Chapter 83: Argument
Jun Huang's tone was casual, but it hit Wan'er where it hurt the most. Warmth drained away from the air, and Jun Huang's expression hardened as she met Wan'er's eyes. It was clear that she was serious.
Wan'er looked at her owlishly. Despite how hurtful Jun Huang's words were, Wan'er still felt her heart beating for Jun Huang. She still thought that Jun Huang was a graceful gentleman with no match in the world, while she was a mere mortal awe-struck by wonder and beauty.
Looking at it differently, perhaps Jun Huang only said what she said because she didn't want to waste Wan'er's time. Wan'er took a deep breath, preparing herself mentally, and smiled at her. "Wan'er understands what the gentleman is thinking," she said in a formal tone. "The gentleman doesn't need to worry about me. Wan'er only hopes that you will be successful and get what you are aiming for."
Nan Xun could see that Jun Huang was going to reply, but he knew Wan'er. He was sure that Wan'er had a retort ready. Continuing this debate would only make everyone unhappy. There was also no need for Jun Huang and Wan'er to get into a quarrel. He cut in, "Gentleman Feng is a man, Wan'er. It's against the rules of proprietary for you to stay here."
"Indeed. It's best for the princess to not be here for too long," Jun Huang said without missing a beat, her hands cupped in salute. "This humble abode isn't suitable for the princess. You are the golden branch and the jade leaves – a woman of high status. This place is beneath you. Let this gentleman see you off."
Wan'er was reluctant to leave, but she didn't argue further. Her bashful look had given way to a faint sense of resignation. "Then Wan'er will leave you in peace." She left with her maid in tow.
On her way out, Wan'er kept looking back. Her maid had witnessed their entire conversation, but as a lowly maid she couldn't have said anything at the time. Now she couldn't help complaining to Wan'er, "The princess has given Feng Baiyu your heart. How could a mere strategist like him treat the princess like that?"
"Shut up," Wan'er snapped. She let out a sigh. "Gentleman Feng is a man of integrity. He was trying to protect my reputation. He's not someone insidious like you thought he was."
The maid pursed her lips. "The princess is right."
Wan'er gave the house a final look before getting into the sedan chair. They left for the palace.
Jun Huang handed the box to Little Girl and told her to put it somewhere safe. She was still thinking about when she should return the gift to Wan'er.
Nan Xun felt a little jealous. To think that Jun Huang was able to attract such adoration from Wan'er as a woman! "Wan'er is only here to congratulate you, and yet you treated her like she were your enemy," he said jokingly. "You turned her affection down just like that. You could have used her to achieve your goals."
Jun Huang's eyes went dark. She turned to Nan Xun and sneered, "Princess Wan'er is a carefree woman. How can this gentleman hurt her loving heart with such despicable intentions?"
"Your Highness should know that there are things you never say even as a jest. This gentleman has other things to attend to. I don't have time for guests. Your Highness is free to leave." Her tone was chilling, and she left immediately after she had spoken, leaving Nan Xun in a state of confusion.
He didn't expect Jun Huang to be so angry over his careless joke. He still wasn't sure what the reason behind Jun Huang's ire was.
Jun Huang was fuming. She wasn't in love with Wan'er, and she never would be. But using Wan'er? That was never an option. She knew how women felt. She wouldn't let Wan'er waste her efforts on a relationship that would never come into fruition.
That was why she had been avoiding Wan'er the past few days. Whenever Wan'er visited Prince Chen Manor, she always stayed away. It was also part of the reason why she moved out of the manor. She knew Wan'er had a kind heart. How could she possibly let an innocent woman get hurt because of her own agenda? She had no choice but to convince Wan'er to give up, no matter how harsh she had to be.
She thought that Nan Xun would understand what she was trying to do. And yet he told a joke like that so easily. She was disappointed.
"Prince Nan has left, gentleman Feng," said Little Girl. She was told to keep an eye on Nan Xun.
Jun Huang nodded and didn't say anything. Little Girl didn't know what she should do next. Nan Xun had asked her to cheer Jun Huang up, but Jun Huang was shutting everyone out. She wasn't sure if there was something she could say to make Jun Huang feel better.
Little Girl was young after all. She wasn't that much younger than Jun Huang, but they were very different people. Jun Huang had come back to life from the brink of death. She held pain in her heart that no one understood.
Seeing that Jun Huang had no intention to talk to her, Little Girl sighed and left the room. She couldn't get Jun Huang to open up, and she didn't think she could help Nan Xun.
At night, Nan Xun's shadow guard came to ask about the situation. Little Girl shook her head. "Gentleman Feng isn't willing to tell me anything. He ate a lot less during dinner. I don't know what's wrong."
The shadow guard nodded. "I'll tell the prince. Stay here and devote yourself to serving him." With that, he vanished.
Little Girl let out a sigh. She didn't know why Jun Huang and Nan Xun's relationship could be this complicated. She didn't understand them at all.
Nan Xun sat in the pavilion in his own manor, watching the bright moon shining from the sky. The stars were as brilliant as a silver river. He played with a wine cup he held in one hand while supporting his head with the other. His expressions betraying not even a hint of his inner thoughts.
The shadow guard dressed in black robe silently walked towards the pavilion. Nan Xun's ears twitched and he looked up at the shadow. The guard walked out and greeted him. "This subordinate has gone to ask the girl, Your Highness. She said that gentleman Feng didn't eat much in the evening, claiming a lack of appetite."
Nan Xun frowned. He put down the cup and gestured for the shadow guard to leave. He shook the jug. There was still wine inside. He filled his cup and took a sip.
Nan Xun sighed. He was a general, and yet he was now brooding over his lackluster conversational skills. He kept drinking until he fell asleep in the pavilion.
The young maid in the manor knew him well. She took a robe and draped it over Nan Xun's body. When it landed, Nan Xun's eyes snapped open and he seized the maid's wrist. She screamed in shock.
The candlelight in the pavilion flickered as if it would extinguish at any moment. The maid's face went pale and her body was trembling. Nan Xun let her go immediately. She dropped down to her knees. "Please forgive me, Your Highness."
Nan Xun was a little more sober now. He rubbed at his temple, looking at the sky. It was late. There were no stars in the sky now, leaving only a bright moon. It looked lonely.
Nan Xun got to his feet. His short rest had cleared his head. He looked down at the maid kneeling before him. "It's fine. Go get some rest."
"Understood." The maid let out a sigh of relief as if she had been pardoned for a serious crime. She carefully walked away from the pavilion.
Nan Xun put his hands together behind his back and stood in the pavilion, letting the wind blow against him. When he returned to his room, he had decided that he would visit Jun Huang in a few days.
The candles in Jun Huang's room had not been put out the whole night. Little Girl paced outside the door, but she didn't dare to bother Jun Huang. In the end she could only leave.
Jun Huang sat at the sandalwood desk, staring at the lamp Nan Xun gave her. The five phoenixes on the lamp were delicately done. A more careless pair of eyes would have missed the fact that it was a counterfeit. Jun Huang let out a soundless laugh.
She had thought that Nan Xun was the one who knew her the best! And yet he said something that had crossed the line she had drawn in her heart. She couldn't get past that.
A woman knew other women best.
She didn't want to become a despicable person condemned by others. She knew that if she chose to use Wan'er to her advantage, she would never be able to forgive herself.
The past couple of days, she had been staying inside her place. She did, however, have someone keep watch on Prince Chen's Manor. If anything were to happen, her people would notify her.
Jun Huang trimmed the orchids she had purchased in her backyard. Orchids were the gentlemen among flowers, representing the best of them.
They were also fragile and required a delicate hand. Jun Huang carefully cut off the wilted leaves with a distant expression, as if nothing else in the world could draw her attention.
"Prince Nan wants to see you, gentleman Feng," Little Girl said.
Jun Huang's fingers trembled slightly, but she didn't look up from the flowers. "Tell the prince that this gentleman doesn't feel well today," she said calmly. "Tell him to please forgive me for not being able to welcome him."
Little Girl was startled. "You're not going to see him?"
Jun Huang looked up at her with a frown, her eyes as dark as bottomless pits. Little Girl fell silent when she saw her reaction.
Little Girl walked away and went back to the front gate. She told Nan Xun what Jun Huang had said. Nan Xun's eyebrows drew closely together. Why is Jun Huang being so cold towards me? Is it only because of my careless words that day?
His hands clenched into tight fists and his eyes narrowed. He knew how stubborn Jun Huang was. If he barged in without permission, the distance between them would only widen further.
Nan Xun stopped visiting Jun Huang. On one hand, he was worried that Jun Huang was still mad at him. On the other hand, the emperor had been requesting a meeting with him the past couple of days, asking if the border station was safe and well taken care of. Early in the morning, the emperor would ask him to come and only let him leave at noon.
After a few days, he ran into a man sent by Jun Huang when he returned to his manor. He was still wearing his court attire. "Has something happened?"
"This subordinate does not know," the man said. "But the gentleman ordered me to invite Your Highness back to his place."
Nan Xun thought for a moment. He told the man to give him some time before he went to change his clothes. He rushed back to the front door and left for Jun Huang's house.
At the front gate, he ran into Qi Yun. He was surprised and even more worried. Has Jun Huang gotten into trouble? He quickened his pace and entered. Jun Huang was sitting in the garden appreciating flowers without even a wrinkle on her clothes.
He went up to her in big strides and checked Jun Huang over for injury. He only started breathing calmly again when he saw that she was not hurt. "Why did you ask for us to come on such short notice?"