Chapter 128: Reaping the Benefits
The man didn't immediately respond. With a chuckle, he said, "Those are not spells. Just magic tricks. If you're interested, I can teach you two some basic ones."
Jun Huang and Qi Yun were of course interested. They nodded earnestly.
The magic tricks were easier to do than they had expected. Soon, they were able to do them themselves. They set out for the palace with a content heart.
On their way back they had a run-in with some bandits. They were rescued by the guards who left the palace to search for them. Afterwards Jun Huang was grounded for a month, but that wasn't the important part of the story.
Jun Huang thought about what she should do to help Ji Bo prove himself. Ji Bo was highly respected and even revered. Many were convinced that he was god reincarnated. She decided to teach Ji Bo how to do those magic tricks.
After some preparation, Ji Bo took the pigeon a servant had brought him and, with a wave of his hand, the pigeon disappeared. Then he swung his broad sleeve like a whip and out came a flower with petals of five colors. The flower exploded into a handful of colorful petals and fell from the sky. It was shocking enough to make one question reality and beautiful enough to captivate one's heart.
Another wave of his hand, and hundreds of doves flew out from his sleeves. They took off to the sky and arranged themselves into the third prince's name.
The third prince stared up in awe. He didn't know that these doves were kept and trained by Jun Huang. He was gullible enough to believe that Ji Bo was a celestial being descended from the heaven, and that Ji Bo was able to manipulate reality at will.
Ji Bo let out a quiet laugh. He didn't say anything, but his silence spoke volumes.
"The gentleman is indeed the reincarnation of a god," the third prince said respectfully. "I was wrong to have doubted you. I hope the gentleman can forgive me."
Ji Bo waved his hand dismissively. "There's no need for the prince to be this formal with me."
The third prince shot one of his servants a look. The servant quickly picked up the blood jade and presented it to Ji Bo with both hands. Ji Bo glanced at it and said, "Consider this jade my gift to Your Highness."
"Thank you." The third prince took the blood jade and turned to his servants. "Go prepare the finest room for Mister Ji Bo. He is going to be the most honored guest in our manor from now on."
The servants nodded and left. Some was not yet recovered from the awe-inducing performance they had witnessed.
The third prince invited Ji Bo to take the main seat with a servile smile and started talking about the recent development in the world. The change in his attitude was striking.
At the same time, Jun Huang was talking to Qi Yun about the situation in the imperial court. Without ceremony, Jun Huang said, "We should lay low."
"Why?" Qi Yun asked with a frown.
"Qi Chen possess more power than us for the time being. That's not something we can change immediately. If we are too hasty, we risk exposing ourselves. If Qi Chen knows we are the ones who have been working against him, we will be at a great disadvantage."
Jun Huang looked up at him. "We can't fight him headon. Otherwise we risk losing everything. If we stay in the dark, we can at least protect ourselves. Besides, Qi Chen is the crown prince assigned by the emperor. We can't possibly go against the emperor's will openly, no matter the reasons."
Qi Yun opened his mouth to respond, but nothing came out. He looked at Jun Huang's gentle and beautiful face, then at the falling leaves behind her. For a moment, he couldn't say anything.
Jun Huang sighed. "We back off now to conserve our strength," she said quietly. "I'm not telling you to give up on the throne. Qi Chen has his feet firmly in the court. Our efforts will only be able to destabilize his position a little. He now has many supporters, even more so than the emperor. Our top priority – and our best option – is to seek help from courtiers who are against Qi Chen."
Qi Yun calmed down once he heard Jun Huang's analysis. He met her eyes and asked, "What is your plan?"
"Qi Chen's most powerful enemy is the banished empress. The death of her son would not be so easily forgotten. She can serve as a proxy for us to connect with potential allies. There are officials who have been oppressed by Qi Chen. There are also officials who disagree with how Qi Chen do things. They are the ones we can use." Jun Huang's tone was so casual, it was as if she was talking about the taste of tea with Qi Yun, instead of talking about changing the political landscape of the country.
Qi Yun frowned. "Then…"
Jun Huang gave him a smile. "We back off. Stay in the shadow. Let the third prince have his fight with Qi Chen. Naturally, Qi Chen will assume that it is the third prince who has been undermining him. Once they end up crippling each other in their feud, we will be the fisherman reaping the benefits."
Qi Yun nodded after some thinking. He then asked about Ji Bo. He frowned worriedly when he heard that Ji Bo now served the third prince.
His worries weren't enough to sway Jun Huang. She leveled him with a calm gaze and said, "Ji Bo plays an important role in this plan. I hope Your Highness isn't going to doubt our own people."
Mortified, Qi Yun turned away and cleared his throat. Once he had left, Jun Huang stayed in her garden and looked up at the grey sky. Whatever she was thinking, it didn't show on her face.
Ji Bo had gained the third prince's trust in only a few days. The third prince started going to Ji Bo for advice.
Today, the third prince visited Ji Bo's temporary residence as usual. Ji Bo sat at the desk, waiting for the prince's arrival.
"Is the gentleman waiting for me?" the third prince asked with a smile as he approached Ji Bo.
Ji Bo turned to him and nodded. "Naturally. This gentleman believes that it is time for us to take action."
The third prince sat across from Ji Bo and frowned. "What action?"
"Does Your Highness intend to do nothing and wait for the throne to fall on your lap?" Ji Bo asked with an arched eyebrow.
"What does the gentleman propose?" asked the third prince.
"I heard that Your Highness's mother is an old friend of the banished empress. Is that true? And your mother entered the palace through the empress?"
The third prince widened his eyes in horror. How did Ji Bo know that? Cold sweat broke out from his back. It seemed as if Ji Bo was able to see through others' souls. It sent a chill down his spine.
Ji Bo smiled and turned the conversation around. "The former crown prince may have angered the emperor, but the emperor had raised Qi Yin himself. He did care about Qi Yin. Qi Chen's different. We both know how Qi Chen gains the title of the crown prince. I won't go into the details. After Qi Yin's death, the emperor has started to forget about the wrongdoings of Qi Yin. And the banished empress still holds a special place in the emperor's heart. If Your Highness can help the banished empress out of her difficult situation, she will be grateful to you. Through cooperating with the banished empress, Your Highness can also make use of Qi Yin's remaining supporters. It's a fail-proof plan."
The third prince nodded in agreement. He was never someone who was good at maneuvering in the political world. It didn't occurred to him that Qi Chen might realize what he was doing if he opposed Qi Chen so openly. He simply thought that with the banished empress's help, the throne would be right within his reach. Now all he had to think about was how he could enter the palace to contact the banished empress.
Ji Bo truly deserves his fame, he thought. He is both brave and clever.
He was fortunate to have met Ji Bo. Otherwise he would still be living his luxurious but meaningless life. Then he truly would have no chance in succeeding the throne.
"I'll go make the necessary arrangements. The gentleman should take some rest. Please excuse me." With that, the third prince hurried away.
Ji Bo watched him go. Once he was left alone, he wrote Jun Huang a letter and sent it to her through her pigeon. Once that was done, he lay down and closed his eyes. This was only the start.
Jun Huang soon received Ji Bo's letter. Her eyes darkened in contemplation. In the letter, Ji Bo had described his experience in the third prince's manor in detail. He also mentioned that the third prince had shown an interest in taking the throne.
Jun Huang scoffed and handed the letter to Nan Xun. "The third prince may have been doing nothing up until this point, but that was because he had no one to help him. That was the only reason he appeared to have no ambition. What a cowardly man. Now that he had acquired Ji Bo's help, his greed has become evident."
Nan Xun read over the letter carefully. Jun Huang was right. It was human nature to covet what one didn't have. The third prince was born into the royal family. It was impossible for him to be free of a desire for power.
A thought struck Nan Xun's mind. He frowned. "What if the banished empress tells the third prince that you have asked her for help? If the third prince knows that he is being used, he will tell Qi Chen about it. Then we'll be in trouble."
Jun Huang smirked. "The banished empress won't tell the third prince about me. She's been stuck in the palace all her life. Revenge is now her only drive. She doesn't care who is going to avenge her son for her. She won't tell the third prince. She may even help us."
Her smile deepened. Nan Xun was momentarily lost in her eyes.
The third prince was impatient. He entered the palace the next day, claiming that he was here to greet the emperor.
The emperor was pleased. The third prince had not entered the palace for a good while. He knew that this son of his was incompetent and poorly-behaved. It was rare for the third prince to even think about visiting him.
"This son enters the palace not only to visit Royal Father," said the third prince. Subtlety was an alien concept to him.
"Oh? Are you going to visit your mother as well? That will be good. It's been a while since she last saw you…"
"This son wants to visit the banished empress," the third prince said. He lost all his confidence the moment he uttered those words. He snuck a few glances at the emperor and saw the emperor's expression darken.