Nan Guyue was both envious and stunned. She ran circles around Jun Huang and muttered dejectedly, “Why are you so pretty?”
Jun Huang blinked in surprise and smiled resignedly, which was so captivating it transfixed even Nan Guyue. She shook herself awake, a little mortified, and considered Jun Huang. After a bemused pause, she motioned at a number of maids to put makeup on Jun Huang.
The maids only applied some rouge to cover her tired look. Too much cosmetics would only detract from her beauty. After some hesitation, one of them put a red dot on her forehead with an brow pencil.
Nan Guyue covered her mouth as she stared at Jun Huang, too awestruck to make a sound. Jun Huang’s eyes were gentle and her lips a vibrant red. She was beautiful enough as she was. A simple hairdo with a tasseled hairpin would suffice. The light yellow dress she wore accentuated her grace. The red mole added between her brows made her look even more stunning. Even a woman would be attracted to a goddess like her.
Jun Huang shied away from Nan Guyue’s gaze. She’d been dressed as a man for a long time. Occasionally some would praise her for being handsome, but she hadn’t been complimented for being beautiful for a while. It made her think of her days in Western Que.
“It’ll be a shame for your beauty to be hidden away. Let’s go get some fresh air.”
Nan Guyue pulled Jun Huang outside the door. Jun Huang frowned and said once the princess slowed down, “That’s too risky. I should change back into men’s clothes.”
“Why? I’m not going to drag you to the street for all to see. Don’t worry. Let’s just enter the palace and show Royal Brother how beautiful you are.”
The sedan chair was ready. Jun Huang acquiesced after seeing Nan Xun’s excited smile and followed her into the litter.
They reached the palace soon and were carried straight to the royal garden. Nan Guyue motioned at the porters to stop. She jumped off first before helping Jun Huang down.
It was the first time Jun Huang visited Southern Mu’s royal garden. It had its own unique beauty. Southern Mu’s spring lasted the whole year. There were plants available only in warm weather here despite the time of the year. She marveled at the crabapple flowers in the distance and the cherry trees on her side.
“I’m fortunate to witness scenery that can only be found in Southern Mu,” Jun Huang said with a smile.
Nan Guyue nodded and happily responded, “You’re right. Northern Qi has more varieties of flowers, but they don’t last long due to the change in seasons. Southern Mu’s weather is always mild like the spring. The flowers bloomed all years long.”
They made their way further into the garden as they talked. At the point where the garden opened up, a woman approached them and blocked their way. Jun Huang turned to Nan Guyue questioningly, whose dark look told her the woman was no friend to the princess.
Earlier, Honored Consort Li had arrived at the garden, her mood dark as she looked at the flowers she’d long gotten tired of. Her maids followed her timidly, heads lowered and mouths shut.
“Where has His Majesty been, and why hasn’t he visited me?” asked the consort, her eyes landing on the cherry blossoms.
One of the maids shook her head and admitted, “This servant doesn’t know the answer, but His Majesty hasn’t visited any other consorts either. He’s been staying in the study at night.”
Consort Li frowned, which made her look intimidating. The maid didn’t dare say anything, worried that the consort would get angry and scold her.
Instead of reprimanding her, the consort fell into deep thought. After a moment of silence, she asked, “What have you found out about my inquiry?”
“Honored Consort needs not to worry. His Majesty prepared the flowers to entertain a male guest. The man was said to be handsome, but His Majesty can’t be interested in men. Therefore - ”
A loud slap sounded through the garden. The maid dropped to her knees, covering her cheek and wincing. The other maids knelt down as well, confused by the consort’s sudden anger.
Consort Li took out an embroidered handkerchief to wipe her hand and shot the maid a frigid glare. “Watch your mouth, careless girl. Do you know what will happen to you if your word reaches the emperor’s ear?”
The maid only realized then how offensive her remark could be taken as. She broke into cold sweat and hit the ground with her head with a loud thud. “Honored Consort is right to punish this servant.”
The consort didn’t intend to hurt the maid. She gloomily looked up into the distance and spotted a woman in yellow dress. She frowned, wondering if she’d seen it wrong. She blinked and took a better look. The woman in yellow turned to Nan Guyue and chatted with the princess. They were both smiling.
“Stand up and take a look at that woman,” the consort commanded in a steely voice. The maids scrambled to their feet and looked at where the consort was pointing.
Their amazed look made Consort Li even more jealous. She took a deep breath to maintain her composure and asked through gritted teeth, “Can she be a new consort the emperor selected?”
A maid shook her head and said without hesitation, “That can’t be. His Majesty has been busy with court affairs, and we’ve never seen the woman. If someone so - ” the maid swallowed down the praise at the tip of her tongue and continued, “If she were part of the harem, we’d know.”
Consort Li thought for a moment. Her lips curved into a smile and her eyes darkened. “Then let us find out who she is,” she said, motioning at her maids to follow her.
The consort ignored the hostile look Nan Guyue cast her way and focused on Jun Huang. Nan Guyue turned to Jun Huang as well and saw the inquisitive look on her face.
Nan Guyue cursed at her bad luck for running into Consort Li, but she had to remain polite in face of her sister-in-law. It’d be inappropriate for her to ignore her. “This is Honored Consort Li, the daughter of Southern Mu’s general and Royal Brother’s spouse.”
Jun Huang bowed slightly without a word. The consort wasn’t going to let her off the hook. “Who are you? Why are you allowed to enter the palace?”
That didn’t get much of a reaction from Jun Huang, but Nan Guyue couldn’t stand it. She scoffed and said, “It’s none of your business. You’re just one of my brother’s many concubines. Do you fancy yourself the empress, who can command the harem? Besides, you’re just jealous of her good look. If you have the time to waste on us, it’d be better spent returning to your room to make yourself presentable. If Royal Brother sees how unkempt you are now, he’ll never visit you again.”
Nan Guyue was never a meek woman. Her words were sharp and they hit the consort where she was most tender. The consort’s expression darkened, but Nan Guyue didn’t seem finished.
Jun Huang stopped her from speaking up again with a hand and shook her head. She didn’t want to cause any troubles.
Nan Guyue knew when to back down. She didn’t want to get Jun Huang in trouble either. She shut her mouth and decided to let it go. However, the consort interpreted that as Jun Huang’s being afraid of her. She lifted her chin and said cattily, “Even if you’re not a resident of the palace, you should know you’re required to kneel down and bow to all consorts.”
Jun Huang frowned and narrowed her eyes at the finely-dressed woman, irritated.
Nan Guyue had decided to let things slide, but the consort only got bolder. She stepped between the two of them and looked at the consort coldly.
“You should know your manners.” Nan Guyue scowled, no longer hiding the disgust in her eyes.
The consort tightened her jaw, her face red in anger. It took some time for her to get herself under control. She put on a fake smile. “Guyue, it is only appropriate for her to kneel down before me. Besides, I’m your sister-in-law. It’ll make you look bad if you take an outsider’s side rather than mine. His Majesty will be conflicted if he knows. Don’t you agree?”
She spoke with a faint smile and a casual tone as if she wanted the best for her, but Nan Guyue knew her too well to be deceived. Besides, Jun Huang was her guest. It’d be her failure to let Jun Huang be humiliated.
Nan Guyue stared at Consort Li until the consort started getting unsettled. She scoffed and said bluntly, “Is that so? You are merely a concubine. Even if you were the empress, it’d be my choice whether to listen to you. Go ahead and tell my brother how I’ve offended you. If he thinks I’ve made a mistake, I’ll apologize. What do you say?”
Consort Li’s face contorted further. She glared at Nan Guyue with venom in her eyes, but Nan Guyue wasn’t intimidated at all. The consort gritted her teeth and balled up her fists, her nails digging into her palms. She was so angry her whole body was trembling. Oh, how she wanted to slap that smug face.
Nan Guyue was Nan Jihan’s precious little sister. Every time she clashed with the princess, Nan Jihan either stayed out of it, or told her to back down first. She wasn’t going to let that happen this time. Nan Jihan might care greatly about his sister, but he couldn’t have that much affection for a random woman, could he?Previous Chapter Next Chapter