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Chapter 58: Introduction
At night, Nan Jihan was having trouble falling asleep. He kept thinking back to what happened earlier. He couldn't figure out why Nan Xun punched him. He had never done anything to Nan Xun to deserve it.
He kept his thoughts to himself. He was too ashamed to tell anyone about it.
The candlelight chased away the darkness of the night. Nan Jihan stared out of the window for a long time before he finally fell asleep. When he opened his eyes again, it was the next morning. Sunlight shone through the paper windows1, illuminating the whole room. There was still a p.r.i.c.kling pain in the corner of his eye.
"Your Highness, brother Feng has asked for an audience with you," Nan Jihan's shadow guard knocked on the door and said. Nan Jihan had brought him here from Southern Mu.
It was a pleasant surprise for Nan Jihan. He hurriedly got off the bed and answered, "Let the gentleman in." He put on a robe and made himself presentable. Jun Huang opened the door.
As usual, Jun Huang greeted Nan Jihan with cupped hands immediately. When she straightened up, she noticed that Nan Jihan's eye was a little swollen. It made him look ridiculous. She covered up her smile, her eyes crinkling. "What happened to Your Highness?"
Nan Jihan was upset enough before she pointed it out. Jun Huang's amus.e.m.e.nt at his expense didn't help. He was going to say it was the mad man Nan Xun, but he swallowed the words down. "Nothing serious," he said, the corner of his lips twitching. "I tripped and fell last night on my way back."
Jun Huang raised an eyebrow. He clearly wasn't telling the truth, but she didn't ask any more questions. She looked over Nan Jihan from the corner of her eyes. There was no other visible injury on him.
Nan Jihan woke up from his trance and waved Jun Huang over, taking a seat at the sandalwood table. "Don't just stand there. Come, have a seat and enjoy some tea." He picked up the pot of tea the clerk had brewed for him in the morning and poured Jun Huang a cup. Then he patted the stool next to him.
Jun Huang sat down and picked up the teacup. It was Dragon Well green tea. The taste was bitter with a hint of sweetness. It must be a rare premium brand. She took a sip, enjoying the sweetness lingering in her mouth.
Nan Jihan couldn't tear his eyes away. Everything Jun Huang did was alluring. Every minute change of her expression showed her character. She was addicting. If Jun Huang were wine, countless people would willingly get drunk on her. But she wasn't. Jun Huang was a clever and calculating man. She didn't look particularly masculine, but every move she made had a unique charm to it.
Jun Huang noticed that Nan Jihan was staring at her again. Alarm bells started to ring in her head. There was desire in his eyes. It made her skin crawl.
"If Your Highness continues to behave like this, this gentleman will have no choice but to leave," Jun Huang said casually, but it was clear she meant it as a warning.
Nan Jihan looked away and took a deep breath. "You and I are now allies," he said with a smile. "The gentleman doesn't need to be so cautious. I admit I may have acted inappropriately. I hope the gentleman can forgive me."
Jun Huang snorted without saying anything. She didn't care what he said or did.
Just when Jun Huang was going to tell him what she was here for, Nan Jihan made the stupid move to provoke her again. "Does the gentleman really not want to go to Southern Mu with me? Southern Mu isn't as powerful as Northern Qi, but there is less of a need for scheming and plotting. It will be much easier than being here. Why does the gentleman have to insist on staying? Do you consider the whole Southern Mu too small for you, even though you only have Prince Chen Manor now?"
Jun Huang eyes went cold and she stood up, slamming the teacup against the table so hard the tea spilled out and drenched the dark-colored silk tablecloth. The sandalwood began to release a sweet and refres.h.i.+ng smell. Normally that would be a delight for anyone.
Jun Huang let out a harsh laugh. "If Your Highness doesn't take me seriously, there is no reason for me to be here anymore." She turned around to leave.
Nan Jihan was startled by Jun Huang's reaction. When he recovered, Jun Huang was already at the door. He rushed up to her. His anxiety was clear on his face.
"Please don't be mad. I have offended you. I won't bring this up again." Nan Jihan pulled at the tail of her s.h.i.+rt to stop her from leaving.
Jun Huang took a deep breath and calmed herself. She leveled him with a cold stare, as if she was trying to drill a hole into his very soul and view all his thoughts. "I came here today to set up a meeting between Your Highness and our fourth prince," she said after a long pause. "If Your Highness is free now, I'd like you to come with me."
Nan Jihan nodded earnestly. "Of course. You're right to do so. It is better for us to meet each other sooner rather than later."
"If that's the case, I'd ask Your Highness to follow me." Jun Huang left the room. Nan Jihan hurried to catch up with her, worried that Jun Huang would get mad again if he was too slow.
Nan Jihan had never met Qi Yun. Qi Yun didn't attend the palace banquet, stating that he was ill. Therefore, Nan Jihan still thought that Qi Yun was only a weak and sickly royal prince who had achieved nothing. He wanted to see for himself just what kind of a man Qi Yun was that Jun Huang was willing to serve him.
Jun Huang led Nan Jihan to the tavern she usually went to. She exchanged a few words with the clerk next to her. The clerk made an a.s.senting noise and whipped a towel over his shoulder before leaving.
Not long after Jun Huang and Nan Jihan entered a booth on the second floor, the same clerk came up and knocked on the door. Following after him was a handsome gentleman dressed in purple silk robe. The foldable fan in his hand was worth a considerable amount. The calligraphy seemed to be the handiwork of a master who had pa.s.sed away. It suited a man as good-looking as Qi Yun.
Nan Jihan had always heard people talk about Qi Yun like he was a weakling. Qi Yun turned out to be completely different from his mental image. Nan Jihan blinked dumbly at him.
While Nan Jihan was busy gaping at Qi Yun, Jun Huang came up to Qi Yun to welcome him and exchanged pleasantries with him with a smile.
When Nan Jihan regained his focus, Qi Yun was right in front of him with a smile as gentle as the breeze in spring. He was a sight to behold as he played with the fan in his hand. His crinkled eyes were as vibrant as cherry blossoms.
"I'm Qi Yun," Qi Yun made a salute and said. "I have long heard about Your Highness's name. Today I have the pleasure of seeing you in person. Your Highness is indeed an imposing figure. Very much unlike the savage appearance of other men from Southern Mu." His tone was flattering, but his words certainly were not.
This again? Jun Huang looked at the two princes with a raised eyebrow. She turned to Nan Jihan, supporting her head with a hand, and waited to see how he would react.
Nan Jihan had already been critical of Qi Yun because of Jun Huang. Now, hearing the subtext of his words, he couldn't not fight back. He huffed and told the clerk to leave before giving Qi Yun a salute. "I have long heard about Prince Yun as well. Originally I thought the prince was merely a royal prince with no ambition and no wisdom, whose attention was only caught by mountains and rivers. I wonder what great wisdom Your Highness possesses to make you fancy yourself an equal match to Qi Chen. Does Your Highness consider yourself invulnerable simply because you're fueled by your hatred towards his mother for sending your mother to her death?"
Qi Yun's eyes darkened. Even Jun Huang couldn't help but frown. She didn't expect Nan Jihan to be so direct and unapologetic in his insults.
The atmosphere in the room was suddenly tense. Qi Yun gripped onto his fan so hard his delicate knuckles went white. She was worried that the two of them may get into a fight right then and there. Just as she was about to turn the mood around, Qi Yun chuckled. She relaxed and let out a sigh of relief.
Good. He can still laugh. This won't get too ugly.
Qi Yun narrowed his eyes at Nan Jihan, who had a lopsided smile on his face. Qi Yun took a seat silently and started drinking the water Jun Huang poured him. Nan Jihan was confused. He didn't know why Qi Yun had fallen silent. He frowned and took a seat as well, keeping his eyes on Qi Yun. Just what does Feng Baiyu see in this man?
His gaze grew hostile as time went by. Qi Yun suddenly looked up and met Nan Jihan's eyes, startling him. Qi Yun's gaze was so cold it made his hair stand.
Qi Yun put down the cup and gave him a condescending smile. "What does Your Highness want to hear me say? It's funny. Sir Feng went to the troubles to introduce you to me, but you clearly don't deserve it."
Nan Jihan slapped the table and stood up, pointing at Qi Yun. "Why does Your Highness resort to insults? I was just telling the truth. Is it because you don't have a good retort?"
They were both riled up. The silence was like an impenetrable wall between them. Jun Huang frowned. Had she made a mistake introducing them?
"Does Your Highness know what the meaning of a country is? And what the meaning of the world is?" Qi Yun changed the subject suddenly, his eyes never leaving Nan Jihan, taking in every change in his expression.
"Ha, such a simple question!" Nan Jihan said with an arched eyebrow, clearly trying to provoke Qi Yun. "The foundation of a country is families. The world is large, but it is but the culmination of countries and families. The world preceded the beginning of countries. The country is formed by the members of families."
Qi Yun shook his head and took a sip of the wine. "Your Highness has misunderstood the core of a country and the world."
"Oh? I'm listening."
"The foundation of a country is the people. People see the country as their sanctuary. Countries were started by people. The world is large, but it is but a place for people to reside in. A leader should put people above all else. There is no other way to be a man of integrity."
Nan Jihan was rendered speechless. After a long stretch of silence, he patted Qi Yun on the shoulder. His expression changed into one of appreciation for the first time since Qi Yun entered this room. "Your Highness is truly both courageous and intelligent. I admire you for that. I am curious, however, why a man like Your Highness would want to fight for the throne."
"It is where my heart points me to. The reasons are simple. First of all, my second brother is not fit to govern a country. People are the foundation of Northern Qi. He won't take care of the people. I shudder to think what Northern Qi will become under his rule. Second… it is a man's ambition."
A man's ambition. Nan Jihan looked at Qi Yun with his mouth agape, while Qi Yun maintained a calm expression, as if what he said was the only possible answer. His cold att.i.tude had melted away completely.
In ancient China, windows were made with paper screens instead of gla.s.s. ↩