At the Noble Consort’s Feet Chapter 109

Chapter 109 White Silk

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Li Zhi proceeded at a leisurely pace. When she reached the midpoint, she used the pretext of the chilly weather outside to go back indoors and change her attire.

In the past, He Yuan Shi would have gently refused. However, on this day, he likely anticipated her impending distress and felt a surge of compassion. Without further inquiry, he agreed and patiently accompanied her on another return trip.

Upon returning to the room, Li Zhi breathed a sigh of relief upon discovering Chun Yue’s absence. Her current task was to make every effort to delay the proceedings.

She exchanged her attire for a thicker robe and kindled a sleeve heater. After feeling the comforting warmth in her hands, she ventured out once more.

Within the room, Li Jing Ye folded his legs and sat serenely on the couch. His eyes fixed upon the meticulously arranged wine jug and cups on the table, while a faint and unusual blush tinged his pallid complexion.

Even within a humble post station on the fugitive path, the Emperor’s chamber was embraced by the comforting warmth of a ground dragon’s burning charcoal, dispelling any wintry chill.

The moment Li Zhi stepped into the room, the arid heat within caused her to furrow her brows involuntarily. However, the thought of what she was about to face instantly compelled her to focus and perform a deliberate, composed bow.

Li Jing Ye’s eyes remained unmoving, simply motioning towards the opposite side of the table, signaling her to take a seat. Subsequently, he lifted the wine jug on the table and poured two cups to their fullest capacity.

Seated opposite him, Li Zhi directed her gaze towards the wine cups in front of her. Pausing momentarily, she uttered in a gentle voice, “I am not skilled in the art of drinking.”

Li Jing Ye’s action of raising the cup came to an abrupt pause, and his countenance swiftly grew chilly.

Along the official road from Fufeng to Wugong, Pei Ji led a troop of several hundred men, galloping ahead on their horses.

“General, should we increase our speed to welcome the reinforcements sooner?” one of his men inquired as he walked alongside.

At that very moment, His Majesty personally issued the command to set forth, urging them to hasten their journey with the assistance of fast horses.

Pei Ji wore a pensive expression, his face solemn and contemplative. In response to the remark, he shook his head and said, “Not yet. We shall wait for their arrival.”

Just a while ago, he had dispatched two individuals ahead to hasten the reinforcements even more.

Despite the imminent arrival of the reinforcements, an indescribable unease gnawed at him. It seemed as if something unusual was on the verge of happening.

The plan for greeting the enemy had been previously discussed with His Majesty, and he had given his approval. With the reinforcements on the verge of arriving, following His Majesty’s customary style, someone would usually be assigned to inform him or he would be summoned in person. However, on this day, He Yuan Shi was sent to relay the message directly, instructing him to make haste.

He had always been methodical in his actions, never allowing for any delays, rendering reminders unnecessary. Moreover, he had already sent forty thousand troops to assist Huangfu Jing at the Pujin Crossing, while the remaining twenty thousand were tasked with escorting His Majesty away from the capital region. As the messenger had reported earlier, the remaining forces would arrive at Wugong in about an hour, a journey that would take him less than half an hour to reach.

In order for him to depart, it was imperative to establish a seamless coordination between the arriving twenty thousand reinforcements and the Imperial Guards before proceeding directly to the Pujin Crossing.

Nevertheless, He Yuan Shi’s demeanor just moments ago gave the impression that he was afraid he wouldn’t depart.

Could there truly be an issue at hand?

Unable to restrain himself, he meticulously retraced the recent events in his mind.

Currently, his father was situated in the north, and the circumstances surrounding him remained uncertain. His only anchor was his mother, family, and Li Zhi.

Considering his father’s elevated status as a distinguished hero and his impending journey to Pujin Crossing, it was inconceivable for His Majesty to take action against his mother and their family at this moment. However, the situation concerning Li Zhi…

His heart quivered, and he unconsciously tightened his grip on the reins, causing the horse’s pace to gradually decrease.

“General?” the person beside him questioned, puzzled by the sudden reduction in speed.

Just as the group exchanged bewildered glances, a burst of rapid horse hooves suddenly emerged from behind.

Pei Ji, who had already reduced his speed, finally came to a complete halt.

Shi Quan raced forward from behind, his voice filled with urgency as he exclaimed, “General, something has happened!”

In the stifling room, Li Jing Ye drained the wine in his cup, placing it down before slowly speaking, “Today, General Xiao of the Left Golden Shield Guards shared something with me.”

His gaze shifted upwards, fixating intensely on Li Zhi’s face, meticulously observing every detail.

“He mentioned that last night, it appeared that Zi Hui went to a forbidden place.”

Upon hearing those words, Li Zhi’s heart plummeted, her expression almost on the verge of losing its composure.

She was acutely aware of where Pei Ji had gone last night. There was no need for him to elaborate further. She was almost convinced that General Xiao had discovered the illicit relationship between her and Pei Ji and had divulged it to Li Jing Ye. Summoning her now, it was undoubtedly to demand an explanation.

Hastily lowering her gaze, she discreetly pinched the tips of her fingers hidden within her sleeve, steadying her mind and restoring her composure. Instead of acquiescing to his expectations, she inquired, “Where is Qing Zi? Where has she gone?”

“Of course, she has been taken for interrogation,” Li Jing Ye leaned closer, placing his hands on the edge of the table. “Li-niang, what do you think she will reveal?”

Instinctively, Li Zhi straightened her posture, facing his somber gaze squarely, and spoke with a deep voice, “She won’t utter a word. Your Majesty, there is no need to exert yourself over her.”

Qing Zi was completely clueless. She has been unjustly implicated solely due to her proximity as one of her trusted maids.

Li Jing Ye fixed his gaze upon her eyes, filled with guilt and concern, and let out a soft, self-mocking laugh. “Li-niang, you demonstrate such concern even for a servant, yet why have you never bestowed upon me a genuine smile from your heart?”

“Your Majesty governs the entire empire. Could it be that sincerity is lacking in your heart for a mere concubine?” Li Zhi also smiled, her voice exuding remarkable tranquility. “I have been imprisoned, unable to venture anywhere. Should I not have control over my own thoughts?”

Li Jing Ye paused briefly, his gaze carrying a trace of reverie. It was as if he had recalled something, and he slowly burst into laughter. Starting with a gentle chuckle, it spread to both of his shoulders moving up and down, causing his hand resting on the table to sway, along with the wine cup.

After a while, as the wine spilled slightly from the cup, he gradually ceased his laughter. He then proceeded to drink two more cups in succession and said, “Finally, I comprehend. It’s likely the same with Sixth Prince in your heart, isn’t it? You haven’t had the chance to hate or grow weary of him, so how could there be any emotional bond? I have been so muddled, misjudging people…” 

The last sentence was uttered almost in a whisper, and within his reddened eyes, there existed not only regret and sentiment but also an inexplicable sense of liberation.

“Your Majesty, it suffices that you comprehend.” Li Zhi sensed an overwhelming struggle to maintain composure, her chest rising and falling dramatically. She fought desperately to suppress the impulse to vent her anger directly. “In my heart, I harbor hatred and aversion.”

Li Jing Ye stared at her eyes and cheeks, tinged with a rosy hue due to her heightened emotions, for quite some time before suddenly asking, “But Li-niang, what kind of person do you genuinely prefer? Is it… someone like Zi Hui? Don’t answer!”

He interjected, preventing her words from being spoken, as if afraid of hearing something that would cause him unbearable agony. “Don’t answer— I do not wish to know…”

He averted his back and retrieved a document from a pile of books, memorials, and letters near the bed. Placing it on the desk, he slid it forward until it reached her gaze.

Li Zhi’s temple pulsed as she opened the memorial, feeling his penetrating gaze. She rapidly skimmed through its words, immediately comprehending his intention.

It was the memorial from General Yang Min Chi, the Governor of Shangzhou, who expressed his fervent desire to lead troops for reinforcement. The words were impassioned, demonstrating his unwavering loyalty to the Emperor. However, there was one non-negotiable demand: Li Jing Ye had to execute her, the origin of the calamity, or else the sixty thousand reinforcement troops would come to a standstill!

Li Zhi stared at the yellowed writing on the paper, tears welling up in her eyes. They trickled down her cheeks, blending with the ink, creating clusters of dark stains.

“Did Your Majesty summon me for this purpose?”

“Li-niang…” Li Jing Ye’s eyes turned redder.

He extended his quivering hand, delicately wiping away the tears on her face. However, as soon as he brushed them away, fresh tears cascaded down without delay.

“I have no other option. Please don’t hold it against me. I previously promised you that I would confer upon you the title of Empress and that in the imperial mausoleum, it would be only you who shares my resting place, a hundred years hence.”

Li Zhi turned her head, evading his touch. “Does Your Majesty truly have no other option? Yang Min Chi merely desires to seize an opportunity for earning a reputation as a loyal subject. Does Your Majesty truly not comprehend? Why speak of matters beyond the grave? I haven’t forgotten Worthy Consort Xu’s anguish for even a single day. Once someone has departed from this world, what use is there in pursuing such hollow fame?”

She bit her lip, articulating her innermost desires, “I don’t wish to meet my death just yet.”

Li Jing Ye’s eyes flashed with torment. He shut his eyes briefly and called out in a raised voice, “Yuan Shi!”

He Yuan Shi responded promptly and entered the room, holding a tray with a prepared white silk.

Without uttering a word, he approached Li Zhi, bowing his head and kneeling before her. Silently, he presented the tray before her gaze.

Li Zhi fixed her gaze tightly on the neatly stacked white silk on the tray, her mind flooded with chilling and terrifying scenes from her dreams, causing her heart and spirit to quake.

“Once you’re gone, those matters of yours, I…” Li Jing Ye leaned back and readjusted himself against the armrest, inhaling deeply. “I can choose to feign ignorance about them and refrain from probing any further.”

“Your Majesty, there’s something I’d like to inquire,” she continued to evade a direct answer, raising her head to gaze at him with an expressionless face. “If General Pei hadn’t spoken about it, and Your Majesty had received Governor Yang’s memorial, how would you have handled me? Would you have, like you did now, sent a piece of white silk?”

Li Jing Ye held onto the armrests tightly with both hands, tears on the verge of spilling from his eyes. After a moment, he suppressed his voice and whispered with quivering lips, “I… how could I bear to…”

“I understand now.” Li Zhi observed him for a moment, then suddenly emitted a soft laugh, accompanied by tears streaming down her face. “Your Majesty can’t bear it, can’t bear to be the one who personally eliminates the wretch who harmed me. Therefore, Your Majesty plans to send this source of calamity to the rebel camp and delegate the most arduous task to Prince Rui, am I correct?”

So, in the dream, Li Jing Ye, confronted with the discontent of the soldiers in the army, didn’t immediately condemn her to death. Instead, he sent her to the rebel camp. Little did he know, Pei Ji rushed back and unexpectedly rescued her. Left with no other option, Li Jing Ye had to personally decree her death…

Li Jing Ye’s hands gripped the armrests tightly, his knuckles turning pale as he trembled, as if deeply affected by an emotional matter. With reddened eyes, he let out a low roar, “Li-niang, don’t push me any further! You… for such a deed, shouldn’t I impose punishment?”

“Yuan Shi, come!” He suddenly rose from his seat, preparing to leave the room and delegate the remaining matters to He Yuan Shi.

He Yuan Shi placed the tray down and delicately cradled the white silk in his hands.

However, at that very moment, a rapid and tumultuous sound of footsteps erupted from outside the room, soon followed by the flustered voices of two palace eunuchs, “General Pei, His Majesty is inside the room—no unauthorized entry—ah, quickly stop them—”

Before the words could even be completed, the door was abruptly kicked open from the outside with a resounding bang.

The five or six palace eunuchs stationed outside the door were overpowered by several tall and sturdy men. Each of them knelt on the ground, hands tightly bound behind their backs, struggling to suppress the urge to cry out in pain.

Pei Ji, covered in dust and mud, stood by the door with a stern and icy expression. His eyes initially landed on Li Zhi, who remained seated on the couch, but as soon as he noticed the white silk in He Yuan Shi’s hands, his gaze flashed, and an intense fury surged within him.

He met the piercing gaze of Li Jing Ye, who was mere distance away, and through gritted teeth, he demanded, “Your Majesty, what is the meaning of this? Did you order the departure of your loyal subjects just to execute the Noble Consort?”

“Zi Hui…” Li Jing Ye’s pupils shrunk, his entire body stiffening in place, his heart throbbing intensely. It felt as if the most feared occurrence was on the verge of happening.

However, before he could complete his words, a voice from behind called out, “Darling Third,” followed by the fleeting presence of a gentle silhouette.

Unexpectedly, Li Zhi, who had been sitting on the couch, weeping uncontrollably, summoned an unexpected burst of strength and forcefully pushed aside He Yuan Shi, who held the white silk, blocking her view. She swiftly lifted her skirts and dashed forward, throwing herself into Pei Ji’s arms, right before his eyes.

To his astonishment, his cousin, known for his stern and serious demeanor, rarely seen smiling, and rumored to have no interest in women, showed no sign of hesitation or withdrawal. He fearlessly reached out his arms, skillfully catching her in a secure embrace.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he spoke so softly.

The image he had desperately tried to evade finally manifested before his eyes, causing Li Jing Ye to feel a profound sense of turmoil. He longed to forcefully tear the two apart, but his feet felt as though they were nailed to the ground, incapable of the slightest movement.

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