"Regardless, Wan'er won't be marrying anyone. I will find her a good family myself."
Madam Ning refused to loosen up no matter what.
"Whatever you say, Madam."
The fifth prince nonchalantly took a sip of tea, making it seem as if he didn't care about Madam Ning's reply at all.
"I'm afraid I won't be able to go along with your wishes, Your Highness."
Jun Zishu, who had been taking on the role of a transparent person thus far, suddenly stood up and smiled at the fifth prince. Since they were discussing her marriage, she had to more or less voice her opinions. "I have to accompany Auntie since nobody else is at home right now, so I won't be considering marriage for the moment."
Madam Ning nodded in agreement. At worst, the General's manor would lose some reputation from this matter. She wouldn't mind such an outcome at all. It'd be much better than letting Jun Zishu marry someone belonging to the fifth prince's faction. Moreover, now that Jun Zishu had also stated that she didn't care about her personal reputation, Madam Ning had even less need to feel worried.
"How filial of you, Little Sister Wan'er."
The fifth prince put down his teacup and sneered.
Seeing this, Jun Zishu put on a perfunctory smile in response. The fifth prince was trying to control her? He'd be better off dying in a ditch.
Then, the fifth prince stood up and politely said, "How about meeting with Xiao An at the very least? Think of it as giving me some face."
Alarm bells began ringing in Jun Zishu's mind, and she immediately thought of rejecting the fifth prince's request.
"What? Are you not going to give me even this bit of face?" the fifth prince lightly asked, hints of coercion hidden in his voice.
"You are overstepping your boundaries, Little Brother."
Suddenly, a voice came from outside the guest hall, and the owner of this voice was none other than the fourth prince.
"Oh? What wind brought you here, Fourth Brother?"
The fifth prince stood up and greeted the fourth prince with a smile. Looking at how the two were smiling at each other, one would assume that the two brothers shared a friendly relationship.
"Naturally, it is because I heard that you're helping someone seek Little Sister Wan'er's hand in marriage. Little Sister Wan'er and I have long since confessed our feelings for each other. It's just that I never found the right opportunity to propose to her. I have already discussed marriage with Little Sister Wan'er multiple times, but she has always eluded me, saying she wanted to be filial. However, if I don't appear now, wouldn't my beloved be snatched away?"
As the fourth prince spoke, he kept his eyes focused on Jun Zishu, hints of embarrassment on his face. From an outsider's perspective, it looked as if he truly adored Jun Zishu. However, where the fifth prince couldn't see, the fourth prince winked at Jun Zishu, giving off quite the playful look.
"It seems you are getting better at spouting nonsense, Fourth Brother." The fifth prince chuckled, his words carrying hints of mockery.
"If you don't believe me, you can ask Little Sister Wan'er yourself," the fourth prince said as he pointed at Jun Zishu.
By now, Jun Zishu had already finished considering her options, so she nodded to the fifth prince and said, "I'm really sorry, Your Highness the Fifth Prince."
"I don't want to hear any rumors about Little Sister Wan'er floating outside, Little Brother. If I hear any, I don't mind pushing the blame onto you," the fourth prince spoke with narrowed eyes.
Meanwhile, upon hearing Jun Zishu's reply, the fifth prince couldn't help but glare at Jun Zishu with a dark look. Then, he left the Ning manor in a huff.
"Why are you here, Your Highness?"
After the fifth prince left, Madam Ning quickly stood up to bow to the fourth prince. However, before she could do so, the fourth prince raised his hand and stopped her, signaling that there was no need for formalities right now.
"I heard that Little Sister Wan'er was in trouble, so I came here to help," the fourth prince said to Madam Ning. Then, he looked toward Jun Zishu and playfully said, "However, now that I have already made such a declaration, I will have to trouble you for some time, Little Sister Wan'er."
It had been becoming increasingly difficult for the fourth prince to maintain communication with Jun Zishu because more and more people had started to keep an eye on him recently.
In reality, the fourth prince could've found another way to resolve Jun Zishu's predicament. However, he currently needed to maintain closer contact with Jun Zishu to discuss more important matters.
Jun Zishu nodded, quickly understanding the fourth prince's intentions.
After getting Jun Zishu's agreement, the fourth prince left the Ning manor as well.
Meanwhile, Madam Ning remained ignorant of the situation, so she couldn't help herself from asking, "Wan'er… Since when have you and the fourth prince…?"
"I don't have any personal affairs with the fourth prince. We have only reached an agreement with each other. However, I'm afraid I won't be able to accompany you for some time, Auntie."
"That's not important. Just help me understand the situation a little," Madam Ning requested.
Subsequently, Jun Zishu gave a brief explanation to Madam Ning, helping her understand the current situation in the capital.
"How do you know all these things, Wan'er?"
"Big Sister told me about them."
Jun Zishu wisely passed the ball to the distant Ning Qinghuan. She even put on a look of worship when she spoke of Ning Qinghuan.
"I need to go write a letter first, Auntie. Then, I'll prepare to…stay at the fourth prince's manor for some time."
Madam Ning was only a woman in high society. Although she possessed foresight, she lacked understanding of matters pertaining to the imperial court. Hence, she couldn't help but feel a little worried about this development.
After Jun Zishu returned to her room, she wrote a letter explaining the situation to Ning Qinghuan. She also added some of her upcoming plans in the letter.
After rolling up the letter and storing it into a bamboo container, Jun Zishu had Shaoyao prepare a plate of raw meat.
A year had already gone by since Ning Qinghuan left, yet the date of her return remained unknown because the war in the north had entered a stalemate.
Jun Zishu sighed when she thought about the war. Then, she whistled loudly.
A moment later, an eagle flew toward her and perched on the railing outside the room. Then, after feeding the raw meat to the eagle, Jun Zishu tied the bamboo container to the eagle's claw.
Two days later, a palanquin came to bring Jun Zishu to the fourth prince's manor.
Since Jun Zishu would be entering the fourth prince's manor as a concubine, there was no need to create much fanfare for her arrival. Thus, she entered the manor through the rear courtyard instead of the main entrance.
This arrangement was perfect for Jun Zishu. It was also fortunate that she lacked status. Otherwise, she would definitely voice her refusal if she was required to go through a bunch of tedious procedures.
However, despite the lack of fanfare, Jun Zishu's marriage with the fourth prince was already more than enough to indicate which faction the General's manor stood with.
"Little Sister Wan'er."
The fourth prince stepped into the bridal chamber, an awkward smile appearing on his face as he looked at Jun Zishu. Even if the marriage was a sham, he still needed to remain in this room for the night to convince others of his marriage with Jun Zishu.
Jun Zishu had long since changed into casual clothing and sat by the tea-table.
"Little Sister Wan'er… We…"
"We'll just talk through the night," Jun Zishu stated, giving an indifferent look to the fourth prince.
"Okay, let's talk through the night, then."
The fourth prince nodded. Through the interactions they shared in the past years, he had already gotten a good idea of Jun Zishu's personality. Rather than a harmless rabbit, Jun Zishu was a cunning wolf that ruthlessly devoured others.
Jun Zishu might look weak and gentle on the surface, but the profoundness and viciousness of her schemes caused even the fourth prince to break out in cold sweat.
Truth be told, the fourth prince had a soft spot for women like Jun Zishu. However, he quickly dismissed his thoughts since there was no way Jun Zishu would obediently remain by his side. Though, this situation also made him wonder what kind of person Jun Zishu liked.
"I'm a little curious, Little Sister Wan'er. Should you ever find yourself falling in love with someone, what kind of person would that be?"
Jun Zishu propped up her chin with her palm and began formulating words in her mind. Then, she replied, "I can't say it clearly, but you'll understand once you meet him."
Jun Zishu had originally wanted to describe Ning Qinghuan with words such as chivalrous and courageous. However, she quickly dismissed those thoughts since she felt such a description wasn't appropriate. In short, Ning Qinghuan was a very kind person in Jun Zishu's mind.
"Oh? If you put it that way, does that mean you already have someone you like, Little Sister Wan'er?"
Jun Zishu nodded, a gentle smile appearing on her face.
"I'm waiting for him to return and marry me."
"Is he not in the capital right now?"
"Does he know that you've entered my manor?" the fourth prince curiously asked. He doubted that there would be any man so generous as to watch their woman marry another man, even if it was all just an act.
"He should find out about it soon. Once he does, he will probably explode in rage."
When Jun Zishu thought of Ning Qinghuan's reaction once her cousin found out about this matter, she couldn't help but have the urge to chuckle.
"How do you plan to deal with this situation, then?"
"I will discuss it with him. Once he returns, 'Jun Wan'er' will pass away, and I will use a new identity to appear by his side."
Jun Zishu quietly observed the candle on the table, a blank expression on her face. Under the glow of the candle, her face gave off a daunting feeling.
The fourth prince sighed when he heard Jun Zishu's reply. Then, he picked up the teapot on the table and poured Jun Zishu a cup of tea.
"With your insight and intelligence, you will surely be able to achieve great things if you attach yourself to someone more influential, Little Sister Wan'er."
"I don't care about those things."
"I know. I still remember your reason for helping me. It's for the sake of your Big Sister Qinghuan, right? Speaking of which, Ning Qinghuan is a talent as well. Despite being a girl, she dares to take part in the war. I guess it is to be expected of General Ning's daughter."
The fourth prince sighed, his words carrying hints of admiration.
"Wait… You two… Don't tell me the person you like is…"
For some inexplicable reason, the fourth prince suddenly thought of an absurd possibility. Jun Zishu had previously stated that her beloved was currently absent from the capital, and Ning Qinghuan just so happened to be absent as well. Moreover, the relationship between the two sisters was so good that the two were almost always together.
The fourth prince let out a dry laugh, finding his conjecture to be absurd. Perhaps Jun Zishu had indeed met a man and fell for him without his knowledge. After all, there was no need for Jun Zishu to report to him on her private affairs. He wasn't keeping a constant eye on Jun Zishu, either.
However, what Jun Zishu said next thoroughly shocked the fourth prince.
"How perceptive of you, Big Brother Four. You have exceeded my expectations," Jun Zishu said with a surprised expression. She never thought that the fourth prince could guess her relationship with Ning Qinghuan.
Meanwhile, the fourth prince knew that Jun Zishu would only ever refer to him as "Big Brother Four" when she was putting on an act for outsiders or in a good mood. In other times, she would maintain formality and refer to him as "Your Highness" instead.
Thus, he had hit the mark with his absurd conjecture?
"Are you really not joking with me, Little Sister Wan'er?"
"Why would I joke with you? In my opinion, this isn't something worth joking about. What's wrong? Do you feel that my relationship with her is improper?"
"No, no, not at all. In fact, after carefully thinking it over, I find it perfectly reasonable. After all, the degree of closeness between you two has truly reached abnormal levels," the fourth prince said, shaking his head. Although he indeed felt that the relationship between Jun Zishu and Ning Qinghuan was taboo and improper, he didn't have much to do with their relationship. Thus, it'd be best if he kept his thoughts to himself.
Moreover, the fourth prince found the fact that Jun Zishu was a lesbian to be relieving. At the very least, it proved that he didn't lose to another man.
"But even if you change your identity, you still can't marry her. Unless, of course, you plan to crossdress as a man?" the fourth prince asked, still feeling a little confused.
"That is not a problem for you to worry about. This is between the two of us. Alright, Your Highness, let's talk about court matters next. I only gave you my personal opinions in the past, but now that I am officially standing on your side, Big Sister and Uncle will side with you as well," Jun Zishu said. "However, even though you have our support, he is still too biased toward the crown prince. Thus, we need to do something about it next."
Jun Zishu had never been a soft-hearted person. Once she started plotting against someone with her cunning mind, she would show no mercy to her opponents.
The fight for the throne had always been a cruel process. Since the fourth prince didn't mind what would become of his elder brother, Jun Zishu naturally did not need to worry about the crown prince's future, either.
Legitimacy belonged to the victor. Only the person who could laugh until the end could take control over everything.
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