Chapter 119: Visiting Prince Duan Manor at Night
Jun Huang threw Nan Xun a glance. “We won’t find anything in broad daylight. Tonight, we will come back to look for clues.” Without delay, she rushed to the path where the page boy walked, coming to a slower pace with a calm expression. No one would be able to tell what she had been doing.
The page boy sighed in relief when he saw Jun Huang. He had been worried that he would be punished for not being able to locate her. He looked at her appreciatively. Her robe had been wetted by the dew on the lawn, but her grace was unaffected by the dark patch on the fabric. This was what a proper gentleman look like.
Nan Xun waited until Jun Huang and the page boy had disappeared from his view before walking towards the main hall, his movement slow and relaxed.
Jun Huang returned to Qi Chen’s side. Qi Chen only asked her a few simple questions before quickly putting her short absence aside. Nan Guyue and Wei Lanying were no longer with him, but instead were dragged to another part of the room by other wives and concubines. The women gathered together talking about what their husbands had done for them. A few of them blushed in adoration and covered a besotted giggle.
As soon as Nan Xun walked into the hall, he was ambushed by a couple courtiers who knew him personally. He hadn’t even had the time to drink some hot tea. They showered him with flattering words, which only served to give Nan Xun a headache.
Even so, he was capable of being diplomatic. He would never joined them in their undesirable deeds, but he could pretend to be mildly interested in what they were saying.
Jun Huang sat at Qi Chen’s side, drinking tea and nibbling snacks. Her attention, though, was on Prince Duan. Her beautiful eyes glistened with a light so brilliant it could rival a luminous pearl.
She covertly looked over at Prince Duan. He was too busy dealing with his guests to notice her gaze. Occasionally he was struck by the feeling that someone was watching him, but he didn’t notice anything unusual whenever he turned around.
From her observation, Jun Huang came to the conclusion that Prince Duan’s relaxed gait was merely a front. His true self was far from apathetic. There was an indescribable chilliness about him.
After dinner, the sun started setting, and the bustling energy in the manor died down as quickly as fireworks. The guests had left. Jun Huang bid Prince Duan farewell with Qi Chen before parting way with Qi Chen too.
Night had not yet fallen, but the moon was already showing its face. One only needed to know what to look for to spot it.
Jun Huang walked towards her house. She had turned down Qi Chen’s offer to give her a ride. The saying went that walking after meals would help one lived to the age of ninety-nine. Jun Huang wouldn’t be able to live that long, but walking the heaviness in her stomach off after eating was still a good idea. That was why she insisted on going home on her own.
She walked slowly, as if she was waiting for the night to fall, or she was appreciating the vendors’ cries to attract customers’ attention. When she arrived at the door to her house, the sky was dark, and the moon was hidden behind a patch of dark cloud.
She sighed at the sky and strolled into her house, wading through the darkness of the night. She was going to “visit” Prince Duan Manor later. The robe she was wearing was far from practical. She had to change. Besides, the robe was too extravagant for her liking.
Jun Huang had Little Girl prepare a hot bath for her. Once she had cleaned herself, she put on a set of black clothes – another gift from Qi Chen. From a distance, the attire looked no different from the plain clothes peasants wore, but up close, it was obvious that the black fabric was of high quality. The silk was sewn together with gold threads.
She rarely bought clothes herself, but Qi Chen gave her new ones frequently enough that she never ran out of clothes to wear.
When Nan Xun arrived, she was fixing her hair before a bronze mirror. Her dark hair ran through her pale fingers. The strands tangled and danced with the movement of her hands. Nan Xun watched her from the door, unwilling to interrupt her.
Jun Huang had felt his presence the moment he landed at her door. She simply decided to not say anything. Nan Xun leaned against the doorframe, his figure captured and reflected by the bronze mirror. Jun Huang could see him clearly, but he never intended to hide from her.
Jun Huang put on a wooden hairpin to keep her hair in place before turning back to face Nan Xun. “You’re here.”
It was neither a question nor a statement, but a throwaway line that was so soft it could be lost in the wind. Nan Xun schooled his expression into indifference and walked towards her.
There was a strand of loose hair by Jun Huang’s ear. Without thinking, Nan Xun held it between his fingers. Jun Huang widened her eyes slightly, but she didn’t move. Nan Xun, who suddenly realized how inappropriate his action was, hurriedly tucked the strand of hair under Jun Huang’s cap and pulled away, embarrassed.
Jun Huang’s surprise quickly gave way to indifference. She smoothed a hand over her combed hair before getting to her feet and glancing at Nan Xun. She turned to look outside the door.
It was dark. The star and the moon were hidden. There was no source of light outside.
Jun Huang darted her eyes back to Nan Xun. He was dressed in tight-fitting clothes with narrow sleeves. His hair was loosely tied, the black strands moving in the air with a white hair band. Jun Huang considered his look. “This fits Your Highness.”
Nan Xun knew Jun Huang was only teasing him. Still, a smile broke through his stoic expression and he said deliberately, “How do I look?”
“Not bad,” Jun Huang said calmly. She hid a few silver needles and a dagger under her clothes. “Let’s go.”
Nan Xun nodded. He took the lead to move out of the living compound with Jun Huang following closely behind. They made their way to Prince Duan Manor.
There were stores and stands which remained open even this late at night. To avoid detection, they had purposefully taking to dark alleys to avoid those areas.
Outside Prince Duan Manor, there were only two dozing children at the door. Their eyes were so bleary, it was likely that they would be able to fall asleep standing.
Jun Huang threw Nan Xun a look. Without missing a beat, Nan Xun surveyed the outside of the manor and soon spotted the point of weakness they could enter through. He took Jun Huang’s cold fingers and led her there.
Her fingers were intertwined with Nan Xun’s, but Jun Huang paid it no mind. She let Nan Xun drag her through an alleyway to a grove behind the manor.
The wall here was taller, but there weren’t any guards stationed here. Jun Huang looked up at the top of the wall, her lips pursed in displeasure.
She wasn’t well-trained in martial arts. Her only weapon of choice were her silver needles, and she didn’t know light body technique1. She agonized over what she should do.
Nan Xun covered a smile and asked, “What’s wrong?”
Jun Huang turned to him with a faint smile. “This gentleman will need to ask Your Highness to help me.” From her tone it was difficult to tell if she was being serious. Her dimples and curved lips made Nan Xun’s chest burst with needs. He almost lost control of himself.
People trained in martial arts were more disciplined than others. Nan Xun felt as if a cat was scratching his chest, but he quickly focused his mind. With a deep breath, he put an arm around Jun Huang’s waist. Jun Huang flinched a little at first, but she soon relaxed when she realized what Nan Xun was going to do.
Nan Xun focused his qi in his energy center and with a push of his foot, he leaped over the wall into the manor. Even with the added weight of Jun Huang in his arms, his movements never faltered, and they didn’t make a sound when they landed.
They circled the fake mountain, keeping an eye for patrolling guards as they moved their way to the study, planning to look for anything that might give them a clue. They never thought that they would run into Prince Duan himself. Outside the study, however, they heard two men talking.
Qi Chen, who should be in his own manor spending the night with his beautiful wife, was here in the study with Prince Duan. The only light source in the room was a candle. The dim light casted long shadows on the door. Jun Huang, however, was sure that it was Qi Chen. She could recognize his voice from only a few uttered words.
She shared a look with Nan Xun, which was enough for them to understand each other. They moved closer to the study and hid in a shadow, listening in on the conversation inside.
Prince Duan and Qi Chen’s conversation was perfectly ordinary. There was nothing incriminating about it. Nothing worthy of attention. Jun Huang’s eyebrows drew closer and closer.
Qi Chen and Prince Duan are too familiar with each other, she thought. They don’t act like uncle and nephew.
A bold speculation formed in her mind. It wasn’t, however, the time to make a move yet. To be on the safe side, more investigation was required before she could come to a conclusion. Therefore she didn’t tell Nan Xun about what she thought.
After about the time for a pot of tea to brew, Nan Xun and Jun Huang decided to leave. Prince Duan and Qi Chen were now talking about poetry and art. They didn’t want to risk getting caught for eavesdropping on things that weren’t helpful to them. They were both preoccupied when they made their way out.
What they didn’t know was that not long after their departure, Prince Duan and Qi Chen finally got to the business. Prince Duan looked up at Qi Chen and drank some tea, the taste lingering in his mouth. “Have you made the preparations I asked you to make?”
Prince Duan’s expression was grave, under which was a whirlwind of emotions. Qi Chen was used to this sudden change of attitude from Prince Duan. He nodded.
Their conversation was directed back to literature and art. In the small hours of the night, the words they exchanged were known to only themselves.
- Qing gong. A way to move lightly and swiftly. ↩