Chapter 41: Qi Chen marrying a Concubine
Nan Xun realized that Jun Huang was still dressed in women's clothes. Clearing his throat, he let go of her and called out for the maid to enter, telling her to help Jun Huang change.
Jun Huang let the maid help her into a purple silk robe. She put her hair up and held it together with a white jade cap. Back to being the handsome gentleman.
The maid watched her with wide eyes. Earlier when she was helping Jun Huang change, her hair was down, and the maid didn't look that closely at her. Now, under the candlelight, Jun Huang looked not unlike a celestial being banished to earth.
Jun Huang turned to face her and let out a laugh. She considered her outfit – it was good enough. She smoothed out the wrinkles before walking out of the door.
Nan Xun was waiting right outside. He turned to look at Jun Huang the moment he heard the door creaking, his heart softening at the sight of her. "Don't push yourself too hard at Prince Chen Manor," he gently said. "Be on your guard. Don't let Qi Chen discover your true identity."
Jun Huang nodded. "I'll remember what Your Highness said. Please excuse me. I'll now take my leave. You don't need to walk me out."
Nan Xun stood there watching Jun Huang leave without a word.
The maid saw him when she came out. She covered up her smile with a hand. Didn't expect her iceberg of a prince to act like this. Jun Huang, though, was an extraordinary woman. In the whole Northern Qi, she was probably the only one who actually deserved the prince's affection.
On her way back to Prince Chen Manor, Jun Huang was deep in thoughts. Originally she was only going to thank Nan Xun for his help, then she would avenge her family on her own, but Nan Xun agreed to help her so easily – he didn't even stop to consider the matter.
This time, if not for Nan Xun's help, she would have died already. She suddenly felt afraid. No one in the world could truly be fearless in the face of death.
The imperial city seemed particularly empty today. There was no one on the street. It was most likely because of the banquet of a hundred households. She was alone here.
The tavern that had been filled with people was still open. Some important figure probably reserved the whole place for a celebration, or some gentleman might have found a good spouse at the banquet. It was a perfect night for drinking and celebrating.
The pebbled street extended far beyond her sight. Jun Huang's frame wavered a little, but she couldn't fall down here. She took a deep breath and looked up at the boundless sky. On that day, so many citizens of her country lost their lives. Their blood painted the whole imperial city. All she could see was red.
"Hello, which family does this gentleman belong to? Why aren't you home yet?" the old night watchman walked up to her and said, holding a gong in his hand. There was a friendly smile on his face. "It's chilly at night. The gentleman should take care not to catch a cold."
"Thank you for your concerns. I'm actually on my way home. Please be careful yourself. It's difficult to see the road at night. Careful not to trip."
After bidding the old man farewell, Jun Huang picked up her pace and soon reached Prince Chen Manor. The door was shut. Jun Huang had no choice but to knock. A tired voice asked, "Who is it?"
"This gentleman is Feng Baiyu."
The page boy in charge of door keeping immediately opened the door, afraid of keeping her waiting. "Sir Feng, it's good to see you. The prince was just asking after you."
"Thank you." Jun Huang entered the manor and went to Qi Chen's place.
The candles inside Qi Chen's room were still lit. She knocked on the door and heard Qi Chen's approaching footsteps. He opened the door with a smile and invited her in.
Jun Huang couldn't say no to him. Qi Chen led her to a divan and poured her a cup of tea. "Try this, brother Feng. This is what I had people buy from an area where it was freezing cold. I heard tea experts saying that tea grown in the cold was bitter with a sweet aftertaste. I wonder if it is true. Brother Feng knows a lot about tea. So have a taste and tell me how it is."
Jun Huang didn't know if she wanted to cry or laugh. Who would drink tea so late at night? Qi Chen was probably the only one. But again, she couldn't say no. She picked up the tea cup and took a whiff. The fragrance was strong. Bitter with a hint of sweetness.
Under Qi Chen's close scrutiny, she took a sip and nodded. "It is a rare premium brand of tea. However, it's better to not drink too much tea at night, or it may harm the lungs and the spleen."
"My mistake. Brother Feng is right." Qi Chen slapped the back of his head. "I'm just too excited and forget myself. I hope brother Feng won't blame me."
"Of course I won't. I'm the one who should apologize. I was having such a good time today and forgot how late it was. Didn't realize I'd be back so late at night. I have made Your Highness worry."
Qi Chen smiled and patted her on the shoulder, giving her a knowing wink. "There's no need for brother Feng to explain. We are both men. I know how it is."
Jun Huang felt her face flare up. She wasn't talking about that! But of course, she wasn't going to explain. It was better for Qi Chen to think this way. She let out a sigh of relief.
"May I ask who the girl that caught brother Feng's fancy is?"
"Um… It's not a done deal yet. Once I'm sure, I'll let Your Highness know."
Qi Chen nodded. "Well, then I won't ask too many questions. If you need me to play matchmaker for you, brother Feng, just tell me."
Jun Huang thanked him and pretended to be tired so that she could take her leave. She went back to her building. Wei Qian was still waiting for her.
"What are you doing here?"
Seeing that Jun Huang had returned safely, Wei Qian retired to the side room without a word. Jun Huang blinked at her, unsure of what that was about. Then she went to her bedroom.
She sat on the bed and took out the pill Nan Xun gave her to help control the poison. She swallowed it down dry.
She didn't realize how tired she was until she lay down. Soon after closing her eyes, she fell asleep.
Jun Huang wandered to the backyard and saw everyone was busy at work. Normally the servants would stop to greet her, but now they didn't have the time to do even that. Everyone was rushing around moving things.
Jun Huang frowned, looking at the decorations put up in the backyard. She was puzzled, but she didn't ask. When she entered the main hall, however, there were decorations everywhere as well. The red silks covering the wooden hallway made the manor looked like it was straight out of a fairytale.
"This place is crowded, sir." the housekeeper of the manor came up to her and said. "You should rest on the side. Otherwise you may get hit accidentally."
Jun Huang pointed at the festive place. "What are all these for?"
"You don't know, sir? The prince is marrying the daughter of Sir Wei as his concubine. It was arranged by the emperor. Tomorrow is the day they consummate their marriage. You should remember that." The housekeeper went back to work immediately. He didn't have time to diddle around.
Jun Huang walked to the side of the room, surprised. She didn't expect Wei Lanying to get what she wanted. She smiled to herself. After years of performing at the banquet, Wei Lanying only managed to win Qi Chen's attention now? That didn't make sense. Qi Chen must have some other motives.
She couldn't figure out how a seventh grade scholar official could help Qi Chen though. She sighed and went back to her room. Wei Qian happened to be there. Jun Huang jogged up to her.
"What's the matter, sir?" Wei Qian asked, looking at her.
"Why haven't you told me about the prince's marriage?"
"This servant thought that you knew already."
Wei Qian's obedient attitude made Jun Huang anxious. She told her to leave before taking a seat in the yard under the sun. Her head was a tangled mess. Not even she knew exactly what she was thinking about.
Not long after, Qi Chen came to see her. Jun Huang was resting with a hand supporting her head. He walked up to her with a smile. "I was going to tell brother Feng about my wedding the night after the banquet, but I got too excited and forgot to do so. I hope brother Feng won't blame me."
Jun Huang looked up at him and smiled. "Why would I? It's a good thing Your Highness is getting married. I hope she would be an understanding spouse and not a troublemaker."
"I hope so as well." Qi Chen quirked up the corners of his mouth.
"If that's the case, why isn't Your Highness preparing for the wedding?" Jun Huang asked, pouring a tea for him. "This is not as high class as your usual, but it is good enough."
Qi Chen took a sip. It was regular tea drunk by regular people. Jun Huang, however, drank it like it was the best tea she had had. He finished the tea in one go. "No need for that. She's just a concubine. Not worthy of such effort from me."
Jun Huang stilled. Qi Chen's words made her uncomfortable. Wei Lanying didn't make a good impression on her, but Wei Lanying was a woman. If she heard what Qi Chen said today, she would be devastated. Qi Chen seemed completely oblivious to that. He poured another cup of tea and tasted it carefully the way Jun Huang did. He was starting to appreciate the tea as well.
"If lady Wei heard what Your Highness said, she will be heartbroken," Jun Huang said with a smile, drinking her tea with her head low.
Qi Chen shrugged. He didn't find it problematic. "So? I'm talking to my brother. How would she hear of it? Even if she does, why would it matter to me? She is a mere concubine."
Jun Huang didn't respond. Qi Chen was a heartless man. No use trying to change him. It was better for her to enjoy the tea and cultivate her character.
After they finished the pot of tea, the housekeeper came to find Qi Chen. "Why is Your Highness still here?" he asked with his eyebrows furrowed. "Please follow this old servant to go try on your outfit for tomorrow."