Chapter 22: Lurking in the Shadows
Qi Chen had already returned when they went back. They could clearly see that he was in a great mood after his trip to the yamen. The corners of his eyes were creased with joyous smiles. Jun Huang looked at Qi Chen remotely. “Did Your Highness see the state of the city today? And for what matter does Your Highness smile so happily for?”
“What do you mean by this?” Qi Chen frowned, unhappy with Jun Huang’s tone.
“Your Highness naturally knows what I mean.” Jun Huang looked coldly at Qi Chen, completely undaunted.
“Feng Baiyu, don’t think you can act this way just because this prince favors you! You better remember who you’re talking to!” Qi Chen slammed his hand on the table and shot to his feet, pointing at Jun Huang, possibly stung by the directness of her words.
The corner of Jun Huang’s mouth tugged upwards, as if she’d heard the most ludicrous joke in the world. She knew what was appropriate, and that she should stop. She naturally hadn’t forgotten the purpose of her trip this time and didn’t go into details. Jun Huang left with a flourish of her sleeves.
It was well into night as this point, masking the turmoil of emotions in Jun Huang’s heart. Although she knew that Qi Chen wasn’t suited to rule, she hadn’t known it was to this degree. She felt rather sour at the realization.
Nan Xun was unable to sleep that night and rose to leave his room. He glimpsed from afar that Jun Huang was sitting on the steps, her head flung back to gaze into the vastness of the night sky. She looked uncommonly at peace with the starlight spilling onto her face. He was halted in his tracks for the moment.
She turned her heard when she heard footsteps and saw that it was Nan Xun. Jun Huang wiped the deeply troubled look on her face away and patted the space next to her, trying to make her movements as open as possible. Her status was different now, after all, and she couldn’t invite suspicion. Nan Xun smiled inwardly but didn’t show any emotion, and didn’t call her out on her act. He made a beeline for her and imitated Jun Huang in sitting on the ground, not caring in the slightest that the dust and soil would dirty his brocade robe.
The moonlight imparted a desolate feeling to the scene as the cold wind whistled past them. Jun Huang hugged her arms tightly to herself. “Everyone says that Your Highness is prime talent for the nation. You have mastered both the civil and military subjects. What insights might you have on what’s happened today?”
“What we need to do now is to investigate where the imperial funds have gone to. Only then will we be able to resolve the situation.” Nan Xun responded seriously.
Jun Huang nodded in agreement and gave a long sigh. She didn’t speak again as she looked up into the starry heavens. It was rather Nan Xun who tilted his head and looked at the girl, his eagle eyes assessing her closely. Jun Huang coughed lightly and looked elsewhere when she detected his attentions.
“I’ve never looked so closely at you before. The gentleman is as exquisite as a lady,” Nan Xun joked.
Jun Huang reddened and appeared a bit off balance, but kept her composure with effort. She changed the subject, “Heh heh, Your Highness certainly likes to jest… what plans might you have?”
“Regardless of anything, I think the magistrate is a good way into this matter.” Nan Xun didn’t remain on the previous topic because he knew of Jun Huang’s taboos. He lowered his head and thought deeply for a while before he answered.
“The magistrate is just someone who helps the tiger pounce on his victims. I think things aren’t as simple as what meets the eye.” Jun Huang nodded, feeling that Nan Xun’s analysis made a lot of sense.
Nan Xun nodded as well in agreement and sank into silence again. The two sat next to each other, no one speaking again.
The next day, Nan Xun ordered his people to take what money they had and purchase dry rations and prepare simple porridge. He was doing what he could to help the people. Jun Huang on the other hand, set up a small tent next to the porridge distribution center, teaching citizens how to ward off sickness. She would also help them if any of them were suffering from any colds or small illnesses. Nan Xun looked over a few times during breaks in porridge distribution and smiled slightly when he saw Jun Huang taking pulses and giving out prescriptions.
Qi Chen came over a few times and felt that their efforts were utterly useless, but didn’t say anything. He’d someone gotten his hands on some fine wine and a group of them were drinking at the yamen. He’d lost all traces of princely dignity after leaving the capital.
Once the distribution was over, Nan Xun went to stand beside Jun Huang. He watching her check a child’s body when one of his men silently crept up to him and whispered something by his ear, causing Nan Xun’s brows to knit together tightly.
“Has something come up?” Jun Huang asked in confusion after the hidden guard left. Nan Xun nodded but didn’t respond. She knew that it wasn’t the proper time to chat now and didn’t press on with her questions.
When the day’s work was over, the sun was already setting to the west in splendid glory. Jun Huang and Nan Xun walked side by side in the fading light, looking to be a perfect pair from far away.
When they reached a low hill, Jun Huang looked at Nan Xun, waiting for him to speak. Nan Xun gathered his thoughts for a moment before starting slowly, “Just as you thought, there’s something else going on.”
Jun Huang had speculated early this morning that something greater was going on behind the scenes. It was impossible that the magistrate would be so bold as to embezzle funds just like this. Add to that the close interactions between Qi Chen and the magistrate these two days, and the fact that Qi Chen had been the one to send over the funds… Jun Huang naturally felt there was something suspect with the situation and the Qi Chen was likely behind the magistrate’s actions. Nan Xun had sent someone to investigate this, and they’d actually been able to confirm that this was so, as well as find out where the silver and gold was being hidden.
“What do you think we should do now?” Nan Xun tilted is head at Jun Huang. He was very curious about her insights.
Jun Huang thought for a moment and responded, “Since the second prince is so daring in this matter, this means his faction has significant power at the moment. We might be buried here at the border city if we go about this brashly.”
Nan Xun nodded in agreement. “Then you have no need to become further involved. You’re a guest at Qi Chen’s at the moment, after all. You won’t gain anything if you set yourself against him now. Just leave it all to me.”