At the Noble Consort’s Feet Chapter 115

Chapter 115 Past events

<Previous Chapter<Table of Contents>Next Chapter>

The sentinels sent out swiftly returned with the message, confirming that An Yi Kang had acted exactly as Pei Ji had anticipated. Following this, he instructed Cao Si Liang to remain in the camp with the troops, while he himself discreetly led a force of over 50,000 soldiers, accompanied by Li Jing Hui, and departed through a hidden path. The direction they were heading was undoubtedly towards the imperial capital.

The camp of Cao Si Liang’s army, consisting of over 100,000 soldiers, flickered with the light of numerous fires, creating an illusion of abundance. However, upon closer inspection, it was revealed that almost half of the tents were unoccupied.

Luckily, Pei Ji detected the situation in advance and swiftly made up his mind to proceed accordingly. He kept the fires burning in their own camp, deceiving the enemy, while covertly sending out all the soldiers from Hedong to chase and block An Yi Kang.

This move was filled with immense danger, resembling a daring gamble. Once the enemy forces detected the vulnerability within the camp, taking advantage of the situation, they could easily launch a forceful assault, breaching the defenses and crossing the Pujin Crossing, thereby allowing them to strike directly at Chang’an.

The boldness of his actions left the others in awe and trembling with fear. However, given Pei Ji’s status as a regional military governor and a renowned general, even though he was young, he had never made a strategic mistake on the battlefield. Once the order was issued, the group had no choice but to grit their teeth and obey. Soon, they realized that he had made the right gamble.

When Cao Si Liang observed that the assailants numbered only 20,000 men, he swiftly commanded his troops to give chase. However, unsure if the enemy camp was already empty and apprehensive that this might be a ruse to ensnare them with an ambush, they halted their pursuit after traveling a mere one kilometer and hastily retreated to the camp.

It was exactly this round trip of two kilometers that presented a chance for Pei Ji to seize upon.

As soon as Cao Si Liang returned to the camp, he witnessed flickering flames emerging from the storage area. In the clear and arid winter night, the fire quickly escalated, transforming into a fierce blaze that rapidly consumed their food and logistical resources!

Despite his awareness of having been deceived, Cao Si Liang seethed with anger and berated Pei Ji as a deceitful and sly youngster. However, the damage inflicted was irreparable.

Meanwhile, An Yi Kang encountered a blockade from Hedong’s troops halfway. Witnessing the evenly balanced situation and unwilling to forcefully break through, he temporarily withdrew to his camp. However, upon his return, he realized that a significant portion of the army’s provisions had vanished, leading him to comprehend the true nature of the events.

Following a string of tumultuous events, An Yi Kang and Li Jing Hui’s intention to travel to Luoyang had been uncovered, leaving them with no alternative but to stay in Puzhou. Unfortunately, their supplies had been significantly depleted, with no means of replenishment. The strain of dwindling resources heightened their desperation day by day.

Conversely, Pei Ji abruptly reduced the speed, transforming the strategy into a defensive one, capitaLi Zhing on the adversary’s exhaustion and restlessness to conduct surprise assaults, steadily eroding their endurance and vitality.

Following a month-long standoff, the rebellion forces undeniably displayed signs of decay, inching closer to imminent collapse.

At this moment, the 40,000 Hedong troops remaining in the northern region successfully drove Ashina Doubi back to the grasslands. Without wasting any time, they swiftly marched south to offer reinforcement, carrying with them the sorrowful news of Pei Yan’s passing.

On the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, the night sky was clear and serene.

In the vicinity of the main street in Yangzhou, a wide array of lanterns adorned the area, casting a brilliant glow that turned the night into day. People of all ages, undeterred by the cold, congregated on the streets, creating a lively and joyous scene. Their faces beamed with smiles, concealing any signs of suffering beneath the chaos of war.

This location stood at a distance from the heart of the turmoil. While chaos engulfed the northern regions, this place remained a haven of tranquility, prosperity, and opulence.

The Grand Princess refrained from venturing beyond the confines of the residence, opting to stay within the courtyard. Seated alone on the cool stone bench beneath the moonlit sky, she appeared isolated.

Despite the boisterous and clamorous atmosphere outside, the sounds of revelry managed to seep through the courtyard walls, persistently echoing within. Nevertheless, she maintained a downward gaze, refusing to acknowledge the commotion, and her once impeccably straight posture now bore a slight stoop.

Since receiving the letter from her son earlier in the afternoon, which was delivered from Puzhou, she had been sitting in this very spot without any signs of movement, already a whole hour and a half had passed.

Pei Yan ultimately succumbed. On the third day following Ashina Doubi’s withdrawal, he breathed his final breath.

Despite her earlier foresight and thorough preparations, upon receiving the news that shattered the remaining flicker of hope within her, she experienced a moment of bewildered trance.

Tears no longer streamed down her face. It appeared that she had already shed all her tearful sadness in the preceding days. At this moment, only an immense void engulfed her— he had departed. How would she navigate the days ahead, now alone?

For whom would she prepare her lotus seed soup? Whose body would she employ her acquired massage techniques on? Whose garments would she select? Who would gift her with curious and whimsical treasures from the streets of Chang’an? Who would share tales of bygone years that she had listened to for over two decades? Who would quench her thirst in the night by offering water to her parched lips?

After dedicating over a decade of her life to mastering solitude, she entered into marriage with Pei Yan, spending more than twenty years learning how to navigate the intricacies of a shared life. Finally, she had grown accustomed to it. However, now that he had departed, he was left bewildered and unprepared to confront the days ahead.

A gentle breeze swept through, permeating the chill with a dampness.

She caressed the letter paper in her hand, its surface already smoothed to the utmost, and let out a gentle chuckle.

Thankfully, he didn’t need to make the journey to Yangzhou. Otherwise, the enduring wounds from years past would have been tormented by the damp and cold climate, resulting in constant soreness.

Beyond the courtyard gate, Li Zhi carried a lantern, silently observing for an extended period.

She was aware of the profound sorrow that filled the heart of the Grand Princess.

Throughout the period of their interaction lasting more than a month, both individuals remained exceedingly courteous, clearly demarcating their respective positions. She understood that the Grand Princess had reservations about someone like her, yet it was precisely due to this fact that she came to experience true benevolence.

Typically, elders, much like the Empress Dowager, would treat her without any pretense, speaking with coldness or, at best, simply turning a blind eye, displaying indifference. However, the Grand Princess exercised immense self-restraint, refraining from inquiring about past matters.

Whether it was for her son’s sake or merely a reflection of her noble upbringing, it provided Li Zhi with a slight sense of relief.

On this day of the Lantern Festival, where everyone was merry and delighted, it was saddening to see her sitting alone in the courtyard, wordless, consumed by the sorrow of her husband’s passing.

Nevertheless, Li Zhi was accustomed to solitude. Throughout the many years of her life, she had never experienced the sensation of losing family or a beloved. Aside from sorrow, she could not conceive of any other emotions.

Shu-niang softly sighed beside her and murmured, “Madam, you haven’t even had your evening meal. You’ve been sitting here in the chilly wind for so long. I wonder when you’ll be willing to go back inside.”

Li Zhi kept silent, her eyes lowered, observing the dancing candlelight within the lantern. She turned around and gestured for Chun Yue to fetch paper and pen, setting them neatly on the stone table before the Grand Princess.

As something was set on the table, the Grand Princess appeared to snap out of her daze, gazing vacantly at Li Zhi, who had taken a seat beside her.

Li Zhi offered a smile to her without speaking. She dipped the pen in ink, meticulously inscribing several lines on the paper. Afterwards, she held the paper’s top corners, letting the ink dry, and carefully folded it, bringing it closer to the candle flame.

The flames danced upwards, swiftly reducing the paper she had just finished writing to ashes, which scattered in the night breeze of the Lantern Festival.

The Grand Princess’s gaze was captivated by her actions, prompting her to inquire, “What are you doing?”

Li Zhi whispered, “In the past, when there were few people by my side and I had many thoughts to express, I would write them down on paper and burn them. It was like writing for someone who longed to hear my words. By burning them, they would be able to hear the thoughts in my heart.”

The Grand Princess, who had been perpetually lost and unsure, finally experienced a ripple within her heart upon hearing these words. She suddenly recalled Li Zhi’s background, realizing that she had been a solitary soul, living under the protection of others. The letter Li Zhi had delivered today also mentioned that the Zhong family had perished amidst the chaos of war.

“Now, you must also be feeling uncomfortable in your heart…”

Li Zhi froze for a moment, only then registering that she was speaking of the Zhong family’s situation.

She averted her eyes, gazing at the moon in the distance, smiling and shaking her head. “I wouldn’t say I’m deeply saddened, just a tinge of melancholy and reflection. Would Madam be interested in hearing about my past?”

For reasons she couldn’t fathom, as she observed the countenance of the Grand Princess, a sudden desire arose within her to share her past, to recount the former self she once was.

When she first entered this world, she could calmly observe the past and future of another soul with a detached heart. Yet, as time went on, she found herself increasingly convinced that the two beings had become intertwined, inseparable. The past, though she had never personally lived it, had unquestionably etched its traces in her heart.

The Grand Princess maintained her silence, directing her full attention towards her, patiently awaiting her words.

“I was born in Shu. In my early years, my parents tragically passed away, leaving my older sister and me under the care of our uncle and aunt. Back then, my uncle held a meager position as a low-ranking official, and while our family’s basic needs were met, we were far from affluent. Naturally, he harbored no genuine desire to care for us sisters. It was my aunt who convinced him to keep us temporarily, ensuring we had meals and clothing.”

The Grand Princess, who was born into the royal family, had never encountered such experiences. Just by hearing her account, a sense of melancholy arose within her, and even the earlier confusion and sorrow had somewhat diminished. “Your aunt seems to be a kind-hearted person.”

Li Zhi let out a soft laugh and shook her head, remarking, “My aunt would say that despite our young age, my sister and I possessed remarkable beauty. If we were raised for a few more years, it would be advantageous for us to become concubines in a prestigious and wealthy household. It would help my uncle and male cousins advance in their official careers. And even if that didn’t work out, it would enable Fourth Sister to mingle with more noble youths and marry into a good family.”

The Grand Princess suddenly fell silent.

“Later on, to save some money, our aunt sent us to Jiaofang Division, where we learned singing and dancing from the theater troupe members. Elder Sister had a proud temperament and initially refused to go. In response, our aunt ordered that our meals be taken away, leaving us to endure hunger and thirst without sustenance.” Li Zhi continued, her eyes suddenly welling up. “Elder Sister was incredibly stubborn and refused to bow her head, even when starving and parched. She believed that our uncle, who was always timid and fearful, wouldn’t dare let us starve to death. However, one day she saw me weak and crouching by the well, attempting to draw up some cool water to quench my thirst but nearly falling into the well due to my lack of strength. Despite her initial resolve to remain steadfast, the very next morning, she knelt outside our aunt’s house, incessantly kowtowing and confessing her mistake.”

The Grand Princess’s eyes, which had been parched for a long time, now became teary. She suddenly recalled the dance Li Zhi performed, “Spring Warbler Chirping,” at the Zhongqiu Festival Banquet. It was such a splendid performance, and now she understood that it was because Li Zhi had been compelled to learn singing and dancing in the Jiaofang Division from an early age.

“What about your older sister’s leg then? Was it also due to an incident in Jiaofang Division?”

Jiaofang Division was always a place where court musicians and dancers were trained, and the training was rigorous. Many young ladies suffered injuries from the demanding exercises.

Li Zhi shook her head and proceeded to narrate the events involving Lan Ying and Wei Peng.

For some reason, as she listened to Li Zhi recount the past, the Grand Princess inexplicably sensed that her previous overwhelming feelings of loneliness and helplessness had faded away.

It was the first time she scrutinized the beautiful woman before her, whom others labeled as a “source of calamity,” and she couldn’t help but perceive a stark contrast between the present impression and her previous notions.

Everyone said that Miss Zhong, with her beauty, was bestowed the title of a Noble Consort overnight, making her the most envied woman. However, she was undeniably a pitiful soul who had been reliant on others since her early years.

Li Zhi discerned the compassion in the eyes of the Grand Princess and couldn’t contain her smile as she gently shook her head. “Sharing these words with the Grand Princess today is not an appeal for sympathy. It’s simply a reminder that life is full of uncertainties, and most things don’t go as expected. However, what matters most is to live one’s life to the fullest. Young General Pei once said that the Princess and Lord Pei have enjoyed a harmonious and affectionate relationship for many years, and Lord Pei surely desires nothing more than the Grand Princess’s well-being.”

While speaking, she gently pushed the pen and paper closer to the Grand Princess. “If the Grand Princess finds herself burdened, why not pen down all the thoughts you wish to express? Regard it as writing a letter to Lord Pei.”

The Grand Princess cast her eyes downward at the blank paper, devoid of any traces of ink, and tears trickled down her cheeks.

Li Zhi rose to her feet, clutching the lantern. “It’s chilly in the courtyard. It would be best for the Grand Princess to retreat to her chambers, indulge in some hot soup to warm her body, and then she’ll be revitalized to commence writing.”

Shu-niang, stationed near the courtyard gate, hurriedly approached and offered her support to the Grand Princess. “Madam, let’s return to your room.”

This time, the Grand Princess didn’t object. She rose from her seat and gradually shifted her stiff and tingling legs, taking slow steps toward the inner chambers.

Upon reaching the threshold, she abruptly spun around and called out to Li Zhi.

“Miss Zhong, thank you very much.”

Li Jing Ye, in a state of frailty, leaned against the couch in the Qingyang Pavilion. He gazed at Xiao Ling Fu, who knelt on the ground, and abruptly thrust a pen holder forward, crashing it down before him.

“Your courage has increasingly swelled! Without confiding in me, you took unilateral action and executed Yang Min Chi!”

Merely uttering a few words, he grew exasperated, thumping his chest incessantly as he struggled to catch his breath.

After staying in Shu for over two weeks, his physical condition appeared to decline gradually. It remained uncertain whether it was due to the region’s peculiar climate or some other factor.

The surroundings of Shu were marked by rugged terrain, encompassing towering mountains, precipitous ridges, and fast-flowing rivers. For centuries, it had maintained a reputation for being impregnable. Consequently, there was currently no need to worry about rebel uprisings.

Nonetheless, he continued to be plagued by anxiety and unease, finding no respite. The words uttered by Pei Ji on the day of his departure had lodged a thorn in his heart. Gradually, it grew sharper, inflicting an unbearable sting, compelling him to remain on guard.

It appeared that everything within his grasp was swiftly slipping beyond his control—regardless of whom he delegated the task to, it inevitably circled back to Xiao Ling Fu.

Only now did he comprehend that these officials who had accompanied him, seemingly elevated through his own efforts, were actually under the sway of Xiao Ling Fu.

How could they be his loyal subjects? They were undoubtedly minions of Xiao Ling Fu!

And now, even Yang Min Chi, the sole individual whose loyalty could be likened to his own due to saving him, had fallen victim to poisoning orchestrated by Xiao Ling Fu during a drinking gathering. How could he not be filled with rage?

Xiao Ling Fu knelt on the ground, deviating from the customary years of bowing with utmost deference. He maintained an upright posture, offering a faint smile as he spoke, “Your Majesty, please quell your anger. When Governor Yang brazenly uttered insolent words and challenged Your Majesty while you were trapped in Fufeng, I eliminated him. It was solely to safeguard Your Majesty’s honor.”

“You! I have no need for you to safeguard my honor! Speak up, what is your true intention!” Li Jing Ye concluded his words, only to be seized by a bout of coughing.

“Indeed, Your Majesty’s honor has long been compromised and, in truth, it no longer necessitates my safeguarding,” Xiao Ling Fu responded without the slightest hint of trepidation. He maintained his smile as he gazed at Li Jing Ye. “What do I seek to achieve? Naturally, I aim to serve Your Majesty’s interests. Did Your Majesty truly desire to retain someone like Yang Min Chi, who merely pursued empty fame without genuine abilities? After all these years, hasn’t Your Majesty realized that I am not the sort of paper tiger who succumbs with a single blow? Can someone as inept as Yang Min Chi truly suppress me? Your Majesty, this move of yours might be underestimating my capabilities.”

He spoke in such a manner, almost engaging in a direct verbal confrontation, displaying a complete absence of fear.

Li Jing Ye’s anger surged uncontrollably, causing his entire body to tremble. His eyes glared with fury, and his lips quivered, rendering him incapable of uttering a single word.

Li Jing Ye’s anger surged uncontrollably, causing his entire body to tremble. His eyes glared with fury, and his lips quivered, rendering him incapable of uttering a single word.

He Yuan Shi hurriedly approached, cradling the elixir in his hands.

Xiao Ling Fu gazed pensively at the round and gleaming pill as it swiftly disappeared down Li Jing Ye’s throat. He gradually concealed his smile, lifted his head high, and turned away with firm strides.

If you enjoy this novel, support the Translator ginevre on her ko-fi account :))

<Previous Chapter<Table of Contents>Next Chapter>

Leave a comment