At the Noble Consort’s Feet Chapter 104

Chapter 104 Urgent

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Pei Yan hurriedly left Chang’an, ignoring his old age and tired body, and traveled day and night to reach the frontline military camp.

General Zhang led Hedong’s army and fought with all his might. Although he relied on his experience and strength built over the years, he and the Turks were evenly matched and neither side could defeat the other.

He had given strict orders not to mention anything about Prince Rui and the rebel army led by An Yi Kang in the military. However, Ashina Duobi, who had early connections with An Yi Kang, would announce the rebels’ latest news during each battle. He would beat the war drums and even gathered a group of people to shout out the news in front of everyone.

With these repeated changes, the rebels were progressing rapidly, while the situation in the court became dangerous. It shook the morale of many soldiers, and their determination gradually weakened.

Fortunately, just when General Zhang was in a desperate situation, Pei Yan arrived.

Although he hadn’t been on the battlefield for many years, he was still respected by everyone in the military as an experienced elder. What mattered even more was his high position and advanced age. In this critical moment, he fearlessly put on his armor and personally went to the frontline. He didn’t need to do anything else, but his presence alone filled the army with joy and boosted their morale as if they had found their leader.

General Zhang finally felt relieved and welcomed Pei Yan into the main tent. He briefly explained the recent battle situation and discussed the upcoming attack using a sand table.

Pei Yan had already heard about Ashina Duobi from his son and carefully read the information he received. He quickly talked with General Zhang and other generals about tactics and plans.

For the next few days, the two armies faced each other. Hedong’s army, which had been weak before, fought with the same level of strength they had maintained for over ten years, gradually weakening the Turks and making them appear vulnerable.

Ashina Duobi was a young and new Khan. Although Pei Yan had heard of his fame before, he didn’t worry much about him due to his old age. But after their recent battle, he became cautious and had to change their previous strategy of aggressive attacks to a long-lasting fight.

While there was progress in the north, the situation in the south became more worrying.

When a hundred thousand troops arrived from Henan Prefecture, it caught the rebels off guard and delayed their progress for more than ten days.

But An Yi Kang, a former slave, had faced numerous challenges and battles to reach the position of Military Governor. He was not only a careful thinker with great determination but also had unconventional military tactics that puzzled others. Unfortunately, the several generals who received reinforcements were well-educated in military books but hadn’t experienced real battles in recent years. They strictly followed what they had learned from books. However, within just two weeks, all their previous advantages disappeared, and they became as weak as the local garrisons.

The rebels quickly passed through Xingzhou and attacked Luzhou.

When the news reached Chang’an, even the common people outside the palace started to worry.

Luzhou was already part of Hedong. After passing through Zezhou and Jiangzhou, they would reach Puzhou. Crossing the Yellow River would bring them into Jingji Province, with Chang’an nearby.

Among the city’s residents and those in the outskirts, some timid individuals who had relatives in the south were considering whether they should pack their bags and head south early to avoid trouble.

Outside the palace, people were anxious, and the situation within the palace was even more distressing.

Not only did the palace attendants often gather in small groups to quietly gossip, but even among the concubines, there was a heavy atmosphere.

Pure Consort Xiao, Lady Wang, Lady Wei, and others who had been in the palace for many years could still remain composed due to their age. However, it was different for the newcomers who had only entered the palace a few months ago.

They were all still young and filled with dreams when they entered the palace. Now, some of them had barely seen His Majesty a few times or been near the Zichen Halls. Suddenly, facing such a big change, they all felt as if their world was collapsing and became dispirited.

Even Li Zhi felt a sense of heaviness in her heart.

She sat in the sleeping quarters, holding a hand warmer in one hand and adding spices to the silver incense pouch hanging nearby with tweezers. She seemed somewhat absent-minded.

Chun Yue chatted beside her, saying, “… Lady Feng went to the Zichen Hall yesterday evening on her own, but His Majesty didn’t even let her in and sent her back.”

It was unclear whether Li Zhi had heard Chun Yue’s words. After lighting the spices and covering the silver incense pouch, she gazed at the rising smoke for a long while before saying, “Perhaps he doesn’t have such thoughts anymore.”

Whether there were other princes and princesses was not important for the moment. The situation on the front lines was getting more and more intense every day, and protecting the throne was the most crucial thing.

Chun Yue took a while to realize that the “he” referred to His Majesty. She approached closer and whispered softly, “Yes, these days, besides attending court meetings and handling affairs in Yanying Hall, His Majesty goes to the Dajiao Temple every day to personally offer incense. He doesn’t even have time for the ailing Empress Dowager in Chang’an Hall or the Little Prince in Shicui Palace, let alone others.”

Li Zhi touched the pouch tied around her waist and remained silent.

She didn’t need to see it with her own eyes. She could guess that everyone had been living in fear and unease lately. Even Pei Ji had become busier, spending every day intensively training the Imperial Guards.

Once the rebels reach Luzhou, Daming Palace will be in great danger. As the day of departure drew closer, her heart grew more and more anxious.

However, amidst the tension, the expected joy and excitement didn’t appear. Just the thought of war erupting, even without seeing innocent people affected, she couldn’t feel happy.

There were no external enemies attacking, nor a cruel ruler burdening the people with excessive demands. This war had originated from a conflict between two brothers in the royal family.

Li Zhi couldn’t help but feel a peculiar and somewhat ridiculous sensation.

Li Jing Ye and Li Jing Hui, the two brothers leading the opposing sides of the war, she secretly didn’t wish for either of them to win.

However, that was beyond her control. For now, it was crucial to ensure her own safe departure.

Over twenty more days passed, reaching the twelfth month. Winter snow covered the land, and the weather grew colder with each passing day. The situation in the imperial court deteriorated.

On the fifth day of the twelfth lunar month, during the early morning court session, the Ministry of War urgently delivered the latest war report: The rebels had captured several cities along the defense line in Jiangzhou and were closing in on the borders of Puzhou.

The capital region was within sight.

As soon as the news broke, Yanying Hall erupted into chaos. Hundreds of court officials, forgetting all about courtly manners, sat on their cushions and engaged in fervent discussions. The atmosphere was filled with anxiety and panic, making even the spacious and majestic hall feel cramped.

Li Jing Ye sat on the throne like a motionless statue, his face devoid of any expression, silently observing the court officials before him.

It took some time before the distressed court officials slowly regained their composure, looking up to gauge the Emperor’s mood and falling into silence.

The grand hall, once filled with noise and commotion, suddenly became as silent as a graveyard. Even the air seemed frozen in place.

Li Jing Ye scanned the room and spoke in a cold tone, “What ideas do you all have? Share them openly.”

Everyone exchanged uncertain glances, and their gazes eventually settled on Prime Minister Xiao Ling Fu.

Xiao Ling Fu felt an icy shiver down his spine as he sat on the couch. Bowing to Li Jing Ye, he said, “Your Majesty, I believe that once the rebels enter Puzhou and break through the last defense line at Pujin Crossing, they will almost certainly make a beeline for Chang’an. To ensure Your Majesty’s safety and protect the foundation of Great Wei, I humbly suggest that Your Majesty make preparations as soon as possible.” 

Li Jing Ye glanced at the court officials beside him who silently nodded in agreement. He asked, “Prime Minister Xiao, what do you think I should do to prepare?”

Xiao Ling Fu paused for a moment, then slowly spoke, “If it becomes necessary, Your Majesty, it would be wise to leave Chang’an.”

His words hung in the air, and the hall fell into a deathly silence.

Then, a court official cautiously raised his hand and said, “Your Majesty, Prime Minister Xiao’s suggestion makes sense. I agree.”

With one person leading the way, others began expressing their opinions one after another. Most of them seemed to support the idea, except for a few stubborn and principled senior officials.

Even Pei Ji found himself in rare agreement with Xiao Ling Fu.

Li Jing Ye’s hands rested on the armrests, his back stiffened, and he remained silent for quite some time.

Just a few months ago, the Great Wei he ruled over was peaceful and prosperous. But now, his officials were plotting and persuading him to abandon the palace and escape from Chang’an.

He didn’t immediately respond but instead asked, “How are things with the Turks?”

The people understood that he was probably still hoping that Pei Yan had defeated Ashina Doubi and was on his way back with reinforcements. They all fell silent, except for the new Minister of War, who said, “Minister Pei is doing his best to break the deadlock with the Turks. He’s fighting back hard and might win within a month.”

At first, it sounded like great news. But a month was too long, and Chang’an couldn’t hold on. The rebels were already in Puzhou, and even if the soldiers at Pujin Crossing fought to the death, they were only thirty thousand strong. Lasting ten days would be a miracle.

Li Jing Ye’s hope was dashed.

He closed his eyes silently, his back tensing up slightly. His hands on the armrests tightened and loosened, alternating back and forth.

After a while, he opened his eyes, let out a soft sigh, and said with resignation, “When the rebels reach Pujin Crossing, it will be time to evacuate Chang’an.”

As soon as the words were spoken, it was settled. The court officials bowed their heads sadly and stopped speaking.

The news of the Emperor’s plan to leave quickly spread throughout the palace, causing many palace servants to huddle together in fear. The new concubines, who had just arrived, couldn’t stop crying. They wished they could leave the palace right away and be with their families.

Pure Consort Xiao, who had been in the palace for many years and was always calm, learned about the situation from her mother. She immediately ordered the female officials and palace servants from the Six Departments to pack their things and be ready to leave at any time.

Li Zhi no longer had to hide and quietly pack her belongings, away from the eyes of others.

She called Qing Zi and the others into the Chenghuan Palace and gave each of them enough money to live a normal life among ordinary people for the rest of their lives.

Qing Zi was startled and quickly asked, “Your Highness, do you want us to leave?”

Li Zhi shook her head and said, “Of course not. But you all know the current situation. His Majesty will leave Chang’an soon, and the palace will become chaotic. Leaving will be difficult, and we don’t know how many people we can take with us. I know that many palace servants and eunuchs want to leave and go back home. I’m giving you the money now, so if you decide to leave as well, you don’t need to ask me again.”

Two young palace maids couldn’t help but cry and thanked her with their teary eyes.

Li Zhi smiled and gently patted their hands, speaking softly, “Times are troubled, and everyone wants to live a good life. We are all the same, no one is born lesser. Serving in the palace is just a job to make a living. You’ve been by my side for a while now, and you deserve these rewards.”

She comforted them a bit more and told them to go downstairs and pack their belongings properly. They should only take the most important things and avoid being greedy.

The palace maids left with their eyes still red, but Qing Zi remained in the hall. She came closer to Li Zhi, clutching her clothes, and knelt down with a thud, saying, “Miss, I won’t leave. When you leave the palace, I want to go with you.”

“Silly girl, don’t you care about your own family?” Li Zhi looked at the sixteen-year-old girl and reached out to help her stand up.

Qing Zi had an ordinary appearance and didn’t stand out. Although she was only sixteen, she had a calm demeanor. Among the people in Chenghuan Palace, besides Chun Yue, Li Zhi trusted her the most.

However, she wasn’t as close as Chun Yue, and Li Zhi had never shared her secrets with her.

Qing Zi shook her head, her eyes red, and said, “I don’t have any family left, and I feel lonely. I have nowhere else to go. I just want to stay by your side, Miss.”

Li Zhi looked at her for a long time and said, “Alright, when the time comes, if you still want to follow me after knowing my secrets, I will take you with me.”

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