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Chapter 26: The Officials Waver
Nan Xun seriously considered the question and a.n.a.lyzed the current situation. In the end, he had to shake his head. “This matter is too important, we need to plan for the long term.”
The return trip pa.s.sed in a flash as the retinue arrived at the capital in short order. Qi Chen had taken care of an urgent matter for the emperor this time, and had done so quite well. The emperor was immensely gratified and smiled broadly, even personally welcoming Qi Chen early in the morning as part of the party outside the city.
Qi Chen was well aware of what Jun Huang meant to him and his ambition, so although the two had had their disagreements in the past, he couldn’t put on airs right then. Instead, he invited Jun Huang to avoid the toils of travel and join him in his carriage. He only did this when they were about ten miles out from the capital. The scenery that greeted their eyes around them was currently one of peaceful lushness. Jun Huang alighted from her horse with flair and entered the carriage, only to see Qi Chen seated inside with a teacup in hand. The tea in the cup sloshed back and forth with the motion of the carriage, closely resembling a lively river.
“What might Your Highness need me for?” Jun Huang asked Qi Chen.
The prince smiled fawningly and placed the tea cup on a low table. The rocking from the carriage immediately spilled some tea onto his robes, but Qi Chen paid no heed. He warmly greeted Jun Huang and had her sit down for a discussion. Jun Huang didn’t stand on ceremony and took a seat across from Qi Chen, waiting for him to state his intentions.
“Brother Feng knows of my status in my royal father’s heart. You’re also on good terms with Nan Xun. I hope you talk some sense into him so that he won’t tell my royal father about the robbery at the yamen. Please do this favor for me.” Qi Chen even raised a cupped fist salute to Jun Huang, a look of utmost seriousness on his face.
Jun Huang sneered inwardly, but maintained her usual indifferent expression. She nodded, “Leave it to me. Although I don’t have much to do with him, I’m still willing to try on behalf of Your Highness.” She responded very openly and subtly drew a line between herself and Nan Xun at the same time. She couldn’t have Qi Chen suspect the relations.h.i.+p between the two of them just yet.
Qi Chen heaved a sigh of relief after receiving Jun Huang’s affirmative response. She no longer had a reason to exchange superficial pleasantries with him and rose to take her leave. HOwever, right when she was about to alight from the carriage, she paused and turned with a smile. “Might I beg a jug of wine off Your Highness?”
Qi Chen blinked, but hastily pa.s.sed over a jug of wine. Jun Huang left in style after receiving the white jade jug. When she came down, she happened to meet Nan Xun’s eyes, the latter still mounted on his white horse. She curved her lips and raised the jug in her hand. Nan Xun reined in his horse, waiting for her to rejoin him on her horse.
The two lagged behind as they approached the capital and finally dismounted beneath a towering tree. They took seats on the ground, with Jun Huang having scrounged up two white jade cups from somewhere. She handed Nan Xun a cup after filling it with wine.
“What did Qi Chen want with you earlier?” Nan Xun asked after accepting the cup.
“He wanted me to ask you not to mention to the emperor that the yamen was robbed.” Jun Huang didn’t hide everything and spoke bluntly.
Nan Xun was slightly taken aback, but immediately gathered his thoughts, shaking his head with a smile. He took a sip of wine and spoke, “I hadn’t planned on doing so either. There’s no need for the emperor to know of this matter.”
“Indeed. You were supposed to be the robber, so how would you tell the emperor of that endeavor? You might as well let this matter pa.s.s and do me a favor.” Jun Huang nodded in agreement and grinned widely. She raised the cup to toast Nan Xun with a deep look and flung her head back, draining the contents.
Nan Xun only rose when the jug was empty and stood still for a moment as Jun Huang also elegantly got to her feet. He decided to fill Jun Huang in after some thought. “I didn’t discuss this with you before, but I sent some men back to the capital a while ago and had them spread the news about Qi Chen embezzling the relief funds. I think that apart from the emperor, everyone in Qi Chen’s faction at court knows of his actions by now.”
Jun Huang frowned as she looked at him, then nodded her head after a moment of thought. “That’s fine, we should’ve done it anyways. It’s about time that we start to work on the firm wall behind Qi Chen.” She smiled mischievously, throwing Nan Xun for a loop. In that moment, just that moment, he actually really wanted to see Jun Huang dressed as a girl. But it was just a fleeting thought, as ephemeral as the wind.
The two didn’t speak any further, just standing there silently for a while longer. They mounted their horses and swiftly caught up to the main group who were just about to enter the capital. We won’t be able to see each as often any longer. Nan Xun couldn’t help but steal glances at Jun Huang many times, with her none the wiser.
The emperor was particularly happy about how this matter had been settled, and was waiting outside the palace gates with a large group of officials. Qi Chen had switched to a white horse after entering the capital and had someone take his carriage back to his manor.
“Greetings to my royal father, long live the emperor!” Qi Chen jumped off his horse and bent a single knee to the ground, the very picture of respect.
“Hurry and rise my son, you’ve had a long journey.” The emperor was dressed in golden dragon robes and personally stepped forward to help Qi Chen stand. He brushed his gaze across those behind the second prince. Jun Huang was acting as one of Qi Chen’s hangers-on, and while she was his strategist, it wasn’t appropriate for her to appear at an occasion like this. She’d returned to the Prince Chen Manor after entering the city. However, as someone personally appointed by the emperor for this mission, Nan Xun had to present.
The group entered the palace after exchanging some greetings, and an expressionless Nan Xun walked at the very rear, listening in on the conversations of the great officials around him.
“I hadn’t thought that the second prince would be someone so despicable! We put forth all our efforts on his behalf, but he still commits these baseless acts. This truly disheartens me.”
“And isn’t that the truth! The future emperor should be someone who views his life as dependent on the people, not someone who only seeks to profit. The emperor cannot be a wanton cretin who cares nothing for the people!”
“It looks like we need to find a wiser prince to back.” The officials walking at the front hadn’t noticed Nan Xun inconspicuously walking behind them. Nan Xun smiled and continued to follow them silently without a hint of his usual dominating aura. He was quite delighted. Everything was proceeding according to plan.