Chapter 47: The Empress's Plan
Rou'er watched as Jun Huang's frail form disappeared into the distance. For whom will a woman like Jun Huang smile with her eyes downcast, she wondered, and for what will her heart ache?
Qi Chen waited outside the relay station Nan Guyue was at for a long time before she finally came out. It was clear from her wide smile that she had lowered her guard for him. She didn't even have any servants with her.
"Qi Chen!" Her eyes lighted up when she saw him. She jogged up to him and came to a stop. There was a blush on her face. She averted her eyes upon noticing Qi Chen's gaze.
Qi Chen wasn't used to seeing Nan Guyue being so reserved. "The princess doesn't need to be so formal with me."
Nan Guyue looked up at him and saw her own reflection in his soft eyes. Her heartbeats quickened. This time she did not look away. She stared and stared, and yet it still wasn't enough for her.
The sound of vendors promoting their wares rang through the street. The city was thriving. Nan Guyue could not take her eyes off Qi Chen and didn't notice there was a coach coming her way. Qi Chen rushed to pull her into his arms and worriedly asked, "Are you hurt, princess?"
Nan Guyue lifted her gaze, suddenly seized by fear. She buried herself into Qi Chen's embrace and shook her head. Qi Chen let out a sigh of relief.
It was close to evening. One by one lamps were lit and the city was glowing with dim light. Nan Guyue was born in a freezing country. She had never seen anything like this. For a moment she could only watch with her mouth agape.
"Is the imperial city always like this at night?" she asked.
Qi Chen nodded. "It is. Does the princess like it?"
Nan Guyue looked up excitedly, but Qi Chen's tender expression drew her attention and her breath hitched.
Under the warm glow of the lamp, her bashful smile burned itself into Qi Chen's eyes. But among those born in the royal family, who dared to ever fall in love?
Qi Chen remained emotionally detached. The tenderness on his face belonged to a man that didn't actually exist.
It was a wonderful night. Nan Guyue felt her heart flutter. She never thought she would ever fall for someone so easily. This man had such beautiful eyes. Not even the famous Nan Xun could rival him.
Love works in mysterious way. Nan Guyue had never experienced such a tender kind of love before. She fell, hard. There was no turning back.
After that day, Qi Chen acted more and more attentive to Nan Guyue, as if there was nothing he wanted more than to give her the stars. Nan Guyue always accepted his gifts with a red face.
Wei Lanying seemed to have taken Jun Huang's advice. She went back to the way she had been and stayed out of Qi Chen and Nan Guyue's relationship. Qi Chen felt more comfortable with Wei Lanying now. He even stayed at her place every once in a while.
One day, when Wei Lanying was in Qi Chen's arms, listening to his strong heartbeats with her eyes closed, she suddenly realized that she was still the same woman she was before, but Qi Chen had become a different man.
Qi Chen had his arms around Wei Lanying, but the one he was thinking about was Nan Guyue. He got distracted and didn't even notice that Wei Lanying was looking at him.
Wei Lanying's heart sank. She took a deep breath and managed a smile. "If Your Royal Highness really does like Princess Nan Guyue, you should marry her. Ying'er will accept it without complaints."
That surprised Qi Chen. Wei Lanying couldn't stop him if he wanted to marry Nan Guyue, but he never expected Wei Lanying to bring it up on her own. "Are you being serious?"
Wei Lanying nodded with a faint smile. Inwardly, she was scoffing. She knew it didn't matter that Nan Guyue enjoyed Qi Chen's favor now. Qi Chen would be with her when he felt like it, just like the way he was with Rou'er. In no time, though, he would get tired of Nan Guyue. Moreover, she'd heard that Nan Guyue was difficult and stubborn. How long would a man like Qi Chen be able to stand her?
Qi Chen was going to marry her. So what? After Nan Guyue helped him become the emperor, Qi Chen would have no use for her.
"I'm glad that you can be so understanding." Qi Chen patted her on the shoulders, imagining holding Nan Guyue's supple body in his arms. He felt a trace of desire in his heart.
Wei Lanying had come to terms with reality. The empress, on the contrary, smashed everything on her desk after getting the news. Her spy at Prince Chen Manor was trembling on his knees, afraid that she may have him killed in her fury.
She stared at the mess on the floor, her eyes sharp and her teeth clenched. "Qi Chen could never come up with a plan like that. And he's always hate snobbish women like Nan Guyue. Why would he take the initiative to pursue her?"
"This servant once heard the conversation between the crown prince and a fair-skinned scholar called Feng Baiyu," the spy nervously said. "It was the scholar who suggested him to do so."
The empress's eyes grew colder. "I knew it! Feng Baiyu is a real troublemaker. I can't believe he survived the poisoned wine."
"What does the empress plan to do?"
The empress huffed, her eyes growing murderous. "Aren't they trying to strengthen their power by getting Nan Guyue's support? Then we'll destroy Nan Guyue. Let's see who he'll marry then."
The spy looked up in horror, his forehead covered in sweat and his heart filled with apprehension. "What does the empress mean?"
Looking down at him, the empress slid her finger against her throat. Her meaning was clear. "Don't make a mess. You'll be heavily rewarded once you succeed." The empress stood up with a terrifying smile and threw the man a jade pendant. Then she sauntered out of the room with her entourage.
The spy suddenly felt weak in his knees. He knew that if he didn't get rid of Nan Guyue, the empress would not let him live. If he assassinated the princess, however, he would die as well. There was no way out for him.
Nan Guyue and Qi Chen went outside the city to enjoy the scenery. Jun Huang got on the coach with them. They had a pleasant conversation on the way. Nan Guyue even said that she was going to introduce Jun Huang a good woman from Southern Mu. Jun Huang turned her down with a smile.
Qi Chen had an arm around Nan Guyue. "You don't know him, princess," he said, laughing. "Brother Feng is a man with few desires. He's helped me with many plans already, but he wants neither fame nor fortune. When I told him I wanted to find him a good woman, he said no as well."
Nan Guyue frowned and pointed at Jun Huang with a finger. "Don't you like women?"
Jun Huang looked at Qi Chen helplessly. She didn't know that the princess of Southern Mu was so careless with her words. If someone had heard her, who knows what they would think of Jun Huang?
"The princess has made me speechless. This gentleman just hasn't met the right one yet. If I do, it'll be my luck."
Nan Guyue nodded with a pout. Then she suddenly turned to Qi Chen and asked, "Am I the right one for you, Qi Chen?"
Neither of them expected Nan Guyue to ask a question like that, and they froze. Qi Chen didn't have a ready answer for it.
Jun Huang recovered faster than he did. She gave Nan Guyue a teasing smile. "Doesn't the princess trust the prince's feelings for you? You don't know how obsessed the prince has been with you. Otherwise you'd not have asked that."
Nan Guyue was not satisfied. "Of course you'd say that with the silver tongue of yours. I heard, however, that Qi Chen was very affectionate with Wei Lanying at first as well. Now he says he loves me. Why should I believe him?"
"The prince is going to feel wounded." Jun Huang gave Qi Chen a look.
Without missing a beat, Qi Chen said, "If you don't like Wei Lanying, I'll divorce her once I return to the manor."
"What are you talking about? I'm not stupid. I know your marriage with Wei Lanying was granted by the emperor. If she hasn't made any mistakes, you can't just divorce her." She paused before adding, "I was joking. I know how Qi Chen feels." Her cheeks became tinted with red.
Sitting across from them, Jun Huang smiled a little. She could hear the two of them whispering, but she couldn't make out the words.
Suddenly, the coach came to a halt. Jun Huang frowned as she saw the men dressed in black blocking their way. This is bad. Qi Chen had also sensed their killing intent. He let go of Nan Guyue and got out of the carriage.
"Who are you?" He shouted at them. "You dare to block my way?"
Their leader gave him a murderous look and unsheathed his sword, scoffing. "We are your doom." He led his people towards Qi Chen. All of them had their weapons out.
Qi Chen looked back at Jun Huang and Nan Guyue, trying his best to remain calm. "Protect the princess for me, brother Feng." He rushed to meet the attack with Wei Qian.
Jun Huang had been through many life-and-death situations, so she regained her focus quickly. Nan Guyue, on the other hand, had spent her whole life behind impenetrable walls. She had never encountered anything like this. For a moment, she couldn't even move.
A long sword flew towards them from the distance. Jun Huang pulled her close to dodge it. She knew the coach was not a safe place to be. She dragged Nan Guyue off and into the woods nearby.
Paralyzed by fear, Nan Guyue let Jun Huang drag her away without resistance. When she recovered, Qi Chen and Wei Qian were nowhere to be seen. She broke out of Jun Huang's hold. "What are you doing? Qi Chen are still there with the attackers. How can we run away just like that?"
"Don't you know that their target is you? This is not the time to be stubborn, princess. You'll only be a burden if you stay there."
Before Jun Huang could finish, Nan Guyue slapped her. The sound so loud it scared away the birds perching on the trees. Jun Huang looked at her, wide-eyed.
Nan Guyue threw her a glare. This Baiyu is so full of himself! And so disrespectful! She ignored what Jun Huang had said and ran out of the woods. Jun Huang stared after her for a good while.
Nan Guyue had not pulled her punches. Jun Huang's cheek was throbbing from the slap. She rubbed at it and sighed. Nan Guyue was her responsibility. She had no choice but to follow.