Jun Huailang dreamt that he sat alone at a banquet for a long time.
Finally he decided to go out and get some air.
As soon as he got up, a maid came and summoned him to the rear hall.
The maid’s face was one he knew well.
She was clearly Diancui-gugu.[1] But the expression on her face was unfamiliar.
She looked at him coldly and scornfully, just the look in her eyes made him feel ill.


He followed Diancui to the rear hall and was confronted with the loaded scrutiny of the concubines.
Jun Huailang ignored it and waited for Consort Shu’s airy order.

“Take Linghuan out to get some air,” she said indifferently, without even looking up.

Jun Huailang was suspicious, but it seemed to be a great reprieve.
He wanted to hold Jun Linghuan’s hand.
But Jun Linghuan was very polite, she followed him and walked out at his side.

…… What is this, why is she so distant to me?

Jun Linghuan didn’t lift her head until they left the main hall.
What a relief.
Those clear eyes did not have the disgust and scrutiny that suffocated Jun Huailang.

“Thank you, gege!”[2] She smiled.

There was a bit of restraint in her tone that was unfamiliar to Jun Huailang.
Before the word “gege,” there had been a vague prefix which Jun Huailang couldn’t hear clearly.

He suppressed the feeling of strangeness in his heart and took his sister to play.
She first went to the imperial garden and then the plum blossom grove to watch the lanterns.
One lantern in the center of the grove was the most beautiful.
Jun Huailang couldn’t resist going to pluck it for Jun Linghuan.

In the dream, he was as light as a sparrow as he navigated the narrow path in the plum blossom grove.
He lept lightly onto the Taihu stone[3] at the center of the lake and plucked the lantern from its peak.
But when he came back, Jun Linghuan had disappeared. 

He was so anxious, he immediately wanted to go find Jun Linghuan.
But all at once, a group of people restrained him and forced him to kneel on the cold limestone outside the imperial garden.
Reprimands from all around made his ears ring.
He couldn’t defend himself against them.

“Why are you arresting me, why don’t you look for her first?” Jun Huailang asked anxiously.

But none of the eunuchs and guards heeded him.

Later, he was dragged into the dazzling[4] main hall.
Everyone was standing, only he knelt.

“Your Majesty, please send people to search for Linghuan first!” He said anxiously when he saw Emperor Qingping.
Nothing else was important.
“Linghuan never runs off on her own.
I fear something may have happened!”

But Emperor Qingping did not seem to hear him.
The Emperor was furious at him, which made Jun Huailang feel very strange.
All around him were familiar people, but they looked at him with unfamiliar expressions.
Their eyes were cold and disgusted.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long before Jun Linghuan was found.
Jun Huailang had been worried and he was eager to see her.
But when he met Jun Linghuan’s terrified eyes, it was as if she was looking at some monster.
Even after they broke eye contact, Jun Linghuan trembled all over and hid in the arms of the man behind her. 

After that, everyone’s accusing glares and the Emperor’s command to punish him all blurred together.
He looked at the awful expressions on every familiar face and his whole body broke out in chills.
A wave of pain swept through him and choked him.

He looked around in a daze, frantically looking for something, but he couldn’t find anything.
His dreams ended and he usually woke up here.

Jun Huailang abruptly returned to his senses and looked at Xue Yan.

Xue Yan didn’t look at him, but the scene in front of him was extremely familiar to Jun Huailang.
It was clearly the same scene, but in the dream, he knelt in Xue Yan’s place.

Could Jun Linghuan have run to the Cold Palace alone while Xue Yan was fetching the lantern and also become inexplicably frightened of Xue Yan? Were the things in the dream what happened to Xue Yan today? In that case…… clearly there was another person involved in this situation.
And this is why Xue Yan and his little sister had a misunderstanding in the previous life — because of this person.

The Imperial Guards had received the Emperor’s order and at this moment, they were stepping forward to drag Xue Yan out for punishment.

Jun Huailang threw caution to the winds and stepped in front of Xue Yan. 


“Wait a moment,” he said.

The Imperial Guards didn’t expect that this lord would have the nerve to resist an imperial decree, especially while the Emperor was in a raging temper.
They stopped and looked at each other in dismay.

Jun Huailang glanced at Xue Yan as Xue Yan looked up.
Those light eyes had turned cold and ink-dark as they rested on the Emperor on his dais.
Although it was not aimed at Jun Huailang, it still sent a shiver down his spine.
It suddenly occurred to him that what he experienced in his dream was what Xue Yan was experiencing right now. 

Jun Huailang stood between the Emperor and Xue Yan, putting Xue Yan at his back and blocking his glaze.

“Your Majesty, please quell your anger,” Jun Huailang said.
“Linghuan was frightened and she hasn’t explained the cause yet.
Please make your judgment after investigating.” 

The Empress glanced at the furious Emperor, then at her bosom friend who was wiping away tears.
“Huailang, don’t say nonsense,” she reproached him.

Emperor Qingping suppressed his anger and asked, “Is it not already clear? Of all the people in the palace, Linghuan is only afraid of him, and she went missing after he took her.
What else must I investigate?”

Jun Huailang took a deep breath and replied calmly, “It is true that the Fifth Prince and my sister left the banquet together, but this subject finds this matter somewhat strange.”

Fortunately, he had been an official for several years in his previous life.
In the golden court he had been able to reply fluently and could now withstand the Emperor’s current anger.

Emperor Qingping frowned but his anger did not flare up.
After a while he grudgingly said, “Then you go and ask.”

Jun Huailang accepted the command and rose.
When he turned around to walk back, he met Xue Yan’s eyes again.
He looked dazed, and his eyes were filled with emotions that Jun Huailang couldn’t distinguish, like a turbulent whirlpool under the sea.

Those eyes just stared at him fixedly. 

Jun Huailang only exchanged a glance with him before turning away.
He walked to Jun Xiaowu, and reached out to take Jun Linghuan from his arms.

Jun Linghuan had calmed down a little.
She was still sobbing softly but she managed to whimper out a gege.

Jun Huailang knelt with one knee on the ground and held Jun Linghuan in his arms.
He smoothed one hand down her back and gently asked, “Linghuan, tell your gege.
What happened just now?” 

He deliberately had Jun Linghuan facing away from Xue Yan.
Meanwhile, his current expression and actions were all exposed to Xue Yan’s stare.

Jun Linghuan rubbed her eyes and sobbed for a long time before whispering, “He eats people.”

Jun Huailang was stunned.
“Eats who?”

Jun Linghuan hid in his arms and stammered, “They said… Fifth Prince-gege, he eats people.
So they took Huan’er to hide somewhere he couldn’t find… But they all left, only Huan’er stayed there.” 

Jun Linghuan’s voice hitched and she started crying again.

Jun Huailang was taken aback for a moment, then realized what she meant.
Hearing the little girl whimpering like a kitten, he quickly leaned over and hugged her.

In addition to the heartache, Jun Huailang was a little terrified by the facts he had found.
This incident had happened in the previous life, and Xue Yan had received “well deserved” punishment due to Jun Linghuan’s incrimination.
Since then, Jun Linghuan must have avoided Xue Yan as if he were a snake.[5] After all, a six year old girl was easy to frighten.

…… So what Xue Yan said in the book had an explanation.
Ultimately Jun Linghuan had been pranked and deceived by the “they” that she referred to, thus forming an enmity with a young Xue Yan? And in the endless years after, Jun Linghuan being defiled by Xue Yan for no apparent reason was also because of these people’s irresponsible jest?

Jun Huailang pursed his lips tightly.
In addition to the fear, a biting coldness appeared in his eyes.


Everyone in the hall had heard what Jun Linghuan said.
For a moment everyone’s expression changed, even the Emperor’s anger froze on his face.

Jun Xiaowu immediately became furious.
Disregarding all propriety in front of the Emperor, he asked, “Linghuan, which little shit scared you with such nonsense? Tell Second-ge, I’ll beat him so hard he won’t be able to get out of bed for three days!”

Jun Huailang quickly stopped Jun Xiaowu with his eyes, lest he frighten their little sister with his anger.

Jun Linghuan’s sobs became a bit heavier.
Jun Xiaowu quickly crouched and petted her head.
He slowly asked, “Linghuan, who said that?”

Jun Linghuan thought for a while.
“Enze-gege,” she said.
“And Second Prince-gege.
The rest of them… Linghuan didn’t know them.”

Jun Huailang raised his head and looked at Emperor Qingping on his dais. 

Emperor Qingping obviously heard Jun Linghuan.
He never thought that this matter could be related to his other sons.
When he heard that the Second Prince had said something about “eating people,” he became even more angry out of embarrassment.
“Men! Why aren’t you bringing the two of them to me immediately!”

Ling Fu hurriedly received the imperial decree and ran out to order an eunuch to find Jun Enze and Xue Yunsu.

The two boys were brought in after a short period of time.
Xue Yunsu seemed unperturbed, but when Jun Huailang looked closely, he could see that the calmness was an act.
Behind him, Jun Enze’s shoulders were cowering and his legs were already trembling.

My family raised a white eyed wolf,[6] Jun Huailang thought coldly. 

The two of them knelt down in front of Emperor Qingping.
The Emperor asked, “Second Eldest, was it you who brought little Miss Jun to the Cold Palace?”

Xue Yunsu was furious right now. 

Who knew taking a little girl was so troublesome? She couldn’t walk fast and was timid.
She was obviously just a burden. 

Originally he was just showing off to the sons of a few influential families, saying that he had the guts to take them to the haunted Cold Palace.
The noble sons became very excited, so he also became enthusiastic and led them away.
As for the little brat, after a few scary words, she became too frightened to move.

But it was too troublesome to send her back at this time.
Besides, he had taken the child away just to cause trouble for Xue Yan, why should he send her back? 

He could only take her along.

After arriving at the Cold Palace, the nobles became even more excited because of the gloomy atmosphere.
Someone suggested they take a look in the inner palace.
But the brat was timid and slow.
She would be a hindrance no matter who she followed, so no one wanted to take her with them.

Xue Yunsu naturally didn’t want to either.
He just found an excuse to place Jun Linghuan in a random watchtower.
To prevent her from running all over the place, Xue Yunsu also scared her, saying that if she left she would surely be caught by Xue Yan transformed as an evil wolf.
It was late at night, exactly when Xue Yan ate people.

Xue Yunsu wasn’t comfortable leaving to play until the threats, combined with the sinister gloom of the watchtower, caused Jun Linghuan’s face to be deathly pale and she didn’t dare twitch.

Who could expect that after these people started playing, they all forgot about that little nuisance.
By the time they remembered her, news of Jun Linghuan’s disappearance had already spread throughout the palace.

Luckily, they had been a noisy group.
No one noticed that they had brought a little girl with them.
In addition, there was no one looking after the area surrounding the Cold Palace so no one knew they had brought Jun Linghuan to the Cold Palace.

When Xue Yunsu learned Jun Linghuan was missing, the first thing he thought of was to warn those who had gone with him. 

“Keep your lips sealed,” he said.
“None of us have been to the Cold Palace today, remember that.”


Anyway, that silly little girl was scared out of her wits, and she was only afraid of Xue Yan.
She definitely wouldn’t let anything slip.
And she had merely been frightened, nothing dangerous had happened.
She could even learn a lesson and pity that evil star less in the future.

Of the noble sons that caused this trouble, no one dared take responsibility.
With their leader, the Second Prince, telling them to hold their tongue, naturally they all said nothing.

Unexpectedly, that silly little brat learned to snitch by herself?

Now questioned by the Emperor, Xue Yunsu paused and calmly said, “Imperial Father, this son has never been to the Cold Palace.
I didn’t see Linghuan-meimei[7] today after the banquet either.”

He pretended to be confused and looked around.
“What happened? Did Linghuan-meimei identify the wrong person?”

His acting was quite clumsy, anyone could tell he was lying at a glance.
Emperor Qingping looked displeased.
The Emperor glanced at Jun Enze standing beside the Second Prince and asked, “The Second Prince really didn’t go to the Cold Palace today?”

Although Jun Enze had been warned by Xue Yunsu earlier, he lost his nerve in front of the Emperor.
He just knelt there, legs trembling, shaking his head and saying he didn’t know.

Naturally Emperor Qingping could see through a child’s lies.
But it was the fact that these two tried to deceive him together that made him more angry.

“You still don’t know how to repent but you know how to deceive me?” Emperor Qingping said angrily.
“Not only do you not admit wrongdoing, you want to conceal it?”

At that moment, Lady Zhang, who was sitting at a low-ranked seat, couldn’t stay still.
Xue Yunsu was her own flesh and blood.
Lady Zhang had entered the Cold Palace before, so what she feared the most was seeing the Emperor angry and casting blame.
Seeing that her son incurred such a big disaster and the Emperor did not believe him, Lady Zhang hurriedly got up and knelt down in front of Emperor Qingping.

“Your Majesty, Su’er has always been a good boy.
He’s never lied to you![8] Please find the truth.”

Emperor Qingping said angrily, “Is he not lying to me with that demeanor?”

Lady Zhang hurriedly replied, “The child is timid and good-hearted.
He must have forgotten his manners in front of Your Highness because he was frightened! Besides, it was the Fifth Prince who lost the young lady of Yongning, how can Su’er be blamed…”

At that moment, a clear voice interrupted her. 

“Concubine Zhang.” Jun Huailang said.
“If His Second Highness is guilty, you[9] will also be guilty of deceiving His Majesty on his behalf.”

Lady Zhang turned around and saw Jun Huailang staring at her coldly.

“You don’t have the right to speak here!” Lady Zhang said angrily.
“Ignorant youth, what do you know!”

Jun Huailang only looked at her.
His deep black eyes had always been clear and soft, like an otherworldly immortal.
But at this moment, those eyes were sharp as a knife.
His imposing manner under interrogation was overwhelming, and he showed no fear.

Jun Huailang looked at the people in the hall lying without batting an eye, and a raging anger ignited in his heart.

They still knew fear? Then why didn’t they know fear when doing such things? They had no misgivings when they abandoned such a young girl in a deserted watchtower, and they threw blame on Xue Yan with all the confidence of the righteous.
How come when the time came to admit what they did, they started to be afraid?

In the previous life, what Jun Linghuan had suffered because of them had been a million times more terrible than this.

The angrier Jun Huailang was, the clearer his thoughts became.
There was a mocking smile in his eyes as they flitted over the culprits.

“Second Highness, before you quibble next time, there’s no harm in straightening out your attire first.
You betray yourself,”[10] he said.

Xue Yunsu was taken aback and looked down at his robes.


Jun Huailang continued, “The watchtower in the Cold Palace is old and dilapidated.
Dust lies thickly on the stairs and the mahogany handrails are all rotted.
Those stairs are extremely narrow.
When we went to look for Linghuan, even someone with as strong martial skills as Xiaowu got rotten wood fragments on his body, to say nothing of you.
Your Highness.”

Everyone looked and saw that there were trails of dust on the edges of Xue Yunsu’s robes.
At his elbow and back, there were traces of rotten wood, and his sleeve had even snagged on the wood and become damaged.
The lights were dim at night so it wasn’t visible outside, but in the brightly lit rear hall of Yongle Hall, the traces all over his body could not be concealed.

Xue Yunsu immediately panicked, and Jun Enze was so frightened he fell to the ground and began sobbing.

“That… that doesn’t prove anything! Perhaps Su’er was mischievous and bumped into something outside, you can’t know—” Lady Zhang said, unwilling to give up.

“Shut up!” Emperor Qingping interrupted her.

A banquet was being held in the palace, how could it have a single speck of dust? Where would Xue Yunsu have managed to become so filthy with grime? Emperor Qingping felt like he had lost all face and his anger increased accordingly.

“On the day of my birthday banquet, you caused such a foul disturbance as a present to me!” Emperor Qingping rebuked loudly.

Lady Zhang suddenly did not dare to speak.

Emperor Qingping gasped a few times, then commanded, “Take the Second Prince out.
He must contemplate his mistakes behind closed doors for one month and copy the forefather’s family precepts a hundred times.
He will not be released until he finishes copying, even his mother is not allowed to visit! The youngster from the Jun family is lacking in morals and conduct.
He is not allowed to be a prince’s companion any longer.
He will be sent back to his biological father!

“As for the sons of officials who traveled with them, instead of cautioning the prince, they made trouble together.
Once they are found, all the men of their house must forfeit half a year’s pay!”

The entire rear hall was so quiet one could hear a pin drop.
Everyone was as silent as a cicada in winter.[11] When Lady Zhang heard the decree, she immediately fainted.

When Jun Huailang heard the decree, he was somewhat dumbfounded.

When the blame was laid at Xue Yan’s feet, the punishment was clearly flogging and kneeling in the Buddhist temple.
But when it came to the Second Prince, it was just a light-as-a-feather punishment of confinement and copying ancestral scripts.

By contrast, the aristocratic sons were all more severely punished.
Not even counting Jun Enze, who was to be exiled from the capital, their punishment directly fell onto their fathers and brothers.
The men of the family would lose face in court and they could not escape being punished at home.

In the end, they were severely punished because they “led astray” the Second Prince.
The Second Prince was still Emperor Qingping’s own flesh and blood.
Although they were emperor and minister on the surface, fundamentally they were still father and son.

As for Xue Yan……

“Xue Yan, although you are not to blame for today’s offense, since Consort Shu instructed you to look after your meimei, how could you leave her alone? You will not be beaten today, but you still need to kneel in the Buddhist temple.
Just kneel until dawn,” Emperor Qingping continued.

After he dealt with everyone, he had seen Xue Yan still kneeling in the hall, sticking out like a nail.
Everyone was punished, only Xue Yan seemed innocent.
But this actually made Emperor Qingping feel uneasy.
As if he had wronged Xue Yan and made him kneel here for nothing. 

So Emperor Qingping lightly opened his mouth, charged Xue Yan with a crime, and gave himself a way out.
Anyway, Xue Yan got punished often, what’s the harm of adding another one or two?

Notes:

[1]姑姑 paternal aunt, but can also be used to address older women.
In this story, most of the characters use “gumu” for blood related & “gugu” for non-blood related aunties. [2] 哥哥 older brother, can also be used to address older men of the same generation not related by blood. [3] 太湖石 a type of limestone prized for its unusual shapes https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taihu_stone [4] 金碧辉煌 lit.
gold and jade in glorious splendor; a dazzling sight. [5] 蛇蝎 lit.
snakes and scorpion; vicious people. [6] 白眼狼 ingrate, someone who repays kindness with harm. [7] 妹妹 younger sister, can also be used to address younger girls who are not related by blood. [8] 您 respectful form of you. [9] 您 respectful form of you. [10] 露出马脚 lit.
to reveal the cloven foot; to unmask one’s true nature or give yourself away. [11] 噤若寒蝉 as silent as a cicada in cold weather; keep quiet out of fear.

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