Chapter 17: The Price for Distrust
As much of a fool Qi Chen might have been, he understood the meaning behind Jun Huang’s words. She looked at his eyes, waiting for his response. Indeed, he took the hint. After all, he still wanted her continued help. “If that is all that concerns you, Brother Feng, it’s nothing important. We are brothers. I’ll give the order to split half of my power with you so you can go about your business.”
Jun Huang was quite satisfied by this, but she couldn’t let the prince see that she desperately wanted the power in his hands. She still had to put on a show of refusal and immediately painted a look of surprise on her face. Apprehension blossomed like a flower on her features, “Brother Qi, this won’t do! Will your men even listen to me?”
This question hadn’t come out of nowhere. After all, she wouldn’t able to deploy his men as easily he could. However, she wanted the power in his hands for another reason entirely.
“Since Brother Feng calls me Brother Qi, then don’t be a stranger. What’s mine is yours. If they don’t listen to you, then they are disrespecting me as well.” Qi Chen held Jun Huang’s arm and promised with high spirits.
Jun Huang smiled, secretly satisfied. Those were precisely the words I wanted to hear, Your Highness. “I’ll be at ease with Your Highness’ words then.”
“Please recuperate at ease within the manor over the next few days. I’ll need them to make arrangements for these things.”
Jun Huang’s heart grew uneasy again when she heard Qi Chen’s delaying tactics. She was afraid that the prince would see through her intentions. “Your Highness, it is of the utmost importance that we strike while the iron remains hot. We cannot drag our heels regarding the crown prince. As time passes, the emperor comes ever closer to forgiving him. If he is released from imprisonment, all our efforts will have been for naught.”
At that moment, Jun Huang seemed to have misspoken as a tinge of warning prickled Qi Chen. Why did it seem that Brother Feng was even more urgent about the crown prince’s matter than himself. He looked at Jun Huang with slightly narrowed eyes as his tone began to change. “It looks like Brother Feng is more anxious about this matter than even this prince!”
Logically speaking, Qi Chen was the second prince, and the throne was of great temptation to him. He should’ve been far more eager to take down the crown prince than Jun Huang, but why did things seem reversed at the moment?
Jun Huang sensed the sudden shift in temperature in Qi Chen’s words as well. Am I being too hasty? “Your Highness has given me the privilege of being brothers. Your matters are my matters. I am anxious for Your Highness! After all, the person who benefits the most in the end after taking down the crown prince won’t be I, Feng Baiyu!”
Jun Huang concealed the urgency in her heart and attempted to wear the most casual look she could muster. It was a lot more difficult to establish trust between the two than she’d thought. Instead of pattering on with pretty words and trying to win a little bit of trust from him that way, why not go about it from a different angle? If Qi Chen didn’t trust her, then she’d only be inviting a group of spies and informants by her side even if he split his power with her. They would certainly only listen to the prince; she’d never be able to control them. If she couldn’t obtain the prince’s trust, then those beside her would only trip her up and be of no help.
“Your words are quite right.” However, the suspicion flashing through Qi Chen’s eyes still caused Jun Huang unease. Since she’d decided to help Qi Chen, she would never allow Qi Chen to both use and suspect her.
She put down the tea cup in hand and looked solemnly at the prince. “It looks like Your Highness has started to suspect me. Even if I swear to the heavens or say that time will bear witness to the veracity of my heart, Your Highness is unlikely to believe me.” She cleared her throat and looked at Qi Chen, “One trusts those they use and does not use someone they distrust. If Your Highness has begun to doubt my heart, then you might as well not use me.”
When she finished, she rose and walked to the study table, seemingly losing herself in painting a landscape, leaving Qi Chen at the tea table feeling like he was sitting on pins and needles. As he looked at Jun Huang’s almost nonchalantly composed figure, he too was wondering, is this person in front of me greatly loyal, or harboring great treachery behind great loyalty?
“Your Highness… it looks like I need to spend a few days recovering from the wound on my arm. Since the crown prince has been grounded and his reputation ruined, he shouldn’t be much of a threat to Your Highness in the future. The matter between Your Highness and the crown prince is one between brothers. I fear I am unable to do anything further.” There was an impenetrable frostiness to Jun Huang’s face. She wasn’t angry about Qi Chen’s suspicions. Rather, her heart and mind had descended into an icy calm.
“Unable to do anything further? This prince doesn’t think so. Previous matters have gone well enough, haven’t they?” It was Qi Chen’s heart that hung in the balance now. He was starting to regret his earlier suspicions. If it hadn’t been for Feng Baiyu’s help, things with Qi Yin definitely wouldn’t have proceeded so smoothly.
Jun Huang was happy to hear these words, since they indirectly indicated that she’d subtly regained the upper hand in the conversation. “What does the matter between Your Highness and the crown prince have to do with me? I am but a commoner. I am an honored guest here only due to Your Highness’ favor. In the end, this is an affair between you brothers. It’s more than inappropriate if I become involved.” Jun Huang lightly pursed her lips and furrowed her brow, shaking her head as in greatly resigned.
Such simple words did indeed pierce to the heart of the entire matter. Qi Chen certainly felt that they made sense. What he and Qi Yin were fighting over was the throne, which had nothing to do with Feng Baiyu. The latter was helping him for some unknown reason, but Feng Baiyu was just one person and had no other power or followers. It was actually a good thing for Qi Chen.
“Don’t say that, Brother Feng. This prince still needs your help in the future…” Qi Chen had started to run out of things to say. Fine beads of sweat were beginning to form on his forehead. Just who was Feng Baiyu? He didn’t know, but the man was able to deftly grasp the heart of matters and cut through them with precision and surety. It would be great trouble if a man like Feng Baiyu became his enemy instead.
“Your Highness is the biggest benefactor of these actions. Just treat that happened before as me misjudging the situation. There are many royal sons, wouldn’t it be the same if I switched to helping another master?” Jun Huang flicked a glance at Qi Chen after speaking and smiled winsomely. Let’s see who’s the nervous one this time.
Qi Chen walked up to Jun Huang and no longer spoke with the same edge he had previously. “The gentleman speaks truly. I’ll have someone make the arrangements straightaway. We should follow your views for the crown prince and strike while the iron’s still hot.”
Jun Huang still remained at the desk, her hands still painting. She was suddenly struck by the urge to tease Qi Chen good and proper when she heard his last words. “It’s too risky for a mere commoner like me to undertake such things, Your Highness. Your Highness should undertake action personally in your own affairs to be most assured of the result.” She elegantly put the the brush away, and turned to meet Qi Chen’s eyes. “I’m afraid my wounds have sapped my energy, Your Highness. Please do as you will.”
Qi Chen withdrew in order to give Jun Huang space to calm down when he saw how detached she had become. “Then rest well Brother Feng. I will do for you what I’ve promised you.” With those words, he departed Jun Huang’s house.
A slightly malicious smile graced Jun Huang’s lips as she watched Qi Chen leave. For me? Qi Chen, just who is this all for, hmm?
In the depths of the night, Jun Huang stood at her window and tilted her face up to stare at the bright moon. I wonder where my parents are at a time like this… and my brother?
Movement in a dark shadow outside the door caught her attention. She hastily stuffed the pillow on her bed into the blankets, creating the illusion of a sleeping body. She took up a guard position in the shadows, wanting to see who this unwelcome guest was.
Jun Huang slipped into the study, standing behind the divider and silently observing the movements of that shadow. The shadow spent quite a while outside, but eventually slipped inside, silently closing the door after it. It only approached the bed after looking around to make sure that no one had tailed it. What surprised Jun Huang was that although the shadow carried a sword, it made no move to draw the weapon or point it at the bd Rather, it lifted the blankets and raised both eyebrows with surprise after seeing the pillow. “Sir Feng, Jun Huang… why isn’t she here?”
Jun Huang started when she heard her name murmured in the dark. Who is he and why does he know I’m Jun Huang?