Chapter 85: Impersonating the leading Courtesan
Remarks like these were common in brothels, but Jun Huang, Nan Xun, and Qi Yun rarely visited places like this. They couldn't help but frown when they heard the man's words. Jun Huang felt especially uncomfortable. The man clearly had no respect for the woman.
Nan Xun stopped her before she could intervene. He shook his head. In an anarchic place like this it was best not to be a hero. The man was all bark and no bite. There was no reason for her to worry.
In the end Jun Huang decided not to get involved. She expected the courtesan to say something in defense, but instead, she sat down next to the man who had just insulted her and picked up a wine cup. "If the gentleman will have me," she said sweetly, "This woman will serve the gentleman well."
Jun Huang couldn't believe her ears. Before she could recover from her shock, a group of women surrounded them. The women chattered and tried to stand out from their peers. No one was willing to let the others take the limelight. Jun Huang frowned and took a step back.
Nan Xun had eyes only for Jun Huang. He was worried that she might be uncomfortable. As soon as she stepped back, he blocked the women with an arm. "My brother hasn't been to a brothel before. Your over-enthusiasm has frightened him."
"Is the gentleman a frequent guest, then? If you don't have anyone special in your heart, please let this woman serve you."
"That's right! This woman can play zither and sing for you. The gentleman will not be disappointed."
"If the gentleman is willing, this woman volunteers to accompany you tonight. From the gentleman's unusual presence, it's clear you are not a superficial man. This woman knows something about poetry and music. I'll be a good conversation partner."
Every one of these women was talking at the same time, and they didn't have anything meaningful to say. Nan Xun was used to living at the border. He couldn't take this constant chatter. He felt the urge to beat these people into silence, but as a man he shouldn't do that to a woman. He didn't know what else to do.
Jun Huang and Qi Yun burst out laughing when they saw how uneasy Nan Xun was. Even the stoic Nan Xun had something he was helpless against! For a moment, they forgot where they were.
Seeing their open smile, the women changed their targets and went up to them. Jun Huang didn't like physical contact with other people. She flinched when these women grabbed onto her shoulders with soft fingers and played with her dark hair. Some even plastered themselves against Jun Huang.
"Excuse me – " Jun Huang said awkwardly. Of course, no one listened to her. These women wanted nothing more than to drag her into a private room to monopolize her time.
In her struggle, sweat started to break out on her forehead. She lifted her face a little when she was wiping her sweat away, and she happened to spot Qi Chen on the second floor. He sat there drinking wine with a white jade cup, composed and calm. A stark contrast to Jun Huang's current situation. She leaned to the side. There wasn't anyone sitting across from Qi Chen. It seemed that the person he was waiting for had not arrived yet.
She ducked her head. Qi Chen must not know about her relationship with Nan Xun and Qi Yun. She had to make sure they weren't seen by him. Qi Chen was mistrustful. He would get suspicious. She also had to find out who he was meeting today.
Now that they were surrounded by these insane women, Jun Huang could only abandon Qi Yun. He was a royal prince after all. He would be able to get rid of these women.
Jun Huang patted Nan Xun on the shoulder. He looked down and met her eyes. They exchanged a knowing look. Pointing at Qi Yun, Jun Huang said to the women, "We are only checking this place out. We don't have money on us to award you girls for your company. That gentleman, however, is an important figure in the imperial city."
With that, all the women swarmed up to Qi Yun. He shot them a betrayed look, but he had to swallow down his complaint. He knew he couldn't draw Qi Chen's attention now.
Jun Huang and Nan Xun made their way out of the group of women. They both let out a sigh of relief. Jun Huang gestured at him, indicating that they should go upstairs. Nan Xun hadn't noticed Qi Chen, so he didn't know why Jun Huang would want that. He trusted Jun Huang unconditionally, though. Without any hesitation, he shielded Jun Huang with a hand and held onto the railing with the other as they made their way up.
Once they reached the second floor, Jun Huang pointed at a room not far away from them. "Qi Chen is on this floor. Look."
Qi Chen happened to turn his head this way when Nan Xun looked over at him. In that split second, Nan Xun had no choice but to drag Jun Huang into the nearest room.
Inside was a woman dressed in an elegant outfit. She was contouring her eyebrows when they broke in. She startled and was about to call out for help. Nan Xun stopped her with a quick hit to the nape of her neck. The woman collapsed before she could get a word out.
Nan Xun caught her and put her on the bed. He then covered her with a blanket. It was the least he could do as a gentleman.
Jun Huang took her pulse and let out a sigh of relief when she ascertained that the woman was unharmed. She never wanted anyone innocent to get hurt because of her. Outside the room were a rowdy group of people. No one had heard the noises they made in the room.
Jun Huang gently tucked the woman in before opening the window on the side of the room. She could see the room Qi Chen was in from here. She beckoned Nan Xun over. "Qi Chen's there."
Nan Xun followed her line of sight and saw Qi Chen's back. There was only a page boy pouring wine for him in the room. They were puzzled when they didn't see a third person.
The place was noisy. Qi Chen played with his winecup and supported his head with a bored expression. He looked out of the room. The crowds were calling out for the leading courtesans with great enthusiasm.
Feeling antsy, he opened the door and walked to the hallway, looking down at everyone from above.
The first person he noticed was Qi Yun, who was trapped by a group of women. Qi Chen raised an eyebrow. He didn't want to get involved.
Qi Yun, however, happened to look up at that moment, and their eyes met. Under this circumstance, Qi Chen couldn't leave his brother hanging.
"Let him up," said Qi Chen. "He's with me."
Qi Chen was the crown prince. No one could say no to him. He didn't hide who he was when he came to the brothel. Over the past few days, he had never asked any courtesans to accompany him, but instead drank on his own.
Qi Chen had spoken up. The women couldn't continue to cling to Qi Yun. They reluctantly let him go. Some shoved their handkerchiefs into his arms. This was how women in brothels expressed their affection when they spotted customers they liked. They normally put their names on their handkerchiefs.
Qi Yun smoothed over his messy robe before going upstairs. He cupped his hands in greeting. "It seems that second brother comes here often. I was close to using my position in the royal family to threaten them, and yet they weren't willing to let me go. Second brother, however, was able to disperse them with a few words."
"That's not true. You are just more handsome than I am. They never had the chance to see you before. Your visit got them a little too excited." Qi Chen's tone was relaxed. He continued after a pause, "I thought you usually stay in the palace and paint. I didn't expect you to be here. Aren't you worried that Royal Father may punish you for not returning at night?"
Qi Yun scratched his head and gave him a lopsided smile. "I once came here with my friends. The courtesans weren't this passionate then. As for Royal Father… I was just wondering what I should say to him. Meeting second brother here is a pleasant surprise. Would second brother mind talking to Royal Father for me?"
Qi Chen threw him a glance, his expression unchanged. In his mind, Qi Yun was a brother who was interested only in poetry and arts. He posed no threat to Qi Chen. And Qi Yun had always been respectful to him. He had never crossed a line.
"At least take someone with you in the future," Qi Chen reprimanded him the way an older brother would. "You are a royal prince. You must protect yourself."
"I'll remember that," Qi Yun nodded and said.
Jun Huang couldn't see Qi Chen after he walked out. She was caught between a rock and a hard place. After talking to Nan Xun, she decided to leave the room and see what was going on before making any decisions. Before she could open the door, however, someone knocked.
"Are you ready, lady? It's almost time."
Jun Huang and Nan Xun looked at one another before turning to the woman lying on the bed in unison. The man outside must be talking to this unusually beautiful woman.
The man called out for the woman again. Jun Huang didn't want him to draw Qi Chen's attention. She threw caution to the wind and said in a high-pitched voice, "I'm almost ready. You can go first. I'll come out shortly."
"Alright," the man said and left. Jun Huang and Nan Xun visibly relaxed.
Jun Huang turned to the purple dress hanging on the rack. There was no time for her to second guess herself. She took the dress and was about to put it on when she noticed Nan Xun's gaze. She blushed.
"I need to change into this," she said, clearing her throat. "Give me some privacy."
Nan Xun finally recovered from the shock of hearing the voice Jun Huang had used earlier. He looked away hurriedly. Jun Huang walked behind the screen and quickly changed into the dress.
When she walked out, her hair was down, framing her clean face. The purple dress wavered slightly. Layers upon layers of silk gave her an ethereal look.
Jun Huang sat before the bronze mirror without even a glance at Nan Xun. She picked up the brow pencil the woman had dropped in her freight and cleaned it before starting to draw on her eyebrows. She applied some rouge on her cheeks and lips. On one hand it would make her look like a different person. On the other hand makeup was a necessity for performing on stage.
She checked her reflection in the mirror. Nothing seemed amiss. Nan Xun walked up to her and let out a light-hearted laugh. "It's said that the most beautiful people in the city are the leading courtesans. They are nothing but crude women covered in rouge and powder. You are the real beauty."
His praise came out of nowhere. Mortified, she coughed and used the dangling ornament on the table to set her hair up. She then took the phoenix tail zither from the desk and put on a purple face veil before sauntering outside.