“Oh, right, it’s your sister who likes cilantro,” the mistress quickly recovered and said with an embarrassed smile, but the surprise and panic flashing through her eyes didn’t escape Jun Huang’s notice.
As if to prove her claim, the mistress put some cilantro into the plate of the girl next to her. The girl pursed her lips. It was clear she didn’t like cilantro, either, but after glancing at her mother, she took a deep breath and nodded with a stilted smile. “That’s right. I love cilantro. Mother must have gotten us mixed up.”
She ate the cilantro with a slight frown.
Jun Huang watched them silently, her expression impassive, but in truth, she was a little hurt. She’d thought these people were her family. However, there were too many signs for her to believe their lies.
Her appetite lost, she put away her chopsticks and managed a smile. “I’m tired. Please excuse me.”
“Alright.” The woman rose to her feet and walked her out with the other girls. Jun Huang’s chest tightened and she smiled ruefully. “We’re a family. You don’t have to walk me out.”
“Ah, I’ve forgotten to tell you,” the woman quickly came up with a lie. “It’s a little habit of ours.”
Jun Huang nodded and made her way to her residence with a few servants in tow. She dismissed them, claiming to be tired, and spent some time contemplating what she should do next. Then she opened the window and lit the signal flare the man had given her last night.
After about a quarter of an hour, Yin Yun showed up outside the building. His mastery of martial arts allowed him to make his way upstairs undetected and enter Jun Huang’s room.
Jun Huang considered him quietly. She knew she wasn’t who everyone said she was, but she didn’t entirely trust Yin Yun. Nonetheless, the man was her only source of information. If she brought the issue to the mistress, she wouldn’t get an answer and may instead put herself in danger.
Yin Yun patiently waited for Jun Huang to speak up, his presence quiet and steady, which eased Jun Huang’s nerves. “You called me princess. Will you tell me who I am?”
“You’re Jun Huang, the princess of Western Que. Our homeland has been destroyed by Eastern Wu. You have a great strategic mind and have been working to avenge our homeland. This subordinate and Prince Jun Hao were hiding in Eastern Wu, intending to provide you with inside help...”
Yin Yun told Jun Huang everything. She stared at him owlishly, first shocked and in denial of the reality he’d painted, but then seeing the truth in his words. She forced herself to calm down.
“Did you find Jun Hao?” She’d decided to stay put at the moment. However, she was worried about her brother, despite not remembering anything about him.
Yin Yun nodded. “This subordinate suspects that the prince is being kept in the Grand Chancellor’s manor. However, the manor is too heavily-guarded, and there are places I can’t enter, which impeded my search.”
Jun Huang nodded. She could tell Yin Yun was telling the truth. “It’s the Grand Chancellor’s manor. Of course it’ll be more heavily-guarded than other places. You should stay hidden. I’ll try to gather some information.”
Yin Yun relaxed and vanished into the night. Jun Huang slumped over her divan. Just when she was about to fall asleep, her personal maid entered. She jerked up and stared at her.
The maid interpreted Jun Huang’s reaction as being startled. She placed a book on the table and explained, “This is the book you told me to find for you, my lady. It was delivered earlier.”
Jun Huang hid the alertness in her eyes and nodded.
“Why don’t you stay and have a chat with me?” she asked, beckoning the maid over.
The maid couldn’t possibly say no. She nodded and walked up to Jun Huang.
Jun Huang maintained a calm front to avoid alerting the maid, and the maid answered her questions seemingly without holding anything back. Their conversation was normal, if not pleasant. Jun Huang soon got the maid to talk about the layout of the manor. The maid didn’t notice anything wrong.
It turned out no one was allowed to get near the back of the manor. When asked, the maid only said it was the master’s order. She didn’t know why it was a forbidden area, and no one dared ask. She reminded Jun Huang to not get too curious. Jun Huang nodded with a smile.
“It’s late,” the maid said, looking outside the window at the moon. “You should rest, my lady.”
Jun Huang smiled. “Alright.”
The maid helped Jun Huang settle on the bed and left the room, but not before reminding Jun Huang again to not go against the rules in the manor. Jun Huang humored her with a nod, but she’d decided to go have a look with Yin Yun.
Early the next morning, Jun Huang woke up to a woman sitting by her bed. She started and realized that it was the mistress. She frowned and asked, “Why are you here this early in the morning, mother? Is something the matter?”
The mistress shook her head and stroked Jun Huang’s hair, her eyes tender. Jun Huang would have been moved if she knew nothing, but now she simply felt uncomfortable. She suppressed the feelings to maintain a civil facade.
“I hear that you’ve been coughing at night,” whispered the mistress. “You must be ill. I’ve sent for a royal doctor. Let him check on you later.”
Jun Huang paused. “I’m fine.”
“That’s not for you to decide,” the mistress said earnestly. “Why don’t you let the doctor make sure you’re alright? They aren’t going to do you any harm, and it’ll make me feel better.”
Jun Huang lowered her eyes and nodded. With a gentle expression, the mistress said she’d like to do her hair since she had the time today. Jun Huang was reluctant, but obliged in the end.
Sitting before the mirror feeling the mistress’s gentle hands on her hair, Jun Huang sighed inwardly, her heart aching. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing if this life had been real, but alas, it wasn’t. It was never meant to be.
The mistress looked down at Jun Huang’s beautiful face, her shoulders slumped. Pain flashed through her eyes and quickly disappeared.
The maid knocked on the door. “The doctor is here, madam.”
“We’ll be out in a minute.” The mistress put a hairpin in Jun Huang’s hair and gave her a onceover before nodding. The two of them made their way to the main hall.
The doctor was over fifty. He bowed slightly to the mistress and nodded at Jun Huang. After exchanging a few words with them, he had a handkerchief put over Jun Huagn’s wrist and took her pulse.
The doctor bombarded her with a barrage of questions, which made Jun Huang dizzy. When she recovered, he’d already left.
She was going to leave as well, but the mistress said the servants were preparing her medicine and told her to take it before she went.
For some reason, the thought of having medicine made her uncomfortable, but the constant scrutiny from the mistress prevented her from throwing it away. She had no choice but to finish the bowl of medicine with a grimace.
The mistress assumed Jun Huang’s reluctance came from a dislike of its taste. She offered, “Good medicine is often bitter. It’s necessary for your recovery. If you find it difficult to swallow, I’ll have someone retrieve candied dates for you.”
Jun Huang nodded, touched despite the circumstances. At the same time, however, she was even more wary. The mistress was shrewder than she anticipated. She bid her farewell and walked out of the building.
The sun was nice outside. She came to a halt and turned to her maids. “I’d like to take a walk on my own. Prepare some desserts for me and leave them in the pavillion. I’ll be there in a moment.”
The maids exchanged a glance. They remembered their mistress telling them not to push Jun Huang too hard. They nodded and walked away.
Jun Huang sighed in relief. She made sure no one was around before sneaking into the kitchen. It was empty since it was way past mealtime. She could smell the medicine. She found a pot and took off the lid. Inside was the residual of medicine she’d just taken. She collected the residual with a handkerchief and left the kitchen like nothing had happened.
After staying in the pavilion for a short while, she claimed to be ill and returned to her room. She summoned Yin Yun and handed him the residual. “Check what medicine this is.”
Yin Yun left with a simple nod. Jun Huang sat on her bed in deep thought. She should find a way to recover her memory.
Meanwhile, Nan Xun could barely contain his worry since he hadn’t heard from Jun Huang at all. After some deliberation, he sent a message to the House of Heavenly Fiends, asking them to locate Jun Huang. They, however, told him that Jun Huang had gone missing.
Regret overpowered even his panic. He stayed rooted to his seat, oblivious to Ji Bo’s entrance.
“Is Your Highness still worried about Jun Huang?” Ji Bo asked carefully.
Nan Xun glanced at him and lowered his eyes without a word, a bitter smile tugging his lips. Ji Bo sighed and took a step forward. “We can send someone to look for her. This isn’t the time for you to get distracted. We don’t want that affecting our war effort.”
Nan Xun had been in a dark mood. Ji Bo’s platitudes didn’t help. He responded in a sharp tone, “The war may be the most important thing in your eyes, but for me, it’s Jun Huang. Besides, I know more about what’s happening on the battlefields now. I don’t need you to do my job. Please go if you don’t have anything important to say.”