost fell over. Fortunately Nan Xun had a quick enough reflex to catch her. "Have you forgotten about your condition?" he said gently. "What if you collapse?"
"I know my body," Jun Huang said with a stilted smile and pulled away from Nan Xun's arms. "I'm fine."
Nan Xun sighd. He didn't know what to do with Jun Huang. "Qi Chen may not trust you as much now. If he knows that you have left the imperial city – "
"Then I'll make sure he doesn't find out," Jun Huang said without thinking. "It's late. If we're going to search for Mister Ji Bo, you should return now. We will talk about the details tomorrow."
Since Jun Huang had asked him to leave, Nan Xun couldn't possibly insist on staying. He sighed and turned away.
Jun Huang didn't return to her room in the south wing immediately. Instead, she went to the east wing and asked Zhang Yuan about what had happened between him and Wan'er.
Zhang Yuan was easily embarrassed. Jun Huang's direct question caused all the blood in his body to rush into his face. He stammered and couldn't form an answer.
Mister Ji Bo followed the school of Ghost Valley1. Because of his unpredictable personality, many men had failed to convince him to leave retirement.
Rumors had it the some people even visited him thrice like Liu Bei had with Zhuge Liang. Mister Ji Bo, however, refused to even meet these men in person. Instead, he ordered his servant to dismiss the visitors.
It was also said that tracking Mister Ji Bo down alone was not an easy task. Today he might be in the imperial city; the next day he would appear on a mountain elsewhere. Fortunately, Jun Huang's investigation did yield some results.
Right after her conversation with Nan Xun ang Qi Yun, Jun Huang had ordered a shadowguard to ask around. The shadowguard didn't return until after three days. He said that someone had spotted Mister Ji Bo lately. He now lived deep inside a mountain where vermin ran rampant. So far, no one had mustered the courage to venture in.
Jun Huang hummed. "Can we trust this information?"
The shadowguard nodded. After a moment of silence, she ordered him to send Qi Yun a message. She would have to visit Mister Ji Bo in person.
Qi Yun had been feeling restless ever since he heard about Jun Huang's plan. This responsibility shouldn't fall on Jun Huang alone! Nevertheless, he couldn't spare the time for the journey. And they couldn't afford to wait any longer. He didn't have a choice.
It was close to the time for her departure. Jun Huang had planned to leave at once, but Qi Yun insisted on seeing her off. She couldn't say no to that, could she? When she arrived at the tavern, Nan Xun was already there, looking at her with an arched eyebrow.
"What are you doing here?" asked Jun Huang.
"It's too dangerous for you to go alone," said Nan Xun. "The emperor rarely asks for me these days. The more I think about it, the more I believe I should go with you."
Jun Huang snorted. She knew they were only worried for her safety. It was true that she might run into trouble on her own. With Nan Xun at her side, accidents would be less likely to happen.
She took a deep breath and nodded. "I appreciate the help."
Nan Xun let out a relieved sigh. He was worried that Jun Huang would say no to him. With that out of the way, he sat down and drank some tea to clear his throat. "It's going to be a long and difficult journey. You should take a short rest. We will leave after noon."
Jun Huang nodded. She had not slept well the night before. It didn't take long before she was asleep on the divan. She was never someone who fell into a deep slumber, though. She could still hear the conversation between Nan Xun and Qi Yun.
"It's going to be a long journey, brother Nan," Qi Yun said worriedly. "No one can predict what may happen to you on your way. You must take good care of Jun – of gentleman Feng."
After a pause, Nan Xun chuckled. He shifted his gaze to the sleeping Jun Huang and said in a low voice, "I will protect her. Don't worry too much. You, on the other hand, will be staying in the imperial city on your own. Remember to not do anything reckless. Don't attract Qi Chen's attention. Do you understand?"
"Of course I do. You don't have to worry about me." Qi Yun turned to Jun Huang. Restlessness refused to leave his heart. He had a bad feeling about this trip.
The last time Jun Huang and Nan Xun traveled to Yangzhou, they came back bloody and tattered. When he saw the long gash on Jun Huang's palm, he broke into a cold sweat. He could have lost her! What he wouldn't do to take the pain for her.
Jun Huang had shouldered too heavy a burden that shouldn't have been hers to bear. Now she was devoting her efforts in helping Qi Yun as well. It made him feel guilty.
It started raining while Jun Huang was still resting. The sound woke her up. When she opened her eyes, Nan Xun and Qi Yun were drinking tea with their backs straight.
She looked at them with inquisitive eyes. She had been asleep for a few hours. They couldn't have been so disciplined that they only drank tea. She sat up and approached them. She couldn't smell any alcohol. She raised an eyebrow.
As if reading her mind, Nan Xun covered a smile. He looked outside the window and sighed. "It's the rain season. Our trip will not be a comfortable one."
Jun Huang followed his gaze, her eyebrows furrowed. "So? The rain won't last long."
It was about time. The Court of Judicial Review had sent a messenger for Qi Yun again. Qi Yun was exasperated. "We have closed some difficult cases, but some issues are too widespread, we still have trouble tying those up. Royal Father has been urging us to complete our investigation sooner. The court must have found something."
Jun Huang nodded. "Don't overtax yourself. And don't let other people lure you into making a mistake. When in doubt, go to my place to consult Zhang Yuan. He is a clever man. He will be able to help you."
The rain stopped not long after she finished giving Qi Yun advice. Jun Huang and Nan Xun were prepared to leave. Worried, Qi Yun looked pensively at Jun Huang. There were many things he would like to say, but he didn't know how to say them.
From Guiguzi, which literally translated as Ghost Valley. It's composed of writings on lobbying techniques and political theories. ↩