The young masters of the manor laughed and jeered at her rudely. Jun Huang smiled in response. “I’m just having fun. I understand why sisters said what you said. I hope you’ll forgive me.”
The young masters and mistresses laughed even harder. The third young mistress huffed. “You may be having fun, but you’re embarrassing the family. Don’t you feel ashamed? We’re going to be the butt of the joke...”
“Enough!” The mistress rubbed at her temples. She was fed up with the insults. She threw them a glare and snapped, “We’re a family. Must you talk to her with such aggression? That’s what people will mock us for if they know. She’s never attended such a banquet. You should’ve offered her guidance, not mockery.”
Jun Huang listened intently and said with lowered eyes, “I understand, mother. We don’t have a lot of time, though. How about… I stay at home? I don’t want to embarrass mother...”
“Don’t be silly. Who’s going to judge us? Just follow me and ignore the others.” The mistress led Jun Huang to the waiting coach. Jun Huang kept her eyes downcast, seemingly dejected.
The mistress tried her best to cheer her up and finally made her crack a smile. Jun Huang kept up a pleasant conversation with her, listening to the mistress talk with her lips curved, but her smile didn’t reach her eyes.
Once the coach came to a halt, the mistress and Jun Huang got off. Jun Huang glanced at Nan Xun, who had his gaze kept forward, but in fact was only paying attention to Jun Huang. Even in this state, he found her more beautiful than any celestials.
The mistress called out for Jun Huang. She looked away and followed the mistress to the palace.
They ran into other guests on the way. They wore fine dress and delicate makeup. The silver accessories in their hair were eye-catching. They all covered their mouths and laughed when they saw Jun Huang, pointing and mocking her with hurtful words.
Jun Huang turned a blind eye to that, while the mistress couldn’t help feeling embarrassed. Nevertheless, she had to introduce Jun Huang to them. “This is my daughter. She’s prone to illness and has been living in the manor for years. She doesn’t understand the rules of the real world. I hope you’ll be kind to her.”
They smiled awkwardly, understanding the mistress unspoken warning. Jun Huang stood by the mistress with an impassive expression, unfazed by her surroundings.
Bored, she turned around, but didn’t see Nan Xun. She remembered him saying that he had matters to take care of. He must have left to do that.
A sense of loss rose from her heart, unbidden, but she didn’t let it show. She continued to listen to other people make small talk and exchange boastful words, keeping her disappointment to herself.
“I remember your daughter,” a woman spoke up. “She didn’t look like this last time. What happened?”
Jun Huang threw a glance at the woman. They must have met at the last banquet. She lowered her eyes and looked away.
The mistress smiled awkwardly, at a loss of what to say. The woman seemed to have realized something. “Can it be that she’s so beautiful you have her hide it to avoid attracting jealousy?”
The others paused and broke into laughter. The reasoning itself was incredulous. The mistress cleared her throat without a word, her expression darkening.
Jun Huang didn’t care about being the laughing stock. She shrugged and didn’t pay any attention to their conversation.
Later, a eunuch walked out from the main palace. In a high-pitched voice, he exclaimed, “Let the banquet commence! Please, come inside.”
The guests entered the palace. The mistress glanced at Jun Huang and patted the back of her hand reassuringly, silently telling her to ignore other people’s words. Jun Huang nodded in acknowledgement and followed her to the palace.
Inside was all gold gilding and extravagant decorations. Silk curtains were put up for the occasion, creating a stunning scene. Jun Huang stayed close to the mistress, scoffing inwardly. What a wasteful man the emperor of Eastern Wu was.
Once seated, Jun Huang calmly told her maid to pour a cup of tea for her. She quietly observed the other guests.
“We should’ve held the banquet earlier,” the man dressed in dragon robe said with a laugh from his throne. “Unfortunately too many things have happened lately, so the banquet didn’t happen until now. At least it’s not too late yet.”
The Royal Uncle agreed, “Your Majesty is right. It’s never too late to hold a banquet such as this.”
“Hahaha, to be honest with you, these have been the best few years of my life. It’s fate that I was able to defeat Western Que...” The emperor gulped down some wine and pontificated about how he destroyed Western Que, his smile wide and prideful. The others obediently reacted to everything he said.
Jun Huang narrowed her eyes at the power-hungry men of Eastern Wu, her chest tight with anger. She balled her hands up and gritted her teeth.
“However, only a saint can avoid making mistakes. We’ve succeeded in invading Western Que, but our people lost their sense of security as a result. And we made some wrong decisions. It’s unwise of us to wage war against Northern Qi. I understand why you’d be dissatisfied. However, we’ve struck a deal with Northern Qi again. The war is halted. Once we recuperate and get prepared, we’ll deploy our troops. The world will be ours.”
He downed his cup of wine. The others were excited by the future he painted. They drank and cheered.
It might seem like the emperor regretted his reckless decision, but reading between the lines, it was clear he wanted to conquer the world sooner or later. The others were thrilled, but Jun Huang had to bite back a scoff.
She didn’t remember the destruction of Western Que, but the emperor’s words awakened her fury. She tightened her jaw. Fortunately, her makeup was thick enough to cover up her ire. The others could only tell that she was agitated.
The mistress glanced at her and frowned. “This isn’t the manor. You have to watch your every move. Don’t break any rules. Remember, you are the daughter of the Grand Chancellor. You have to keep up the image.”
Jun Huang nodded and managed a smile. “Mother is right. I’m simply feeling smothered. I’ll like to use the restroom.”
The mistress had the maid lead Jun Huang outside. She stood in the hallway. She hadn’t drunk anything, and yet she felt dizzy. She rubbed at her forehead, which helped a little.
“We can’t stay outside for too long, young mistress,” muttered the maid. “This is the palace after all.”
Jun Huang nodded. After she got her anger in control, she returned to the main hall with the maid. When she sat down, the emperor was still talking about Western Que.
“You don’t know how beautiful the empress of Western Que was. She was the most stunning woman in all four countries and could captivate a city with her good looks. The sight of her was a delight in itself. Someone like her should only exist in the realm of the celestials.”
He looked up at the ceiling, a tear falling from the corner of his eye as if in mourning. “I wanted to spare her and take her in, but she insisted on following the emperor of Western Que to death. Well, it’s said that beautiful women often live a short life. She’s no exception.”
People seemed entranced by his tale, but Jun Huang didn’t buy it. Men like him were selfish to a fault. He wasn’t going to go soft for a woman. His poor excuse of a story was ridiculous and insulting.
“I hear that the princess of Western Que was just as beautiful. Is that true?” One of the officials’ son had forgotten his manner due to alcohol and piped up.
The emperor didn’t get angry. He was in a good mood. He stroked his chin and nodded with a sigh. “She was just as beautiful. Unfortunately, she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and stubbornly refused to surrender. Otherwise, I’d have taken her into my harem as well. You weren’t there when she fell off the cliff. It was truly heartbreaking.”
“However, there are some smart people in Western Que. The fifth prince is a good example. If not for him...” Inebriated, the emperor lost his filter. “Western Que was a good place. So many beautiful women. Their soft and alluring bodies knew not the touch of a man...”
The guests awkwardly drank their wine and didn’t respond.
Jun Huang closed her eyes. Suddenly, a few images flashed through her mind. The glory of Western Que burned away by fire. The emperor of Eastern Wu put his filthy hands on a stunning woman dressed in phoenix robe, her cap knocked to the floor with a clink. The woman’s eyes turned red. She followed the man on the throne to death...
Cries pierced through what little peace remained. All around her were destruction and deaths. The sky turned crimson, as if dyed by the blood shed. Red river flowed through the land. The metallic smell permeated the air.
The city fell, and lives were lost.
Jun Huang clenched her fists, veins popping out of her forehead. She wanted nothing but to kill the greedy man. When she opened her eyes, they were steely and brimming with tears. She blinked them away.
No one noticed the fury burning in her eyes. The emperor had stopped talking about Western Que, but as usual, dancers had been invited to give the guests a good show. No one was paying attention to Jun Huang.
Nan Xun showed up and held onto her shoulder from behind. She turned around and breathed out in relief when she saw who it was.
Nan Xun sighed when he noted the flash of murderous intent in her eyes. He whispered a few words of comfort to her.
Finally, she was able to control herself. She shook her head and told him she was alright.