Chapter 216: Fireflies in the Summer
Jun Huang’s eyes grew cold and deadly. She could barely stop herself from going after the man for insulting Western Que. Nan Xun calmly held onto her cold fingers.
“This gentleman doesn’t know what to say. Everyone knows even though Western Que has been destroyed, their jade is still widely sought after for its quality. Many people have been searching for their national treasure, but very few have gotten a look at it in person. I only took it to the market because my master is looking for something different. I’m not going to let you spread rumors about it.”
The servant holding the jade tree had a sharp tongue. He looked down on the others like he was better than all of them.
Another man said, “Who knows if the jade tree really is the national treasure of Western Que? You’ve said yourself that very few people have seen it with their own eyes. How do we know if this tree isn’t some random object you’re using to cheat us? How do we know you’re telling the truth?”
The man had voiced the doubt many people shared. The crowd went silent. Everyone turned to the servant, waiting for him to answer the question.
The servant had come prepared. He handed the jade tree to another man before taking a scroll painting out from his clothes.
The art was beautiful. Jun Huang immediately recognized the royal garden of Western Que palace. The couple in the painting looked at each other with adoring eyes, the man dressed in dragon robe and the woman wearing a phoenix cap. Next to the woman stood a pretty little girl who deserved all the praises in the world. Jun Huang remembered someone said that she must be a pupil of the Grand Supreme Elderly Lord. No other child would be born with such a good look.
The man dressed in dragon robe was holding a baby in his arms. The endearing boy swung his chubby hands around as he babbled. Between the couple stood the national treasure of Western Que. The jade tree gained a translucent quality under the sun, enabling one to look into the past and the future.
The edges of the painting were yellowed by time. And yet the people and the animals depicted were so lifelike it was difficult to look away.
A thunderstorm rose within Jun Huang’s head. Her temples throbbed painfully. The place was brightly lit, and yet her vision was going dark. Her anger translated into trembling hands and quickened breaths. Her eyes were brimming with tears.
The servant pointed at the jade tree in the painting. “See? It’s right here!”
A man jokingly said, “I find this painting more captivating than the tree itself!”
He broke into laughter. As if being infected, the crowd started to laugh as well. No one noticed the dark look on Jun Huang’s face. Nan Xun frowned. He could tell Jun Huang was struggling to control herself. He had to keep a level head at time like this. It was natural for Jun Huang to lose her calm faced with an artifact of the home she had lost. He had to find a solution.
“Listen to me, we have to stay calm,” Nan Xun tried. “We’ll find a way.”
Jun Huang scoffed. “It’s easy for you to say. You don’t understand my pain. You can’t empathize with my feelings.”
Jun Huang turned to Nan Xun with red eyes. Nan Xun’s heart clenched. He barely suppressed his urge to pull Jun Huang into his arms. He took a deep breath and said, “Don’t accuse me of lacking in empathy. You’re smart enough to know what we can and can’t do in Eastern Wu. We have to keep our identities secret. Otherwise troubles will come knocking. We’ll do our best to get your national treasure regardless of the price we’ll have to pay; I promise I won’t judge or intervene. However, we have to consider the situation we’re in.”
His words helped Jun Huang recovered her calm. She stared at him for a while before muttering a faint thanks.
“What are you trading it for?” asked a bystander.
The servant called out to get everyone’s attention and unfolded a list his master had given him. “My master said it has to be jadeware of similar value...” The servant listed out the requirements. Some had been deterred by the strict standards, but many were still interested in a trade.
Jun Huang and Nan Xun had come to Eastern Wu in a rush. They didn’t think of taking valuable items with them. She deflated. Nan Xun looked down at the ancient jade in his hand. This might do.
Before he could get close to the servant, another man offered his ware.
There was a thirty centimeters tall box in his hand. The onlookers looked at him in confusion until the man opened the box. Confusion quickly gave way to awe.
Inside was a turquoise jade scepter big enough to fit the box. Its glow outshone even the lighting in the room. One didn’t have to get close to see how valuable it was. The onlookers gasped in shock and began calculating the value of the scepter.
The servant’s eyes lit up. His prideful expression turned servile. He approached the man and said, “This is a fine piece of jadeware. If you’re interested in a trade, we’re happy to oblige. We can make the exchange now.”
The servant did everything short of shoving the jade tree into the man’s arms. The man decisively signed the contract and made the exchange.
Jun Huang and Nan Xun watched the trade play out from the fringe of the crowd. Fire burned through her heart as she witnessed the treasure of her country fall into the hand of a stranger. She kept a perfectly calm mask on her face. Only Nan Xun was able to tell how angry she was.
Once the crowd had dispersed, Jun Huang let out the breath she had been holding. She staggered back and fell onto a chair, lowering her head into her hands.
Nan Xun tightened his jaw in sympathy. He took a deep breath and knelt before Jun Huang. “Trust me,” he whispered, taking her wrist gently. “I will bring the jade tree back to you.”
Jun Huang looked up at him with misty eyes. There were undried tears on her cheeks. She quickly wiped them away and stared at Nan Xun without a word. Her silence unsettled Nan Xun..
Is she angry that I’ve promised her but still let another man take the jade tree? Nan Xun opened his mouth to explain, but Jun Huang waved a hand to stop him as she got to her feet. “You don’t have to say anything. I get it. There’s no need for you to dwell on it. I’m tired. Let’s go.”
Jun Huang made her way to the exit without looking back. Nan Xun hesitated. He wanted to find the man who had bought the jade tree, but he didn’t see him.
Nan Xun took a few steps toward Jun Huang, intending to catch up with her. She was in a bad mood. He worried that something would happen to her, leaving him a lifetime of regret.
From the corner of his eye, Nan Xun spotted the man and his servants suddenly. He was going to tell Jun Huang, but there was some distance between them. It was now or never, Nan Xun trailed after the man and followed him into the darkness.
They went into an alley, away from Water Cloud’s control. Nan Xun took a few quick steps toward the group and knocked the servants out with knifehand strikes. The man leading the servants turned around to see what had happened, but before he could get a good look at Nan Xun, he was hit in the nape of his neck and his vision went dark.
Nan Xun caught the box in his hand. Inside was the jade tree. He took a few steps away before his conscience stopped him. He put the ancient jade in the man’s clothes before rushing away.
Jun Huang’s mood hadn’t recovered even after she returned to the inn. Frustration was a heavy weight on her chest. The national treasure of Western Que had been right within her reach! But she couldn’t close the distance.
She fell into a slump of self hatred. It was her fault. Western Que’s destruction, losing Jun Hao, the national treasure ending up become a mere decor… it was all her fault.
She sat bonelessly on the chair. Her mood had hit rock bottom, but it didn’t rebound. After some time, she poured herself a cup of tea. It was bitter, but she could barely taste it.
Someone knocked on the door. She jerked up like she was woken up from a nightmare. She put away her frustration and put on a forced smile. It was Nan Xun at the door.
There was a wide smile on Nan Xun’s face. Jun Huang frowned. What was with him now? “What’s wrong?”
“I have a surprise for you. Come with me.” There was a lilt to Nan Xun’s tone. He took Jun Huang’s hand in his.
Jun Huang nodded after a long pause. “Alright.” She closed the door behind her.
They went out of town together. Jun Huang had thought the prosperous city was the most remarkable sight in the area, but here, there was a vast grassland. The night winds carrassed the grass, making a gentle rustle. A sea of stars scattered the dark blue sky with the full moon hung low at the horizon. The turquoise grass rolled and rippled, blurring the line between the earth and the heaven.
Not far from them stood a few tall trees. Their branches shook gently in the breeze of summertime. With an outer robe over her shoulders, Jun Huang didn’t feel cold. From a distance, she could see flickering fireflies dancing in the dark. It captivated her more than any colorful butterflies could.
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