Chapter 38 Pregnancy
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Li Jing Ye spent the night in Feishuang Hall, heeding Imperial Physician Zhang’s advice to abstain from the company of concubines and focus on self-cultivation.
Upon learning it from Chun Yue, Li Zhi let out a long sigh of relief.
Last night, before Pei Ji departed, he applied medicine to her wounds once, and today she attended to them twice on her own. Despite the marks on her body showing signs of recovery, she still prayed for Li Jing Ye’s absence.
While this matter could offer some pleasure, its frequency was becoming unbearable.
She recalled Li Jing Ye’s recent state, and she guessed that he was fatigued and not in good spirits. Her mind relaxed as she concluded that he needed rest to recover.
Meanwhile, Pure Consort Xiao was restless.
Li Jing Ye’s words had truly frightened her to the core.
Although he did not explicitly forbid her from managing affairs after giving birth, she knew very well that once Worthy Consort Xu had seized power, she would not easily relinquish it.
When His Majesty learned of her pregnancy, he was incredibly attentive, even making a promise to her that she would continue to oversee palace affairs after her recovery.
Something must have happened during the hunting expedition two days prior that she was completely unaware of.
Finally unable to restrain herself any longer, she ordered someone to invite her mother to the palace the following morning, eager to inquire about what had happened.
In that moment, she paced the room back and forth, one hand clutching her waist and the other holding her belly.
Lan Zhao whispered, “The female official said that Your Highness should maintain a calm and peaceful state of mind during her pregnancy and avoid being arrogant or impatient. Your Highness must be careful.”
Pure Consort Xiao had grown breathless from her hurried pace. Upon hearing Lan Zhao’s words, she halted and glanced at the sky in the distance, nodding in agreement. “Go check if my mother has arrived.”
Her words had hardly faded when a eunuch appeared, leading the Prime Minister’s wife, Madam Yin, to them with quick steps.
Pure Consort Xiao breathed a sigh of relief and hurried to approach Madam Yin before she could even bow. “Has Mother arrived? Tell me everything. What could have made His Majesty change his attitude so abruptly?”
Before Madam Yin’s arrival, Pure Consort Xiao had already questioned Xiao Ling Fu and Xiao Chong about what had happened. Now, Madam Yin escorted her daughter to the inner chamber, dismissed everyone else, and divulged the details of the night’s hunting feast, where drinking deer blood wine had caused the Pei Yan and Pei Ji to become dissatisfied.
After hearing her out, Pure Consort Xiao furrowed her brows and fell into a moment of contemplation. “His Majesty has shown great favor to the Xiao family. Why must Father and Brother engage in a confrontation with Minister Pei?”
The Pei and Du families were both prominent officials of the dynasty, genuine royal relatives whose foundations ran deep. In comparison, the Xiao family was a newcomer, despite the Emperor’s trust and support, still had not earned the same status as the former.
Madam Yin shook her head and sighed as she observed her daughter’s demeanor. “Oh, you,” she said. “It’s no wonder your father always says that you are too kind-hearted and blinded by your love for His Majesty. I don’t know whether it’s a good or bad thing.”
Leaning in closer, she whispered in a hushed voice, “Your father confided in me that His Majesty places his trust in the Xiao family because he and your brother understand His Majesty’s intentions better than anyone else. Although His Majesty may seem mild-mannered, he is actually quite suspicious and has been displeased with Minister Pei and Minister Du for some time now. Your father’s appointment is meant to curb their influence. But if your father ever stands with Minister Pei, the Emperor will no longer pay any attention to us.”
Pure Consort Xiao furrowed her brow. “Then why has His Majesty suddenly changed his mind and become more attached to the Pure Consort?”
Madam Yin replied, “His Majesty is inherently suspicious and will not allow any one party to become too powerful. Perhaps it’s because of your pregnancy that he doesn’t want the Xiao family to attract too much attention. Your father wants me to tell you not to worry and to focus on taking care of your health.”
Pure Consort Xiao’s eyes became slightly moist. “But how can I feel at ease when His Majesty suddenly becomes cold towards me?”
Madam Yin felt a pang in her heart and reached out to hold her daughter’s hand, offering her words of comfort, “Fourth Daugther, listen to Mother’s advice. Most men in this world are fickle, only attracted to youth and beauty. A woman without support, like Noble Consort Zhong, no matter how beautiful, in the eyes of others, she’s nothing more than a plaything. Focus on giving birth to your child. If it’s a prince, it’s even better. Your father will plan for the future. If it’s a princess, she’ll still be the Emperor’s eldest daughter, which will benefit you without harm. For everything else, just let it go.”
Pure Consort Xiao bit her lip and remained silent. Tears welled up in her eyes, making her heart feel heavy.
Knowing that her mother was right and only had her daughter’s best interests in mind, she couldn’t help but envy the notorious and hedonistic Noble Consort Zhong, who had been regarded by others as a plaything. If only she could be favored for a moment, her life would be fulfilled.
She gazed down at her swelling belly, a hint of worry and bitterness creasing her forehead.
Though the child’s timing seemed opportune, it was also pushing the man she loved further and further away, leaving her with a sense of apprehension.
Li Jing Ye spent several days sending his greetings to the Pure Consort during the day, occasionally making his way to Yuniu Palace to gaze upon its exterior, and retiring alone to the Feishuang Hall each night.
Li Zhi was content with her newfound leisure time, spending her days relaxing in the hot springs of the Yuniu Palace alongside Chun Yue.
At first, Chun Yue refused to soak in the peony hot spring gifted by the Emperor, feeling unsure of its effects. However, she couldn’t resist the pitiful look in Li Zhi’s eyes as she begged her to try it out, and so she sneakily tried it out during the night. Slowly but surely, she began to enjoy it and even indulged in idle gossip with Li Zhi as they soaked in the hot spring.
“I’ve heard that lately, most of the Baeutiful and Talented Ladies have been flocking to Wortht Consort Xu’s quarters, except for Lady Wang and Lady Wei.”
Li Zhi plucked a petal from the water and brought it to her nose, sniffing gently before commenting, “Indeed, Worthy Consort Xu has risen in power and now controls the six palaces and twenty-four departments. If you want a better life, you have to win her favor.”
Most of the lower-ranked concubines could only serve the Emperor once every month or two, and on ordinary days, Li Jing Ye probably couldn’t even remember how many concubines he had.
To live a better life in the palace, they could only hope for the protection of those in power.
This was indisputable.
Chun Yue gazed at her, but her thoughts strayed to another matter. She glanced around, making sure that they were alone before she whispered, “I haven’t seen General Pei around much lately.”
In fact, General Pei used to make an appearance once every month or so. However, on normal days when she accompanied Li Zhi out of the palace, they would occasionally encounter General Pei and exchange greetings and a few words with him, especially when they were alone.
But today, when they ran into General Pei on his way to pay his respects to the Empress Dowager after the court session, Li Zhi only gave him a cold glance before turning away and leaving, even though he bowed to her.
The smile on Li Zhi’s face gradually faded as she looked at her and shook her head. “Stay away from him lately. It’s best if we don’t recognize him when there’s no need to.”
Chun Yue was a little surprised, but trusted her and didn’t ask any questions, just nodding seriously.
After spending some time by the pond, she stood up and put on her clothes. She was about to go into the room to light some incense when a palace maid rushed in and announced that the Emperor had arrived and would be staying at Yuniu Palace tonight.
Li Zhi’s eyes flickered with a trace of coldness, but she quickly lowered them and stepped out of the hot spring.
Just as she finished drying herself and donned a veil, Li Jing Ye appeared.
Li Zhi moved to bow, but he grasped her hand and pulled her into his arms, leading her into the room.
“Your Majesty, what brings you here today?”
Li Jing Ye looked at her with a smile, his eyes tracing over her rosy complexion and disheveled garments. “Why, have I spared you for too long that you now disdain me more than ever?”
Li Zhi cast a sideways glance at him and lifted her chin slightly. “I dare not, Your Majesty. It’s just that I was badly hurt by Your Majesty last time. It was only these past few days that I started feeling better, but I was still frightened.”
“Don’t be afraid, Li-niang. I shall be gentle with you today.” Li Jing Ye had been away for a long time, and his emotions for her had grown difficult to contain. Even before they reached the inner chamber, he lifted her up and took out her jade hairpin, twisting a strand of her soft, black hair around his fingers before nibbling her chin lightly.
Li Zhi tilted her head back, pushing her hands against his chest. She only relaxed when she saw that the door had been completely closed and allowed him to carry her to the bed.
Without the thrill of hunting in the outskirts and the intoxicating effects of deer blood wine, Li Jing Ye initially felt restless. But soon, his composure returned, and he was once again the refined and gentle Emperor.
Li Zhi had been tense, worried that he would treat her harshly again. However, as he refrained from tormenting her, she gradually relaxed.
The two were entangled when they heard He Yuan Shi’s trembling voice from outside the door. “Your Majesty–“
Li Jing Ye immediately frowned, looking displeased as he held onto Li Zhi, refusing to let go. He spoke in a low voice, “What is it?”
He Yuan Shi hesitated, as though dismissing the guards outside, before speaking in a trembling voice, “Your Majesty, the Princess of Wuyang… something has happened.”
Li Jing Ye’s eyes flashed with irritation as he clenched his jaw, remaining silent for a moment. Once his anger had subsided, he spoke slowly, “What’s wrong with her this time?”
Initially, he had not intended to bring Li Ling Yue with him to Wenquan Resort. However, he worried that the Empress Dowager would miss her daughter too much, so he had relented and allowed her to come along. Little did he know that, just a month after their arrival, trouble had found them once again.
He Yuan Shi listened intently for any movement, and when he estimated that everything was settled, he carefully pushed open the door and bowed, saying, “After the Princess retired for the night, she felt a sourness in her stomach, vomited twice in succession, and even the soup and porridge failed to ease her condition. On the contrary, she vomited even more severely. The palace staff believed that it was due to the Princess catching a chill at night and having an upset stomach, so they hastily invited a female official to diagnose her. But the female official said that the Princess seemed to be with child…”
Suddenly, a heavy silence descended upon the air.
Li Jing Ye’s hand, which had been lightly rubbing his forehead, stopped abruptly. His face turned grave, and the veins on his forehead throbbed violently, rendering him speechless with rage.
He Yuan Shi bowed deeply, his eyes closed, and dared not utter a single sound.
Li Jing Ye had heard his words loud and clear, as he leaned against the bed. Li Zhi, who had draped herself in a piece of clothing, walked around the screen and stood right in front of He Yuan Shi. She looked at him with unwavering eyes and asked, “Chief Eunuch, how long has the Princess been pregnant according to the female official’s diagnosis?”
Though her true intention was to find out who was the father of Li Ling Yue’s unborn child, she couldn’t bring herself to ask directly. So, she resorted to a different line of questioning.
Li Jing Ye stopped moving abruptly, and turned to look at He Yuan Shi along with Li Zhi.
Although the autumn night was chilly, He Yuan Shi was drenched in a layer of sweat.
He wiped his forehead and whispered, “Your Majesty, the female official said that it has been two months since the Princess conceived.”
Since it was late fall already, it meant that the child’s father was about to be revealed.
Except for Zhong Hao, no one else was involved.
Li Zhi lowered her head and slowly knelt down, “Your Majesty, please forgive me.”
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