Nan Jihan turned to his personal eunuch, who knelt down and told him how the maids and servants had been treating Jun Huang. Nan Jihan scowled and kicked the eunuch in the chest. “Useless thing! Stay on your knees and think about your mistakes.”
He rushed to the side building with Oleg Cragfiend. When they arrived, the maid happened to be leaving the room. She greeted them respectfully and said, “She’s asleep.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?!” Nan Jihan growled. He was so angry he’d snap at anything that moved.
Before the maid could say anything, Oleg Cragfiend retorted in a steely voice, “Who do you think she is, Your Majesty? She’s only a maid. How could she possibly reach you when you were avoiding them? If you have time to waste on casting blame, it’s better served dealing with the matter at hand.”
Nan Jihan quieted down. The poison master was right. He cupped his hands and bowed slightly to express his gratitude and went off to make the necessary arrangements.
He furiously punished everyone involved and ordered all servants to take good care of Jun Huang. Anyone who dared defy his will would be put to death. The maids and eunuchs realized that Nan Jihan still cared greatly about Jun Huang. They dared not make another move against her and instead gave her everything she needed and more.
The maid pursed her lips and scoffed at the table full of quality food. “They only have eyes for status. When they realize His Majesty cares about you, they shower you with gifts. However, this servant still remembers how they treated you.”
Jun Huang chuckled as she stared at the dishes, but she didn’t feel like eating. She had a few bites before sitting down on the bed reading books. Her attention kept straying to Nan Xun.
He wouldn’t have let anyone treat her like that. Everyone showed her respect when she was in his manor. The disparity made her miss Nan Xun even more. She decided to cut ties with Southern Mu as soon as she recovered and returned to his side.
No one even looked at her wrong from then on, and Jun Huang was making good progress recovering. She heard about how Nan Jihan had punished those who mistreated her, but it didn’t leave an imprint in her heart. Although the maid had told her how much Nan Jihan worried for her, she didn’t feel at all moved. She just wished for a speedy recovery. Then she could leave this place.
After some time, she believed she’d recovered enough to start drawing blood. She notified Nan Jihan, who sent for Oleg Cragfiend and the royal doctor out of concern. The decision would only be made after they’d checked on her.
Oleg Cragfiend took her pulse. She’d recovered well. The process of drawing blood could begin. Nan Jihan was still worried, but Jun Huang wasn’t willing to wait any longer. He had no choice but to let her, telling her he’d make the preparations.
After a few days, Nan Jihan took Jun Huang and Oleg Cragfiend to the snowy mountain where blood lotuses grew. Jun Huang had experienced the cold once, but it didn’t make it any easier to bear. Even dressed in a thick layer of winter coat wasn’t enough to keep her warm.
They slowly made their way to their destination. Jun Huang frowned when she saw the lotuses. “The last time we came they were blooming. Why are there only buds now?”
The once stunningly blooming lotuses had reverted back to buds. The flowers were there, but they were tucked within the sepals.
“Blood lotus doesn’t bloom for long, but it can bloom several times in its lifetime,” explained Nan Jihan. “It’ll always be there.”
Jun Huang nodded without a word.
Oleg Cragfiend pulled out a dagger. Jun Huang rolled up her broad sleeve, revealing her delicate wrist. The cold made her fingers look even paler, and the veins more prominent, as if her skin would break under the slightest pressure.
Oleg Cragfiend considered her for a moment before raising the dagger. Nan Jihan stepped in suddenly with a frown. “Are we really doing this? Is there no other way?”
Both Jun Huang and Oleg Cragfiend shot him a pointed look. He realized his mistake and stepped back with a tight expression, forcing himself to not look at Jun Huang.
Jun Huang took a deep breath and smiled faintly. “Let’s get started.”
Oleg Cragfiend nodded and decisively slid the dagger across her arm. The blade radiated coldness and left a cut on her skin. Crimson blood streamed down her arm into the bowl he’d prepared.
The bowl was soon filled. Nan Jihan hurriedly hand her a handkerchief. Lightheaded, Jun Huang took a deep breath and wrapped the handkerchief around her arm without a word. The silk quickly turned a terrifying red.
Oleg Cragfiend gingerly brought the bowl of blood to the lotuses and poured it over the most fully-developed one. Its roots consumed the still warm blood at unusual speed and the plant gradually turned translucent. It was as if it’d become sentient. A faint red shone through the bud - Jun Huang’s blood had become one with the flower.
Jun Huang’s vision blurred. She took a few steps backward, trying to stay conscious by rubbing at her forehead, but to no avail. Her movement pulled at her injured wrist. She wavered and lost balance, collapsing to the ground.
Both Oleg Cragfiend and Nan Jihan were both temporarily transfixed by the change the lotus went through. They only realized that Jun Huang was gone when they turned to talk to her. Nan Jihan searched around. When he found her, she was half buried in snow. Panicked, he rushed to get her out and took her freezing wrist, his expression tight with fear.
Oleg Cragfiend’s face turned serious. He took off his coat and handed it to Nan Jihan, who wrapped it around Jun Huang without hesitation and picked her up. They carried her down the mountain.
“Should we return to the palace?” Nan Jihan asked.
“Yes, let’s return,” Oleg Cragfiend said after a brief pause. “She fell unconscious only because of exhaustion and a slight cold. She’ll be fine. You are the emperor, but you haven’t taken many guards with you this time. It’s safer for us to return to the palace now.”
Nan Jihan nodded. His men had been waiting at the foot of the mountain. They were shocked to see Jun Huang laying in Nan Jihan’s arms, thinking something bad had happened to her. They only relaxed when Nan Jihan explained. They made their way back to the palace via coach.
Nan Jihan never once let Jun Huang go on their way to the palace and instead clutched her cold hand tightly. It was as if Jun Huang would disappear as soon as he let go. Oleg Cragfiend was conflicted when he took notice. With the secrets Jun Huang’s past held, he wasn’t sure if it was a good thing for her to get involved with Nan Jihan.
Nan Jihan only had eyes for Jun Huang, so he didn’t notice Oleg Cragfiend’s concerns. What he wouldn’t give to give the horses wings! He’d parted the curtains and urged the coachman to go faster several times. The man swallowed down his complaints and went as fast as he could.
It took them two hours to reach the palace, but Jun Huang still hadn’t regained her consciousness. In panic, Nan Jihan got off the coach with Jun Huang in his arms and hurried toward the side building. Oleg Cragfiend followed closely after them.
They encountered many maids and eunuchs on the way, but Nan Jihan was too worried to care. His face was tight with concerns as he carried Jun Huang, which shocked the servants. They didn’t realize how much their emperor cared about the woman.
Some were already planning to get on Jun Huang’s good side. It seemed that it was only a matter of time before she became a consort. They cursed at their past selves for being short-sighted and bullying Jun Huang when she seemingly lost the emperor’s favor.
The maid let Nan Jihan in. Jun Huang’s wound was treated, but there was still splotches of blood. The maid widened her eyes. “What happened to her?”
“She’s fine,” Oleg Cragfiend offered and patted her shoulder. “She’s caught a cold and lost some blood. She just needs rest and my treatment.”
The maid was still concerned, but she nodded with her lips pursed. Nan Jihan came up to them and told the maid, “I’ve had some hot water prepared. Clean her up later and help her change. Be careful not to let her wrist get wet.”
The maid kept his instructions in mind. Once the hot water was brought into the room, the maid started cleaning Jun Huang up. Nan Jihan and Oleg Cragfiend stayed in the garden without a word.
The blood drawing process was risky. A frown found its way to Nan Jihan’s face and stayed there. Jun Huang had insisted on starting the process despite her master reminding her of the risks involved. There was nothing they could do but to be extra careful.
Nan Jihan regretted his decision when he thought back to Jun Huang’s frail and pale form lying in the snow. He shouldn’t have let them take the risk. Now that this was a done deal, he could only try to protect her.
“You don’t look well, Your Majesty,” Oleg Cragfiend said when he noticed Nan Jihan’s ashen face. “You should go rest. I’ll keep an eye on her.”
Nan Jihan shook his head. “It’s fine. I’ll stay outside and wait until you make sure she’s not in danger.”