Chapter 188: Inappropriate Feelings
Jun Huang was a little surprised that Qi Chen actually listened to what she said. And she had only suggested him to give up one third of his business, but Qi Chen planned to let go of half of it. That was beyond her expectation.
She curved her lips into a smile. “This gentleman admires Your Highness for being able to look at the big picture.”
“Brother Feng is too kind. I still need you to help me come up with a good explanation.”
Jun Huang didn’t immediately respond. “The emperor is worried that the treasury will be depleted. Illegal salt vendors sell salt at a much lower price than official salt vendors do. That’s why the general public prefer illegal salt over official one. There is a thin line dividing the two types of vendors, however. If this gentleman remembers right, illegal vendors are mainly based in the salt lake area in Yunzhou. Years ago their actions were reported to the emperor, but the emperor didn’t pay too much attention to it. Why doesn’t Your Highness report the issue again?”
“Let the emperor know what’s happening and where the vendors got their salt from. Since illegal salt vending cannot be eliminated, it’s better to turn these illegal vendors into official vendors. If the price official vendors sell at cannot be lowered to compete with illegal vendors, the imperial court should acknowledge the existence of private vendors and ask them to turn over part of their revenue.”
“Does brother Feng suggest that vendors should pay taxes like other professions?” asked Qi Chen.
Jun Huang nodded. Qi Chen thought for a moment and shook his head. “Those private vendors have only their profits in mind. Most of them won’t agree to pay taxes.”
Jun Huang chuckled behind her teacup and took a sip. “Don’t forget that Northern Qi belongs to the emperor. If the emperor is pleased, he can let those vendors have their business. If he’s displeased, he can force them out of their business. Does Your Highness think that the emperor doesn’t know what’s happening? He simply decided to let Your Highness take full charge of the issue. What he wants is for you to come up with a well-rounded solution.”
Qi Chen fell quiet. Jun Huang’s analysis made sense. The emperor could not be predicted. Arguing against Jun Huang had only made him seem clueless. He shut his mouth.
“I’m simply speaking my mind. If Your Highness does not agree, feel free to ignore me. I’ve made my case.”
Jun Huang went back to savoring her tea. She didn’t want to waste more time trying to convince Qi Chen. Her expression had made her position clear.
Qi Chen let out a sigh after a moment of silence and nodded. “I know what brother Feng is thinking. I was wrong. I apologize for making brother Feng upset. I hope you won’t hold it against me.”
Jun Huang scoffed inwardly and looked outside the window with a smile. She got to her feet. “This gentleman has said what I wanted to say,” she said as she fixed her broad sleeves. “What Your Highness is going to do is up to you. If there’s nothing else, I’ll take my leave.”
“I’ll walk you out.” Qi Chen stood up and followed Jun Huang out.
Nan Guyue was waiting right at the door. Jun Huang turned to her curiously, but she didn’t say anything.
Nan Guyue walked up to them. “I’ll like to have a word with gentleman Feng, Your Highness. There are some questions I don’t know the answers for. Someone as knowledgeable as gentleman Feng will be able to enlighten me. May I?”
Qi Chen nodded without thinking and turned to Jun Huang, asking for her opinions. Jun Huang cupped her hands with a smile without missing a beat and said, “It’s my honor.”
Qi Chen left to take care of some business. Jun Huang and Nan Guyue made their way to the pavilion. Nan Guyue asked the servant to leave them alone.
She stared at Jun Huang without a word. Jun Huang frowned and gave it a moment. “What does the princess want to ask about?”
“Do you harbor inappropriate feelings for the prince, Feng Baiyu?” Nan Guyue demanded.
Jun Huang’s eyebrows jumped up. She would never! “What is the princess saying? What inappropriate feelings can this gentleman have for the prince?”
“Have you ever had lewd fantasies about the prince?”
Jun Huang schooled her expression into one of indifference and said in a steady tone, “Why would the princess think so? Everything this gentleman does is out of my loyalty to the prince. I’ve never thought about doing anything inappropriate. Why would you suspect me? It boggles my mind that you would think of me this way.”
Nan Guyue knew that Jun Huang was the strategist Qi Chen favored and trusted the most. She must not offend Jun Huang. If Jun Huang talked to Qi Chen behind her back, Qi Chen would surely reprimand her, and even stop treating her favorably. She tightened her jaw and stared at Jun Huang. Jun Huang held her ground, unfazed by her fierce stare.
Nan Guyue couldn’t see any guilt on Jun Huang’s face. She relaxed a little. “If so, you should keep your distance with the prince. If I notice you doing anything out of line, I will make you pay.‘
Jun Huang didn’t consider Nan Guyue her enemy. There was no need for them to clash. She nodded.
Qi Chen had finished dealing with whatever business he was dealing with. He walked up to them with a smile, assuming that Jun Huang and Nan Guyue was having a pleasant conversation. Noticing their expressions, he frowned. “What’s wrong?‘
Nan Guyue stilled. Jun Huang calmly put on a smile and said, “Nothing. We simply had a disagreement in our academic discussion and neither was willing to back down. This gentleman shouldn’t have argued with the princess when she is pregnant. I’ve forgotten myself in our debate. I hope Your Highness will forgive me.”
Amused, Qi Chen turned to Nan Guyue with a smile. Nan Guyue returned his smile and looked toward Jun Huang. She didn’t expect Jun Huang to cover up for her. She had been too rude. She would like to explain herself, but she couldn’t with Qi Chen here. Instead, she nodded in support of Jun Huang’s explanation.
Qi Chen laughed brightly. “It’s a shame that I was away. I would love to see how you two argue. Have you reached an agreement? Who won?”
“The princess, of course,” Jun Huang said with her eyes lowered. “Women like the princess is rare. She is open-minded and more clever than this gentleman is. Your Highness is more fortunate than others to have married someone like her.”
She was talking Nan Guyue up, but her words didn’t sound disingenuous at all. Nan Guyue and Qi Chen were both surprised.
Qi Chen broke into laughter and patted Nan Guyue’s hand. “Brother Feng rarely compliments anyone, and he always means his compliments.”
Nan Guyue looked up at Jun Huang. Jun Huang’s expression was calm and her eyes were clear. It seemed as if she wasn’t the one who had made up such pretty lies. She stood alone in this world, but she didn’t belong here. Her ethereal grace was a sight to behold.
Qi Chen didn’t smile often. Even when he did, his smile was usually faint. He had come to smile more until his feud with the third prince started. Gradually, the frequency of his good mood dwindled. Most of the time he looked so angry it was as if he was looking for a human punching bag for him to lose his temper at. It had been a while since Nan Guyue saw such a carefree expression on Qi Chen’s face. And it was all because of Jun Huang. Nan Guyue couldn’t help but feel jealous.
She knew Jun Huang didn’t desired Qi Chen after their conversation. Based on the rumors, Nan Xun was most likely the one Jun Huang truly loved. How Qi Chen felt, though, Nan Guyue couldn’t be sure of.
That was the thorn behind her back. She didn’t know if Qi Chen wanted Jun Huang romantically. She wondered if Qi Chen was the one who gave Jun Huang the aphrodisiac.
“What’s wrong?” Qi Chen approached Nan Guyue and asked, worrying over her distracted look. “Are you feeling unwell?”
Nan Guyue focused her mind and turned to Qi Chen with a forced smile. “It’s nothing. Our child has been making troubles in my belly. It’s been difficult for me to sleep. Even the medicine the doctor prescribed me doesn’t help. The medicine is so bitter, and yet so useless. I might as well stop taking it.”
“What are you talking about?” Qi Chen said harshly, upset by her response. “Of course the medicine works. You should take your health seriously.”
Nan Guyue was simply complaining. She didn’t expect Qi Chen to react so strongly. She didn’t know if she should be happy or sad.
Qi Chen cared about the child she bore, but that care was aimed solely at the child, not the mother. It was possible that Qi Chen never felt anything for her at all.
She let out a quiet laugh and sighed. “I didn’t mean anything by it. I apologize for upsetting Your Highness.”
“It’s fine.” Qi Chen’s expression softened.
Jun Huang looked at them calmly. She took her leave after a while.
Meanwhile, Wei Lanying had witnessed everything. Her smile grew vicious and her eyes were cold. Oh, how she wanted to beat Nan Guyue up! Only then would she be able to quell this anger in her heart.
She forced herself to calm down. Her nails bit into her palms as she tightened her fists, leaving bloody crescents on her skin. The pain didn’t register in her mind. Her venomous gaze flicked between Nan Guyue and Jun Huang.
She let out a long breath when Jun Huang walked away. Her body trembled uncontrollably. Her vicious gaze was threatening against the backdrop of her pale face.
Her maid pushed aside her fear and took a deep breath. “Lady Wei, the two of them must have said something worthy of our notice while the prince was away. They seemed to be more friendly with each other than they should be.”
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