Chapter 101 Deploying troops
Li Zhi felt her heart tighten as she looked at his calm face. She tightly pinched her fingertips hidden in her sleeve until the pain came, in an effort to hide the panic and fear in her eyes.
She pondered over his words, carefully analyzing and considering them in her mind.
Li Zhi wondered why Pei Ji would suddenly suggest that he should release her, and why he had come to ask her. Did he know something?
She bit her tongue silently, determined to maintain eye contact with him without flinching.
He remained calm and composed, with no visible emotions as he patiently waited for her to speak.
He wouldn’t know.
Li Zhi calmed herself down and realized that Pei Ji wouldn’t act recklessly. If he had already planned to use his own guards to help her escape, then there must be a good reason for him to say what he did.
What had happened exactly that made him say that to Li Jing Ye?
Li Zhi thought for a moment, then suddenly understood—
It must have something to do with Li Jing Hui!
She tried to hide her excitement and remain calm. “I have nothing to think about.”
“Really?” Li Jing Ye narrowed his eyes and observed her for a while before suddenly chuckling. He let go of her chin and put his hand behind his back. “That’s good then.”
Li Zhi smiled, her eyes forming crescent shapes. “It doesn’t matter what I think to Your Majesty. Since I am in the palace, my life and death are determined by Your Majesty’s orders.”
Li Jing Ye’s gaze caressed her bright eyes, and a look of confusion and regret appeared on his face.
“Yes, Li-niang, your life is in my hands, everything is just a thought away from me.” He gently touched her lips and cheeks, speaking in almost a whisper. “So, whether I only love this skin or something else, what does it matter? I will never let you go.”
He was answering the unfinished conversation between them on Qianqiu Festival.
Whether he loved her appearance or her person, as long as it was what he wanted, he would control it. As for her wishes, they were irrelevant.
For a moment, Li Zhi almost couldn’t control the sudden surge of anger. She stared fiercely at the withering osmanthus branch in a vase nearby.
No matter how beautiful a flower was, it would only end up withering away when its time came.
She took a deep breath, slowly closed her eyes, and said coldly, “I understand. Today, my body is uncomfortable, and I cannot serve Your Majesty. If Your Majesty has nothing else to do, please go rest elsewhere.”
The room was quiet for a moment, and then came the sound of footsteps receding into the distance.
Li Zhi opened her eyes, clutching the doorframe with one hand, staring at his retreating silhouette as he boarded the sedan chair and vanished into the darkness. Only after a while did she regain her composure, breathing laboriously as though she had been drowning, and finally released the stale air that had been caged in her lungs.
The night was beautiful, with a small moon and many stars shining.
Li Jing Ye sat on a chair, gazing at the sky’s stars, feeling lost and without a place to settle.
“Li-niang…” He remembered when he had to leave her at Wangxian Temple every night and go back to Zichen Hall alone.
But despite that, he felt happy and content.
He acted like a childish kid, who finally got a toy he had wanted for so long and wanted to keep it close to his heart.
She was very attractive from head to toe, and he loved every part of her as if she was made especially for him.
Such a lovely woman should be held in his arms and raised in the palace.
For the first time, he defied the expectations of others and used his immense power to forcefully take her back, feeling an indescribable thrill.
It was a rush like no other he had ever felt, going against everyone’s expectations.
He felt a sense of satisfaction for making a daring decision, even if he knew deep down that she would never truly belong to him.
He held everything in his hands, his power and authority unchallenged.
But his heart was still empty, leaving him feeling lost and desperate for something to fill the void.
“Your Majesty?” He Yuan Shi heard the low murmur and turned to face him.
Li Jing Ye remained silent for a moment, then spoke softly, “Bring Fourth Miss Zhong to me.”
The imperial carriage returned all the way to Zichen Hall. He Yuan Shi helped Li Jing Ye change clothes and take medicine, and before long, Zhong Miao Yun arrived.
Li Jing Ye frowned slightly as he looked at the woman kneeling in the hall.
She wasn’t dressed in the beautiful clothes and hairstyles that she usually wore.
Only her face, regardless of how she changed her makeup, hair, or clothes, always bore a slight resemblance to Li Zhi.
His gaze fell on her face, and he reached out to remove the hairpin from her hair, causing her long hair to fall down.
He felt slightly relieved.
His brow slightly relaxed as he lowered his gaze to her light blue dress. It was a little too eye-catching.
“Take off your clothes.”
Miao Yun looked uncomfortable and bit her lip, glancing at the two eunuchs who were still there.
“No talking either.” Li Jing Ye seemed not to notice her discomfort and frowned again upon hearing her voice. “Smile.”
Miao Yun’s face turned pale as she awkwardly took off her clothes and stood in the hall, trying hard to force out a smile.
Li Jing Ye seemed unsatisfied, so he took a semi-transparent veil and covered her face with it.
All her embarrassed expression and sharp temperament were covered up, leaving only a faint smiling shadow that matched the person in his heart.
He slowly took her hand and walked to the bed, lying down beside her.
He closed his eyes and lay on his back.
Miao Yun stiffened her neck and turned to look at him, wanting to take off the veil that was still covering his face.
“Don’t take it off.” He still had his eyes closed, but seemed to know what she was doing.
Miao Yun hesitated, wanting to say “Yes,” but remembering that he had forbidden her to speak, she stopped herself and stared at the ceiling through the veil, too afraid to move.
Li Jing Ye waited for five long days before finally giving the order to remove Prince Rui from his position and send him back to Chang’an immediately. After discussing with several ministers, he also commanded Yiwu’s army to move to Youzhou.
This method was decided upon because the plan suggested by Pei Ji, which was to directly mobilize Yiwu and Hedong’s armies, was not feasible anymore. The Emperor was known for his cautious and conservative attitude, and this decision reflected that.
Urgent reports from Youzhou arrived almost on the second day.
The inspector sent to investigate Fan Huaien’s case in Youzhou was beheaded publicly by Li Jing Hui, causing chaos. Even the newly appointed governor of Youzhou, chosen by Xiao Ling Fu himself, almost met the same fate. Fortunately, he escaped because he was fast on his feet.
After fleeing back to Chang’an in a miserable state, he was disheveled and in disarray. He rushed to Daming Palace and handed the crumpled dispatch document to the Imperial Guards, then fainted on the spot.
Meanwhile, Li Jing Ye was sitting in the Chang’an Hall, listening to the female officials report on the Empress Dowager’s condition when the crumpled dispatch document was delivered to him.
The mother and son looked at each other silently.
He Yuan Shi came in holding a letter from the Imperial Guards and gave it to Li Jing Ye. He also repeated what the governor of Youzhou said before fainting, trembling all over.
Li Jing Ye slowly opened the letter, smoothed it out, and read it aloud in front of his mother, word by word.
As he read, the Empress Dowager’s face turned even paler and her already weak and cloudy eyes became more and more panicked and afraid.
Li Jing Ye looked at her with no expression and smiled mysteriously, “Mother, you always say I’m ruthless and that I want to kill my siblings. But look, Ling Yue and Hui’er were the ones who started it. Maybe he had been waiting for this day for a year…”
“Eldest Son…” The Empress Dowager trembled and reached out her withered hand, wanting to touch her son. Tears filled her cloudy eyes and streamed down, but it was unclear if they were tears of comfort or regret.
“Now, either he dies or I do. Mother, this is the son you raised, and I had no choice but to kill him.”
He stepped back and let go of the Empress Dowager’s hand.
The Empress Dowager fell onto the couch, clutching her chest and lamenting, “He was my son, raised by my own hand, and you all…my own family.”
She felt a sharp pain in her chest and began to pound on it with her hand, her face turning red.
A female official hurried forward with a silver needle to give her acupuncture.
Li Jing Ye watched his mother’s painful struggle, his eyes glistening with tears before he turned and left without a word.
In the Duke of Yanguo’s mansion, Pei Ji’s heart sank when he heard the news.
The Emperor had missed his chance to act first and hadn’t listened to Pei Ji’s advice about going to war. An Yi Kang, being cunning, surely had a counterplan, and it wouldn’t be long before the court had to call for a large-scale mobilization.
However, he couldn’t do anything about these problems. He was worried about his country and his father.
Luckily, there was news about Pei Yan a few days later.
Pei Yan was in jail for a few days, but the Three Chief Judicial Officials couldn’t prove that he had written the letter. So, he was found not guilty.
Li Jing Ye agreed to release Pei Yan and let him rest at home, like Du Heng.
The Grand Princess was very busy, but when she heard the news, she personally went to the jail to get Pei Yan.
After all, Pei Yan was getting old.
Even though he wasn’t mistreated during his confinement, he became more tired and thinner due to recurring pain that kept him awake at night. When he was released, he looked much weaker than before.
Pei Ji helped his father lie down in the room and called an imperial physician for a check-up and medication. As he watched his mother spoon-feeding the medicine to his father, he felt a sourness in his eyes.
He walked out of the room quietly and looked at the faraway horizon. For the first time, he felt powerless in front of the various forms of life when a building was about to collapse.
Everything around him appeared to be functioning normally, but he could see a gap that had opened up underneath. The crack was quickly spreading in all directions. He was the first to notice the small gap in the beginning, but he was unable to fill it.
He looked at his empty hands and felt a little perplexed.
What kind of power could control everything that was falling apart?
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