Chapter 59: Chance Meeting at the Temple
It was the first time that Jun Huang had heard about Qi Yun's ambitions as well. She was a little surprised. Then the surprise gave way to a smile. She could tell that if Qi Yun became the emperor, he would go down in history as a great leader.
After Qi Yun had finished his wine, Nan Jihan said with a clear voice, "I admire the prince for your aspirations."
"You and I are not so different." Qi Yun looked up at him and refilled his cup. He raised his own to Nan Jihan before chucking the wine down. Nan Jihan finished his cup of wine in one go as well.
Jun Huang had stayed silent. It was good that the two seemed to have reached a consensus. She smiled. "The two princes are both forces to be reckoned with. Now that you have become allies, it would be like two fine jades coming together to form a perfect circle.1 Historians will be writing about your achievements."
Nan Jihan and Qi Yun exchanged a look and smiled. They both got a refill and raised their cups. Jun Huang followed suit.
Suddenly the silhouette of a man appeared at the door. After what Jun Huang had been through, she was hypervigilant of her surroundings. She watched the man closely with narrowed eyes and took out a poisoned needle, hiding it in her sleeve.
The man knocked on the door and didn't enter until he got a response. It was Nan Xun. His eyes were calm. It was difficult to tell if he happened to run into them, or if he came knowing that they were here.
Nan Jihan and Qi Yun looked him over from the corners of their eyes. Jun Huang frowned. Nan Xun appeared to be oblivious to the fact that he was intruding and stared openly at Jun Huang. There was a strange atmosphere in the air.
Jun Huang didn't speak up until a moment had passed. "Why are you here?"
Nan Xun looked at the three of them. He had heard what Jun Huang said and made his own judgement about the alliance between Nan Jihan and Qi Yun. He didn't think it would go well.
In the end, he left without a word. None of the three people in the room knew what his brief visit was about or what Nan Xun was thinking. Qi Yun had been observing Nan Xun silently with a frown on his face, his thoughts indiscernible.
While Jun Huang was deep in thoughts, Qi Yun stood up and cupped his hands. "A decision has been made today. This gentleman and Your Highness are now on the same team. Since there's no other matters to discuss, I will take my leave." He walked out of the room without waiting for a response.
Jun Huang hadn't quite recovered from the shock Nan Xun's appearance brought. She didn't say anything as Qi Yun was leaving. When she came to her senses, Nan Jihan was openly checking her out. She frowned.
"I will take my leave now as well." Jun Huang got to her feet and smoothed a hand over her wrinkled sleeve. She was about to walk away when Nan Jihan grabbed her by the wrist.
She sighed. What's with this man and grabbing people's wrists? She would have flown into rage before today, but now… she knew it would be unwise. After the conversation earlier, she could see Nan Jihan was willing to support Qi Yun. With his help, Qi Yun stood a much better chance of becoming the emperor.
"What else does Your Highness want?" Jun Huang pulled her hand away. Nan Jihan knew he was making her uncomfortable again, so he let her go and cleared his throat.
"I heard that the temple fair in Northern Qi will be held in a few days. This prince knows neither the place nor the people. I wonder if the gentleman will be willing to accompany me?" Nan Jihan eyes were glued to Jun Huang. His heart was pounding hard at the thought that Jun Huang might turn him down.
Jun Huang gave it some thought. She didn't have anything else to attend to that day, and she knew she couldn't turn Nan Jihan down again and again without consequences. She nodded. "This gentleman would be happy to accompany Your Highness to enjoy the view in Northern Qi."
Nan Jihan's eyes lit up like a child that was gifted with sweets. "I'll see you then."
Jun Huang nodded. She looked outside and saw that the sun was setting. She took her leave, thinking about Nan Xun's stormy eyes on her way back. She didn't know what he was thinking.
Over the past couple of days Jun Huang had been leaving the manor early and returning late. Qi Chen didn't pay too much attention to her interaction with Nan Jihan. He assumed that Jun Huang was trying to win Nan Jihan over to gain support for Qi Chen. After all, Nan Guyue was his wife. There was no reason for Nan Jihan to not help him.
That was why Qi Chen never commented on her disappearances. He only asked Jun Huang to come discuss the current situation with him every once in a while.
The day of the temple fair finally arrived. Early in the morning, Nan Jihan visited the manor personally to pick up Jun Huang. She had been in the study discussing matters with Qi Chen. When she left the room with Qi Chen, Nan Jihan and Nan Guyue were chatting right outside.
Nan Jihan went up to them and beamed. He didn't try to hide from Qi Chen at all. "It's the temple fair today. The gentleman hasn't forgotten about our promise, have you?"
Jun Huang smiled lightly. "Of course not."
Qi Chen looked over at Jun Huang, then at Nan Jihan. He didn't expect Jun Huang to have won Nan Jihan over in such a short period of time. He hid his smirk and said, "You have plans. Go now then. Otherwise the temple is going to get crowded."
Jun Huang and Nan Jihan nodded and left the manor together. Nan Jihan's coach was waiting right outside. Without thinking, he extended a hand to help Jun Huang get in.
Alarm bells started ringing in Jun Huang's head, but it didn't show on her face. She nodded at him with a smile and got into the carriage with only the briefest contact with Nan Jihan's hand. Nan Jihan raised an eyebrow at that, but he followed her in without a word.
They traveled through the most prosperous areas of the imperial city. People gave way to the coach as it passed. Jun Huang lowered her eyes in bemusement.
Today she had let some of her hair down, giving her a touch of feminine beauty. The white jade cap made her look like a elegant scholar. Her fair face was captivating. He couldn't help but be entranced.
The silk robe she wore clearly expensive. It showed how much Qi Chen valued her. She was offered the same quality of clothes and the same food as Qi Chen himself. And he had given Wei Qian, his most trusted bodyguard, to Jun Huang.
Before Jun Huang knew it, the coach had arrived at the entrance of the temple. She looked up and saw Nan Jihan was staring again. She frowned. Did he not know what giving up meant?
Nan Jihan quickly averted his eyes and coughed. He knew he had offended her again. "We're here. Let us go in."
Jun Huang whipped her fan open and nodded. She quickly got off the coach. Nan Jihan rushed to catch up with her.
The temple fair was quite an event. Most of the residents who had free time had shown up. Vendors cried out to promote their products. Children ran around having fun. Some circled around an old man drooling over the sweets he sold. This was a scene unique to temple fairs and Chinese New Year.
Jun Huang rarely went to places with this many people. There was always this air of aloofness about her. She was like a being from outside the mortal realm. Now, surrounded by the bustling activities, she looked even more out of place.
Nan Xun was watching her from a distance. It's as if she's going to ascend to the heavens any second, Nan Xun thought. His gaze never leaving Jun Huang.
"I didn't know the gentleman is interested in such things," Nan Xun said with a cool voice, attracting the attention of people around him. Some of the young women blushed at the sight of him. Their eyes were filled with adoration.
It all fell away when Jun Huang turned to him with wide eyes. He moved. It was as if there was a string pulling him towards her.
Jun Huang curved her lips at him and arched an eyebrow. "It's said that Your Highness has tens of thousands of matters to attend to every day, and that you dislike crowds and noise. I didn't expect you to be here, either."
Nan Xun smiled in response. He spotted Nan Jihan greeting him with his hands cupped at the corner of his eye. Nan Xun leveled him with a cold stare, making him shudder.
Nan Jihan didn't know when he had offended this prince that wasn't part of the royal family. Did Nan Xun just dislike him for no reason?
Nan Xun's eagle eyes reminded Nan Jihan of the punch again. He felt the corner of his eye throbbing in reaction.
"Would you like to join us?" Jun Huang said with a sigh. More and more people were watching them now.
Nan Xun nodded and told his bodyguards to leave. He cut in between Jun Huang and Nan Jihan and followed her to the temple, keeping Nan Jihan from getting too close to her. It brought a rush to his heart seeing Nan Jihan being unable to do anything.
Nan Jihan was upset, but his hands were tied. He was in Northern Qi, and Nan Xun was a well-known general. He was no match for Nan Xun in this territory and could only swallow down his complaints.
This temple belonged to the royal family. The last emperor was a devoted Buddhist. He believed that the Buddha was kind and every Buddhist in the world could lead a good life. He invited monks from other regions to come build this temple. There was a lifelike statue of the Buddha that was plated with gold.
Even the stairs were encased with warm jade. The roof of the temple was decorated with sculptures of divine beasts such as the Phoenix and the Qilin, adding the different deities in the world to the pantheon.
The current emperor wasn't a Buddhist. He didn't have any contact with monks outside of the abbots invited to attend the national banquet. Now that the world was governed by three countries, the emperor had a great lot more tasks in his hands. He had no time to listen to monks preaching.
Jun Huang was stunned to stillness. The gold-plated statue was blinding under the sun, and the jade under her feet made her nauseous. It was all so wasteful. A construction of this scale could only be done by a powerful country like Northern Qi.
"Sumptuous." Jun Huang couldn't help but comment.
Nan Xun tilted his head to look at her and let out a soundless smile. Before he could say anything, Nan Jihan piped up, "This is nothing. There is a temple like this in Southern Mu as well. If the gentleman has the chance to visit Southern Mu, this prince will welcome you with great hospitality."
Jun Huang threw Nan Jihan a glance. "Beliefs should exist only in one's heart," she said coldly. "All these luxuries are an insult to the core values of Buddhism. A rundown room in the countryside serves as a better prayer ground than this temple."
Jun Huang didn't sugarcoat what she said at all. Nan Xun huffed and followed right after her, engaging her in conversations. Nan Jihan felt like the third wheel. What Jun Huang said was a slap in his face. On top of that, he was hit by overwhelming jealousy. He was the one who invited Jun Huang! And now the expressionless Nan Xun had taken his spotlight. He would not let this slide.
The author used a phrase here that was often used to congratulate newlyweds, but um, I'm sure that's not what she intended. ↩