Chapter 94: Exterminating Weeds
The official's story was similar to that of the Senior Grandmaster. He, too, owed his success today to Qi Chen. What differentiated them was that one knew to choose a good master to serve, while the other was foolishly loyal. Qi Chen's track record was far from spotless. It was indisputable that he had committed numerous atrocities. And yet the young official was unwilling to turn his back on Qi Chen.
Jun Huang was prepared to spend her time convincing the official. She had confidence in her persuasive skills. She could make people believe that someone dead were alive. She never doubted that she would be able to change the mind of a man who chose to serve the wrong master.
Nan Xun thought differently. He believed that someone who had betrayed you once was likely to betray you again. He was convinced that killing the man was the better option.
Nan Xun put his hand around the hilt of his sword, preparing to draw his weapon. Jun Huang gave him a sideway look and pushed his hand back down. "He must live," she said right in front of the official.
Nan Xun's eyes turned sharp. "Since when have you become so needlessly sympathetic? Don't you know one must destroy the roots of the weeds in order to eliminate them once and for all?"
"Of course I do," said Jun Huang.
Her response riled Nan Xun up further. He hit the already unsteady table with his palm, rendering the table into a pile of wood planks. The official hunched his shoulders up in fear.
Jun Huang didn't show any reaction. Slowly, she said, "There aren't a lot of good officials in the imperial court of Northern Qi right now. Losing one is one too many."
Nan Xun scoffed and drew his sword at the official. "What use does this dishonest man have? He would only be a burden to us."
The official wanted to defend himself, but he didn't know what he could say. As Nan Xun said, he had been dishonest. He fell silent and closed his eyes. It was a pitiful look.
They couldn't reach a conclusion for the time being. Jun Huang stood up and said to the official, "It's not that this gentleman can't find any other ally. I simply thought that you are a pure-hearted official, and you should know what integrity and shame mean. You are the one who betrayed me. Don't blame this gentleman for being cold-hearted. I will give you one day to consider your options. If you insist on being stubborn, this gentleman cannot promise you that your parents will remain safe."
Jun Huang turned around and left. Nan Xun gave the official a meaningful look before sheathing his sword and following her out.
Nan Xun quickly caught up to Jun Huang and stopped her. "What are you trying to do?"
Jun Huang looked at the green bamboo next to her. Among the four gentlemen of flowers and plants1, bamboo was second only to orchids in terms of her preference. Bamboo stood tall and straight, symbolizing the unbendable will of a gentleman. "The official gave me an idea."
Nan Xun looked at her questioningly, waiting for her to continue.
Jun Huang turned to him. Her eyes were calm, but her voice was determined. "Compared to alerting the snakes, I'm more afraid of being in the dark when we have already been exposed. We should turn this to our advantage and use this opportunity to confuse Qi Chen and his benefactor."
Jun Huang's words were vague, but Nan Xun was smart enough to figure out what she meant. He saw the value in her plan. They could let Qi Chen find out that someone was trying to win over his people, but mislead him as to who it could be. They would be the fisherman benefitting from the fight between a clam and a sandpiper.
After a moment of silence, Nan Xun asked, "Have you found his family?"
"That I'll need Your Highness's help," Jun Huang said with a smile. The bamboo leaves behind her rustled as the silk robe Jun Huang wore fluttered in the wind. The fabric blended with the scenery like they were meant to be a pair.
Noticing Nan Xun's gaze, Jun Huang schooled her expression into a cold mask. She turned back to the winding path and yawned tiredly. Only then did Nan Xun realize that it was late. He bid her farewell and left.
The next day, Little Girl waited outside Jun Huang's room early in the morning. Once she heard that Jun Huang had woken up, she said through the screen, "Gentleman Feng, the man who is kept in the woodshed requested to have a word with you."
Jun Huang arched an eyebrow. After getting freshened up, she made her way to the woodshed at the back of the compound. As soon as the official saw Jun Huang, he asked without ceremony, "Can you promise to bring peace and prosperity to Northern Qi?"
The question was a clear enough indication that the official was wavering. She smiled a little. "You should see for yourself if you have doubts."
Jun Huang's open and honest attitude cleared the last of his reservation. He agreed to play double agent for Jun Huang and to provide fake information to Qi Chen.
Jun Huang ordered the guard to loosen the restraint. The official rubbed at his sore arms and looked up at Jun Huang. After some hesitation, he asked, "And you believe me so easily?"
"Why not?" Jun Huang asked with an arched eyebrow. The official was rendered speechless. He couldn't be more grateful to Jun Huang. In this age of constant wars and conflicts, he was fortunate to have the trust of this elegant gentleman with delicate features and distant smile.
He knew he had been foolish. Qi Chen's notoriety wasn't enough for him to betray the man who made him who he was today. He, however, wanted nothing more than to make Northern Qi a prosperous country where all people could lead a happy and peaceful life. That was something Qi Chen couldn't give him.
In order to prove his loyalty, the official immediately asked for writing instruments and wrote a "confession letter" right before Jun Huang's eyes. After he was finished, he carefully handed it to Jun Huang with both hands.
Jun Huang's smile deepened as she read through the letter. Even the corners of her eyes were crinkled. But the smile was fleeting.
Before the official left, he dropped down to the ground, using so much force that the impact of his knees hitting the ground sent dust flying into the air. Jun Huang frowned at him, wondering what he was trying to do.
"I thought I would spend my life wandering aimlessly. I am a stubborn fool with great ambition, but I had no way to make my dream a reality. Meeting the gentleman is the greatest fortune in all three lives of mine." He bowed down to her. Frowning, Jun Huang helped him up and sighed.
"You don't have to do this," she said seriously. "This gentleman is lucky to gain the support of a good official like you."
Tears streamed down the official's cheeks. He wiped his face clean with his sleeves before bidding her farewell.
Jun Huang's heart was filled with a tangled mess of emotions. Nowadays, it was difficult for even the most talented men to succeed. Many kind-hearted people suffered as a result. She let out a silent sigh and walked out of the room. Nan Xun was standing not far from her.
It seemed that he had been waiting for a while. Jun Huang walked up to him. "His parents?"
"Don't worry. I've ordered people to keep watch. Nothing will happen to them. But are you really going to put your trust in him so easily?" Nan Xun wasn't convinced yet. The official had betrayed Jun Huang once. He was worried that he might stir up trouble again.
Jun Huang nodded. "There are always uncertainties in the world. We have to learn how to believe in something. I'm willing to believe that human beings are inherently good."
For reasons unknown to Nan Xun himself, seeing her face had calmed him down. He was willing to give the official the benefit of the doubt. Even if something went wrong, he was confident that he would be able to protect Jun Huang.
Jun Huang didn't know what he was thinking about. She walked towards the back garden. It was rare for Nan Xun to have this much free time. He had decided to spend the day in the garden Jun Huang had carefully put together. He was sure he would enjoy his time.
After the official left Jun Huang's place, he looked himself over. His clothes were rumpled and his face was stained. It was inappropriate for him to visit Qi Chen in this state. Thus, he decided to go back home first.
Once inside, he saw his wife and child sitting in the hallway. His wife was watching their child play with a tender smile on her face. At that moment, he could not think of anything that was more precious to him.
Seeing that the one supporting the family had returned, his wife walked up to him with a small smile. "Where did you go yesterday? What has kept you so long? And did something happen? You look like a mess."
"I'm fine. Yesterday I shared a few drinks with my friend. I got drunk and fell on my way back. I had no choice but to stay a night outside." The official didn't want to make his wife worry, so he kept the truth to himself.
They exchanged some small talk. The official hurriedly went to his room to get changed. After that, he left without even having breakfast. He had promised Jun Huang that he would deliver the letter to Qi Chen.
In Northern Qi, morning meetings were convened every three days. Today, there was no meeting. The official went straight to Prince Chen Manor.
Earlier, Qi Chen had received the news that some of his lesser known supporters had been accused by Qi Yun for taking bribes. He was discussing what his next move should be with one of his confidantes.
"This gentleman believes that Your Highness should let this go," his confidante said seriously. "They are merely low grade officials who possess very limited power. What's more, the evidence has been delivered to the emperor. It's not worth it for Your Highness to rouse the emperor's suspicion for this matter."
Qi Chen narrowed his slanted eyes in deep thoughts. He didn't say anything. Not long after, a page boy walked in and said that someone requested an audience with Qi Chen.
The young official was led in by the page boy. It was the first time he had ever done something like this. His palms were covered in sweat and his breathing was shallow. He quickly came up to Qi Chen.
Qi Chen had seen this man before, but he didn't remember the exact circumstance they had met under. "What is the matter?"
The official bowed and asked respectfully, "This official has something to report."
"There are people in the imperial court trying to sway the loyalty of Your Highness's supporters," said the official. His tone was genuine and his eyes were clear. "This official had pledged myself to Your Highness. I owe everything I am today to you. I refused to betray Your Highness. However, I am now being threatened by those villains. I have no choice but to come to Your Highness with this problem. This official is willing to pretend to be loyal to those men. I only hope that Your Highness can take care of my family in return."
Qi Chen glanced at the confidante standing next to him. He sounds genuine and his eyes are clear, thought the confidante. Is what he said the truth, or very convincing lies?
Which are plum blossom, orchids, bamboo, and chrysanthemum. ↩