Desires were what led people to be used by others.
Jun Zishu smiled as she looked at Pei Xiuyun.
"Big Sister Pei, you like the fifth prince, right?"
Pei Xiuyun didn't feel the need to hide her feelings for the fifth prince at all. It wouldn't affect her in any way, even if others found out about it.
"But you can't marry him, right? As long as my cousin and the fifth prince remain close to each other, you will never get to be the official wife."
"So? What's your point?"
Pei Xiuyun's expression turned a little ugly. However, she didn't put on a pitiful appearance like she normally did, probably because the "dirt" she had on Jun Zishu had given her confidence.
"Ah, I misspoke. Even if my cousin steps away from the competition, with your status alone, there's no way you will ever get to marry the fifth prince as his main wife and become the fifth princess consort."
"On what basis do you have to lecture me? When it comes to status, you're even lower than me."
Jun Zishu had poked at Pei Xiuyun's sore spot. Pei Xiuyun hated her lack of status the most. After all, this was the main factor preventing her from marrying the fifth prince as his primary wife.
"What about it? Unlike you, I'm not vying for a position that doesn't belong to me. You should know that my cousin dislikes you, right? Have you ever imagined what kind of outcome would await you once you marry the fifth prince as his concubine?"
"Big Brother Five will side with me."
"Oh? Is that so? Are you so certain? To him, achieving his ambition is more important than anything else. What can you help him with in this regard? Also, can you compete with my cousin in terms of appearance? Once my cousin gives birth to a child, you'll probably end up in an even worse position, right?" Jun Zishu said, grinning.
"What are you trying to say?"
At this point, Pei Xiuyun realized that the girl in front of her was similar to herself, so she decided to get straight to the point.
"How about we work together?"
"What do you propose?"
"You've seen for yourself that the fourth prince and I have feelings for each other. I don't mind marrying him as a concubine, either. However, my uncle and aunt definitely won't agree to such a relationship. So, how about we stop my cousin from marrying the fifth prince?"
Pei Xiuyun's eyes glowed in interest, and she moved her face a little closer to Jun Zishu.
"We'll create a rift in my cousin and the fifth prince's relationship. That way, my cousin will never agree to marry the fifth prince, and you will have a high chance of becoming his princess. Of course, even if you fail to become the princess and end up as a concubine instead, the fifth prince will certainly remain biased toward you, right?"
"Why should I do that? Wouldn't General Ning refuse to help Big Brother Five if I do that?"
"No, no, no, things aren't as simple as you make it out to be. Even if my cousin doesn't marry the fifth prince, she can marry someone else. However, who said that my uncle wouldn't stand on the fifth prince's side? How can anyone decide such an important matter based on a marriage?"
Jun Zishu did her best to mislead Pei Xiuyun. Contrary to what she said, a marriage could often decide the outcome of such important matters. However, the current Pei Xiuyun was still too young to understand this.
"What do you need me to do?"
"Simple; you just need to push me into the pond in a moment and find an excuse for yourself. I believe you can do it. Once that happens, my cousin will be furious with you. At that time, you can also see whether the fifth prince will side with you or my cousin. Don't you want to know who is more important in your Big Brother Five's heart?"
Jun Zishu spoke in a coaxing tone. Pei Xiuyun currently had nothing but love in her mind. So long as Jun Zishu utilized this fact, there was no need to worry that the girl wouldn't take the bait.
"You and I might have separate goals, but both of our goals involve separating my cousin from the fifth prince, right?"
Pei Xiuyun started getting pulled along with Jun Zishu's pace.
"You don't want to see my cousin marrying the fifth prince, right?"
"That settles it, then. I don't want that to happen, either, so we can become partners."
Pei Xiuyun nodded.
"So, once you think of an excuse, push me into the pond and see whether the fifth prince will side with you or my cousin."
"Wait… How are you certain Big Brother Five will side with me?"
Bingo. That's the crux of the matter.
Wrapping her arms around her chest, Jun Zishu lifted her head and looked at Pei Xiuyun contemptuously.
"Don't tell me you're so useless? If you haven't managed to wrap the fifth prince around your little finger until now, you best quit the race now."
"Who said so? I can do it," Pei Xiuyun declared with a firm gaze.
"That settles it. Let's begin, then."
Jun Zishu perfectly turned the situation around. Initially, Pei Xiuyun should've had the upper hand after seeing Jun Zishu making close contact with the fourth prince. However, Pei Xiuyun was now being dragged along with Jun Zishu's pace, and she had forgotten entirely about the contact between Jun Zishu and the fourth prince. And even if she did remember it, she wouldn't know how to bring it up.
[What a wonderful plan you have there, Host.]
Had Pei Xiuyun been a little brighter, she should've used Jun Zishu's contact with the fourth prince as blackmail and insist that the two were having a love affair. Even if the love affair didn't exist, she could've used it to threaten Jun Zishu into doing her bidding. From Jun Zishu's perspective, though, she had nothing to fear even if Pei Xiuyun went down this route. Jun Zishu was confident she could strike down any accusation Pei Xiuyun could think of.
Moreover, what could Pei Xiuyun possibly threaten Jun Zishu to do? Even if Pei Xiuyun forced Jun Zishu to separate Ning Qinghuan from the fifth prince, Jun Zishu would be more than willing to cooperate since that aligned with her mission's goal. And if Pei Xiuyun forced Jun Zishu to harm Ning Qinghuan, Jun Zishu would adamantly refuse and utilize Pei Xiuyun's threat to earn some favorability points from Ning Qinghuan. She could even increase Ning Qinghuan's hatred toward Pei Xiuyun in the process.
Hence, no matter what Pei Xiuyun chose, Jun Zishu would still have Pei Xiuyun in the palm of her hands.
After putting on a smile, Jun Zishu started moving her mouth and sealed Pei Xiuyun's path of retreat.
"Look over there, Big Sister Pei. That lotus flower looks so pretty."
Jun Zishu pointed ahead and walked closer to the pond. Pei Xiuyun also followed Jun Zishu and looked in the direction she pointed at.
The next moment, Jun Zishu suddenly let out a short scream as she slipped into the water.
Pei Xiuyun quickly reacted to the situation and crouched down to help pull Jun Zishu out of the water. While doing so, she also shouted for help.
Although the pond was rather deep, Jun Zishu hadn't fallen into the pond haphazardly. Instead, she fell in a posture that allowed her to quickly bounce back to the pond's surface.
"Not good! Someone fell into the water!" a random person standing near the pond shouted.
Ning Qinghuan reflexively turned toward the voice's source. Although she didn't know who had fallen into the water, when she saw Pei Xiuyun standing beside the pond, a sinking feeling appeared in her heart. Immediately, she lifted her skirt, abandoned her conversation partner, and promptly dashed for the pond.
On the other side, the fourth prince didn't think that the little girl who had been chatting with him only a moment ago would fall into the water. He ran up to the pond with swift steps and pulled the struggling Jun Zishu out of the water.
Although Jun Zishu cooperatively caught onto the fourth prince's hand, she was inwardly opposed to the notion. After all, she hadn't finished acting yet! She still wanted to put on a more miserable act! How was she supposed to act frail if she got rescued out of the water in less than a minute?!
Meanwhile, when Ning Qinghuan ran over and saw Jun Zishu in the fourth prince's arms, her heart inexplicably tightened. Immediately, she approached the two and pushed the fourth prince away. Then, she embraced Jun Zishu, ignoring the fact that the latter was drenched.
"Thank you for your help, Your Highness," Ning Qinghuan thanked the fourth prince before shielding Jun Zishu with her body.
It was currently summer, so everyone was dressed lightly. After taking a soak in the pond, Jun Zishu's wet clothes had stuck to her skin, and Ning Qinghuan did not wish for others to see her little cousin in such a state.
The second princess arrived at this time. When she saw Jun Zishu in Ning Qinghuan's arms, she asked with concern, "What's going on?"
"Little Sister Wan'er was telling me that the lotuses there looked especially beautiful just now. I couldn't spot them, so Little Sister Wan'er pointed at them for me, but she got too close to the pond and accidentally slipped," Pei Xiuyun said with a frightened expression. Tears had even eked out of her eyes, making it look as if she had cried out of anxiety.
However, Ning Qinghuan didn't buy Pei Xiuyun's words and looked at the girl with a grim expression. When Pei Xiuyun spoke, Ning Qinghuan could feel the person in her arms trembling violently.
The second princess sighed in relief when she heard Pei Xiuyun's words. Then, she put on a smile again and said, "I see. Thankfully, Little Brother Four was nearby. Everything's fine now. Little Ning, quickly bring your cousin to get a change of clothes."
Ning Qinghuan nodded and helped Jun Zishu out of the courtyard.
Ning Qinghuan knew that the second princess didn't actually care about Jun Zishu's well-being. Even if Jun Zishu fainted today, the second princess would probably dismiss the matter with a few casual words.
Ning Qinghuan clenched her fists as she followed the servant leading them to a private room. Then, while waiting for the servant to return with a change of clothes, Ning Qinghuan asked, "How did you fall into the pond, Little Wan'er?"
"The fourth prince picked up the pendant I dropped last time and returned it to me just now. Afterward, Big Sister Pei invited me to admire the flowers with her. She said that she found one that looked exceptionally beautiful and wanted to show it to me. But when we moved closer to the pond, she suddenly pushed me. Fortunately, I knew how to swim, and the fourth prince also came to help. I don't know why she would do such a thing."
Jun Zishu wore an aggrieved look when she spoke, her soaked state making her look even more miserable and pitiful.
"Don't call her 'Big Sister.' She doesn't deserve that. Hmph. She probably did it just to spite me. Since she can't do anything to me, she must've tried to vent her anger on you instead. I won't let this slide! I'll definitely return this slight for you!"
Ning Qinghuan tightly clenched her fists, hatred coloring her face.
"Don't! Big Sister! Don't do it!"
"You are friends with the fifth prince, Big Sister, while she and the fifth prince… She and the fifth prince's mother also share such a close relationship. Wouldn't it sour your relationship with the fifth prince if you start an argument with her because of me? I don't feel wronged, Big Sister. I can endure it. Don't ruin your relationship with the fifth prince just because of me, Big Sister. It's not worth it."
"Don't overthink it. I want to see who His Highness decides to side with. I've been friends with him for ten years already, while he's only known Pei Xiuyun for five years."
Ning Qinghuan slammed the table beside her out of anger, a storm brewing in her eyes.
Jun Zishu continued wearing her pitiful appearance on the surface. Inwardly, however, she was smiling.
Ohoho, bait bitten.
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