Chapter 64: Fortunes in Love
"Is Consort Zhen sure that the emperor won't make someone else the crown prince? We both know how Qi Chen gained the title. The emperor is now getting old. Has he, however, even mentioned to Consort Zhen that he wants to pass down the throne?"
Consort Zhen looked at Jun Huang in shock. Jun Huang had hit home with what she had been thinking about. The past few days she had tentatively brought this up to the emperor, but he wasn't willing to discuss the matter. He always immediately changed the subject. It was clear he was reluctant to let Qi Chen inherit the throne. If not for Wei Lanying's scheme, he wouldn't have made Qi Chen the crown prince so soon, either.
She thought for a while before saying in a low voice, "Do you have a solution?"
Jun Huang looked up at her. "I have a slow-acting poison – "
"Out of the question," the consort cut her off and threw her a glare. "If the emperor finds out, it'll be Chen'er's doom."
Jun Huang stayed perfectly calm without a trace of fear. "This medicine has no taste nor any scent. You only need a little dose every day to make someone slowly lose their strength. The emperor will blame the decline of his health on his devotion to ruling the country. Besides, I heard that Eastern Wu has been thinking of reaching a truce with Northern Qi, and they gifted us with various medicinal materials. If something were to happen to the emperor, everyone will point their finger at Eastern Wu. No one will suspect the prince."
The consort was starting to waver. She gave Jun Huang a questioning look and asked, "Why are you so eager to help Chen'er? What is it you're pursuing?"
Jun Huang curved her lips into a smile. "Everyone needs a purpose in life. This gentleman has no interest in the imperial court, but I don't want my talents to go to waste, either. The prince is the true son of heaven. If I can help him become the emperor, my name will be remembered for generations to come."
Her reasons were appropriate and in line with human nature. The consort was convinced. She took the small ceramic bottle from Jun Huang and breathed in deeply before leaving with her servants. Jun Huang watched her go, her smile deepening.
After seeing Consort Zhen off, Qi Chen went to the garden with Nan Guyue. He gingerly poured her tea and smiled at her.
He had no idea about what his mother and Jun Huang were plotting.
"Guyue, what do you say we find a good spouse for brother Feng?" Qi Chen asked, supporting his head with a hand.
Nan Guyue frowned. "Didn't you say he wasn't interested?"
Qi Chen let out a quiet laugh. "Every man needs a woman by his side. In a few days we're going to the temple outside the city to pray for our child. How about we take brother Feng with us? We can ask for blessings for his love fortune. Help him find a good match sooner."
Nan Guyue nodded in agreement. "That'll be ideal."
They had reached a decision. Later, Qi Chen told Jun Huang about it. He was enthusiastic. Jun Huang couldn't really say no to him.
They're just asking for blessings, though, she thought to herself. At least they're not forcing a woman on me.
The day was bright and warm. Qi Chen had someone retrieve Jun Huang in the early morning. She had been awake for a while and was drinking tea. She saw the maid coming into the front yard. Before she could move, Wei Qian had gone up to the maid.
"Is something the matter?" Wei Qian's face was a perfect mask of impassiveness. She was a trained fighter. She wasn't tender like other women were. Instead, there was a threatening aura about her. It sent a shudder down the maid's spine.
The maid tensed up and took a couple steps back, gulping. "The prince ordered this servant to come find the gentleman. It is time to leave the manor."
Jun Huang stepped over the threshold and stood under the roof. "Tell the prince I will be there shortly."
The maid looked over. The young man with delicate features was holding a teacup with a smile as warm as the breeze in spring. The turquoise robe was the color of water falling from Mount Heaven. How can a man like this exist in the mortal realm? The maid couldn't help staring. Wei Qian, on the other hand, didn't dare to even look. Her heart was already racing like drum beats.
It took a moment for the maid to break out of her trance. She left the side building, sneaking glances at Jun Huang along the way. Jun Huang snorted. She gave her own outfit a once-over, but didn't spot anything out of place. She finished the cup of tea before making her way to the main hall.
Qi Chen had an arm around Nan Guyue as they watched the servants pack. Jun Huang cocked her head in question. "Is Your Highness planning to stay for a while?"
"The temple is a good place to find peace," Qi Chen looked back at her and said with a smile. "I don't have matters to attend to in the imperial court these next couple of days. If something is to happen in the palace, the servants are instructed to come to the temple to notify me. It will be good to relax for a few days and live a simple life."
Jun Huang nodded without a word. She looked up at the blue sky. It matched the clothes she was wearing today.
It had started to drizzle when the housekeeper finished packing. Qi Chen was in high spirits. He ignored the rain and helped Nan Guyue into the coach.
When Jun Huang was getting in, she glanced at the inside of the manor. She could see Wei Lanying jogging up to them. She arched an eyebrow without a word.
Noticing her reaction, Qi Chen frowned and looked outside the window. His expression changed when he saw Wei Lanying. Once Jun Huang was seated, he hurriedly told the driver, "Leave now. Go!"
The driver took his order to heart. He jumped onto the box seat and cracked the whip. The white horses towing the coach started galloping forward.
Wind blew open the curtains over the coach. Jun Huang could see Wei Lanying standing in the rain. Her sorrow was obvious on her face. Even Jun Huang felt a little sorry for her.
Wei Lanying's maid ran up to her with an umbrella, but was pushed to the ground by her. Jun Huang couldn't tell if Wei Lanying was crying, or if it was the rain.
Jun Huang turned to Qi Chen. He had witnessed everything as well, but he didn't seem to care at all. He focused on tending to Nan Guyue's needs. Jun Huang thought of the days right after Wei Lanying got married to Qi Chen. He had been considerate to her then. Now, she had no place in his heart. Jun Huang shuddered to think how he might treat Nan Guyue in the future.
Nan Guyue was kind-hearted. Jun Huang didn't want her to get hurt. They were married, however. Jun Huang hoped Qi Chen could truly fall in love with Nan Guyue one day and remember everything she had done for him. Then perhaps, he wouldn't wrong her.
"What is brother Feng thinking about?" Qi Chen asked suddenly. Jun Huang came to her senses and shook her head with a smile. She commented on how beautiful the scenery outside the city was.
When they arrived at the temple, the rain was close to stopping. Jun Huang looked over at the temple as she got out. It was less full of life than the temple in the city, but the tranquility relaxed her. It was as if her concerns and worries were fading away in the silence.
There was someone standing outside the gate. Jun Huang focused her gaze and saw that it was Nan Xun. She widened her eyes. Before she could react, Nan Xun had already come up to them.
Qi Chen was surprised as well. He raised an eyebrow at Nan Xun. "I didn't expect brother Nan to be here. Such a coincidence."
A nod was Nan Xun's only reponse. He didn't intend to pay Qi Chen any more attention. Qi Chen was starting to feel awkward. Just then, the abbott came out with a young monk to greet Qi Chen.
On their way in, Qi Chen took the lead with a hand on Nan Guyue's back, while Jun Huang and Nan Xun trailed after them. After a few moments of walking, Jun Huang couldn't help but say, "I didn't think Your Highness would put so much faith in religion. Should every triumph of yours be credited to Buddha?"
Nan Xun coughed. "I has some free time, so I came for a walk. I didn't expect you people to be here."
Jun Huang shrugged as they entered the temple. When they walked past the main palace, she paused and turned to Wei Qian. "Tell the prince that I'll walk around." She was here already, thus she might as well pray for blessings.
Wei Qian nodded before leaving. Jun Huang walked straight to the main palace. Nan Xun followed after her. He had no intention to leave her.
The smoke from the incense sticks fogged up the whole room. The gold-plated statue seemed like it would come to life at any moment. It was free of any dust or dirt. Jun Huang took a incense stick from a little monk and raised it in prayer. She looked devoted.
Nan Xun stood by her side and watched her without a word. His eyes never left her.
After three rounds of praying, Jun Huang placed the incense stick on the table before her and knelt down with her head bent low on the prayer mat. Her untied black hair spread over the floor. She wasn't thinking about her future. She wasn't asking for a good companion. What she wanted had always been for her little brother to be happy and safe, and for her to be able to avenge her family and homeland.
After a while, Jun Huang opened her eyes and said, "I told Consort Zhen to poison the emperor." Her tone was calm. It was difficult to tell how she felt.
Nan Xun frowned. His hands balled up into fists under his broad sleeves. How could he not react to that? The emperor was his Bo Le. He wouldn't have become a prince if not for the emperor. And he wouldn't be able to go on the battlefields to fight for his country.
Seemingly oblivious to his silence, Jun Huang continued, "I've thought about it. Eastern Wu is seeking truce, but they will never give up on their ambition. Besides… I don't have a lot of time."
Nan Xun stayed silent. There was a bitter taste at the back of his throat. He took a deep breath and looked outside the door. There was a behemoth tree at the center of the front yard. Fallen leaves covered the ground. A little monk was absentmindedly sweeping the leaves with a broom.
His silence was a sign of his approval. For some reason, Jun Huang relaxed a little and sighed in relief. She turned to Nan Xun with a faint smile, which lit up her soft eyes. "It will only make people fatigued," she offered. "It's not fatal."
"Remember to protect yourself no matter what," Nan Xun said. "Don't let anyone find out. It is a capital offense."
Jun Huang felt her heart skip a beat and her cheeks flare up. She turned away hurriedly, breathing deep to suppress her emotions. She got to her feet and smoothed out the wrinkles on her robe.
When she turned around, Nan Xun was looking at her with expressive eyes. She looked back openly, hiding her thundering heart. They stayed like that for a good while before Nan Xun turned away and walked out. Jun Huang followed after him.