Chapter 137: Discovery
Nan Xun had made up his mind. He would not go easy on Jun Huang anymore. When she charged at him, he yanked her to the side by her wrist and hit her in the back with his palm when she lost her balance. Before she fell, Nan Xun caught her with an arm around her waist, but his attacks didn't stop here. A kick to the back of her knees made her stagger. She dropped down to one knee, unable to get up.
Nan Xun hardened his heart and stopped himself from looking away. He knew he had not done any permanent damage to Jun Huang.
Jun Huang propped herself up, eyes shooting daggers at Nan Xun as she charged at him again. She pulled back her fist when she was about to hit Nan Xun and ducked under Nan Xun's arm to gent behind him. She kicked him right in the hip, but her full force wasn't enough to knock Nan Xun off his feet. His knees only bent a little before he recovered his stance.
During the sparring session, Jun Huang was defeated again and again. Her back was still numb from Nan Xun's knifehand strikes. It felt as if her bones were going to fall apart. Sucking in a pained breath, she carefully sat down on the stool in the garden, her joints screaming in complain.
Over the next few days, new bruises appeared on Jun Huang's body almost every day, but she never complained. Nan Xun knew, nonetheless, that she must be in pain. To help sooth her pain, he ordered a servant to prepare Jun Huang a medicinal bath every evening, which could help with her circulation and accelerate healing.
Today, after a training session, Jun Huang bid Nan Xun farewell and went straight to her room. She didn't feel like eating, so she told the servants to not prepare her dinner. She took off her sweat-drenched clothes and immersed herself into the medicinal bath.
The bluish black medicine made her fair skin look even more striking. Her long hair draped over her shoulders, the color melting with the dark liquid.
Jun Huang closed her eyes and let the heat envelop her in a warm blanket. She was almost asleep when her door creaked open. Jun Huang jerked awake and asked from behind the screen, "Who's it?"
Nan Xun stilled when he realized what Jun Huang was doing. He cursed himself for barging in. "It's me," he said after clearing his throat.
Jun Huang let out a sigh of relief. "Wait outside for a moment. I'll be with you soon."
Jun Huang pulled herself out of the wooden barrel, bracing for the pain with a tightened jaw. Her wet hair stuck to her body. The contrast in color was striking.
She put on her clothes before sauntering outside her room. Her face was still red from the bath. She felt a little embarrassed for facing Nan Xun in this state. Nan Xun too was mortified. He didn't immediately speak up about what he was here for.
"The training has been a little too heavy these couple of days," said Nan Xun. "I'm here to give you a massage. It can help your muscles relax, and you won't feel as tired tomorrow."
Jun Huang hummed. A massage would be beneficial to her training. She nodded and sat on the empress chair in the room. "Thank you."
Nan Xun moved a stool to Jun Huang's side. Jun Huang had closed her eyes. She must be tired. Nan Xun didn't try to wake her.
He put one of Jun Huang's legs on his lap and gently rubbed circles over the acupuncture points along her calves. He remembered he had kicked Jun Huang under the knee a few days ago. He rolled her pants up and saw the bruise that had not faded even after days. It looked almost offensive on her fair skin.
When Nan Xun held onto Jun Huang's ankle, she jerked awake and looked up at Nan Xun with bashful eyes. A woman's ankles were sensitive. Jun Huang let out the breath she had been holding and lay back down on the chair.
"It is said that women are tender, but you have such strong backbone – so very unlike most women," Nan Xun said teasingly. "But you are not like most men either. Your skin is too soft and fair."
Jun Huang's face heat up. She didn't know what to say about that.
She couldn't help the moan escaping her mouth when Nan Xun massaged her ankles. The air in the room grew thick.
Arousal hit Nan Xun right in his gut. It felt as if there was a cat scratching his heart. He shot to his feet and took a deep breath to stop himself from reacting.
A servant had heard Jun Huang when he was bringing tea to her room. He startled and dropped the teapot. The sound of it shattering cut through the silence. The servant thought that he had happened upon his master's "business". He scrambled to leave.
Nan Xun and Jun Huang were startled by the commotion outside. Jun Huang went still. Nan Xun staggered backward. This wasn't good.
"I have to go check," he said. With a final glance at Jun Huang, he rushed out of the room as if he was fleeing from a beast.
The servant was nowhere to be seen. Nan Xun frowned. He had a bad feeling about this.
Jun Huang lay down on the empress chair and smothered herself with a pillow, her face flushed. What had she been thinking?!
At night, Jun Huang was having troubles sleeping. Her heart had not stopped pounding ever since what happened in the evening. She kept remembering Nan Xun's gentle look. Her heartbeats were deafening.
She fell asleep after the day had broken. The maid in charge of taking care of Jun Huang didn't want to disturb Jun Huang, but the sound she made when cleaning up the shattered teapot woke Jun Huang up.
Jun Huang rubbed her eyes and tried lifting her arms and legs. Because of the massage, her muscles were not as sore as they could have been. She asked for things to clean herself up with before getting off the bed.
She made her way to the dining hall after getting ready for the day. Nan Xun gave her a brief glance and looked away. Embarrassed, Jun Huang greeted him and took a seat far from Nan Xun. She finished a bowl of congee before laying down the utensils.
Seeing how little Jun Huang had eaten, Nan Xun asked, "Do you not like the food?"
Jun Huang shook her head without a word. Nan Xun didn't ask again.
They went to the courtyard they had been training in and let their bodies digest. Then it was time to start training again.
Because of what happened last night, Nan Xun was hesitant to have any physical contact with Jun Huang. He didn't know how Jun Huang felt about him. To be on the safe side, he taught Jun Huang a couple moves and told her to practice herself.
Jun Huang was distracted. She wasn't so much practicing the moves as performing the actions without putting any force behind it. She was so distracted she most likely wouldn't notice Nan Xun even if he walked past her now.
"Focus!" Nan Xun snapped. "This is not a game!"
Jun Huang jumped, turning to Nan Xun with unfocused eyes. She soon recovered and started practicing the moves with all her heart.
Nan Xun nodded approvingly and took a seat. He watched Jun Huang train in earnest with a hand supporting his head, drinking tea every once in a while.
When Qi Yun entered the manor with his page boy, it was still early in the morning. The world had only started to awaken. Surrounded by vibrant lives, Jun Huang repeated the same movement again and again. Nan Xun watched her with a cup of tea in his hand. It seemed as if he was indifferent to what he was seeing, but Qi Yun knew that wasn't true.
Qi Yun greeted Nan Xun after a pause. "I heard the servants say that brother Nan is teaching gentleman Feng how to fight. I didn't believe them, but it is true. How unexpected."
Nan Xun threw him a cool glance and nodded. "His body is in a poor condition. That has to be changed. This will help with his health."
Qi Yun nodded. Jun Huang was brave and clever, but her health was a problem. He hoped that Jun Huang would be able to assist him for many years to come, so he accepted Nan Xun's explanation easily. He sat down under the shade and watched her train.
After about the time for an incense stick to burn, Jun Huang stopped, her face covered in sweat. Only then did she realized that Qi Yun was here. She approached them with a frown.
Nan Xun took a handkerchief from a servant before handing it to Jun Huang. She wiped away her sweat and slowed her breathing down. "I didn't know Your Highness had come," she said to Qi Yun with her hands cupped. "I hope Your Highness won't blame me for not greeting you earlier."
"The gentleman is too kind. I have visited without notifying you two in advance. I've intruded upon you." Qi Yun shot to his feet and helped Jun Huang up.
Jun Huang straightened her back. She was going to hand the handkerchief back to the servant, but Nan Xun suddenly reached out to take it. She stilled, dropping the handkerchief on the ground. Jun Huang bent down to pick it up just as Nan Xun was doing the same.
Their fingers touched. Jun Huang jumped away. The awkwardness in the air was smothering.
Qi Yun narrowed his eyes at them. What had happened to these two? He didn't voice his question. After a brief moment of silence, he drank some tea and said, "I visited today because I've found something in the palace. After some deliberation, I came to the conclusion that it's wise to tell gentleman Feng and brother Nan."
Nan Xun and Jun Huang shared a look. They put aside their discomfort and awkwardness. Qi Yun must have found something important.
"What is it?" asked Jun Huang.