Chapter 123: Testing Water
"No, no." Ji Bo made a circular motion with his hand and folded his fan to tap at the table. "The throne is too tempting a reward for the prince to say no to. Who doesn't want to know what it feels like to sit on it? The third prince may not appear to be ambitious, but that is because the former and current crown prince have shone too brightly that the third prince became unnoticeable, and the prince doesn't have a strategist to help him. If he is told that despite him being the third son, he can still become the crown prince the way the second prince acquired the title, he will gladly take the opportunity. If he believes that he has a chance to become the emperor as long as the crown prince is out of the picture, do you really think he will be able to resist?"
"Besides, the fourth prince has attracted more and more supporters. Taller trees are often the first to be toppled by strong wind. Something has to be done. It's better for us to stop fighting for the throne and let the third prince fight it out with the crown prince. We will be the fisherman who profits in the end."
Jun Huang didn't know if Ji Bo would be able to convince the third prince, but she herself had been swayed. It might be a viable solution. There was just too big a risk. She was the one who asked for Ji Bo's help in shaping the world; she wasn't going to let him take all the risks.
Ji Bo could tell what Jun Huang was worried about. "Relax. I've lived long enough to see and experience every type of dangers. And I know one cannot catch a tiger cub without venturing into the tiger den. Leave this matter to me. I will be alright."
Jun Huang didn't immediately respond. The more she thought about it, the less she liked the idea. Ji Bo possessed real talent. Having him assist the third prince was akin to using a spear to kill a fly. It wasn't fair to Ji Bo.
A succinct series of knocks came from the door. Jun Huang had thought it was Little Girl coming with her medicine, but instead it was Nan Xun, holding a bowl in his hands.
They had had a fight last night. The air was soon filled with awkwardness. Nan Xun cleared his throat and walked up to Jun Huang. He handed the ceramic bowl to her and said, "You should drink this."
Jun Huang nodded. She took the bowl and finished the medicine in one go. The bitterness put a frown on her face. She swallowed down the offending taste and looked up at Nan Xun.
She watched him without a word. After a moment she told him what Ji Bo and she had talked about. Nan Xun's expression remained passive. It seemed as if he had known about Ji Bo's idea beforehand.
Jun Huang couldn't make a decision herself. "What do you think?"
Nan Xun turned his face to Ji Bo, who gave him a pointed look. Without missing a beat, Nan Xun turned back to Jun Huang and said, "I think Mister Ji Bo is right. It's better to be careful now. Even though Qi Chen has yet to suspect you, the false information sent by the young official can only keep your identity a secret for so long. It's better to find a scapegoat now."
Jun Huang frowned, looking at him with sharp eyes. "Do you really think so?"
"Of course," Nan Xun said in a more decisive tone. It was high time that Jun Huang had a good rest. "That's decided then. You don't have to worry too much. Allow yourself to recover."
"The prince is right," agreed Ji Bo. "The most important thing for you to do now is to let your body recover. The rest you can think about afterwards."
Jun Huang sighed in resignation. They both considered this a good idea. She couldn't possibly continue to argue.
The medicine helped her regain focus. She got to her feet and said to Ji Bo and Nan Xun, "I'm tired of staying in my room. Come with me to the garden." She turned to walk outside. Seeing that Jun Huang was wearing only a thin layer of clothes, Nan Xun took a robe and draped it over his arm before following her. Jun Huang was weak enough as she was. She didn't need another cold.
Even though it was April, it could still get chilly when there was wind. Nan Xun hurriedly put the robe around Jun Huang's shoulders.
Ji Bo couldn't help but smile. He knew when to excuse himself. "Since we have reached a conclusion, I will stop bothering you," he said, cupping his hands. "You must have things to discuss. Please excuse me."
"Why don't you stay for lunch?" asked Jun Huang, confused.
Ji Bo chuckled, whipping his fan open. Without another word, he turned around and left, leaving Jun Huang and Nan Xun in the garden.
The servants knew Jun Huang preferred the quiet. They were even less inclined to bother her when she was sick. That was why there was no one else around.
Nan Xun looked over at the brilliant view in the garden. In his heart was a mess of emotions. He didn't dare to meet Jun Huang's eyes.
Jun Huang wasn't going to say anything either. They stood silently for a good while.
Jun Huang yawned, breaking the stillness in the air. Nan Xun quickly said, "You don't have to push yourself if you're tired. Let me walk you back."
Jun Huang simply nodded. They walked side by side back to the south wing. Nan Xun stopped at the door and turned to Jun Huang. "I shouldn't say what I have said yesterday. I hope you won't take it to your heart."
Jun Huang let out a quiet laugh. "Of course I won't."
At her smile, Nan Xun's heart finally started to beat normally again. "You should rest. I will leave you alone."
Jun Huang nodded. She didn't ask him to stay.
She leaned against the door frame, watching Nan Xun walk away until he disappeared at the corner. She let out a long breath and rubbed at her forehead. Exhaustion began to overtake her again. She opened the door and returned to her room.
On her bed, she thought back to her temporary loss of strength. Her concerns had taken a toll on her body. She never expected the ailment to be this serious. It took her days to recover.
The servants had been worried about her. They could finally breathe easy when Jun Huang regained her health. Someone even asked a monk to come exorcise the bad luck.
Little Girl became even more of an unstoppable force afterwards. She was convinced that Jun Huang must have collapsed due to exhaustion. Whenever Jun Huang stayed in her study until late at night, Little Girl would nag her for days. As a result, Jun Huang dared not to stay in her study now. She instead stayed in her room when she wanted to read.
Naturally, Jun Huang had to visit Qi Chen and let him know she was alright. She got changed and left for Prince Chen Manor.
Qi Chen let out a sigh of relief when he saw that Jun Huang had recovered. He told the servants to prepare a meal and asked Jun Huang to stay for lunch.
Nan Guyue's belly had become more and more pronounced, and her eyes softer. She smiled at Jun Huang and said politely, "I've heard the prince say that the gentleman was sick, but because of my condition I wasn't able to visit the gentleman. I hope you don't blame me for that."
"The princess is too kind," Jun Huang said with a smile that didn't reach her eyes.
"Brother Feng has lost weight because of your cold," Qi Chen said suddenly. Jun Huang looked up at him, unsure of his intentions, but Qi Chen didn't explain.
Nan Guyue said, "The prince is worried that the gentleman has not been eating well. If you are so inclined, you are welcome to have your meals in this manor."
Jun Huang blinked. She didn't expect Qi Chen to be so generous to a strategist. Qi Chen must have his reasons. Jun Huang, though, knew her place. She smiled a little. "This gentleman is grateful for Your Highness and the princess's hospitality. This gentleman does have decent food at home though. My tired appearance is simply a result of my recent recovery from the cold."
They ate in silence. When Qi Chen finished eating, he put down his bowl and chopsticks. "Is brother Feng done?"
Jun Huang nodded. "Your Highness?"
"Come walk with me." Qi Chen left the room. Jun Huang caught up with him after bidding Nan Guyue farewell.
They walked in silence. When Qi Chen stopped, they were at the side building. Jun Huang wondered what Qi Chen wanted, but she didn't ask. Instead, she simply followed Qi Chen's gaze.
"You have moved out of the manor, brother Feng," Qi Chen turned to say to Jun Huang, "but this place will always be yours. You are welcome to move back whenever you want to. Nothing is different. Wei Qian is also still at your service."
Qi Chen had always trusted her. No matter how hard others tried to break that trust, they failed. He gave her more and more privileges. That, however, unsettled Jun Huang. Her instinct told her that Qi Chen possessed power she didn't know about and Qi Chen didn't intend to tell her about. He might seem to keep no secrets from her. In reality, there were many things she was kept in the dark of.
They made a round in the garden. Qi Chen left to attend to his business. He told Jun Huang to stay for a while, but Jun Huang was troubled. She wasn't in the mood to appreciate the scenery. She sent a man to inform Qi Chen before leaving the manor.
Nan Xun should know about this, Jun Huang thought. Before she reached her house, she made a sudden turn and walked towards Prince Nan Manor.
Jun Huang told Nan Xun about her doubts, hoping that Nan Xun would be able to answer her questions.
Nan Xun wasn't that familiar with Qi Chen. He didn't have an answer himself. He only told Jun Huang to not dwell on it too much, lest she worry herself sick again.