Chapter 133: Secret Meeting
The man's reaction was too strong and his expression too nervous; it was evident that he had ulterior motives. Qi Chen's pupils contracted. He had been deceived by this petty liar!
Furious, he hit the table with his palm and stepped on the man's back, pinning him to the floor.
"Who sent you? What are you trying to do?" He applied so much force that the man was almost flat on the ground. The man's silence further angered Qi Chen. He kicked the man in his back. The man face-planted into the floor with a pained grunt.
"You better be honest with me," Qi Chen said in a murderous tone. "Otherwise you won't see the sun tomorrow."
It was obvious that Qi Chen would go through with his threat, and the man had never been particularly brave. He stammered, "Please spare my life, Your Highness. It's… it's the fourth prince! I… I'm the fourth prince's spy… A week ago – no, a couple days ago, the fourth prince sent a message to me, telling me to break the trust between the crown prince and his strategist. This servant was coerced! He took my family hostage as leverage. This servant has no other choice…"
Jun Huang narrowed her eyes. The man was clearly lying. He couldn't even get his story straight.
She walked up to him and took out a silver needle with a smirk, showing it to the man. "It's best that you stop lying. If I find out you have been dishonest, I will put this needle into your vein. Do you know what will happen then?"
The man startled trembling uncontrollably, curling into himself and gulping as he stared at the needle. "I… I've been telling the truth! If the gentleman doesn't – "
Before he could finish, Jun Huang seized his arm and drove the needle in a few inches. The man was on the verge of tears. Jun Huang gave him a bright smile. "This needle has been immersed in poison for a year, soaking the poison up. If I push it in further, you'll feel like you are being eaten alive by hundreds of insects. In the end you'll die with blood coming out of all seven of your orifices."
"No… stop! I'll talk! I'll tell you the truth!" The man was almost scared to death. He didn't dare to keep on with his lies. "It's the third prince! He paid me to do this – "
With a push of her finger, Jun Huang drove the needle further in. The man widened his eyes before losing consciousness.
Jun Huang took out a handkerchief to wipe her hands clean. She turned to Qi Chen with cool eyes. "Your Highness has heard what the man said."
Qi Chen nodded. "I thought he was being dishonest. It turns out that my suspicion is right." He spat. Who or what has given third brother the confidence to oppose me?
"What does brother Feng think of this?" Qi Chen asked, looking up to meet Jun Huang's gaze.
Jun Huang hummed. "The third prince is now trying to gain support from the courtiers. Before, we never considered him a potential rival. Therefore this gentleman does not know yet why the third prince would do such a thing."
Qi Chen huffed. "What else can his reason be? He wants the throne! He should look into a mirror. It's laughable that someone like him dares to even try to go against me."
"This gentleman believes the best thing to do is to wait and see what his plan is. It doesn't mean that we are to do nothing. We should put more people to keep watch on the third prince."
Qi Chen nodded. "Brother Feng is right. I will give the orders later." Thinking back to how he had suspected Jun Huang, he tried to make amends. "I was deceived by this petty man. It's not that I don't trust brother Feng. I hope brother Feng won't take offence."
"Of course not." Jun Huang put on a fake smile. She could hear the warning underlying Qi Chen's benevolent words. No matter how little, there was some doubt in Qi Chen's heart. She cupped her hands and bowed at him. "This gentleman has sworn my loyalty to the prince, and time has proven that your wish is my command. No one is in the place to say otherwise. My only goal is to continue serving Your Highness as your strategist and help you become the emperor."
She had injected all the genuinity she could muster into her words. It hit Qi Chen deep in his heart.
"I am fortunate to have gained a strategist like brother Feng. I know you’re loyal to me. Things like this will never happen again." Qi Chen helped her up. It looked as if he truly trusted her with all his heart.
Jun Huang lowered her eyes and contemplated how she should explain away her visit to Nan Xun's place. Something came to her mind.
"Nan Xun has saved my life, Your Highness, but he is a stubborn man who is difficult to sway," said Jun Huang. "It may be better if we stop trying to gain his support and turn to other people."
Qi Chen fell silent. So Jun Huang had been trying to sway Nan Xun still. Nan Xun was impossible to persuade, though. He refused to take anyone's side. It was a waste of time to continue trying. Qi Chen nodded.
That signified his renewed trust in Jun Huang. He had promised to not doubt Jun Huang's loyalty again.
"If so, you should stop wasting your time on him. I have other things to attend to. You may do whatever you want to do."
Jun Huang took his words as an order for her to leave. She saluted him calmly.
"Since Your Highness is busy, this gentleman will return to my place."
Jun Huang walked away, sparing no glance for the unconscious man on the floor. Qi Chen gave the man a single venomous glare before ordering someone to get rid of the man.
Back to her house, Jun Huang started to question what had happened. The third prince had plotted to make Qi Chen doubt her! That was not a good sign. Things could have gone very wrong.
She fell into a deep contemplation. The tea on the table had gone cold when she broke out from her trance. She decided to ask Nan Xun and Ji Bo to come.
It was easy for her to send a message to Nan Xun, but asking Ji Bo to come was a different story. Ji Bo was now staying in the third prince's manor. She would need Nan Xun's help in this. She ordered a man to inform Nan Xun of her request.
Nan Xun came with Ji Bo at his side. When they walked in, Jun Huang was sitting in the garden. It was the beginning of summer, and yet Jun Huang had a robe around her shoulders. Clearly her body had not completely recovered from the illness.
Nan Xun frowned. He wanted nothing but to put Jun Huang in her bed and tell her to rest.
Ji Bo looked at her with disapproval. "Are you still sick?"
Jun Huang got to her feet to welcome them, taking off the robe and handing it to Little Girl with a faint smile. "I'm fine," she said casually. "It is easy to catch a cold in early summer. Little Girl was worried that I might fall ill again, so she insisted on putting that robe on me. I don't really feel cold. It's getting a little warm, actually." She told Little Girl to brew another pot of tea for them.
Nan Xun was worried about Jun Huang. "Why don't we go back to your study? It is windy today…"
"So? It's summer. I may not be as healthy as your are, but I'm not that weak. You don't have to worry too much. I know my own body. It'll be fine."
There was an edge in her tone. Nan Xun had known her for some time. He knew she would get mad if he continued to argue. He shut his mouth.
While Little Girl was away, Jun Huang said, "I asked you to come because Qi Chen asked for me earlier today."
"What happened?" asked Ji Bo.
Jun Huang told them everything. Nan Xun felt his heart speed up. Ji Bo frowned in response.
Jun Huang turned to Ji Bo in question. "What is the gentleman thinking?"
Ji Bo shook her head and sighed. "I have earned the respect of the third prince. He treats me like one would with a god. I have not been staying in his manor for long though. Even though the third prince trusts me, his people don't. They consider me to be a strategist who talks big but is incapable of doing anything on my own." He let out a tired laugh. "I haven't heard anything about this plan."
Jun Huang tightened her fists. She had thought the idea was Ji Bo's. No matter how effective the plan was, it was easy to see through. Jun Huang was able to tell something was wrong immediately. It was perfectly flawed for their purpose.
However, Ji Bo didn't know about this plan, which meant that it was all the third prince's doing.
Jun Huang frowned. A chill ran down her spine at her realization. It would take time for the third prince to plant a spy in Qi Chen's manor. Every servant had to go through a long and careful filtering process before they were hired, and they were supervised by the senior servants in the manor. This meant that even before Qi Chen became the crown prince, this man had been lurking in the manor in order to disrupt Qi Chen's relationship with his confidantes. To sum up… the third prince had always wanted the throne.
Ji Bo had reached the same conclusion. He sucked in a breath and said, "If so, the third prince has always been ambitious. He acted the way he did simply because he wasn't ready yet."
"Yes, he has set his eyes on the throne a long time ago," said Jun Huang. Her voice was as calm as still water, but her eyes were cold enough to freeze anyone. "Gaining your support revealed his true nature. You are the opportunity he's been waiting for."