Chapter 32: Warning
Jun Huang looked at the Senior Grandmaster. She could see he was wavering. She gave him a few moments to think before she continued her explanation. "Among the princes in the imperial court, sir, I believe only the fourth prince Qi Yun could assume this heavy mantle."
"The fourth prince?" The Senior Grandmaster thought back to the handsome young man who helped him in the palace that day. With a slight frame and delicate features like that – would he really be able to stay on the throne if he was crowned?
"The fourth prince is an extraordinary genius. Northern Qi must be lead by him." Jun Huang's tone was determined and unhesitant. Steely, even. Which made it difficult to deny what she said.
The Senior Grandmaster fell silent. He was inclined to agree with her, but Qi Chen was the one who made him who he was today. He couldn't reconcile with the fact that he would ever turn on his benefactor.
He couldn't settle on a decision.
Jun Huang could see right through him. "Do you really think that the fact you owe him a debt is enough justification for him to take leadership of the country? Shouldn't you choose a good emperor for the people?"
The Senior Grandmaster's head snapped up, his eyebrows furrowed, "Gentleman Feng mentioned a good emperor, but how do you know the fourth prince will be the right candidate? It's all guesswork, both for me, and for you."
"It's common knowledge that the fourth prince cares deeply about the people. If not for what the mothers of the crown prince and the second prince did, he wouldn't have been trapped in his manor. In your heart you already know what the right thing to do is. I cannot stay any longer. Allow me to take my leave." Jun Huang cupped her hands and left without letting him argue.
The Senior Grandmaster considered the matter in the tavern for a long time. Still he could not make a decision. In the end he did choose Qi Yun, but that happened later.
When Jun Huang returned to Prince Chen Manor, she was stopped by Wei Qian before she could get in. Jun Huang stared at her with a frown. "What's the matter?"
"The prince asked for you." It seemed that Wei Qian wanted to say more, but chose not to in the end. She only said that Qi Chen had been waiting for her in the main hall for long, and asked her to see him once she was back.
Jun Huang didn't know what he wanted, but for now she couldn't afford to offend him. So she followed Wei Qian to the main hall.
Her worries were not unfounded. Qi Chen sat on the main seat with a dark expression, his fingers tight around the teacup. Any moment the teacup could break.
"Does Your Highness have any urgent matter?" Jun Huang asked while approaching.
Qi Chen looked up at her. "Where did brother Feng go?"
Jun Huang didn't falter. "Just wandering about." She was sure that no one had seen her at the tavern, so she didn't hesitate before answering.
Qi Chen looked at Jun Huang's bright eyes as if he was going to look into her soul, but he saw nothing unusual. He put down the teacup. "I heard that recently brother Feng had been going out quite frequently. Is something the matter?"
Jun Huang shook her head. "Thank you for your concerns, Your Highness, but this gentleman was just enjoying the good view of the imperial city." She knew that she could not let this conversation go on in this direction, lest Qi Chen notice something amiss. She changed the topic. "I heard that the crown prince has been quite rude to Your Highness recently. Is that true?"
Jun Huang must have hit a nerve; Qi Chen forgot to ask what Jun Huang had been busy with and broke the teacup in his hand.
Jun Huang watched him calmly. Qi Chen's distorted face was a horrifying sight, but if she was affected at all, it didn't show.
After a good while, Qi Chen looked up at Jun Huang and asked, "The crown prince has crossed the line. First he shamed me in public. Then he acted like he was better than I am several times, embarrassing me. Yes, he is the crown prince, but that's only because he is my older brother. Someone like him cannot shoulder such a responsibility."
"What does Your Highness have in mind?" Jun Huang shifted her eyes to him, waiting for him to tell her what ambition he had.
Qi Chen looked back at her. A murderous gleam flashed through his eyes. "I want to teach the crown prince a lesson."
Jun Huang scoffed inwardly. Qi Chen's ambition was still too petty. She thought for a moment with her eyes downcast. Then, reaching a conclusion, she smiled, leaned into him, and murmured, "Your Highness, if this gentleman has a plan for you to eliminate this trouble of yours once and for all, what do you say?"
That caught Qi Chen off guard. He looked around at the servants and maids nervously, but at the same time he felt an adrenaline rush. He told everyone to leave the room and asked Jun Huang to sit down.
When the room was cleared, Qi Chen said, "It sounds like the gentleman has a plan already."
His voice was light. He even forgot to call her his brother. Instead, he held her hand in his, trembling with excitement. Even his eyes were brighter than usual.
Jun Huang lamented the fact that people's desires could be so destructive. Even blood brothers would turn on each other like this. She sighed inwardly, but it didn't show on her face. She nodded. "I have a plan. No one will find out about it, but Your Highness will have to do it yourself."
Qi Chen frowned at Jun Huang, trying to determine how truthful she was being. But then he remembered that it wasn't easy for her to make up schemes for him, and she had helped him many times. There was no reason for him to doubt her. Weighing his options in his mind, he nodded in the end. "As the gentleman wishes. If this is a success, I will award you with beautiful women and riches. I hope you won't deny me then."
Jun Huang smiled and took a sip of her tea. She didn't continue. Qi Chen was getting impatient.
When he couldn't bear her silence any longer, he finally asked, "What plan do you have to eliminate the crown prince secretly?"
Jun Huang took another sip of her tea. "It is simple, actually. The crown prince is but a lecherous man."
Qi Chen frowned. He still didn't get what she meant. "May the gentleman explain?"
Jun Huang put down her teacup and decided to stop talking in riddles. "The Crown Prince is lustful. If you want to get rid of him without being noticed, you use women. I have been all over the world. I have met many strange people and witnessed many strange things. Once I was taught by a teacher about poison. I know how to make a type of poison that could kill the crown prince instantly. However…"
"However what? The gentleman can just tell me." Qi Chen was getting more and more antsy, He was unwilling to even look away from her.
Jun Huang sighed. "There is an ingredient that I lack. Without it, this is all but a pipe dream."
Qi Chen urgently took her hand. "Just tell me what you need. If I don't have it here, I will find it somewhere else."
"It is something in your possession." Jun Huang looked at him, a cunning flash appeared briefly in her eyes, but Qi Chen didn't notice.
"What is it? I can tell people to retrieve it."
Jun Huang stood up. "Sometime ago the emperor awarded Your Highness with a box of fava beans. They are edible, but added in with other ingredients, it becomes a potent poison."
There were no native fava beans in Northern Qi because of its geographical location. The plants are delicate, while the climate here was harsh. Fava beans, therefore, had to be imported from other countries. As a result, they were rarely seen here. Only the emperor had the luxury to enjoy them.
Earlier some were imported, and the emperor awarded a few to Qi Chen to let him have a taste. However, Qi Chen didn't like the taste, so they were left in the manor.
"The gentleman can just take the beans. I'll tell people to retrieve them for you." Qi Chen smiled brightly. Jun Huang nodded. She didn't expect Qi Chen to be so willing to give her the emperor's gift.
After some more talking, Jun Huang took her leave. Qi Chen made good of his promise and had people retrieve the fava beans for her.
When she got them, she almost laughed. This man really would not make a good crown prince. He was ambitious, but reckless. He could be clever at times, but he was so easy to deceive. Everyone knew that other than the emperor, only Qi Chen had any fava bean. If this one little fava bean was used to make poison, it would be easy for others to find out. Then it would be Qi Chen's worst nightmare.
After days of sleepless nights, Jun Huang completed the poison. She was going to ask Wei Qian to hand it to Qi Chen when Qi Chen came to her on his own in his impatience.
"Has brother Feng made the poison?" His voice reached her before he himself could. Jun Huang put down the white ceramic bottle in her hand and walked out slowly.
"This gentleman has been waiting for Your Highness." Jun Huang smiled and invited him in. She poured him a cup of tea before picking up the ceramic bottle. "I made this. Once the crown prince consumes it, it won't take long before he dies."
Qi Chen put down the teacup without drinking and took the bottle, his eyes shining with a strange light. "Is this thing really so effective?"
Jun Huang nodded. "It is very dangerous. Please be careful."
Qi Chen was just about to smell the poison when she said that. He quickly put it down. Then, as if an idea just struck him, he clapped his hands. A woman dressed in pink silk walked out. The bells on her ankles chimed. Soon a faint fragrance filled the room.
"What does brother Feng think of this woman?" Qi Chen asked.
Jun Huang took a moment to look her over. The woman's features were delicate, and her eyes were bright and dreamy. Her dark hair was held up by a wooden hairpin. Simple, but elegant. "The lady is very attractive. A rare beauty of this world."
Qi Chen smiled as if it was him Jun Huang was praising. He looked at the woman, then at Jun Huang. "If brother Feng were born a woman, you would be an extraordinary beauty," he said, stroking his chin. "No women covered in powder and cosmetics would be able to rival you. A shame that brother Feng was born a man." He sighed like this was truly a great misfortune to Jun Huang.