At the Noble Consort’s Feet Chapter 122

Chapter 122 Support and establish

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“Every time you see me, it doesn’t seem like you’re truly uninterested in women.” Li Zhi knew he was always reliable, and she already had some trust in her heart. But thinking that today everything should be made clear, she didn’t let it go easily.

Pei Ji’s face appeared even redder.

He gently released his hold on her, attempting to steady his emotions, and sincerely spoke, “I share this with you not to deceive you into believing I have no interest in women, but to inform you that before I encountered you, I always exercised utmost self-control in matters of romance. Henceforth, even in your presence, I will continue to display the same self-restraint.”

Li Zhi nodded, paused briefly, and posed another question, “And if you were to encounter someone more beautiful than me, or when I age, will your sentiments remain unchanged?”

Now she was in the prime of her youth and beauty, but even the dazzling gift bestowed upon her by the heavens couldn’t withstand the ravages of time. There would come a day when she would watch herself slowly age amidst an endless stream of fresh and tender faces.

Aging didn’t scare her, but the thought of being loved only for her youthful beauty did.

Pei Ji contemplated for a while, refrained from answering directly, and inquired, “Li-niang, when I age, will you continue to treat me as you do presently? Or would you forsake me and leave upon seeing my transformation into a less appealing figure?”

Li Zhi froze, unprepared for her own question to be thrown back at her.

“I truly wanted to marry you, it is because I want to live a good life with you, relying on each other in the future. Naturally, I won’t abandon you just because you’ve aged and grown less attractive.”

Although he hadn’t received a definite answer, a smile escaped Pei Ji’s lips upon hearing her words. “Li-niang, just like you, I wouldn’t either. People age, and in a loving marriage, the initial reliance is on affection and passion. However, these elements tend to fade over time. Eventually, faith and responsibility become our pillars of support. If we spend a decade or two together, I’m afraid we’ll grow as comfortable and compatible as my parents did. If, at that point, I were to abandon you, where could I possibly find another person who knows me inside out and complements me so perfectly?”

On this occasion, even Li Zhi couldn’t suppress a smile.

Nevertheless, she refrained from giving a straightforward answer and posed her ultimate question, “Have you pondered upon the criticisms and pressures we would encounter if you marry me and forsake all others? In this world, it’s uncommon for the husband of a prominent household to have only one wife without concubines, not to mention the Emperors of bygone eras.”

At this point, both of them assumed a grave demeanor.

Pei Ji contained his laughter, nodded, and replied, “I won’t conceal it from you; I have contemplated and wavered over this matter.” 

“If I were merely the same Duke of Yanguo’s son as before, the best possible outcome would be attaining the rank of a chief advisor, following in my father’s footsteps. In that scenario, the matter of my marriage would be nothing more than a topic for our family elders to discuss briefly. However, as circumstances have changed and greater expectations have arisen, I must take into account a broader scope.

“After careful consideration, I believed that despite the potential annoyance caused by others’ opinions, it still pales in comparison to the person I wake up and sleep next to every day. Although it’s uncommon for Emperors and nobles throughout history to have only one wife without concubines, there have been rare instances, which indicate the existence of precedents. It’s just that these cases were few in number, leading to a lack of recognition. However, as time passes and people become accustomed to it, the voices naturally diminish. Furthermore, if we, as a loving and harmonious couple, can set an example for others, similar to my parents who have always been affectionate and peaceful, then our family will be spared the unsavory affairs that occur in other noble households.”

He spoke his words slowly, and Li Zhi listened intently, remaining speechless for a long while.

Pei Ji’s heart began pounding once more.

He extended his hand, cradling her cheeks, and inclined his body to meet her eyes. “If there are any lingering concerns, let’s address them now. And if not—may I ask you once more: Li-niang, would you be willing to be with me and become my wife?”

Without knowing why, Li Zhi’s nose tip tingled slightly, and her eyes welled up with tears.

Suppressing her tears, she nodded softly and said, “I believe in you. The words you’ve said will undoubtedly be honored.”

In the darkness of the night, Pei Ji’s jet-black eyes flickered with an uncontrollable brilliance.

“Don’t worry, I will always protect you. In the future, it will be just the two of us. As long as I haven’t become foolish and oblivious due to old age, I will steadfastly honor my commitments.

Li Zhi smiled, encircling his waist and placing her cheek against his chest. “Enough with such words. Knowing that you sincerely care for me is enough. In the future, if we can inspire men worldwide to treat women in our family with kindness and if women themselves can witness and learn from it, reducing their tendency for self-doubt and self-deprecation, it would be remarkable.”

Pei Ji embraced her tightly, and a smile he couldn’t contain graced his face nestled in the curve of her neck. Despite acknowledging that he was still in a period of filial piety and shouldn’t experience excessive delight, he couldn’t suppress the uplifting of his lips.

In the darkness of the night, he embraced his beloved woman tightly in his arms, silently sharing every detail with his deceased father within his heart.

After the two of them had resolved the matter, Li Zhi wholeheartedly focused her attention and let go of all concerns.

That was how she had always been—once she made a firm decision, she seldom felt remorse. In some respects, she shared a similarity with Pei Ji.

Pei Ji had likely shared the details with the Grand Princess. Li Zhi astutely perceived a shift in the Grand Princess’ behavior towards her since that day. Beyond the former respect, there was now a touch of sincere care and nurturing, subtly treating her like a cherished younger relative.

Meanwhile, there were quiet changes occurring in Taiyuan and its neighboring regions.

After Lan Ying faithfully delivered the message to Wei Peng, Wei Peng, along with Zhang Jian and others, privately contemplated and discussed it on multiple occasions. Eventually, they began to grasp Pei Ji’s intentions.

The young military governor, who was barely twenty-three years old, unexpectedly aspired to dominate the world!

At first, everyone felt a tinge of astonishment. However, within a few days, just like Li Zhi, they swiftly regained their calmness, sensing that everything was harmoniously aligning as if it was meant to be.

“I ask, in the current situation, besides Pei Ji, who else can awe the four corners and quell the chaos?”

Nevertheless, his choice to return to Taiyuan during this period of mourning instead of personally leading an army to besiege An Yi Kang or suppress rebellions in different areas implied that he did not seek to acquire authority through military means.

Hence, the only remaining approach was to deftly harness the sentiments of the people. And over the past ten years, the Hedong army’s strict discipline and numerous battlefield victories have garnered the Pei family widespread goodwill and loyalty from the people in Hedong and its neighboring areas.

Yet, the exact course of action necessitated meticulous deliberation.

After countless days of deliberation among Zhang Jian, his loyal subordinates, and advisors, they were unable to devise a feasible plan. It wasn’t until a myriad of prophecies started circulating in the neighboring counties of Taiyuan: “To bring tranquility to the realm, Pei family should be enthroned.”

Only at that moment did everyone grasp a glimpse of the situation, and after additional discussions, they reached a conclusive plan.

Swiftly, the fifth lunar month arrived, and the Hedong army, dispatched to eliminate the remnants of An Yi Kang’s forces, emerged victorious, carrying the news of their triumph back to Taiyuan.

At this moment, be it Taiyuan or the neighboring county towns, and even some southern provinces, they were all engulfed in a flurry of rumors.

People from all walks of life proclaimed that the nation was torn apart, plagued by frequent upheavals, and the young emperor in Shu lacked the ability to govern. Only by raising the Hedong’s Military Governor, Pei Ji, as the Emperor could the turbulence in the realm be resolved.

On the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, which coincided with the Dragon Boat Festival, a propitious day when the celestial dragon soared high.

Zhang Jian, Huangfu Jing, Wei Peng, and over ten others, accompanied by dozens of governors and county magistrates from different regions who had arrived to pledge allegiance to the Hedong cause, assembled outside the gates of the Pei residence at daybreak. The moment the gates swung open, without uttering a word, they barged in, resolutely making their way to the prepared chairs in the main hall.

At that very moment, Pei Ji, attired in customary mourning garments, stood beside his mother, faithfully observing the mourning rituals for his departed father. Startled, he couldn’t help but display a look of astonishment as the unexpected crowd surged forward.

Before he could utter a single word, Zhang Jian and Huangfu Jing advanced with determined steps, swiftly seizing him from either side and firmly placing him upon the chair that had been meticulously prepared at the heart of the hall.

As soon as he took his seat, the crowd lined up in the courtyard, bowing down in unison and fervently proclaiming, “General, please assume the position of the Son of Heaven.”

Uttering these words, everyone prostrated themselves and shouted, “Long live!”

In an instant, the small courtyard became bustling with activity.

Following the customary protocol, Pei Ji attempted to decline, yet Zhang Jian disregarded his protests and tenderly placed a yellow robe upon him, effectively quashing any further objections.

“Enough,” Pei Ji said, resignedly. “Since you have all unanimously decided to interrupt my mourning period, I have no choice but to comply.”

After a flurry of activity, the matter was finally resolved. Pei Ji ceased to remain at the idle residence and instead returned to the government office to attend to military and administrative matters.

However, he didn’t hastily arrange the coronation proceedings. Instead, he first made the events of the Dragon Boat Festival known to the entire empire. He dispatched emissaries to Shu to engage with local officials, expressing his reluctance for armed confrontation and his preference for a smooth transition. He assured them that if they were willing to surrender and yield, they would be treated kindly and there would be no cause for alarm.

Upon hearing the news, the people of Shu were filled with shock and dismay, quickly splitting into two camps with divergent views.

The young Empress Dowager and a few officials from Shu favored adapting to the situation and willingly abdicating the throne to restore peace. However, Xiao Ling Fu and his son feared that Pei Ji’s promises were hollow and carried potential risks. They passionately argued for utilizing the strategic advantages of Shu’s complex terrain to temporarily fortify their position and strategize for the future.

Undoubtedly, the terrain of Shu was intricate and convoluted. The soldiers of Hedong, who were accustomed to wide open plains, may not find it as effortless to conquer as they did in the past.

However, Xiao Ling Fu overlooked the fact that the Zhong sisters themselves were local residents of Shu. Their late father was a distinguished official in the government of Shu.

Among the ranks of Hedong’s army, there was Wei Peng. He also came from a military family in Shu and had been involved with the Shu military since his early years. It wasn’t until he reached the age of seventeen that he departed from Shu and traveled to Chang’an. He possessed a thorough knowledge of the circumstances in Shu.

Pei Ji, of course, had made early preparations.

Deep down, he had no desire to meet in battle. Hence, he refrained from immediately marching to Shu with his troops. Instead, he dispatched Wei Peng with a separate force to eliminate the opportunistic bandits and marauders in the vicinity of the capital region, intending to send a strong message.

It was only at that moment that Xiao Ling Fu fully grasped the situation and remembered the previous altercation he had with the Colonel, who had now risen to the rank of General. He felt cornered without any avenue for escape.

Deep within his heart, despite his reluctance to make concessions, he couldn’t ignore the fact that he had worked tirelessly for many years, yet the illustrious rise of the Xiao family had not materialized. The thought of their achievements being transient and fleeting filled him with an indescribable dissatisfaction.

Nevertheless, he had to take into account the looming threat from the Western Tibet. If an actual confrontation were to occur, Shu could find itself caught in a vice grip, besieged from both the west and the east.

Shu boasted a sizable army, yet what it truly lacked were skillful leaders capable of inspiring unity and achieving remarkable feats. Without a thorough reformation and transformation, the multitude of soldiers, numbering in the tens of thousands, would remain a disjointed assemblage, devoid of the natural advantage offered by the terrain.

Faced with no other choice, the Empress Dowager reluctantly held the abdication decree, with the Little Emperor, who had not yet reached the age of two, by her side. She relinquished the throne in favor of Pei Ji. Thereafter, escorted by a formidable force of 20,000 Imperial Guards, they departed from Shu and made their way back to the steadily stabilized capital city of Chang’an.

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