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Chapter 54: Nan Jihan's Desires
Those men didn't look or sound like people from Northern Qi. They were too organized to be regular bandits. And they weren't a.s.sa.s.sins as they tried their best to subdue her without hurting her.
Jun Huang only asked the leader to a duel to get a good look at his techniques. She recognized them to be from Southern Mu. If she was right about that, the person who was behind her kidnap must be Nan Jihan.
She huffed. Didn't take Prince Nan Jihan to be someone so caddish. She wondered why Nan Jihan would want her here.
Did he want to use her to threaten Qi Chen? No, that couldn't be true. Qi Chen was his brother-in-law after all, and Nan Guyue was clearly infatuated with Qi Chen. Nan Jihan wouldn't want to make his sister unhappy. If he really saw Qi Chen as his enemy, he wouldn't have let Qi Chen marry her.
Why me? Jun Huang thought with her head held low. She couldn't think of a reason.
Jun Huang heard people coming this way. She focused on listening to their conversation.
"I told you not to hurt him," Nan Jihan snarled, his gaze so cold it was as if he was faced with his archenemy. "Did you not hear what I said?"
The general cupped his hands and dropped down to his knees, but his back was straight. "This servant deserves to suffer for what I did. I ask for Your Highness to punish me."
Nan Jihan scoffed and kicked the man in the chest. The man winced, but remained as still as a statue.
"Listen carefully, don't think you can do whatever you want just because you're my confidante. If Feng Baiyu doesn't recover, I will turn your bone into ashes." Nan Jihan left with a flourish of his sleeves and entered the room Jun Huang was kept in.
None of his men understood why Nan Jihan valued Jun Huang so much. In their eyes, Jun Huang was but a fragile scholar who couldn't achieve anything great. They believed Nan Jihan to be the only person who would lash out at his own confidantes for her.
Nan Jihan pushed the door open. Jun Huang watched him with cold eyes. There was no trace of surprise on her face.
Nan Jihan raised an eyebrow, intrigued. He didn't expect a fair-skinned scholar like Feng Baiyu to be so bold. He was even more convinced that he had discovered someone special.
Jun Huang gave Nan Jihan a once-over. This was the first time they had seen one another in person. Jun Huang rarely left Prince Chen Manor, while Nan Jihan was the most respected prince in Southern Mu. Many were saying that he would be the next emperor.
"I didn't expect us to meet so soon, Your Highness." Jun Huang smiled like she didn't care how high a status he held. Her eyes looked especially bright in this rundown room.
"You know me?" Nan Jihan frowned. They had never met in person. He didn't even show his face when Qi Chen was introducing her to the courtiers.
Jun Huang let out a quiet laugh that was free of mockery. When she met his gaze, Nan Jihan couldn't help but be captivated by her. How could someone remained so calm and collected in face of great danger and put up a proper smile like this?
Jun Huang didn't respond. Nan Jihan broke the silence. "You know who I am. Aren't you afraid that I might have you killed?"
Jun Huang looked him straight in the eyes. "Your Highness went through all the troubles to take this gentleman here. Clearly you don't intend to hurt me."
Nan Jihan narrowed his eyes. This man surpa.s.sed all his expectations. It's as if he isn't afraid of dying. Men like him are the most formidable of foes. He is capable of instilling fear in others with nothing but his own presence.
Jun Huang was all tied up and her face was pale, but there was nothing pitiful about her. Nan Jihan was reminded of how she had looked earlier in Prince Chen Manor. Her cheeks had been flushed from the alcohol. It made his heart pound.
He waved a hand at the men who were standing guard outside. "Go fetch me a good jug of wine."
There was the sound of fist hitting palm. Then a strong voice said, "Understood." Footsteps could be heard getting quieter and quieter before fading into silence.
Nan Jihan gave Jun Huang a good look before coming to her side. He untied the ropes restraining her. This is too tight. He frowned. His eyebrows drew even closer when he saw the marks left on her wrists.
He wanted to soothed her skin for her, but she pulled away immediately and got to her feet. Her eyes were as calm as ever, but it was clear that she was cautious of him.
Nan Jihan's hands grasped nothing but air. The corners of his mouth quirked up. Through the window, moonlight shone on his face and made his complexion even paler. His hair fell to his chest as he moved. He placed the strands of hair to behind his back.
He gave Jun Huang a meaningful look before saying, "Light up two more lamps." The words were clearly not directed to her.
Not long after, two men dressed in black brought in two lamps. They were as silent as ghosts. She couldn't hear their footsteps. She could barely hear their breathing.
The man who went to fetch the wine came back as well. He put two white jade cups and a jug of wine on one side of the table before leaving the room respectfully.
Nan Jihan took a seat at the table first. He arched an eyebrow at Jun Huang. "Are you willing to have a drink with me?" He filled both cups with wine before she could answer.
Jun Huang didn't hesitate before she took the seat across from him. The wine seemed cool under the candlelight. She could see the bottom of the cup. She took a sip. This isn't from Northern Qi. The taste is too harsh.
"Bitter. Harsh to the throat and the heart. Your Highness should refrain from drinking too much. It's bad for your lungs and spleen. If Your Highness enjoys drinking, you should go for wine from the lost Western Que. It's mellow and good for your health."
Nan Jihan hummed. "Is the gentleman from Western Que?"
"No, I'm not," Jun Huang said in a light tone. The white jade cup she was holding reflected the moonlight. The liquid appeared to be amber like the finest wine, but it was unpleasant to the tongue. "I've just been there before."
Nan Jihan nodded and looked at the cup he was holding without a word. He wasn't sure exactly what he was thinking about. When he came to his senses, half of the wine had been spilled, drenching the table, and Jun Huang was looking at him with a hand supporting her chin.
"Your Highness doesn't need to keep me waiting," Jun Huang slowly said. "There must be a reason for Your Highness to have taken me here. It's better if you just tell me."
Nan Jihan chuckled. "I didn't expect the gentleman to be so observant and so direct." He dropped his pretense. "When I was in Prince Chen Manor, I could see that the gentleman was no ordinary man. You have been at Qi Chen's side for a while. You must know the challenges of being part of the royal family. I only want you to help me become the emperor. The day I'm crowned will be the day your name goes down in history."
He was being extraordinarily genuine, and he kept his eyes on Jun Huang. Jun Huang looked back at him, then at the wine on the table. She could see the moon reflected on the surface.
Jun Huang was a little surprised by how straightforward he was being. She didn't respond immediately.
The wait was torture for Nan Jihan. He was worried that his words were not enough to sway Jun Huang's loyalty.
"Why is the gentleman so conflicted? Is it because Qi Chen is the crown prince, while I am only a royal prince and isn't as likely as he is to become the emperor? If that's what you're worried about – "
"Your Highness misunderstood,"Jun Huang interrupted him. "Everyone knows Your Highness has a lot of supporters. Many see you as the only candidate for inheriting the throne. There's no need for Your Highness to be so humble."
Nan Jihan frowned. "Then why didn't the gentleman respond to my request? If you're willing to serve me, I'll grant you power and status when I become the emperor. You will be second only to myself, and ruling over tens of thousands of people. Don't you want that future to come true?"
Jun Huang could see he was being serious. He stared at Jun Huang as if he was afraid Jun Huang would disappear into thin air.
His conditions were very generous. Not even Qi Chen had promised to award her so handsomely. What Jun Huang wanted wasn't empty promises, however. What she wanted was a powerful country as her tool for revenge. Besides, Qi Chen was only a temporary patron for her.
"Your Highness must know a good bird chooses its tree to reside in. I believe Your Highness is a man of his words, but you're not the tree I chose as my home. I hope Your Highness can understand." Jun Huang kept her eyes calm and her head held high, as if Nan Jihan wasn't a prince, but merely a man who sought answers from her.
The wind left ripples on the surface of the wine. It looked clear like water. One had to take a sip to know that it burned on your tongue.
Nan Jihan scowled at her. It made him furious that Jun Huang's composure never broke. His feelings meant nothing to her.
He wanted to break that composure of hers. He wanted to make her lose her calm.
Jun Huang finished the wine in one go after some hesitation. The wine was potent, but it warmed her to the core, chasing away the coldness of the night.
Nan Jihan was angry at her for not knowing what was good for her and denying him so easily. He stood up suddenly, knocking off the cups and the wine spilled all over the two of them, soaking their robes. They seemed oblivious to that and just stared at each other. One looked up, while the other looked down.
Nan Jihan stared at Jun Huang. She had just finished a cup of wine. A flush of red spread through her pale face and her eyes became misty as if she was tearing up. It was a seductive sight.
Jun Huang was a woman. She could wear men's clothes and put her hair up like a man, but there was a limit to how much she could change her appearance. She had always been beautiful. Now the feminine side of her true self and the masculine side of her persona clashed together and gave her a unique charm.