Chapter 195: Chilling Coldness
Nan Xun sighed. He never expected himself to become such a different person. If his soldiers could see him now, they would think that he had lost his senses. It was said that even the most stoic man would soften when faced with the person he loved. Perhaps those ancient texts had been telling the truth.
Nan Xun chuckled, lowering his head to watch Jun Huang browsing through the different trinkets. His eyes were as soft as a gentle stream.
Once the clerk had packed up their purchase, Nan Xun reached out to take the bag from him. Jun Huang caught his hands and said, “I’ll take it. You still have to push me around.”
“Alright,” said Nan Xun. “Anything else you want to buy?”
Jun Huang shook her head and closed her eyes. Without another word, Nan Xun took Jun Huang out of the store. They weren’t planning to return just yet.
Jun Huang was surprised to see the scholar Zhang Yuan. Nan Xun shared her feelings. It was only two days away from Zhang Yuan’s wedding with Wan’er. He shouldn’t be wandering on the street.
Nan Xun looked down at Jun Huang. As he expected, her smile had dropped from her face. She stared at Zhang Yuan with cold eyes and scoffed.
She told Nan Xun to take her to Zhang Yuan. Nan Xun couldn’t say no to her. He silently said a word of prayer for Zhang Yuan and pushed Jun Huang ahead.
Zhang Yuan was overwhelmed by stress. He had to personally attend to every little detail about the wedding, but he wasn’t allowed to even see Wan’er. He brooded as he thought back to how coldly Wan’er had treated him before. It didn’t help that his family and friends had come to the imperial city with their families once they knew he was marrying the princess. The manor had practically become a zoo lately. Troubles followed him around and gave him a huge headache.
Today, he finally had the opportunity to leave the manor. He walked around the street, hoping the wedding would come sooner. He spotted Jun Huang and Nan Xun from a distance. She looked graceful even when she was confined to a wheelchair, while Nan Xun looked as cold as ever.
“It’s been a while since I last saw the gentleman,” Zhang Yuan knelt down and said, oblivious to the disapproving look on Jun Huang’s face. “I didn’t know you’re hurt. What happened?”
“It’s nothing serious. I’ll be fine after a few days.” Jun Huang looked at the pedestrians coming and going around them. “Let us go to a tea house to have a talk.”
Zhang Yuan didn't think too much of it. He nodded and reached out for the wheelchair, but Nan Xun’s cold stare made him pause. He swallowed down the gulp in his throat and trailed after them without a word.
They entered the first tea house they came upon and went into a booth on the second floor. Jun Huang stayed silent, rubbing at her teacup with a thumb. Only then did Zhang Yuan realize that Jun Huang was angry with him. He sat with his back tense. He didn’t dare to ask her what he had done wrong.
Jun Huang didn’t normally have such an intimidating air around her, but now there was no expression on her face, and she had not said a word since entering the booth. Instead, she silently stared at the tea in her cup. Tension built up in the room the longer she stayed silent.
Nan Xun could understand how Zhang Yuan felt. He was simply feeling lost because the wedding was coming. As a peasant, it was natural for him to feel untethered to reality for entering the throne room and marrying the princess.
Jun Huang, on the other hand, could not sympathize. She considered Zhang Yuan to be irresponsible for diddling about instead of making arrangements for the wedding while Wan’er was waiting in the palace for her bridegroom. She questioned herself for her decision to entrust Wan’er to Zhang Yuan.
Jun Huang looked up at Zhang Yuan and finally broke the silence. “I saw the scholar official wandering about on the street. Have you finished the preparation for the wedding? Have you figured out how you are going to lead Princess Wan’er out of the palace that day?”
“Don’t you know your responsibilities?” Jun Huang demanded in a harsh tone. “This gentleman feels sorry for Princess Wan’er. The wedding is coming in two days, and yet you are wasting your time outside. Do you not care about Princess Wan’er? This gentleman starts to wonder if you’re the right one for the princess.”
Jun Huang had not pulled her punches. Her words rendered Zhang Yuan speechless.
Zhang Yuan struggled to defend himself. Nan Xun stepped in and patted Jun Huang’s arm. “The scholar must know what he should do. I believe that he cares about Wan’er - ”
“And this is how he shows it?” Jun Huang scoffed, throwing Nan Xun a cold glance. Nan Xun shut his mouth and gave Zhang Yuan a pointed look. He was on his own now.
“If the scholar believes that you’ve done nothing wrong, feel free to ignore my words, or even pretend that you’ve never seen me today,” said Jun Huang. “But remember, Princess Wan’er is not like other women. She’s going to be your wife. She’s going to share you joy and pain until the end of life. If this is how you treat her, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”
Zhang Yuan opened his mouth to say something, but what came out was a long sigh.
“I… just can’t believe that the wedding is really happening,” said Zhang Yuan. “As the gentleman said, Princess Wan’er deserves better than having me as her husband. Besides, I think the princess… don’t really like me...”
Jun Huang frowned. “Princess Wan’er is a member of the royal family. She didn’t know anyone like you before she met you. Now that the emperor has arranged your marriage, marrying you is a fate she cannot escape. If even you are dissatisfied, who is the princess going to complain to?”
Jun Huang’s words was a wake up call. Zhang Yuan felt shaken to the core. He shot to his feet with his eyes fixed on Jun Huang and said, “I’ve been selfish and have been thinking only about myself. The gentleman has pointed me to the right direction. Please accept my sincere gratitude.”
He cupped his hands and hurried back to his manor. He would tell his friends and family to help him arrange the wedding. After marrying Princess Wan’er, he would spend his whole life loving and caring for her. He would be her strongest support.
Jun Huang put down her teacup and sat back, leaning against the wheelchair. Some of the tea had spilled onto her fingers in her anger. She wiped her hand with a handkerchief. Her expression had lost the edge. She looked completely different from when she was demanding answers from Zhang Yuan.
Nan Xun could feel her heavy mood. He sat by her side without a word.
“I’m not being overly sensitive,” Jun Huang said slowly. “A woman can only marry once in her life. If her man doesn’t pay enough attention, it can cause a lifetime of regret. Princess Wan’er may seem like she doesn't care about such things, but that can’t be true. All women care about their wedding and their marriage. They simply didn’t voice their concerns because it won’t help.”
“Regret is a terrible thing. We all fear making mistakes we cannot redeem. One day, when we are old and grey, we don’t want to think back to our past and lament what could have been.”
Jun Huang’s voice was quiet like a whisper to herself. Nan Xun felt like an accidental voyeur to her feelings. It was disquieting.
Nan Xun had never thought about how important weddings could be to a woman. He didn’t expect Jun Huang to share the concern. The realization came as a shock.
I will give her a wedding to remember, he swore to himself. I will give her everything she has ever wanted.
What matter most now was to find a way into Jun Huang’s heart and to help her recover. Then, they would build a life together.
“Come on, we should leave this place as well,” said Jun Huang. “On our way here I saw someone selling river lanterns. Let’s check that out.”
Her tone had turned impassive. No trace of sorrow could be detected in her voice. It was as if nothing had happened. Jun Huang was still her usual self.
Nan Xun pushed aside his thoughts and nodded. When they went down to pay the bill, the cashier told them that Zhang Yuan had paid already. Neither of them commented on it. They left the tea house and started walking.
They found the stand Jun Huang was talking about. She lowered her head to look at the intricately designed lanterns. The sun added a touch of warmth to her face. Nan Xun imagined her wearing a phoenix cap and a wedding gown. His heart pounded against his ribcage. He had to stop himself from confessing to Jun Huang then and there that he wanted to spend his life with her.
Nan Xun knew that this wasn’t the right time. Jun Huang was too calm and too logical. Other women he would be able to win as long as he put his mind to it, but Jun Huang was different. She had too much on her mind and none she was able to let go of. There was no room for another person, not even a man she cared about. She would not accept him even when she shared his feelings.
She cared too much about too many to give him a promise.
While Nan Xun was lost in his thoughts, Jun Huang grimaced as sweat breaking out of her forehead. The lantern in her hand dropped onto the ground.
She held tight onto her knee. The sudden pain burrowed into her bones and joints. She could not stop trembling even by clenching her teeth. Her face grew pale and her lips lost their color.
Both the stand owner and Nan Xun were startled. Nan Xun dropped down to his knee before her, his breath hitched. “What’s wrong? Are you in pain?”
“My knee starts hurting all of a sudden,” Jun Huang struggled to say. The pain made it difficult to even make a sound. The single sentence had taken all her strength to voice.
Previous Chapter Next Chapter