At the Noble Consort’s Feet Chapter 121

Chapter 121 Exception

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The following morning, just as Pei Ji had instructed, Li Zhi gave the steward the short letter she had written the previous night and asked him to deliver it to Zhang Jian.

Over the next month, everything stayed the same as before.

Pei Ji continued to spend each day with the Grand Princess at the ancestral shrine, while Zhang Jian and the others took care of all official affairs.

During the month of waiting, as he had expected, there were new developments in the vicinity of Hedong.

In the almost month-long wait, they received news from the troops he had sent to Ye City to crush the remnants of An Yi Kang. Although complete victory hadn’t been achieved, they managed to capture An Yi Kang. The places they visited were conquered effortlessly, encountering very little resistance. It was evident that An Yi Kang had failed to win the hearts of the locals.

Simultaneously, rumors began to circulate from various counties in the south. A few governors and county magistrates were uncertain and indecisive, realizing that the diminished court in Shu could no longer be trusted. They seemed to be covertly reaching out to the remaining Li clan princes who held positions in different regions, aiming to forge an alliance and preserve stability in the southern territories.

Recognizing that the opportune moment was approaching, Pei Ji instructed Li Zhi to discreetly share the news.

At the beginning of the fourth lunar month, just like before, Lan Ying arrived at the ancestral home of the Pei family and engaged in conversation with Li Zhi in the courtyard.

Li Zhi didn’t hesitate and immediately relayed the conversation to Lan Ying, concluding with the request, “Please, sister, deliver the message to Brother Wei exactly as I said. He will know what to do next.”

While Lan Ying wasn’t directly concerned with military and political affairs, she had been informed by Wei Peng about the ongoing situation. Having a clear understanding, she didn’t ask for more details and silently acknowledged the message, ensuring it stayed firmly in her memory.

The brief solemnity between the sisters dissipated instantly as Lan Ying’s soft laughter broke the silence.

She playfully squeezed Li Zhi’s rosy cheek and provocatively said, “You and General Pei have become so intimate. You’re not even married to him yet, but he confides in you about everything. I had a hunch back in Chang’an that his treatment towards you was special. But you insisted you had no feelings for him. Now, let’s see if you can still say the same!”

Li Zhi, normally calm and collected, couldn’t help but blush a bit in response to Lan Ying’s playful banter. Memories of the past flooded her mind, and she gently nibbled her lower lip before softly confessing, “Indeed, at that time, I had no intentions. But as time went on, he treated me so kindly that it would be deceiving myself to say my heart remained unaffected.”

Sensing a change in Li Zhi’s demeanor, Lan Ying’s curiosity was piqued. She put an end to her playful banter, straightened her posture, and asked, “Do you still have any worries?”

Li Zhi lifted her head in astonishment, unsure of how Lan Ying had managed to perceive her inner thoughts.

“You know, that day when General Zhang visited, I had a feeling that something was weighing on your mind. However, I got distracted and forgot about it, and you didn’t mention it either, so I didn’t press for details. But now that you’ve brought it up today, I thought I’d ask you about it,” Lan Ying clarified.

Lan Ying picked up the teapot, casually rolled up her sleeves, poured a cup of refreshing tea, and passed it to Li Zhi.

Li Zhi lifted the cup and took a small sip before calmly expressing her thoughts, “On that day, he asked if I would marry him. I hesitated and simply asked for time to think. It has been a month since then, and I haven’t reached a definitive decision yet.”

Unusually, she seemed like a young girl with a heavy heart. Leaning against the cushioned edge of the couch, she tilted her head and softly caressed the creases on her silk dress.

“I’m a rather narrow-minded person. If I were to marry him, I couldn’t bear the presence of others. And as for him—although he has consistently treated me well, who knows what lies ahead? Especially when he has ambitions and aspirations, aiming for a higher position in the future, how can I expect him to align with my desires? I have only recently freed myself from that confinement, must I return to it again? Even if it’s him, I’m not confident that I’m willing to take such a gamble…”

Lan Ying listened earnestly to Li Zhi’s words, and a subtle smile of satisfaction slowly surfaced in her eyes, reflecting a resemblance to Li Zhi’s expression.

“Third Sister, you have truly matured, and Elder Sister is filled with joy.”

She extended her hand, reaching across the table that separated them, and delicately grasped her sister’s hand.

“I remember when you were a child, you had an incredibly gentle nature and always accepted things without resistance. Sometimes when Aunt scolded you, you wouldn’t even dare to cry, but would quietly shed tears alone at night. At that time, I constantly worried about how you would cope without me by your side. Thankfully, when you entered the palace, you gradually transformed. You became stronger than before, developed your own convictions, and learned to prioritize self-care. You didn’t easily feel obligated for the small acts of kindness bestowed upon you. I witnessed all these changes and felt immense joy. Third Sister, considering yourself and looking after yourself has never been a mistake.”

“Hmm.” Li Zhi nodded quietly, her response muffled. She looked at Lan Ying’s tender face, and her heart suddenly felt a twinge of melancholy.

After giving her hand a gentle squeeze and letting go, Lan Ying turned around and surveyed the courtyard. Eventually, she plucked a peach branch, approximately two feet in length, and declared, “Third Sister, allow me to dance a sword sequence for you.”

She walked back to the open area in front of the couch, gripping the peach branch as if it were a longsword, and gracefully commenced her dance with each well-executed posture.

Despite it being only a piece of a peach branch, she executed the dance with meticulous precision. Her entire being radiated an exuberant energy, and not even her previously somewhat limp left leg could diminish her graceful and magnanimous aura.

Li Zhi observed, momentarily lost in her own musings, until Lan Ying finished the sword dance and settled back onto the couch, breathing gently. With a smile, Lan Ying inquired about her impression. It was at that moment that Li Zhi regained her focus, concealing the slight redness in her eyes, and nodded in agreement. “It was splendid, as enchanting as it used to be.”

Lan Ying possessed a tall and poised stature, distinct from her sister’s captivating allure. She consistently carried herself with a confident and forthright air. Back when she was in Jiaofang Division, she had little interest in the soft and seductive dances, choosing instead to learn the art of swordplay from the troupe members. While it couldn’t rival the authenticity of combat weaponry, it held a special place in her heart, surpassing the mundane dances in her genuine affection and pride.

However, after her left leg was fractured, she never danced again, let alone performed with a sword. Although she remained silent about it, Li Zhi could discern her inner unease.

Lan Ying shook her head, the smile on her face, accentuated by the blush from the sword dance, grew even brighter. “You need not console me. I understand that with one leg gone, I can no longer be as appealing as I once was.”

Li Zhi attempted to speak, but Lan Ying stopped her with a smile. “Don’t worry, I genuinely no longer harbor any concerns. I’m willing to resume my sword training, and it’s all thanks to General Wei. After I recounted my time in the performing arts troupe to him, he found a practice sword for me. Each time he returns, he brings me to the courtyard to practice.”

She lowered her head, her eyes fixed on her left leg, and extended her hand to gently touch it through the fabric of her dress. She carried on, “In the initial stages of my sword dance, I struggled to maintain my balance. Occasionally, overcome by frustration, I contemplated abandoning it altogether. However, each time he witnessed my struggle, he showered me with abundant praise and even imparted techniques used by soldiers during military drills, helping me achieve greater stability. Without him, I wouldn’t experience the same sense of liberation that I do today.

“Third Sister, at that time, I had already lost all hope in the matter of marriage. But unexpectedly, after three years of twists and turns, he appeared. I remember you gave me advice, urging me to cherish the opportunity when we finally come together, so that the hardships we endured all these years wouldn’t be in vain. Today, I want to express the same sentiment to you.” She reached out and held Li Zhi’s hand once more, speaking with utmost seriousness, “If you have any concerns in your heart, it wouldn’t hurt to have a clear conversation with General Pei. I believe that someone as astute as him must have long been aware of your thoughts. If you don’t give it a try, how will you know if he can fulfill your wishes? Third Sister, are you willing to let go of such a good husband like General Pei?”

Li Zhi was silent for a long time, took a deep breath, and said softly, “You’re right. I should explain everything to him clearly.”

By the time night fell, when Pei Ji arrived, Li Zhi had made arrangements for a meal and was waiting.

Recently, for about seven or eight days out of ten, he had dinner together with her. Today, she informed him earlier that she wanted to talk.

After cleaning up, Pei Ji sat at the edge of the bed and straightforwardly asked, “Li-niang, what do you want to say?”

Li Zhi didn’t immediately reply but served him a bowl of hot soup with her own hands. “Eat first, let’s speak later.”

Seeing her appearance, Pei Ji quickly guessed the topic she wanted to discuss, probably related to the question he asked her earlier. He didn’t rush to inquire and followed her suggestion, raising the spoon to have some soup.

However, deep down, he started feeling nervous. The meal was a mixture of fast and slow, filled with conflicting emotions. He wanted to know her answer sooner but was afraid of disappointment. He wished the moment would come later.

Finally enduring the meal, they rinsed their mouths and washed their hands, then took their usual stroll in the courtyard under the night sky, engaging in conversation.

“Third Sister, I have carefully thought about the words you said that day.” Li Zhi took a deep breath and gently pulled her hand out of his grasp. She stopped walking, turned to face him, and said, “Before making a decision, I also have something to clarify with you. I have a small-heartedness, and if you want to marry me, you cannot have anyone else by your side. Even if you become the Emperor in the future, I won’t back down. Knowing this, do you still want to marry me?”

Pei Ji had a serious expression, and he closely examined her with his dark eyes. After a long silence, he suddenly smiled and said, “Li-niang, you have known me for a while. Have you ever seen any maidservants by my side?”

Li Zhi was taken aback, unsure why he suddenly mentioned that. She thought for a moment and shook her head, saying, “No, I haven’t.”

Not only in the past when he was in the palace, but even now in his ancestral home, she hadn’t seen any maidservants coming in and out of his courtyard, apart from the daily cleaning.

Pei Ji gently touched her hair and smiled. “Besides my former wet nurse, there haven’t been any maidservants serving by my side since I was young. I don’t like women being too close to me. The only woman who can be close to me, besides you, is none other than you.”

He held her in his arms and whispered, “Even my father didn’t have maidservants around him. Except for the household chores, my mother took care of everything for him.”

Li Zhi arched her eyebrows, surprised and somewhat skeptical as she gazed at him. “Really? If that’s the case, then why didn’t I sense your reluctance to be near women when you first entered my room?”

It was during her stay in Wangxian Temple that he first stepped into her room.

At that moment, driven by urgency, he took the lead and brought her to the bed. However, he never revealed any reluctance to be intimately close to women.

Recalling the past, Pei Ji couldn’t help but blush slightly, reflecting on his impulsive behavior back then.

He tenderly caressed her back and spoke softly, “Indeed, it was only when I encountered you that things changed. I can’t explain what happened to me back then, but whenever I was near you, everything else ceased to matter…”

He wished he could summon half of his usual composure and self-control every time he encountered her, for then he wouldn’t have found himself entangled in a protracted state of remorse and inner turmoil.

Nonetheless, by doing that, he would have forfeited the chance to escape alongside her.

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