Chapter 105 Missive
It was very late at night.
Inside the big camp of Hedong’s army, Pei Yan finished discussing matters with seven or eight generals. He took out an unopened envelope from under the stack of books on the table.
It was an urgent letter sent quickly from Chang’an. It arrived in the early morning. But Pei Yan had spent the day leading a battle against a surprise attack from the enemy. Later, he was busy arranging troops and plans. It was only now that he finally had a moment to open and read the letter.
Inside the envelope, there were two letters: one from his wife and one from his son.
He hadn’t been able to rest properly for many days. At this moment, he felt tired and in pain all over his body. But when he saw the letters in his hands, he couldn’t help but smile.
After a moment of hesitation, he picked up the letter written by his wife and unfolded it, reading each word carefully.
His wife’s letter was the same as always, talking about their family’s matters. At the end, she mentioned how she was doing lately and gave him a couple of instructions. The tone of the letter was cheerful from the beginning until the end, without any worry or nervousness.
But in his mind, he suddenly imagined her sitting alone under the lamp at night, holding a pen in one hand and wiping her teary eyes as she wrote him a letter.
When Third Son was young, he fell very sick one time. At that time, he was still working in Hedong. There were some conflicts with the Turks and Tibetans at the border, so he couldn’t stay in the capital for long. He had no choice but to leave her behind to take care of their son.
During the more than two months of being apart, the letters she sent him had the same cheerful tone. Even when she mentioned their son’s illness and his own battle situation, there was no hint of sadness or worry.
He thought she was naturally cheerful and optimistic. But later, after the war, when they returned to Chang’an, Third Son secretly told him that his mother often wiped away tears while writing letters to him at night…
She was always like that, despite being a princess with a high status, she had a very good personality.
Pei Yan read his wife’s letter multiple times under the lamplight before finally picking up his son’s letter to read.
In his letter, Pei Ji mentioned the news from the capital. When he read that His Majesty had decided to withdraw from Chang’an soon, Pei Yan’s heart slowly sank.
He glanced at the sand table in the tent, assessed the situation between this place and the Turks, and finally picked up the letter sent by his wife, gently caressing it as he made his final decision in his heart.
After five days, the rebels finally reached the Pujin Crossing.
It was said that Huangfu Jing gathered the defending troops in Puzhou and fought bravely.
The royal decree had been issued. The next morning, the royal carriage would leave Daming Palace and depart from Chang’an City.
A few days earlier, the city’s people either ran away or stayed inside their homes. Even some low-ranking officials and small clerks, even those without ranks, hurriedly left their work and escaped with their families before the city was sealed off.
On this day, whether it was inside or outside Daming Palace, or at the city gates of Chang’an, the Imperial Guards guarded them tightly, not allowing anyone to come in or go out. The martial commanders of the Golden Shield Guards patrolled the streets and made sure no one could freely enter or exit, preparing for the evacuation the next morning.
In Zichen Hall, Li Jing Ye sat silently on the couch, ignoring the winter wind. He opened the window and gazed at the moon in the sky.
He Yuan Shi hurriedly entered the hall from outside, clearly sweating despite the freezing weather. “Your Majesty, the imperial carriage has been thoroughly checked, and the luggage is all ready. We will be able to leave on time at dawn tomorrow.”
Li Jing Ye didn’t react much, just shifted his gaze away, picked up the memorial sent from the north, and lightly touched it with his hand. He slowly said, “Summon Zi hui.”
He Yuan Shi wiped the sweat on his forehead and hurriedly left. He went to the Imperial Guards’ camp outside Jiuxian Gate, where the capable officers and soldiers were. He brought Pei Ji, who had finished explaining things to them, to Zichen Hall.
“Your Majesty,” Pei Ji greeted with a serious face, bowing.
“Zi Hui,” Li Jing Ye flipped through the memorial in his hand and handed it over. “Take a look at this.”
For some reason, Pei Ji stared at the memorial, and the faintly recognizable familiar handwriting gave him an uneasy feeling.
He stepped forward a couple of steps, took the memorial, and bowed his head to carefully read through it.
This memorial was sent back by his father from the battlefield. The earlier part contained reports on the latest battle situation, which were quite ordinary. However, the latter half truly made his heart sink quickly.
Upon hearing about the rebels reaching Puzhou, Pei Ji made a surprising decision. He chose to withdraw 60,000 soldiers from his 100,000-strong Hedong Army, led by General Zhang, to rush south and provide assistance. As for the frontier battlefield, he would personally lead the remaining 40,000 soldiers to face Ashina Doubi, risking everything.
Even though Hedong’s army had the advantage in the northern battlefield and victory over the Turks seemed within reach, they couldn’t afford to withdraw such a large portion of their forces all of a sudden!
His father’s decision meant they were cutting off their own escape route, sacrificing themselves to create an opportunity for the Emperor!
He felt a sudden tension throughout his body, unsure of his own feelings. He tightly gripped the thin paper in his hand and stared at the words written on it.
Li Jing Ye looked at his appearance, and a mix of complicated emotions flickered in his confused eyes. “Lord Pei—has done right by Great Wei.”
Pei Ji didn’t say anything, keeping his head lowered as he gently placed the memorial back on the table.
Li Jing Ye opened his mouth, seemingly wanting to say more, but seeing him still bowing his head, he finally said, “Go.”
Pei Ji bent down, bowing and bidding farewell, his throat choked with difficulty. Then he turned and walked out of the hall, venturing into the dark night.
The ground was covered in snow that hadn’t melted yet, and the cold air felt like a sharp blade against his skin as the north wind blew. However, he was completely unaware of it, clenching his fists and walking alone in the darkness.
Earlier that day, he had received a letter from his father, and everything seemed normal in it. There was no mention of the current situation. He hadn’t suspected anything, but now he realized that his father had done it to spare his mother’s feelings, hoping he wouldn’t tell her for now.
He looked up at the night sky and couldn’t resist raising his hand to cover his forehead, as if this gesture could soothe the bitter turmoil in his heart.
Without realizing it, he had arrived outside Chenghuan Palace.
In the palace, everyone was feeling insecure. Since they would be leaving the next day, everyone had already packed their belongings and stayed in their rooms, afraid to wander around. They went to sleep early, fearing they might miss the early departure. As he walked, he didn’t encounter a single person, not even the palace maids from the harem.
Chenghuan Palace was probably the same. All the doors were tightly shut, and the rooms on both sides were dark. Only in the bedroom, there was a faint light shining.
He paused for a moment and slowly walked forward, gently tapping the door three times.
At first, there was silence inside the room. He hesitated, thinking of leaving when suddenly the door opened from the inside.
She stood by the door, wearing a cloak that covered her body, with only a thin garment underneath.
“Darling Third, why have you come at this time?”
Her tone held a hint of surprise. In the past few days, Pei Ji had been busy with daytime patrols at the city gates and had stayed in the palace every night. However, due to the worsening situation, he had been staying overnight at the camp and hadn’t secretly come to her place.
Warm air rushed out from inside the room, gradually warming Pei Ji’s body that had accumulated cold stiffness from walking alone in the chilly night.
He looked at her beautiful face illuminated by the soft candlelight, moved his hands that had become swollen from the cold, and without uttering a word, he stepped into the room and embraced her in his arms.
Inside Chang’an Hall, the ground dragon stove burned brightly, but there were still several charcoal braziers placed around, making the room dry. Even with bowls of water on various shelves, it couldn’t remove the dryness in the air.
The Empress Dowager lay on the spacious bed, barely breathing, her half-opened eyes cloudy, and her once well-preserved face now sunken. Her lips moved, cracked from dryness.
The attendants had all left the hall, leaving Li Jing Ye alone sitting by the bedside. He held a cloth soaked in warm water, carefully wiping her lips.
“Mother, the rebels led by the Sixth Prince have reached Pujin Crossing, and Chang’an is in danger. Your son, as the Emperor, has failed. I’m being forced to flee the city by my own younger brother.” He chuckled unexpectedly and moistened her lips more carefully. “I forgot, Mother, we are different. No matter who wins between us, you will always be the Empress Dowager.”
The Empress Dowager’s stiff body made a slight movement, and she struggled to say the two words.
Li Jing Ye withdrew his hand, neatly folded the cloth, and placed it on a nearby table.
“Mother has always favored the Sixth Prince more.” He slowly stood up, his face expressionless, and said, “In that case, tomorrow, mother should stay in the palace and wait for the Sixth Prince. It will spare you from the hardships of accompanying me. I believe the Sixth Prince will treat you well.”
The Empress Dowager’s half-opened eyes widened slowly, staring at him in disbelief. She tried to speak but could only produce unclear and weak sounds due to her weakness and dryness.
Li Jing Ye’s eyes were slightly red, but he didn’t lower his gaze to look at her. He turned around and quickly left.
Inside Chenghuan Palace, Li Zhi freed her hand to close the door, then held him quietly for a while before asking, “What happened? Is something wrong?”
Although his face previously showed no expression, the deep heaviness in his eyes couldn’t hide from her gaze. It wasn’t just the pressure but something else.
Pei Ji slowly released her, his hand gently caressing her face as he softly asked, “We’re leaving early tomorrow. I came to check on you. Have you packed everything you need?”
Li Zhi was about to ask more questions, but her words turned into a smile, and she said, “It’s already done.”
She took hold of his hand and led him into the inner room, pointing to the four boxes placed nearby, saying, “These are the things we collected over the past few days. Take them with you tomorrow.” Then she pointed to one box with a slightly darker color and added, “This one is for when we go south.”
“What about your personal documents and property deeds? Have you also put them in?”
Li Zhi smiled, pulling him to sit by the bed, and took out a pouch from under the pillow. “They’re all here. I’ll keep them close to me.”
“Hmm,” Pei Ji responded with a muffled voice, sitting down by the bed. “Tomorrow, you’ll still leave with the group. His Majesty will head south, leaving the capital and entering Shannan East Province. The rebels are currently in Puzhou, close to the capital region and the route to Yangzhou. To prevent any unexpected situations, I’ll send a few people ahead to explore the way for you.”
He paused, then continued, “Lately, there are strict checks everywhere, and no one is allowed to stay for long. Your elder sister’s people who came to fetch you are already settled in Fufeng. After His Majesty leaves the city, he will stay there for a day or two. Most likely, that’s where you’ll depart.”
Li Zhi listened carefully, memorizing his words one by one, and replied, “I understand.”
She studied his expression, holding his hand, and softly asked, “Now, can you finally tell me what happened?”
Pei Ji remained silent, but his eyes gradually grew dim, and the hand she held tightened instinctively.
Li Zhi didn’t urge him, patiently waiting in silence.
“It’s my father,” he spoke abruptly, his usually upright posture swaying slightly.
“He has recalled sixty thousand troops from Hedong for reinforcement.”
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