Chapter 34: Alliance
The Senior Grandmaster met Qi Chen's eyes without fear, very much unlike his cowardly past self. It was as if he'd suddenly grown a backbone.
A long silence lingered in the air, only to be broken when he said, "The gods see everything. I know what I am doing. But how about you, Your Highness? I hope you know what you are doing as well."
A coward like the Senior Grandmaster going against him like this? Qi Chen did not expect it. He balled up his hands and glared at the Senior Grandmaster as he left. Their relationship ended here. From this moment on, they were no longer friends, but enemies.
With his arms crossed, Nan Xun watched as everything unfolded. He quirked his lips into a lopsided smile. Jun Huang indeed had a good eye for character. The Senior Grandmaster was not a brave man, but he cared about the people and loved the people. It was inevitable that he would part way with Qi Chen one day. Now it seemed Qi Yun was the best candidate they had.
After he left the palace, his shadow guard came up to him. "Your Highness, brother Feng invited you to meet him at the tavern."
It's been a while. Nan Xun smiled and nodded. After changing out of his court attire, he went straight to the tavern.
Not too long ago Jun Huang still considered the tavern a place for thugs and troublemakers, while he believed it was the safest place for conversations. Now, however, Jun Huang often asked him to meet her at the tavern when there were matters she wanted to discuss with him. Nan Xun couldn't help but smile a little.
Around the same time, Qi Yun, who was drinking tea in his garden, received Jun Huang's invitation as well. He put down the teacup and made arrangement for the meeting.
It didn't take long for Nan Xun to reach the tavern. When he arrived, Jun Huang was on her own, a distant look in her eyes. Hearing his approach, she turned around and smiled at him with the sun shining on her from behind. The image was forever burned into Nan Xun's memory.
"Your Highness came sooner than I expected." Jun Huang looked at Nan Xun with her lips curved. Her silk robe fluttered in the wind. She wore a white jade cap to hold her hair up, and there was a fine green jade pendant on her waist. At this moment, she did look like a handsome gentleman.
Nan Xun returned her smile and approached her slowly. The smell of tea wafted in the air. He stood there, looking at Jun Huang. His eagle eyes were not sharp like they usually were, but as soft and tender as water. Unfortunately, Jun Huang had turned around to look at other things and missed it.
"How has the situation in the palace been?"
Nan Xun huffed, then sighed. "The imperial court is split into a couple factions. The death of the crown prince threw the royal uncle's people into disarray. And now the second prince is rising in power. However…"
Jun Huang frowned at him. "However what?"
Nan Xun was silent for a moment. "The royal uncle's people believe that Qi Chen was behind the crown prince's death, but they have no real evidence. They can only try to pressure Qi Chen in the court."
"Recently, Qi Chen has been trying to please the emperor, so he spoke of rebuilding the border. This proposal was vetoed by the royal uncle, stating that the treasury was too empty for this to be a good idea. The emperor stood on the sideline without intervening. And the empress was in a secret war with Consort Zhen."
The imperial court was not Jun Huang's domain, so she didn't know well the way it operated. Bewildered, she asked, "Then why doesn't the emperor take action?"
Nan Xun scoffed, his eyes turning sharp. "The emperor does not get involved in matters like this. It is the modus operandi of the royal family. Do you think the emperor is comfortable on that throne of his? He wants courtiers to keep fighting among themselves."
Then, a server took a young man in fine clothes to them. It was Qi Yun. He greeted them with a smile with a foldable fan in his hand, his eyes as bright as the stars. He was like water, its taste mild and long-lasting. Nan Xun, on the other hand, was hard liquor. Cool and refreshing. His sculpted features demanded attention, and attention he got.
"Someone came early." Qi Yun chuckled, eyeing Nan Xun openly. Nan Xun looked at the often housebound fourth prince, a polite but distant smile catching at his lips. Proper, but not how he was usually like.
Qi Yun looked away and smiled at Jun Huang. "Now you remember to invite me? And with someone else here?"
Jun Huang smiled awkwardly. She didn't expect Qi Yun to talk like this. Today she invited them to discuss business. If they continued to treat each other this way, they would not get along.
Jun Huang decided to break the ice herself. She cleared her throat and asked them to take their seat. "I invited you here for a reason. Now that Qi Chen is in power, there's no telling what he would do in the future. The important thing now is for you two to form an alliance."
Jun Huang turned to Nan Xun. "Nan Xun, you don't want Northern Qi to fall in the hand of someone like Qi Chen, do you? You know better than anyone that Qi Chen cares nothing for the people. He cannot be allowed to gain the throne."
"Besides, the emperor has always been wary of you. Who knows what Qi Chen will do to you in order to become the crown prince? If you and Qi Yun become allies, you won't have to fight on your own in the imperial court." Jun Huang said what she said out of her heart, but it was Nan Xuan who would make the final decision. Nan Xun, however, continued to drink his tea without so much of a reaction.
Jun Huang couldn't do anything but sigh. She got to her feet, troubled. "The way you two are behaving – we might as well surrender now. You talk things out on your own. I'll be outside." With that, she left, her face dark.
Qi Yun looked up at Nan Xun and chuckled. "That's how Baiyu always is. I hope you don't mind."
"Of course." Nan Xun said. With the way Qi Yun talked, it was obvious he was close with Jun Huang. For reasons he couldn't fathom, he felt a little jealous.
Seeing the changes in his expression, the smile on Qi Yun's face became wider. He couldn't hide it anymore, and he didn't try to. He wanted Nan Xun to notice. Nan Xun's responding cold gaze did not intimidate him the slightest. He remained calm as he drank his tea and observed Nan Xun.
After the time it took to drink a cup of tea, there was a commotion outside. Without exchanging a word, they stood up and rushed out.
Jun Huang was upset. Originally she was going to encourage Nan Xun to unite with Qi Yun, which would help them gain a foothold in the imperial court. But both of them were being so difficult about it. She had said what she had to say, and still they pretended to not know what she was suggesting.
As she walked downstairs, cursing Nan Xun and Qi Yun inwardly, she mistakenly stepped into the territory of a group of drunk men.
A man who was clearly from an esteemed family stood up in stupor. A whip of his wide sleeve brought the wine on the table down to the floor. Suddenly the smell of alcohol filled the room. He grabbed the hand of a songstress next to him, uttering obscenities with a lecherous smile on his face. Jun Huang couldn't just watch and do nothing. She walked up, trying to rescue the songstress, but had her wrist grabbed by the man herself.
"Such a pretty lady. Are you alone?" The man was clearly drunk. He leaned into Jun Huang and took a deep breath. The faint smell of flower on Jun Huang's body was in stark contrast with the smell of alcohol in this chaotic space, which filled him with want. He wasn't willing to let go. The songstress was long forgotten.
Jun Huang had never encountered anything like this, and she felt flustered all of a sudden. She struggled to break out of the man's grip, her eyebrows furrowed. "The gentleman must be drunk. Let me go. This is inappropriate."
The man wasn't listening. He wanted more. He looped his arm around Jun Huang's waist, trying to pull her closer. Jun Huang was not one to let others take advantage of herself. She pushed the man away with all her force, jabbing the man with a silver needle to force him to let go.
"Where do you come from? So volatile. But I like it." The man rubbed at the shoulder that got stung by the needle, his smile growing even more obscene. People around them stood up to watch everything play out like it was the best show in town. They looked between Jun Huang and the man. The man really was too drunk – He called a gentleman a lady!
Again the man grabbed Jun Huang by the wrist. This time he even tried to drag her outside. Jun Huang called for help, but all around her people just watched without even trying to intervene.
Some pointed at Jun Huang and asked how a man could be so weak. Others said something even more offensive. Just when Jun Huang was starting to feel helpless, Nan Xun and Qi Yun dropped down from the air in front of them.
Earlier they were on the second floor. Nan Xun saw that someone was taking advantage of Jun Huang and, in his haste, he leaped straight down to the first floor. Qi yun was not willing to fall behind, so he followed suit.
"Who are you bastards?" asked the drunk man, pointing at Nan Xun and Qi yun. "Leave now, or I'll have my people beat you up so hard your parents won't even recognize you."
Nan Xun glared at the man, his eyes as cold as ice. Anyone sane would have trembled under his gaze. The man, however, was too drunk to see him clearly. He made a even bigger fuss.
"Why waste your time? Just beat him until he can't stand up." Qi Yun whipped open the fan and stepped forward. Without another word he kicked the man down and quickly grabbed Jun Huang. He pulled here into his arms. His left hand naturally fell under her armpit, coming into contact with the side of her breast.
Jun Huang pushed him away the moment she noticed, but it was too late.
"You – " Qi Yun stared at his hand. Then he looked at the part of her body he just touched. A blush crawled onto his face.
Feng Baiyu… is a woman? And she looks so much like Jun Huang – Feng Baiyu is Jun Huang!
Qi Yun's mouth curled upwards. "Jun Huang isn't dead…" he muttered to himself.
Jun Huang patted herself on the chest and took a deep breath. "Good thing you're here," she said with a smile.
Her hair was a little messy, and her cap had fallen onto the ground and shattered into pieces. Her long hair was tied on top with a headband, which made her look a little ridiculous, but no one was paying attention.
The drunk man was clearly no ordinary civilian. His people had been waiting outside the tavern. A gesture from him and a group of men rushed in, surrounding Nan Xun and the others.
The man pointed at Qi Yun. "If you're smart, you'll leave the lady here and get going. Otherwise I'll have your face punched in."
"I'll like to see you try." Qi Yun's eyes grew murderous, but Jun Huang grabbed his wrist and shook her head at him, silently telling him to not kill anyone.
Qi Yun bristled. He couldn't let what the man did to Jun Huang go, but still he nodded as an agreement. After exchanging a look, he and Nan Xun stepped forward, leaped into the air, and kicked a few people down.
The men didn't even had the time to react before they were knocked to the ground, making a fool out of themselves. One of them gained a cruel gleam in his eyes. He got to his feet with clenched teeth, grabbed the stick lying next to him, and swung it at the onlooking Jun Huang.