At the Noble Consort’s Feet Chapter 110

Chapter 110 Cutting ties

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“Zi Hui…” Li Jing Ye trembled uncontrollably, desperately clutching the doorframe to steady himself. “How could you…?”

He had intended to maintain a shred of his dignity, even if it required self-deception. As long as those two individuals remained separated forever, he could feign ignorance.

One was his Noble Consort, while the other was his cousin. How could these two individuals have any connection? He could still recall the timid look of fear in Li Zhi’s eyes during their time at Wangxian Temple.

These two people…

After the initial shock, an overwhelming anger took hold.

“Li-niang, you are my Noble Consort, my beloved consort! How could you display such shamelessness!”

Upon hearing the word ‘shamelessness,’ Li Zhi’s body involuntarily quivered. Yet, at this stage, there was no necessity to adopt a submissive posture.

With Pei Ji by her side, her confidence swiftly returned. Not only did she shed her fear, but she also resolved to unleash all the words she had bottled up for more than a year!

“You accuse me of shamelessness,” she turned away, her back finally upright, casting a furious gaze upon Li Jing Ye, whose face was pale and eyes filled with burning rage. “Yes, I lack shame. But if there were any other alternatives, would I have reached this juncture?”

“Noble Consort? How does it matter? Aren’t I merely a toy in your grasp? Adored when convenient, discarded like a scrap of white silk when deemed useless.” She glanced sideways at the white silk that had recently touched the ground, unable to suppress a scornful smirk. “If there were options, I would never choose this role as an Noble Consort! Today, I will speak with utmost clarity. Throughout this past year, I have never considered myself your woman even for a single day. I am merely an undeserving woman forcibly brought into the palace by you!”

“You!” Li Jing Ye extended his finger, feeling as though a boulder were weighing down his chest, causing him immense pain. “How dare you! You are nothing but a lowly woman. The matter of marriage, when has it been your right to make choices!”

“Indeed, a lowly common woman.” She held her head high, her gaze poised with neither subservience nor arrogance. “In regular unions, one abides by parental decisions and relies on the counsel of matchmakers. Have we ever encountered any such traditions between us?”

Li Jing Ye was rendered speechless by her interrogation, his fury struggling to find an outlet, almost succumbing to the urge to avoid her penetrating gaze.

However, Li Zhi didn’t grant him an opportunity and proceeded, “Furthermore, in regular marriages, if either party expresses unwillingness, even parents and elders seldom impose. Why does it change once we enter the imperial palace? Is it solely due to Your Majesty’s dominance over this world?”

She had initially planned to add— considering the state of the present world, was it genuinely governed by Your Majesty?

But she restrained herself, mindful of the people around her, fearing their excessive astonishment.

Li Jing Ye furiously thumped his constricted chest, his once pallid face now suffused with a deep crimson hue, while the hand clutching the doorframe teetered under the burden of his entire weight.

“Zi Hui, what about you? When did you… how could you betray me, despite my great trust in you!” 

He Yuan Shi finally regained his composure, swiftly assisting him to rise and guiding him to a seated position by his side.

After holding back his emotions for an extended period, Pei Ji finally mustered the courage to face his cousin’s inquiries and rage directly.

His thin lips pressed tightly, and a glimmer of anguish and disillusionment flashed in his dark eyes. “Your Majesty, I… I never anticipated reaching this juncture.”

He entered the room, positioning himself beside Li Zhi, shielding her from sight. He bravely met his cousin’s gaze, and without hesitation, knelt down on the ground, meticulously performing three bows.

“Indeed, I have disappointed Your Majesty. I failed to uphold the appropriate boundaries and offended Noble Consort Zhong. The remorse has plagued me incessantly, tormenting my conscience. There were times when I even considered that if Your Majesty were to ever learn the truth, it would result in my demise, and I would have embraced that consequence.”

As he uttered those words, he slowly straightened himself, standing before Li Jing Ye with an intense and sorrowful gaze. “However, I fail to comprehend why Your Majesty invested so much effort in bringing Noble Consort Zhong back to the palace, only to treat her poorly. Your Majesty presented her as someone showered with favor and elevated status to others, but privately, you fed her a fertility-suppressing medicine that caused her suffering and discomfort. You witnessed her shivering in the cold and enduring pain, yet remained apathetic. Within and beyond the palace, rumors abound, degrading her worth as if she were a malevolent force. Your Majesty knows the reality is far from such, yet you allow those rumors to proliferate unchecked. On multiple occasions, it was even due to Your Majesty’s deliberate lenience and guidance that those discussions grew increasingly severe. I fail to comprehend, is this truly Your Majesty’s expression of love towards her?”

This was something Li Jing Ye had been well aware of all along but feigned ignorance. It had never been so directly confronted before, and in this moment, upon hearing it, he unconsciously felt unable to confront it. However, the anger of being betrayed on two fronts burned fiercely within him, and without thinking, he questioned, “So, this is the reason for your betrayal? For the sake of a trivial woman?”

Pei Ji shook his head, his eyes reflecting an even deeper sense of disappointment.

“If Your Majesty truly regards Noble Consort Zhong as a mere ‘trivial woman,’ then why would you lay the blame for the ongoing turmoil upon her? Furthermore, it is not solely her. Initially, all I intended was to devise a plan to assist her in leaving Daming Palace and leading a reclusive life among ordinary citizens. When it concerns crucial state matters, I have never harbored any hidden intentions.”

As he uttered those words, his typically calm and restrained eyes finally betrayed a momentary glimpse of hidden anguish. “Is Your Majesty aware of the news I heard while rushing back here just now? My father has suffered injuries, and his life is on the brink of fading away.”

He tightly gripped his hands, his nostrils quivered, and he exerted great effort to restrain the overwhelming sense of sorrow that welled up within him. “Loyal subjects like him, dedicating their lives to Your Majesty and the Great Wei until their dying breath, how does Your Majesty treat them? How many unnecessary conflicts and sacrifices have been made in matters of military and governance, all because of Your Majesty’s ceaseless suspicion and indecision? The current calamity is clearly the result of the seeds of disaster Your Majesty has personally sown over the years, but it is now being shifted onto an innocent woman who possesses no strength or influence. I… I can no longer bear to witness this.”

As Shi Quan rushed to the scene, he already had an inkling that something had gone awry. However, before he could make his way back, a messenger who had returned from the north had swiftly arrived, delivering urgent tidings.

His father had grown weary from constant toil, and half a month ago, he had sustained a minor injury. The accumulation of both old and new wounds had nearly overwhelmed him. Over the past few days, he had become incapable of sustaining himself any longer.

“All along, I have not only regarded Your Majesty as the Son of Heaven but also as a dear cousin whom I deeply respect. Whether it pertains to Noble Consort Zhong or matters of military and governance, I have offered countless admonitions, but not a single one has proven effective. If it weren’t for my father still possessing some utility amidst the chaos, I suspect Your Majesty would have long cast him aside. Even your biological mother, Your Majesty callously abandoned her within the palace, showing neither care nor inquiry… Today, Your Majesty intentionally sent me away, what is the purpose behind it?”

Li Jing Ye’s heart was struck by the forceful and decisive words, penetrating deep into his vulnerable spot, leaving him infuriated and humiliated, yet devoid of the strength to argue back.

Pei Ji spoke, “I comprehend, Your Majesty’s actions signify the sacrifice of Noble Consort Zhong alone, solely because I still possess usefulness, being able to lead the reinforcements to eradicate the rebels on Your Majesty’s behalf. But how does Your Majesty intend to constrain me? Only my family remains as a natural means.”

He retreated two steps, his expression gradually becoming composed, and shook his head. “I am unable to yield any further.”

Li Jing Ye suddenly erupted into a violent fit of coughing, his face turning even more menacing. “You… you dare—bold! I will apprehend all of you!”

Just as his words trailed off, another bout of tumultuous footsteps and the clash of weapons and armor echoed from outside the room. Accompanying them was Xiao Ling Fu’s resounding call, “Your Majesty, I am late! Swiftly, apprehend the wrongdoers—”

The individuals in the room all turned their heads simultaneously and beheld Prime Minister Xiao and his son leading a hundred Golden Shield Guards dashing forward, bearing the appearance of coming to the aid.

“Minister Xiao!” Li Jing Ye exerted great effort to utter the words while he remained seated on the couch.

“General!” Several accompanying guards applied greater strength to restrain the eunuchs who were now fiercely resisting.

Li Zhi felt a sudden shock in her heart, realizing that both inside and outside the post station were individuals loyal to Li Jing Ye. However, upon catching a glimpse of Pei Ji’s composed and cool demeanor, the tension in her heart subsided somewhat.

Pei Ji extended his hand and gently caressed the long sword at his side, then swiftly drew it out before the eyes of everyone present.

A glimmer of silver flashed by, carrying an eerie chill.

“Pei Ji! Do not forget, everyone present here is under His Majesty’s authority. You stand alone without assistance!”

Li Jing Ye also spoke from behind, “Zi Hui, despite being the General of the Imperial Guards, do not overlook the fact that the Imperial Guards are under my direct command. You are free to test and witness whom they will follow.”

As the words from both sides trailed off, several accompanying guards couldn’t help but exchange bewildered looks, yet the deep respect and trust they had fostered towards Pei Ji over the years prevented any inkling of hesitation or withdrawal.

Because Li Jing Ye remained inside the room, the people led by Xiao Ling Fu halted just outside the door, refraining from venturing any nearer. More than a hundred individuals tightly gripped their swords, casting predatory glances as they encircled the house.

Pei Ji calmly scanned each of these individuals with his composed gaze, and eventually acknowledged a few guards with a nod, revealing no hint of trepidation.

A handful of loyal personal guards immediately released their grasp and swiftly obstructed the doorway, their swords poised against the hundred-plus Golden Shield Guards.

Pei Ji turned his back and moved a step closer to Li Jing Ye. “I am well aware that the Imperial Guards are the personal guards of Your Majesty. Despite my title as General, I can only exert authority over a mere tenth of their forces, at most.”

“And what about you—” Li Jing Ye observed the glistening blade in his hand, a sense of unease creeping into his heart.

“Since I had foreseen this, I didn’t come here unprepared. The reinforcements are already in motion. Before I rushed back, I had dispatched individuals to provide assistance. I suspect it won’t be long, perhaps less than the time it takes for an incense stick to burn, before they arrive. Your Majesty, the reinforcements originate from Hedong. Hedong’s army has always been under the firm control of my Pei family. They are not part of the Imperial Guards, and their allegiance to Your Majesty may waver only momentarily. Furthermore—” Pei Ji paused, his eyes shimmering with resolute determination. “Considering the previous cold treatment my father endured, if they witness any harm befalling me, they may not easily swallow their grievances.”

As the words escaped his lips, anxiety gripped the hearts of those inside and outside the room.    

Undoubtedly, Hedong’s army was on its way. Although their ranks counted merely twenty thousand, their presence demanded respect.

Although the majority of the Imperial Guards stationed near the post would likely follow the Emperor’s commands, it remained uncertain how many would switch allegiance in the face of shifting tides. As for the remaining Golden Shield Guards, whose duties primarily involved safeguarding Chang’an’s streets, they were ill-prepared to confront the battle-seasoned troops of Hedong’s army.

If the situation were to escalate beyond control, it was apprehended that no one would emerge unscathed.

Pei Ji came to a stop, refraining from drawing nearer, and employed his long blade to sever a fragment from his robe.

“In the past, there was Guan Ning who cut off his robe, and today, I shall sever mine, severing ties with Your Majesty. Even though I depart today, I will still uphold the promise I made to my father, to eliminate the rebels on behalf of Your Majesty. However, the bond of brotherhood and the loyalty between sovereign and subject that once existed shall cease to be. Whether you can safeguard the remaining territories in your grasp will depend solely on Your Majesty.”

Pei Ji resheathed his long blade and pivoted, preparing to depart with Li Zhi.

“Your Majesty?” Xiao Ling Fu’s eyes blazed with fury, but he hesitated, torn between the decision of whether or not to obstruct.

Li Jing Ye remained silent for a moment before gritting his teeth and saying, “Let him go.”

The Golden Shield Guards stationed outside the room exchanged uncertain glances and began to disperse, slowly withdrawing.

Pei Ji strode out through the door but, as if a thought struck him, he turned around and gestured towards the Xiao father and son standing nearby, remarking, “May Your Majesty learn to discern between good and evil in the days to come, and make prudent decisions. Some individuals may present themselves as deferential, yet they are not as easily influenced as they appear.”

After speaking, he did not linger any further. In the presence of over a hundred onlookers, he walked out confidently, accompanied by Li Zhi and several guards.

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