At the Noble Consort’s Feet Chapter 41

Chapter 41 Brief encounter

<Previous Chapter<Table of Contents>Next Chapter>

The warmth of the room had been invaded by the chilly breeze of early winter, as the window was left wide open. Li Zhi shivered involuntarily in her thin garments.

Pei Ji hastened to shut the window before approaching her slowly. His tall figure cast a shadow in the flickering candlelight, completely enveloping her graceful figure.

One of them sat while the other stood, and they remained silent for a moment, each seemingly lost in their own thoughts.

Finally, Li Zhi lifted her head and met his gaze. “General, what brings you here at this hour?”

Her tone was flat, and her face was as usual, but Pei Ji could tell that compared to her previous initiative, she seemed less interested and more indifferent today, even a bit reluctant.

Perhaps she was displeased that he had come at such a time.

His heart was a bit bitter, and he pursed his lips. “I am here to talk about the matter that the Noble Consort entrusted to me.”

With a flick of his wrist, he produced several sketches from his sleeve and presented them to her.

As she accepted them, her face eased, and she began to peruse the drawings, her profile casting a gentle shadow in the warm candlelight.

Pei Ji looked at it for a while, then forced himself to look away. He took a few steps closer and squatted down beside her, pointing to the label on the sketches and explaining to her, “The layout of Yangzhou is different from that of Chang’an. The northern part of the city typically houses government offices and is considered an administrative center, while the southern part of the city was mainly residential and commercial in nature. They have neighborhood blocks and curfews, but they’re not as strict as Chang’an, and people still travel at night…”

Li Zhi listened intently to his words and studied the locations of the three properties one by one. She examined the layout of each property and after careful consideration, selected a house that was conveniently situated close to both the government offices and the long street beside the canal. “Let’s go with this one. In a few days, I will have my servant send the flying money to the General’s mansion. I ask that the General take care of this matter for me. This property will be registered under A’Zi’s name.”

Flying money, a type of promissory note that could be exchanged for copper coins, had become the favored method of payment among the city’s wealthiest merchants. For Li Zhi, who needed to purchase a house with a large sum of copper coins, using flying money made more sense, as it was much safer and more convenient than transporting the coins themselves.

Pei Ji furrowed his brow and collected the sketches once more, saying, “There’s no need. I can handle it myself.”

He led a modest lifestyle, rarely indulging in the vices that other sons of nobility were prone to, such as gambling or cavorting with courtesans. While his coffers were not overflowing, he had enough wealth to purchase a house. He sensed her intent to distance herself from him.

Though the news should have pleased him, Pei Ji felt no elation whatsoever.

Li Zhi chuckled lightly and shook her head, “I can handle it on my own. You needn’t trouble yourself.”

She had always believed that relationships between men and women were merely transactions of mutual benefit. If Pei Ji was helping her today, it was only because he felt guilty. Li Zhi didn’t want to deplete that well of guilt too quickly, in case she needed to rely on it in the future.

Pei Ji stood rooted to the spot, watching her quietly. There was something he wished to ask, but he didn’t know how to broach the subject.

Li Zhi paused, uncertain of what to do when Pei Ji remained still. Slowly, she rose to her feet, shedding the outer garment that draped over her shoulders and tossing it aside.

In the flickering candlelight, her neck and the expanse of snowy flesh were bathed in a soft glow that made her look like a goddess.

Taking a few steps towards him, Li Zhi’s slender frame was clad in a silken wrap-around gown that clung to her curves. Lifting her hand to rest on his shoulder, she leaned in, tilting her head and closing her eyes to kiss him deeply.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Pei Ji’s hands found their place on her slender waist and the delicate hand that rested on his shoulder, drawing her closer until she was wrapped around his neck.

The two of them kissed passionately, as if they were the only people in the world.

Li Zhi’s heart raced as Pei Ji’s strong arms lifted her up, holding her close as he lowered her onto the bed. She let out a sudden breath, holding on tight to his neck as she moved closer to him.

Pei Ji pinned her down beneath the covers, holding her arms captive as he nibbled her dainty chin and neck.

Li Zhi squirmed in his grasp, turning her face away and biting down on her lip.

Pei Ji tightened his grip, not releasing her until only her silk gown stood in his way.

His teeth lightly grazed the ribbon, his intention to tear it off interrupted by a moment of clarity.

The question he longed to ask remained unspoken.

He slowly ceased his movements, loosening the restraints on her arms.

Li Zhi panted, her eyes glistening with confusion as she gazed up at him. “What’s wrong?”

Pei Ji’s eyes darkened as he leaned over her, one hand supporting her neck while the other tenderly caressed her flushed cheek. His voice was husky with concern. “Aren’t you afraid of conceiving?”

Li Zhi was taken aback, but then comprehension dawned on her.

Despite his mature and stable demeanor, Pei Ji was no more than a youth in his early twenties, entirely lacking experience in the art of lovemaking. The first time he had taken a lover, he fumbled about aimlessly, and it was only with the aid of an aphrodisiac and her guidance that he managed to achieve anything at all.

He was the sort of person who likely never even considered the possibility of pregnancy. It was only when Li Lingyue’s name was mentioned that the realization suddenly dawned on him.

Li Zhi giggled and shook her head. “No need to worry. It won’t happen,” she assured him.

Pei Ji’s misgivings lingered. He refused to let the matter rest and pressed on with his questioning. “Why are you so sure? Did something happen before?” 

Li Zhi’s expression grew frosty. She looked him in the eyes for a moment before deciding to be honest. “I’m certain because your cousin, who dotes on me so, fed me medicine for half a month before I entered the Chenghuan Palace. It made it impossible for me to conceive.”

Months had passed since then, but she still experienced unbearable pain every time her monthly cycle came. It was evident that her body had been seriously affected. Nevertheless, every time they came together, she kept track of her cycle and made sure to avoid the days when conception was most likely to occur.

Pei Ji stood there, stunned, unable to utter a word.

Until then, he had only assumed that she might have some concealed troubles to confide, like a past injury or the machinations of some ill-intentioned person in the palace, but he could never have anticipated it would be the Emperor himself!

Though he considered himself knowledgeable about the Emperor, he had never considered this possibility.

Granted, in his estimation, despite the Emperor’s less than virtuous methods, he must have a genuine affection for the Noble Consort, otherwise, why would he have dared to risk so much and forcibly snatch his younger brother’s wife?

But if he really loved her, how could he bear to treat her so harshly?

Then, all of a sudden, he recalled the Emperor’s gradual transformations over the years, and he began to see how it was all starting to make sense.

Perhaps, it was a move to avoid any potential repercussions, so he could wholeheartedly dote on her without any worry?

If the Noble Consort gives birth to a prince, it may stir up suspicion of usurpation. Besides, the court officials already expressed their dissatisfaction with His Majesty’s disregard for ethics and morals. They implicitly blame the Noble Consort for being a troublemaker and imply that His Majesty is misguided. If the Noble Consort gets pregnant, the court may argue endlessly.

Furthermore, considering Li Jing Ye’s temper, he may feel ashamed of the situation.

However, all these worries ultimately fall on her, and it was too cruel.

A complex suspicion welled up in his heart. He thought he understood the Emperor well, but it seemed not the case now.

His eyes flickered as his rough fingers gently caressed her cheek, with an indescribable sense of compassion.

Li Zhi felt a deep sense of discomfort in her heart and refused to accept anyone’s pity.

She glared at him icily and retorted, “I never desired to give birth, so it coincidentally suits my wishes. Aside from the pain I feel every month, I don’t experience any other discomfort.”

With a flick of her eyes, she diverted the topic, unwilling to discuss the matter any further. Her dainty face blossomed with coquetry, and her clear, watery eyes brimmed with spring-like sentiments. “General, it’s already late.”

Pei Ji momentarily felt a sense of bewilderment, but soon lifted her chin and kissed her once more.

Li Zhi’s body softened, and she was about to reach out for him when he abruptly pulled away.

“I shouldn’t have done that to you,” he said, standing up and shaking his head.

Li Zhi furrowed her eyebrows, gradually sitting up and regarding him with a serene expression. “I don’t require anyone’s sympathy. Or… do you regret it?” 

Pei Ji’s heart twisted with a sour ache, silently picking up the discarded coat from the edge of the bed and draping it around her.

She always worried that he would regret it.

“No, I just…” He faltered, contemplating how to express his thoughts without sounding contrived. If he were to indulge in her vulnerability and take advantage of her after discovering that she had been fed medicine, it would be no different from the actions of a villain. He decided against speaking his thoughts out loud and instead said, “Nevermind, you should rest now. It will take more than a day or two to recover from the damage to your body.”

Li Zhi remained silent, sitting still on the edge of the bed as she watched him. The calm surface of her heart was disturbed by the gentlest of ripples.

Pei Ji tugged at her collar, and then rose from the bed to walk over to the window. He listened intently for a moment, looked around, then climbed out the window and made his way into the night.

The cold air rushed into the room again, but was kept at bay by the closed window.

Closer to midnight, Pei Ji quietly walked along the edge of the bamboo forest behind Yuniu Palace to the rockery behind the peony hot spring. Hidden by the darkness and the rocks, he climbed up the wall, looked around, then landed gracefully on the rocks near the Shaoyang Courtyard.

This area was uninhabited and deserted, with no one around except for the occasional eunuch who passed through on the road leading to Rihua Gate and Zhaoyang Gate.

As he approached Rihua Gate, he suddenly spotted a group of eunuchs coming towards him. Four of them were carrying a sedan chair with Li Jing Ye sitting atop it, who had earlier visited Changtang Palace.

He shuddered, quickly lowering his head and standing to the side of the road to bow respectfully.

Li Jing Ye noticed him and, despite his displeased expression, forced a smile. “Zi Hui, you’re still patrolling at this time. You’ve worked hard, go rest.”

Pei Ji bowed his head in response, but a cold sweat trickled down his back.

He dared not ask His Majesty if he was going to Yuniu Palace. If he had been even a step slower, he feared he would have been caught.

In Yuniu Palace, Li Zhi sat on the bed in a daze.

After some time had passed, there was a sudden knocking on the window, followed by an abrupt silence. Chun Yue pushed open the door and stuck her head in, urgently announcing, “Miss, His Majesty is here!”

Unaware that Pei Ji had already left, her anxiety was mounting, threatening to spill tears.

Suddenly, Li Zhi arrived and without waiting for her to greet him, she said, “Don’t be afraid. He’s gone.”

Chun Yue breathed a sigh of relief.

Suddenly, Li Jing Ye arrived. Upon seeing him, she forced a smile and inquired, “I thought ,Your Majesty would be resting in the the Pure Consort’s Palace, why are you here now?”

“I miss my Li-niang.” Li Zijing took her hand and led her to the inner chamber.

The warmth of the bedroom dissipated briefly when the door was opened, allowing a cold draft to seep in. As they reached the bed, a chill still lingered in the air.

Li Jing Ye furrowed his brow as he glanced towards the window beside the bed, puzzled by the sudden chill that brushed against his skin. “Why is it so cold here? Did you open the window just now?”

Li Zhi stiffened behind him and said coquettishly, “I felt too hot inside the room, so I opened the window. I didn’t expect to feel cold after just a moment.”

Li Jing Ye pulled her into a gentle embrace, his hand stroking her chilled skin. “Indeed, it’s gotten chilly. Be careful, Li-niang. You shouldn’t seek coolness, and you must remember what the female official warned us about.”

Li Zhi nodded in agreement but suddenly appeared melancholy.

The female official he referred to was the one who had come to diagnose her at Wangxian Temple, administering the medicine he gave her for her unbearable menstrual pain.

Li Jing Ye noticed her change in demeanor and was instantly reminded of the incident. His expression softened as he felt a wave of guilt wash over him.

Without hesitation, he drew her closer, his broad hand encompassing her small frame. He wanted to say something but hesitated, feeling a mix of emotions. “Li-niang, I—”

With a gentle smile on her face, Li Zhi gazed up at him and spoke softly, “Your Majesty, it’s getting late. You should retire for the night.”

Li Zhi held her gaze for a moment, then slowly let go of her hand. Without another word, he allowed the eunuchs to enter and attend to his needs for washing and changing before bed.

If you enjoy this novel, support the Translator ginevre on her ko-fi account :))

<Previous Chapter<Table of Contents>Next Chapter>

Leave a comment