Chapter 36 Fantasy
After the thrilling match of polo, everyone felt the exhaustion. The Ministry of Internal Affairs promptly served the sumptuous banquet, while the music department presented a novel piece of ensemble music that had just been rehearsed.
The feasting and drinking persisted until the stars began to twinkle in the night sky.
Despite a glimmer of frivolity flickering in Li Jing Ye’s eyes, his elation was boundless. He graciously rewarded the young common soldiers and noble sons who had exhibited exceptional prowess in the past few days. Amid the clatter of laughter and banter, he stood up, leading his entourage of consorts and eunuchs through the Beiliao and Jinyang Gates and back to the resort.
His mood couldn’t have been better. As he was about to depart, he singled out Pei Ji and spoke with earnestness, “Zi Hui, your diligence these past two days was remarkable. You beat me today, so why don’t you spend the night in Shaoyang Courtyard and rejuvenate yourself?”
Pei Ji humbly bowed his head and gave his solemn assent.
As they made their way back under the dusky sky, Pure Consort Xiao artfully concealed her exhaustion and deftly signaled to Lady Wei with a subtle glance.
Since her pregnancy, she had not been able to serve His Majesty well. Although she sometimes wanted him to rest with her, she understood the need to maintain propriety.
However, His Majesty had changed a lot lately. He now longed to spend half a month’s time with the Noble Consort, and a generous five days with the other concubines.
Therefore, it was crucial for her to maintain the trust and loyalty of those close to her.
Today, everyone heard that His Majesty would not be going to Yuniu Palace, which was a good opportunity.
Lady Wei immediately understood.
When the banquet was still in full swing, she sneaked away to follow the Pure Consort Xu’s advice. She adorned herself in a colorful coat, applied some rouge, and stood out amongst the weary-looking concubines.
She steadied herself and took a step forward, preparing to speak. But before she could, she noticed that Worthy Consort Xu, who had been acting strangely all day, had beaten her to it. Smiling sweetly, she addressed Li Jing Ye, “Your Majesty, this concubine recently acquired a new piece of calligraphy and painting. Might I ask for Your Majesty’s evaluation?”
Li Jing Ye, slightly tipsy, raised an eyebrow at her words. “If I remember correctly, you learned calligraphy and painting from your father, who was quite accomplished in those arts. You were even somewhat famous in Chang’an, but since entering the palace, you’ve been reserved and have not displayed your talents. I have only seen your work a few times.”
Worthy Consort Xu’s father, Xu Yong, was incompetent in politics, but he had made significant contributions to calligraphy and painting, and even the Late Emperor had praised him many times.
Worthy Consort Xu’s face, delicate and elegant, showed a well-timed hint of shyness and a smile. “Your Majesty exaggerates. This concubine only knows a little about calligraphy and painting and is afraid of embarrassing herself. I just wanted to ask Your Majesty for some comments.”
Li Jing Ye glanced at Pure Consort Xiao and nodded. “Very well, it has been a long time since I visited your palace. Yuan Shi—”
He Yuan Shi immediately understood and ordered someone to prepare food and bedding for the Emperor at the Worthy Consort Xu’s residence.
Lady Wei’s carefully made-up face stiffened and she looked cautiously at Pure Consort Xiao.
Pure Consort Xiao, however, paid her no heed and instead focused her attention on Li Jing Ye and Worthy Consort Xu, scrutinizing them with an unsettling premonition stirring in her heart.
For some inexplicable reason, she sensed that the Emperor’s actions, beyond being a response to Worthy Consort Xu’s unusual conduct, might hold deeper implications.
In the Yuniu Palace, the temperature-appropriate bath was already prepared.
After sending her attendants away, Li Zhi approached the pool alone. She shed her thin garments and took measured steps into the water, treading on the stone steps.
Amidst the misty humidity, the balmy and delicate sensation enveloped her, gradually dissipating the fatigue and exhaustion from her body accumulated over the past two days.
She half-closed her eyes, tilting her head back and resting it against the smooth, protruding stone at the edge of the pool. Her thoughts drifted to the events of the day as she calculated the time.
Roughly a quarter of an hour later, the sound of stones falling behind the artificial rockery reached her ears.
She slowly opened her eyes and surveyed the surroundings before whispering softly, “You can come out now.”
Under the pale moonlight, a figure emerged slowly from behind the rockery and stopped one step away from the pool. The person gazed silently at her.
Without her permission, Pei Ji refused to take a step closer.
Li Zhi smiled and met his deep, alluring eyes but remained silent, only rising gracefully from the pool.
With a soft splash, her slender and perfectly-shaped figure emerged under the faint light.
She lifted one leg and stepped out of the water, her waist twisting with each movement. The water droplets glistening on her skin reflected the moonlight, illuminating her pure and smooth beauty.
Pei Ji’s eyes darkened, and his left hand clenched tightly at his side as he forced himself to look away.
Li Zhi wrapped herself in a large towel, then calmly walked past him and into the room, saying, “Let’s go inside.”
Her long and slender legs passed him by, and Pei Ji’s throat bobbed before he followed her after several steps.
The room was dimly lit by only two lamps, casting a hazy and mysterious atmosphere.
Pei Ji closed the door carefully, but hesitated to turn around, until he heard a faint voice call out, “General.” He stiffened his body and slowly turned around to face the room.
The sight before him shook his already disturbed mind even more.
Resting on the comfortable bed behind the screen, Li Zhi was covered by a large towel. Her alluring and mystical aura was like that of a heavenly beauty descending to earth, waiting to be captured.
Her expression held a hint of leisure, and she opened her beautiful eyes when she heard no movement. She looked at him and asked, “Why don’t you come closer?”
Li Zhi’s almond-shaped eyes made Pei Ji’s heart skip a beat. He almost forgot the reason for sneaking into her room tonight, and took a step closer, squatting down beside her couch, silently admiring her beauty.
Li Zhi adjusted her posture, and the large towel slipped down an inch.
Over time, she had learned the intricacies of his character. If she did not take the initiative, no matter how much he longed for her, he would not easily make a move.
In a soft voice, she spoke, “These past few days have been so tiring for this concubine. My entire body aches. Would the general be willing to give me a massage?”
Pei Ji’s entire body shook as his gaze deepened.
He remained silent and, under her guidance, carefully placed his callused hands on her bare shoulders.
As the steam dissipated, her skin felt slightly chilled. His hot and rough palms touching her caused her to shiver involuntarily, and goosebumps formed on her back.
Her skin was incredibly soft after soaking in the hot springs, and he was cautious not to apply too much pressure. He used a slow and gentle kneading motion, causing her to furrow her brow and let out a soft purr. “Please use a bit more pressure, General.”
He followed her instructions, gradually increasing the strength in his hands, moving slowly along her slender and rounded shoulders, massaging through the cloth of the large towel.
For a moment, he felt as though he was a prey caught by a female demon on his way to the imperial examination. He knew it was all wrong, but he still sank deeper and deeper.
The red marks left on her skin by the Emperor’s visit yesterday were prominent, flashing like a warning light, reminding him of many things that happened at the hunting grounds.
Pei Ji’s eyes darkened for a moment.
Suddenly, he increased the pressure of his massage, making her feel enveloped in a cloud of pleasure as he leaned in for a deep kiss.
Li Zhi did not resist, but instead reminded him, “Don’t leave any marks.”
For a moment, Pei Ji hesitated, but then he quickly removed his clothes and leaned closer.
Despite her request, he applied more pressure, causing Li Zhi to feel overwhelmed with emotion. She held back any noises and surrendered to his rare display of dominance
Forget it, there were already some marks, and even if she added new ones, they might not be noticeable anyway.
She looked at the young, handsome, and strong Pei Ji in front of her, and Li Jing Ye’s shadow quickly flashed through her mind. A hidden sense of revenge slowly emerged in her heart.
Amid the blur, she managed to focus on her thoughts, silently musing about what Li Jing Ye would do if he ever found out that, while he was going to great lengths to keep her to himself, she had already established a secret relationship with his most trusted cousin.
He’d probably be so infuriated that he wouldn’t be able to articulate his rage.
Near Changtang Palace, Li Jing Ye carefully appreciated the white silk letter paper of Worthy Consort Xu. He was greatly impressed and immediately ordered He Yuan Shi to mount the letter paper for hanging in Zichen Hall upon his return to Daming Palace.
Worthy Consort Xu seldom showed her talent, but in her heart, she was quite proud of her calligraphy and painting. Even though she had no strong feelings for the Emperor, she felt pleased to hear such praise.
She thought for a moment and then smiled, showing him two other paintings she had brought when she returned to the hot spring palace. “I’m ashamed,” she said. “I never dared to show these crude works to Your Majesty. There are many more in the Xianju Hall. If Your Majesty doesn’t mind, you can give me some guidance when we return to Daming Palace.”
Li Jing Ye was not a man who indulged in elegant pursuits, but as a Crown Prince since childhood, he never slackened in his studies. Although he was not proficient in calligraphy and painting, he had some discerning eyes. Seeing Worthy Consort Xu’s calligraphy and painting today was indeed extraordinary, and he now regarded her in a different light, nodding in agreement.
After talking for a while, the hot springs in the courtyard were already prepared.
Li Jing Ye was somewhat interested and invited Worthy Consort Xu to go with him, but she blushed and refused.
She still couldn’t let go, so she pushed him out of the room and went to the other side of the hot spring pool herself.
Li Jing Ye sighed secretly and didn’t insist, so he changed clothes and went to soak in the hot spring alone.
When he entered the pool, it was as soothing and relaxing as usual. He sighed, tilted his head back, concentrated his mind, and rested for a while.
But when he was about to come out, he suddenly felt weak all over, his steps heavy, and he almost couldn’t stand.
Seeing him about to fall back into the water, the two eunuchs by his side gasped and rushed to support him, steadying him a bit.
He Yuan Shi was beside himself with fear, and anxiously inquired, “Your Majesty, what’s wrong? Shall I summon the royal physician?”
Li Jing Ye closed his eyes, waited for the weakness to subside, and then furrowed his brows, “No need. I’m simply a bit tired from these past few days.”
He Yuan Shi inspected him closely, and seeing no sign of illness besides his pallor, he breathed a sigh of relief, urged the eunuchs to help him dress, and escorted him back to his chambers.
A short while later, after he had finished grooming himself, Worthy Consort Xu was escorted in by two palace maids.
She wore a loose gauze robe, her damp, long hair cascading down her back, and her naturally rosy cheeks lent her an ethereal and carefree allure that was quite different from her usual dignified and frosty countenance.
However, Li Jing Ye was no longer in the mood for it.
He watched Worthy Consort Xu take the initiative for once, and an inexplicable sense of annoyance surged within him. He massaged his temples and forced a smile, “It’s getting late, we should rest early. I’ve been slacking off for the past two days, and I still have a lot of official business to attend to tomorrow.”
Worthy Consort Xu was taken aback by his response, but quickly regained her composure, nodding gently and drying her hair. She lay down beside him in silence.
As the candles were snuffed out and the door was shut, the room fell into silence.
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