After about an hour, an older woman emerged with a young woman. The older one was extravagantly dressed. It must be the empress dowager. The woman by her side didn’t look like a regular maid but someone who had been raised in an esteemed family. Jun Huang didn’t know who the young woman was, but she could read the jealousy in her eyes loud and clear.
Must be another woman who harbors unrequited feelings for Nan Xun, she thought. He sure is popular in Northern Qi.
“Greetings, Empress Dowager.” Jun Huang got to her feet and bowed. Her manners were impeccable.
The empress dowager would have left Jun Huang hanging for longer, but Jun Huang was Nan Xun’s lover. She didn’t want to make Nan Xun her enemy. That was why she showed up after only thirty minutes. It surprised her that the young woman was able to maintain her calm.
Nevertheless, the empress dowager didn’t think the woman with nothing but a pretty face was good enough for Nan Xun. Moreover, she wanted Shangguan Yue to be Nan Xun’s principal wife. Those she’d taken under her wing deserved the best.
“Alright. I hear that you’re prone to illness. It’s chilly outside. Let’s get in.” The empress dowager stood up and entered the palace with Shangguan Yue’s help.
Jun Huang frowned. She didn’t know what the empress dowager was planning, but she was wary nonetheless. Outside, there were many unwanted eyes. The empress dowager wouldn’t dare do anything. Inside, however, there was no such restrictions.
Unfortunately, as a peasant she couldn’t say no to the empress dowager. After some hesitation, she entered the palace.
The empress dowager put on a friendly smile and invited Jun Huang to take a seat. She then dismissed the guards and servants.
Jun Huang looked around the room, her lips curved into a smile.
“You bear some resemblance to the young man Nan Xun had introduced to me,” the empress dowager said from her seat.
Jun Huang’s eyes flashed, her smile deepened. She nodded. “This isn’t the first time someone said that to me. I almost started to think he’s perhaps my long lost brother. However, I hear that Gentleman Feng is a rare talent. I can’t possibly compare.”
“Nonsense. He’s just a strategist. He doesn’t matter that much.” The empress dowager leveled Jun Huang with a calculative stare, trying to determine if Jun Huang meant what she said.
Jun Huang met her eyes squarely. The empress dowager realized then that Jun Huang wasn’t as easy to deal with as she’d thought. No woman should care so little about their man’s previous lovers. Her lack of reaction was noteworthy.
Jun Huang knew what the empress dowager was thinking, but she wasn’t going to explain herself. She smiled. “What did Your Royal Highness summon me for? Is it because you remembered the strategist you met and heard that I look like him?”
There was a lilt to Jun Huang’s voice, and her lips were curved into a smile. She sounded like she was joking, but the empress dowager was mistrustful and interpreted that as mockery. Her expression clouded for a brief moment.
“That’s not it,” the empress dowager said with a huff. “I’m just curious about Nan Xun’s taste. Your lack of respect for the authority will make it difficult for you to become part of the royal family.”
“You’re right, Your Royal Highness,” Jun Huang said faintly.
Shangguan Yue had been boiling with rage listening to their conversation. She disliked Jun Huang, but her resentment for Feng Baiyu was even stronger. And yet he was brought up again and again. She tightened her fists and tried her best to calm herself.
The empress dowager realized that she’d digressed. Shangguan Yue’s reaction didn’t escape her notice. She cleared her throat. “Yue’er, why haven’t you poured our guest some tea?”
She shot Shangguan Yue a pointed look.
Shangguan Yue nodded and had a maid bring her a pot of tea. She poured Jun Huang a cup. An idea took root in her mind once she put down the teapot.
She had her back to Jun Huang. Jun Huang thus didn’t notice Shangguan Yue sneaking glances at her. Shangguan Yue took a deep breath.
The tea was boiling hot. She could feel the numbing heat even through the ceramic. She gritted her teeth as she watched Jun Huang talk to the empress dowager with a confident smile, which seemed to her like a silent declaration of ownership over Nan Xun.
Jealousy turned into a murderous resentment. Shangguan Yue wanted to destroy Jun Huang and made Nan Xun hers.
It took a while for her to regain her focus. She looked down at her reddened hand. The pain didn’t registered in her brain. She steadied her breathing to push aside her jealousy and refilled the cup with hot tea.
Jun Huang had been keeping an eye on Shangguan Yue. A lot had happened recently, which made her wary of any potential danger and more sensitive to malice.
She’d been on guard since Shangguan Yue turned to her. Her eyes were focused as they trailed Shangguan Yue’s movement. Shangguan Yue didn’t notice. She held her breath and walked up to Jun Huang. When they were close enough, she stumbled on nothing and dropped the cup.
With her eyes narrowed, Jun Huang shot to her feet and caught the cup. The lid fell to the floor with a clink. A drop of hot liquid landed on the back of her hand, the pain prickling. When she realized what Shangguan Yue had planned to do, she decided not to let the woman off the hook easily. She bent down to help Shangguan Yue, but sneakily tripped her, causing her to lose her balance and fall to the floor. While no one was looking, Jun Huang dropped the cup.
Shangguan Yue screamed and fell to the floor on her back. Then the teacup hit her forehead. Before she could react, the boiling tea splashed all over her face. The heat was excruciating.
She covered her face with both hands and almost fainted from the pain. Jun Huang staggered back like she’d been startled.
The empress dowager motioned at the maid to help Shangguan Yue up. Shangguan Yue covered her face with one hand and pointed at Jun Huang with the other. The pain made her voice grating. “She did it on purpose! She tripped me!”
The empress dowager had seen what Shangguan Yue had done. Her stumble was too fake, exposing her intention for all to see. Jun Huang, on the other hand, kept up a perfect pretense. Everyone believed she had been trying to help Shangguan Yue to her feet, and that Shangguan Yue had fallen before Jun Huang could reach her.
Even so, Shangguan Yue was under the empress dowager’s protection. Her face had gone red from the heat and a few blisters popped up. The empress dowager flew into a rage and hit the desk with her palm, glaring at Jun Huang and shouting at the maids, “Take her down! How dare she do such a thing in my palace? I’ll teach her a lesson - ”
“What do you say you’re going to do?” The door flew open, revealing Nan Xun and Qi Yun. The maids restraining Jun Huang started, at a loss of what to do. Before they could react, Nan Xun pushed them away. They almost fell to the floor.
It pained Nan Xun to see Jun Huang’s pale face. If only he’d come earlier, she wouldn’t have suffered this treatment. He patted her shoulder reassuringly. “It’s alright. You’re alright.”
Qi Yun turned to the empress dowager with a dark expression and asked coldly, “What happened?”
The empress dowager brushed her hair back. “It’s nothing. That girl shamelessly splashed hot tea all over Yue’er. Look at her. Her face was ruined.”
Qi Yun narrowed his eyes at the empress dowager. She guiltily averted her gaze. That was enough to tell him that there was something fishy. However, he couldn’t question her openly as her grandson.
He gave Nan Xun a pointed look. Without missing a beat, Nan Xun surveyed the room and settled his gaze on one of the maids. She had been the one to bring in the tea.
Nan Xun marched toward her, his presence terrifying. Before he could get close, the maid dropped to her knees fearfully. She told him everything as soon as he demanded for an answer.
The empress dowager stilled. Nan Xun looked around the room, his expression frigid. The servants were too scared to say a word. The empress dowager shuddered when his piercing eyes settled on her.
“You’re a senior. We’ll show you the proper degree of respect, but we won’t tolerate your misbehavior. You better think of an explanation, Your Royal Highness. I’m not letting this slip.”
Nan Xun took a deep breath. He didn’t want to imagine what would happen if Shangguan Yue had succeeded. He took Jun Huang hand and led her out.
The empress dowager soon regained her senses. It was humiliating that she’d been intimidated by a young man. Nan Xun’s attitude made her furious. “How dare he?! He’s but a prince with a different surname. How dare he talk to me like that? He has no respect for his superior.”
She turned to Qi Yun, who had been watching the scene play out. “He blatantly ignores the authority of the royal family. Such an offense deserves the harshest punishment.”