Chapter 119 Sharing a meal
When they arrived in Taiyuan after traveling northward from Yangzhou, it happened to be the time when the proclamation of the new Crown Prince from Shu also reached its destination.
Accompanying this information was the news that the Emperor had died while still sick, and his young son ascended to the throne. Xiao Ling Fu, the Prime Minister, took over the governance on behalf of the new Emperor.
Confronted with his newly received title of nobility, Pei Ji did not display the gratitude and joy that Xiao Ling Fu and others had expected. He simply accepted it as customary, ordering Zhang Jian to receive the imperial envoys on his behalf. Afterward, he deliberately avoided meeting them and did not even bother to write a letter expressing his thanks. Instead, he felt a brief moment of melancholy and reflection upon hearing the news of Li Jing Ye’s passing.
The brothers, who had been together for more than twenty years, were now leaving one by one, evoking a feeling of sadness and longing.
At the same time, An Yi Kang truly led his remaining troops to retreat to Ye City. When he heard the news from Shu, he immediately rejected the legitimacy of the young Emperor and directly accused Xiao Ling Fu of being deceitful and treacherous. An Yi Kang believed that Xiao Ling Fu had always harbored disloyal intentions and saw the young Emperor’s ascension as an opportunity to gain ascension as an opportunity to gain absolute control and plunge the empire into turmoil.
Within a span of less than two weeks, he hastily proclaimed himself Emperor in Ye City, naming his kingdom Yan and declaring the era name Tian Xu. This news astonished people across the nation.
The provincial governors and even local administrators in the neighboring regions were all indecisive, unsure of how to proceed. They couldn’t count on the insignificant court in Shu, and submitting to An Yi Kang would go against their original intentions. However, openly resisting him would make them targets in An Yi Kang’s eyes. After all, despite his recent loss, he still had an army of over sixty thousand soldiers, and his reputation for brutality was well known. No one could predict his actions.
After thinking it over, everyone’s gaze naturally fell upon Pei Ji, who had recently returned victorious to Taiyuan.
In the morning light, inside the ancestral home of the Pei family, Li Zhi had just finished her morning meal. She was sitting in the veranda, enjoying a cup of tea with Lan Ying.
In this specific location, a few peach trees had been planted, and now they were blossoming in full glory. The clusters of charming and vibrant flowers on the branches exuded a fresh and lively aura.
Lan Ying observed her sister, who was occupied with pouring tea, and extended her hand, gently holding her sister’s chin. She drew closer, inspecting her features from different angles, and smiled, nodding in approval. “Very good. It has been almost a year since we last met, and my sister appears to have grown even more radiant. It is clear that General Pei has treated you well.”
As Li Zhi listened to Lan Ying’s cheerful laughter, she felt a deep sense of relaxation. She had nothing to conceal, so she raised her head confidently and spoke, “He is truly remarkable. Thanks to him, I am still alive today and able to see Elder Sister. I owe my life to him.”
Lan Ying felt a sense of contentment as she received the cup of steaming tea that Li Zhi had just poured for her. She took a leisurely sip and commented, “Indeed, even your elder brother-in-law greatly admires Young General Pei. Initially, we didn’t have much knowledge about his character, and there were some doubts in our hearts. We believed that his appointment as a military governor at such a young age was largely due to his family’s influence. However, as time went by, we came to realize that his abilities far surpassed those of ordinary individuals. If it were any other noble son, it is doubtful that many could match him and gain the wholehearted respect of over one hundred thousand soldiers in Hedong.”
Li Zhi also had a profound understanding of this. “He is unique compared to others. He has achieved everything through his own efforts.”
Lan Ying detected a slight undercurrent of admiration in her words and couldn’t help but let out a light laugh, shaking her head. “However, now that Lord Pei has recently departed, he must observe a period of mourning, which will unavoidably delay your matters. This delay will last for three years, and it makes me feel somewhat unsettled. Luckily, the Grand Princess, I mean, the Madam, has permitted you to stay in the Pei residence. This can be seen as accepting you.”
Upon hearing this, Li Zhi understood that Lan Ying had probably already accepted that she would eventually marry Pei Ji. She felt a twinge of hesitation, contemplating whether to voice her concerns. Just as she was about to speak, Chun Yue approached with the household steward. “Miss, General Zhang Jian has arrived.”
Li Zhi furrowed her brow in confusion and inquired, “General Zhang has come again? Did he inform General Pei?”
The steward responded, “He did not inform the Third Young Master. General Zhang stated that he is not here to meet with the general today but wishes to request a meeting with you. He has a few matters to discuss.”
After arriving in Taiyuan, Pei Ji ceased to concern himself with military and political matters. He delegated all responsibilities to Zhang Jian, who held the position of deputy commander, and instead accompanied his mother to the ancestral tombs each day, remaining by his father’s side to make up for the filial duties he had neglected in the past.
In the past, this would have been entirely normal. The Pei father and son had always served in Chang’an, and Zhang Jian took care of their affairs. However, the situation had dramatically shifted, and Pei Ji had now reached Taiyuan. He should have taken charge of the matters, especially with the constant arrival of envoys from neighboring regions, including provincial governors and county officials. They came with various excuses, but their true intention was to probe and potentially seek allegiance.
Zhang Jian wanted to ask Pei Ji to handle the matters, but for the past few days, Pei Ji had dismissed him, using his father’s mourning as an excuse. It was uncertain what he had in mind today.
Li Zhi had never interacted with Zhang Jian before and found it difficult to gauge his intentions. Lan Ying listened attentively and pondered, “Why not go and see? General Zhang is known for his straightforward nature. He must have a genuine reason.”
Since Li Zhi had been in Taiyuan for a while, she had acquired some knowledge about these military officers, primarily due to her association with Wei Peng.
After hearing her statement, Li Zhi stood up and accompanied the steward into the front hall.
Upon entering the room, Zhang Jian, who had been seated, immediately stood up and stepped aside. He bowed to Li Zhi and said, “Miss Zhong, I apologize for the sudden visit.”
Li Zhi was momentarily taken aback, seeing the man in his thirties standing awkwardly to the side. Suddenly, she felt a slight urge to laugh, and her previous doubts diminished. She returned his gesture and said, “General, please take a seat. May I inquire about the purpose of your visit today?”
Zhang Jian, who commanded authority outside, now felt nervous and somewhat lost when faced with this enchanting beauty. He waited for her to sit down first before carefully taking a seat next to the couch.
He had only caught a few glimpses of Li Zhi from a distance before and vaguely knew she was a beautiful woman. Today was the first time he had such close contact with her.
With his head lowered and avoiding eye contact, he was too preoccupied to even drink tea. He bent forward and bowed. “To be honest, Miss, I came here today with a request.”
Li Zhi listened attentively as he spoke and only then understood the reason for his visit.
It turned out that in the past few days, no one in Taiyuan had seen Pei Ji, and they couldn’t understand his intentions. They asked her to go and find out.
Zhang Jian wanted to inquire about Pei Ji’s personal matters, which had little to do with her. If she suddenly intervened, she didn’t know how Pei Ji would perceive it.
“I apologize for the suddenness. It’s because I had no other choice. Initially, I wanted to meet with the Grand Princess, but given the recent bereavement in the family, it wouldn’t be appropriate to disturb her. It was yesterday when one of my subordinates suggested that Colonel Wei’s wife convey the message to you. However, after thinking it over, I didn’t want to engage in indirect methods, so I chose to personally visit and request your understanding.”
Observing his sincerity and directness, Li Zhi thought for a moment and said, “I will find a chance to relay General Zhang’s message to General Pei. However, it will merely be a message on behalf of others. I won’t say anything else. Whether or not there will be a response, it will solely be up to him.”
She had also wished to find a chance to inquire about Pei Ji’s intentions in this situation, so it wouldn’t hurt to bring up Zhang Jian’s words. After all, Zhang Jian had come directly without any intention of concealing anything, and she didn’t need to be overly cautious.
Between superiors and subordinates, it was appropriate to have such direct and open communication in order to foster smooth interactions.
Zhang Jian, upon hearing her agreement, promptly stood up to thank her and didn’t prolong his stay, departing straight away.
In the evening, after coming back from the ancestral shrine and ensuring his mother was settled in her room, Pei Ji arrived at Li Zhi’s quarters.
Li Zhi had just sat down at the table, ready to have her dinner when she saw him. She quickly added another set of chopsticks and said, “Darling Third, why have you come at this time? I thought you would spend a little more time with the Grand Princess.”
He had been staying in the ancestral shrine for the past few days, almost making it his residence. It had been more than half a month until today when he emerged so early.
Pei Ji cast his eyes downward to the meager offerings of plain congee and small side dishes on the narrow table. With his own set of utensils, he completed the final vacant spot, which brought a slight smile to his face.
“I wanted to come and see you, to have a meal together.”
This was the first time the two of them openly sat facing each other, sharing a meal at the same table.
Li Zhi also glanced at the light dishes on the table and couldn’t help but smile. “Why don’t we get some flatbread too? I don’t eat much, and what you have won’t be enough.”
“Hmm,” Pei Ji nodded, his eyes continuously focused on her, seemingly unable to get enough.
Li Zhi felt her face grow slightly warm under his gaze, but since she usually ate very little at night, half a bowl of congee was enough for her. After rinsing her mouth, she composedly sat at the table and returned his gaze.
On this occasion, Pei Ji started to feel a bit uncomfortable.
He straightened his posture, returning to his impassive expression, as if he were having a meal in the military. He took a few bites of the flatbread and swallowed them without hesitation.
This ravenous devouring was completely different from the refined and delicate eating habits expected of a noble aristocrat. However, not a single crumb or leftover could be found near his mouth, and he appeared exceptionally tidy, revealing a unique and exceptional aura.
Li Zhi smiled at him, her bright almond eyes shining like stars. “Next time, eat more slowly. No one will take it from you. The way you’re eating, it’s as if you see me as some kind of man-eating demoness.”
Pei Ji didn’t say anything, but his eyes appeared slightly dimmed.
Wasn’t she a seductive enchantress known for devouring men? However, he couldn’t touch her in the slightest at the moment.
The sky outside had turned completely dark, and the clear night sky prompted them to stand up and take a stroll outside to aid their digestion.
“Darling Third, General Zhang Jian came by today,” Li Zhi walked beside him and recounted the events of the day.
Pei Ji shook his head and said, “This Zhang Jian is more adaptable than before. He knows where to start with you.”
Li Zhi turned her head to look at him and asked, “This is your matter, and I shouldn’t have intervened. Are you upset about what happened today?”
“No, I’m not.” Pei Ji slowed his pace and quietly extended his left hand, taking her right hand into his palm under the moonlight. “Zhang Jian has always been straightforward and won’t beat around the bush. I understand his character. You are the same way, never using your status to do anything against your conscience and sense of justice. Moreover, with you by my side, their willingness to approach you indicates that they are gradually accepting you.”
Li Zhi also noticed this point. When Pei Ji had previously mentioned that he had reorganized the military and that no one would hold any prejudice against her, she still had doubts. After all, rumors that had been circulating for many years wouldn’t vanish in an instant just because of his explanation.
However, when she truly arrived in Taiyuan, she found that both the military personnel and the Pei clan members, while not necessarily overly delighted or enthusiastic about her arrival, did treat her with utmost respect.
She understood that besides Pei Ji’s secret efforts, there was also the reason of the Grand Princess.
The Grand Princess personally accompanied her, expressing an accepting attitude to everyone. Whether it was the Pei family or the military personnel, they all respected the Grand Princess and naturally understood her intentions.
Suddenly, Li Zhi felt that since she had left Li Jing Ye, she had received more kindness from others than she had received throughout her entire life.
Because of this, she felt even more convinced that she should be open and sincere.
“Darling Third, I agreed to General Zhang for another reason. I also want to ask you, what are your plans?”
Pei Ji stopped walking and, under the moonlight, gently touched her soft and smooth cheek. In his deep eyes, there suddenly appeared a profound meaning that she had never seen before.
“I have a three-year mourning period, according to the ancient laws, which indeed prevents me from taking official positions. That is unchangeable. However, there will always be a way for me to break free from these constraints.”
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