Chapter 11: Prince Chen
Even the collected examiner was a bit surprised. “Will this gentleman be so kind as to elaborate on your answer?”
Jun Huang’s lips curled upwards as she slowly enunciated her response. “To use house rules to govern a home and a nation’s laws to govern a country. What is appropriate for the home is not for the land, and what is suitable for managing the entire world does not fit a kingdom.”
“Marvelous, how marvelous! Compared to this, the previous answer was as if a grain of rice vying with the moon for splendor!”
“I’d thought he was an arrogant cock, but he actually possesses brilliance!”
The audience instantly became lively after Jun Huang delivered her answer. Many applauded her loudly and showered her with compliments. She took in the crowd’s reaction and looked sidelong at the examiner with a faint smile. “May I inquire if this lowly commoner’s response is satisfactory?”
“Well…” The examiner paused as he stroke his beard, not having reached a decision yet. Just then, a pageboy suddenly ran out from the Prince Chen Manor and bowed towards Jun Huang. “His Highness invites this gentleman inside.”
“He passed, he passed! He actually passed!”
“The prince is personally receiving him, he’s going to soar into brilliance from now on!”
“Do any of you know who he is?”
The audience beneath the stage instantly ignited into an uproar, looking at Jun Huang with expressions of respect and admiration.
Jun Huang followed the pageboy into the manor, who stopped in front of a pavilion after taking few turns. The pageboy turned to bow, saying respectfully “Sir, the prince is inside.”
“Thank you.” Jun Huang nodded and walked towards the pavilion after the pageboy had left. The pavilion was situated in the middle of a pond, and the lotus flowers around it were in full bloom. Jun Huang was crossing the wooden bridge to reach the pavilion when the sounds of a zither abruptly rang out. The music hung in the air long after they had been played, resonating in her ears. Her steps slowed as she listened to the notes.
There was a zither with edges made of burned Chinese parasol wood 1 placed in the middle of the pavilion. A lit brazier was simmering beside it, and a man in luxurious clothing sat there, his hands strumming away at the strings. He had black hair and was dressed in white clothes, with handsome features and a striking air about his face. He exuded a natural sense of nobility, and the gentle melody coaxed out of the zither by his fingertips added a trace of serenity and distance to him.
Jun Huang stood silently to the side, only making her greeting after Qi Chen had finished. “Your Highness is an open and forthright person. Although your music evokes a distant mindset, it is quite grand. Your Highness must be an amiable and easygoing person.”
“Oh? Does the gentlemen possess some knowledge of music?” Prince Chen gently arched an eyebrow, but his tone was as calm as ever.
If the three questions Prince Chen had set before was the first test, then this performance was the second test. Jun Huang was well aware of this, but responded humbly, “My knowledge scratches but the surface.”
Prince Chen’s eyes creased as he smiled, but inwardly, he was shaking his head. He’d thought that this person would possess some wisdom, but who would’ve thought that he would be no different from the ones who’d come before?
Jun Huang’s lips curved into a smile as she slowly walked into the pavilion, leisurely building her explanation. “Your Highness’ song is one of peace and detachment, and it seems to speak of an otherworldliness that pertains to nature, but there is a towering and lofty vibrancy within it as well. It can be seen from this that although Your Highness appears to yearn for the countryside, in reality…” She suddenly paused here and stared directly at Qi Chen. “…your heart belongs in the imperial court.”
Qi Chen’s gaze sharpened as his expression changed slightly. “What is your name?”
“In response to Your Highness, this commoner is Feng Baiyu.” Jun Huang responded smoothly as she performed a bow.
“Feng Baiyu?” Qi Chen narrowed his eyes. “You’re the Feng Baiyu who saved Prince Nan?”
Jun Huang responded with a question instead, “Does Your Highness know which of this commoner’s answers just now was the most important?”
“Oh?” The look in Qi Chen’s eyes sparkled, but he didn’t answer.
“One governs the world with the system most suited for it!” Jun Huang knelt on the ground, enunciating each word clearly. “This commoner is willing to help Your Highness gain the world!”
“Does this gentleman know that your words are high treason?” A deep emotion flashed through Qi Chen’s eyes for an instant. But one couldn’t discern even a sliver of emotion in his dispassionate tone.
“If Your Highness’ heart does not reside in the imperial court, then this commoner is willing to accept any punishment.” Jun Huang returned Qi Chen’s gaze without fear.
Qi Chen’s slender fingers tapped lightly on the table as he was silent for a moment. He suddenly spoke up, “The annual royal hunt will take place three days from now. You will accompany me.”
“This commoner thanks Prince Chen.” Jun Huang knew that her goal had been achieved. A trace of a smile flashed through her eyes.
Qi Chen’s three questions had seemed ordinary and unimaginative, but the topics of “loyalty”, “filial piety”, and “justice” had all implied his ambition for the throne. Although previous answers had spoken eloquently about the three concepts, they had not managed to discern or speak of the concepts in a way that would help Qi Chen gain the throne. Whereas, while Jun Huang’s answers looked like they were speaking to the letter of “loyalty” and “filial piety”, her allusion to the proper method for managing all facets of the world just so happened to give a nod to the ambition of ascending the dragon throne. This was why Qi Chen had been willing to see her.
He still hadn’t trusted her after seeing her, and so had used the zither as an indication of his sentiment. He’d only begrudgingly believed her after hearing her answers. As for how much he believed her… Jun Huang didn’t care about that at all, because her goal had never been second prince Qi Chen.
The royal hunt was a major spectacle that would take place for three days straight. Almost everyone with power and authority in Northern Qi would be present. Jun Huang knew that this was also Qi Chen’s third test for her, and for better or worse, her performance would cement her position in the prince’s heart. Therefore, after some thought, she decided to impart to Prince Chen some of her stratagems the day before they departed.
The day of the hunt arrived in the blink of an eye, and Jun Huang accompanied the second prince to the hunting grounds as his strategist. She purposefully refrained from dressing up in hunting gear,2 and wore a simple, plain white garment instead.
When they reached the hunting grounds, Jun Huang immediately picked out the handsome and striking Prince Nan. He was wearing crimson hunting gear and mounted on the back of a fine cherry-colored horse. He was sitting upright, his face without the slightest hint of an expression, and thus easily stood out from the crowd of courtiers and officials. She didn’t brashly walk up to greet him, but rather casually observed those present instead.
The one at the head of the group was naturally the emperor of Northern Qi, Qi Qiang. He was different from what Jun Huang had imagined. Although no longer young, his body was still hale and hearty. He was wearing the attire of a chieftain and rode his own horse, cutting quite a grand figure. The Northern Qi princes followed behind him, and Jun Huang’s wandering gaze suddenly sharpened when she swept past one of them.
This person wasn’t wearing any hunting gear, but was dressed in purple court robes. There were complex patterns of flowers, birds and clouds printed on his robes. He wasn’t riding a horse, but standing beside Qi Qiang. From the faint aura of sickliness wreathed around his ashen complexion, he was someone who had a chronic reliance on medicines. This was Northern Qi’s most unfavored prince—Qi Yun.
Jun Huang had never thought that after just a handful of years of seeing him, her country would be no more and Qi Yun’s circumstances would be so dire.
“It’s only been a few days, but Sir Feng’s abilities truly cause this seat to completely appraise you anew!” A voice suddenly rang out from behind Jun Huang.
Jun Huang retracted her gaze and looked at who’d arrived, tamping down the surging emotions in her heart. “Greetings to the crown prince.”
“Sir Feng was still Prince Nan’s honored guest three days ago, and yet you are now second royal brother’s strategist. The gentleman is certainly extraordinary alright.” Qi Yin appraised Jun Huang with narrowed eyes, not giving anything away with his tone.