Chapter 168: Angst
Rong’er spoke in an anguished tone with her eyes brimming with tears, which won her the pity of the onlookers. The diners were mostly men trained in martial arts, who were protective of women. They took her side without knowing what the situation was.
“If there’s no room at the table for the lady,” said a tall man who seemed well-trained, “You can come sit at my side.” His voice was hoarse. The floor seemed to vibrate along with his voice.
Jun Huang looked up at the man, then at Rong’er. “Why doesn’t Rong’er take the offer?” she said with a smile. “Can it be that you can’t stomach eating at that man’s side?”
It was against Jun Huang’s nature to be catty, but Rong’er had shown her no respect. She was pleased that Nan Xun had turned Rong’er down without hesitation. Jun Huang was unwilling to let Rong’er share their table either.
Rong’er’s face paled and she threw Jun Huang a glare. As a member of a prestigious sect, she did know something about keeping up a front. She sucked in a breath through clenched teeth and stared at Nan Xun. “Is the gentleman truly going to push me away?”
“You can’t be serious,” said Nan Xun. “This gentleman has never been close to you. What do you mean by pushing you away?”
Nan Xun might be quiet and stoic normally, but it didn’t mean that he was incapable of shooting someone down. Occasionally he was even able to render others speechless.
The clerk standing behind Rong’er couldn’t help but chuckle. In the noisy dining hall, his laugh should have been drowned out by the background noises, but Rong’er heard him. She shot a glare at the clerk. The clerk awkwardly smiled at her. “Where is the lady going to sit?”
Rong’er turned to Nan Xun. His avoidance was a clear indication that he didn’t want to share the meal with her. No matter how upset Rong’er was, there was nothing else she could say. She pointed at a table next to her.
The dishes were served. Rong’er sat down and found her eyes drawn to Nan Xun again. Nan Xun was oblivious to her gaze. He turned to Jun Huang and exchanged a smile with her as they chatted. Their closeness filled Rong’er’s heart with jealousy.
Jun Huang ate quietly. A grain of rice found its way to the corner of her mouth. Nan Xun muttered something to Jun Huang and wiped it away with a handkerchief. Jun Huang blushed.
Her delicate features looked even more captivating with her cheeks red.
Nan Xun stared dumbly at her with a smile, his eyes as tender as a gentle stream. Jun Huang looked away shyly.
Rong’er witnessed everything. She had been showered with affection and praises throughout her life. How could she take seeing the man she loved acting so intimate with another man? The emotions in Nan Xun’s eyes were painful for her to see. She couldn’t help thinking back to how cold Nan Xun had been when he saw her.
Rong’er couldn’t take it anymore. She shot to her feet, knocking into the table and causing the congee to spill from the ceramic bowl. Her chopsticks fell to the floor. People in the dining hall turned to her, wondering what had happened.
“The gentleman sure doesn’t seem like a man,” Rong’er said, her finger pointing at Jun Huang. It didn’t take a genius to see who she was talking about.
Jun Huang looked at Rong’er. What was this woman on again? “What do you mean?”
“A few days ago, we knocked into each other on the street. I, a woman, was able to stay on my feet, while you, a man, fell to the ground. Many people could serve as my witness.” Rong’er had forgotten what manners even meant. The only thought in her mind was how she could insult Jun Huang for occupying Nan Xun. Her words were harsh and difficult to take. “And at the tournament you were hurt by a woman! How can a man be so weak? Can it be that you’re afflicted with diseases one must not mention in polite company?”
Jun Huang narrowed her eyes and smiled. “You’re being unreasonable again. If this gentleman is suffering from such…diseases, why would I tell you I’m sick?”
“You’re a shameless and pretentious man! Useless! Why must you drag people around you down?!”
“You’ve crossed a line.” Nan Xun’s head snapped up. He leveled Rong’er with a terrifyingly cold gaze that belonged to a predator.
Startled, Rong’er staggered back, her eyes becoming misty. She was on the brink of crying, but she didn’t let the tears fall. She would not let Jun Huang think she had won. She would not let Jun Huang get what she wanted.
She put aside her feelings and stared Jun Huang down. Her chest was filled with anger when she saw how unaffected Jun Huang was. Throwing caution out of the window, she said to Nan Xun, “Don’t you see that this man desires you? He’s into men! He’s disgusting! Don’t you see that?! You may not know what he is thinking, but Rong’er does. Someone like him should be banished to hell and forbidden from reincarnating! He is dispicable and he has been pretending to be weak to draw your attention! Are you really going to risk your reputation for him?”
Jun Huang got to her feet and walked away. Nan Xun was going to give chase, but Rong’er blocked him.
He stared her down. Rong’er grabbed his arm with bloodshot eyes.
“The gentleman should show kindness to those who deserve it. Someone like him can only be your burden. You’re looking for your family, and yet he keeps getting sick. Even if he hasn’t been faking it, the delay he’s caused you is significant. When are you going to find your family at this rate?” Rong’er was trying to put all the blame on Jun Huang, but on the surface she pretended to be arguing with Nan Xun for his own good.
“I’ve refrained from getting into a fight with you because you’re a woman, but you should know not to stir up troubles again and again,” Nan Xun snapped. To hell with chivalry. He needed to go find Jun Huang as soon as possible. “Don’t try me. I won’t go easy on you.”
Rong’er knew Nan Xun was smitten with Jun Huang, but she didn’t know to what degree. Ignoring the odd looks others had been giving her, she yelled, “Has the gentleman truly lost your sanity for that man?!”
Nan Xun’s gaze was like a physical force, causing Rong’er to take a few steps back in fright. Without a word, Nan Xun pushed past her and went upstairs.
Rong’er looked at him dumbly. Her tears fell like a pearl necklace that had been cut.
She clenched her teeth and tightened her fists. She wasn’t going to let that poor excuse of a man win! She would break Feng Baiyu at the tournament tomorrow!
Nan Xun rushed to their room. He was worried that Jun Huang had been hurt by Rong’er’s words. When he got to the door, a clerk was coming this way with a jug of wine. Nan Xun frowned.
The clerk smiled awkwardly when he saw Nan Xun staring at the jug. “Gentleman Feng was in a bad mood. He insisted for me to bring him some wine. This servant knew that he shouldn’t be drinking alcohol, but he didn’t listen. This servant had no choice but to fetch the wine. Perhaps the gentleman should try to convince gentleman Feng?”
Nan Xun knew that a proud woman like Jun Huang could not bear to be considered useless. He took the jug from the clerk and said, “I’ll bring this in. You can go.”
The clerk sighed in relief and hurried away. He didn’t want to be there when Nan Xun and Jun Huang got into an argument.
Nan Xun entered the room. Jun Huang looked into the distance with unfocused eyes. She looked as if she was trapped in her own nightmares, unable to escape.
Nan Xun knew Jun Huang was prone to overthinking an issue. She was used to analyzing every word out of people’s mouth. Even a careless remark could cause her to agonize for a long time, trying to figure out what the subtext was.
Many things had happened these couple of days. Jun Huang couldn’t stop herself from thinking. She might be a good strategist, but her insistent brain would never let her body rest. She would always be ill and weak.
Rong’er’s words served as a reminder to Jun Huang. Even Jun Huang couldn’t help falling into a slump. She had no one else to blame for not being able to find Jun Hao.
Nan Xun let out a silent sigh. He walked to the table and poured each of them a cup of wine. “If you’re feeling down,” he said gently, “You can have a cup.”
Jun Huang turned to him with questioning eyes. She blinked away the bleariness and took a cup. Nan Xun stopped her before she could finish it in one go.
She tilted her head in question. Nan Xun sighed again. “It’s bad for your health to drink so quickly.”
Jun Huang didn’t respond. She sat down across from Nan Xun and put the cup back onto the table, her expression troubled. After a moment of silence, Nan Xun said, “What are you thinking about? Why don’t you tell me? I may be able to share your burden.”
Jun Huang shook her head with a tired smile. With a hand supporting her head, her eyes settled on Nan Xun. A hint of red induced by the alcohol spread through her face. “I know there’s some truth to Rong’er’s words,” she muttered. “Even if we put aside what has happened before and consider only this trip to Yun Town, we could have reached the town two days earlier if I hadn’t gotten hurt. Then maybe we would have found Jun Hao instead of missing him.”
Her eyes shone with tears and her nose wrinkled. It looked like she was going to cry. Nan Xun’s heart clenched. He wanted nothing more than to pull her into his arms and comfort her. He knew, however, that he shouldn’t.
“It’s not your fault,” Nan Xun said with difficulty. “Even if you hadn’t gotten hurt, we might not have found them. None of this is your fault.”
Jun Huang shook her head. “If not for me, Western Que would not have been destroyed. Royal Father and Mother would not have died. My brother would not have disappeared. In the end, it’s all because of me.”
Tears dropped from her eyes as she blinked. Nan Xun could almost feel the heat burning in his chest. A stab of sorrow spread through his heart.
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