Chapter 71: Determination
Qi Chen sat down on a stone stool under the tree. There was a faint smile on his face as he asked, "How did brother Feng's family pass away?"
Jun Huang didn't expect this to be Qi Chen's question. She thought that someone had seen Nan Xun entering the manor; for that she had come up with an excuse. This she didn't have a ready answer for.
Noticing her hesitation, Qi Chen scoffed. Feng Baiyu really is hiding something from me.
"They died on the battlefield…"
That day, the palace of Western Que fell into the enemy's hands. It was transformed into purgatory before her eyes. One after another, people were slaughtered like animals. To this day, she still couldn't stop herself from shaking when she thought back to that night. There was a stabbing pain in her temples.
The once prosperous imperial city became blood soaked overnight. Anywhere she went, all she saw was red.
Qi Chen watched her closely. He could see the pain in her eyes. He shouldn't continue to interrogate her, but he had always been mistrustful. How could he not get to the bottom of Jun Huang's secret? He took a deep breath. "Is that so? So it's not an excuse you came up with to turn Wan'er down?"
The garden was silent. Jun Huang's head snapped up and the bird on the tree was startled into fleeing, flapping its wings hard. She twisted her lips into a bitter smile and laughed. "Without family, I have no roots. Without family, I have no home. This gentleman will never use the deaths of my parents and siblings as an excuse for anything. Does Your Royal Highness really think of me as someone so shameless?"
Qi Chen was rendered speechless. He didn't know what to say in response. Jun Huang seemed like she was speaking from the bottom of her heart. He sighed. "It's not that I don't trust you, but there are… rumors about you. I hope you won't hold that against me."
Someone came to tell Qi Chen that Nan Guyue had woken up and was waiting for him to have breakfast. Qi Chen didn't think it would help to drag this conversation on. He gestured at Jun Huang to leave first. She walked away after making a salute.
Blinding sun kissed the green meadow and the red flowers in the garden, adding an attractive glow to them. Jun Huang walked into the nature's embrace, surrounded by a refreshing fragrance. With her eyes closed, she could imagine that she was back to the royal garden in Western Que. There, pleasant smell filled the palace all year long.
She felt drunk without drinking. Her dark hair flew in the air, framing her delicate features. From a distance, she looked like a god that accidentally fell into the mortal realm. No one knew when she would ascend back to the heavens.
She was far from carefree, however. Too many tragedies had struck. Her smile had turned bitter, and she was tired of dealing with Qi Chen's suspicion.
She let out a soundless sigh. She had to be more careful. One wrong step could pave the path for a descent into hell. She may forever lose her control over her life.
Back to the side building, Jun Huang felt no urge to eat. She asked the servants to leave her and sat on her own in trance. She suddenly remembered how Nan Xun had looked last night. His light-color robe made him seem softer than usual. The candlelight added a touch of warmth to his sculpted features.
She remembered how Nan Xun had been focusing on Wan'er in their conversation. It puzzled her. She knew that the royal siblings weren't as close with one another as they appeared to be. And Nan Xun didn't bear the last name of the royal family. He was under a lot of scrutiny for holding control over the military. Jun Huang couldn't figure out why Wan'er would get close to Nan Xun. She must know that her brother dreaded Nan Xun's influence.
She couldn't find an answer. In the end she decided to ask Nan Xun about it. She was stopped the moment she left the door.
The people here are becoming more and more troublesome! Annoyed, she pulled a long face at the unwanted visitors.
The men knew that they were intruding, but they were under Qi Chen's order. In their eyes, Jun Huang was merely an honored guest. Even though she had been offering advice to Qi Chen, she was still an honored guest. Nothing less, nothing more.
Jun Huang had met enough snobbish men like them to know what they were thinking. "What do you want?" she asked harshly.
The leader of the group could see her annoyance. He gave her a wide smile. "Please don't be offended, gentleman Feng. We're only the prince's messengers. He said that princess Wan'er is going to the temple to express her gratitude to the deity for fulfilling her wish. The prince however, is unavailable to accompany her. He therefore asks you to keep the princess company."
Jun Huang paused. She thought she had made herself clear. She didn't expect Qi Chen to create an opportunity for the two of them to be alone again. However, she was unable to decline. She nodded and said that she would leave shortly.
When the men were about to leave, the leader of the group added, "The prince also said that the gentleman should explain to the princess your feelings in person. It's best if you are able to convince her to give up on you."
Jun Huang stood rooted to the spot for a long time even after the men had left.
Wan'er didn't know that Jun Huang would be going to the temple with her. She sat in the coach, dangling her legs in boredom. She pouted as she thought about Jun Huang.
When Jun Huang showed up in all her glory, Wan'er's eyes lit up. She stammered and couldn't form a single word. Her heart was beating solely for Jun Huang at this moment.
She jumped off the coach with her face flushed, startling the eunuchs and the maids. They rushed up to her, worried that the emperor's most beloved princess might hurt herself. If she did, the emperor would have their heads.
Wan'er brushed away nonexistent dust from her clothes and told the troublesome servants to leave her alone, stomping her foot. "Get away and stay back! Don't be an eyesore!"
Jun Huang stopped before her and gave her a cool and polite smile, her plain robe brushing against the meadow and flowers.
She bowed. "This gentleman is honored to meet the princess again. It is the most fortunate thing I've encountered in all three lifetimes of mine."
Jun Huang was perfectly appropriate. Wan'er felt her heart aching.
He's always so proper with me, she thought, but I have discarded all rules of proprietary for him.
This man said that he felt fortunate to have met her, and yet it seemed like there was a great distance between the two of them. It seemed that she would never be able to win Feng Baiyu over her whole life.
Nevertheless, human beings were greedy by nature. What one couldn't get, one coveted even more. Wan'er was used to getting what she wanted. Feng Baiyu was the only thing she couldn't win over. She wasn't willing to give up. She swore on her life that she would become Feng Baiyu's wife and stay with him until their hair turned grey.
Jun Huang frowned. Wan'er eyes never strayed away from her. The gaze was so direct it made Jun Huang nervous. Fortunately, the servants dismissed by Wan'er earlier had rejoined them.
One of the eunuchs whispered to Wan'er, "We should depart now, princess. It's about time. If you leave later, you won't be able to return tonight. That will be troublesome to gentleman Feng."
The eunuch had a pair of keen eyes. He could see from Wan'er's expression that she adored Jun Huang. But alas, the river didn't return the fallen flower's love.
Wan'er was going to scold him for speaking up, but his words rang true to her. She let him off the hook and pointed at the coach. "The gentleman should come sit with me. It's going to be a bumpy ride…"
"There's no need. This gentleman rode a horse here." Jun Huang turned around and went back to where she had tied her horse. She untied the reign and got mounted, looking at Wan'er from a distance. She waited for the servants to finish preparing for the trip.
To avoid more interaction with Wan'er on their way to the temple, Jun Huang took the lead and stayed at the front. Wan'er rested her arms on the window sill and looked out at Jun Huang's back. I never thought there would be a man who shows so little emotions himself while arousing so much emotions in others. I never thought there could be a man who would monopolize my every thought.
Neither of them talked. Once they arrived at the temple, the servants took the horses towing the coach and the horse Jun Huang had ridden on to the back to feed them, leaving Jun Huang and Wan'er on their own. Wan'er rushed to block Jun Huang's way, looking up at her.
Jun Huang took a step back to put some distance between them. There was no expression on her face. She looked at Wan'er and waited for her to speak.
Jun Huang's attitude pained Wan'er, but she forced herself to smile. "I've heard from second brother what the gentleman's final answer was," she said, biting into her lip. "It's good that the gentleman wants to pursue a career. Wan'er isn't opposed to that. I can even help the gentleman become one of the most respected official of this generation – "
"If I am to become a respected official, doesn't the princess think that I should turn your offer down?" Jun Huang cut in before she could finish.
Wan'er couldn't say anything. It took awhile for her to recover. "Wan'er is willing to wait for the gentleman to achieve your goal before you marry me," she said with her gaze fixed on the ground. "As long as the gentleman doesn't dislike me, Wan'er is willing to wait for you." Her eyes were adoring and her tone was careful. She acted so submissive it made Jun Huang helpless. How could she possibly be harsh to a woman like this?
Wan'er was determined. Jun Huang didn't know what she should do. "Why must the princess do this to yourself? I told you that I'm mourning for my family and will not be marrying anyone in three years. Why doesn't the princess take mercy on yourself and find someone better suited? This gentleman isn't a good match for the princess. I hope the princess will – "
Before she could finish, Wan'er threw her reservation and pride out of the window and threw herself into Jun Huang's arms.
Wan'er was a little shorter than Jun Huang. She buried her face into Jun Huang's shoulder and breathed in the faint fragrance coming from Jun Huang's body. She couldn't stop herself from trembling.
She slowly closed her eyes. A single tear fell from the corner of her eye and landed on the back of Jun Huang's hand. The heat burned Jun Huang's skin and she could feel it in her heart.
This will be seen as an great offence to Wan'er's integrity, Jun Huang thought. She was worried that someone with ulterior motives might see them and tell Qi Chen about it. She would be doomed if Qi Chen then forced her to marry Wan'er. She tried to push Wan'er away.
"Just a little longer, gentleman Feng," Wan'er said quietly. She was no longer the princess that looked down on other people, but a simple woman who had abandoned all her principles for love. The change was heartbreaking to witness. "Please don't push me away. Let me stay in your arms for a little longer. I will wait for you to marry me. I will."