Chapter 15 Dispute
Under the shade of the tree, Li Zhi crouched down and softly massaged the area around her knees while sitting on a large rock, which relieved some of the soreness.
Li Zhi playfully pinched Chun Yue’s cheek, signaling to her that there was no need to rush and that they could sit together for a while longer.
Just as they were about to get up and leave for Chenghuan Palace, they noticed a group of palace attendants hurrying towards them, led by He Yuan Shi.
He Yuan Shi hurriedly approached and bowed respectfully upon seeing Li Zhi, “My lady, His Majesty has learned of the injustice you have suffered and has ordered me to bring his carriage to escort you back to Chenghuan Palace.”
Li Zhi looked over and saw that it was indeed the imperial carriage that Li Jing Ye usually rode.
As the morning court had just ended, Li Jing Ye was likely still discussing matters with some court officials in Xuanzheng Hall. How could he have known what was happening in the imperial harem?
Li Zhi expressed her gratitude to He Yuan Shi with a smile, then asked, “How could His Majesty come to learn of what happened just now? It was just a small matter, and I don’t want to disrupt His Majesty’s official affairs.”
He Yuan Shi himself helped her onto the carriage and ordered the eunuchs to move it forward. He explained, “My lady, there is no need to worry. After Young General Pei left the Chang’an Hall, he sent someone to inform His Majesty, who then sent me.”
“I see. I must thank Young General Pei then.”
As Li Zhi sat in the chair, a faint smile played across her lips, which was obscured by the light veil that protected her from the sun’s harsh rays.
This man was truly intriguing.
Earlier, he spoke with such solemnity, as if he was an unbreakable rock, unwavering and steadfast.
She had thought that since he had left, he would no longer pay attention to her affairs, but he had sent someone to request the Emperor’s presence for her.
She vaguely remembered what happened after Pei Ji and Li Ling Yue got married in her dream.
After marrying Pei Ji for half a year, Li Ling Yue couldn’t capture his affection and love. She became disheartened and gradually started to adopt the ways of the princesses from the previous dynasty. She reveled in the night every day and kept male concubines openly in her residence.
The rumors in Chang’an were rife. Some claimed that the Princess had become dissolute after her marriage, while others whispered that Pei Ji was spineless and submissive.
The truth was that the Empress Dowager and the Emperor felt remorseful and had suggested canceling the marriage if Pei Ji was willing.
Nevertheless, Pei Ji didn’t utter a single word of complaint.
He was a man of moral purity, who vowed to stay loyal to his wife regardless of the reason behind their marriage. He wouldn’t leave her unless she voluntarily sought a divorce.
He was such a stubborn person.
Li Zhi realized that she shouldn’t have been too insistent with him. It was time to give him space, lest she become like Li Ling Yue.
In no time at all, they arrived at Chenghuan Palace where a female official from the Medicine Bureau awaited their arrival. As soon as she saw Li Zhi, she rushed over to tend to her wounds.
Since it hadn’t been that long, Li Zhi’s knees were only mildly red and hadn’t yet turned purple. However, the wound at the base of her right palm was oozing blood mixed with tiny grains of sand, making it more difficult to treat.
He Yuan Shi didn’t hurry to leave and instead waited for the female official to finish dressing Li Zhi’s wounds. He made sure to ask about her condition before leading the way back to Xuanzheng Hall.
Chun Yue saw him off, then sat by Li Zhi’s side, using a round fan to fan her gently.
Li Zhi noticed Chun Yue’s attempt to hide her sadness and took the fan from her, fanning her warm cheeks while asking, “What’s the matter? Who dared to upset my Chun Yue?”
Chun Yue glanced up at Li Zhi but quickly looked away, her round eyes glistening with unshed tears. Her voice was low and trembling as she said, “No one upset me, but I feel ashamed of my looks and feel like I embarrass my young mistress…”
Li Zhi was momentarily surprised, then remembered the hurtful words Li Ling Yue had spoken earlier, calling Chun Yue an “ugly girl”.
Chun Yue was a sweet and naive girl with a round face and round eyes. While not conventionally beautiful, she was by no means ugly. However, she often felt insecure about the small birthmark under her right eye, the size of a fingernail.
While Li Zhi and her elder sister, Lan Ying, were not treated well by their uncle’s family, they were still considered part of the household. No one dared to openly criticize Chun Yue’s looks in their presence.
In the palace, beautiful young ladies could be found everywhere. Chun Yue, who was already feeling a bit inferior, had been scolded in public by Li Ling Yue earlier, which naturally made her feel upset.
Li Zhi’s expression changed, and she sat up from the bed. Without saying a word, she pulled Chun Yue over to sit in front of the bronze mirror. She took out rouge from the makeup box and drew a few strokes on the mole on her face with the finest wolf hair brush. Then, she carefully picked up a golden hairpin with tweezers and affixed it to the heart and petals of the five-petal plum shape.
Li Zhi picked up a mirror and showed it to Chun Yue, who opened her eyes wide and looked at herself in amazement.
Originally, Chun Yue was a plain-looking little maid, but with the shiny and bright five-petal plum on her face, she suddenly looked lively and playful.
Li Zhi squeezed Chun Yue’s hand and looked at her in the mirror with a smile. “Silly child, appearance is something given by our parents and cannot be changed. However, with a little modification, we can look completely different. Don’t belittle yourself. Those who talk about other people’s appearances do so because they cannot find anything else wrong with you.”
Chun Yue stood there, staring in a daze at her reflection in the mirror, her eyes growing moist. She quickly raised her hand to wipe away any tears that might fall, so as not to smudge the delicate plum blossom painted on her face.
“Miss is too kind to me.”
Li Zhi chuckled and reached for a handkerchief to dab away Chun Yue’s tears. “It’s not that I am kind. I just want to keep living. And I want you to keep living, too.”
She knew she couldn’t change the situation they were in, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t try to make the best of it. Every small effort would be worth it in the end.
In Chang’an Hall, Li Ling Yue burst into tears and cried out about what had happened earlier, ignoring the presence of the Grand Princess. She looked up at her mother, her eyes pleading. “Cousin doesn’t trust me at all! He only helps that sly witch! Could he be under her spell?”
The Empress Dowager listened to her daughter’s words and glanced over at the Grand Princess sitting next to her, feeling a headache coming on.
Upon hearing these words, the Grand Princess was taken aback and quickly laughed in embarrassment, “Ling Yue must have misunderstood. You know how your cousin is, right? He treats everyone the same, so don’t bother about it.”
Ling Yue finally stopped sobbing and said, “But Aunt, he won’t listen to my explanation.”
The Empress felt helpless and rubbed her forehead, signaling the Grand Princess with her eyes.
The Grand Princess understood and said, “This is Third Son’s fault. Aunt will talk to him later.”
Ling Yue couldn’t bear it and quickly said, “Aunt, please don’t make it difficult for my cousin. He…he didn’t mean it.”
The Grand Princess didn’t dare to stay any longer and quickly got up to bid farewell to the Empress before leaving the palace in her sedan chair.
The palace was empty for a while, and the Empress let out a long sigh before comforting her daughter for a while. However, her daughter’s mood didn’t seem to calm down.
As she wiped her daughter’s tears, she murmured, “Ling Yue, don’t be too persistent about Third Son’s matter.”
But Li Ling Yue shook her head, whimpering as tears welled up on her tender face. “No, mother, I want to marry my cousin.” Suddenly, she recalled Li Zhi’s words. “Mother, do you think my cousin’s heart is occupied by someone else?”
The Empress Dowager gazed at her youngest daughter, feeling her heart break at the sight of her pitiful state.
Li Ling Yue was her only daughter, born to her when she was nearly forty. She had raised the girl with love, never allowing her to suffer even the slightest injustice. But as the girl grew older, she became indulged and capricious.
As a mother, she found it hard to discipline her grown-up child strictly. At this point, she could only try to accommodate her as much as possible and offer gentle persuasion when needed.
Unfortunately, Li Ling Yue’s heart was set on Sanlang, and there was no turning back.
When she was young, both of her older brothers were several years older than her. Especially her eldest brother, who was ten years older and was the Crown Prince, had a busy schedule and seldom had time for her. Her sixth brother was quite mischievous and often played pranks on his youngest sister.
Only her cousin, even though he was young, always had a serious expression and was the only one patient enough to play with her.
She remembered all of this deeply in her heart. Since the age of twelve, she had been following him around tirelessly, even though Third Son had already made it clear to her that he didn’t feel the same way.
If she was told today that Third Son already had a girl he liked, it would give her some peace of mind.
With this thought, the Empress said, “Your aunt and I are just guessing, but it seems to be true. We just don’t know which girl it is yet.”
Upon hearing this, Li Ling Yue felt a sharp pain in her heart, followed by an uncontrollable surge of jealousy.
She stood up abruptly and declared, “No matter who that lady is, she is not allowed to compete with me for my cousin! Mother, please make a decree and let me marry my cousin!”
The Empress Dowager furrowed her brows, ready to deny her request, when a voice outside the hall interrupted her. It was filled with an indignant tone, “Nonsense! How could a little girl like you be so audacious when it comes to marriage?”
The mother-daughter duo turned their heads to the direction of the voice and saw Li Jing Ye entering the hall with a stoic expression, still clad in his red and yellow court robes. It was clear that he had just returned from a meeting at the Xuanzheng Hall and hadn’t had the chance to change.
Li Ling Yue, in her current state of mind, was quick to snap back, “What gives my elder brother the right to call me audacious? Who was it that brought that woman to the Chenghuan Palace anyway?”
Li Jing Ye was so infuriated that he couldn’t find the words to retort, and instead pointed a finger at his younger sister. “You!”
However, Li Ling Yue was relentless, emboldened by her mother’s presence, “Are you here to punish me on behalf of that enchantress? She truly is something else, causing Your Majesty to wrong the Sixth Brother first and now turning to me, her own younger sister!”
“Li Ling Yue!” exclaimed Li Jing Ye, his anger flaring as he abandoned his usual placidity. His face became dark and his eyes bore into her, intimidating her. “It’s incredible that you, the sister of Great Wei’s Emperor, have become so undisciplined over these past two years!”
Li Ling Yue stared at her brother’s unfamiliar and menacing expression. Though she felt a twinge of fear, she refused to back down or show any weakness.
Unable to tolerate the ongoing argument between the siblings, the Empress Dowager interjected with an angry “Enough!”
She turned to the palace maids standing outside the hall and ordered, “Take the princess back to her quarters and make sure she rests well.”
Li Ling Yue had more to say, but upon seeing her typically gentle mother’s stern expression, she decided to hold her tongue and followed the maids out of the hall.
Once the hall was emptied, Li Jing Ye breathed a deep sigh and took a seat. “Mother,” he said, “we must take steps to curb Ling Yue’s fiery temperament before it causes any more trouble in the future.”
The Empress Dowager let out a cold laugh. “Being a princess, even if she causes a great uproar, who can do anything to her? Unless you, as her older brother, are unwilling to protect her. What’s the matter? Did her words just hit a nerve and make you uncomfortable?”
“Mother!” Li Jing Ye was worn out, unable to contain his anger. “Why do you all have to force me like this? I simply want Li-niang to stay by my side.”
The Empress Dowager spoke, “As the Emperor, you can have any woman you desire. Why must you compete with the Sixth Prince? What about him?”
“And what about the Emperor? Exactly because I am the Emperor, if I desire his wife, he must give her to me!” Li Jing Ye suddenly felt like he had been struck in a raw nerve. He spoke with a hint of suppressed ferocity, “Mother, since I was young, I had to indulge him in everything just because I was the Crown Prince. I watched him enjoy his time with my parents, make friends and play around, free to associate with distinguished people. Whatever he wanted, you were willing to give. But as the Crown Prince, I had to be self-restrained and couldn’t have any desires of my own. It’s been so many years now, and I am the Emperor with the entire world under my control. Can’t I even have the right to be a little whimsical once?”
“Eldest Son…” The Empress Dowager was stunned, staring at her eldest son who had been highly regarded since childhood, suddenly unable to find the words to speak.
“Mother, I have already made a concession. Li-niang cannot bear children anymore. You need not worry that I’ll be swayed by her charms and become a fatuous ruler. Regardless of your approval, I shall name her Noble Consort.”
Li Jing Ye’s calm and gentle demeanor returned as he finished speaking.
The Empress Dowager was already aware that Li Zhi was drinking some medicine.
Suddenly fatigued, she waved her hand and closed her eyes, “Never mind, I have already met with her today. I can no longer manage your affairs, nor do I wish to.”
Li Jing Ye paused for a moment, then rose slowly and bowed to the Empress Dowager, “Please rest well, Mother. I must return to the Xuanzheng Hall.”
The Empress Dowager remained silent, with eyes still closed. As Li Jing Ye reached the door, she spoke slowly, “I wonder how much sincerity that woman has for the Emperor to be willing to drink such a potent potion. Is there any woman in this world who does not yearn to bear her husband’s child?”
Li Jing Ye stopped in his tracks, then left without a word.