Chapter 87: Risking His Life for Love
Nan Xun followed Jun Huang's gaze and saw the old man. He went up to him and bought two candied hawthorn sticks for her. From what little he knew about women, he thought that all women had a sweet tooth.
Jun Huang looked at the candied hawthorn with an odd look. "I don't like sweets."
Nan Xun frowned. "I thought girls like sweets."
"No one asked me if I liked them when all I had for meals was medicine," Jun Huang said quietly. "Now that I've gotten used to the taste, I no longer like food with strong flavors. Sweets are too much for me. I don't enjoy them anymore." Her expression was distant, as if the time she served as a test subject to her mentor was but a fleeting dream.
But how could she have forgotten?
Nan Xun would rather Jun Huang complain to him. He would rather she said that the medicine was so bitter she could barely swallow it, that the silver needles hurt her so much she could feel it in her bones. He didn't want to see Jun Huang put on a brave face and kept all her pain to herself.
The harsh red of the hawthorn reminded Jun Huang of the massacre that happened in the imperial city of Western Que that night. Those cold-blooded murderers cut her people open and blood gushed out from the wounds, painting the land red.
She looked away and brushed Nan Xun's hand aside. She couldn't stand looking at the hawthorn. Nan Xun could tell she was upset. He sighed and handed the candied hawthorn sticks to two children who happened to pass by. The children happily accept his offerings.
On their way back to Jun Huang's place, Nan Xun asked casually, "Why have you been avoiding me? Is it because of what I said?"
Jun Huang stopped to throw Nan Xun a glance and shook her head. "No. I didn't take your words personally. There have just been too many things for me to take care of, so I didn't have the time to meet you."
Nan Xun might be a general, but he was an educated man as well. Of course he knew Jun Huang wasn't telling the truth. He let out a chuckle.
In her embarrassment, Jun Huang chose to stay silent. They walked side by side without a word.
The winds were chilly at night. Jun Huang hunched her shoulders up. Nan Xun was going to take off his outer robe and drape it over her, but she turned him down with a shake of her head and quickened her pace.
From the dark alley beside them came a quick succession of footsteps. There was also the sound of weapons gliding against the wall. Nan Xun was well-trained enough to hear the noises. He came to a halt and surveyed his surroundings with careful eyes. Jun Huang realized that Nan Xun had stopped walking. She turned around, watching him with furrowed brows.
Nan Xun held his index finger against his lips and looked around with vigilant eyes, silently telling Jun Huang to stay quiet.
Jun Huang looked around. She could vaguely see the silhouettes of several men moving in the alleyway. She was proven right when a group of men dressed in black emerged from the shadows.
They surrounded Jun Huang and Nan Xun immediately. Without thinking, Nan Xun shielded Jun Huang with his own body. He couldn't bear to let Jun Huang get hurt in any way. His reaction caught the men's attention. The leader of the group laughed.
"Faced with dangerous enemies, the prince's first reaction is to protect this woman? It seems that the rumors hold some truth to them. I wonder if a man who kills without hesitation on the battlefields is gentle and considerate in the warm embrace of a woman. Oh, it's as the poet said: One must seize the day and do what makes him happy. A beautiful woman should be cherished and cared for." He burst into laughter. His lecherous tone made his words revolting.
Jun Huang frowned. Why would he assume that she was a woman?
She didn't know that her beauty was apparent even in the dark. The leader was a man who had seen a great variety of people. Jun Huang was dressed in men's clothing, but her body was too frail to be that of a man. He therefore deduced that she must be a woman dressed as a man.
The leader did not miss her reaction. "Forgive us, lady. We are uneducated people who speak crudely. We aren't as gentle as the famous Prince Nan Xun. If we have offended you, I hope you won't take it personally." The man started laughing again. The men behind him followed suit.
Nan Xun looked over at them with sharp eyes. These filthy arrogant vermin should be taught how to hold their tongues! Jun Huang maintained her calm expression. Their harassing words did not seem to have affected her at all. She stood by Nan Xun' side. They fit together like the pieces to a puzzle.
"Do you know who they are?" Jun Huang asked in a low voice. "Why are they here?"
Nan Xun shook his head. He looked up at the leading man and asked, "Where did you clowns come from? I've never killed people I don't know the names of."
The man huffed. "Villains always get what they deserve. We're here to punish you on behalf of the gods." Without warning, he unsheathed his sword and stabbed at Nan Xun.
Nan Xun flicked his eyes downwards. He didn't have a weapon on him. He could only take out his foldable fan and block the sword with it. He narrowed his eyes and kicked at the man. The man however was not a measly thug. He dodged the attack easily by leaping into the air.
Seeing that their leader had engaged Nan Xun in a soundless duel, the other men drew their weapons and charged at Nan Xun. Jun Huang's pupils contracted. She blocked an attack with her fan and propelled herself up by pushing against Nan Xun's shoulder. She kicked the attacker with all the strength she could muster.
With a grunt, the attacker hit the wall and lost consciousness. Another man was trying to sneak up on them. Jun Huang threw a silver needle at him. He didn't pay much attention to the sting, but after taking a couple steps, he felt light in the head and his vision blurred. Soon he lost all his strength and collapsed to the ground with a heavy thud.
The leader realized that Jun Huang was no easy prey. He had planned to let her live, but since she had chosen to fight back, he wasn't going to show her any mercy. He threw a concealed weapon at her.
Jun Huang had not received systematic training in martial arts. She learned only a few tricks in order to defend herself. These men were clearly well-trained. They had underestimated her earlier, but now they were coming at her with the intent to kill.
The concealed weapon was too quick for Jun Huang to dodge. She reflexively threw a few silver needles at it, trying to change its trajectory. However, the weapon was thrown with such force that the needles were simply knocked aside. Just when the weapon was about to strike her, a hand reached out for her and picked her up.
It was Nan Xun. He gingerly put Jun Huang back down after dodging the attack and whispered, "Stick close to me. I won't let anything happen to you."
Nan Xun's eyes were determined. Jun Huang felt her chest tighten. The ice encasing her heart had started to melt.
She nodded without hesitation. Something passed between them in the silent exchange.
Nan Xun was a master fighter. Those men could not get close to him. Jun Huang was only a regular woman. Before coming to Northern Qi, she never would have thought that one day, she would be fighting for her life with someone like Nan Xun at her side.
She asked Nan Xun to teach her some self-defense moves only because she wanted to defend herself against the dangers she would encounter in Northern Qi. She never thought that she would be in a fight to the death. She knew only a few simple tricks, but was reliant on Nan Xun despite her intentions of not being a burden.
Those men were no threat in Nan Xun's eyes. He could have easily broken free from their assault. He was stuck only because he was trying to protect her.
She felt a pang in her heart. She never thought that there would be someone who cared about her this much, who would sooner die than to let her get hurt.
Now however, was not the time to be sentimental. The leading man scoffed. "The prince is indeed a good warrior. If you were on your own, we would be no match for you. It's a good thing that you're with this woman."
Nan Xun huffed. "You are no match for me even with her at my side. Tonight will be the last day of your lives." He kicked the man coming up from his right hand side and caught the sword the man had dropped when he fell. Nan Xun lunged at another man who was attacking Jun Huang.
Blood splattered onto the ground. The man took his last breath before he could cry out. Jun Huang whirled around and let out a relieved sigh. Her fingers were sweaty around the silver needle.
Nan Xun turned around when he landed. His gaze swept through the remaining five men. With a smirk, he gave the sword a twirl and stepped forward with his other hand behind his back, driving the point of the blade towards the leading man.
The attackers were stunned. They didn't expect Nan Xun to be this good with a sword. Nevertheless, bravado alone wasn't enough to have pushed them into assassinating Nan Xun. They had some skills backing them up. The leader quickly recovered and parried Nan Xun's attack with his sword. Unexpectedly, Nan Xun darted to behind his back when their swords collided.
He moved too quickly for the men to react. His sword was now against the leader's neck. A gentle push would have killed him.
At the same time, Jun Huang was circled by a handful of enemies. With her limited training, she could at most defend herself against one man. Surrounded by five, she was barely keeping herself alive. She couldn't fight her way out.
Nan Xun's focus momentarily shifted to her. The leader took the chance to move away from the blade and strike a blow at Nan Xun. Feeling his movement, Nan Xun narrowed his eyes. He wanted to kill the man, but it was more important for him to get to Jun Huang first. He knocked the man away with a hit to his back and rushed to Jun Huang's side. He fought the five men off with a sweeping slash and pulled Jun Huang behind him.
Jun Huang had overtaxed herself in the fight. She wasn't hurt, but she had been too focused earlier, which was exactly the most harmful thing she could do with the poison in her system. Once she relaxed herself, she felt a wave of dizziness overtake her. Nan Xun pulled her close to support her weight.
Her face was pale. Nan Xun's expression darkened and his eyes turned frosty. The men couldn't help but shudder under his gaze. For a moment, no one dared to make a move.