Chapter 12 Relocation
On the night of the Qixi Festival, Li Jing Ye finally did not stay at the Wangxian Temple, but went to the Shicui Palace where Pure Consort Xiao resided.
The women in the palace all breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that the Emperor’s fancy towards the beauty in the Taoist temple had passed. However, their hopes were dashed when on the afternoon of the second day, they heard that His Majesty had ordered Li Zhi to be brought out from Wangxian Temple and moved to Chenghuan Palace.
At that time, Pure Consort Xiao was entertaining Lady Wang, Lady Wei, and others to have tea, and they were discussing the latest gossip when the news arrived.
“I thought His Majesty would have grown tired of her by now. Who knew that she would be brought in today? I wonder what kind of title she will be given.”
Lady Wang sneered, her disdain for the situation evident. “What is there to be afraid of? She comes from a humble background and her uncle is only a seventh-grade official. What’s more, with what happened with Prince Rui, even if His Majesty favors her, it won’t change her lowly status.”
Lady Wei nodded in agreement, feeling relieved. “I heard that His Majesty had already ordered Chenghuan Palace to be cleaned up, but because the Empress Dowager did not allow it, it has been hanging in the air. His Majesty values filial piety, so even if he brings her in, he should not offend the Empress Dowager too much.”
After speaking, she turned to Pure Consort Xiao who was drinking tea beside her and asked, “His Majesty has always favored you, Sister. Has he said anything to you regarding this matter?”
Because there were many instances of Empresses causing chaos during the previous dynasty, the Emperors of this dynasty mostly did not establish Empresses.
The ranks of the other concubines were determined by their family backgrounds. Only Pure Consort Xiao and Worthy Consort Xu held the esteemed position of Consort.
Pure Consort Xiao ranked higher than Worthy Consort Xu. Furthermore, the Worthy Consort was known to be cold and aloof, rarely meddling in palace affairs. Thus, after the Empress Dowager, Pure Consort Xiao was the most powerful woman in the palace, with complete control over harem affairs.
The women in the palace treated her as if she were the Empress herself, and even Pure Consort Xiao held herself to the same standards as a mother of the world.
She put down her teacup, picked up a pair of tweezers and plucked some dried tea leaves. She smiled faintly and said, “It’s ultimately up to His Majesty to decide. If he so chooses, he could elevate her to the status of a Beautiful Lady or a Lady of Handsome Fairness. What’s wrong with that?”
According to her uncle’s humble seventh-rank status, being conferred a sixth-rank title was already a lofty privilege. The reason for her exceptional appointment as Prince Rui’s Consort was solely due to the Empress Dowager’s fondness for her youngest son, with no involvement in state affairs.
However, in this delicate predicament, how could she dare to overstep the line again?
During the Emperor’s stay at the Shicui Palace last night, he did mention this matter.
She had sensed that His Majesty was in a good mood at the time and didn’t want to displease him, so she only suggested a fifth or fourth rank title.
While the Emperor didn’t give a definitive response, he also didn’t reject the idea, leaving the outcome almost certain.
A knowing glance was exchanged between Lady Wang and Lady Wei, both understanding that Li Zhi wouldn’t be bestowed with a high-ranking position.
Li Zhi, accompanied by her palace maids and eunuchs, walked down the palace road led by He Yuan Shi himself. They were headed towards the back palace located on the west side of the Daming Palace, where the Emperor’s consorts resided.
Even though Daming Palace was vast, it belonged solely to the Emperor. Only ten or so palace buildings on the west side were allocated to the imperial consorts. These palace buildings were surrounded by a long red wall, beyond which no other men were allowed to enter. Even the Imperial Guards patrolled and guarded outside the red wall.
As Li Zhi looked up and down at the red wall, she realized it was not high at all. Despite being built within the palace, it was no obstacle for anyone strong enough to climb over. He Yuan Shi, observing her gaze, thought she was looking for the Emperor’s sleeping quarters, and hurriedly explained, “The Chenghuan Palace, where my lady resides, is on the south side, and it is the closest palace to the Emperor’s Zichen Hall. It has just been renovated these two days. My lady, please follow this old servant to the south.”
Li Zhi smiled and nodded.
As the group continued south along the wide palace road, they saw several eunuchs carrying a small and exquisite sedan chair coming towards them. The sedan chair was ornately decorated with carvings and inlay, and looked as if it had been made especially for the woman who sat upon it.
The young woman, who was about twenty years old, wore a moon-white summer dress that complemented her fair complexion. A golden hairpin with jade inlay held her hair in place, and she carried a faint fragrance with her that smelled of spring flowers. Although she was beautiful, her demeanor was cold and aloof, as if she was indifferent to everything around her.
The sedan chair passed by, and He Yuan Shi led Li Zhi to the side of the road and bowed to the woman.
The woman remained expressionless and only glanced lightly at them before passing by without stopping.
Li Zhi watched her back and felt that she was familiar, as if she had seen her in a dream, but she couldn’t remember who she was for a moment. He Yuan Shi noticed her confusion and whispered, “That is Worthy Consort Xu, who lives in the Xianju Palace to the north. You are not yet a Consort, but after some time, when His Majesty grants you the title, you won’t have to bow to others anymore.”
These words were meant to soothe her, as if he had been instructed by Li Jing Ye to prevent her from feeling wronged due to the difference in their status.
Li Zhi made a submissive gesture, nodding slightly and saying, “I do not dare to expect anything. His Majesty’s mercy is all I ask for.”
But she finally remembered the Worthy Consort Xu.
The Worthy Consort Xu was born into a noble family. Her grandfather had been a high-ranking official in two dynasties, serving as the head of the court officials, and was posthumously appointed as Grand Tutor. Her father, Xu Yong, was now the Minister of Rites.
The Worthy Consort Xu was always aloof in temperament. After entering the palace, she was dedicated to Taoism and never involved herself in the harem disputes. She was always indifferent to the Emperor and apparently had no desires or demands.
Li Zhi thought back to woman’s unresponsive gaze and smiled silently.
It was no wonder that Worthy Consort Xu rarely appeared in her dreams. Besides herself, there seemed to be other women in the palace who showed no interest in the Emperor.
Shortly after, they arrived at the Chenghuan Palace.
Compared to the Shicui Palace and the Xianju Palace where Pure Consort Xiao and Worthy Consort Xu lived, the Chenghuan Palace was not as grand or spacious, but it was in a prime location and was a palace that many people envied.
The Emperor had already bestowed many things upon this place, and after several days of renovation and decoration, the interior was now very comfortable and elegant.
The bathroom was especially luxurious, featuring a huge bathtub that could accommodate several people and a door that led directly to the bedroom.
He Yuan Shi was especially attentive in arranging everything for her. Before he left, he whispered, “The Emperor is very busy these days and he specifically instructed me to tell my lady that if she wants to pay respects to the Empress Dowager tomorrow, she may go around the ninth hour. By then, the morning court will have dispersed, and the Grand Princess will also go to the Changan Hall as usual to pay her respects. The Empress Dowager will surely be in a good mood.”
He couldn’t bring himself to mention the Empress Dowager’s aversion to Li Zhi directly. He could only give such a hint, hoping that with the Grand Princess present, the Empress Dowager would not make things too difficult for her.
Upon hearing this, Li Zhi’s eyes flashed with a glimmer of understanding. She thanked He Yuan Shi repeatedly and offered him some tea and pastries before bidding him farewell.
In this dynasty, there was only one Grand Princess, and that was Li Hua Zhuang, Pei Ji’s mother.
It was said that when Pei Ji was a child, he had spent two years under the Empress Dowager’s care while the Grand Princess accompanied the Duke of Yanguo in his official duties in Hedong. As the Grand Princess came to pay her respects to the Empress Dowager, Pei Ji naturally had to come and pay his respects as well.
On that evening, at the Duke of Yanguo’s mansion.
Pei Ji returned from outside the city and went to pay his respects to the Grand Princess as usual.
After settling the minor conflicts with the Turks in the north, and fighting battles with Tibet in the Western Regions, even though they were small-scale battles with high chances of victory, the court could not afford to be complacent
As one of the chief advisors of the Emperor, the Duke of Yanguo, Pei Yan, had been leaving early and returning late lately, and he still had not returned home today.
The mother and son were sitting inside, planning to enjoy their usual two cups of tea.
The Grand Princess looked at her son’s slightly exhausted face and couldn’t help but wonder, “My son, what happened today? You only stayed overnight in the palace, so why do you look so tired?”
Pei Ji was still too young, but at the age when he was most energetic. Although he usually appeared meticulous and lacked liveliness in the eyes of his mother, she had never seen him look tired after being on duty before.
The two dark circles under his eyes were quite noticeable.
It was worth noting that the place where the Imperial Guards were on duty had sleeping quarters, and if there was nothing urgent, the person on duty would rest in the room for several hours.
Pei Ji put down the teacup in his hand and said calmly, “Last night was Qixi Festival, and I stayed up half the night to help prevent water from overflowing into the Linde Hall and Yeting Palace. I’ve been running around outside the city today, so I’m a bit tired.”
In truth, Pei Ji had already arranged the security measures for Linde Hall and Yeting Palace, even devising three contingency plans. He needn’t have worried so much.
Pei Ji had endured a sleepless night, but not due to his concerns over the security measures. It was the woman in the Wangxian Temple who had kept him awake.
Her bold and provocative gestures had lured him back to his quarters, where he had remained in a trance-like state, unable to shake her alluring gaze. He had even been forced to endure two consecutive drenchings with cold water before he could finally fall asleep, still haunted by her provocative dance and sultry stare.
Eventually, he had abandoned the idea of sleeping altogether, instead choosing to read two scrolls of books under the flickering light of a lantern. He had only managed to drift off into a restless sleep for a little over half an hour at daybreak.
Today, Pei Ji had attended the court meeting in the morning, followed by training at the army camp outside the city, and conducting patrols around the city gates in the afternoon.
After enduring almost two days and running around everywhere, how could Pei Ji not feel exhausted?
The Grand Princess scrutinized her son with a sharp gaze, and said, “Being meticulous about official duties is necessary, and I don’t pity you for it. But I wonder, when will you loosen up and find yourself a wife who will take care of you?”
This was not the first time that the Grand Princess had mentioned this, but Pei Ji always responded with ease and grace. “Mother, there is no hurry to get married. A great man should first achieve success and establish his career.”
The Grand Princess did not expect to persuade him with just a casual mention.
However, all the other young masters in the Pei family, who were of similar age to Pei Ji, had already married or had their marriages arranged. Only Pei Ji had no news of marriage. His mother, being a mother, was not overly anxious, but the old lady of the Pei family, who was about to be ennobled, had recently become worried for him.
After discussing the situation in the war with Tibet for a while and arranging to visit the palace the next day, the mother and son exchanged a few more words before Pei Ji got up to take his leave.
He had just gotten up from the couch, but the Grand Princess noticed a delicate and small blue object falling from the pouch tied around his waist onto the bamboo mat.
Pei Ji paused for a moment, then naturally picked up the object and held it in his palm, blocking it from his mother’s sight. He said casually, “The pouch might have been worn out from horse racing today.”
The Grand Princess said nothing, but simply gazed at him with a smile.