Meanwhile, in the servants’ dormitory, Nan Xun was with a few other servants he’d gotten to know the past few days. The men talked about which of the young mistresses was the most beautiful. Most of them were young men, but they got as obscene as the most lecherous scums. If any women were present, they’d have died from mortification.
A young man with mouse like features nudged Nan Xun with his elbow, his smile salacious. “Brother, I hear that the lady you’re serving now is the prettiest, but I haven’t confirmed the rumors myself. Tell us, is she as beautiful as she’s said to be?”
Nan Xun frowned. He didn’t like listening to others fantasizing about Jun Huang. Someone as graceful as her shouldn’t be tarnished by such carnal and vulgar remarks.
An older servant spoke up before Nan Xun could make his anger known. He grinned, showing his yellowed teeth, and said, “Oh, another toad salivating after a swan! You never even have a chance to get close to any young mistresses. Very few are allowed the privilege of seeing the goddess like ladies of the manor!”
His bellowing laughter rang in the room.
Nan Xun took a deep breath to suppress his anger and put on a stilted smile. “You keep going. I’m going to get some fresh air.”
He turned to leave. The men continued to make improper comments. Nan Xun wouldn’t be able to stop himself from beating them all up if he stayed. He walked away and went to have a look at the back building.
He put aside the infuriating conversation and snuck away with the night as his cover. He looked at his servant uniform. After a brief pause, he made a detour to the kitchen to get some wine and made his way to the entrance to the back building.
“Who are you? Why are you here?” The guard watching the door stopped him, his brows furrowed in alert.
Nan Xun presented him with the wine. “The housekeeper asked me to deliver you and the others this as rewards for your hard work.”
The guard’s eyes lit up in excitement as he took the wine from Nan Xun. Clearly it’d been a while since the last time he had a drink.
Nan Xun doubled over and let out a fake pained cry. “Ow, my stomach hurts. Is there a toilet around?”
The guard’s attention was on the fine wine. He pointed at the back. “Just turn east once you get inside. Don’t take too long.”
He joined the other guards and started drinking.
Nan Xun made an assenting noise and rushed inside. He’d found out beforehand that the only toilet in the area was in the building. That was why the guard let him through.
He turned east and disappeared into the shadow. He quickly surveyed the interior. The building was empty and eerily quiet.
He didn’t stay long in case something went wrong. He rushed out and greeted the guard watching the door before making his way back to the dorm.
The yellowed-teeth man glanced at him, scratching his head. “Where did you go?”
“Nature’s call,” he said. Noting that the old man seemed to have come out from the toilet, he added, “But the toilet was occupied, so I went to another one.”
The old man nodded and walked inside with Nan Xun. They had a brief chat before going to bed.
At midnight, Nan Xun woke up in the dark. The thunderous snores made it impossible to sleep. Nan Xun put on his clothes and snuck outside.
The night was silent save for the faint chirps of insects. Every once in a while there would be patrols. Nan Xun quickly made his way to Jun Huang’s residence. As per their agreement in the morning, Jun Huang had left her window open.
When he entered her room, she was wide awake with Yin Yun standing by her side. They seemed to be waiting for him. He got to the point and explained what he’d found.
For a moment, no one talked. Finally, Jun Huang broke the silence. “We must have alerted them last time. How troublesome.”
Nan Xun frowned. “The one pulling the strings?”
Jun Huang nodded, her expression grave. Nan Xun shared her feelings. They’d finally located Jun Hao, but the back building had now been emptied. It was clearly a trap for them.
Jun Hao must have been moved elsewhere. It wouldn’t be easy to track him down.
“Is it possible that the back building has always been empty?” Nan Xun suggested. “Or maybe what was hidden there had never been Jun Hao?”
Jun Huang glanced at Yin Yun. “It is possible, but the place is too heavily guarded for Yin Yun and I to get in to check.”
“We’ll come up with a new plan,” said Nan Xun. “The next few days, Yin Yun will take my place in the manor to fend off suspicion while I look for Jun Hao and investigate what has happened to the operation base.”
Jun Huang nodded in agreement. Yin Yun was as good a fighter as Nan Xun, but Nan Xun was a prince and Northern Qi’s general-in-chief. He had people he could trust to aid him. The plan made sense.
“That’s the only thing we can do at the moment.”
Nan Xun exchanged a few words with Yin Yun before leaving Jun Huang’s room. He got out of the manor late at night and had Yin Yun take his place.
Early the next morning, Jun Huang woke up and went downstairs as usual. The man sweeping the garden had Nan Xun’s face, but it only took two steps for her to remember that Nan Xun had left.
Although she’d agreed to Nan Xun’s plan without hesitation last night, she couldn’t help missing the man right after he left. Her heart felt heavy. Even though Yin Yun had put on Nan Xun’s face, he wasn’t him. She kept her distance from him instead of staying in the garden like she had been doing.
The mistress was relieved to hear her change of behavior. Jun Huang had made the right decision. However, she started worrying about Jun Huang’s future partner. What if Jun Huang ended up falling for the wrong man?
The old caretaker was worried when she saw the troubled look on the mistress’s face. “Are you alright, madam?”
The mistress shook her head and confessed her concerns. The caretaker paused and suggested, “Why don’t you find a good husband for her yourself, madam? There are many scions from esteemed families in Eastern Wu. There will be someone who’s right for her.”
The mistress was convinced. There was a banquet in a few days. She could use the opportunity to find potential husbands for Jun Huang. With her mind made up, she told the old caretaker to send for the tailor, having a new dress made for Jun Huang.
Jun Huang wasn’t paying any attention to her surroundings when she was dragged off to have her measurements taken. When asked what had happened, she never answered. She went on with her life like a lifeless ghoul.
The day of the banquet soon arrived. The mistress arranged for a few maids to give Jun Huang a makeover. Jun Huang was surprised, but she managed to hide it. She wondered what the mistress was planning.
Afterwards, the mistress entered her room, her eyes tender and pleased. “You’ve always been beautiful. Now you’re even more stunning.”
“Mother is too kind.” Jun Huang lowered her head, hiding the suspicious glint in her eyes. The mistress patted her on the back of her hand and led her outside. On their way to the banquet, she told Jun Huang where they were going. The other girls had gone to the venue already. She told Jun Huang to relax and pretended she was at home.
Jun Huang covered her surprise. She had to be a fool to not know what the mistress was trying to do. She suppressed her annoyance. The mistress wasn’t going to force her to marry anyone if she didn’t want to, was she?
She put on a faint smile and entered the door. Inside, the banquet hall was extravagantly adorned, fitting for a banquet held by esteemed families. It was a sight to behold.
The mistress greeted everyone they ran into with an ease that made it obvious she was no stranger to such events. Jun Huang was born with an unusual calmness. She held herself with grace and dignity, unfazed by the scrutiny from other guests.
“This must be your daughter,” one of the mistress’s friends said with a smile. “She’s beautiful. No wonder you never take her to these gatherings.”
The mistress puffed up her chest like she was the one being complimented. She showed Jun Huang around and ran into the third young mistress. “Where are the others?”
The third young mistress smiled. “They’re mingling. Don’t worry, mother.”
The mistress frowned slightly, but she knew her other daughters must be looking for a good husband as well. She let them to it.
The third young mistress sighed in relief and hooked her arm around Jun Huang’s with a beam. “Mother, I’ll introduce sister to the other guests. You should stay and talk to the other mistresses.”
“Alright, but you have to keep a close eye on her. She’s never attended a banquet before. If something happens to her, I’ll hold you responsible.” The mistress had wanted to talk to her friends. She only stayed with Jun Huang because she was concerned. It’d be good for her daughter to take Jun Huang to meet the scions in attendance. She didn’t know any of the young men that well, after all.