Chapter 125: The Third Prince's Manor
Jun Huang didn't expect Nan Xun to give her an answer so readily. The next day, she told Ji Bo to wait on the south street. She and Nan Xun would stay in a tea house nearby, watching from one of the booths on the second floor.
The minister did show up. Behind him were a group of servants. He walked the street like a fox flaunting its master's power. The bystanders avoided him like the plague. Clearly the minister had been terrorizing the locals.
Ji Bo spotted the minister immediately. With a smile, he ran onto the street and knocked into the minister. Nan Xun and Jun Huang could tell from their vantage point that he had done it on purpose. Both Ji Bo and the minister staggered back after the collision.
Before the minister could curse Ji Bo out, a piece of blood jade fell out of Ji Bo's clothes and tumbled to the minister's feet.
With a panicked expression, Ji Bo ran to pick up the jade, but the minister beat him to it, turning the jade over in his hand appreciatively.
The jade was indeed a rare treasure. Its appearance had a translucent quality to it. Crimson red crawled along the jade as if there was blood pulsing under the surface. The name blood jade couldn't have been more fitting.
Among the officials who weren't rich enough to afford such jade, the minister happened to be the one who understood jade the most. As Ji Bo and Jun Huang expected, the minister's eyes were glued to the jade the moment he laid eyes on it. He wanted to make it his.
"This is the only thing supporting my family and myself, sir!" Ji Bo said when the minister was about to leave. "You can't just take it away!" He ran up to stop the minister from leaving.
The minister's expression changed faster than one could turn a book page. He threw Ji Bo a cold glance and said, "This is my jade. You tried to steal it from me when you knocked into me. And now you dare to claim that it belongs to you? Ha, do you have a dead wish?"
Ji Bo's lips tightened at the minister's blatant lies. There were more and more onlookers on the street, but they were simply enjoying the drama. None of them said anything to help Ji Bo.
The minister kept spouting curses at Ji Bo to mask his guilt. Ji Bo looked at him with hurt in his eyes like a kicked puppy.
His expression changed when he saw the third prince coming this way from afar. A disdainful laugh accompanied his sudden turn of attitude. He looked into the minister's eyes. "I wonder if you will get your tongue twisted with all the lies you've been telling."
"How dare you!" the minister exclaimed. "This is my jade! How dare a petty thief like you talk to me like that?"
Ji Bo maintained his smile. "If the good sir claims that this jade is yours, this gentleman has a few questions: where is the jade from, and what are its special qualities?"
The minister didn't know what to say. In panic, he yelled at Ji Bo with his hands over his hip, "What about you? Can you tell me about the jade?"
"The jade was from the South Sea. It was unlike any regular jade. Throughout its formation, the essence of sun and moon has concentrated into this mineral. At first glance the red veins seems to be the color of the blood, but it's actually more similar to the color of cinnabar. Blood jade such as this is rare enough. One that is as flawless and perfectly round as this one? There is no other in the world."
Ji Bo told only the truth. The minister's palms began to sweat. It was likely that the jade would slip out of his hand any second.
Ji Bo's words were actually said for the benefit of the third prince. He wanted the third prince to realize that the jade in the minister's hand was something you didn't see every day. That was his plan to provoke a confrontation, to push the third prince to the center stage.
The minister's focus was on the blood jade. He hadn't noticed that the third prince had showed up and was looking at the blood jade as well.
The minister lost his calm completely. "That – that doesn't mean this is yours! Who knows if you're telling the truth?"
Ji Bo huffed. "Oh, what a joke! I just told you where this jade was from. Now I can also tell you that there is a piece of amber at the center of the blood jade. Within the amber is a flower. This piece of jade has become such a unique beauty without any human intervention!"
The minister stared intently at the jade. There was indeed a piece of amber inside. The flower had maintained its original form, as lifelike as a living plant. He was completely entranced by the jade's beauty.
Even the third prince's self-control had slipped. He took the opportunity to take the jade from the minister.
The minister barely stopped the barrage of curses from falling out of his mouth. Even a fool like him knew that he must not offend a royal prince. He shut his mouth, unsure how he should get the jade back.
"Please seek justice for this peasant, Your Highness." Ji Bo knelt down before the third prince, who frowned at him with inquisitive eyes.
"How have you been wronged?"
"This piece of blood jade is a family heirloom of this peasant. I accidentally dropped it, and the minister took it from me, accusing me of trying to steal the jade from him. But it's mine! And yet I'm forced to shoulder such blame. How cruel fate can be!" Ji Bo's voice was hoarse. It was difficult not to pity him.
The third prince stared at the flawless blood jade. He wanted it for himself as well. As a royal son, though, he couldn't possibly do such a thing in public. He glanced at Ji Bo. "If so, come with me. I will figure out who this jade belongs to myself."
The minister swallowed his words when he saw the third prince's cold eyes. "Your Highness has made the right decision."
"Does the minister intend to come with me as well?" the third prince asked with narrowed eyes.
Even if he had been as brave as a bear, the minister wouldn't dare to argue with the third prince about anything. With an awkward smile, he fled with his servants in tow.
The third prince glanced at Ji Bo. This wasn't a good place for conversation. He told Ji Bo to get up and follow him back to his manor.
Jun Huang and Nan Xun had seen everything from the second floor of the tea house. Jun Huang's expression was difficult to read. She fondled with her teacup, her thoughts indiscernible.
Nan Xun sighed. "It's a shame that such treasure was given to a man like the third prince."
Jun Huang smiled a little. "It is a fine piece of jade," she said after drinking some tea. "But it's not as magical as Ji Bo claimed. The minister and the prince were deceived."
"Ji Bo said the jade has taken form in the nature without human intervention, but that's a lie. It's made that way through artificial means."
Nan Xun sighed. He had believed that they would give the third prince such a fine gift. He was naive.
He finished his cup of tea and snorted. "I didn't expect things to go so smoothly. Even the gods are helping us."
Jun Huang didn't look convinced. A frown appeared on her face. "No, it's not as simple as you think. This is simply the first step. Now we'll have to see if Ji Bo will be able to convince the third prince to fight for the throne."
Nan Xun nodded. "True. I have heard that the third prince has not been interested in taking on any responsibility. It may be difficult to talk sense into that wooden head."
"We'll never know without trying. Now we wait for the good news from Ji Bo."
Jun Huang dropped her dark look. I should put some trust in Ji Bo's persuasive skill, she thought. Ji Bo is a follower of the Ghost Valley school after all. Convincing the third prince shouldn't be too difficult for him.
Nan Xun nodded. He finished the last of his tea before taking Jun Huang's cup and chucking the remaining liquid. He was studiously implementing the doctor's order to stop her from consuming too much tea. Jun Huang huffed out a laugh.
"Since we have done what we are here for, we should both return home," said Nan Xun as he fixed his sleeves.
Jun Huang nodded. She glanced at the street before getting to her feet and smoothing over her wrinkled robe. She then followed Nan Xun downstairs.
Jun Huang turned down Nan Xun's offer to walk her back, but Nan Xun insisted. Resigned, she let Nan Xun escort her.
The third prince took Ji Bo back to his manor. Even though the prince had said a few words in support of Ji Bo in front of the minister, Ji Bo knew that the prince wanted the jade for himself as well. Ji Bo didn't say anything. He wanted the prince to be the one to initiate the conversation.
Call him stubborn, but Ji Bo was sure the prince would ask him for the jade of his own volition.
Nan Xun kept thinking about what had happened earlier as he walked Jun Huang back. He stared at the ground with his brows furrowed. Jun Huang had noticed his troubled expression when they left the tea house. She had kept quiet about it.
Finally, Jun Huang came to a stop and turned to Nan Xun. "I know you have a lot of questions. You can just ask me. Don't keep it in until you worry yourself sick."
Since Jun Huang was so open about it, there was no reason for Nan Xun to dwell on the question on his own. He asked, "Are you confident that this plan will work?"