CH 2

The Yongning carriage was already waiting at the door.

When Jun Linghuan finished eating pastries, the maid from the Shen family, Jun Huailang’s mother’s family, approached and said it was almost time to enter the palace. Jun Huailang led his sister to the front of the mansion, and the manservant at the gate smiled and said that the Duke and Madame were already in the carriage.

The manservant placed a footstool and raised the curtain. Jun Huailang first helped Jun Linghuan into the carriage, then entered himself. 

“Huailang and Huan-er[1] came out together?” Madame Shen asked as they came in.

Jun Huailang lifted his head and saw his mother and father sitting in the carriage. His mother was full of smiles and his father, Jun Chengyuan, was taciturn and indifferent. They were just like he remembered. 

It’d been three years… he was twenty-one when his father was convicted and he lost both of his parents. He hadn’t seen them in three years. 

His father had always been an honest official and never embezzled or participated in factions. In the last life, he suddenly became connected to a huge corruption scandal and was beheaded in accordance with the law. Jun Huailang knew there must be a conspiracy. In the last life he couldn’t find any clues… in this life he must discover the truth.

Coming back to his senses, Jun Huailang smiled at Madame Shen and nodded. “This son was visiting Linghuan. Linghuan’s pet bird died, so she’s grieving right now.”

After saying that, he glanced at the boy sitting at the side and nodded to him as a gesture.

That young man was Jun Enze. He was about the same age as Jun Huailang, and was the son of his father’s younger brother. His Shufu[2] had been demoted and sent to Lingnan.[3] He did not want his legitimate son to suffer, so Jun Enze was fostered in Yongning Mansion.

The relationship between Jun Huailang and Jun Enze in the previous life was also quite indifferent. Jun Enze was a companion of the Second Prince, and followed him blindly. In that life he never cared about the children of Yongning. 

Jun Huailang could not help but scoff in his heart.

Jun Enze had gone to the fullest extent to curry favor with the Second Prince, but it was just to integrate into the circle of princes for superficial status. But when it came time to transition to the new regime, to follow the wrong prince was to play for the wrong team. The prince he followed not only could not protect him, but even turned him into an accomplice.

Jun Enze himself couldn’t see it clearly, and Jun Huailang had no interest in talking to him. 

As soon as Jun Linghuan entered the carriage, she threw herself into Jun Chengyuan’s embrace. Jun Chengyuan was normally serious and reserved, but only Jun Linghuang could be affectionate with him.

Jun Chengyuan had a rare smile on his face as he hugged Jun Linghuan and clumsily straightened her bangs.

The carriage swayed in the direction of the Imperial City.

Jun Huailang did not notice Jun Enze in the corner silently looking at him.

The imperial carriage of a duke was spacious and ornate. The chairs and table were inscribed with gold and inlaid with jade, rich and splendid. Seated in the middle of this splendor, Jun Huailang’s bright appearance seemed otherworldly. 

Jun Huailang had a noble demeanor that no one else could match. Anyone compared to him would look like counterfeit goods, relying on charity and ashamed of their own inferiority.

Jun Enze turned his eyes away.

… What’s so amazing about him? Like the Second Prince said, this kind of person is just being pretentious. 

The carriage came to a slow stop on the west side of the Imperial Palace, in front of Zhuque Gate.[4] A line of carriages and horses flowed in front of Zhuque Gate, each and every one an official or noble attending the banquet. A few people got out of their carriage and someone led their carriage away. An attendant ran over and politely led them to Yongle Hall, where the banquet was being held.

As soon as he entered the second palace gate, Jun Huailang heard someone calling him.

“Huailang! Huailang!”

Jun Huailang looked up and saw a group of eunuchs in front of him, escorting a sumptuously dressed young man. The boy’s embroidered robe was made of gold and a necklace of pure gold rested around his neck. On it dangled a lock of longevity, made of white jade. 

This was the sixth prince, Xue Yunhuan.

He was the only direct son of the empress, younger than Jun Huailang by one year. The empress and Madame Shen were bosom friends, so Madame Shen often visited the palace. Jun Huailang and Xue Yunhuan grew up playing together.

The empress had a gentle temperament and the palace servants indulged Xue Yunhuan, so he became a little tyrant. No one dared provoke him. But Jun Huailang knew this kid was actually very foolish, stubborn, and particularly loyal. 

In his previous life when Jun Linghuan had entered the palace, Xue Yunhuan had pointed to the heavens and swore that he would definitely protect Jun Huailang’s sister. But sadly, within one month, Jun Huailang received news that he had been killed by Xue Yan.

… The grievances between him and Xue Yan really were incalculable. 

Xue Yunhuan ran over to them. Smiling, he cupped his hands and greeted Jun Chenyuan and Madame Shen first. When the two hurriedly returned greetings, he nimbly reached out and messed up Jun Linghuan’s bun. 

“Huan-er meimei,[5] did you miss me?” 

Jun Linghuan’s hair was pulled by the complicated hair ornaments, and she yelped in pain. She pursed her mouth in outrage and reached out to hit him. 

As Xue Yunhuan dodged, he grinned at Jun Huailang

“I’ve been here waiting for you for so long! I was so afraid of missing you, my eyes are all worn out!”

Jun Huailang smiled helplessly. He helped Jun Linghuan tidy up her bun and said, “We’ll see each other at the banquet in a moment, why did you come here to wait for me?”

“Hey, waiting until the banquet is too late!” Xue Yunhuan said. “I got a Dayuan[6] horse a few days ago, and it’s the most impressive horse in the world. I’m just waiting to bring you to look at it!”

Jun Huailang wanted to refuse, but he met Xue Yunhuan’s shining eyes. He thought of how they died without being able to see each other in his previous life, and his heart softened. 

Xue Yunhuan saw that he did not refuse and was immediately overjoyed. He tugged Jun Huailang’s sleeve and addressed his parents, saying, “Shen-yi,[7] Lord Duke, don’t worry, leave Huailang to me. We’ll be quick!” 

Jun Chengyuan and Madame Shen naturally couldn’t refuse him. All they could do was urge them to be careful.

Xue Yunhuan dragged Jun Huailang away.

In the palace only the emperor and empress were allowed to ride sedan chairs, so they had to walk all the way. The imperial stables were quite remote, and the further the two of them walked, the quieter the surroundings became.

The Imperial City occupied an extremely wide area, with over ten thousand palaces. Many of the remote palaces were uninhabited and dilapidated, it was somewhat bleak. But Xue Yunhuan chattered incessantly and praised his horse the whole way, making the atmosphere lively.

The sounds of an argument came from a small road ahead of them.

“What are you holding? Hand it over, let us geges[8] inspect it!” 

“Hey we’re talking to you, did you not hear me?”

It was a group of young eunuchs speaking. In the midst of this clamor was a little eunuch softly begging for forgiveness. They could indistinctly hear him saying it was bestowed by the emperor and cannot be touched, please have mercy and let him go.

Jun Huailang couldn’t help but stop and observe.

“What, what is it?” Xue Yunhuan only had his precious horse on his mind and had not noticed the dispute at all. Seeing Jun Huailang stop, he also paused. 

Through the lush trees Jun Huailang saw a few people surrounding a little eunuch, forcefully yanking at the thing in his hand. The little eunuch was so scared he almost cried, and hid the thing in his arms.

“Bestowed by the emperor? How could your master have a gift from the emperor? Aren’t you aware of the situation?”

They laughed heartily and pulled the thing out.

The little eunuch couldn’t keep ahold of it, and it suddenly fell. A piece of jade fell to the ground and shattered with a tinkling sound. 

The group of eunuchs immediately stopped laughing and froze. The little eunuch stared at the jade arrow, shivering and lips paling.

After a while the leader said loudly, “It’s no problem of ours! You were the one who smashed the jade arrow bestowed by the emperor, the head being smashed will also be yours!”

The group of eunuchs came back to life and echoed each other in agreement.

Jun Huailang frowned.

These people clearly knew what the little eunuch was hugging, but they were deliberately picking on him. Destroying a gift bestowed by the emperor was a beheading offense. If no one else had seen what happened today, this little eunuch would not have been able to keep his head on his shoulders.

Jun Huailang had never been able to stand seeing this sort of malicious blaming, especially the ones that destroyed lives. He pushed aside the branches obstructing the path and advanced towards them.

He left the cover of the trees and was just about to speak when he was caught off guard by the sight of another person.

That person stood by the little eunuch’s side, staring coldly at everything before him. He was wearing fine clothing, but the group of eunuchs clearly didn’t respect him. When they shoved the little eunuch, they even deliberately knocked their elbows against him.

Jun Huailang met his eyes. They were amber, like a deep lake.

Xue Yan.

Jun Huailang’s eyes froze and his expression suddenly turned cold. But amid the vigilance and hatred, a strange emotion suddenly grew in him. 

He did not expect to suddenly meet Xue Yan here. Furthermore he had not expected that the Xue Yan of this time was completely different from the ruthless, crafty tyrant that he remembered. 

His facial features already had a shadow of his future sharpness and depth, but his barbarian lineage made his eyelashes thick and long, which made his still young appearance seem charming.

He stood there alone with his eyes downcast, and was deliberately pushed to and fro by several eunuchs without saying a word. His amber eyes when looking at himself were a frozen abyss and completely devoid of the vitality that a young man should have. He looked like an orphaned wolf cub.

It made Jun Huailang feel pity for him unexpectedly. 

But he came back to his senses after a moment. Since time immemorial, for every grievance someone was responsible, for every debt there was a debtor. Even though he was pitiful, the Jun family and Jun Linghuan had never provoked him. The enemy was still the enemy. He may be pitiful, but for what reason did he defile the innocent?

Thinking of what happened in his past life, Jun Huailang clenched his teeth.

Next to him, Xue Yunhuan had long been accustomed to Jun Huailang meddling in other people’s affairs. Seeing that Jun Huailang didn’t say a word, he thought there was someone Jun Huailang couldn’t afford to offend. He walked out with his hands clasped behind his back to support him.

“Who is making a fuss there? This Prince saw what happened just now. Don’t think you…”

Unexpectedly, the group of eunuchs were so frightened they knelt and kowtowed, and Jun Huailang suddenly interrupted him. 

“We’re leaving,” he said.

“… Ah?” Xue Yunhuan was taken aback.

But Jun Huailang glanced coldly in that direction and said in a chilly voice he’d never heard before, “ Don’t meddle, let’s go.”

After speaking he turned around and left.

Only then did Xue Yunhuan notice the person he was looking at. 

“Xue Yan?” Xue Yunhuan quickly caught up with him. “You also know this evil star? Indeed we shouldn’t get involved. People say he killed his mother and the Prince of Yan, and the Yan prefecture was lost because of him. Even an immortal would be punished for getting involved with him… Hey! Wait for me!”

Xue Yunhuan’s voice faded as he followed Jun Huailang away.

The eunuch that knelt and begged for mercy did not expect that the young noble who had wanted to sort them out, took one look at Xue Yan and dragged the sixth prince away instead.

Indeed, the master was right. This kind of noble person who was disliked by all the nobility in the palace, could be trampled by the servants even though he was the son of the dragon.

The eunuchs stood up, looked at Xue Yan and smiled contemptuously, and left one after another.

Before leaving, one of the eunuchs did not forget to bump into Xue Yan heavily.

After a while, the place returned to silence, except for the sobbing of the little eunuch slumped on the ground.

“You[9] should have said something! The gift bestowed by the emperor was in this servant’s hands, even if I had ten heads that wouldn’t be enough for His Majesty to behead! What kind of sins did this servant commit…” 

“So noisy,” Xue Yan suddenly said.

HIs cold voice was slightly hoarse, his tone gentle but inexplicably intimidating.

The little eunuch was shocked and stopped crying. He looked up at Xue Yan, and saw him indifferently looking in the direction where the two nobles had disappeared. After a while, Xue Yan lowered his eyes and looked at the broken jade on the ground with contemptuous eyes.

“When His Majesty asks, say I accidently broke it and it has nothing to do with you,” he said.

After that he walked forward, stepping directly over the broken jade.

HIs back was straight and his steps were steady. There was no trace of humiliation on him at all. Instead, his attitude made people subconsciously want to surrender at his feet. 

Passing through that intersection, Xue Yan brutally broke a branch as thick as an arm blocking his way, and threw it at his feet. He did it with no difficulty, but there was a deep aura of killing intent. It was like he was wringing off a head.

That was the cluster of branches that Jun Huailang had pushed aside earlier.


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