The Divorcee is a Wicked Black Belly Chapter 82: Whispers of Treachery

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Kang Jun pulled the cloak closer around his shivering body. It was not really cold but there was a fog that covered the back courtyard and the shiver was more of a reaction to what he was about to do than actual temperature cooling his body.

Kang Jun was about to meet the man who planted him as a spy in the imperial court of his majesty, emperor Gu Sheng.

To understand how this came about, one must begin at the beginning, when Kang Jun's grandmother married his grandfather, in fact.

Kang Jun's parents were born in Yuqui but his late father's parents were immigrants who hailed from another kingdom. His late grandmother was the only daughter of a duke who eloped with his grandfather, a palace guard personally assigned by the empress of that country to guard her favorite goddaughter.

The elopement was kept secret and the identity of his grandmother never divulged. Over the years, the family forgot their roots and fully embraced life in Yuqui. His parents were true Yuqui monarchists. They cheered when emperor Gu Fang married his empress, the honorable princess An Ning, and cried when he died not soon after the wedding.

When his father married his mother, the identity of the family's early beginnings was revealed. But since it happened years ago and his mother and father were happily raising a family, the truth didn't matter anymore. The life they knew was in Yuqui so why bother about the past which had no bearing at all in the future?

But as it turned out, the past still did have strong connections with the present.

Kang Jun's father died and he was left with the care of a very ill mother. The little savings his father left, including the apothecary, weren't enough to supplement a fast dwindling income. He saw his future becoming lost when he failed to even pay the entrance fees for the civil exam. He was at his wit's end when one night, the stranger came.

It turned out that his grandparents had lied. His grandmother was not only the daughter of a duke, she was his only child and when the duke died, his wealth automatically went to his sole heir, which was Kang Jun's grandmother.

Her child, Kang Jun's father, who made a good living as a druggist, was unaware of this windfall. The duke had searched high and low for his daughter, never knowing that the medicines prescribed to him by his doctors when he fell ill came from his grandson's own thriving apothecary. He never made the connection and died never realizing the truth at all.

It was raining when the knocked sounded on the door. Kang Jun had just finished eating dinner which consisted of a single fish and rice. His mother was asleep in her room, having made a little tantrum about the fish, which he forgot to debone. Kang Jun was feeling despondent, thinking about his late father who died unexpectedly and the regret he felt when he insisted he wanted to be a scholar rather than follow his father in the business.

He almost didn't hear the knocking. When he did, he got up curiously, wondering who in their right mind would go about knocking on other people's door in this night of all nights. Besides, visitors seldom visit them anymore, not since his father died and the house was turned into a ward for his sick mother's use.

The boy was young. About eighteen and, there's no other word for it, very beautiful. The unruly hair. The deep set eyes. The dimple on the right cheek. The red lips against the dazzling white skin. He was tall and straight and looking at him, one had the unmistakable impression of someone born to command. On that part, he was proven right when another young man squeezed beside the boy and introduced his name.

Nian Zhen was the name of the beautiful boy. And the young man with him was Ban Chao. Kang Jun remembered staring at them like they were an apparition. He was tempted to close the door but the boy had already stepped inside, looking around the house with an expression of boredom. Ban Chao hurried after him and pulled up a chair, which he meticulously wiped clean before offering it to the boy.

Kang Jun was really tempted to kick them both out, he was that insulted by Ban Chao's action. His irritation was apparent when he demanded the reason for their visit. He was so annoyed it took him minutes to understand what the boy was talking about.

"Are you talking in riddles? What Cheng Dou and Liang Na? Who are you talking about? If you're asking me if I know these people, then no. Never heard of them before."

"So, I was right. You don't know anything about your grandparents' history," the boy said, sounding satisfied.

"Will you please stop wiping that table like it would contaminate you just by looking at it?" Kang Jun asked, glaring at Ban Chao. "Honestly, dude. This is not an inn, okay? If you're looking for something clean to stay in, you've come to the wrong place."

Ban Chao, who was about ready to find a rag and wipe the floor, stopped and looked at Kang Jun then at Nian Zhen.

"Ignore him," the boy said. "He's always like that when he's nervous. He's got a thing about germs, you see."

"No, I don't. It's very rude if you ask me," Kang Jun was very pissed and insulted and embarrassed at the same time.

"Ban Chao, leave," the boy said.

"But your highness..."

"Get out!"

Ban Chao got out.

Kang Jun looked at the boy, impressed.

The boy laughed and stood up. He took something out of his sleeve then gave it to Kang Jun, who received it with a bewildered look. The thing turned out to be a bag filled with nuggets of gold. Kang Jun's eyes widened.

"What the...?"

"A little portion of your family's wealth," Nian Zhen said. "You obviously didn't know that your grandmother's parents were rich, right?"

Kang Jun shook his head, too flabbergasted to even open his mouth.

"Well, they were. Your great-grandfather is dead and there's only you to take the title. But before that, I want you to do something for me."

"Who are you people?" Kang Jun gasped, finally out of his mind freeze.

"Nian Zhen, prince of Chengdi."

"You're a prince? A foreign prince? Shouldn't you be presenting yourself to the emperor so what are you doing here?"

"Talking to you obviously."

"This is so...I don't understand what any of this means but here, take this bag with you, whatever it is you're up to I don't want to know and I don't want to be part of any of it!"

But of course, it was not that easy to get rid of Nian Zhen. He was like magic glue, he had decided to stick himself to Kang Jun and he stayed stuck. Deep down, Kang Jun didn't really believe what he said about his great-grandfather either. But he did need the money so he decided, why not? I'm just a poor scholar what can he do to me?

At first, Nian Zhen didn't ask him to do anything. Then the day of the imperial job interview, Nian Zhen sent word to tell him to present himself to the empress dowager. He was late getting there because his mother had a relapse but he still got the job and it turned out to be bigger than he first thought. The empress dowager told him that he was going to be personally assisting his majesty the emperor.

The enormity of what happened shook Kang Jun to his core. Assistant. To the emperor. And there he was, paid by a foreign country to do what actually? Nian Zhen told him to simply apply for the job and he did. There was nothing remotely treasonous about applying for a job, right? Especially since he got it based on his own qualification and merit.

Kang Jun really didn't understand any of it so he didn't worry too much. And then Nian Zhen and the pest Ban Chao came knocking on his door again. On a night during a rainstorm when anybody sane would have stayed in bed, hugging their blankets close to keep out the cold.

Ban Chao eyed the coat he was wearing and gave a little sniff. Kang Jun glared at him. Try taking this from me and I'll wallop your ass, his glare told him. Nian Zhen gave a smothered laugh then stepped inside without another word.

Kang Jun eyed him a little warily. Why is he back? He's not going to ask me to apply for another position again, is he?

The prince didn't ask him anything other than to casually ask how was it working for the emperor? What about his stepmother, was she really as beautiful and smart as everyone thought? What's her favorite food? Does she really like sweet things? What is the emperor's relationship with his stepmother?

"What do you mean?" Kang Jun was surprised. "She's his stepmother. They don't have a relationship other than that."

"Are they close?"

"Very. If she leaves Yuqui, I think he would follow her wherever she goes. She's important to him."

"And is he important to her?"

"Yes. He reminds her of her late husband so he's important."

"What about that guy who's always by her side?"

"What guy? Who are you talking about?"

"The commander of the guards."

"Yi Hai? Yes, he's close to both of them but I think he likes her a lot."

"Like? As in like like her?"

"Damn it, Ban Chao! Will you stop polishing the glasses? I don't care if they're dirty or not. I don't want your paws touching them!"

"But they're filthy..."

"Shut up! This is my house not yours! Stop touching my things!"

Nian Zhen glared at Ban Chao and pointed to the door.

"But your highness..."

"Get out!"

"How you can stand that guy around you, I'll never understand. He will enrage a saint."

"He's actually my cousin," Nian Zhen blandly explained.

"What?" Kang Jun goggled at him then sighed. "Don't bother explaining. I don't want to know."

"So, you think this Yi Hai likes the empress?" The voice was very casual, like the boy really didn't care about the answer.

"Anyone can see just by looking at him. He practically eats her with his eyes."

Nian Zhen's hand tightened on the glass he was holding.

"And does she likes him?" The look he threw at at oblivious Kang Jun was sharp and cold.

"She likes him but not in the way he likes, I think. The empress is always too busy. She's always on the move. She finds so many things to interest her that she can't sit still. It's actually very hard to pin her down. The only one she really pays close attention to is the emperor."

"She must like this Yi Hai character, too, since he always sticks by her side wherever she goes."

"Maybe."

Nian Zhen nearly speared him with his glare.

"What? Did I say something wrong?" Kang Jun was confused.

"Never mind. Tell me more about the emperor. Tell me about how he spends his day, his schedule."

The questions came fast and furious after that. Kang Jun didn't thought anything of it. It was just like telling gossip anyway. The emperor was very disciplined. He wakes up at five to spar with one of the guards, then he spends breakfast with the empress, then they go together to court, then he winds his day down by reading the books and doing the assignments assigned to him by Mu Xing, then he has dinner with the empress, and goes to bed.

"No women?" Nian Zhen asked.

"The only woman he spends more time with is the empress," Kang Jun said, then blinked as Nian Zhen speared him again with a cold glance. What the hell is wrong with this guy, he thought, a bit annoyed.

And now, he was standing outside the palace back courtyard, wet and cold and shivering and waiting for this idiot who should have been here hours ago. All this cloak and dagger business was not really his cup of tea. He really shouldn't have involved himself in this shenanigans in the first place. But he remembered what Nian Zhen told him about a famous doctor in Chengdi who had the ability to cure his mother, and his feet refused to move, even when the fog enveloped the surroundings and the cold seeped inside his clothes and dampened his toes.

The cry of a bird shattered the silence and the silhouette of a tall man wearing a heavy cloak suddenly materialized in front of him.

"Fuck! You scared the hell out of me," Kang Jun gasped, feeling as if his heart just dropped to his feet. "Where the heck have you been? I've been waiting here for hours."

"Sorry," Nian Zhen said, "Something came up."

"What is it? You sound different."

A somewhat shorter silhouette appeared beside Nian Zhen.

"Oh, it's you. What? You're going to clean the whole courtyard this time?" mocked Kang Jun.

"The master is injured so state your report quickly," Ban Chao said, glaring at Kang Jun.

"Injured? You've been injured?" Kang Jun asked, turning frowningly at the Nian Zhen. "Shouldn't you be resting somewhere instead of meeting me here in this god-awful weather? What the heck is wrong with you people? Why can't you knock on a person's house at a decent hour when the weather is fine and dandy?"

"Never mind that," Nian Zhen said impatiently. "Tell me about the Battle of Talents."

"The Battle of Talents? Ya, what about it?"

"How is the palace going to handle it?"

"They're not handling it. The school does. They're updating and renovating some of the buildings they made use of during previous games so it's entirely their ballgame. The palace will not interfere."

"Are the emperor and empress staying in the school during the entire competition?"

"They can but they don't want to. I think they've decided to stay in the house where the empress is currently staying. It's closer to the school and I heard the chef is very good."

"Tell me about the schedule for the opening day."

"The emperor and empress will open the games at six in the morning. Then the men's archery competition will start, then the women's. The day ends with a boxing match between teams then everyone is invited to the empress' house where a state banquet has been prepared."

"What about the last day of the competition?"

"The last day is the hunting competition which will take place in the imperial hunting lodge about a mile or two away from the capital. Game will be released into the forest and hunters will enter the forest to hunt them. I heard the biggest prize is a full-grown tiger which his majesty is really excited about. Whoever gets the tiger is to receive 50,000 taels of gold, plus a full scholarship at the school for two years."

Nian Zhen was silent, lost in thought.

Kang Jun waited, feeling very cold and damp.

"We'll do it around the time of the hunt, I think. Gives us plenty of opportunity. It's far from the capital so not much of a chance of anyone catching up to us."

"What about the guards, your highness?"Ban Chao asked.

"Wen Zhuo sent us packets of that special medicine, right? Just put it in their drink or food," Nian Zhen said. "The problem is how to separate the emperor from the empress."

Kang Jun listened to them in gathering distress.

"What is this about?" he asked.

"The girl tactic?" Ban chao asked.

"No. Except for the empress, it seems the emperor doesn't find them interesting enough," Nian Zhen said then turned to Kang Jun. "Does the emperor likes gadgets or things like that?"

"He collects antiques, especially weapons and stuff. What is this about again?" Kang Jun had a very bad feeling about where all this was leading.

Nian Xhen's smile was almost feral.

"I have exactly the thing that will interest him," he told Ban Chao. "Remember that box I asked you to bring?'

"Yes."

Did you bring it?"

"I put it in your bag," Ban Chao answered, meeting Nian Zhen's smile with his own.

"What thing? What are you talking about?" Kang Jun asked, looking at the two young men with apprehensive eyes.

Nian Zhen transferred his gaze to Kang Jun.

"We'll use it as bait to make the emperor fall into our trap."

"Fall into your trap?" Kang Jun asked, dreading the answer.

Nian Zhen's unnerving smile flashed again.

"We're going to kidnap the emperor, Kang Jun, and you're going to help us."
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