Chapter 62: The Battle of Peonies
No one dared to disagree with Nan Jihan. The guards nodded and made noises of assent.
Suddenly, they could hear the sound of a horse galloping towards them. Nan Jihan looked up like a frightened cat and saw Nan Xun riding on a tall and strong horse, looking down at them. Nan Jihan ground his teeth together, seething.
Nan Xun had come here to hunt. Running into Nan Jihan wasn't part of his plan. He happened to hear the argument between Nan Jihan and Jun Huang. He didn't expect Nan Jihan to be so shameless.
Nan Xun pulled at the reins and stared at Nan Jihan with cold eyes. If looks could kill, Nan Jihan would be dead already.
Nan Jihan felt a shudder ran down his spine. He tightened his hold on the unconscious Jun Huang. Nan Xun's gaze turned even colder when he saw the arm around Jun Huang's waist.
"Where does Your Highness plan to take one of Northern Qi's finest?" Nan Xun asked with a smile that didn't reach his eyes. Every word was uttered with chilling rage.
Nan Jihan quivered. His shadow guards saw his reaction and stepped between the two of them, raising their swords against Nan Xun.
Nan Xun looked at them without a word. His expression was mocking.
It took a while for Nan Jihan to prepare himself mentally. He took a deep breath and affected a calm tone. "Why must the prince insist on taking him back? If you let me have him, I'm sure to repay you someday."
Nan Xun scoffed. His ferghana horse proudly reared its front legs as if it was showing its agreement. Nan Jihan's face went dark. There was no point trying to be diplomatic. His face lost the cowardly look and transformed into a cold mask of apathy.
"I'm taking him away, Nan Xun," Nan Jihan said fearlessly. "Do you think you can stop me on your own? You are the undefeated war god, but there is strength in numbers. My shadow guards may not be your match, but it won't be hard for them to keep you here for a while." He lifted his chin and gave Nan Xun an infuriating look.
Nan Xun narrowed his eyes and huffed. Without giving them a chance to react, he leaped into the air, unsheathing his sword at the same time. With a step on the horseback, he lunged towards Nan Jihan.
Nan Jihan widened his eyes. He reflexively held Jun Huang closer, worried that she may get hurt. He turned to his shadow guards and yelled, "Do your jobs and stop him!"
The guards swarmed up to Nan Xun and engaged him in a fight.
There were many of them, but they were no match for Nan Xun. The story of Nan Xun defeating a hundred enemies on his own was not a myth. He was greatly outnumbered, however, so he couldn't immediately force his way out.
Nan Jihan took this opportunity to leave, but when he turned around, what he saw was an army of people riding towards him. He chanced a look at Nan Xun and noticed how calm he was.
They were Nan Xun's people. Earlier they had been left behind by Nan Xun, but now they had caught up. They joined the fight immediately when they heard the ruckus. They didn't care what was happening here. In no time, all of Nan Jihan's guards were restrained. A group of men circled around Nan Jihan to trap him.
Nan Jihan had thought he was well-prepared, but he couldn't have prepared for Nan Xun. There was no chance of him winning now. He twisted his lips into a wistful smile. "You have won."
Nan Jihan handed his sword to one of his underlings and walked up to him. He carefully took Jun Huang away from Nan Jihan and held her close to his chest. When he saw the wounds on Jun Huang's arm, his expression turned thunderous. There was a ball of rage inside him.
Without a word, he kicked Nan Jihan down. Nan Jihan couldn't defend himself and fell to the ground, crying out in pain while holding onto his stomach.
Some men were born with commanding presence that no one could deny. Nan Xun glanced at Nan Jihan's guards and said cooly, "You are our guests. I will pretend that your infringement today never happened. Leave now, or you'll never be able to leave." He picked Jun Huang up and walked towards his horse.
With his underling's help, he put Jun Huang on the horseback in front of him. Jun Huang slowly came to. Her face was still too pale for a living person. She tilted her head back to look at Nan Xun. A mouthful of blood rushed up her throat and she coughed it out. Nan Xun held onto her cold hands tightly. He couldn't stop trembling.
Noticing his reaction, Jun Huang turned to look at him with an amused smile. Even someone who has witnessed countless deaths like Nan Xun can be afraid? What is he afraid of?
Nan Xun tried his best to suppress his fear. He took a deep breath. "Are you alright?"
Jun Huang hummed. She was in so much pain it felt as if her body was falling apart, but it was nothing she couldn't endure. She grinned at him. "I'm fine. Don't worry."
"Thank you. For showing up at a time like this."
Nan Xun looked at her silently, his muscles tensing up in fear. What would have happened if he hadn't come here to hunt? What would have happened if he hadn't run into Nan Jihan? He couldn't think of a future where Jun Huang was absent from his life.
They fell quiet. The floating dust obscured their view. Jun Huang leaned into Nan Xun's arms, looking at the direction Nan Jihan left in. Nan Jihan looked a little lost.
Different thoughts occupied each of their minds. Nan Xun swore to himself that he would protect Jun Huang at all cost. Jun Huang thought about how many days she had left and what she should do.
Jun Huang thought that Wei Lanying would have settled down since Nan Guyue was pregnant. Moreover, what happened last time by the lotus pond should have made Wei Lanying realize her place in the manor. No one expected her to be so blind.
Nan Guyue and Qi Chen were respectful and intimate with each other. Every smile of hers was for Qi Chen, and Qi Chen had been spending all his time outside of the imperial court with her. They were the subject of great envy, and of great jealousy, too.
Wei Lanying ground her teeth together watching them in the hallway. Qi Chen carefully helped Nan Guyue out and they crossed the threshold to leave the manor. They were both smiling.
Wei Lanying's nails dug deep into her palms, leaving blood red marks on her skin. She didn't notice. Her maid, however, did. She cried out in surprise. Her heart ached for her master.
"Lady Wei shouldn't get so angry," the maid said. "Why must you hurt yourself for no good reason?"
Wei Lanying turned to look at her. This young woman had followed her to the manor from her home. She scoffed with cold eyes. "Hurt myself? Ha! How much has Qi Chen hurt me? First there was Rou'er. Now it's Nan Guyue. Has he ever see me as his spouse?"
The maid opened her mouth then closed it. It took a moment for her to say with a low voice, "Lady Wei would have been the only one in the prince's heart if not for the princess."
"No. The one who's behind all this is Feng Baiyu. He is the one we should take out first." Wei Lanying's eyes turned sharp. The maid nodded in agreement. If not for Feng Baiyu, Qi Chen wouldn't have married Nan Guyue, and Qi Chen wouldn't have become a father so soon.
The maid thought for a moment. She remembered something. Making sure there wasn't anyone around, she leaned into Wei Lanying and said, "A few days ago, after Feng Baiyu saw Nan Jihan off, it was Prince Nan Xun that brought her back in the evening. They rode on the same horse. Even from the distance, I could tell they were close."
Wei Lanying widened her eyes. Then she laughed. "I knew it! Feng Baiyu really is up to no good. Everyone in the manor knows that the prince is wary of Nan Xun. And still Feng Baiyu gets close to him? Isn't he afraid that the prince will find out? Let us see how much the prince is willing to tolerate for Feng Baiyu." She left with her maid.
Afterwards, a young girl emerged from behind the wall. Her light yellow dress wavered as she moved. Her young face was gloomy. After a moment of hesitation, she decided to tell Nan Guyue what she had heard and let the princess decide what to do.
This girl was Nan Guyue's servant. Earlier, Nan Guyue had left with Qi Chen, but she forgot something in the manor. She asked the girl to retrieve it. The girl happened to witness Wei Lanying's conversation with her maid.
When the girl caught up with Nan Guyue, Qi Chen was nowhere to be seen. He had to go to the palace to deal with something.
Nan Guyue sat by the lotus pond, looking at the zither that was shaped like a phoenix tail with her eyes downcast. She plucked the strings with delicate fingers.
The girl told Nan Guyue what she had heard. Nan Guyue paused and drew her eyebrows together. "She's going to make trouble again."
Nan Guyue's head was clear. She knew that Qi Chen needed all the help he could get now, and Jun Huang was a rare talent. Only a fool like Wei Lanying would try to drive a wedge between them.
Nan Guyue was biased, of course. Jun Huang was the one who encouraged Qi Chen to pursue her. She couldn't just sit on the sideline while Jun Huang was in trouble.
"This servant doesn't understand how a woman like Lady Wei attracted the prince's attention," the girl muttered under her breath, but it didn't escape Nan Guyue's ears.
She smacked the girl lightly on the forehead, her eyes calm like a pond. "She helped the prince become the crown prince. There must be something special about her. Besides, the prince married her for a reason. It's not our place to judge."
The girl dropped to her knees and looked down at the ground. "This servant has made a mistake."
That night, Wei Lanying made her move. She had someone imitate Jun Huang's and Nan Xun's handwritings and sent each of them a letter. She could already picture how angry Qi Chen would be when he found out about Jun Huang's disloyalty.
Nan Guyue intercepted the two letters and looked it over. In the end she gave the letters to her servant and said, "Send the letters to them."
"What is the princess – "
Nan Guyue didn't say anything, but it's clear from her face that she had doubts about Jun Huang as well. This was a good opportunity to put that doubt to rest.
Nan Xun was worried when he received the letter sent by "Jun Huang". It simply said, meet me by my building.