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Chapter 67: Matters of the Heart
Wan'er was born and raised in the palace. She had lived a carefree life, loved and protected by her parents and brothers. She, however, could see how hesitant Qi Chen was to speak. Nervousness seized her heart and she asked carefully, "Is he in love with someone else?"
Qi Chen shook his head, watching Wan'er closely.
Wan'er let out a sigh of relief. "So he simply doesn't want to marry me."
"He is only a peasant with no official status," Qi Chen said, choosing his words with great care as if he were negotiating a critical state matter. "Don't be so stubborn, Wan'er. Second brother will find you a man who is good to you. Isn't that better?"
Wan'er stared blankly at Qi Chen, her eyes brimmed with tears. Qi Chen's heart ached for her.
Ever since they were little, Wan'er had been a troublemaker who followed no rules. Still Qi Chen could not bear to punish her. He had never even raised his voice at her. Now his little sister was crying because of one man. He couldn't be more pained seeing her like this.
He pulled Wan'er into his arms and patted her gently on the shoulders. "There are countless good men in the world, Wan'er," he said after letting out a sigh. "You will find someone else you like. Besides, Feng Baiyu doesn't want you, and he isn't good enough for you. You think he's a great man now, but what if he doesn't live up to your expectation after you get married?"
Wan'er paused. A single tear trickled down her cheek. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, suppressing her sorrow. She opened her mouth but couldn't say anything. In the end, she gave up and slouched on the empress chair, seemingly having lost all her strength.
Qi Chen sighed and patted her on the shoulder. He didn't know what else he could say to her.
Jun Huang asked Nan Xun and Qi Yun to meet her at the tavern. She was the first to arrive. She knew what kind of tea Nan Xun and Qi Yun enjoyed. She ordered a pot of light tea and waited for them.
She kept thinking back to what Qi Chen had told her yesterday. She still couldn't believe it. She was a woman! Even though she was dressed like a man right now, there was nothing about her that should be attractive to another woman. Wan'er was the princess of Northern Qi. She was bound to have met a great many fine men. Why would Wan'er fall in love with her?
Jun Huang was absentmindedly playing with a teacup when Nan Xun and Qi Yun arrived together. Nan Xun could tell she was distracted. It didn't take long for him to figure out why. A smile found its way to his lips.
Qi Yun sauntered in and saw Jun Huang was looking out of the window with a hand supporting her chin. Her hair was down, covering her shoulders. There was a deep sense of wistfulness about her.
"What happened?" Qi Yun asked worriedly. "Have you run into troubles?"
"Must be matters of the heart," Nan Xun said before she could answer. His tone was practically dripping with amus.e.m.e.nt.
Jun Huang turned around and saw Nan Xun standing there with the sun coming from behind his back. His steely features were softened by the backlight, and the smile on his lips was difficult to ignore. Watching him felt like staring directly into the sun.
People always said that Nan Xun had eyes that were too sharp and a smile that was too cold, but now Jun Huang could say for sure that they just never really got to know him. Nan Xun was a young man with a blindingly bright smile.
She didn't notice the tender light in Nan Xun's eyes.
Qi Yun watched as an outsider. These two are staring at each other like they're the only people in the world! He felt a little jealous, but he was a royal prince. Jealousy was unbecoming for someone like him. He shook his head to clear his thoughts before clearing his throat to get their attention.
Jun Huang was yanked back to reality by this and she quickly looked away, her face turning red.
Nan Xun was a man who had gone on many battlefields. He had thicker skin than Jun Huang. He looked away without any obvious reaction.
"What do you mean by matters of the heart, brother?" Qi Yun asked.
Nan Xun looked at Jun Huang with a smile. Her eyes flickered. She had not felt this on edge for a long time. Nan Xun's gaze was too heated.
Nan Xun was amused. Jun Huang had always acted like she was older than she actually was. She seemed calm and collected no matter what she was faced with, and her eyes were often difficult to read.
Now, though, she looked just like any young lady. Her face was flushed and her eyes were soft. Her hair flew in the wind. She was dressed like a man, but he could remember how she had looked dressed as a woman. She was stunningly beautiful.
"It seems that you are too used to staying on the sideline," Nan Xun said with a laugh. "You don't know about the gossip in the palace."
Qi Yun was even more confused. "This brother is ill-informed. May brother Nan tell me what you're talking about?"
Nan Xun threw a glance at Jun Huang. She widened her eyes. He can't possibly know that Qi Chen has come to talk to me about Wan'er, can he?
Her suspicion was confirmed by Nan Xun's words. "We ran into Wan'er in the temple a few days ago. Wan'er fell in love with her at first sight and immediately went to Qi Chen, asking him to be their matchmaker. Our Jun Huang truly possess the charm of a man whose very existence creates troubles."
Jun Huang blushed even harder. She had forgotten about defending herself completely. After a while, she recovered from her embarra.s.sment and frowned at Nan Xun. "How do you know about this?"
Her questioning tone made Nan Xun a little upset. He would never hurt anyone just to keep an eye on her. "What don't I know about what is happening in the city? Besides, Qi Chen wasn't the only one Wan'er went to. She really does love you. She came to my manor and asked for my help as well. Now, tell me, what do you plan to do?"
Nan Xun's tone was harsher than usual. Jun Huang looked at him in confusion. He couldn't help soften his att.i.tude seeing her like that. He sighed and chuckled. "Gentleman Feng is an extraordinary man. It's only natural that women will fall for you. I wonder what kind of companion the gentleman is looking for."
"This gentleman has ambitions I must achieve. Why would I waste time on a relations.h.i.+p?" Jun Huang had regained her focus. Her smile was proper, and her words razor-sharp. "Your Highness, on the other hand, has reached the age appropriate for marriage. Why have I not heard of you trying to find a wife to manage your manor?"
They played off each other so well, it made Qi Yun even more jealous. "I didn't know you two have gotten so close. I thought brother Nan was a general who rarely smiled. This is a side of you I've never seen."
"That's hyperbolic," Nan Xun said in a casual tone. "I'm just exchanging smalltalk with gentleman Feng. Don't overthink it."
Qi Yun lowered his eyes, staring at the tea on the table. His dark eyes were difficult to read. He didn't respond even when Jun Huang called out for him. Only when she sat down right in front of him did he look up at her. He looked lost.
"Is Your Highness worried about something?" Jun Huang was no longer blus.h.i.+ng. There was a sense of aloofness radiating from her very being, as if there was nothing in the world that mattered to her.
Qi Yun twisted his lips into a smile and shook his head. Jun Huang had known him for years. She could read him like a book. Qi Yun was clearly worried about something, but he wasn't willing to burden anyone with his concerns. And it was dragging him down.
Jun Huang was always direct with people she trusted. Qi Yun's att.i.tude troubled her. She sighed. "You can tell me anything, Qi Yun. There's no use keeping everything to yourself. Why don't you speak your mind, and we can see to your problems together?"
Qi Yun hesitated for a moment before taking a deep breath and meeting Jun Huang's eyes. "I suddenly feel like what I've done up until this point has been in vain."
"To other people, I am but a frail and sickly prince with no ambition. I'm a recluse. I don't have my own manor. Second brother is different. He now has a group of supporters in the imperial court. He's married Princess Nan Guyue from Southern Mu. And he is the crown prince. The writing is on the wall." As Qi Yun spoke, he seemed more and more lost about his future. It upset Jun Huang.
She wanted to put Qi Yun on the throne because he cared about the people and would make a great leader. In addition, they had known each other for a long time. She would have Northern Qi backing her up in her revenge. Everything was built on the a.s.sumption that Qi Yun himself wanted to be the emperor, however. Now, before the real battle even started, he was already intimidated. It disappointed her.
She didn't try to hide her disappointment, and it was like a poison needle jabbing into Qi Yun's heart. It was unbearably painful.
"Are you giving up?" she asked coldly.
"I – " Qi Yun didn't know what to say.
Jun Huang took a deep breath. "Qi Chen stands out in the court right now, Qi Yun, but that's unavoidable. He is the crown prince. He was chosen by the emperor himself. Of course many people will be fawning over him."
"The emperor is healthy enough for the time being. He won't pa.s.s down his throne in the near future. You know that as well. The prince he favors the most was the former crown prince, but Qi Yin has pa.s.sed away. It was a huge blow on the emperor. If Qi Chen is too eager, it'll actually hurt him in the long term and make the emperor second-guess his intentions. Moreover, Qi Chen was behind Qi Yin's sudden death. The emperor knows about it; he's just been keeping it to himself."
"You only need to do one thing now. You don't have to fight Qi Chen over anything."
Qi Yun frowned at her. He didn't understand. "Do what?"
Jun Huang smiled like the cat that got the cream. Nan Xun didn't say anything. He waited for her to give Qi Yun the answer.
He sat next to her, looking at her profile. She looked soft and gentle at this moment. Sometimes he really missed how Jun Huang had looked dressed in women's clothes. He told himself that he would catch a glimpse of Jun Huang like that again in the future.