At the Noble Consort’s Feet Chapter 4

Chapter 4 Calamity

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As Pei Ji approached the vicinity of the Wangxian Temple, he caught a glimpse of shadows flitting about in the east wing through the gate.

He froze in his tracks and melted into the shadows of the roadside trees, allowing Chun Yue to pass through the main gate. Should anyone make their way to the west wing, he would intercept them while making a wide berth around to the west side of the wall. After taking a few steps back to measure the height, he took a running start and with a mighty leap, vaulted over the wall and landed in the west courtyard in one fluid motion.

Despite being brothers, Prince Rui and the Emperor couldn’t be more different in temperament.

As the eldest son of the Late Emperor, His Majesty had been groomed for the throne since his youth, receiving rigorous instruction and instilling a sense of duty that only wavered with the Third Miss Zhong debacle. In all other matters, he prioritized the bigger picture in his actions.

Prince Rui, on the other hand, was a completely different story. Being the youngest child, he had been showered with love and affection from an early age and had never had to swallow his pride or learn to compromise. Fearless and unyielding, he would stop at nothing to get what he wanted, even if it meant clashing with his older brother for the coveted throne.

If the Emperor, who was rarely so persistent, were to clash with the usually unruly Prince Rui over tonight’s matter, the fragile peace and stalemate maintained in the past two to three months would likely be completely shattered.

He had to intervene before such a situation arose.

The thought only served to intensify his disgust towards Third Miss Zhong.

The courtyard housed three rooms, but only the main one had its door closed and lights on. After scanning the area and finding no one in sight, he strode directly to the door of the main room.

However, just as he was about to knock on the door, he suddenly heard faint sobbing and and hushed voices from inside the room.

His mind involuntarily conjured up the image of the woman, previously leaning on His Majesty, appearing as fragile as ever.

His heart stirred, his eyes slightly narrowed, and he put down his raised hand, standing quietly outside the door listening to the movement inside.

He couldn’t help but wonder what the woman’s reaction to Prince Rui would be now that she had just sent away the Emperor.

If she could firmly reject Prince Rui and refuse to be caught up in his schemes, it would be a welcome relief.

Suddenly, he heard the Prince’s voice from inside, “Li-niang, if you agree, I will take you away from here. Tomorrow, I will plead with His Majesty to leave Chang’an and live as a commoner, but only if you’re willing!”

His voice started off as excited, but then it gradually softened into a pleading and desperate tone, as if he feared being rejected. It was a far cry from his usual arrogant and confident manner.

Pei Ji quietly tiptoed closer to the door, straining his eyes to catch a glimpse of what was happening inside through the narrow gap.

Behind the screen, the Prince had his arms loosely draped around Third Miss Zhong’s shoulders, trying to pull her closer but also holding back, as if he was afraid of being pushed away.

The furrow on Pei Ji’s brow deepened, and his chest tightened.

Although His Majesty treated his younger brother well on a daily basis, he was still the Emperor and would not allow his brother to take away the woman he valued.

If  Prince Rui dared to do so, how could he live leisurely? The loyal ministers would accuse him of treason and demand severe punishment!

The woman, who was embraced by the Prince, kept her head lowered, weeping silently. As Prince Rui finished his words, she turned her face towards the door, letting Pei Ji catch a glimpse of her face bathed in candlelight.

Her beauty was still bewitching, with a touch of vulnerability that made her more endearing. Her eyes were red and tears flowed down her cheeks, tugging at one’s heartstrings.

A peculiar feeling stirred in Pei Ji’s heart, quickly morphing into a deeper sense of disdain and revulsion.

She was like a woman cursed, her every move contrived and exaggerated.

Her voice was low as she whispered, “How could I possibly refuse?”

Prince Rui’s face lit up with hope, but before he could rejoice, she pushed him away and turned her back completely towards the door. “But I cannot burden Your Highness,” she said, “I have entered the monastic order and go by the name ‘Lian Zhen.’ I am no longer Your Highness’s wife and cannot bear the charge of causing Your Highness to defy His Majesty…”

“Li-niang, you needn’t worry about me!” Prince Rui appeared somewhat intoxicated as he stumbled towards her. “You were meant to be my Princess Consort. You were supposed to live with me in the Prince’s Mansion. And yet here you are, living in the Wangxian Temple without any clear explanation. You… should think of yourself!”

“Your Highness…”

Prince Rui’s towering form loomed over the woman, shielding her from Pei Ji’s view. Although he couldn’t see them clearly, he could hear the woman’s voice tremble with a hint of reluctance, as if she was holding back a great deal of grief. How could she refuse so decisively?

Prince Rui had seen many women in Pingkang District use the art of seduction and resistance, but he had never been captivated by their charms. How could he be so bewitched by Third Miss Zhong?

She was a calamity, a true calamity!

The throbbing in his temples grew unbearable, and he could no longer contain his anger. Pushing the door open with one hand, he spoke in a frigid tone. “This is not a place where Your Highness belongs. Please come with me.”

“Zi Hui!” Li Jing Hui whirled around at the sound of a familiar voice, caught off guard. “What are you doing here?”

Pei Ji pressed his lips together, looking cold and serious. “That is a question for Your Highness to answer. Shaoyang Courtyard is far from here. How did Your Highness end up here? Were you bewitched by this woman?”

He then gave a sharp glare towards the stunning beauty, who was mostly concealed behind Li Jing Hui.

For some unknown reason, the woman who he viewed as a calamity was not displaying any fear or timidity, unlike how she acted in front of the Emperor. Instead, she merely kept her gaze lowered, as if she had just let out a sigh of relief. This caused Pei Ji’s anger towards her to grow even stronger.

Li Jing Hui, who had already had a few drinks, grasped Li Zhi’s hand tightly and spoke with the impetuosity and stubbornness of a young man. “Zi Hui, she is my woman. You shouldn’t speak about her in that manner.”

The way he held her in his palm was just like the Emperor held the world.

Pei Ji’s temples were throbbing rapidly, and he couldn’t help but take a deep breath before pointing to Li Zhi beside him and saying coldly, “Your Highness, she is no longer the Consort of Prince Rui, but a woman disciple who practices Taoism with her hair unbound in the Wangxiang Temple.”

Li Zhi had just said the same thing, but Li Jing Hui chose to ignore it. Now that it was spoken by someone else, it felt like a sharp sword piercing him, leaving him with nowhere to hide.

Indeed, she had become the Emperor’s woman.

When he was hiding among the trees earlier, he witnessed with his own eyes how close they were, so close that it seemed like they were about to pierce his heart.

Li Jing Hui’s eyes reddened as he turned to look at Li Zhi beside him.

Since Pei Ji came in, Li Zhi remained silent, waiting for him to take Li Jing Hui away.

Although Li Jing Hui had built a mansion outside the palace, he was still able to move freely in the palace thanks to the favor of the Empress Dowager.

She was aware that nobody else dared to mess with this ancestor, except for Pei Ji.

Pei Ji had close relationships with both the Emperor and Prince Rui, and to avoid further complicating their already strained relationship, he would choose to take away the Prince and quietly suppress this matter.

This was also what she had hoped for.

In that moment, as she looked at Li Jing Hui’s reddened eyes, she was reminded of the dream she had just had – in the barracks, he had approached her with a slightly drunken expression, looking at her with bloodshot eyes just like now.

Although it had only been a dream and she hadn’t experienced it firsthand, she still trembled slightly and quietly took a step back, putting a bit more distance between them.

With just that small half-step, like a flickering spark, Li Jing Hui’s heart was set ablaze by a sudden surge of emotion.

He took a step forward, grabbing Li Zhi’s slender wrist with a grip that was both fierce and desperate. “I don’t care,” he declared, his eyes locked onto hers. “All I know is that you are Li-niang, my wife. Your heart beats with mine, doesn’t it? We’ve already gone through the wedding ceremony…”

Li Zhi’s wrist was painfully squeezed by him, and she found herself unable to say a word in response to his pleading gaze.

As Pei Ji’s already-stern expression grew even more solemn, and the hope in Li Jing Hui’s eyes slowly faded, Li Zhi remained unmoved.

The air around them grew heavy with an unspoken tension, as they all stood frozen in place.

Unable to elicit a response, Li Jing Hui increased the pressure on her wrist as if he wanted to crush it and grind it into bone and blood.

His eyes turned increasingly bloodshot, as if he had made a firm decision. “Li-niang, I’ll take you away from here!”

Without waiting for her answer, he pulled her and headed towards the door.

Li Zhi was surprised at how stubborn and determined Li Jing Hui was being.

She stumbled forward, pulled by his strong grip.

As they reached the door, she was thinking about whether to say some comforting words to Li Jing Hui, when she heard Chun Yue’s deliberately raised voice from the courtyard, “Sister Qian Yang, His Majesty has just left, and my lady is tired and resting now. How could there be any men here?”

Despite her efforts to stop the approaching people, their voices grew louder and closer with each passing moment.

“If she is resting, it is even more important to investigate thoroughly. Disturbing the lady is a small matter, but damaging her reputation is a big one.”

The clattering of footsteps filled the courtyard as the visitors arrived, their preparations evident in their confident strides and focused expressions.

With his mind made up, Li Jing Hui felt a renewed sense of determination as the noise from outside grew louder.

Heart racing in fear, Li Zhi quickly turned to General Pei and whispered urgently, “General Pei, someone is coming!”

Li Zhi’s eyes were filled with genuine fear, and her previously composed facade disappeared. Her clear, pleading gaze was like two sparkling springs, piercing to the heart like a honey-coated sword.

Pei Ji’s lips pressed together tightly as he avoided Li Zhi’s gaze, wordlessly stepping forward and bringing his hand down hard on Li Jing Hui’s neck.

Caught off guard, Li Jing Hui stumbled forward and nearly collapsed.

Pei Ji stepped forward, smoothly lifted him up, and turned towards the inner room.

Li Zhi was frozen in place until a cold, stern glance from Pei Ji jolted her back to reality.

Despite Chun Yue’s efforts to argue and block the intruders, Qian Yang and her companions were getting closer and closer, their presence becoming increasingly threatening.

Qian Yang, the head among those palace women sent by Li Jing Ye, was beautiful but carried a sense of overbearing arrogance.

However, in Li Jing Ye’s presence, she always displayed a demure and gentle demeanor, earning his utmost trust. Despite lacking a title in the palace, she commanded great respect for being one of the few who had the honor of seeing the Emperor often. Now, assigned to serve a lady whose face must remain veiled to all outsiders within Wangxian Temple, she couldn’t help but feel a tinge of resentment.

Li Zhi’s aversion to physical proximity left her palace maids and eunuchs stationed outside of the courtyard, rendering Qian Yang’s prospects dismal.

Recalling how Qian Yang cast wistful glances at Li Jing Ye upon his departure, Li Zhi suspected that the palace maid hid some disdain and jealousy behind her lowered gaze.

Knowing Qian Yang’s personality, she should have already grown impatient with staying in the Wangxian Temple. While Li Jing Ye often visited her, he had yet to bestow her with a title or relocate her to a more dignified palace. This stagnation must have provoked some rebellious thoughts within the ambitious girl.

Though just a reckless and foolish palace maid, she could still cause grave consequences if she stumbled upon sensitive information.

Li Zhi stands in the room, looking around.

Although this house was built within the palace, it was a simple abode for the women who sought to cultivate themselves. Even though the Emperor would occasionally bestow gifts, they were usually luxurious fabrics and exquisite decorations.

The cupboard that stood in the room was the sole hiding place for any person.

Qian Yang would likely scour the entire room before giving up her search.

Li Zhi hesitated for a moment and turned to Pei Ji. He saw that Pei Ji was also frowning at the cupboard, clearly thinking the same thing.

With a firm resolve, she pointed to the large bed in the inner room, draped with crimson curtains.

The bed in the Taoist temple was exceedingly humble, but after Li Jing Ye visited the place frequently, he eventually ordered the delivery of a grand yellow sandalwood bed, large enough to accommodate two people.

The bed frame was low, with scarlet curtains surrounding it, draping down to the ground and shielding the view inside.

Pei Ji’s face had been dark since he entered the room, and now, his gaze was frigidly cold.

Nevertheless, he knew that he couldn’t hesitate after he had just knocked out Prince Rui.

He took the unconscious Li Jing Hui to the bed and was about to climb on when he saw that Li Zhi had moved the foot of the bed aside.

He furrowed his brows slightly. She wanted them to hide under the bed.

“My lady, are you inside? This maidservant seemed to have seen a man breaking into the temple just now. I feared that he would offend you, so I brought someone to search for him. Can my lady allow this maidervant to enter?”

Li Zhi held her breath and gestured to Pei Ji with her eyes to hurry.

Pei Ji no longer hesitated, and directly bent down and stuffed the unconscious Prince Rui under the bed.

The space under the bed was cramped, and with Qian Yang knocking on the door outside, Pei Ji’s temples couldn’t help but seep with fine sweat.

It was a relief to finally get the prince under the bed, but he had no time to be careful about hiding himself.

Qian Yang, who was outside the door, had waited for a long time without any response. She was about to push the door open when Pei Ji quickly put the footrest back in place to cover the space under the bed. Before Li Zhi could react, he directly took her into the bed.

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