Chapter 106 Escape
Thinking about the bits of information she recently heard from the palace servants, Li Zhi slowly understood what it meant for Pei Yan to recall 60,000 soldiers.
Suddenly, she realized why Pei Ji, whom she saw in her dreams, remained so steady— like father, like son.
However, at such a time, how much of a blow would such news be for Pei Ji, who was his parents’ only child?
Her heart was touched, and she couldn’t resist turning and hugging him, gently patting his back.
Pei Ji silently let her embrace him, then chuckled softly in her ear.
“What’s more, I received his letter during the day.”
The words that followed got stuck in her chest, and she couldn’t say them anymore.
He held Li Zhi tightly, burying his head in her hair, closing his eyes, and taking deep breaths. A faint, pleasant scent filled the air, and after a while, it finally helped calm his strong emotions.
He still had a big responsibility on his shoulders.
He had to protect his mother, grandmother, and the rest of the Pei family, while also keeping Li Zhi safe for himself.
When he opened his eyes again, his dark eyes were shining brightly once more.
He let go of his arms, stepping back and gently touching Li Zhi’s long hair and cheeks. “I have to go back to the camp tonight. Sleep well and make sure to wake up early in the morning.”
Li Zhi also thought about tomorrow, and she had already planned to go to sleep. Upon hearing his words, she didn’t try to make him stay and simply made a cup of hot tea for him to drink.
Pei Ji watched as she lay down on the bed, tucked her in, and then quietly left from the window, turning off the lamp.
Upon returning to Jiuxian Gate, Shi Quan hurriedly approached, saying, “General, the carriages and horses from each palace have been taken care of. However, regarding Chang’an Hall— the officials from the Imperial Household Department said there’s no need to prepare…”
Chang’an Hall was where the Empress Dowager lived, and he knew that Pei Ji always cared about her. So, he waited here specifically to tell him about the situation.
As expected, when Pei Ji heard this, he stopped walking and furrowed his brow. “What did they say?”
“They said it was His Majesty’s orders. The Empress Dowager is old, very sick, and insists on not leaving. They can’t force her…”
Pei Ji’s face briefly showed anger.
The way His Majesty said it clearly showed that he didn’t want to leave with the Empress Dowager.
He could understand that the Empress Dowager had always shown favoritism towards the Sixth Prince, which caused some resentment and dissatisfaction between her and the Emperor. But they were mother and son, and in such a difficult situation, how could he abandon her?
Even towards an ordinary old person who was seriously ill, as a ruler, one shouldn’t be uncaring.
When everyone had left, leaving the Empress Dowager all alone, how many people would take care of her?
He stood in the dark for a moment and gave instructions, “Go and tell the guards stationed at Daming Palace that if there’s any danger, they should escort the Empress Dowager out of the palace. Find a peaceful countryside home in the outskirts of the city for her to stay temporarily.”
After leaving the palace, he would leave a hundred people behind to guard Daming Palace. The Empress Dowager’s health was fragile at the moment. She couldn’t handle too much upheaval or stress. Forcing her to go along wouldn’t be good, so this was the best plan to hopefully make her more comfortable.
On the second day, the sky was still completely dark, and a layer of cold mist hung in the air, making Daming Palace feel suffocating.
Li Zhi slept lightly during the night. When she heard some noises outside, she got up and dressed herself. By the time Chun Yue pushed open the door and came in, she only had her hair left uncombed.
After washing up, the two of them quickly finished their breakfast and told a few palace maids to move the boxes and chests onto the carriage that was already waiting outside the hall.
The carriage was the same one Li Zhi had used when she left the palace before—spacious, comfortable, and beautifully decorated. If it weren’t for the worried and fearful expressions on everyone’s faces, she would almost think that today was just another trip to Lishan.
Before getting on the carriage, she stood on a stool and looked back at Chenghuan Palace, which was illuminated by the faint morning light.
This place that had kept her trapped for over a year, once she left this time, she would never come back.
She silently repeated these thoughts in her heart as she stepped into the carriage.
Near the palace walls of the harem, many carriages had already arrived and were passing through one by one, heading towards Guangshun Gate. Along the way, aside from the sound of wheels rolling, there was rarely any conversation. It was unclear if it was because the sky was still dark or because people felt anxious in their hearts, but everyone spoke in hushed tones.
After leaving Guangshun Gate, they passed through Zhaoqing Gate and Jianfu Gate in order, and finally headed east to Danfeng Gate.
Outside Danfeng Gate, some close relatives of the royal family, important officials from the court, and their families who were still in Chang’an were all waiting there. These faces resembled those who used to attend palace banquets, but not entirely—they were some court officials who had already escaped, some who didn’t want to leave in humiliation, and some relaxed royal relatives who had the surname Li and had no conflicts with Prince Rui. They decided to stay in Chang’an or temporarily move to suburban estates.
Everyone waited silently outside Danfeng Gate.
After a while, as the sky gradually brightened, Danfeng Gate finally opened.
Li Jing Ye rode in a carriage, accompanied by Pei Ji, who was fully armed and riding a horse, crossing the imperial bridge and getting closer gradually.
The people, who all looked tired, mechanically bowed.
Li Jing Ye had a gloomy expression and was extremely exhausted. He made a slight wave from behind the partially opened carriage curtain, signaling to begin the journey.
The group of nearly a thousand people, accompanied by more than twenty thousand Imperial Guards and over ten thousand Golden Shield Guards, walked onto Danfeng Gate Street.
This street was the widest and straightest in Chang’an, spanning about a hundred meters. Usually, it was crowded with pedestrians and vibrant, but today there was no sign of anyone, just complete silence.
Li Zhi lifted the carriage curtain and looked at the desolate scene before her, a stark contrast to what she had seen when she left the palace six months ago. Her heart was deeply moved.
This was the painful state caused by war— the consequences of power struggles among a few people fell heavily on ordinary individuals.
Chang’an hadn’t been affected by the war yet, but it had already become so bleak. What would happen in the places where Li Jin Hhui and An Yi Kang’s armies had passed, or in the regions ravaged by the Turks on the northern border?
She was too scared to imagine.
Just as she was about to close the carriage curtain, she suddenly glimpsed inside the walls on both sides of the street where many ordinary people, who hadn’t left or had nowhere to go, were still gathered. They stared at the procession with angry eyes.
Among them, a middle-aged man wearing rough, simple clothes and having a long face met her gaze directly.
At first, the man seemed startled, but then he abruptly pointed at her and angrily shouted, “That woman is so beautiful, she must be Noble Consort Zhong! It’s because of her that the whole world is in such chaos!”
As his words fell, the crowd inside the walls turned their attention towards them. Some looked at her with hatred while discussing among themselves.
The once silent street gradually became noisy as the crowd’s voices grew louder. Some individuals even picked up stones from the ground and threw them at the carriage.
With a thud, a large stone struck the carriage.
Li Zhi stood there, stunned, as she looked at the numerous pairs of eyes filled with hatred and anger around her. She completely forgot to lower the carriage curtain.
Thud, thud! The sound of stones hitting the carriage kept coming. The people seemed determined to express their built-up resentment by throwing stones. The once quiet crowd gradually grew louder and more animated.
Pei Ji, who had been riding ahead of the procession, heard the sound. He couldn’t help but frown and, glancing at the motionless others, swiftly turned his horse around. He jogged to Li Zhi’s carriage, shielding her from the hostile gazes around.
When the people saw someone blocking the carriage, they began shouting, “Who’s this? Why are they stopping us?”
One of the guards from the Imperial Guards beside them spoke with a cold tone, “This is General Pei from the Imperial Guards.”
“General Pei? Is he the same General Pei who defeated the Turks before? I heard his father, Minister Pei, is also fighting the Turks now!”
“Yes, it is.”
Upon hearing the name of the Pei family, the people temporarily stopped their actions but continued to stare at the carriage.
Pei Ji glanced to the side at Li Zhi, a hint of concern flickering in his eyes.
However, Li Zhi didn’t pay attention to him. She simply let down the carriage curtain, sat back inside, and fell into a deep thought.
“Miss,” Chun Yue, with worry in her eyes, gently pulled at Li Zhi’s sleeve, “They…they are just talking nonsense. Please don’t take their unreasonable words to heart…”
Li Zhi gazed at the moving curtain, feeling as if those eyes were still right in front of her. After a long while, she sighed and smiled, saying, “I’m fine, Chun Yue. Don’t worry too much.”
Once the procession left Chang’an, they continued their journey on the main road.
To reach their temporary shelter in Fufeng as soon as possible, the procession increased its speed after leaving the main road. Despite the palace carriages being spacious and comfortable, they couldn’t handle the bumpy journey. Most of those who retreated were nobles, along with many pampered women and children who couldn’t endure hardships. Within half a day, complaints started to emerge.
During the brief break, Pei Ji rode his horse around the procession with an expressionless face and said coldly, “If you find the hard work unbearable, you’re welcome to stay behind alone.”
Upon hearing these words, the crowd exchanged uncertain looks, each with a different expression, but no one dared to complain anymore.
They had all left Chang’an to seek refuge, and chaos reigned outside. Only by staying together with the group could they ensure safety. Nobody wanted to stay behind alone.
As a result, they proceeded even faster on the remaining journey.
After a long day, they finally completed the journey of over a hundred miles by evening.
The relay station had already been prepared by the Imperial Guards who had arrived earlier. When the procession arrived, they would be able to enter in an organized manner.
The Emperor lived alone in a courtyard, while the other high-ranking concubines, close relatives, and important officials could stay at the relay station. The rest of the people either found their own places or spent the night in the carriages with the Yulin Guards.
Compared to the fancy clothes and big buildings in Chang’an, Fufeng’s post station was incredibly simple. But even if some were unhappy, nobody dared to show it.
After settling down for a bit, Pei Ji joined a few important officials, including the father and son from the Xiao family, to discuss matters in the Emperor’s residence.
After talking for about half an hour, they decided to stay in Fufeng for three days. After that, Pei Ji would leave to meet the reinforcements from Hedong’s army and fight against the rebels. The others would stay with the Emperor and continue going south.
Once he left the residence, Pei Ji hurried to the camp to give clear instructions. He only returned to the side of the Grand Princess when the moon was high in the sky.
Inside the Grand Princess’s chamber, there were a few simple dishes still laid out, and it seemed like they hadn’t been eaten much.
Pei Ji took a look and then greeted everyone before starting to eat, not minding that the food had gotten cold. He asked for a bowl and chopsticks and began his meal.
The Grand Princess looked at him with deep concern. After he had eaten enough, she spoke in a worried tone, “Third Son, how are things going now? I don’t know why, but today I’ve been feeling so restless, as if something big is about to happen.”
Pei Ji took a few sips of tea, and upon hearing her words, he lowered his gaze. He wanted to share his father’s situation, but as the words reached his lips, he remembered his father’s intentions and held back. He simply said, “Mother, don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything.”
The Grand Princess let out a sigh and then chuckled softly, “I must be confused. We’ve already left Chang’an, so what else could be bigger than that?” Suddenly, as if she remembered something, she asked, “Why haven’t we seen the Empress Dowager?”
Pei Ji paused for a moment and slowly replied, “The Empress Dowager is still in the palace.”
He retold the situation, not sure if he was comforting himself or his mother. “I’ve left people behind to take care of the Empress Dowager. I hope everything will be fine.”
After hearing this, the Grand Princess’s expression became strange, displaying a mix of fear and unease. “That’s… the Empress Dowager…”
The mother and son remained quiet, lost in their thoughts.
The Grand Princess spoke in a soft voice, “In the past, Prince Rui disregarded the vast difference in social status and insisted on marrying Noble Consort Zhong. The Empress Dowager, influenced by a moment of softness, agreed to it. Who could have known that it would lead to such a situation today? Ah, if only we didn’t have Noble Consort Zhong.”
Pei Ji furrowed his brows upon hearing this and responded immediately, “Mother, how can we blame a woman for the extent of His Majesty and Prince Rui’s conflict? Even without her, do you think these events wouldn’t have occurred?”
The Grand Princess wearily leaned against the pillow and fell silent.
Pei Ji understood that his mother’s restless state was due to her worries. He restrained his own emotions and suddenly became very concerned about Li Zhi.
After patiently offering a few comforting words, he got up and said, “Mother, please rest early. I still have some matters to attend to, so I’ll leave first.”
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