Chapter 283: Troubles in the Harem

Phoenix Ascending

“It’s fine. I understand.”

Jun Huang smiled gently at the maid, which made her eyes sting. She turned to wipe off her tears when Jun Huang wasn’t looking, her heart clenching. Why would a wonderful woman like Jun Huang be subjected to such malice?

Jun Huang pretended to not see the maid’s tears and sighed silently. She knew what was happening. When Nan Jihan still cared, the maids and servants had been attentive to her. After they had an argument and he’d left in a dark mood, she was no longer considered under his protection. It was only natural that people with ulterior motives would take the opportunity to make her life difficult, for example by denying her daily supplies, which she didn’t care much about.

The maid calmed herself. She didn’t want Jun Huang to know what was wrong. She put on a smile and lowered her eyes. She paused when she noticed the empty bowl. Her head jerked up and her eyes met Jun Huang’s. She opened her mouth, but no words came out.

“I don’t have a sweet tooth,” Jun Huang said carelessly with her eyes downcast. “I don’t need any sweets. Don’t worry about that.”

“But the medicine is bitter, and the taste lingers in your mouth. The smell was enough to make me gag when I brewed it. Candied dates can cover the bitterness.”

The maid’s brows remained deeply furrowed. She choked out a sob.

“It’s fine. I’m tired. I’m going to rest.” Jun Huang didn’t want to waste time on the issue. She felt sleepy as the medicine came into effect.

The maid wasn’t going to argue. She quickly helped Jun Huang to her bed and tucked her in. “Rest well. This servant will wake you up when the meal is ready.”

Jun Huang nodded and closed her eyes. The maid sighed and turned to leave.

She made her way to the royal kitchen with a meal box. Many other maids were already here. They mocked and insulted her as soon as they saw her. She kept her mouth shut like Jun Huang had suggested. However, those people just wouldn’t let go. Although she didn’t want to waste her breath arguing with them, she couldn’t let them slander Jun Huang.

Their argument attracted the attention of the eunuch in charge. He asked them where they were from and shot the maid a cold glance. He dismissed the others and pointed a finger at the maid. “How dare you make such a scene in the palace? Your master must be as catty as you are. Stay here and don’t enter until they leave.”

“Gonggong, they - ”

“What? Do you want your master to starve?” The eunuch glanced at her derisively.

The maid bit into her lip, her chest bursting with anger she couldn’t let out and her eyes brimming with tears. Only after everyone had left did she enter the kitchen. However, the place seemed completely ransacked. There was nothing left. She gripped the mealbox tightly. What should she do now?

“Hm? Why did you come so late?” The young cook leaned out of the kitchen and peered at her questioningly.

“I was delayed.”

“Those women acted like they were from the ghettos and didn’t leave anything,” said the cook. “It may not be your fault that you’re delayed, but you should come earlier next time. The feud between those consorts never ends. They’d love to deprive their rivals of food. You’re going to be scolded if you return empty-handed though. How about I prepare something simple for you? If it’s not too crude for you, that is.”

Hope lit up in the maid’s eyes. She nodded earnestly. “Thank you.” 

The cook waved his hand carelessly and rolled up his sleeves before starting to cook. He quickly made a bowl of noodles and a side dish. He scratched his head. “I don’t have a lot of time, so this is the best I can do.”

The maid nodded and quickly put the food into the box like she was worried someone would rob her. She bid the cook farewell before walking away.

“This is all that’s left,” the maid carefully said as she took out the bowl of noodles and the side dish. “I don’t know if you can stomach it.”

Jun Huang glanced at the food on the table and nodded with a smile. “I’m not picky. You don’t have to be so concerned.”

Once she finished the meal, Jun Huang went back to bed. The maid left the room after tucking Jun Huang in and grabbed the remaining steamed bun on the table. She was used to a life of poverty. She finished eating and went to bed, intending to wake up early to get breakfast for Jun Huang, who needed to have bird nest porridge every day to boost her recovery. The maid wouldn’t be able to get any if she went too late.

Early the next morning, the maid rushed to the kitchen with a meal box, but she was stopped from entering. The other maids took away all the bird nest porridge right before her. She couldn’t do anything but fume. The cook that helped her yesterday was nowhere to be seen. It was said that he’d been assigned to a different post for a mistake he made.

The maid returned with only a bowl of plain porridge, and she’d fought hard for it. Jun Huang looked at the porridge, then at the maid. She sighed and decided to have an open conversation with her. “I know what’s happening. You don’t have to hide it from me. I’m not a consort, and I don’t want to be one. They have nothing to do with me. There’s no reason for you to push yourself. If someone stops you from getting something, let them. Don’t put yourself at risk. You can’t win.”

“I can’t protect you. I can’t do anything if they try to hurt you. Take a step back and don’t clash with others head on. Then, maybe you’ll get something fresh out of the pot rather than cold, stale buns.”

“You knew?” the maid muttered timidly, staring at Jun Huang.

Jun Huang chuckled and ate the tasteless porridge without a word. The maid pursed her lips in frustration and couldn’t help but ask, “Are you going to do nothing when they treat you like this? You’re getting weaker. Even if we disregard those maids and servants, the medicine you get is short of a few ingredients the royal doctor prescribed you. You don’t get good food or good medicine. What if you collapse? Let me go to His Majesty for help. He likes you. He won’t let you be subjected to such unfair treatment.”

“There’s no need,” Jun Huang said with an impassive expression. “I know my body. I’ll recover anyway. I don’t want to owe him another favor.”

Days passed. The maids and eunuchs still saw Jun Huang as an easy target. The maid was unable to get any good food, and the medicine she was given became even cruder. She tried to seek out Nan Jihan, but he’d moved into another palace, and the maid couldn’t get any more information on his whereabouts.

The maid watched helplessly as Jun Huang became slimmer. She should have recovered already if she hadn’t been subjected to unfair treatment. Finally, the day came that the maid could leave the palace to purchase groceries. She didn’t complain about the meager silver taels she was given and went straight to Oleg Cragfiend.

She told him about the situation Jun Huang was in. Jun Huang had been growing more and more sleepy. She spent unnaturally long hours asleep every day, and she looked sick. Oleg Cragfiend immediately followed the maid to the palace.

Nan Jihan had given him a free pass to the palace for saving his life. Therefore no one had tried to stop them from entering. They rushed to the side palace.

Oleg Cragfiend opened the door and saw Jun Huang sleeping on the bed. Even from a distance, he could tell she’d lost weight. He’d put in so much effort to help her recover, and now it was all undone. It pained him to see her in this state.

Jun Huang opened her eyes when he was near the bed. She widened her eyes in delight and surprise and propped herself up. The sudden movement sent her into a coughing fit. The maid quickly poured her a cup of water and fed her.

“Why are you here, master?” Jun Huang wiped her mouth with a handkerchief after she stopped coughing and asked with a smile.

“I heard you weren’t doing well, so I came to check on you,” Oleg Cragfiend admitted. As he expected, Jun Huang looked mortified for a brief moment.

Jun Huang turned to the maid with a frown, who got her message and lowered her head. Neither of them said a word.

“At this rate, you’ll never recover enough to survive the blood drawing,” Oleg Cragfiend snapped.

Jun Huang fell silent. She lowered her eyes, her expression impassive. She felt strangely calm and almost cold inside.

Oleg Cragfiend didn’t want to engage in a staring match with her. He rose and said a few words to the maid before leaving the room, making his way to the study.

Nan Jihan had just returned from the morning meeting. He was surprised to see the poison master. He hurried to him. “What is the gentleman doing here?”

Oleg Cragfiend scoffed aggressively. “This peasant would like to ask Your Majesty the same thing. This peasant entrusted my disciple to Your Majesty, and now she’s bed-ridden and weak. If this peasant hadn’t come, she’d have wasted away.”

Nan Jihan was completely lost. He glanced at the eunuch, then at Oleg Cragfiend. “What do you mean?”

“My disciple is delicate. She looks so much worse than she did before. The palace must have been too harsh an environment for her to stay in. It’s better that I take her back to my place.”

Nan Jihan finally had an inkling about what the poison master was talking about. He stopped the old man from leaving and asked with a frown, “What? She’s been having the most premium herbs. Why would she get more ill?”

Oleg Cragfiend huffed and took a couple steps back, staring at Nan Jihan coldly. “Is Your Majesty truly in the dark, or are you trying to play ignorant? Premium herbs? She doesn’t even get enough food!”

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