Jun Zishu felt that she would probably be willing to enter a relationship with Ning Qinghuan.
Ning Qinghuan had been very kind to Jun Zishu thus far. Thus, Jun Zishu felt that since entering a relationship with Ning Qinghuan didn't clash with her mission's goal, doing so might not be a bad idea after all. In fact, entering a relationship with Ning Qinghuan could be considered part of her mission since her goal was to help Ning Qinghuan live a happy life.
As for whether Jun Zishu liked Ning Qinghuan the way Ning Qinghuan liked her… Jun Zishu didn't have an answer for that.
Firstly, Jun Zishu would have to understand what it meant to like someone in a romantic sense.
Jun Zishu was certain she had a favorable impression of Ning Qinghuan. She felt that Ning Qinghuan was a kind girl with a good personality and that she wouldn't mind being friends or sisters with such a girl.
As for taking things one step further… Jun Zishu didn't reject having bodily contact with Ning Qinghuan. She didn't find the idea of kissing Ning Qinghuan disgusting, either.
However… Jun Zishu felt that she might not be at the level of liking Ning Qinghuan romantically yet.
Currently, Jun Zishu still hadn't developed any desire to possess or be intimate with Ning Qinghuan.
Just like Ning Qinghuan said, if a person liked someone, they would start having the urge to get more intimate and take liberties with their beloved. Unfortunately, Jun Zishu did not hold such desires toward Ning Qinghuan.
Even so, if Ning Qinghuan went back on her promise and started liking another person after confessing to her, Jun Zishu would be very sad and angry.
When the next day arrived, Jun Zishu started helping Ning Qinghuan pack while chatting with her.
"Big Sister, I think…I've already made up my mind."
"Hm? Are you sure? How about thinking for a while longer?"
Ning Qinghuan's hands froze, anxiety appearing on her face.
"I'm willing to be together with you. I'm willing to marry you…as your wife."
When speaking the last three words, Jun Zishu shyly turned away. Even the tips of her ears had turned red.
"Really? You're not lying to me, right? I hate people who lie to me the most. Once you agree to be with me, you have to be with me forever."
"Mhm, mhm. I've already thought it through."
Upon hearing Jun Zishu's confirmation, Ning Qinghuan became overjoyed and picked up Jun Zishu in a princess carry.
"I'm so happy!"
Ning Qinghuan spun around with Jun Zishu in her arms, causing Jun Zishu to become dizzy.
"Put me down first, Big Sister. I still have something to say to you," Jun Zishu said while hurriedly wrapping her arms around Ning Qinghuan's neck. All the spinning had really dizzied her.
"Okay, okay! Go ahead!"
"Big Sister, seeing as you and Uncle are leaving for an indefinite amount of time, have you two decided which side you'll be standing on?"
"Why are you asking this all of a sudden?" Ning Qinghuan immediately turned serious upon hearing Jun Zishu's question. Then, after putting Jun Zishu down, she analytically said, "Dad still hasn't made up his mind yet. He's still waiting for the emperor's decision. It is unlikely for the fifth prince to ascend to the throne, so it might be the crown prince. However, the fourth prince has been on the rise recently, so it's tough to say which prince will actually get the throne.
"I doubt anything will change in the short term, but once Dad and I leave, you and Mom should be more careful."
"Big Sister." Taking a deep breath, Jun Zishu looked at Ning Qinghuan and calmly said, "I think you and Uncle should take your stance ahead of time. Moreover, you should place your bets on the fourth prince."
"What do you mean?"
Ning Qinghuan slightly frowned, her expression turning a little unhappy.
"I've been hiding some things from you, Big Sister, but I don't know how to explain everything to you."
Ning Qinghuan was upset. Her little cousin had actually been keeping secrets from her. Moreover, these secrets might even be related to the fourth prince!
Afterward, Jun Zishu began selectively telling Ning Qinghuan about some of her actions. Of course, she had also modified some parts of the story. She conveyed the general idea that the fourth prince had once confided some of his troubles to her, believing that she wouldn't understand what he said. However, to the fourth prince's surprise, she understood what he said and even provided some suggestions for him. In summary, she was currently preparing to do something big together with the fourth prince.
Ning Qinghuan was dumbfounded when she heard Jun Zishu's story. Only after downing a cup of tea did she manage to calm herself.
"You're amazing, Little Wan'er! I didn't expect you to be even bolder than me!"
In Ning Qinghuan's opinion, her act of participating in the war might be brave, but it wasn't anything out of line. However, she never thought that Jun Zishu was even braver. Her little cousin was actually secretly scheming for the fourth prince and playing with the imperial court's members in the palm of her hand.
What was even more astonishing was how calmly Jun Zishu had described her actions. It was as if she did not realize how big of a matter she was doing.
"I'm not doing anything amazing. I just dislike the fifth prince and don't want him to achieve his goals. In the crown prince's case, I don't know him, so he's unrelated to me. Meanwhile, the fourth prince has saved us before, and we are even friends with him, so, of course, I chose to help him."
Not only did Jun Zishu maintain her character setting as a white lotus throughout her confession, but she had even added a "capable" setting for herself.
Naturally, Jun Zishu didn't bring up any of the cruel and shady acts she had conducted. As someone who didn't partake in imperial politics, Ning Qinghuan wouldn't be privy to such information, anyway. So, Jun Zishu only needed to bring up the exciting and interesting affairs.
Meanwhile, Ning Qinghuan let out a sigh of admiration after hearing Jun Zishu's tale.
"The status quo in the capital is about to change soon. I received news from the fourth prince that the crown prince is doing bad things in secret. He has also acquired the necessary evidence. Once he reveals this evidence, many people are bound to be implicated. So, I think you should talk to Uncle about this, Big Sister."
"Okay, I'll talk to Daddy about it."
After Ning Qinghuan and Jun Zishu confirmed their relationship, Ning Qinghuan started sticking to Jun Zishu even more.
However, although Ning Qinghuan would kiss and fondle Jun Zishu, she never went all the way. She felt that their first night together should be done in an official manner instead of doing it as if they were having a secret affair.
At dawn the next day, Ning Qinghuan dressed up neatly and bid goodbye to her family.
"We're leaving, Mom," Ning Qinghuan said to Madam Ning.
Afterward, Ning Qinghuan ran up to Jun Zishu and hugged her cousin before secretly whispering, "Wait for my return."
Jun Zishu nodded.
The emperor had tacitly agreed with Ning Qinghuan accompanying General Ning on his expedition.
As the horses galloped and the army disappeared into the distance, Madam Ning leaned against Jun Zishu and wiped the corner of her eyes with a handkerchief.
Even after Ning Qinghuan left, Jun Zishu continued staying in Ning Qinghuan's room. Now, though, instead of accompanying Ning Qinghuan all day, Jun Zishu was busy scheming against people, discussing national affairs with the fourth prince, and spending time with Madam Ning. She would also check in on Ning Qinghuan's situation through the system, afraid that Ning Qinghuan would get injured.
After Ning Qinghuan and General Ning arrived at the border, General Ning went to settle the troops while Ning Qinghuan went to find her elder brother, Ning Yunlang.
"Why are you here, Lil Sis?"
Ning Yunlang was shocked when he saw Ning Qinghuan.
"I'm here to fight by your side, my dear elder brother."
Ning Qinghuan patted Ning Yunlang on the shoulders and looked at the distant desert, a cold look in her eyes.
"Lil Sis, this isn't…"
"This isn't a game; I know. Everyone has told me the same thing. Just you wait."
Ning Qinghuan held Ning Yunlang's arm and pulled him out of the tent.
"Don't worry. Since our family is here, we'll definitely win," Ning Qinghuan said, a dazzling smile appearing on her face.
"You really are… Whatever. Just make sure you're not blindly charging forward."
"Of course I won't do that. Don't worry; I won't take any risks. I still want to return alive and see Mom."
And her Little Wan'er.
Ning Qinghuan rapidly grew amidst bloodshed and slaughter.
Even so, Ning Qinghuan always made sure to dress up neatly, not bothering to hide that she was a girl. Fortunately, because of General Ning's and Ning Yunlang's influence, Ning Qinghuan got to live in a tent all by herself.
There were naturally many soldiers who had an opinion about Ning Qinghuan's presence. In fact, practically everyone in the army had an opinion about it initially. However, their attitudes slowly changed when these soldiers saw Ning Qinghuan fearlessly charging into enemy lines and utter no complaints when getting injured.
Gender did not matter on a battlefield.
Not only was Ning Qinghuan capable of killing enemies, but she was also adept at strategizing. So, what right did they have to disrespect her? What reason did they have to not fight even harder?
Meanwhile, when Jun Zishu saw Ning Qinghuan's growth through the system, she couldn't help but sigh ruefully.
Jun Zishu couldn't help but grow worried and fearful every time she saw Ning Qinghuan getting injured, and Ning Qinghuan had already gotten injured many times thus far. Yet, in all of the letters Ning Qinghuan had sent back home, the girl would only ever talk about the good things. Never did Ning Qinghuan talk about her injuries.
Jun Zishu found that Ning Qinghuan was really dumb, so dumb that it hurt her heart.
Like the icy weather, the situation in the capital was also terrible.
The crown prince was impeached, and many rumors surrounding him started coming to light. For example, the crown prince had abused his power for personal gain, behaved extravagantly, and treated the lives of the empire's citizens like nothing. The surfacing of his sins enraged the emperor.
Moreover, despite the war in the north entering a stalemate and the empire's coffers running dry, the crown prince continued with his life of debauchery. He placed no importance on the livelihoods of the empire's citizens at all, and this enraged the emperor even further.
The emperor had originally thought that his eldest son had some capability in him. It didn't matter if the boy wasn't as talented as his younger brothers. What mattered most was that he didn't act foolishly. The throne could belong to anyone but a fool.
However, the emperor couldn't bear to just give up on his son, so he could only stay mad and do nothing.
Meanwhile, neither the fourth prince nor the fifth prince chose to stand out at this time, which would inevitably lead them to become an outlet for the emperor's anger. Instead, they only quietly watched from the sidelines.
In reality, both princes played a role in exposing the crown prince's dark secrets and fanning the flames.
Originally, Jun Zishu also planned to sit back and watch the show from the Ning manor. However, she never thought that the flames would spread to her as well.
Meanwhile, the fifth prince was the one responsible for spreading these flames to her.
One day, someone had come to the General's manor seeking marriage for their family's direct descendant.
Although Jun Zishu was part of the General's family, she wasn't a direct descendant. Her own family's lineage wasn't particularly prestigious, either. So, it would normally be impossible for her to marry the direct descendant of one of the capital's noble families. Not to mention, the family seeking this marriage wasn't a nobody. Although this family wasn't comparable to the General's family, its status was more than enough.
The first time the other party came, Madam Ning naturally rejected them. However, the second time they arrived, the madam of that house seemed adamant in sealing the deal, which upset Madam Ning greatly.
Madam Ning wasn't only refusing the proposal because of her promise to Ning Qinghuan. Instead, she was also doing it because the family in question belonged to the fifth prince's faction.
Madam Ning hadn't been aware of the situation initially. However, that wasn't the case for Jun Zishu. She quickly discerned the intentions of the proposing family and explained the situation to Madam Ning. Only then did Madam Ning realize what was going on and knew that the marriage must never happen.
However, the situation later became more and more complicated when the proposing family's madam angrily questioned whether the General's family was looking down on her family. As Madam Ning didn't wish to create any conflicts, she suffered insomnia because of this matter.
Madam Ning felt that this niece of hers might not be able to avoid entering the tiger's den this time.
However, if Jun Zishu married into the other party's family, she would definitely become a sacrifice.
Yet, without General Ning's presence, Madam Ning couldn't find anyone willing to intervene in this matter apart from the fourth prince.
Meanwhile, Jun Zishu had originally planned to reject the marriage proposal using the excuse that she had already found someone she loved. However, she never expected the fifth prince to make a personal appearance.
"Little Sister Wan'er, didn't you used to cry and shout that you will marry Xiao An no matter what? Why are you hesitating to marry him all of a sudden? Don't tell me you've fallen for someone else?" the fifth prince said, faking a surprised expression.
"Stop with the slander, Your Highness! Since when has Wan'er had any relationship with that person?!" Madam Ning furiously said as she slammed her palm on the table.
"Slander? Why don't you take a good look, Madam Ning? I promise that everyone will know about this news tomorrow."
"Do you think there is nobody left in the General's family?"
"Don't say that, Madam. I haven't done anything heinous. I'm just kindly playing the role of a matchmaker," the fifth prince innocently said. Inwardly, though, he sneered as he thought, Ning Qinghuan, since you are disregarding old relations, don't think that you can live comfortably!
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