Chapter 197: Alone amidst a Crowd
Jun Huang watched as the matchmaker helped Wan’er cross the brazier placed at the door. After going through several more rituals, Wan’er entered the main hall. Inside, Zhang Yuan’s family members sat on the main seats. The ceremony ended after she and Zhang Yuan bowed to the god, their family, and each other.
During the banquet, Zhang Yuan stood proudly among the crowd. He had learned to mingle with other people. He was no longer the lost scholar whose talent went unnoticed.
Jun Huang should be happy for him, but she couldn’t manage a smile no matter how hard she tried.
Nan Xun knew that the wedding must have brought up memories she didn’t want to be remind of. Zhang Yuan had married the woman of his dream and earned his fame and glory, while Jun Huang was all alone, unable to find her brother. The difference between them was as great as the distance between heaven and hell.
Nan Xun didn’t like seeing her wallow. He knew that Jun Huang would only feel worse until she left this place. He knelt down before Jun Huang and muttered, “Weddings are always the same. By the look of the number of people in this place, it must be quiet outside. We should leave if you don’t feel like staying.”
Jun Huang threw a glance at Zhang Yuan before giving Nan Xun a nod. She didn’t pay her surrounding any attention as Nan Xun took her outside. She therefore didn’t notice that Qi Yun had been looking for her.
Qi Chen had seen her leave, which troubled him for reasons unclear to himself. It must have been the guilt, he thought. Jun Huang was hurt because of him.
He had always thought that he trusted Jun Huang, and yet he had believed Wei Lanying’s and Xiaoyun’s accusations. It weighed on his heart. He left as soon as Wan’er was led to the newlywed room.
Nan Xun took Jun Huang to the temple outside the city. Most of the young men in the city were in Zhang Yuan’s manor. As a result, the temple was quiet and free of any activities. The only sound they could hear was the birds’ pleasant chirps.
Jun Huang’s heart settled. The serene atmosphere put her at ease.
The peach blossoms had wilted. Nan Xun pushed Jun Huang into the bamboo forest. The rustle of the bamboo leaves sounded like rain, but softer, lighter. The melancholy song evoked a yearning for peace.
That wasn’t how Jun Huang perceived it. She closed her eyes and listened to the gust of wind underlying the gentle rustle. What surfaced her mind were endless killings and deaths, after which came the prosperity everyone hoped for.
“How do you feel seeing Princess Wan’er and the scholar get married?” Jun Huang asked, breaking the silence. She wasn’t really trying to get an answer. She just didn’t know what else to say.
She regretted the question as soon as it left her mouth. She sighed inwardly and added, “Don’t think too much of it. I’m just reminded of Shangguan Yue. She is deeply in love with you, but unfortunately you don’t reciprocate her feelings. Now, after seeing this extravagant wedding, have you changed your mind at all?”
Nan Xun pretended to give it some thoughts, but the answer was already clear to him. “No, I haven’t. Wan’er’s wedding has nothing to do with me, neither does Shangguan Yue. I’ve said no to the emperor. That’s the end of it. I have no feelings for Miss Shangguan. I can’t possibly get married just for the sake of it, can I? Otherwise I could just pick a random woman and ask the emperor to arrange the marriage. I wouldn’t have to put the emperor in this dilemma.”
“Besides, it’s taken a lot for me to turn down the marriage. I don’t want the problem to arise again. Fortunately I have you to deter unwanted attention now. People will talk about us as a match made in heaven.”
He grinned, softening the hard lines of his face and driving away the coldness that was usually around him.
Jun Huang turned to look at him. The sun shone through the bamboo leaves, illuminating his face. She couldn’t describe how mesmerizing he was to her at this moment. She turned away with her heart pounding and forced herself to forget about her feelings.
Jun Huang lowered her head and fell silent. Her dark hair obscured part of her face, but that didn’t stop Nan Xun from wanting her. He wanted to pull her into his arms and gave her everything good in the world. He wanted to lodge himself in Jun Huang’s heart and became irreplaceable to her.
Even if Jun Huang would be confined to a wheelchair her whole life, he would be willing to push her around until death tore them apart.
Sometimes, he wondered if he would still fall for Jun Huang if she had no talent nor intelligence. Would he be in love with her if she was just like any regular person? He didn’t know the answer, and he didn’t want to look for an answer. The Jun Huang he knew was more observant than many people, and she wished for a prosperous world. That was the end of it.
Silence stretched. Nan Xun was suddenly reminded of something. He tried to find a less direct way to ask the question. “Have you seen anyone from the House of Heavenly Fiends lately? Have they found your brother?”
Jun Huang didn’t expect Nan Xun to bring this up. After some hesitation, she sighed and said, “I don’t plan to let them keep looking for my brother.”
“Why?” Nan Xun frowned. He knew Jun Huang had talked to someone from the House of Heavenly Fiends. He had talked to one of the members to ask if they had found anything, and the person told him that Jun Huang had canceled the mission. He didn’t understand why she would do so. What concerned him more was that Jun Huang didn’t tell him about it.
He thought that Jun Huang would like to find Jun Hao as quickly as possible. After the time and efforts she had spent on her search, it didn’t make sense for her to give up now. With the help of an entire organization, she stood a better chance at finding Jun Hao.
“I know that they are safe,” said Jun Huang. “There’s no reason for me to keep looking for them.”
“You should make sure yourself, or you won’t be able to rest easy. I know you’re still worried about them. Why don’t you seek them out? It won’t hurt.”
Nan Xun didn’t understand why she would make such a decision. He knew from the way Jun Huang behaved at the wedding banquet that she was still worried. She was thinking of Jun Hao always, and yet she was unwilling to keep looking for him. Instead, she chose to push aside her yearning and let the uncertainty gnaw at her.
Jun Huang was troubled enough as it was. Nan Xun’s words jumbled up her thoughts even more. This was her decision to make. She looked up at him with hard eyes and said in a hostile tone, “I know what I’m doing. Your Highness doesn’t have to get involved. Thank you for helping this gentleman, Your Highness, but please give me the room to make my own decisions. I’ve made up my mind regarding this matter. There’s nothing Your Highness can say to change my mind. You’re better off thinking about how you should achieve your own goals. There’s no need for Your Highness to worry about me.”
“You - ”
“That’s what you and I are, Your Highness. This line cannot be crossed. This gentleman doesn’t mean you any harm, but your intervention is a burden for me. I hope you’ll forgive me for being blunt.”
Her words hit Nan Xun like a dagger driving into his heart. He looked at the way her face went pale in anger. Her eyes were so distant it was as if she was looking at a stranger. Was everything they had been through real, or were they a dream? The paths they walked on crossed and separated.
Nan Xun lowered his head and let out a bitter laugh, a hurt look flashed through his eyes. Jun Huang felt a lump forming in her throat. She only realized then how hurtful her words were. She reached out for his hand.
The moment her fingers touched his sleeve, Nan Xun took a step back and looked at Jun Huang.
Jun Huang opened her mouth to explain, but before she could say anything, Nan Xun said with a rueful smile, “I didn’t know I’ve caused you so much trouble. I you hadn’t told me, I’d still be trapped in my delusions. I apologize for crossing the line.”
He turned around and walked away. His heart convulsed painfully. He put his hand over his chest to steady himself. The smile on his face grew stilted and pained.
“I - ” Jun Huang croaked. Hurting Nan Xun was painful for her as well. She could tell that Nan Xun was truly upset with her this time. She would like to catch up with him, but how could she when she was dependent on this wheelchair? He disappeared from her view in no time.
Nan Xun realized that Jun Huang hadn’t been following him, which made him think that Jun Huang had been telling the truth. She treated him as a mere ally. The flare of hope in his heart died down.
Jun Huang started panicking once Nan Xun had disappeared. She tried to wheeled herself forward, but she was too slow. Sweats dropped down from her face. Her breathing quickened. Why couldn’t she stand and walk on her own when it mattered?
She tried. She didn’t care if her body would be able to support her own weight. She propped herself up and took a step forward. Sharp pain shot through her legs. The cold chill had seeped into her bones, making her muscles weak and sore.
But she couldn’t not try. She had a feeling that she and Nan Xun would become strangers if they didn’t resolve this misunderstanding she caused. She had lost all sense and reason. Calm was the last word one would use to describe how she was now.
She tried to move faster. The moment she took another step, however, her legs wobbled and her knee slammed into the bluestone step. The pain almost caused her to lose consciousness.
Her vision was blurred by her tears. She tightened her jaw and buried her nails into her palms, trying to distract herself from the pain, but it didn’t help.
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