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Chapter 158: Sharing a Bed
It was starting to get dark. During dinner, one of Nan Xun's shadow guards showed up. After speaking to the shadow guard, Nan Xun got to his feet and led the shadow guard to his room.
Jun Huang recognized the shadow guard as one who had gone to Yunzhou with the troop. He must have come to talk about the riot in Yunzhou with Nan Xun. Jun Huang left them to it and went to the main hall to enjoy the music performance. Night fell before she realized it.
After discussing the issue of Yunzhou's riot with the shadow guard, Nan Xun noticed that Jun Huang had not returned. He dismissed the shadow guard with a frown and went downstairs. Jun Huang was listening to the performance with her eyes closed, supporting her head with a hand.
Nan Xun's heart melted and his lips quirked up. He took a seat next to Jun Huang. The moment he sat down, Jun Huang opened her eyes. Wariness flashed through her eyes and quickly disappeared when she saw that it was Nan Xun. Nan Xun did not miss her reaction.
"Is the riot difficult to suppress?" Jun Huang asked after taking a deep breath.
"That's not it," Nan Xun said with a smile. "There are issues my second in command aren't sure how to deal with, so he sent the shadow guard to come ask for my opinions. It's taken care of, and the guard has left. You don't have to sit there and listen to these songs."
Jun Huang cleared her throat and whipped her wrinkled broad sleeves loose. Night had fallen without her noticing. Glowing lamps scattered around the city like an ocean of stars.
Jun Huang returned to the room and contemplated where Yin Yun and Jun Hao could be. Now she truly had no lead. She cursed herself for taking so long to come. Her eyebrows drew closely together.
Nan Xun had gone off to ask a clerk to prepare some hot water. When he returned, Jun Huang was deep in thoughts with her eyebrows furrowed. He let out a silent sigh. He had planned to talk to Jun Huang about Yin Yun and Jun Hao, but he didn't have the heart to do so now.
"Don't worry yourself sick," said Nan Xun. He poured Jun Huang a cup of tea.
Jun Huang looked up at him. Nan Xun's eyes were calm and dark. Strangely, Jun Huang felt comforted by his steady gaze. She let go of her concerns and said in a light tone, "I just want to know if they are alright. I didn't expect to actually find them. I'm a little worried is all. The men from Eastern Wu will not stop chasing after them. What if – "
"I know you're worried," Nan Xun said seriously. "Don't think too much. I'll have my people keep an eye on Eastern Wu. No news is the best news now. You have to take care of yourself. Your body cannot take the abuse." There was a slight frown on his face as he spoke. He didn't want Jun Huang to collapse.
Jun Huang told herself to relax. Nan Xun had a point. She nodded and smiled a little.
Nan Xun let out a relieved sigh when he saw that Jun Huang had stopped dwelling on their failure to find her family. He patted her on the shoulder and said, "I've told a clerk to prepare some hot water. Take a bath and get some rest. We'll continue searching tomorrow morning."
He was about to leave when Jun Huang caught the tail of his s.h.i.+rt. "Nan Xun."
Nan Xun stopped to look back at Jun Huang, his gaze landing on her delicate wrist. "What is it?"
Jun Huang cleared her throat. She didn't immediately respond. "You should stay with me tonight."
Her face flushed as she spoke. This was mortifying.
Nan Xun blinked in surprise. Had he heard it wrong? He couldn't stop his heart from pounding in excitement. Has she finally understood my feelings for her?
Jun Huang quickly schooled her expression into one of indifference and said with a polite smile, "People are going to get suspicious if you keep staying the night outside. Besides, you've been helping me track down my brother. I should be paying you back. It's wrong for me to deprive you of a good night sleep. Moreover, I'm a man in other people's eyes. There's no harm in us staying in the same room."
Her arguments were logical and without flaws, killing the excitement in Nan Xun's heart in its infancy. For a moment, Nan Xun didn't know how he should react.
"If so, I'll sleep on the divan so you won't be bothered," Nan Xun said after a pause. He walked to the door, but stopped in his track when he realized the divan had disappeared. Now what?
Jun Huang followed after Nan Xun when she noticed that Nan Xun had fallen silent. She frowned when she saw the problem.
The clerk happened to be bringing hot water to their room. He knocked on the door and said respectfully, "Gentlemen, here's the hot water. Should this servant carry it inside for you?"
Nan Xun and Jun Huang exchanged a look. Jun Huang opened the door and let the clerk in before asking, "Where's the divan that has been here before?"
The clerk filled the wooden tub behind the screen with hot water and turned to her. He clapped the back of his head and said, "Ah, forgive me for forgetting to inform the gentlemen. Too many customers have come to this inn. We cannot let those visitors stay outside. Therefore, the innkeeper told these servants to take the divans from every room and let those latecomers sleep on it. This servant was going to tell the gentlemen in the morning, but you weren't around. This servant has taken the liberty to take the divan. If the gentlemen are unhappy, this servant can get it back for you."
"It's fine," Jun Huang said before Nan Xun could open his mouth. "We're just wondering."
The bath had been prepared. The clerk showered them with a few more praises before leaving the room.
Nan Xun rubbed at his nose awkwardly. "You should take the bath first," he said, glancing at the steaming water. "I'll keep watch outside." He left the room and shut the door behind him.
Jun Huang felt exhaustion overtaking her. The past two days had been tiring. She took off her dusty robe and untied her hair band before stepping into the wooden tub. Under the wavering candlelight, her skin looked as fair and soft as cream. The heat added a hint of red on her cheeks.
Her long hair plastered over her back and her delicate collarbones. Her beauty as a woman had never been more p.r.o.nounced. If Nan Xun had been in the room, he would marvel at the existence of such beauty in the world. She was the perfect embodiment of wonder and grace.
Even though he was outside the room, Nan Xun was able to hear the swis.h.i.+ng sound of the water. His heart pounded hard against his ribcage. He took a deep long breath to suppress his desires. "What will you do if you find them?" he asked through the wooden door. "Are you going to leave Northern Qi?"
He was talking for the sake of having something to do, and he regretted his words the moment they were out of his mouth. What was said could not be unsaid. He held his breath and waited for Jun Huang to respond.
After a moment of silence, Jun Huang said quietly, "Probably."
Nan Xun didn't know what to say. His first reaction was to persuade Jun Huang to stay in Northern Qi, but he didn't have the right to do so, did he? Besides, it was merely a rhetorical question. They had not found Jun Hao yet. Continuing with this conversation would only upset Jun Huang.
He thought back to the first time they met. A chuckled fell out of his mouth. Jun Huang asked with a frown, "What are you laughing about?"
"Our chance meeting," Nan Xun said honestly.
Jun Huang leaned against the tub and closed her eyes, thinking back to her time with Nan Xun. Time did fly. Many things had happened since then.
Nan Xun continued to talk about that day. He was so very different from his stoic self when they first met. His att.i.tude had softened after he realized his feelings. He wanted to gift all his love and care to Jun Huang. And even that wouldn't be enough for him.
"Shangguan Yue is famous for her talent in Northern Qi," said Jun Huang. "She is proper and well-mannered. Have you ever regretted turning down the marriage?"
"Never," Nan Xun said without thinking. In his haste he had spoken a little too loudly, attracting the attention of pa.s.sersby, but he didn't care. "She may be highly-regarded in Northern Qi," he said after a bemused pause, his voice softening. "But who doesn't know about Princess Jun Huang of the old Western Que? Who can be a match to her? This gentleman is hardheaded. My appreciation is reserved for her alone."
A laugh escaped his mouth. He was a general through and through. His answer was not an attempt to be romantic. He had simply spoken his mind. He didn't care what effects his words would have.
Jun Huang didn't respond. Her pale fingers found their way to her chest, feeling her heart pounding harder and harder. She blushed a deep red. She knew she must not let Nan Xun see her reactions. She didn't have a choice. Silently, she waited for her emotions to fade.
Neither of them talked. Jun Huang stayed in the bath for a little longer until her skin started to get red. She stepped out of the bath and used a towel to wipe herself dry. She put on some clothes and brushed her hair with her fingers before opening the door for Nan Xun.
The door creaked open. Nan Xun turned around and saw the hint of red that had not faded from Jun Huang's cheeks. Her long hair ran down her shoulders. The white robe with dark patterns she wore accentuated her grace well. She looked handsome and gentle. It was difficult to look away from her. Nan Xun could spend his lifetime watching her.
"Come in," Jun Huang said quietly and turned around. Her hair danced in the breeze as she sat down at the desk. She picked up a book and started reading.