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Chapter 130: Return of the Men in Black
Jun Huang nodded. She didn't think much about Qi Yun's request. Nan Xun, on the contrary, was displeased. He knew Jun Huang wasn't helping Qi Yun simply because he was her old friend, but also because he was the best candidate for future emperor Northern Qi had now. Nonetheless, he couldn't help feeling jealous.
Nan Xun quirked his lips up. "It seems that the fourth prince only has eyes for gentleman Feng. Despite the fact that I am here as well, you only invited gentleman Feng to dinner. This brother is feeling left out."
Nan Xun had spoken in a lighthearted tone, but Qi Yun couldn't let that accusation slide. He got to his feet and forced himself to smile. "This brother is glad that you have the time to share a meal with us. Let us go to the tavern now."
Jun Huang threw a brief glance at Nan Xun before standing up. They left for the tavern together.
They had arrived early. The food therefore had not been prepared yet. A clerk brought them a pot of premium Longjing tea. Jun Huang felt the urge to try some, but Nan Xun took away her cup and told the clerk to bring them a pot of water. The clerk nodded and walked out of the booth.
Qi Yun expected Jun Huang to protest, but she simply leaned against the window and looked outside. The tavern was located at the center of the imperial city. From the booth one could overlook half of the entire city. It was an awe-striking view.
"I didn't know the gentleman is so close to my brother," Qi Yun said with an awkward smile, trying to fill the silence. "I'm envious."
Jun Huang looked over at Nan Xun before quickly turning away. She had done so on reflex and wasn't trying to convey anything. Nan Xun was staring at Jun Huang with a mysterious smile. Qi Yun wondered what he was thinking about.
Once the meal was ready, they took their seats. There was a table full of different dishes, but Jun Huang didn't say anything. Nan Xun thought back to the last time he had invited Jun Huang to share a meal with him. They had an argument because his page boy ordered too much. He had thought Jun Huang would say something this time as well, but Jun Huang started eating without a word.
Qi Yun invited Jun Huang to show her his grat.i.tude. He moved his chopsticks to the fish and picked up a piece, intending to drop it on Jun Huang's plate, but Nan Xun stopped his attempt with a hand, his eyebrows furrowed.
Qi Yun was puzzled and a little upset. He was trying to show Jun Huang his appreciation! And yet Nan Xun had taken the spotlight as if he was the host.
"What does brother Nan mean by this?" Qi Yun asked through clenched teeth.
Nan Xun glanced at him and said, "Gentleman Feng doesn't eat fish."
Nan Xun pulled his hand back. Qi Yun too dropped his chopsticks in mortification. He raked through his memory, trying to remember Jun Huang's preferences.
Vaguely, he remembered a young Jun Huang telling him that she didn't eat fish, that she was born with an aversion to the taste and couldn't even stand the smell.
When Jun Huang looked up, Qi Yun's eyes were glued to her. She smiled. "Please forgive this gentleman, Your Highness. There are many people who don't eat fish. I happen to be one of them."
As if waking up from a dream, Qi Yun dropped his gaze and gave Jun Huang an apologetic smile.
Jun Huang chewed absentmindedly. She wondered how much Qi Yun remembered from their time together as children.
Seeing that Jun Huang was distracted, Nan Xun changed the subject and said, "Have you made any progress in your investigation on your mother's death, Qi Yun?"
Qi Yun's face fell. He pursed his lips and shook his head. With a deep sigh, he said, "There are people trying to stop me from finding the truth. I still haven't found a good lead."
Nan Xun was quiet for a moment. In the end, he offered some words of comfort. "Take your time. Don't be too hasty. The truth is out there. You will find it sooner or later."
Qi Yun nodded. They ate in silence.
After the meal, they started talking about what they should do next, but their conversation was interrupted by Qi Yun's page boy. The page boy entered the room after knocking and whispered something into Qi Yun's ear. Qi Yun's expression changed and he shot to his feet.
"I have urgent business to attend to in the palace. Please excuse me for leaving early." Qi Yun cupped his hands before turning to Nan Xun. "Please walk gentleman Feng back, brother Nan. It may be unsafe to be alone on the street at time like this."
Nan Xun nodded. "Of course. Leave that to me."
When they arrived at the tavern, the sun had only just started to set. Now the outside was lit by lamps and moonlight. Jun Huang read the riddle written on one of the lanterns before her, her attention caught. Nan Xun turned to her and saw the warm glow surrounding her. A tender feeling snuck up to him. He suddenly felt the urge to touch her face, but he pulled his hand away when Jun Huang turned to him as if nothing had happened.
"What?" Jun Huang noticed Nan Xun's heavy gaze on her. She frowned. Is there anything on her face? She touched her cheek in puzzlement.
Nan Xun chuckled. He walked towards her and stopped when they were only a step apart. When he extended his hand, Jun Huang closed her eyes reflexively, her eyelashes casting shadow on her cheeks. She was beautiful. It took all of Nan Xun's self-control to stop himself from touching Jun Huang.
"There is a flower on your hair," Nan Xun said quietly. He took the cherry blossom from the top of Jun Huang's head. The faint fragrance enveloped them. Jun Huang's face looked a touch more vibrant because of the cherry blossom.
Jun Huang had learned to compartmentalize her feelings. Thoughts about love and romance never even surfaced her mind. She nodded and walked outside. Nan Xun quickly followed her.
"The moon is beautiful today," said Nan Xun, pointing at the crescent moon in the sky.
Jun Huang tilted her head. The moon was bright and clear against the greyish blue backdrop. The street was lined with lamps, shrouding every pedestrian in a warm orange glow. Beautiful women covered their faces shyly while talented gentlemen recited poems praising the moon. It seemed like a scene straight out of a painting.
Jun Huang nodded after a long pause. "Yes, it is. The moon is far away from us, but its beauty is irresistible and unique."
Nan Xun opened his mouth to say that the moon wasn't all that was beautiful tonight, but before he could say anything, his instinct told him that someone was going to attack them. He took Jun Huang's arm, his eyes going cold.
Jun Huang frowned at him questioningly. Nan Xun put his index finger against his lips in warning. Jun Huang surveyed their surroundings without a word.
It was quiet save for the sharps croaks of birds returning to their nests. Even the sound of bamboo leaves falling to the ground was audible. Jun Huang felt the undeniable tension in the air. The air was heavy and thick.
A group of men dressed in black appeared out of the shadow. Jun Huang looked at them pensively. The leading man seemed awfully familiar – It was the same man who attacked them warned Nan Xun that they would strike again.
Nan Xun relaxed a little. He knew these men's target was him. As long as Jun Huang left him here, they would not keep chase.
He turned back to Jun Huang and said in a calm tone, "You should go now. I'm their target. They must have come prepared – "
Jun Huang stopped him with a glare and stepped before Nan Xun, pointing at the leader of the group. "Why do you keep on hara.s.sing Nan Xun?"
With a scoff, the leader drew his sword and lunged at them. Jun Huang didn't expect the man to attack without saying anything this time. Nan Xun quickly took out his dagger and extracted the blade with a whip of his wrist. He pulled Jun Huang behind him with one hand while blocking the leader's attack with the other.
The tip of the man's sword hit the body of Nan Xun's blade, sending sparkles into the air. Nan Xun kicked at the man. Feeling the swis.h.i.+ng air before the kick landed, the man quickly dodged away.
The other men charged at Jun Huang and Nan Xun. Jun Huang huffed and took out her foldable fan.
She did not simply accepted her weaknesses like many other would. In private, she had asked Nan Xun to train her. She wanted to be of help when danger struck.
The fan should be light and easily breakable, but in her hand, it was transformed into a weapon that seemed to weigh a thousand tons.
She hit one of the attackers in the stomach, sending the man flying backward with a grunt. Jun Huang was using their force against them. She was able to deter the lesser fighters among the group.
The leader engaged Nan Xun in a fierce fight. Every blow of his was intended to kill. Jun Huang frowned. With a push against the wall, she lunged at the leader and knocked the blade away with her fan. The man pulled back cautiously.
Without thinking, Jun Huang s.h.i.+elded Nan Xun with an extended arm, her eyes frosty. Nan Xun felt his heart soften for her protectiveness.
The leader broke into ugly laughter, hurling insults at Nan Xun. "Oh, this is rich! Nan Xun, our prince with a different surname, needs the protection of a frail scholar! That will break anyone's illusion of the brave warrior prince!"
Jun Huang knew the man was trying to provoke Nan Xun. She wasn't going to do anything reckless. That would only bring Nan Xun troubles. She took a deep breath and turned to Nan Xun, who nodded at her. Jun Huang accepted his silent suggestion and stepped back.