Chapter 229: Forced Smile
Nan Xun nodded after some hesitation. Jun Huang wouldn’t be happy if he forced her to stay. He had wanted to let her take a good rest, but that wasn’t on the table now.
He sighed. Jun Huang gave him a smile. “Don’t worry about my health. I’m better now. I want only to destroy Eastern Wu and take Jun Hao back. Even though our time together will be a short one, I won’t let him live a life with no home to return to. I’ll stay with him.”
“Don’t say that.” He took her hands in his, his tone earnest. “The House of Heavenly Fiends is looking for a cure. Maybe they’ll find one and save you.”
Jun Huang laughed bitterly. They both knew the chance for them to find a cure was slim. Even if they did, there was no telling if her condition would still be treatable then.
He felt a pang in his heart seeing her resigned look. He took a deep breath and pulled her into his arms, consequences be damned. “No matter what your future entails, don’t lose hope. It’s good that you’re now willing to think about a shared future with Jun Hao. Stop worrying about other issues. Once you’re back to the imperial city, do whatever you need to do. I’ll always stand by you.”
She nodded slightly against his chest. “Thank you.”
“There’s no need for formality between us,” he insisted. He let go of her for fear of offending her and cleared his throat. “We’ll return after having breakfast. It won’t take long.”
Jun Huang didn’t argue. She was a little hungry. She nodded and walked downstairs with him.
During the meal, Nan Xun was as attentive to her as he’d always been. He knew her preferences. He always prioritized getting food on her plate, and left little time for himself to eat.
Jun Huang glanced at him every now and then. She lowered her eyes and thought about the past couple of days. She had felt at peace and content.
Once they returned to the imperial city, Nan Xun had his guards take Jun Huang back to his manor straightaway. The travel was taxing. Even a general like him felt tired, let alone Jun Huang, who had been plagued with illnesses. She obliged reluctantly.
He had to go to the palace to take care of some business. He promised to take Ji Bo back with him afterwards. Jun Huang acquiesced and let the coach take her away. Exhaustion set in once she reached the manor. She fell asleep sitting on the empress chair.
When Nan Xun took Ji Bo back to the manor, Jun Huang was nowhere to be seen. When asked, a servant told Nan Xun that she had been in her room the whole day. He left Ji Bo in the garden with some tea before making his way to her room.
The sun had just set. The lamps in the manor weren’t lit yet. It was a little dark, but years of training had given him a keen eyesight. He saw her on the empress chair as soon as he entered the building. He quietly approached her and looked down at her face.
Her breathing was shallow. Her moonlit face was softer than usual. Her eyelashes fluttered slightly in the wind. Her broad sleeves hung loosely over her arms and dropped to the floor. She looked unguarded.
He watched her quietly. He could never get enough of her. She was so close to him. He could touch her if he reached out. Once he took her into his arms, he could just refuse to let go.
But then she would grow to resent him. He couldn’t bear seeing the light in her eyes dim. He could wait. He’d wait until she accepted him, until she let go of her burden. No matter how long and arduous this path would be, he was willing to brave through the challenges.
While he got lost staring at her, she suddenly opened her eyes. Her eyes were as bright as the moon. A layer of ice spread through them before her gaze settled on Nan Xun. Her expression softened.
She watched him quietly. The moon cast a silver glow on his face, hardening the line of his cheekbones and the sharpening the glint in his eyes. She smiled at him openly.
“You’re awake.” He was startled when she woke up, worried that his staring would offend her. He relaxed when he saw the gentle smile on her face. She wasn’t mad at him for that.
She covered up her eyes. Her temples were throbbing. The pain faded after a while. She dropped her hand and nodded at him with a smile. “Is Mister Ji Bo here?”
Nan Xun nodded, pointing at the outside. “He’s in the garden.”
“Why didn’t you wake me up?” She jumped off the chair and leaned outside the window. She could see Ji Bo’s profile in a distance. She sighed in relief. Good thing he was still here.
When she and Nan Xun reached the garden, Ji Bo was drinking tea with falling flowers as his companion. They walked towards him side by side. The fallen petals added a sense of ethereal beauty to them. They looked like a match made in heaven - a couple that should exist only in paintings.
Jun Huang gave Ji Bo a smile and awkwardly said, “I fell asleep earlier. Sorry for making the gentleman wait.”
Ji Bo waved a hand casually. He didn’t care about formalities. He complimented the view in the garden at night. Jun Huang and Nan Xun shared a smile and sat down, listening to him talk. They poured some tea for themselves and didn’t interrupt him.
They exchanged some small talk. Jun Huang tried to find the right words to express her thoughts. Ji Bo and Nan Xun waited patiently. After a good moment, she looked up at Ji Bo and said, “I’ll like to accelerate our plan. What do you say?”
Ji Bo glanced at Nan Xun, who turned to Jun Huang without a word. That was enough indication that Nan Xun knew about her plan already. He thought for a moment. “What changed?”
Jun Huang shook her head and said honestly, “I found my brother. He and his guard are in Eastern Wu. Even though they are living under disguise, it’s dangerous for them. I heard today that they were investigating Eastern Wu discreetly, most likely to create an opportunity for me. I should feel happy about it, but I’m not. Eastern Wu will devour them alive. If they are exposed, they will die. How can I let their blood pave my path to revenge? I came to the conclusion that I must take action as soon as I can. Once Eastern Wu’s destroyed, I’ll finally reunite with my brother.”
Her tone was genuine, leaving him no room to argue. He knew how her health was. It was difficult enough for her to think about what would come after the revenge. Even so, they had to be cautious. Instead of giving her an answer, he asked what her plan was.
Jun Huang told him. He knew she had made up her mind, and her plan was solid. He nodded in agreement. “We’ll do as you’ve planned.” He added as a reminder, “But remember, don’t be hasty. You’ve waited this long, you can afford to be a little patient. Alright?”
She lowered her eyes. The lamplight cast shadows under her eyelashes, like two butterflies resting on her cheeks, obscuring the brilliance of her eyes.
Nan Xun knew there was a block in her mind that she could never overcome. She was usually more level-headed than anyone, but not now. He echoed Ji Bo’s words, “The gentleman is right. You mustn’t be reckless. It’s exactly because this is the critical juncture that you should be patient.”
She had been suppressing her frustration. His words were ones of a man watching someone else’s home burn down. She scoffed and glared at him. “Your Highness doesn’t understand my pain from your vantage point. You can offer me the advice, but do you know how difficult it is for me? What you consider as comforting words are merely platitudes. Ha, of course Your Highness doesn’t understand.”
Her harsh words hit him hard. He knew she had simply been keeping too much stress within herself, but he was of flesh and blood. He couldn’t help feeling hurt. “Is this how you think of me? I know you’re upset, but it’s not exactly easy for us either. You have to be calm at time like this...”
“Your Highness is always calm and collected. This is my personal affair. If you don’t like how I do things, I can leave and disappear from your life.” She turned to Ji Bo. “This gentleman knows I’m not smart enough. That was why I invited you to assist me. If you disapprove of what I said as well, you may go and leave me alone.”
She wasn’t listening, not really. Her frigid words were as cutting as blades made of ice. Even Ji Bo became one of her targets.
Silence fell. Jun Huang turned around and took a deep breath to calm herself. She knew she was overreacting. She knew Nan Xun and Ji Bo were only trying to protect her. But she couldn’t help it. Whenever she thought about the possibility that Jun Hao would fall into Eastern Wu’s hand, she could think of nothing but going to Jun Hao’s side as quickly as possible.
She turned to them with difficulty and whispered, “This gentleman has crossed a line. I apologize. I hope you’ll be able to forgive me.” She turned back and walked towards the pavilion.
Nan Xun and Ji Bo exchanged a look. Ji Bo shook his head at him, but Nan Xun couldn’t stop himself from worrying. He could see how forced her smile was. Her outburst made him even more concerned.
The uncertainty was torture. He decided to go check on her. He muttered an apology to Ji Bo and rushed towards the pavilion.
Ji Bo sat down on the stone stool and took out his foldable fan. He shook his head. Perhaps this was how people were when they were in love.
From a distance, Nan Xun saw Jun Huang standing at the edge of the pavilion. It sat atop a small lake in the garden, but the water was deep enough to drown a man. He thought that she was under so much pressure that she was going to jump into the lake. He flew to her side and wrapped his arms around her.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
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