Chapter 150: Desires for Men
It would be better if Nan Xun had stayed silent. His response rekindled the emperor's ire. The emperor threw Nan Xun a glare and scoffed. "You are unrepentant! Stay on your knees until you understand your mistakes." He turned to the eunuch and, before the eunuch could open his mouth, said, "Back to my palace."
The eunuch looked at Nan Xun, then at the emperor. He let out a resigned sigh before ordering a few servants to prepare a sedan chair. They left for the emperor's palace. Nan Xun was left alone in the rain.
Nan Xun did not intend to change his mind. He didn't think he had done anything wrong. Every time he thought of the way Jun Huang's eyes darkened, his heart sank. If he was unable to convince the emperor to take back the order, he and Jun Huang would…
He stopped himself from going down that train of thoughts. He didn't dare to even think about how he would react if one day Jun Huang was no longer with him.
Nan Xun took a deep breath and straightened up, paying no mind to the merciless rain. His clothes were completely drenched. He could feel rain dripping down his hair.
Wan'er watched Nan Xun from afar. The maid standing next to her let out a sigh. "I heard that Prince Nan has been kneeling there the whole day. He refuses to accept the marriage. No one knows the reason. Shangguan Yue is one of the most beautiful woman in Northern Qi. Many have tried and failed to win her heart. And yet Prince Nan turned her away."
"Who knows for whom is he keeping his heart for?" Wan'er said with a frown. The dangling ornament on her head waved and chimed gently in the wind. Her emerald green dress was wetted by the rain, but she didn't seem to care. Her eyes had lost their usual vibrancy. She was showing a maturity that was beyond her age.
The maid didn't understand what Wan'er meant. Was Nan Xun in love with someone from a more humble background? Was it why Nan Xun was willing to throw everything away and refused to marry Shangguan Yue?
Her speculation led her to the conclusion that Nan Xun was a man who was loyal to his lover. Someone like him deserved to be happy.
Wan'er didn't know what her maid was thinking. She was troubled enough on her own. "Where is Royal Father?"
"Royal Father has returned to his chamber a while ago. Does the princess want to visit him?"
Wan'er paused. She felt like there was a need for her to talk to the emperor. Before she could take more than a couple steps, the maid continued to say, "However, I heard that Sir Shangguan has requested an audience with the emperor. He's most likely here for Prince Nan Xun as well. It may not be a good time for the princess to visit."
Wan'er stopped in her track. Sir Shangguan will take care of the matter, she thought. If it's me doing the talking, Royal Father may start doubting my motivation.
Wan'er waved a hand and said, "If so, I'm not going to barge in. Let us return to the palace."
The maid caught up with her and tilted the umbrella toward Wan'er's direction, keeping Wan'er wet at the cost of getting drenched herself.
"Sir Shangguan requested an audience with you, Your Majesty," the eunuch said. The emperor was resting on the divan. He opened his eyes and motioned at the eunuch to let Sir Shangguan in.
On his way in, Sir Shangguan idly wondered if the emperor knew about the rumor. He wanted to ask the eunuch, but as the emperor's confidante, the eunuch would not be honest with him. He would be attracting the emperor's suspicion for nothing.
Sir Shangguan bowed at the emperor respectfully. The emperor let out a long sigh. "The official must have come for the marriage between Yue'er and Nan Xun."
"Indeed," said Sir Shangguan.
The emperor sighed again and rubbed at his forehead tiredly. "That boy isn't usually this stubborn. For some reason, he refuses to accept the marriage no matter what I said. I don't know what he is thinking."
Sir Shangguan's eyes darkened. He looked up at the emperor and hesitantly opened his mouth. The emperor frowned and said, "The official may be honest with me."
"Has the emperor not heard the rumors?" asked Sir Shangguan. He immediately lowered his head, worried that he would anger the emperor.
His words were vague. The emperor didn't know what he was referring to. The frown between the emperor's eyebrows deepened. "What rumors? The official can be upfront with me. I'll like to know what people have been talking about."
Sir Shangguan's stomach dropped. He knew what he was going to say would make the emperor mad, but he had to think of his daughter's happiness. He tightened his jaw and said, "People are saying that… Prince Nan… is into men."
Sir Shangguan bowed down until his head touched the floor and didn't dare to look up. His robe was dirtied by the mud brought in from the outside, but he failed to take notice.
The emperor stilled. He never expected this boy he had seen growing up would be into men.
Northern Qi was less conservative than the other countries. The emperor knew there were quite a lot of people with the passion of Longyang, but he had never met any in person. Now Sir Shangguan was saying that Nan Xun was one of those people? He didn't know how to react.
Sir Shangguan snuck a few glances at the emperor. Seeing the startled look on the emperor's face, he assumed that the emperor could not tolerate such desires. He silently cheered himself on and continued, "Some even said that Prince Nan had taken a young man back to his manor and kept him at his side. They were always together during daytime, and at night… they slept on the same bed…"
The emperor hit the desk with his palm with a dark look. "Unbelievable!"
Sir Shangguan shuddered. He bowed down further and didn't dare to say another word. He hoped the emperor would direct Nan Xun back to the right path.
The emperor had not spoken for a while. Sir Shangguan looked up in confusion while the emperor happened to look down at him. He hurriedly lowered his head again.
"What does the official think I should do?" asked the emperor.
Sir Shangguan had thought of an argument beforehand, but he didn't want the emperor to know that he had come prepared. He pretended to give the question some thoughts before saying, "This official believes that Prince Nan Xun has only turned this way because of his long years among the soldiers. Rumor has it that the man Prince Nan Xun… keeps in his manor is pretty. Must have been a feminine man who looks not unlike a woman. That's why Prince Nan Xun likes him. This shows that Prince Nan Xun still loves women. He only picks a man because he doesn't know how to deal with women."
"Prince Nan Xun is no ordinary man. He must know that such desires are not accepted by the general public. However he's blinded by his desires, and the young man is good at seducing him. That's why the prince has lost his senses. This official believes that once Prince Nan Xun gets married, he will recover and go back to the right path."
Sir Shangguan's arguments were solid, but the emperor had his own agenda. The emperor sighed after a moment of silence and said, "I'll think about it. It's late now. The official should return to your manor."
Sir Shangguan looked up at the emperor, but he couldn't tell what the emperor was thinking. He didn't dare to jump to conclusions. He got to his feet and walked out.
The eunuch waited until Sir Shangguan had left to ask, "What does Your Majesty plan to do? The prince – "
"Is it still raining?" the emperor asked in lieu of a response.
The eunuch nodded.
The emperor waved a dismissive hand. "Tell him to go home. Give me some time to think about it."
The eunuch hurried outside. Nan Xun was still kneeling in the rain. The eunuch sighed and approached him with an umbrella. "Your Highness, the emperor ordered this servant to send Your Highness home."
Nan Xun looked up at the eunuch and tried his best to steady himself. "Has the emperor taken back his order?"
"His Majesty said to let him think about it. He didn't – "
"Then please tell him that I won't leave unless the order is retracted, gonggong." Nan Xun had spoken slowly, but his tone was determined. His gaze was steely and he wrapped his lips around every word he uttered carefully. It was an ordinary rainy day with sunset in his backdrop, but he looked as if he was on a battlefield with blood under his feet.
The eunuch let out a long breath. He was a servant. He couldn't do much in this situation. "You're too stubborn for your own good, Your Highness."
He shook his head and walked away.
The emperor flew into rage when he heard Nan Xun's response. Nan Xun was truly unrepentant! "If he's willing to stay on his knees, let him! Tell him to come see me when he understands his mistakes!"
It rained the whole night, and Nan Xun stayed on his knees the whole time. Fortunately he was a trained fighter. Even after a night of torture, he didn't collapse.
During this time the emperor had calmed down enough to think about the issue properly. He ordered a servant to lead Nan Xun to get changed before coming to see him.
Nan Xun respectfully bowed at the emperor when he entered the palace. No one could deny that he had a strong backbone. The emperor walked up to Nan Xun and patted him on the shoulder, telling him to be at ease. "Take a walk with me in the royal garden."
They entered the garden. It was summertime. All around them were vibrant greenery and flowers. It was truly a sight to behold. The emperor wandered around slowly while Nan Xun trailed after him in silence.
They took a short break in a pavilion. The emperor ordered the servants to leave before asking, "Tell me, Nan Xun, is the rumor that you are into men true?"