At the Noble Consort’s Feet Chapter 1

Chapter 1 Fufeng

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Beneath the fortified walls of Fufeng, a white fat moon cast a radiant glow upon the early summer breeze. The scent of blossoming flora filled the air, as if to mask the despair and chaos that lingered amid the flames of war.

This ancient city lay over a hundred leagues from the grand capital of Chang’an. It was a place once filled with valiant and dauntless men whose gallantry and courage were immortalized in the hearts of the people. The memory of their heroic deeds was forever entwined with the somber and stirring melodies that echoed through the ages.

Yet, the passing of centuries had stripped Fufeng of its former glory. In its place, an air of melancholy pervaded the city, wrought by the temporary respite granted to the fleeing Emperor who had sought refuge within its walls.

Within the confines of the post station, the Imperial Guards maintained a watchful vigilance. Everyone stood still and did not dare to speak.

In the midst of the hushed stillness, there emanated a melodic refrain, soft and pure, like the crystalline notes of a clear stream. It was a woman’s voice, singing a haunting tune whose origins remained shrouded in mystery. The melody rose and fell, a fluid cadence that seemed to move with the ebb and flow of the very wind itself.

The song evoked a sense of longing, a wistful yearning that tugged at the heartstrings. It was a sound both ethereal and earthy, evoking both the celestial melodies of the heavens and the alluring songs of the capital’s courtesans. However, within its lilting melody lay an undercurrent of melancholy, a deep sorrow that spoke of the vast, untamed wilderness beyond the borders.

The soldiers, standing resolute with their spears at the ready, were transfixed by the music’s somber beauty. It was a song of tribute to a glorious era, and yet, it was also a mournful lament of decline. Their eyes glistened with unshed tears, their hearts heavy with the weight of an era long gone.

Not long ago, the Great Wei Dynasty was a prosperous era of peace, with a vibrant atmosphere of song and dance. But within a few months, the splendor woven from gold, jade, and silk was easily trampled by the iron hooves of warhorses.

The rebel army led by Prince Rui, Li Jing Hui, had already reached Lantian which was less than a hundred miles away from Chang’an.

Half a month ago, Emperor Li Jing Ye led the last remaining twenty thousand or so Imperial Guards in a hasty retreat to Fufeng, waiting for the General of the Imperial Guards and Hedong’s Military Governor, Pei Ji, to arrive with reinforcements from Hedong.

The rebellion arose suddenly, and Li Jing Ye knew that with only twenty thousand men by his side, he would not be able to hold out for long. Thus, four days ago, at the urging of his trusted aides, he made the painful decision to send his most beloved consort, Noble Consort Zhong, to the enemy camp.

After all, Noble Consort Zhong was originally meant to be Prince Rui’s Consort, but with the ongoing conflict between the Emperor and Prince Rui, she was inevitably implicated.

It was said that Noble Consort Zhong was born beautiful and, after marrying Prince Rui, was forcefully taken to the Imperial Palace by the Emperor, who fell in love with her at first sight. For years, she had enjoyed the Emperor’s favor and became the envy of women throughout the land.

During her time of prosperity, every aspect of her appearance, from the flower hairpin on her forehead to the embroidery on her shoes, was imitated by women in Chang’an.

The Son of Heaven and his favorite consort had become the immortal couple in people’s mouths, while Prince Rui had fled to the border and gradually been forgotten.

Everyone believed that the brothers were born from the same mother, so they would not become enemies over a woman.

It was only recently that Prince Rui rebelled and people realized that he had long buried his hatred in his heart, waiting for the right moment to strike.

How many men could tolerate the pain of losing their wives? Especially the proud Prince Rui who had been born and raised in the imperial family.

In one night, the beautiful and graceful Noble Consort Zhong fell from the clouds, becoming the most hated and cursed woman in the world.

Even the Emperor, who had once cherished her like a treasure, had to send her into Prince Rui’s army with his own hands.

It was rumored that on the same night, Prince Rui ordered his army to stop at Lantian and took her into his tent, not emerging until two days later.

It was precisely during those two days that General Pei Ji had the opportunity to catch his breath while he went to gather reinforcements.

Yesterday, Pei Ji led one hundred thousand troops from Hedong to Lantian, not only dealing a heavy blow to the rebel army but also rescuing the Emperor’s favorite consort.

After returning, the Noble Consort knelt outside the Emperor’s door for three hours but was unable to see him. She could only receive a short message from the Chief Eunuch, “Beloved consort, you have suffered.”

The Noble Consort remained motionless for a long time, then finally got up and left without saying a word.

It was said that the Noble Consort was excellent at singing and dancing. Today, when the Imperial Guards heard her singing, they finally realized that the rumors were true. Her singing was sometimes powerful and inspiring, and sometimes tender and sorrowful, making those around her spellbound.

She seemed to want to sing all the songs she knew in her life, intermittently and without pause, for a full two hours.

Just as everyone was completely immersed in her singing, the song suddenly stopped.

The soldiers guarding the door could not help but glance over and saw the Emperor’s personal attendant, He Yuan Shi, holding a tray and leading three people inside.

Although the soldiers couldn’t see what was on the tray, they could vaguely guess what it was and couldn’t help but feel sad, so they turned their eyes away.

Within the room, Li Zhi was dressed in a luxurious palace outfit, her black hair styled into an elegant high bun with delicate hairpins adorning her temple. Her makeup was impeccable, enhancing her beauty to the point where she resembled the imperial consort who once turned heads and stole hearts in the grand halls of Daming Palace.

She sat before a dressing table, carefully attaching a peony hairpin to her forehead with utmost precision, as if the world revolved around this tiny detail.

More than ten candles flickered, casting a golden glow upon her enchanting features, making her red lips appear even more vivid, her eyes more alluring.

When He Yuan Shi entered the room, she gave him only a faint glance through the bronze mirror, as if she had already expected his arrival. She calmly finished placing the peony hairpin, waiting for the roseate glow to emerge from her forehead before turning to He Yuan Shi with a smile. “Has His Majesty sent an edict?”

He Yuan Shi dared not look at the mesmerizing beauty before him, bowing respectfully and holding up a tray with trembling hands. “Indeed, Your Highness. His Majesty has granted you a white silk garment and has tasked me with escorting you on your journey.”

Li Zhi gazed at the neatly stacked white silk on the tray, her shining eyes flickering, but her expression remained blank.

He Yuan Shi remained silent, taking the white silk and unfolding it. As if unable to bear seeing her in such a dying state, he turned his face and trembled as he wrapped the white silk around her slender and fragile neck.

The white silk was wide and clean, but inexplicably reminded people of dust-covered, layered spider webs.

Before exerting himself, he choked and asked, “Does Your Highness have anything else to say?”

The Noble Consort had been in love with the Emperor for several years. Even though she had fallen to such a state, there must still be some things on her mind.

Even if it was just an unwilling question, it was a common human feeling.

But Li Zhi only had a moment of confusion in her eyes before smiling and saying, “If the Chief Eunuch is able to see General Pei, please thank him on my behalf. When he returned, he was in a hurry to go back to Lantian, and I didn’t have a chance to thank him.”

She was the woman whom countless people reviled as a curse, whether it was the Emperor or Prince Rui, nobody cared about her feelings or her survival.

At present, even she herself lost interest in her own life.

Only that Young General Pei had offered her protection during her most pitiful moments, using his outer robe to cover her and sheltering her from the gazes of countless onlookers.

Although his eyes held the same scorn and contempt as others, he ignored his subordinates’ advice to ignore her. He remained silent as he personally saw the seductive woman, who had been cast aside by the Emperor, safely back to Fufeng.

Now that she was about to depart for the netherworld, there were no other regrets left except for owing him a word of thanks.

He Yuan Shi paused briefly before replying with a firm “Alright,” then applied pressure to his hand.

The door was tightly closed, and the soldiers stationed outside were clueless as to what was going on inside, only hearing a muffled grunt followed by the sound of legs kicking against the wooden planks.

After a while, all sounds had faded away.

Three individuals carried a corpse draped in white cloth out and quickly moved to a sandy area nearby. They picked up shovels and threw sand on top of the corpse one shovel at a time.

A mound of sand gradually formed on the ground, covering the white cloth. The only thing left visible was a pair of snow-white wrists, on one of which rested a translucent jade bracelet that shimmered with a melancholy and cold luster.

As the moonlight spilled over the silence, the haunting echoes of the woman’s mournful and heartrending singing lingered on for a long time.

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