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Chapter 116: Company
Qi Chen asked Jun Huang to come up with a good plan. Jun Huang wasn't going to let Sir Wei escape his punishment. She talked around the issues and discreetly deterred Qi Chen with what terrible things could have happened.
In the end, Qi Chen asked, "Why don't I just ask Royal Father to be merciful?"
Jun Huang blinked, her eyebrows knitted closely together. "Is Your Highness truly willing to lose the emperor's respect for an unimportant official? This gentleman thinks that stepping aside and letting Sir Wei burn may not be a bad thing in this case. At least the fire won't spread to Your Highness."
Qi Chen stared at her, giving her words some thoughts. She posed some valid arguments.
In came the man he had sent to the Court of Judicial Review. "The court has found evidence proving that Sir Wei has been exploiting the people," he said. "The evidence was submitted to the emperor. He declared that Sir Wei is to be executed in autumn."
Qi Chen motioned at him to leave. There was nothing else he could do. He told Jun Huang she was free to go as well.
That was the end to Sir Wei's story. According to Rou'er, Wei Lanying had fallen ill when she heard the news. Jun Huang didn't know what else was going on with Wei Lanying, but that woman had finally stopped troubling her.
On a rare peaceful day, Little Girl went to Jun Huang and begged Jun Huang to go shopping with her. Jun Huang had been staying in the house for the past couple of days. Little Girl insisted that Jun Huang needed to get in touch with the real world a little.
Jun Huang gave up on trying to argue. She tied her hair up with a hair band and went out with Little Girl.
The weather was cold. Even though the streets were bustling with activities, Jun Huang still tightened her robe to keep herself warm.
Little Girl looked around with childlike wonder. Jun Huang, on the other hand, never liked crowds. If not for Little Girl, she wouldn't have leave the comfort of her home to take on this torturous trip.
After walking past a few blocks, they saw Nan Xun from afar. Nan Xun spotted her too. They were both surprised. Nan Xun quickly recovered and made his way to her in long strides.
Being careful had become part of Jun Huang's instinct. She quickly surveyed her surroundings. When she turned back, Nan Xun was right before her, his lips quirked up in a lopsided smile. "Don't worry. There isn't any of Qi Chen's people here."
"Your Highness," greeted Jun Huang. She didn't take offense at his c.o.c.ky response.
Nan Xun gestured at two of them. "Our fates are indeed intertwined. Again, we happened to run into each other in this sizeable city."
"Your Highness speaks the truth," Jun Huang said in an aloof tone.
Nan Xun's page boy came up to them with a smile and said respectfully, "Your Highness, we still have to go to the jade store."
That reminded Nan Xun why he was here. He turned to Jun Huang. "Since you're free, why don't you come with me? I can use the company." Before she could say anything, he led her into a jade store not far from them.
Jun Huang didn't have anything better to do; she had no intention to say no to Nan Xun. But it was inappropriate for him to drag her around in public. She pulled away and walked shoulder to shoulder with him. They entered a jade store that was known for its quality products.
Once inside, Nan Xun started to look over the different pieces of jade, his smile dropping from his lips in concentration. Jun Huang followed him around and made comments every once in a while. Nan Xun always listened to her attentively.
"Is it someone's birthday?" asked Jun Huang.
Nan Xun looked up from comparing the two pieces of warm jade in his hands and tilted his head toward Jun Huang. "Prince Duan's birthday is in a few days. What of it?"
Jun Huang shook her head. "Nothing. I'm simply asking."
Jun Huang couldn't stop wondering what kind of relations.h.i.+p Nan Xun had with Prince Duan. After spending some time agonizing over the question, she coughed and said with feign nonchalance, "Are you close with Prince Duan?"
"We have a good enough relations.h.i.+p. Prince Duan is kind to me. He doesn't look down on me for not bearing the royal family's surname like the other royal princes." He huffed out a self-deprecating laugh.
Jun Huang didn't let the bitter feeling in her heart show. She nodded and leaned against the counter, looking at the various jade products on display. She then turned to the jade pieces in Nan Xun's handa and suppressed a smile.
"Do you know what Prince Duan's preferences are?" she asked, affecting a casual tone.
Nan Xun was quiet for a moment. He shook his head awkwardly and cleared his throat. "I know he is partial to jade, but that's about it."
Jun Huang nodded. She took the warm jade from Nan Xun's hand and put it aside. Her gaze flicked to the various jade products in the store. They certainly appealed to the common eyes. "This jade may look beautiful, but its beauty is a shallow one," she explained to Nan Xun as she looked around. "It's for people who don't understand what good jade is."
A clerk standing near them turned to her and approached her with a smile. "From the gentleman's words, it's clear that you are a man who appreciates good jade. I suppose it shouldn't be surprising. The gentleman is as good-looking as a piece of white jade yourself. This servant is impressed."
"You are too kind," Jun Huang said politely, a small smile tugging at her lips and her delicate eyes lighting up. Nan Xun stared at her dumbly. The air of n.o.bility inherent to her was the most attractive thing about her, and the abundance of knowledge she possessed earned her the respect of others.
"In this case, the jade we offer to regular customers may not be worthy of your taste. I will bring you our most precious collection from the back." With that, the clerk disappeared into another room, his face flushed with excitement.
Jun Huang turned to Nan Xun and said, "I've heard that Prince Duan has an expensive taste. These regular jade products may not be good enough for him. It's a good idea to pick from the store's special collection."
Nan Xun nodded. Perhaps it was fate that brought Jun Huang to him today. With Jun Huang's help, he certainly would not embarra.s.s himself again.
The page boy was reminded of what had happened a few years back. He couldn't help the laugh escaping his mouth. Jun Huang turned to him questioningly. "Is something wrong?"
The page boy threw a glance at Nan Xun before waving a hand in denial. "No, nothing. I just thought of something funny. It's trivial and not worthy of the gentleman's attention."
Little Girl wasn't going to let that go. She pulled at the page boy's sleeve and looked at him with her big round eyes. "What is trivial? Why don't you tell us and let us have a laugh as well?"
Little Girl had been working in Nan Xun's manor, but she rarely served at his side. Embarra.s.sing things like the one the page boy spoke of was known to only a few of Nan Xun's personal servants.
The page boy snuck another glance at Nan Xun. Jun Huang covered a smile and asked, "Why are you looking at him?"
"Um… a few years back, the prince spent a great deal of time trying to find a good gift for Prince Duan's birthday like he is doing now. Unfortunately, he picked a piece of jade that's intended to be a child's toy. It was said that Prince Duan jokingly scolded the prince for that and gave the jade to his child."
The page boy broke into laughter again. He couldn't help it.
It took a moment for Little Girl to grasp the story. She bit her lips to stop herself from laughing. Her face had turned red from her efforts.
Jun Huang maintained a perfect mask of calmness and turned to Nan Xun.
Nan Xun coughed. It had been a while ago, but he was still a little embarra.s.sed. His ears were red when he looked away. "That was in the past. The story is only worth getting told as an anecdote. Nothing more."
"It's impressive for Your Highness to have such great story to tell," Jun Huang said teasingly.
The clerk could feel the change in energy in the room when he walked out with a decorative box. He looked around and didn't see anything amiss. He turned back to Jun Huang. He didn't want to offend anyone by staring.
"Please take a look at this thumb ring," The clerk said as he opened the box.
Jun Huang looked over and saw a glistening jade thumb ring at the center of the box. She could tell the material used was of fine quality. The white jade was free of impurities or flaws.
Nan Xun followed her to the clerk. Compared to this thumb ring, the warm jade he had set his eyes on was merely a pale imitation of the real thing. He picked up the thumb ring and turned it over in his hand. The more he looked at it, the more he believed that it was the perfect gift. He turned to Jun Huang for her opinions.
In the end, he bought the jade thumb ring. He asked the clerk to wrap it and delivered it to his manor. Someone would be there to take the ring and pay the clerk.
When Jun Huang and Nan Xun left the jade store, it was close to noon. Most restaurants had opened, and there were servers trying to attract customers on the street. It was a lively scene.
One of the servers approached Nan Xun and Jun Huang when he spotted them, his smile lighting up his entire face. "Do the gentlemen want to come in for lunch?"
"Of course," Nan Xun cut her off. "Please prepare us a fine dining room. We will be inside in a moment."
"At your service!" the clerk replied. Nan Xun's page boy followed the clerk in.
Jun Huang frowned. "There's no need for you to spend your money on this."
Nan Xun waved a hand at her. "You have just solved a big problem for me. Consider this meal my thanks. Please accept it."
Jun Huang nodded reluctantly and resigned herself to following Nan Xun into the tavern. They made their way to a booth on the second floor. Jun Huang's eyebrows jumped up when she saw the different dishes covering the entire table. "If I didn't know Your Highness, I would think you were trying to bribe me. All this food for us? Ha, this is enough to feed a family for a month."
Her sarcasm was clear to Nan Xun's ears. The page boy must have forgotten himself when he was ordering. This warrants a deduction to his wage, Nan Xun thought. He has to learn not to be wasteful.
"In my manor there is a cook who prepares our meals. As a result, my page boy has failed to order the right amount of food. How about we eat some of it and deliver the rest to the orphanage?" Nan Xun was clearly trying to win Jun Huang's forgiveness. It was just difficult to look past his stoic expression to discern his true intentions.
"I wasn't serious. There's no need for you to fret." Jun Huang fell silent. She picked up a teacup and took a sip with her eyes lowered.
Without a word, Nan Xun started to dive in. Neither of them said anything as they ate. Even after they had finished the meal, Jun Huang was still quiet.
"What's been happening on your side?" Nan Xun asked as he placed his chopsticks on the table.
Jun Huang met his eyes and put down her teacup. "Everything is as it should be."
"How about Wei Lanying?" Nan Xun asked worriedly. "Has she been troubling you?"
"No. I heard that she fell ill. With the pressure of what has happened to her family on her shoulders, I don't think she will be thinking about me anytime soon."
Nan Xun hummed. He was still worried. "She may not be doing anything ontowards now, but she remains a threat to you. No one can tell what she may be capable of in the future. You must stay on your guard."
Jun Huang nodded. Outside the window, fallen petals fell from the sky, painting a perfect picture of springtime. Down below were the bustling crowds roaming the prosperous imperial city. At that moment, the liveliness seemed to be within her reach.