The sun was warm and the wind was gentle, bringing with it a captivating fragrance from the royal garden. Jun Huang blushed and looked bashfully at the ground, her smile stunning. Not even the fine turquoise silk she wore could outshine her beauty.
Nan Jihan looked at them from a distance, his expression conflicted. The eunuch by his side widened his eyes slightly and said in an awe-struck voice, “How can such a couple exist? They paint the perfect picture of...”
He swallowed down the wrote spiel about a match made in heaven when he felt frigid gaze cast his way. He shuddered and smiled awkwardly.
Nan Jihan narrowed his eyes at the couple, his heart burning with jealousy. He had never been the sentimental sort, but he couldn’t bear seeing Jun Huang show such easy intimacy with someone else like they’d been born to fit together. He forced himself to push aside his emotions so that he could keep his eyes on her.
The sun seemed offensively warm. His chest tightened and his throat constricted as he watched the two. In the end, he sighed in resignation, a bitter smile tugging his lips. He turned to leave.
Nan Guyue spotted his brother from a distance, watching him roaming through the garden like a mindless ghoul with an air of despair around him. She’d heard about Nan Xun’s arrival, and she knew about his relationship with Jun Huang. It wasn’t difficult to put two and two together.
“If Royal Brother had simply made Feng Baiyu your noble lady, this wouldn’t have happened,” Nan Guyue approached his brother and said without ceremony, opting for reprimand rather than comfort.
Nan Jihan laughed bitterly. “I didn’t want to force her...”
“Then you shouldn’t be so sad now,” Nan Guyue retorted. She sighed when she saw his pained expression and dragged him to a pavilion. Once she’d dismissed everyone, she said, “Royal Brother, I’m going to ask you one last time: Do you really love her?”
“What if I do?” Nan Jihan chucked down a cup of cool sweet tea. He usually enjoyed the taste, but the mix of bitterness once the tea was cooled off and its inherent sweetness made it difficult for him to swallow now. It was a perfect reflection of his dark mood.
Nan Guyue paused and smiled mischievously. Although there wasn’t anyone around, she checked her surroundings again before leaning into Nan Jihan and whispered, “In my opinion, the only thing that sets Nan Xun apart from you is the time he’s spent together with Feng Baiyu. Who knows how long their love is going to last? Besides, you are the emperor, while Nan Xun is merely a prince outside the imperial family. That puts you two on a level playing field. Why don’t you give it a try?”
Nan Jihan met her eyes and mused. The thought of taking Jun Huang away from Nan Xun did cross his mind, but he wasn’t willing to hurt the woman he loved.
Sensing his hesitation, Nan Guyue added, “Don’t think too much, Royal Brother. If they truly love each other, they aren’t going to split. Besides, you’re just giving Feng Baiyu an option. She’s smart enough to see that.”
He’d thought about a future with Jun Huang and didn’t like seeing her in Nan Xun’s arms. He silently swore to himself that he’d let her see how good a lover he could be.
With his mind made up, he relaxed and stopped agonizing. Nan Guyue’s eyes flashed. If one day Jun Huang did enter the harem, she’d be her ally. Together, they’d take care of the despicable Consort Li.
There wasn’t much else that needed to be said. Nan Guyue bid her brother farewell and left.
Nan Jihan sat in the pavilion for a long time. The eunuch didn’t dare bother him. He stayed from a distance with a group of maids, silently watching his master. He thought the emperor was troubled by some tricky issue in the court.
Nan Jihan was young for an emperor and faced a lot of pressure. As Nan Jihan’s personal eunuch, he knew better than anyone else how often Nan Jihan’s duty kept him up at night.
“Gonggong, it’s really windy,” one of the maids said worriedly. “What if His Majesty gets sick?”
The eunuch hesitated before deciding that the maid was right. He approached Nan Jihan, who was staring into the distance with an unreadable expression.
“Your Majesty, it’s getting cold. We should return.”
Nan Jihan glanced at him and nodded. “Come with me to the side building first.” He started walking without looking back. The eunuch followed him without a question asked.
Nan Jihan ran into Nan Xun at the door to the side palace. The general looked past him like he hadn’t seen him, which Nan Jihan found insulting. He was the emperor. He couldn’t stand being ignored. He reached out to grab Nan Xun’s shoulder, but his wrist was caught before he could make contact. His face went red in anger.
The eunuch and maids were startled and worried. Before they could rush up to their master, Nan Jihan took a deep breath and waved a dismissive hand.
“A word,” he said, barely containing his anger, his cold eyes fixed on Nan Xun.
Nan Xun glanced at Nan Jihan. He knew a threat when he heard one, and he could feel Nan Jihan’s hostility and pinpoint its source. He paused before letting go of Nan Jihan and waved Jun Huang’s personal maid over.
The maid jogged up to him. “What can this servant help the gentleman with?”
“I have business to talk to His Majesty about. Take care of her and remind her to take some rest. Don’t let her tire herself.” Nan Xun spoke clearly. His devotion to Jun Huang was cause for great envy.
The maid nodded and returned to the room. Nan Xun and Nan Jihan walked away from the building and followed a pebbled path.
They were safe within the walls of the palace, so Nan Jihan didn’t bring any eunuchs or maids with him. They reached the royal garden not long after. The sun was blindingly bright. Consorts who wanted to keep their skin fair wouldn’t come outside, which made this the perfect spot for a conversation.
Nan Jihan didn’t get right to his point and instead talked about the first time he saw Jun Huang. His gaze had zeroed in on her at first glance even though she had been in a crowd. Her grace was unrivaled and only the finest clothes suited her.
His words weren’t any different from most people’s praises for Jun Huang. Nan Xun had heard similar remarks many times.
Jun Huang had heard Nan Xun’s words to the maid. Her instinct told her that this wasn’t a simple conversation. She recalled how Nan Jihan had been treating her and concluded that he must have sought out Nan Xun to talk about her. She quickly made up her mind and got off the bed. Once she got dressed with the maid’s help, she made her way to the garden.
When she arrived, Nan Jihan had just finished his spiel about the reason he had fallen in love. He glared at Nan Xun and said seriously, “I don’t know what your story is, but you don’t mind me competing for Feng Baiyu’s heart fairly, do you?”
Nan Xun paused before letting out a quiet laugh. Nan Jihan narrowed his eyes at Nan Xun questioningly.
Nan Xun didn’t try to sugarcoat his words and said in a mocking tone, “You made it out as if you were deeply in love, but may I remind you that you tried taking her away by force? How ironic it is for you to talk about fairness.”
“Besides, you are the emperor. Even if you don’t end up with a harem of three thousand women, you already have quite a lot of consorts, don’t you?”
Nan Jihan frowned and retorted sharply, “So what? What’s wrong with that? Aren’t you going to have any concubines in the future?”
A wind brought Jun Huang’s cloak off her shoulders, which landed on the ground with a thud. Both men turned and saw Jun Huang standing not far from them with a calm expression. She gave them a slight smile.
She bent down to pick up her cloak and brushed off the dust. “Apologies for the intrusion. You may continue.”
She turned to leave. Nan Xun hurried after her and grabbed her arm. She must have heard what Nan Jihan said.
She turned to look at him, then at her wrist. “What’s wrong?”
Her voice was clear and her lips were curved into a smile, looking untouchable even under the warm sun. Anyone else would have been captivated by her beauty, but Nan Xun was caught by a deep worry.
He knew Jun Huang. She always appeared more composed than any human beings should ever be. The more serious the problem, the calmer and lighter she seemed. The aloof expression on her face wasn’t a mask, but a reflection of her resignation to the reality of the world.
That was why Nan Xun was so anxious. He never knew what to do with her when she was like this. He took a deep breath and, turning a blind eye to anyone around them, said earnestly, “We’ve known each other for a while. You know how I feel about you. I denied even an arranged marriage from the emperor. Me getting a concubine isn’t in the realm of possibility. I may not confess to you about my feelings often, but my love for you is real and runs deep. I want you and only you. No one shall come between us.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter