Chapter 43: Driving a Wedge
Qi Chen helped Jun Huang up and said to Wei Lanying, "This is Feng Baiyu, an honored guest at the manor."
"Lady Wei," Jun Huang said politely, her eyes cool like moonlight. Wei Lanying took to instantly disliking her despite Jun Huang's good looks. The fact that Qi Chen looked at Jun Huang with such appreciation alone was enough to make her consider Jun Huang an enemy.
Someone came to retrieve Qi Chen for the emperor, who had also heard of the rumors within the imperial city. Sir Wei and the other officials were in a heated debate in the imperial court. Still, they could not reach a consensus. After the court meeting, the emperor sent for Qi Chen to enter the palace.
When Jun Huang was just about to leave after Qi Chen left, Wei Lanying warned, "I don't care who you are. You better not play any tricks. If you hurt the prince in anyway, there won't even be a body left for others to find."
Jun Huang stopped in her tracks. It defied logic that Wei Lanying should be this hostile to her. "There is no reason for you to say so. This gentleman has been staying in this manor for a long time. If I really wanted to sabotage the prince, why would I let you two get married?" She left in big strides, not giving Wei Lanying the chance to respond. Wei Lanying ended up stomping in rage.
Qi Chen was carried to the palace in a sedan chair. A eunuch led him straight to the royal study. After being granted permission, Qi Chen entered and greeted the emperor. "This son is here to pay a formal visit to Royal Father. Long live Your Majesty!"
The emperor lifted his head up from his reports and looked at Qi Chen, who knelt obediently not far from his desk. An indiscernible look flashed through his eyes and he told Qi Chen to get up to his feet.
"May I ask why Royal Father summoned me here today?" Qi Chen looked at the emperor, waiting for him to respond.
"I have heard of the rumors in the imperial city. As Sir Wei said, a country must have a leader, and I must pick a candidate to be the crown prince. The past couple of days I have let you deal with some official matters, and you have not let me down. Therefore, I will grant you the title of the crown prince." As he spoke, he ordered the eunuch waiting on the side to give Qi Chen the imperial decree. Qi Chen could not be more excited. Even though he tried to control himself, a hint of a smile still showed on his face.
Soon, everyone in the imperial city knew that Qi Chen had become the crown prince. The royal uncle's people met with the emperor several times, trying to convince him to retract his decree, but to no avail. The royal uncle even got grounded at his own manor for his efforts. Not even the empress could change the emperor's mind.
Qi Chen, on the other hand, couldn't be more proud. Consort Zhen also grew more and more arrogant within the harem, as if she had become everyone's master.
That night, Qi Chen invited Jun Huang to have a drink with him under the bright moonlight. Jun Huang considered him discreetly. She knew that Wei Lanying would be the biggest obstacle in her fight to put Qi Yun on the throne. In just a few days, Wei Lanying had helped Qi Chen become the crown prince. If she did nothing to intervene, he would become the emperor soon. Wei Lanying was not one to be underestimated.
Noticing that Jun Huang hadn't been drinking, Qi Chen pursed his lips and said, "I cannot be happier today, so I invited brother Feng here to share my joy. You, however, look only at the moon and pay no mind to the wine. That's quite rude of you. I'm disappointed."
"Your Highness's words wound me. You are the crown prince now. Of course I am happy for you. It's just that…" Jun Huang paused, meeting Qi Chen's eyes hesitantly.
"Just what? Brother Feng can be frank with me."
Jun Huang took a deep breath and thought carefully about what to say. "It is indeed great news that Your Highness has become the crown prince, but Lady Wei is, afterall, a woman. It's a tradition that women should not get involved in matters of the imperial court. If you continue to let her intervene, it may be detrimental to you."
Qi Chen considered her words before nodding. "Brother Feng is right. I will remember that. Alright. It's a wonderful night with good scenery. We should drink up and have fun." He raised the wine cup and smiled at her.
"Of course." Jun Huang raised her cup as well. She took a sip, keeping her gaze on Qi Chen. She knew that Qi Chen himself was wary of Wei Lanying. He only needed a justification, and she had given him a good one today.
Wei Lanying was careful. She always had her guard up against Jun Huang. Jun Huang, therefore, could not do anything to her directly. She would have to let Qi Chen put pressure on Wei Lanying.
They had shared quite a few drinks under the moonlight when Wei Lanying ordered a maid to go get Qi Chen. She was a personal maid that Wei Lanying had brought from the Wei Manor. A clever girl, but she looked at people down her nose.
She even gave Jun Huang an eyeroll when she saw her. With Qi Chen, on the contrary, she remained respectful. "Your Highness, Lady Wei said that it is late. She has things to discuss with you and wishes you would return soon."
Qi Chen was a little annoyed. "I know already. Go back. I'll have a few more drinks with brother Feng."
The maid couldn't accept that. She went up to Jun Huang and, without a trace of respect in her tone, said, "Sir Feng, His Highness is now the crown prince. It is inappropriate for him to drink so late at night. Besides, Lady Wei and the prince just got married. Sir Feng shouldn't dominate all of his time."
"Where are your manners?" Qi Chen scoffed. "Who gave you the right to speak to brother Feng like that? Have you forgotten yourself?"
The maid got on her knees and begged for forgiveness, her eyes red and teary.
Jun Huang stood up slowly. "Your Highness shouldn't be so angry. She isn't wrong. It is my mistake. Alright, I shall take my leave. Your Highness should spend more time with Lady Wei." She cupped her hands and left the pavilion.
Qi Chen huffed at the kneeling maid. "Clearly servants resemble their masters." He left the pavilion too with a flourish of his sleeve and went straight to Wei Lanying. Let's see what she has to say.
Wei Lanying had just finished taking a bath when Qi Chen arrived. Seeing his dark expression, she assumed that Feng Baiyu must have done something to anger him. Her smile grew wider. "What happened?" she asked with a sweet tone. "Has Feng Baiyu done something? There's no need for Your Highness to be angry. If he did anything wrong, you can just kick him out of the manor."
Qi Chen's eyes grew cold suddenly, his gaze as frosty as winter ice. Wei Lanying shuddered, unsure of how she had offended him.
"If you're smart, you'd take back what you just said."
Wei Lanying looked at him in confusion. She opened her mouth, but for a moment nothing came out. "Why is Your Highness so protective of him?" she finally said. "Your Highness should trust a woman's instinct. Feng Baiyu is up to no good. One day he may do something to harm you. What's best for Your Highness is to kick him out now, rather than arguing with me."
"Enough!" Qi Chen could not listen to anyone criticizing Jun Huang. He continued, "Do you know how many schemes brother Feng has come up with for me? Without him, I wouldn't have gotten Royal Father's trust so easily. You really are just like any woman. Long hair, but short-sighted. Clearly I shouldn't let you get involved in matters of the imperial court." He left Wei Lanying alone in the bedroom.
Wei Lanying clenched her teeth, her nails biting into her palms, but she couldn't feel the pain. At that moment, her hatred for Jun Huang had gone bone deep. She believed with all her heart that Jun Huang would be Qi Chen's downfall if Jun Huang remained in the manor.
Qi Chen was even more upset. He wandered around and finally stopped at the side building Jun Huang resided in. Wei Qian was about to shut the door when she saw him. She frowned briefly, but very quickly smoothed her expression into one of indifference. She bowed at him respectfully.
"Has brother Feng gone to bed?" Qi Chen asked.
Wei Qian looked towards the building and shook her head. "Not yet. He's drinking tea in the yard."
Qi Chen nodded and walked to the back of the building. Wei Qian followed closely behind him.
Jun Huang was looking at the moon with her head tilted up. The silk robe she wore made her seem slightly otherworldly. Qi Chen was a little hypnotized by her looks. Her soft features were especially captivating.
"Brother Feng really is as beautiful as a fairy. If you were a woman, cities would fall under your smile." Qi Chen approached her, laughing.
Jun Huang looked towards him and greeted him. "Your Highness is too kind. I am but an ordinary man. That kind of praise doesn't suit me."
"Brother Feng is too humble." He sat across from Jun Huang, gesturing at her to sit down. Jun Huang poured him a cup of tea. "Didn't brother Feng say that it is not good to have tea at night?" he said with a frown. "Why are you having it today?"
Jun Huang looked down at her teacup. There were leaves floating on the surface. She smiled a little. "There is nothing to do and I'm having difficulty sleeping. Might as well have some tea. It's my error. Your Highness should take care not to drink any." Jun Huang was about to throw away the tea in Qi Chen's teacup, but he stopped her.
"It's fine. I'm also having trouble sleeping tonight. If brother Feng doesn't mind, I volunteer to stay here to watch the moon with you." Qi Chen took the teacup back and chuckled.
Jun Huang didn't particularly want his company, but she maintained a smile on her face. She nodded and ordered the servants to make some snacks. Qi Chen was relaxed. He looked up at the full moon like Jun Huang did, his head filled with thoughts.
Jun Huang made a good companion. She was quiet. When his cup was empty she would pour him tea. When he asked questions she would answer. But she never asked him why he was here.
What Qi Chen didn't know was that as clever as Jun Huang was, of course she knew Qi Chen had a fight with Wei Lanying and was feeling upset. She just pretended to not know.
Qi Chen thought Jun Huang was unaware of their argument, but what did he know about the way a woman's mind worked?