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Chapter 132: Hidden Agenda
Once Nan Xun's injury was treated and the things she used as medical equipment had been put away, Jun Huang asked, "How many times have they attacked you since that night?"
Nan Xun clenched his teeth and reluctantly said in unsteady voice, "Twice."
Jun Huang huffed out a bitter laugh. "I am indeed fated to be alone. Simply by existing I'm bringing dangers to people around me. If not for me, you won't be hurt so badly." Her voice started to tremble and she choked out the last few words, which didn't escape Nan Xun's attention.
He held Jun Huang's fingers in his hand and said seriously, "That's not true. I should be the one to apologize. If not for me, you won't be dragged into this mess again and again. I am their target. You are an innocent bystander."
Jun Huang looked into Nan Xun's dark eyes. The flutter in her heart felt like a physical force, and the warmth enveloping her fingers a solid weight. She jerked her hand back and averted her gaze.
The pain became so strong that it made speaking difficult. Nan Xun lay against the bed frame and ground his teeth together.
Jun Huang turned back to Nan Xun. Nan Xun's eyes were shut as he lay p.r.o.ne on the bed. Jun Huang felt a pang of guilt.
"If I had not been with you, you wouldn't have – "
"I told you, It's not your fault at all," Nan Xun said without opening his eyes. "They wanted me gone. Don't think too much."
"You got hurt protecting me," said Jun Huang. "I can't pretend that it never happened. Since your injury should be kept a secret, I will take responsibility for dressing your wound."
Nan Xun opened his eyes in surprise. Seeing how determined Jun Huang was, he decided that this was a good thing. Spending time with Jun Huang every day was a good way to build their relations.h.i.+p.
He nodded. He had no reason to turn her offer down. Jun Huang let out a relieved sigh. She had been worried that Nan Xun would say no.
For the next few days, Jun Huang never stayed the night at Nan Xun's place, but every evening she would visit Nan Xun to redress his wound.
She had tried to be discreet, but no walls could keep out unwanted eyes completely. One of Qi Chen's servant had seen her.
Today, Jun Huang went to the tavern and ordered some food suitable for Nan Xun's condition as usual. She brought the food to Nan Xun's manor. At the front door, she knocked into a man dressed in peasant clothes.
The food spilled all over the ground. The man staggered and almost fell as well. He looked up and was about to make his grievances known, but he grew silent when he saw that it was Jun Huang.
Jun Huang was focused on the spilled food she could never recover. She missed the way the man was looking at him.
When she looked up with a sigh, the man had schooled his expression into indifference.
"This gentleman has been in a hurry. I hope the gentleman can forgive me for the troubles I've undoubtedly caused." Jun Huang was polite. Even though the man was a peasant, she still called him a gentleman.
The man cupped his hands. "No, no. I have been careless. I have – "
"It's quite alright. If there's nothing else, please excuse me for leaving now." It was about time for her to dress Nan Xun's wound. Seeing that the man didn't intend to respond, she cupped her hands and went into the manor, paying no mind to the spilled food. She told the page boy watching the door what had happened and asked him to clean up the mess. She then made a turn to Nan Xun's building.
The man outside pulled his lips into a feral grin. He patted his clothes clean and made his way to Prince Chen Manor.
He had seen Jun Huang enter Nan Xun's regularly over the past few days. He believed it was about time he told Qi Chen. He walked into Prince Chen Manor and intended to go find Qi Chen, but Qi Chen wasn't someone who would meet with a mere peasant. The man was stopped outside the main hall.
"I'm a recent hire," the man said hurriedly. "I have matters to discuss with the crown prince."
The guard who stopped him clicked his tongue and leveled him with a disdainful stare. "Do you think the prince would meet with anyone who claims to have business with him? Go back where you've come from. Don't be a nuisance here. The prince will not see a n.o.body like you."
The guard took a step toward the man. The man staggered and fell to the ground, whining in pain. The commotion alerted the housekeeper. He walked out and snapped, "What are you doing? Where do you think you are? This is not the place for such behavior!"
"This man came out of nowhere," said the guard. "He insisted on meeting the prince. I can't make him go away."
The man crawled his way to the housekeeper's feet. "I have information for the prince, sir. Please let me meet with him. This is too important a matter. I'm worried that the prince may blame me if I don't tell him immediately."
The housekeeper hesitated. The man seemed convinced, and if he had stopped the man when the man had important information to tell, Qi Chen might blame him.
"Wait here," the housekeeper said after a moment of silence. "I'll talk to the prince."
He went inside. Qi Chen was at the desk flipping through some doc.u.ments. He respectfully said, "Your Highness, a servant requested for an audience with you. He claimed to have urgent information to share."
Qi Chen looked up at him. Annoyed, he got to his feet and paced around the room. In the end he told the housekeeper to let the man in. The man dropped down to the floor with a loud thud.
"This servant has some information for Your Highness. When this servant walked past Prince Nan Manor a few days ago, I saw a familiar face. It was Your Highness's strategist gentleman Feng! At first I thought it might be a coincidence, so I went back to Prince Nan Manor at the same time the next few days. And gentleman Feng was there every day! I'm afraid…" He looked up at Qi Chen's expression before continuing, "This servant was afraid that gentleman Feng may be planning something, so I came to tell Your Highness."
Qi Chen frowned and looked over at the housekeeper. After a pause, he asked, "How long has it been since the last time Feng Baiyu visited?"
"More than ten days," said the housekeeper. "Gentleman Feng said that he was feeling under the weather. He didn't want to spread the cold to Your Highness. That's why he didn't come."
The explanation wasn't enough to tamp down the doubt in Qi Chen's heart. He was born mistrustful. Nonetheless, he didn't want to lose a strategist who was both brave and clever like Jun Huang. He said to the housekeeper, "Tell Feng Baiyu to meet me here."
The housekeeper could tell Qi Chen was in a dark mood. Without a word, he hurried to Jun Huang's place. Jun Huang happened to be back from Nan Xun's manor. They ran into each other at the door.
"Housekeeper? Why are you here?" Alarm bells started ringing in Jun Huang's heart. In the past, even when Qi Chen had urgent matter that required Jun Huang's a.s.sistance, he never sent the housekeeper to personally retrieve her. Something was wrong.
"The prince ordered this old servant to bring the gentleman to the manor," the housekeeper croaked.
Jun Huang frowned. "Does the housekeeper know what has happened that requires my attention?"
The housekeeper had been serving Qi Chen for years. He had seen how much Jun Huang had helped Qi Chen. After some hesitation, he decided to give Jun Huang a heads-up. "A new servant is convinced that gentleman Feng has a close relations.h.i.+p with Prince Nan Xun. He went to the prince for this matter."
"I understand," Jun Huang murmured in a soft tone, masking the concerns in her heart. She put on a smile. "Then let us go to the manor now. We don't want to keep the prince waiting."
Once they arrived at the manor, Jun Huang could feel the tension coming from the main hall. She maintained a calm expression.
The housekeeper took her to the hall. Before she entered, he reminded Jun Huang to be careful. Jun Huang thanked him with a smile before walking in.
There was a familiar-looking man on the floor. Next to him stood Qi Chen, who had a scowl on his face. It was a rare time that the crown prince actually looked authoritative.
"This gentleman is here to see Your Highness. What has Your Highness told me to come for?"
Jun Huang wasn't going to let Qi Chen know that she had been informed of the situation. She pretended to be oblivious, glancing at the man kneeling before Qi Chen.
"I've always trusted you, brother Feng," Qi Chen said without preamble. "However, I was told today that your loyalty lies elsewhere, that you have been close with Nan Xun. What do you say about this accusation?"
Jun Huang raised an eyebrow and chuckled. "This gentleman's loyalty to Your Highness has been proven by time. Does Your Highness believe what the petty man said?"
"Liar!" the man exclaimed, looking up at Jun Huang. "A few days ago I saw with my own eyes that you had entered Prince Nan Manor. And the days after you were there as well. Isn't that enough proof that you have been unusually close to Prince Nan Xun?"
Jun Huang took a look at the man's face. It was the man she had knocked into a few days ago.
She pulled her lips into a sharp smile, her eyes as cold as ice, making it difficult for the man to continue meeting her gaze. He knew what he had seen; still Jun Huang's eyes made him feel as if he had been the one who made a mistake. He lowered his head and looked down at the floor.
"You claimed that I'm close with Prince Nan Xun. I have a question for you. What do you seek to achieve by driving a wedge between me and the crown prince?"
There was an undeniable weight in her voice. The man shuddered and almost face-planted into the floor.