The first young mistress dragged the third young mistress back and slapped her across the face. “What have you done?!”
“She… she provoked me first. I didn’t mean to do it. I...”
“Enough.” The first young mistress shot her sister a glare and ordered the servants and guards to look for Jun Huang. The mistress noticed the commotion and got off the coach to ask what had happened. When she heard that Jun Huang had been pushed off the cliff by the third young mistress, she fainted and collapsed.
Jun Huang knew she’d be safe, but she couldn’t help the fear running down her spine. Images flashed through her mind. There was something familiar about the feeling of falling. When she tried to focus on the flashing images, though, she couldn’t.
She squeezed her eyes shut and couldn’t help struggling a little, her throat too tight to make a sound. Free-falling wasn’t something one got used to. Before she could think herself into panicking, a pair of strong arms caught her. She opened her eyes when her feet touched the ground.
The man who had caught her wasn’t Nan Xun, but his most trusted shadowguard. She had seen the man a few times before. He calmly let go of her. Jun Huang finally relaxed somewhat.
She’d come up with the plan with Nan Xun. After scouting out the area, they realized that there was a hidden cave opening into the cliff. They had the shadowguard wait there to catch Jun Huang when she fell.
It was a terrifying thing to do when she thought about it, but at the time, they didn’t hesitate. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. If they missed it, there was no telling when she would be able to escape. Therefore, Jun Huang had insisted on following through despite Nan Xun’s reluctance. It was a good thing that the shadowguard was as good as his job as he had always been. She safely reached the cave.
The shadowguard tied one end of the rope to Jun Huang’s waist and the other end to a stone pillar. “Hold onto the vine, please. I’ll lower you down. The prince is waiting for you at the bottom of the mountain. We have to get out of here before those from the Grand Chancellor manor come searching for you.”
Jun Huang took a deep breath and nodded. With the shadowguard’s help, she held onto the vines covering the cliff.
The shadowguard carefully lowered her down. The rope tightened uncomfortably around her waist. She gritted her teeth and braced for the pain, holding onto the vines, her face covered in sweat. Her fingers had been dyed green by crushed vegetation, but that was the last of her concerns.
Soon she reached the bottom of the valley and saw Nan Xun. He wrapped his arms around her and gingerly lowered her to the ground. He sent a signal flare at the shadowguard. As Jun Huang untied the rope around her waist, she looked up and saw the shadowguard quickly scaling down the cliff.
She pursed her lips without a word. Nan Xun gave her and the shadowguard a glance. They made their way out of the valley and found the coach they had arranged for. Nan Xun helped Jun Huang in. Soon, they were on their way to Northern Qi.
“What about Jun Hao and Yin Yun?” Jun Huang asked once they settled down.
“We don’t know what’s waiting for us in Northern Qi,” said Nan Xun. “It’s better to leave them here. Don’t worry. I’ve taken care of everything. Jun Hao and Yin Yun would be staying in a safe place. Once we’re done, we’ll seek them out.”
Jun Huang sighed in relief. She had been tense the whole day. Now that she could relax, she started to feel tired. She soon fell asleep with her head resting on Nan Xun’s shoulder.
Nan Xun caressed her fair face. His heart ached a little, but the sense of relief and satisfaction overpowered it. He and Jun Huang were going back home.
It didn’t take long before they reached Northern Qi. Nan Xun had to report back to Qi Yun. Given Jun Huang’s condition, he opted to take Jun Huang back to his manor first before leaving for the palace.
Jun Huang had been asleep for a long time. When she woke up, there was no one around. She rubbed at her forehead and blinked the haziness out of her eyes. This place seemed familiar to her. It must have been Nan Xun’s manor.
She took an instant liking to the place. Once she got changed, she walked out of the room. The way the backyard was arranged surprised her. It fit her taste perfectly. She wasn’t sure if Nan Xun had somehow figured out her preferences, or if the old Jun Huang had decorated the place herself.
She wandered around, taking in the view. The once familiar scenery felt more like a strange, half-forgotten dream. Every little thing caught her eyes. She soon reached the back garden. Before she entered, she heard someone talking.
“Did you see the woman the prince brought in?” asked a young maid who was obviously new to the job.
The other maid scoffed. “How can I not? I saw her face as well. Tsk, truth be told, she looks like a twin to Gentleman Feng. I wonder if the prince truly likes the woman, or if she’s a substitute for the gentleman.”
“How can you say that?” asked the younger maid.
The older maid snorted derisively. “You haven’t seen how graceful and handsome Gentleman Feng is and how well the prince treats him. Haven’t you heard the rumors?”
“I have, but you said so yourself that those are rumors. Why would I believe them? That man is a peasant. Why would the prince favor him? In my opinion, the woman the prince carried into the manor seems more likely to become the prince’s partner.” The younger maid laid down her points, but the other maid laughed at her.
“What are you talking about?” Jun Huang asked. She didn’t intend to hide, but the two maids had been so focused on their conversation that they failed to notice her. They jumped.
“We simply think you look very much like another man. A man the prince used to love dearly.” Before the younger maid could say anything, the sharp-tongued one spoke up.
Jun Huang raised an eyebrow and fixed her sleeves with feigned nonchalance. After a moment, she asked, “What is he like?”
“Feng Baiyu is the best of our generation. He’s remarkably talented and so graceful that he makes you feel inferior with his mere presence. Not even the finest gentleman could compare to him.”
Jun Huang looked up at the maid and chuckled. “Oh? I haven’t seen him myself. How do I know if what you said is true? If there’s someone like him, why haven’t I heard of him?”
Feng Baiyu had been the perfect gentleman. Many servants had been on the receiving end of his kindness. Jun Huang’s attitude made the maid angry. She shot Jun Huang a glare.
“It’s a big world. It’s not that surprising for you to not have heard of him.”
Jun Huang’s eyes turned cold. She quirked her lips and hummed. “Why haven’t I seen him around? Would you mind leading me to him so that I can see for myself why he deserves your loyalty?”
The maid scowled and gritted her teeth. “Oh, I can’t. If Gentleman Feng were still around, you wouldn’t have been allowed to enter the manor.”
The implication was clear. Jun Huang frowned, displeased. However, it’d be unwise of her to say anything else. She didn’t want to invite more trouble.
She dropped the issue. She didn’t want to waste her time arguing with the maid. The younger maid came up to Jun Huang. “Please forgive her, miss. She’s simply worried about Gentleman Feng. She doesn’t mean you harm.”
“It’s fine.” Jun Huang turned to leave.
Meanwhile, Nan Xun had just returned to the manor. Jun Huang wasn’t in her room. He left the building to seek her out and saw her coming toward him.
“Where did you go?” Nan Xun hurried to her and asked.
Jun Huang didn’t say anything. Nan Xun could tell something was troubling her. He led her to a stone stool in the backyard and asked, “What’s wrong?”
Jun Huang couldn’t sort out her thoughts. She decided to ask. “Who is Feng Baiyu?”
Nan Xun paused, his expression changed. That was unexpected. “Did someone say something?”
His reaction made Jun Huang even more suspicious, but she didn’t tell him about what had happened earlier. She simply said that she heard others praising Feng Baiyu and got curious. Could there really be someone that extraordinary?
Nan Xun chuckled. “There is someone that extraordinary and beautiful…it’s you.”
Nan Xun explained to her that Feng Baiyu was Jun Huang’s fake identity. Jun Huang listened to him talk about the old Jun Huang with rapt attention. If Feng Baiyu hadn’t been her, she’d have praised the gentleman for his bravery and wit as well...
After that, Jun Huang didn’t react that much when a maid brought up Feng Baiyu. Then a few other servants mentioned Feng Baiyu again and again. Since she knew the truth now, it didn’t bother her. However, the servants grew aggressive and made their contempt for Jun Huang known.
Jun Huang had been taking medicine to help with her health, but oftentimes the medicine never reached her. She didn’t care. She never liked taking medicine. Nonetheless, Nan Xun noticed one day. He heard the servants talking behind Jun Huang‘s back, saying that they’d rather throw the medicine away than to give it to her.
Nan Xun wasn’t dense. He immediately had his men investigate and found out that the servants had been mocking Jun Huang and treating her badly. He flew into a rage and punished all the offenders, giving them a stern warning against running their mouths.