Chapter 46: The Seed of Love
After being scolded by Nan Jihan, Nan Guyue sat by the koi lake in the royal garden, angrily tearing petals off a flower, muttering, "Despicable, shameless man."
Qi Chen happened to hear her as he approached. He chuckled. "I am simply an admirer of the princess, and yet you feel so offended by me. I really know nothing about women."
Nan Guyue's head snapped up and she saw Qi Chen looking at her with a bright smile. He had changed into a different outfit. The adorned silky fabric accentuated the air of nobility he had as royalty.
She had just been lectured by her elder brother, and the one responsible for that dared to come mock her as if he had nothing to do with it? Her mood took a downturn. She threw away the flower and shot up to her feet, but her legs were numb from sitting too long, and there was a stabbing pain in her knees. She thus fell towards the lake.
Qi Chen grabbed her arm just in time, but she fell with such velocity that he got dragged into the lake with her.
Nan Guyue couldn't swim. She struggled and ended up clinging to Qi Chen like an octopus, her eyes squeezed shut in fear. Qi Chen pushed himself to the limit and swam to the shore. The princess was still holding onto him.
He sighed. "My eight characters of birth must have been in conflict with yours1. Here I am, soaked again."
Qi Chen carried her to dry ground and took off his robe to cover Nan Guyue up – Jun Huang had told him to be a gentleman. Nan Guyue looked up at him with wide eyes, touched by his consideration.
A couple of servants had heard the commotion and led them to a room to change their clothes. Afterwards, Qi Chen sat in the resting area drinking hot tea. He took out the silver needle he had used earlier, smiling.
He didn't miss the soft look in Nan Guyue's eyes. Good thing that Jun Huang had given him these needles; otherwise he wouldn't have been able to get closer to the princess.
In the evening, he returned to his manor and went straight to the side building. Jun Huang was still awake, waiting for him.
"Brother Feng is indeed clever," Qi Chen said. Jun Huang was very good at predicting what would happen. Everything went according to her plan.
Jun Huang smiled a little. "Nan Guyue will stay in Northern Qi for a little longer. During this period of time, Your Royal Highness must make her fall for you. Tomorrow you can ask her out. The view at night here is beautiful. It's perfect for a romantic outing."
Qi Chen understood what she meant immediately. He patted her on the shoulder. "I'm fortunate to have a strategist like brother Feng."
Jun Huang lowered her head without a word. Qi Chen left not long after. Once he disappeared from her sight, there was a strange current of wind behind her. She whirled around as quickly as she could, but whoever it was was well trained in martial arts. She was caught and couldn't move.
"Who are you?" Jun Huang said through clenched teeth. "Do you know what place this is? If you don't let me go, I'll call out for help."
The man easily carried Jun Huang out of the prince manor and didn't say anything until they reached a river. "It's me," he said quietly, letting her go.
Nan Xun? Jun Huang recognized his voice. She turned around and it was indeed the man she had not seen for a while. On an impulse, she threw herself into Nan Xun's arms, giving him quite a shock.
Nan Xun could feel his heart racing. He didn't know what to do with his hands and settled on nudging Jun Huang's shoulders.
After a moment of silence, he cleared his throat and asked, "What's gotten into you?"
Jun Huang took a deep breath and let Nan Xun go. She suddenly felt embarrassed as she pulled away. "Sorry, I – well, I have overstepped my boundaries." Jun Huang felt a little wistful. It was difficult to find someone who understood her. Never in her imagination had she foreseen herself acting so boldly towards anyone.
To break the awkward silence, Nan Xun teased, "You're a woman, and yet you know so well how to pursue other women."
Jun Huang lowered her head, blushing. "That was how Royal Father treated Royal Mother when I was young. I just learned from them."
She was again reminded of the family she'd lost and the country that had been destroyed. A somber look appeared on her face. Nan Xun could not bear to see her in pain, but offering comfort had never been his forte.
After a long stretch of silence, Nan Xun opened his mouth. "Don't be sad. You have to remember, Jun Huang, that we all lose people we love in our lifetime. If you're sad, your loved ones who have passed away will be unhappy as well. Don't forget you still have a brother to look for."
Jun Huang met his gaze and nodded, willing her eyes to stop tearing up with clenched teeth. She swore to herself that she would pay the murderers back in blood; she would make them suffer.
Nan Xun patted her on the shoulder, relieved.
They didn't say anything for a while. Then Jun Huang asked, "Why didn't you ask me why I told Qi Chen to win Nan Guyue's heart?"
Nan Xun hummed. "I know that you never do anything without a good reason. Why would I ask you that kind of question then?"
The next day, Qi Chen had someone give Nan Guyue an invitation letter. She accepted without hesitation and even circled around Nan Jihan with her face flushed. Every part of her radiated excitement.
Nan Xun was the oldest of the siblings. He was a lot more careful than she was. "Do you really want to go, Yue'er?" he asked with a worried look.
Nan Guyue stopped to look at him, pouting. "What does big brother mean?"
Nan Guyue looked so innocent at the moment, Nan Jihan didn't want to rain on her parade. He shook his head. "Be careful when you're outside. Don't get hurt."
Nan Guyue gave him a long look before nodding obediently. She left with a spring in her steps.
Back to her bedroom, she had people bring her the finest clothes she owned. She looked at her reflection in the mirror, thinking back to the day she met Qi Chen. He looked at her so openly with a twinkle in his eyes. Then in the royal garden, his clothes were all soaked, and still he teased her good-naturedly with a lovely smile.
The more she thought about him, the more flushed her cheeks became. There wasn't even a need for applying blusher anymore.
Her maid laughed. "You look like you're meeting the man of your dream, princess."
"Shut up," Nan Guyue retorted, but she couldn't be happier.
The mood in Prince Chen Manor, on the other hand, was sour. Wei Lanying heard about the budding relationship between Qi Chen and Nan Guyue. She went to confront him.
Rou'er robbed her of Qi Chen's affection. And now Nan Guyue would rob her of her status in the prince manor. Rou'er was a serving concubine with no power; she posed no real threat to Wei Lanying. Nan Guyue, however, was the princess of Southern Mu. If she really got married to Qi Chen, she would become the principal wife of the crown prince.
"Do you know how much effort I've spent to make you the crown prince, Qi Chen?" Wei Lanying asked with tears in her eyes. "And now you're marrying another woman. How can you be so heartless?"
Qi Chen looked at her coldly. She looked like a hysterical hag making a fuss on the floor, undeserving of anyone's sympathy or love. He no longer looked at her with tender eyes.
Rou'er watched without any expression. She had been with Qi Yun for decades. This was how the royal family always was. If you considered a man to be your one and only, you'd be a laughing stock. After a few hundred years, some may took pity on you and say you were hopelessly in love.
As a woman, she did find Wei Lanying pitiful, but they were not friends.
When Jun Huang got there, Wei Lanying was still sobbing on the floor. She frowned and went to help Wei Lanying up. "Please get up, Lady Wei. The floor is cold. You'll get sick."
Wei Lanying pushed Jun Huang away, unwilling to accept her help. Jun Huang was caught off guard and fell.
"It's your fault!" Wei Lanying shouted. "The prince wouldn't have treated me like this if not for you. And now you try to act all helpful? For what?"
Qi Chen could not bear this any longer. "Enough! If you're not afraid that I may divorce you, Wei Lanying, you can just leave."
Rou'er went to help Jun Huang up. "Is the gentleman alright?" she asked softly.
Jun Huang shook her head and brushed Rou'er's hands away. She took a step back, watching Qi Chen and Wei Lanying with cool eyes.
Qi Chen took a deep breath and looked over at Jun Huang. At her nod, he left without looking back. Wei Lanying was going to follow him, but Jun Huang took a few quick strides and grabbed her arm.
Wei Lanying whirled around and glowered at her. "You better let go of me, Feng Baiyu."
"This gentleman has always considered Lady Wei to be a smart woman. And yet you have angered the prince again and again. If you truly love someone, this isn't the way to show it. If you don't change the way you behave, you'll only be pushing the prince further and further away." She let go of Wei Lanying's arm. She had made herself clear enough.
Wei Lanying fell silent. No one knew exactly what she was thinking, but the tears in her eyes were a good enough indication. Jun Huang left with a soundless sigh. Rou'er followed her out and called out for her to wait up.
She went up to her. "I heard from the servants that Wei Lanying considered Feng Baiyu to be beneath her. And yet today you reached out a helping hand to her. Do you really think it's worth it?"
Jun Huang rolled her eyes. There was no need for pretense before Rou'er. Jun Huang leveled her with a penetrating gaze.
Jun Huang didn't say anything. She looked at the scenery outside the hallway. There was a bird perching on a tree branch. Its chirps were bright and delightful. It was hard not to stop what you were doing to enjoy the view of a garden full of greenery. It was serene.
Just when Rou'er thought that Jun Huang would never answer her question, Jun Huang said, "There's no point in asking if something is worth it or not, or if something is regretful or not. Why would you want me to look at the world the way you do? We are strangers walking on different paths. We don't have to argue about things like this."
"I still have matters to attend to. Please excuse me. Rou'er is free to do as you please." She left without even a glance back.
Bazi. Using eight characters to signify the year, month, day, and hour one was born. Fortune tellers may look at two people's Bazi and say they'll bring bad luck to each other. ↩