Chapter 112: Fighting for Attention
Jun Huang felt her heart sink. She had never considered the possibility that history might repeat itself. She broke into a cold sweat upon realizing her mistake.
A gust of wind swept into the room. She shuddered and tightened her robe without a word, her face as pale as sheet. It was difficult to think about what could happen. She needed some time to sort through her thoughts.
Ji Bo sighed. He chucked Jun Huang's now cold tea and earnestly said, "It's only a possibility; You don't have to be so concerned. I will do all I can to assist you."
Jun Huang trudged her way back to the room she was staying in. She curled into herself on the bed, her body trembling. It was as if she were back to the day Western Que was burned to the ground. Screams and wails could be heard everywhere. She had witnessed most of her family being slaughtered like animals.
The next morning, Ji Bo sent the pageboy to check up on Jun Huang when she was still half-asleep. Her previous night had been plagued with nightmares. Her body was covered in sweat. She propped herself up and gazed into the distance.
The page boy called out for her again. He wondered what Jun Huang was doing.
Jun Huang started her morning ritual and changed into a violet silk robe. On her waist was a fine jade carved into the shape of the mystical creature Qilin. The jade cap she wore glistened under the sunlight.
She cut an ethereal figure, seemingly above the mundane matters in the mortal realm. In other people's eyes, she was so graceful it seemed as if a light breeze was following her every step. Her very presence attracted attention.
The page boy stared owlishly at her when she walked out of the door. He was only brought back to the reality when Jun Huang called out for him impatiently. Mortified, he took Jun Huang to Ji Bo with his cheeks flushed.
Jun Huang assumed that Ji Bo wanted to discuss business with her, so she quickened her pace. Nan Xun was at the door when she reached Ji Bo's building. She slowly came to a halt.
She cupped her hands at Ji Bo in greeting. It was her principle to always treat people with the proper etiquette. "I've kept you waiting. I wonder why you are so urgent to see me?"
"I have been thinking about our conversation," said Ji Bo. "Since I have agreed to follow you back to the imperial city, it's best for us to leave as soon as we can. Qi Yun may be a remarkable man with the potential to be a great emperor, but he is still inexperienced. We should serve at his side to avoid unnecessary accidents."
Jun Huang hummed. Ji Bo had a point, but she didn't immediately respond. Nan Xun had not yet fully recovered. She was worried that he might not fare well against the fatigue of traveling such long distance.
She looked up at Nan Xun. As if he was able to read her mind, Nan Xun gave her a smile. "Don't worry about me. I've mostly recovered."
"If so, I will have my men make the necessary preparations," said Ji Bo. "How about we depart now?"
Nan Xun and Jun Huang both nodded. They packed up their things and followed Ji Bo out of Mount Wuming. It took them only two days. Their return journey went so much more smoothly than their journey into the mountain.
Once they arrived at the foot of the mountain, Nan Xun had his people bring them the horses they had left here when they arrived. Ji Bo shuddered when he saw the horses.
His reaction was subtle, but it didn't escape Jun Huang's eyes. The thought that she should refrain from commenting on it to save Ji Bo's face never crossed her mind. "Is Mister Ji Bo afraid of horses?" she asked.
Before Ji Bo could answer, his page boy nodded and said, "Master once fell from a horse. After that, he could not stand the sight of any horses, let alone ride on them – ow!"
The page boy rubbed at his forehead and pouted. Ji Bo had hit him with his foldable fan.
Ji Bo threw daggers at the pageboy. "You have forgotten your place."
Jun Huang chuckled. She told one of the shadow guards to find them a coach.
Jun Huang was going to ride on a horse herself, but Nan Xun pushed her into the coach, saying that she shouldn't ride with an injured foot.
Jun Huang didn't argue with him. She would gladly take the opportunity to talk about the current situation with Ji Bo.
When they were close to the imperial city, Ji Bo turned to Jun Huang and said, "The most important thing now is to prevent Qi Chen from suspecting us. It's a task that you must do yourself. Do you understand?"
"Of course." Jun Huang nodded. Neither of them said another word.
Back to the imperial city, Jun Huang told Ji Bo to go to Nan Xun's manor. She couldn't let him stay in her place. There were onlookers that might start spreading rumors. People already started to take notice that the royal princes frequently visited her. She dared not take any more risks. Fortunately, Nan Xun was a prince himself. It made sense for him to have a an advisor at his side.
After a few uneventful days, Jun Huang received a message from Rou'er. It turned out that Nan Guyue and Wei Lanying got into a feud.
Nan Guyue had been blinded by Qi Chen's tenderness and insisted on getting married to Qi Chen. Her happiness, however, did not last long. When she first got pregnant, Qi Chen had been tending to her every need. He was so gentle with her it was as if she was the finest china that required the utmost care. Nan Guyue had been deeply moved.
But someone told Qi Chen that if a pregnant woman was craving sour food, it meant the child was a boy, while a craving for spicy food meant the child was a girl. Unfortunately Nan Guyue had always preferred spicy food over sour food. Many senior servants in the manor therefore said that Nan Guyue must be pregnant with a girl.
The statement had no medical basis, but Qi Chen believed it, and he wanted only a son. He was convinced that Nan Guyue would give birth to a daughter, so he started to keep his distance with Nan Guyue.
At the same time, Wei Lanying had been trying to win Qi Chen back. Soon, Qi Chen set his eyes on her again and stayed almost every night in her room.
Wei Lanying would not settle for simply having Qi Chen's favor; she had to flaunt it. Every day, she would visit Nan Guyue, calling her big sister as if they were close friends. In Wei Lanying's mind, Nan Guyue was no longer a threat to her.
Nan Guyue was deeply annoyed, but she couldn't make a move on Wei Lanying; otherwise it might be considered an offense to Qi Chen. She wasn't stupid enough to challenge Qi Chen's authority. She could only take Wei Lanying's taunts and jeers with a clenched jaw.
Her inaction prompted Wei Lanying to become even more aggressive. Sometimes she would insisted on telling her what Qi Chen had done during his stay.
Nan Guyue was close to grinding her teeth flat. Then, unexpectedly, Wei Lanying started having morning sickness. She immediately told Qi Chen and Nan Guyue.
Qi Chen found her a doctor. The doctor's diagnosis, though, was that she was not pregnant, but simply having a digestive problem.
Wei Lanying refused to take that as an answer. She was convinced the fetus had moved in her belly. She jumped to the conclusion that the doctor had been bought by Nan Guyue, and that Nan Guyue was trying to kill her child. She pulled at Qi Chen's clothes and spouted accusations against Nan Guyue.
Qi Chen had already been unhappy with Wei Lanying for giving him false hope. Her tears did not earn her any compassion. Qi Chen had never liked women who would throw a tantrum. He pushed Wei Lanying away and left without a single glance back.
Nan Guyue watched the whole scene play out like an outsider. Once Qi Chen had left, she gave Wei Lanying the punishment of kneeling on the pebbled path. The path made for a painful enough walk for people wearing shoes. One could only imagine how painful it would be to kneel on the path.
Wei Lanying refused to obey. However, Nan Guyue had learned to fight for her husband's favor after entering the crown prince's manor. She knew that she must stand her ground in the household of the future emperor. If someone dared to hurt her, she would make them pay. She had endured Wei Lanying's flaunting long enough.
Wei Lanying was stuck between a rock and a hard place. She knew Nan Guyue would not let her off the hook, and she had angered Qi Chen. Perhaps Qi Chen would forgive her if she knelt down in atonement.
She dropped down to her knees and stayed like that for the entire night. She ended up losing consciousness then and there. Her maid was going to inform Qi Chen, but she was intercepted by Nan Guyue's men. The men carried Wei Lanying and her maid back to their building. Nan Guyue would not give Wei Lanying a chance to appeal to Qi Chen's sympathy.
Afterwards, Wei Lanying were bedridden for more than a dozen days. Qi Chen had not visited her even once. She didn't know why until much later. It turned out that Nan Guyue had warned everyone to keep Wei Lanying's punishment a secret. The information never reached Qi Chen's ears.
Jun Huang found it amusing. When she was living in the Western Que palace, some of the consorts schemed against one another as well, but she never realized it could get so ridiculous.
She sighed. Nan Guyue had been an innocent woman when she married Qi Chen. Now she had learned to fight for Qi Chen's favor the way concubines in palace fought for the emperor.
Little Girl looked at Jun Huang questioningly, wondering why Jun Huang started frowning after letting out a chuckle. She gently patted Jun Huang on the arm. "Has something happened, gentleman Feng?"
Jun Huang gave Little Girl a sideway glance before shaking her head. "Nothing. I've just missed a showdown." As if she had suddenly remembered something, she asked Little Girl to prepare her clothes for her. She was going out.
Little Girl looked out of the window. It was getting late. She was only a maid, however, and couldn't possibly change Jun Huang's mind. She quickly bring Jun Huang an elegant robe.
After getting changed, Jun Huang left her humble abode for the extravagant Prince Chen Manor, waving her foldable fan as she walked.
Jun Huang had missed the feud between Nan Guyue and Wei Lanying, but she did have something to discuss with Qi Chen. Besides, she had to visit the manor every once in a while to maintain Qi Chen's trust.
Qi Chen happened to have things to consult Jun Huang about. Her arrival smoothed out the frown between his eyebrows. They exchanged some pleasantries before entering the study. Qi Chen made sure to order the guards to keep anyone from disturbing them.
It had been a while since Jun Huang last came to the study. It was often said that to find a rich man's darkest secret, one needed to look no further than his study. The same was true of Qi Chen.
He showed the accounting book of the manor to Jun Huang without hesitation. It was obvious that he considered Jun Huang one of his own.