Chapter 151: Riot in Yunzhou
Nan Xun paused. His intimacy with Jun Huang most likely had spawned some gossips. He didn't take it as an insult. Instead, he saw this as an opportunity.
Nan Xun nodded and cupped his hands. "This official has always been surrounded by men. I find women to be too frail for my liking. I hope Your Majesty can understand that I prefer men in armors over women covered in cosmetics. Please forgive me for straying from your expectations, Your Majesty."
Despite hearing the news from Sir Shangguan beforehand, the emperor was still surprised by Nan Xun's admission. He sighed. "If so, I won't impose this marriage on you."
The emperor had his own reasons. It was a good thing for him that Nan Xun would not have any children. That way, Nan Xun wouldn't think about overthrowing the throne. The emperor let out a silent sigh of relief.
He couldn't just let Nan Xun off the hook, though. He had given an order. If he took it back simply because of Nan Xun's denial, he would lose his authority and others would start to ignore his orders as well. An emperor's words must not be taken lightly.
"Nonetheless, if you do not receive any punishment, there may be a public backlash," said the emperor. "It just so happens that there has been signs of unrest in Yunzhou. The local residents are greatly troubled. I order you to suppress the riot. What do you say?"
Nan Xun knelt down without hesitation. "This official accepts the order."
He was on his knees before the emperor, but his heart was already with Jun Huang. Jun Huang would be glad to have this opportunity.
The emperor sighed and helped Nan Xun up. They sat in the pavilion. The emperor had always considered Nan Xun a talented and handsome man. The one he fell for must have been an extraordinary man as well.
The emperor hadn't intended to ask, but his curiosity got the better of him. "I've heard that the man living in your manor is handsome. Where is he from? How old is he?"
Nan Xun's eyes flashed. "People talk. He is but a regular man. He came to Northern Qi two years ago. He's lost all his family and has been wandering around the world without a place to call home. This official believes he deserves better. That's why I provide a roof over his head. The rumors have been exaggerating."
"Are you willing to give up on a bright future for him?" asked the emperor. "Are you willing to give up Shangguan Yue? Everyone in this city knows that she is beautiful enough to topple a country. Have you never felt anything for her?"
"She may be beautiful," said Nan Xun. There was no trace of awkwardness on his face. "With someone occupying my heart, however, even the best of the best will not attract my attention. I hope Your Majesty understands."
The emperor dropped his line of inquiry. Nan Xun had not rested for a day and a night. He waved a hand at Nan Xun. "That's decided then. Go back and get some sleep. Make preparations for your trip to Yunzhou."
Nan Xun had wanted to return to the manor for a long time. He got to his feet and cupped his hands at the emperor before rushing away.
Nan Xun was worried about Jun Huang. He was worried that Jun Huang might stay up waiting for him. She had been training in martial arts, but her poison had not been cured yet. Her health wasn't how it had been.
It had rained the whole day yesterday, and it was still raining today. Not as harsh as the summer rain last night, but more of a soft drizzle that was often seen in spring.
Nan Xun hurriedly made his way to his manor, paying no attention to the splash of water brought up by his feet. It didn't take long for him to reach his destination. The servants let out a collective sigh of relief when they saw him.
"Your Highness has finally returned," the housekeeper said in a concerned tone.
Nan Xun steadied his breathing. He looked over at the crowd of people waiting for him to return, but he didn't see the one he most wanted to see.
The housekeeper could tell who Nan Xun was looking for. He said, "Gentleman Feng has waited a long time for Your Highness last night. An hour ago he was close to collapsing. This old servant talked him into taking a rest. Should this servant wake him up?"
Nan Xun let out a long breath. His heart softened knowing that Jun Huang had waited for him the whole night. His lips quirked up as he waved a hand and said, "No, don't. His health has not been the best. That's more important. He must have been tired from last night. I haven't slept since yesterday either. I'm going to bed as well."
It was way past noon when Jun Huang woke up. It took some time for her to blink herself awake. She pursed her lips. She had only intended to take a short break, but then she fell asleep.
She jumped off the bed and cleaned herself up before leaving her room. The servants in the manor had returned to their usual routine. She slowed down and stopped one of the maids passing by her room. "Has the prince returned?"
"Yes, the prince returned early today," the maid said with a smile. "He heard that the gentleman was still asleep, so he told us to leave you alone. He wanted to let you rest."
Jun Huang stepped aside and watched the maid walk away. Tension drained out of her body knowing that Nan Xun was alright, but then she was reminded of the emperor's order- Has Nan Xun returned safely because he has agreed to the marriage?
Jun Huang didn't think the emperor would change his mind for Nan Xun, which meant that Nan Xun must have surrendered to the emperor's will.
A sharp pain shot through her heart. She didn't want to think about Nan Xun's marriage, but the pain lingered despite her attempts to shut the thoughts out.
Jun Huang dragged her feet to outside Nan Xun's room. To her surprise, the door was opened. She knocked and walked in when Nan Xun called out for her to enter.
Nan Xun was packing and polishing his light armor. Jun Huang frowned. "What's going on?"
Nan Xun turned around. He was a little surprised to see Jun Huang. Wasn't she still sleeping?
A hint of smile dawned on his face. He couldn't stop his lips from quirking up. "I'm going to Yunzhou."
Jun Huang widened her eyes at Nan Xun. It took a moment for her to react. "To Yun Town?"
Nan Xun nodded at her with a smile, his gaze fixed on her.
"I'm ordered to suppress the riot in Yunzhou," Nan Xun said gently, looking deep into Jun Huang's eyes. "I wonder if you're willing to come with me. It's not going to be an easy journey."
Realization came to Jun Huang. Nan Xun had agreed to go to Yun Town to look for Jun Hao and Yin Yun with her! Her heart sped up in excitement, but she still had to convince Qi Chen to let her go. That she would have to take care of herself.
Even in this state, she had not forgotten about the marriage arranged by the emperor. Hesitantly, she asked, "About the emperor – "
"Don't worry. I've talked to the emperor. He won't force me to get married anymore. In return, I have to go to Yunzhou. Ha, didn't think two wrongs would make a right." Nan Xun chuckled and smoothed a hand over Jun Huang's hair. Occupied by other thoughts, Jun Huang let him do so.
Once she put some more thoughts to it, she could tell why the emperor had made such a decision. She knew the emperor had always dreaded Nan Xun and considered him a threat.
The marriage was proposed by Sir Shangguan. The emperor couldn't just dismiss this senior official who had been serving the country for decades. That was why he agreed to the marriage.
If Nan Xun and Shangguan Yue had gotten married, the emperor would always be on his guard, worrying about the possibility of getting devoured by the beast he kept at his side. Nan Xun's denial to the marriage in some way was reassuring to the emperor. He could put all the blame on Nan Xun, and the other officials would not say anything. After all, Nan Xun was the guardian of Northern Qi. As long as the courtiers wanted to live a life free of fear, they would keep their opinions to themselves. They might even praise the emperor for making the right decision.
Nan Xun turned back to Jun Huang once he had finished packing. Jun Huang was in deep thoughts with her head lowered. Nan Xun frowned. "What's wrong? Is something the matter?"
Jun Huang's head snapped up and she cleared her throat, shaking her head with a faint smile on her face. "Nothing. I'm just thinking how I should tell Qi Chen about this trip."
Nan Xun nodded. Jun Huang left the manor shortly. She looked at the sunlight shining through the clouds. What should she say to Qi Chen?
When Jun Huang arrived at the crown prince's manor, Qi Chen happened to be free to see her. Because of her run-in with the spies from Eastern Wu, Jun Huang didn't dare to let her guard down. She suggested to have this conversation in the guest room.
Qi Chen asked the servants to leave. He looked at how thin Jun Huang had become. He couldn't help looking at Jun Huang in a different light after hearing about the rumors. He cleared his throat and asked, "Is brother Feng still staying with brother Nan? Has he not recovered from his injury yet? Or is something else wrong?"
Qi Chen had not spelled his thoughts out, but Jun Huang could tell what he was wondering. She looked up at Qi Chen. "Prince Nan has recovered, but a few days ago, this gentleman happened to walk in on a couple spies from Eastern Wu plotting against Northern Qi. I tried my best to be discreet, but they were still alerted to my presence. This gentleman has never been the best fighter. If not for Prince Nan's timely rescue, this gentleman would have been killed. I was injured. Prince Nan was worried that those men would track me down, so he let me stay in his manor to recover."
Qi Chen hurriedly walked up to Jun Huang and grabbed her hand to check her over for injuries, worried that Jun Huang had not healed fully. Jun Huang awkwardly pulled her hand away.
Realizing that he had lost his composure, Qi Chen went back to his seat.
"It seems that Brother Feng and Brother Nan are getting closer," said Qi Chen. "Please say a few words to brother Nan for me. If he's willing to join my side, the throne will be right within my reach."
"This gentleman understands."