The woman stared at Jun Huang with a welcoming smile, but her eyes were derisive. She pushed past Jun Huang’s maid and hooked her arm around Jun Huang’s. “Since you’re here, you should join us.”
Jun Huang frowned. Her maid spoke up for her, “The consort may not know that my master is ill. She shouldn’t do anything extraneous. We’re going to - ”
“I’ll say she looks pretty good to me. And the weather is nice. It’ll be a shame for her to just leave. She’s not going to deny me, is she?” The woman had put on a convincing smile, but her eyes betrayed her true feelings. Jun Huang didn’t miss that. This consort was at least more patient than Consort Li.
The former honored consort would have scolded Jun Huang’s maid about proper palace etiquette already, while this one maintained a smile. If Jun Huang wasn’t as observant as she was, she might have been fooled.
She contemplated for a moment before nodding. “It’d be rude of me to turn down your offer. If you don’t mind my humble background, I’ll join you.”
“What are you talking about? Everyone knows His Majesty cares about you more than he does us. You may not have an official title at the moment, but if one day you join the harem, you’re going to be the honored consort or even the empress.” She watched Jun Huang as she spoke. On the surface, it seemed like she was complimenting Jun Huang, but Jun Huang knew this was a test. She smiled slightly.
Her maid was pleased to hear the consort’s words. She had imagined Jun Huang becoming the empress as well. Although Nan Xun and Jun Huang seemed close, as a maid, the maid hadn’t seen enough to know they were more than close friends.
They reached the pavilion soon. The other finely-dressed consorts cast dark looks at Jun Huang and greeted her with mockeries. Jun Huang, however, was too smart to be angered by petty insults. She smiled at them and joined in the conversation with astounding grace.
“I wonder if there’s anything you like in particular?” the consort who had invited Jun Huang asked.
Jun Huang looked up at her. She wasn’t sure what the consort really wanted, but she chuckled and answered her question. “This woman prefers white jade over flowers.”
Nan Jihan had prepared a great number of flowers the first time she entered the palace. She knew many consorts had been wondering who the flowers were for. She deftly cleared her suspicion to avoid future trouble.
The consort relaxed somewhat once she heard her answer, and she talked more. When the others mocked Jun Huang, she would put in a few words for her as well.
Suddenly, everyone turned to look behind Jun Huang with appreciation in their eyes. Jun Huang blinked in confusion.
She turned around and saw that Nan Xun had braided his hair and put on the attire of a eunuch. He’d always been handsome. Not even disguising as a eunuch diminished his attractiveness.
Jun Huang blinked and snorted, her eyes brimming with tears and her face flushed. She shut her mouth to muffle her laughter, her eyes and brows curved like waning moon.
She cleared her throat to suppress her amusement but couldn’t help teasing him. “Gonggong is a good-looking one,” she said, meeting Nan Xun’s gaze. “Where are you from?”
Nan Xun gave her a brief smile and coughed before saying respectfully, “Have you forgotten? His Majesty has assigned this servant to serve you.”
Jun Huang couldn’t help laughing, spilling droplets of tea as her body shook. Nan Xun worried that she’d burn herself. He quickly took the cup from her and shot here a disapproving look with his back to the others.
“Ah, of course I remember,” she said with feigned seriousness, her eyes crinkling. “I didn’t tell you to come, though. You know how you look. It’ll be bad if someone set their eyes on you. It’ll be just as bad if you feel desires for one of us.”
She was simply teasing, but the consorts misunderstood due to jealousy. One of the more volatile women shot to her feet and pointed an accusative finger at Jun Huang. “Who do you think you are? You’re nobody in this palace. How dare you make such offensive remarks? He may be a eunuch, but he’s not someone you can bully. It’s rude of you to insult him.”
“I thought you were a well-mannered girl, but is this how you treat your servants?” the woman who invited Jun Huang reprimanded. “If His Majesty hears, he’s going to be mad.”
The others echoed her words, hurling insults and slander at Jun Huang. Name-calling didn’t bother her that much, but the consorts had crossed a line when they accused Jun Huang of shamelessly seducing Nan Jihan while hiding another man in her room.
Everyone looked on with shock as the frail-looking woman slapped the consort who had bad-mouthed her the most. They widened their eyes at Jun Huang.
Jun Huang’s gaze swept over them. “His Majesty has granted me power over members of the harem. You deserve punishment for running your mouth. All of you are going to receive twenty slaps and kneel here for an hour.”
A maid went off to notify the eunuch who would execute the punishment. The consorts had hoped Jun Huang was boasting, but they were proven wrong by the eunuch’s arrival. They panicked when they realized that Nan Jihan had indeed granted her the privilege.
Jun Huang wouldn’t forgive them for what they’d said. A few more timid consorts tried to beg for forgiveness, but they shut their mouth when Jun Huang turned to them with a frigid expression. They knew this was something they couldn’t escape.
Jun Huang wouldn’t hurt someone who had never hurt her, but she wouldn’t go easy on anyone who had. She didn’t even frown when the sound of consorts being slapped rang through the garden. Her calm expression and cold eyes were intimidating.
The consorts’ cheeks were swollen afterwards. The one who cursed Jun Huang the hardest couldn’t say anything. It was painful to even utter a word. The taste of blood lingered in her mouth.
Jun Huang rose to her feet and looked down at them with a scoff. “You don’t have to pretend nothing happened today. If any of you want to get back at me, come to the side palace. I’ll play the game with you.”
She turned to her maid and ordered her to make sure the consorts stayed on their knees for a full hour. The maid nodded. She didn’t expect Jun Huang to be capable of such demonstration of power. She puffed her chest out proudly and looked at Jun Huang with admiration, a stark contrast to the consorts’ scowl.
The hour flew by. The consorts rose to walk away one by one, leaving only the shrewd one who had invited Jun Huang. She narrowed her eyes at the side palace, imagining stepping on Jun Huang’s face with gritted teeth.
“Is the consort not going to do anything?” Her maid was angry for her master. She wondered out loud when she saw how quiet her master was.
The consort scoffed. “It’ll be an insult to me if I do nothing. However, His Majesty is protective of her. We have to be smart about this.”
“Why not tell your father and let him take care of this?” suggested the maid.
The consort glanced at her and shook her head. “That won’t work. Have you forgotten about Consort Li?”
“This is different,” the maid said with a conspirative smile. “Besides, she’s offended a lot of people today. The other consorts aren’t going to keep quiet about what happened. They may already be seeking their fathers out.”
The consort considered the maid’s words before nodding. However, before she made sure exactly what Nan Jihan wanted with Jun Huang, she mustn’t blindly follow the crowd. She would write a letter to her father, but she wouldn’t put all the blame on Jun Huang.
Her face split into a cunning smile. Her maid shuddered and fell silent.
The next morning, many officials had spoken up against Jun Huang, calling her a bad omen to Southern Mu and suggesting Nan Jihan to be more objective. They also described how Jun Huang had punished the consorts in exaggerated fashion. They assumed from Nan Jihan’s dark look that their advice had worked and relaxed.
One of the courtiers remained quiet as he watched everyone. He’d received a letter from his daughter yesterday with a brief description about what had happened. At the end of the letter, she told him not to get involved and, when the others tried to get him to talk, to put the blame on the other consorts.
Nan Jihan had found out what had happened beforehand. He asked the official who hadn’t said a word, “What do you think?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter