Chapter 276: Ploy

Consort Li knew Nan Jihan wasn’t someone who’d just fall for any beautiful faces. He wouldn’t mind if she offended a random girl. She threw caution out of the window and hurled insults at Jun Huang with abandon, rudely demanded for Jun Huang to bow down to her.

Jun Huang leveled the consort with a cool stare. She didn’t want to make a scene, but the consort insisted on pushing her buttons. She scoffed and looked up at the consort. “As the honored consort you should know your manners despite being a shut-in. I didn’t want to argue with you, but you wouldn’t let go. I am deeply disappointed in the way concubines behave in this palace”

Jun Huang looked away and turned around. “I have other business to attend to. I don’t want to waste my time watching you act like a shrew. Ha, if the servants let the emperor know what you’ve done, it’s not going to end well for you.”

Her tone was calm, but her words were sharp enough to cut. Consort Li’s face went red in anger, but then paled in trepidation. She grabbed Jun Huang’s wrist before she could walk away.

“Your Majesty, today’s work is about finished,” the eunuch said quietly. “It’d be bad for your health if you overwork yourself. This servant has gone out to check. The royal garden is beautiful in this weather. Why don’t we go out on a walk?”

Nan Jihan put away the report in his hand, rubbing at his forehead. He turned to the smiling eunuch and affected a put-upon huff. “Which consort stuck silver taels into your sleeve so that you’d take me outside?”

The eunuch smiled in lieu of a response. Nan Jihan didn’t push. He knew the eunuch had his interest in mind. He’d been staying in the study for several days in a row and hadn’t visited any of his consorts at night.

It was time to get some fresh air. He was exhausted. He nodded and got to his feet, letting the eunuch put a robe around his shoulders. He led an entourage of maids outside the palace and made his way to the garden.

He’d been staying in the dim and cool study. It felt good to get some sunlight. He took a deep breath, his lips curved into a smile as his mood visibly brightened.

He heard a commotion as soon as he entered the garden. With a frown, he shot the eunuch a glance, who hunched his back and didn’t dare say a word. Nan Jihan scoffed. “Do they consider the royal garden their home? It’s unbecoming for anyone from the harem to make such noises.”

He picked up his pace, determined to see who it was that spoiled his mood. Once he reached the center of the garden, he saw three women and a group of maids from a distance.

He recognized the woman standing behind Nan Guyue as Jun Huang immediately. The yellow dress suited her. He couldn’t get his eyes off her.

The eunuch was going to intervene, but Nan Jihan stopped him and shook his head, meeting the eunuch’s eyes. Without missing a beat, the eunuch stayed behind with the maids while his master approached the group.

Nan Jihan got near just in time to hear Jun Huang’s comeback. He chuckled. Her tongue was as sharp as ever, and she wouldn’t suffer a humiliation. It pleased him to see the the scowl on Consort Li’s face.

Jun Huang didn’t expect the consort to stop her from leaving. She frowned and glanced at her before looking at her own wrist. “The Honored Consort should know what you’re doing.”

“Who do you think you are? I am the honored consort. You should kneel before me. If no one has taught you manners, I will.”

She gave the maids behind her a pointed look. Without pause, two aggressive looking women went up to Jun Huang and grabbed her arms.

Nan Guyue had had enough. She took a step toward the consort, intending to teach her a lesson. Jun Huang, on the contrary, calmly stood at the spot without a word. She was well-trained enough to defend herself against two maids. Besides, she’d spotted Nan Jihan already. She just kept quiet about it.

Before the consort could have her people wrestle Jun Huang to the ground, Nan Jihan walked up to them and snapped, “What do you think you’re doing? You’ve forgotten where you are!”

Consort Li froze, caught off guard by Nan Jihan’s sudden appearance. She’d remembered belatedly that she’d bribed Nan Jihan’s personal eunuch earlier. She cursed at herself for being so possessed by jealousy that she forgot about everything else.

She looked up at Jun Huang and saw the mockery flashing through her eyes. Jun Huang knew about Nan Jihan’s arrival already, and was simply playing the role to deceive her! She lost control and charged at Jun Huang.

Nan Jihan stopped her and pushed her away. She staggered backward before losing her balance and falling. She grimaced as pain shot from her ankle.

“As part of the harem, it’s unbecoming of you to act like a shrew. Do you want to be sent to the Cold Palace?”

Consort Li widened her eyes and exclaimed with a finger pointing at Jun Huang, “It’s her! She tricked me! She knew Your Majesty had come, but she provoked me on purpose. Shouldn’t Your Majesty be questioning her?”

She burst into tears looking pitiful. Nan Jihan turned to Jun Huang, who calmly took a step forward and looked down at the consort.

“There was no bad blood between us,” said Jun Huang. “I wouldn’t have initiated contact with you, and I didn’t. There are people you shouldn’t target. Even a rabbit will bite when cornered.”

Nan Jihan knew Jun Huang always stood her ground. He found that endearing and rather than incriminating.

Nan Guyue noticed her brother’s expression. That on top of the way he’d asked after her led her to the conclusion that he had feelings for Jun Huang. She told him what had happened with great embellishment.

Nan Jihan’s face grew darker and darker as he listened. In the end, he ordered Consort Li to kneel down for two hours and transcribed Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies ten times.[1]

Jun Huang looked at the pebbled ground. Nan Jihan must have been really angry. She didn’t pity the consort, though. She deserved to be punished for her foolishness.

Without sparing another glance at the weeping consort, Nan Jihan took Jun Huang and Nan Guyue away. The consort only stop faking tears after they disappeared. She stared at the direction they left in. Her resentment and jealousy for Jun Huang festered and grew.

Nan Jihan took the two women to the Warm Palace not far away. Jun Huang watched the lotuses and koi fish in the pond with a thoughtful expression. Nan Jihan had the maids prepare some food. He took a better look at Jun Huang and was even more captivated.

Nan Guyue noted his reaction and beamed. She grabbed his arm with a eager smile. “Isn’t she pretty? You don’t know how difficult it was to convince her. If I didn’t insist, you wouldn’t be able to see her like this.”

Nan Jihan asked her to elaborate. After knowing the full story, he reprimanded her with a frown, “You’re too reckless! I’ve let you do as you wish, but you’re putting Feng Baiyu at risk this time. What would you do if I hadn’t gotten there in time?”

“I - ” Nan Guyue ran up to Jun Huang and looked at her like a kicked puppy seeking comfort. “Did you hear him? He always scolds me like that.”

Jun Huang glanced at Nan Jihan before looking down at Nan Guyue, who was trying to bury her face into her neck. She smiled in resignation and didn’t know what she should say.

Nan Guyue had known what a good person Jun Huang was back in Northern Qi. What happened earlier told her that Nan Jihan had feelings for Jun Huang. Perhaps he’d kept quiet about it because he was shy.

She thought back to the hateful Consort Li. They never got on. If Jun Huang entered the palace, Nan Jihan would shower her with all the love he could muster. The consort would be so mad!

She had planned the whole thing out in her head. As someone who rarely kept anything to herself, she straightened her back and asked Nan Jihan bluntly, “Do you love Baiyu, brother? If you do, why don’t you marry her?”

Nan Jihan looked owlishly at his sister, a trace of hope flickering back to life in his heart. He’d thought about the possibility many times, even back when he still thought Jun Huang was a man. She’d made it pretty clear that she’d never accept him.

He smiled wryly. He’d indulge himself one more time and let his sister ask about Jun Huang’s feelings. “I’d like to, but I’m not sure she’ll be willing.”

“Baiyu, will you be my sister-in-law?” Nan Guyue turned to Jun Huang and asked, her expression hopeful.

Jun Huang frowned at Nan Jihan and shook her head decisively. “I appreciate the offer, but I’m afraid I’ll have to say no.”

Nan Guyue wasn’t going to take that as an answer. She thought Jun Huang was just shy. She took her arm and swung it. “My brother will treat you well. Why don’t you want to be his wife? Is he not good enough for you?”

Jun Huang considered how she should turn her down. She tried not to be too blunt. “The princess has misunderstood. There’s nothing wrong with His Majesty. On the contrary, he’s the ruler of the nation and stands above everyone else. I turn the offer down only because I don’t want to be trapped in the palace.”

1. Written by Zhang Hua in Jin Dynasty to criticize the then empress for her behavior and to provide instructions to women in the palace.

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houseau3's Thoughts

Mate, don't play matchmaker if you don't know the full story