He didn't voice his thoughts. Their relationship was none of his business. He was in no place to judge them.
He waved a hand dismissively when Jun Huang turned to him in question and hurried away. Jun Huang turned to Nan Xun, who put away his thoughtful look and led Jun Huang to the dining hall.
Every time a man in power fell from his grace, there would always be serious repercussions. Qi Chen had escaped, but his mother ended up suffering in his stead.
She knew things wouldn't end well for her as soon as she heard about Qi Chen's failure. As she expected, once Qi Chen got broken out of prison, the emperor banished her to the Cold Palace.
The honored consort was no empress despite her past glory. The worst the servants and maids had done to the banished empress was to ignore her. With the honored consort, though, there hostility translated into abuse.
Her life as the honored consort was polar opposite to her life in the Cold Palace. In the morning, when she called for a maid to help her change, the maid responded with nasty insults.
The consort sat on the bed silently. Only when the maid mentioned Qi Chen did she lunge at the maid. She grabbed the maid's hair and yanked like a mad woman. The maid called out for help. The other maids rushed in to stop the consort.
"Do you still think you are the honored consort? Ha, stop dreaming! In this place, even we are superior to you in status. Don't think about leaving. After what your son did, it's impossible for you to rise again."
A woman with a mean-looking face pushed the honored consort hard. The consort stumbled and fell to the floor, her forehead knocking into the table and swelling. No one cared enough to even check on her.
The consort went blue in the face and gritted her teeth. "You damn animals have gotten bold. Do you really think you're now in power? Once I get out of this place, I'll make you pay tenfold."
"Funny for the consort to say that. If you do get released one day, we'll be sure to bow down to you in apology."
The group of maids broke into laughter as they walked away.
The honored consort sat on the floor and watched them go with unfocused eyes. She felt cold when she came to her senses. She realized that she was still dressed in only a thin robe, which wasn't enough to keep her warm.
She took a deep breath and put on something warmer. Then she sat down before a bronze mirror to clean herself up. It took a moment for her to remember that the emperor would never come see her again. She sighed and put away her hairpin, staring quietly at her own reflection.
She only walked out of her room when she couldn't stand her hunger. A servant brought a small barrel into the palace.
The women of Cold Palace rushed to the servant like animals. The honored consort followed after them. She suppressed her anger when a few other women knocked into her. When she saw the food in the barrel and smelled the slight acidic smell in the air, she pushed past the women around her and threw up.
The maid glanced at her coldly and snarked, "The consort is still the delicate flower that can't survive outside a greenhouse. Where do you think you are? This is the Cold Palace, not your once residence. This is all the food you get."
The honored consort looked up at her, opening her mouth to say something, but she threw up again when she saw the other women tucking into the food like pigs.
In the end, she didn't eat anything. The servant took the barrel away.
After a while, another aggressive looking servant came. She looked at the vomit on the ground, then at the consort. She huffed and threw a towel at her. "Wipe it clean," she ordered. "If you don't, you won't be allowed to sleep."
"Who do you think you are?" the consort retorted in rage. "Even though I've been banished to this place, a lowly girl like you are in no place to order me around."
The servant slapped the consort and pulled at her hair. "Who do you think you are? We may call you the consort, but you better face the fact that you aren't one anymore. Otherwise, why would you be here? You better behave, or we'll make your life difficult."
The consort was stunned. She met the servant's taunting gaze. In the end, she took a deep breath and started cleaning her mess with gritted teeth.
She was the one who had vomited, but it didn't make cleaning any less disgusting. She wiped the floor with her eyes half-lidded.
Afterwards, her stomach contorted painfully in hunger, but she couldn't find any food.
The door of the palace opened suddenly. In walked Prince Duan at a deliberate speed. His fine garment made him stand out like a sore thumb. The consort couldn't stop her tears from falling when she saw him. She wanted to rush to him, but the mess around her made her pause. She stayed motionless as she watched Prince Duan approach her.
With the dirty towel discarded, she took a deep breath and looked at Prince Duan with a smile, her eyes turning red. "Please take me away. I can stand being here anymore."
She sobbed. Prince Duan looked at her without a word and handed her a pack of food. After a long stretch of silence, he finally said, "I know the food here may be too crude, so I had some prepared for you. It's not the finest cuisines, but it's edible. I can't stay here for too long. Please excuse me."
With that, he turned away and left, giving the consort no chance to say anything.
The consort swallowed down her cry, worried that she'd cause troubles for the man. It was difficult enough for Prince Duan to come to the Cold Palace for her.
Prince Duan didn't expect how bad the condition the consort would be in. He felt a heavy weight on his chest, but there wasn't anything he could do at the time being. He sighed and went back to his manor. As soon as he entered the building, he heard Qi Chen shouting. He frowned and walked up to his son.
"When will I be able to leave this place? I didn't want to stay here." Qi Chen's tone was anxious. He'd thought that things would get better after he moved out of the small house outside the city, but Prince Duan had banned him from leaving his manor since he moved here.
Prince Duan shot him a glare, reprimanding him for his ignorance. This was no time for Qi Chen to throw a tantrum. He was disappointed. He'd thought Qi Chen was a smart one.
Qi Chen knew he'd lost control. He took a deep breath to suppress his anger and asked after his mother.
Prince Duan told him what had happened to the consort honestly. Prince Duan gritted his teeth in anger and frustration. "If so, we should get her out as soon as we can!"
"This isn't the right time," said Prince Duan. "We must be patient. Once the time comes, we'll save your mother and take the throne."
Qi Chen scoffed. "Do you really think so, or are you just paying lip service? My mother's being bullied by lowly servants. How can you be so patient and cruel? I certainly can't do that."
Prince Duan had been in a bad enough mood. He couldn't stand having Qi Chen be a hindrance. He slapped Qi Chen.
Qi Chen had always been proud. All his life he'd been cherished and protected by people around him. Never had anyone hit him before. He shot to his feet, eyes shooting daggers at Prince Duan. Without a word, he stormed out of the manor.
Once Prince Duan had calmed down from his anger, he ordered his confidantes to keep an eye on Qi Chen and stop him from getting into trouble.
Qi Chen walked around the street like a soulless ghoul. He was born and raised in the city. Even though he'd been kept indoors for a long time, he still knew his way around. He didn't even think about the possibility that someone may notice him.
He caught a familiar voice from a distance. He turned around and saw that it was Jun Huang and Nan Xun, who were browsing jade stones at a stand. Jun Huang considered the stone in her hand closely. Every once in a while, she'd exchange a few words with Nan Xun.
They walked away from the stand, engaging in a pleasant conversation. The smile on Jun Huang's face was something Qi Chen had never seen.
Prince Duan had told him that Jun Huang was still alive. He said that she must have survived the fall. Nan Xun's guards had also said she was in a bad condition.
They didn't question the explanation. Qi Chen even felt relieved when he heard that Jun Huang was still alive, his anger long drained away.
He stared at Jun Huang, unblinking. A strange sense of loss rose from his heart.
Nan Xun felt a gaze. He turned around but didn't see anyone. He frowned.
Jun Huang stopped to look at him. "What's wrong?"
Nan Xun turned to her and didn't say anything. He didn't know if his instinct had been right. Besides, he didn't want her to worry over a potential threat he hadn't confirmed. He'd stay on guard for both of them.