Chapter 281: Payback

Phoenix Ascending

Nan Jihan was notified as soon as Jun Huang arrived at the palace. He quickly dealt with the business at hand in order to make time for her. After half an hour, however, Jun Huang still hadn’t shown up. He wondered what had happened. Had Jun Huang got lost?

He was going to ask the servants, but as soon as he stepped out of the palace, he saw his personal eunuch talking to a young eunuch. He was a little too far from them to hear their conversation clearly, but the young eunuch’s expression was a clear enough indicator that something was wrong.

“What are you talking about?” he demanded.

Both men jumped. The older eunuch looked guilty. Nan Jihan frowned and asked again, but the eunuch stammered and didn’t give him an answer. He scowled.

The older eunuch weighed his options and tried to buy himself time. Too many conflicting forces were at play for him to make a decision readily.

Nan Jihan had never been particularly patient. His eunuch’s silence made his fury burn hotter. Still, the old man had served him for a long time. He’d give him the benefit of the doubt.

He took a deep breath to suppress his annoyance. “Fine. How about Feng Baiyu? Why hasn’t she come?”

The eunuch stilled, which didn’t escape Nan Jihan’s notice. They’d been talking about her! His expression darkened further.

The older eunuch didn’t dare keep the secret anymore. He knew Consort Li’s family was powerful, but he had to take Nan Jihan’s feelings for Jun Huang into consideration as well. If he remained silent and something happened to Jun Huang, he’d certainly be killed. He \told Nan Jihan about how the consort had kept and bullied Jun Huang.

Nan Jihan’s expression turned frosty. It scared him to think about what’d happen to Jun Huang after kneeling under the sun for half an hour. He immediately ran for the garden. The eunuch hurriedly chased after his master and didn’t dare say another word.

When Nan Jihan arrived at the garden, Consort Li had a basin of water in her hands with duckweeds floating over the surface. It clearly came from the pond next to her. Before he could stop her, she’d already splashed the water all over Jun Huang. The sound hit his ear drums like a crack of thunder and made his head spin.

The shriek coming from Jun Huang’s maid hit his heart like a dagger. She put herself between the unconscious Jun Huang and Consort Li, shielding her master with her own body. Her eyes were red as she lashed out at the consort with an accusative finger pointed at her, completely forgetting about their differences in status. 

Consort Li wasn’t going to take the insults. She grabbed the maid’s collar and slapped both her cheeks, leaving two offensively red handprints.

Nan Jihan’s heart clenched thinking about what the royal doctor had said. Without thinking, he went up and gripped Consort Li’s wrist. The consort winced in pain and was scared witless. She stood rooted to the spot and stared owlishly as Nan Jihan slapped her and pushed her away. If her maids hadn’t caught her, she’d have fallen to the ground like last time.

Nan Jihan carefully picked Jun Huang up. A brief contact with the hot pebbed road was enough to leave his hand red. Jun Huang’s hair and clothes were a mess because of the water the consort splashed on her. Her face was so terrifyingly pale it put a lump in his throat and made his eyes sting.

“You’ve done quite enough,” Nan Jihan growled. Consort Li curled into herself in fear and lost the ability to even make a sound. “I thought you’d learn your lesson, but you clearly haven’t. I’ve gone too easy on you. From now on, you’re grounded to your residence and aren’t allowed to leave without my say so.”

Without sparing her another glance, he gathered Jun Huang into his arms and carried her to his palace with a group of maids and eunuchs in tow. The consort gritted her teeth in anger, her eyes turning bloodshot due to jealousy, but there wasn’t anything she could do.

The eunuch felt guilty when he saw the state Jun Huang was in. If he’d notified Nan Jihan as soon as he heard about what happened, things wouldn’t have escalated to this point. However, he couldn’t possibly make Consort Li his enemy. He waited outside the room with Nan Jihan as the maid to clean Jun Huang up. He debated if he should say something to his master.

Nan Jihan knew what he was thinking. He threw the eunuch a glance, rendering him silence.

After a pause, Nan Jihan said, “I’ve given you too much leeway. People will talk if I don’t punish you for what you did. Go get twenty beatings. And no stipend for you for the next month.”

The eunuch opened his mouth to say something, but nodded in the end. He wasn’t at all surprised by Nan Jihan’s decision, and he didn’t resent Jun Huang. It was only fair. After a brief stay, he went off to receive his punishment.

Jun Huang’s maid walked out of the room, her eyes still brimming with tears when she looked up at Nan Jihan. “Your Majesty, the lady… she’s still unconscious. What’s happening?”

“It’ll be fine,” Nan Jihan comforted her, pushing his worry aside. “I’ve sent for the royal doctor. She’ll recover. You’re a mess as well. Go clean up yourself. She won’t be happy if you look like this when she wakes up.”

The maid didn’t want to leave, but noting Nan Jihan’s dark expression, she nodded and followed one of his maids away to get changed. When she returned, the royal doctor had arrived as well.

Nan Jihan didn’t dare enter the room without the royal doctor and only walked in after the doctor had come. When he saw Jun Huang lying on the bed, he couldn’t stop himself from worrying. She looked as if she’d fade away any second.

The doctor gingerly took her pulse, his brows knitted together. He let go after a while and approached Nan Jihan. “Her health has been compromised long ago. The heat today harmed her further and the sun burned her skin. She must rest well in order to make a full recovery. The scrapes on her knees are much less serious. Some ointment will do.”

Nan Jihan stilled, staring at Jun Huang. Her pale face had turned red because of the sunburn. It pained him to even look at her.

Jun Huang came for a cure, and yet her health deteriorated further because of Consort Li. The more he thought about it, the more his temples throbbed. He couldn’t bear to see Jun Huang like this.

The arrival of Jun Huang’s maid gave him a good excuse to leave. He told her to take care of her master and practically fled the room.

Now, he could finally breathe.

The eunuch returned after receiving his punishment, limping towards his master. Any other day, Nan Jihan would have been amused, but now he couldn’t even managed a smile. He sighed and reminded the eunuch, “Send someone to tell Consort Li she’s deprived of three months of stipend because of her mistake.”

The eunuch nodded. “Understood.”

The consort scowled when the young eunuch came to relay the message. She’d been in a bad mood. Hearing Jun Huang’s plight made her feel a little better. But then Nan Jihan sent this eunuch to remind her of her mistake! She couldn’t contain her fury and shattered the teacup in her hand. The young eunuch shuddered helplessly.

The consort’s old caretaker cleared her throat and tugged at Consort Li’s sleeve. “Don’t act hastily,” she whispered. She couldn’t say much when the eunuch was here. “Humor him and we’ll discuss the rest. It’ll be unwise to throw a tantrum.”

Consort Li gritted her teeth and dismissed the young eunuch.

Consort Li reluctantly allowed the caretaker to lead her back into the room. She was angry, but the caretaker had raised her and treated her kindly. She shouldn’t take her anger out on her. Besides, her caretaker was a wise woman who always had the answer. She poured herself a cup of tea.

Southern Mu’s tea was almost sickeningly sweet. Normally she liked the taste, but for some reason she found it difficult to swallow now. She spat the tea out and slammed the cup on the table, using a little too much force that the cup toppled and spilled tea all over. The liquid dripped on her dress. The fabric stuck to her body uncomfortably.

“Have you forgotten your job? Why aren’t you cleaning this up yet?” Consort Li shot to her feet and growled, pointing at her wetted dress.

The caretaker threw the maid by her side a pointed look, who rushed to retrieve a towel. Consort Li scoffed and hurled the maid to the table by her sleeve. “What are you waiting for? Do you think the emperor will set his eyes on you if you keep yourself neat? Foolish chit, you better know your place.”

The maid dropped down to her knees, her face pale. “Lady Li has misunderstood. This servant comes from a lowly background and wouldn’t dare hope for more.”

“Alright, don’t waste your time on the servants. We have business to talk about.” The caretaker stopped the consort from hitting the maid and told the girl to leave first.

She retrieved a dress and helped the consort get changed. Then she sat on the divan and patted the consort’s hand. She wanted to tell the consort to control her emotions, but the consort hated nothing more than being ordered around. She sighed and cut right to the chase.

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