Chapter 10 Dance
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By the side of Taiye Pool, the night sky shimmered with clarity and beauty.
The grand and resounding music emanating from Linde Hall traveled over the tall slope, weaving through the air, and eventually arrived at the tranquil shores of Taiye Pool.
Within the spacious pavilion, Pei Ji sat upright and motionless, his gaze unwavering as it rested upon the stunning woman before him. Despite the tantalizing scent of the coral peony flower wine on the stone table beside him, he made no move to take a sip.
In the center of the open space, she stood poised and graceful. As the music played on, she delicately removed a single jade hairpin from her raven locks.
Her hair, which had been previously arranged in a lazy, cascading bun, now poured forth like a waterfall, undulating with each passing moment. In the flickering candlelight, it glimmered with an iridescent radiance that surpassed even the finest silk.
The slender jade hairpin was offered up to her flaming lips, where it was grasped gently between her teeth. Her delicate, pearly-white teeth held it securely in place.
White jade and crimson lips collided and fused into a mesmerizing sight.
Pei Ji remained expressionless, his gaze seemingly unaffected by the performance before him. However, beneath the stone table, his hands were tightly clenched, betraying the inner turmoil within.
His silent gaze swept over the white jade hairpin that spanned across the woman’s scarlet lips, his Adam’s apple involuntarily bobbing up and down as he struggled to contain the overwhelming emotions within.
It was a coral peony jade hairpin.
The tip of his nose twitched as it caught a faint fragrance, igniting a restlessness deep within his heart.
The music in Linde Hall shifted and swayed, like a river that ebbed and flowed, until it transformed into a melodious tune that carried a subtle hint of the Western Regions.
Li Zhi stood before him, her eyes brimming with youthful vigor as she gazed intently at him. Her bright red lips curved into a smile as she twirled gracefully to the rhythm of the drums, her wide sleeves flowing like waves in the wind.
The Hu-style music was unrestrained and passionate, just like her dance steps, which were light, agile, intense, and enchanting.
As she spun, her fairy skirt in red and gold flowed like a fiery flower in full bloom, captivating everyone who laid eyes on her.
Pei Ji was momentarily lost in a trance.
On the Qixi Festival, a grand spectacle of entertainment unfolded before the Emperor and his concubines. With performers from various schools of entertainment gathering at the Linde Hall, the stage was set for a magnificent feast of song and dance.
Yet in this solitary pavilion, Pei Ji was alone in admiring the alluring solo dance of this calamitous woman.
The distant music from the Western Regions gradually died down, and the frenetic rhythm was replaced by a slow and melodic tune.
Li Zhi’s dance steps slowed to match the music, and her fluttering hem descended gently, draping around her lithe and graceful figure like a veil of silk.
Her almond eyes burned with a fierce intensity, gazing straight at Pei Ji. As the music slowed to a stop, she glided towards him, step by step, until she finally rested beside him, like a weary bird returning to its nest.
Two bodies were separated by a thin layer of fabric, yet they were close enough to ignite a scorching heat.
After the vigorous dance, the exquisite beauty leaned against Pei Ji’s feet, panting and biting her jade hairpin, while a delicate fragrance wafted around him.
She delicately took off her jade hairpin and placed one of her hands on his tightly clenched fist, gently touching it, and asked, “General Pei, how is my dance?”
Pei Ji remained motionless, his gaze fixed on her without any hint of emotion, but the hand she held was hot, and his muscles were taut as a rock.
Li Zhi’s almond-shaped eyes sparkled with a hint of disappointment when he didn’t answer.
She lightly bit her lip and rested her flushed face on his knee, dejectedly muttering, “General, if you don’t drink my wine and don’t enjoy my dance, why did you come to this pavilion and make me feel happy for nothing?”
Pei Ji remained silent and closed his eyes as if reflecting on himself.
Why had he entered this place? He knew well that the woman before him was sly and had a hidden agenda. So why did he walk straight into her trap?
He had clearly lost his mind.
“My lady, what is the purpose of appearing before me multiple times?”
Pei Ji resisted the urge to push her away, his gaze falling upon the white porcelain wine jug on the stone table. He spoke in a low, restrained voice.
Li Zhi leaned against his knee, shifting into a half-kneeling position as her body twisted and turned, molding against his side. Her enchanting face drew close to him, her almond-shaped eyes like a pool of spring water, enticing him in.
“General, don’t you understand my intention?”
The melancholic tone in the woman’s voice stirred something deep within Pei Ji’s heart, a feeling he struggled to control.
Her intentions were crystal clear, leaving him no room for misunderstanding.
The first time Prince Rui barged in, she sought his help knowing his unique position, able to remove the Prince without incurring the Emperor’s wrath. But what about now?
She gave him medicine, gave wine to his subordinate, invited him to drink and even dance for him…
In Great Wei, there were no strict codes between men and women, and a woman could actively pursue a man she fancied.
But this woman was different, for she was the Emperor’s woman, and Prince Rui had his own feelings for her.
He knew that despite his status, power, and wealth, he could never compare to his two cousins. Even though many women had shown interest in him, he would never be so vain as to think that the woman before him would act in the same way.
Surely she had some hidden motive.
In the silence, Pei Ji squinted his eyes, carefully sizing up the delicate face close at hand, his dark eyes were full of vigilance and speculation.
Pei Ji narrowed his eyes in silence and examined the delicate face before him. His dark eyes were full of vigilance and suspicion.
Li Zhi closed her eyes and adopted an injured look. She held her chest with one hand, retreated slightly, and poured a cup of clear wine from the white porcelain jug on the table into the cup with the other hand.
Suddenly, a scent of coral peonies wafted over, causing Pei Ji’s heart to tremble.
With a cup of wine in hand, she approached him with a trembling voice and watery eyes, “Today is the Qixi Festival, where the whole palace is filled with celebration and joy. But I am the only one left here, feeling desolate and cold. How fortunate that the General is here with me. I have no precious gift to offer, so I pour this wine myself, hoping the General will forgive me.”
Pei Ji lowered his eyes and looked at her charming gaze, secretly pondering that this woman has yet to speak a truthful word.
His stiff posture since he sat down was finally broken. He suddenly reached out and grasped her delicate wrist, pulling her closer.
The wine in the cup splashed onto the back of his hand.
He disregarded it and spoke with a suppressed anger and sneer, “Lady, you need not deceive me. What accomplishments or abilities do I, Pei Ji, have that can make you ignore the Emperor by your side and repeatedly pester me? If you don’t explain it clearly today, then I-“
Before he could finish speaking, he suddenly gasped.
The woman who had moments ago been timidly speaking to him, now lowered her face, leaning closer to his damp hand, and slowly sucking away the remaining alcohol.
A warm and tender sensation spread from their touch, sending a slight shiver through him, leaving him at a loss for words.
Unconsciously, his grip tightened before gradually easing as she carefully drank away the last drop of wine, until he had fully released her.
She lifted her head slowly, with reddened eyes that gazed upon him tenderly, “What will General do if I fail to explain?”
Without waiting for his response, she drank the remaining wine in her cup in one go.
“I just believe that General is a good person. My eyes did not deceive me. Despite all my efforts, General, you remain unmoved. If it were anyone else…” She let out a self-deprecating laugh and placed the cup back on the table. Pouring herself another cup of wine, she drank it down in one gulp. “Being a good person is one of the most difficult things in this world. Someone of your stature, General, is beyond my reach.”
They both knew who “someone else” referred to.
She silently drank her wine, her demeanor cool and collected. The rouge on her lips had smudged, leaving her with a melancholic and desolate appearance, in stark contrast to her previous coquettish and bewitching manner.
The music from Linde Hall had started up again, only adding to the desolation of this place.
Pei Ji’s heart suddenly jolted, and a suppressed urge burst forth.
“In this world, who could truly be called a ‘good person’?”
His voice was rough, as if it had been unused for quite some time.
Her eyes, still tinged with a rosy hue, stubbornly met his. “Aren’t you a good person, General?”
Before she could say another word, the man lifted her with ease and set her on the nearby stone table.
The man’s broad frame towered over her, pressing one hand against the small of her back while cradling her head with the other. He leaned in and kissed her softly, savoring the sweet taste of the wine on her lips.
The Linde Hall was ablaze with light, and the sound of music and dance filled the air.
In preparation for the Qixi night banquet, the court’s musicians and dancers had spent an entire month rehearsing. Not only did they perform the Emperor’s favorite Green Waist Dance, but they also showcased new and exotic styles that had just arrived from the Western Regions.
A pair of Beautiful Lady and Talented Lady even donned dance costumes and performed alongside the court’s musicians, hoping to elicit a smile from the Emperor.
In the past, Li Jing Ye would have been pleased and appreciative of the spectacle, but today, his mind was elsewhere.
Sitting at the lower end of the table, Pure Consort Xiao surreptitiously studied the Emperor’s absent-minded expression, furrowing her delicate brows in concern.
Although the Emperor was in his prime and held the position of ruler over all, he did not take in many concubines. After six years, he still had not selected an Empress, and most of the positions for the four Consorts, nine Concubines, and other low-ranking imperial concubines remained empty.
It wasn’t until a person appeared at the Wangxian Temple that everyone suddenly realized that the Emperor was not uninterested in women. It was just that he had yet to meet someone who could captivate him.
If not for the Empress Dowager’s wishes and not wanting to upset Prince Rui, His Majesty would have already brought that person into the palace.
The Emperor had been staying at the Wangxian Temple for half a month, causing many complaints from the women in the palace who had not seen him for many days. Finally, on the night of Qixi, the Emperor was distracted while facing the beauties in the palace, making people even more chilled.
After pondering for a moment, Pure Consort Xiao smiled and turned to the Emperor, “Your Majesty, all of us sisters have been preparing for this night’s singing and dancing for a whole month. What do you think?”
It was only then that Li Jing Ye regained his composure, glancing down at the ladies below who were seemingly laughing and chatting, but actually carefully observing his every move. A smile crept up on his face as he replied, “Excellent. I appreciate your efforts. Yuan Shi, distribute the rewards later.”
The words relieved the ladies’ worries to some extent.
However, Li Jing Ye’s mind was still uneasy.
As the festivities in Linde Hall grew more lively, he could not help but think about Li Zhi in Wangxian Temple. He feared that the grandeur of the palace might bring her sadness. Now that he had rewarded all the ladies, he felt even more sorry for her, who was alone and helpless.
After gauging the Emperor’s thoughts as she always did, Pure Consort Xiao suppressed the jealousy in her heart and leaned in slightly, whispering, “Your Majesty, since Qixi Festival is a day for officials and commoners to celebrate together, regardless of their status, should we also invite Lady Lian Zhen to join us?”
Her words struck a chord in Li Jing Ye’s heart, causing him to momentarily forget the festivities happening around him. He gazed down at his consort and was indeed somewhat swayed by her suggestion.
He looked away from her and considered her proposal for a moment before shaking his head. “Forget it. Yuan Shi, send a portion of the food on my table to Li-niang. She has a kind heart, and all the maids and eunuchs by her side have gone to Yeting Palace, don’t let her be alone.”
Pure Consort Xiao didn’t say anything more, instead choosing to quietly watch as He Yuan Shi led two eunuchs carrying food boxes to carry out the Emperor’s order.
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