Chapter 57: No Other Way
"What do you mean by this, Feng Baiyu?"
"This gentleman does not understand what Your Highness is referring to." Jun Huang was calm, as if it wasn't her wrist that Nan Jihan was holding onto, but someone else's. Not even someone she knew at that.
Nan Jihan realized that he had crossed the line again. He let go of Jun Huang and inhaled deeply. "We have a deal. It's natural for us to see each other from time to time. Why did you try to avoid me?"
Jun Huang laughed incredulously. Her eyes were bright under the sunlight. "Your Highness has misunderstood me. If this gentleman really was trying to avoid Your Highness, I wouldn't have come at all."
They both fell silent. In the lake next to them, colorful koi fish swam around, swishing their tails. By the lake stood a willow tree, its branches hung down into the water, making ripples as they moved. Catkins fell and danced in the air. Some landed on top of Jun Huang's head.
Nan Jihan felt his heart skip for this handsome gentleman. It was a horrifying realization. He wanted to ignore his feelings, but he couldn't. Why had he fallen for a man? Why did he feel the attraction even when he was sober?
Jun Huang had always been observant. She noticed the strange look in Nan Jihan's eyes. Thinking back to what happened that night, she took a step back with her brows furrowed, keeping a safe distance between the two of them.
Nan Jihan took a step forward to close their distance again. "Why doesn't the gentleman consider serving this prince? What they can give you, I can give you as well. I am willing to gift the gentleman with all the beautiful women in Southern Mu."
"Your Highness has asked this question already, and I have given you an answer. Why must Your Highness ask again and again? My answer will always be the same, and Your Highness will again give into rage. There is no point in repeating this cycle." Jun Huang kept her tone polite. She looked at the royal garden with half-lidded eyes.
On the other side of the garden, palace maids roamed the banquet tables with fine wine in their hands. The light yellow dresses waved as they moved. The whole scene looked not unlike a meeting of celestial beings by the mythical Jade Lake.
She was distracted and didn't see Nan Jihan was trying to grab her again. Before his hand could come in contact with Jun Huang, however, it was seized by Nan Xun.
Nan Xun's eyes were as sharp as a keen blade. Nan Jihan was a scholar, not a fighter. He had never been under a murderous gaze like this. He flinched and clank! His fan hit the ground and tumbled into the koi lake.
Nan Xun didn't say a word, but his action spoke volumes. Nan Jihan broke out of his vice-like grip and threw a fearful glance at Nan Xun. He couldn't help being afraid under that icy gaze. He gave Jun Huang a final look before leaving reluctantly.
Nan Xun turned to Jun Huang with a frown. "What happened?"
Jun Huang looked up at him as if she had just woken up from a dream and blinked. She was, as always, stunning. Nan Xun covered her eyes with a hand and took a deep breath. "Tell me."
Amused by his reaction, Jun Huang gave him a mischievous grin. Under the bright sunlight, her brilliant smile looked almost ethereal. Nan Xun felt his breath hitch.
Jun Huang was quiet for a moment. "Nan Jihan wanted me to serve him in Southern Mu."
"Serve him?" Nan Xun said immediately. "How do you know him?"
Jun Huang pouted. She still couldn't forgive Nan Jihan for kidnapping her. It baffled her that he would resort to such lowly trick. "I didn't know him, but he noticed me for some reason at Qi Chen's wedding. When I was drunk and out for a walk at night, he had his people take me away."
Nan Xun's eyes went cold. He had tried to search for Jun Huang without rousing suspicions, but he never found her. He also heard that someone saw blood stains on the street. He could do the math. Suddenly seized by uncontrollable fear, he grabbed Jun Huang by the shoulders and pulled her closer, startling her.
"Were you hurt?" The obvious concerns in his eyes made Jun Huang smile. He may not have noticed himself, but Jun Huang could see it clear as day. She felt warmth blooming within her chest.
"I'm fine. The prince was trying to convince me to join him. He didn't want to hurt me." Jun Huang's tone was light, but she could feel the after effects of the abduction. She only drank a little wine earlier, and now her temples were throbbing, and her chest felt like it had been trampled by ten thousand horses.
Tension drained out of his body. Nan Xun suddenly realized that he was standing awfully close to Jun Huang. He could almost feel her breaths hitting his ears. He nervously let go of her and blushed. Jun Huang also felt a little bashful. She averted her eyes.
They stayed silent for a long while. The awkwardness in the air was almost smothering. Finally, a beautiful woman came up to them. She was dressed like a performer. Her white silk robe made her look like a fairy. Her fair face was easy on the eyes, but wasn't so attractive that it could fell a country. Pretty, but unremarkable.
"His Majesty has been looking for you, Your Highness," the woman slowly said, the tenderness in her eyes made Jun Huang feel a pang of jealousy. She pouted at Nan Xun, waiting to see how he'd respond.
Nan Xun only nodded and said, "I will go to the emperor shortly. Please notify him for me first."
The woman nodded before leaving. When Nan Xun looked back at Jun Huang, her eyes were narrowed and her face decorated with a teasing smile. "Your Highness is truly a womanizer."
Nan Xun choked. "What are you – "
"You should go," Jun Huang cut him off. "The emperor is looking for you."
There were many things he would like to say, but they were all rendered obsolete by Jun Huang's simple words. If he forced the conversation, it would seem odd.
Nan Xun was a general. He didn't have a sharp tongue like hers. "I'm going. You should return to Qi Chen's side as well. He can still protect you for the time being." He turned to leave, but then, as if he just remembered something, he looked back at Jun Huang and added, "Don't worry. I'll take care of Nan Jihan."
Only then did he walk away. Jun Huang felt a mix of emotions filling her heart. It wasn't bitter or sweet, but it soothed her. She let it grow freely inside her.
After a few minutes, a maid came up to her. "Is the gentleman Feng Baiyu?" she asked respectfully.
Jun Huang nodded after a moment of hesitation, waiting for the maid to continue.
"You are him. The crown prince ordered this servant to come retrieve the gentleman. He asked the gentleman to come at once."
"I understand." Jun Huang followed the maid back to the banquet.
When the banquet ended, it was near evening. The servants in charge of the lamps had lit every lamp in the palace. It was an extraordinary sight from a distance.
Nan Xun stood alone outside the gate. Many high grade officials greeted him as they passed. He responded with only a nod, keeping everyone at arm's length.
His eyes were on Jun Huang, who was standing beneath the stone staircase. She followed Qi Chen around to greet the different courtiers with a faint smile on her face. Hidden under his broad sleeves, Nan Xun's hands balled up into fists. He knew that Jun Huang was well above material desires. Someone like her shouldn't have to get involved with the rich and powerful. She should be allowed to live a carefree life. He also knew, however, why Jun Huang thought there was no other way for her.
After most of the guests were gone, Nan Jihan walked out. He was surrounded by a group of men. Nan Xun scoffed. Nan Jihan was but a prince from a small country. He wasn't worth the effort. Nan Xun felt embarrassed for those who fawned all over Nan Jihan.
The officials were experts in flattery. They had been buttering up the emperor and the royal princes. And now they had a new target – the prince of Southern Mu. They did this to prove their worth. Nan Xun wondered what they were planning and what scenarios they were preparing for.
Nan Xun stayed away and let Nan Jihan walk past him. He waited until Nan Jihan exited the gate before following him with a cold smile. The night provided great cover. Nan Jihan didn't have any servants with him today, and Nan Xun was a master of martial arts. Nan Jihan never noticed that the famous Nan Xun was only a few steps away from him, following him like a ghost.
In the maw of the wind, Nan Jihan started to feel a little cold. He didn't have a lot of layers on him. He ducked his head and pulled his clothes tighter around his torso, quickening his pace. He recklessly took a shortcut to reach the relay station faster, giving Nan Xun the perfect opportunity to make a move.
Nan Xun walked out of the shadow. He stepped on a twig on the ground and the sound startled Nan Jihan. He whirled around.
Nan Xun was dressed in a white silk robe. The complex patterns accentuated his air of nobility. Lit by moonlight, his sculpted features looked as flawless as a jade statue. His sharp eyes were cold like winter sky. The steely smile on his thin lips could strike fear into anyone's heart.
Nan Jihan swallowed down the lump in his throat and stuttered, 'What – what do you want?"
"I want to teach you a lesson." Nan Xun came up to him with a few big strides and punched him in the face without further warning. Nan Jihan cried out in pain.
Nan Xun had put so much force into his punch, it was as if he wanted nothing more but to knock Nan Jihan out. Nan Xun's eyes were cool like the moon. No one could stop themselves from cowering under the scrutiny. Nan Jihan couldn't even form a complete sentence. He covered the eye that was hit and whined, losing his composure completely.
Everyone had something they feared. There was no question that the one thing Nan Jihan feared the most now was the undefeated war god Nan Xun.
The night patrols heard Nan Jihan scream and came rushing to them. Nan Xun had good ears. He heard the footsteps clearly. He let go of Nan Jihan and threw him a frosty glance before disappearing into the night.
When the patrolling guards arrived, Nan Xun was nowhere to be seen. They saw only Nan Jihan, who was staring after the direction Nan Xun went with a hand over one of his eyes. His gaze was terrifyingly cold.
One day, Nan Jihan thought, I will have Nan Xun at my mercy. Let's see how prideful he can be then.
One of the guards recognized him and asked, "What happened to Your Highness?"
Nan Jihan glowered at the man and said impatiently, "I fell. No need to make a big deal out of it." He patted his clothes clean and took a deep breath before leaving for the relay station, his nails digging into his palms.