Chapter 44 Medical Clinic
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The street was eerily quiet and pitch black, except for one faintly lit medical clinic amidst the darkness.
Clad tightly in her garments, braving the cold, she walked swiftly through the crunching snow.
The shops in the alley had long since closed at curfew, but an unexpected light shone from the medical clinic. It seemed Pei Ji had arranged for its opening, and paid a handsome sum to do so.
Shi Quan rapped on the door, and a young boy of seven or eight years peered out. His tired eyes quickly scanned Shi Quan before he stepped back and murmured, “Please enter. The Master has been expecting you for some time.”
The three of them walked into the warm hall of the medical clinic.
Spotting their arrival, a man in his fifties rose from his seat and motioned to the couch before his desk. “Please take a seat.”
Pei Ji walked half a step behind Li Zhi, shielding her from the cold with his presence. He whispered softly into her ear, “That is Miracle Physician Zhang, highly skilled in the art of women’s medicine. He is said to be the best in the land, with noblewomen flocking to him for treatment. Don’t worry, he does not know me nor my identity.”
The mother of Pei Ji was none other than the Grand Princess, and thus had at her disposal only the finest female attendants for her every need, including medical care. As for his grandmother, she never had to seek help elsewhere, for she lived under the same roof as the Grand Princess.
Pei Ji had done his research thoroughly before coming here, keeping his identity a closely guarded secret, lest trouble befall him or Li Zhi.
Li Zhi sat down gracefully, the folds of her robe settling around her like petals. Pei Ji stood nearby.
Miracle Physician Zhang took a cursory glance at the couple before him and stroked his beard in thought. “Miss, please extend your arm so I may take your pulse.”
The little boy standing by attentively placed the pillow for pulse-taking on the table, while Li Zhi bared her arm, revealing a delicate wrist, and laid it on the pillow.
The physician closed his eyes and concentrated, taking the pulse for a moment. The furrows between his eyebrows deepened, and he asked a series of questions: whether she experienced unbearable menstrual pain, chills, and other symptoms. After Li Zhi answered each question, he fell silent.
Pei Ji’s face, which had been expressionless, became more serious. “Is there a cure?”
The physician stroked his beard and did not answer directly. He asked, “May I know how old the lady is?”
Before Li Zhi could answer, Pei Ji spoke up, “She is sixteen years old this year.”
Li Zhi was slightly surprised and glanced at him from under her hood.
The physician nodded, his expression easing slightly. “The lady’s body has been invaded by a chill that has damaged the foundation of a woman’s body. This will not only make it difficult for her to conceive but also cause irregular menstruation and a deficiency of qi and blood. It is a somewhat difficult situation. Fortunately, the lady is still young, and as you mentioned, the onset of symptoms has not been long. With years of medication and recuperation, the condition should improve.”
When he had examined her pulse and asked her questions earlier, he had already seen that the symptoms had arisen suddenly, rather than being a chronic condition since birth. However, as he was accustomed to treating noble people, he knew better than to pry. Coming to see him at such a late hour, there must be some hidden difficulty for this couple.
Pei Ji’s heart finally eased up upon hearing this.
However, Li Zhi said, “I’m afraid I won’t be able to take the medicine regularly.”
She lived in the palace and couldn’t bring back many herbs to boil. According to the physician’s suggestion, she would need to take medicine for a year or two before seeing any improvement.
Despite the physician’s earlier reluctance to ask too many questions, he couldn’t help but look up at the couple and say, “If the cold has invaded your body, how can you not take medicine? Your husband seems to be of noble status. How can he be so harsh to his wife?”
He obviously regarded them as a young couple. He believed that Li Zhi’s sudden illness must have something to do with her husband.
At these words, Pei Ji’s face grew grave, his hands clenching tightly by his side. But he held his tongue.
“That’s not for me to decide.” He took a step forward, his voice hoarse. “It’s just not easy for us to take medicine at home. I was hoping there might be some other way?”
The physician, feeling stubbornness in Pei Ji’s tone, began to feel angry. “I have been honored by others with the title of “Miracle Physician”. Although I am unworthy, I am by no means a charlatan who can cure without medicine.”
Pei Ji’s expression twisted with bitterness, but before he could speak, Li Zhi interrupted. “Darling Third,” she called.
Pei Ji’s heart fluttered at the sound of her voice. He knew she only addressed him so informally to keep their true identities hidden, but the intimacy of the address still caused a twinge in his chest.
Li Zhi laid a gentle hand on his arm, silently urging him to remain quiet. “Don’t blame my husband,” she told the physician. “It’s my fault. I made a mistake and angered my mother-in-law. If she finds out I need medicine, I fear…”
Her voice faltered, and she trailed off, unable to continue. Although she wore a veil, Pei Ji could sense the distress in her features.
Physician Zhang understood that the woman who came to him was troubled by her mother-in-law. She had visited him secretly at night because she didn’t want her mother-in-law to know that she couldn’t have children. She was even afraid to take the medicine home he had prescribed.
He thought for a moment before saying, “If you don’t want to drink the medicinal soup, you could try taking the medicinal pills instead. All you have to do is dissolve them in water every day. However, the pills may not be as effective as the soup, and it could take three to five years, or even longer, to see any improvement.”
“Thank you, Physician Zhang,” Li Zhi said. She didn’t have much hope, but those two painful days each month were hard to bear. Now that she knew she still had a chance to get better, even if it took a long time, she didn’t feel let down.
Pei Ji, on the other hand, felt even more bitter after hearing her words just now.
At first, her previous words sounded made up, but upon closer thought, they were quite similar to her own situation.
He didn’t know her well when she had trouble during the wedding ceremony, so he only felt shocked and disapproving, without any other feelings. But now, he couldn’t help feeling a bit of pity and heartache when he thought back on it.
The physician asked about Li Zhi’s daily life in great detail, and after careful thought, he prescribed the medicine.
The medicine needed time to be made into pills, so Pei Ji signaled to Shi Quan to pay the bill and left with Li Zhi.
In a flash, the surrounding area outside the house was blanketed in a thick layer of snow. The piercing north wind howled as it cut through the frigid air, bringing with it a biting chill that seemed to pierce through the bones.
Li Zhi couldn’t help but shiver from the cold. A sudden wave of nostalgia washed over her, and she found herself yearning for the sweet fragrance of the osmanthus soup that she used to drink back in Yuniu Palace. Just as she was about to touch her ear, which was throbbing with pain, she felt two broad hands slip under her hood. The rough palms gently covered her ears and cheeks, and she felt the warmth spread throughout her body.
“Hurry up and get in,” Pei Ji said expressionlessly. He stood by her side, and as he spoke, a cloud of steam escaped from his mouth and dissipated into the night.
He drew even closer to her, using his large frame as a shield to protect her from the relentless barrage of snow. Together, they trudged through the snow, slowly making their way towards the carriage that awaited them.
The stool meant for boarding the carriage had yet to be removed. Pei Ji’s eyes flickered down to the ground, which was now dusted with a thin layer of snow. Without hesitation, he reached out and placed his hands on her waist. With a gentle lift, he helped her up and into the carriage before joining her inside.
Li Zhi removed her hood and returned to her ordinary demeanor. She leaned gently into his embrace, cradling his large hand against her chest to warm it. Her delicate, white fingers traced over his calloused palm from time to time.
The carriage continued to sway, and the sound of horse hooves and wheels was mostly silenced by the thick snow.
Perhaps because he was outside the palace, Pei Ji appeared more rash than usual.
Her words of “Third Brother” echoed in Pei Ji’s ear, making his heart ache. He reached out and took her hand, pressing a tender kiss to it.
Li Zhi’s eyes glimmered as she turned and perched on his lap, facing him directly with a smile on her lips.
Their hot breaths mingled together, moistening the cold, dry night air.
Pei Ji crushed his lips against hers, grinding them together with vigor. With one hand, he removed the hairpin from her hair, allowing her locks to fall free.
Amidst the haze, Li Zhi’s memory stirred as she retrieved a jade hairpin, biting it softly as her eyes, glistening with moisture, met his.
The jade coral peony on the hairpin seemed to come to life, casting a shadow over Pei Ji’s eyes.
Months ago, in the pavilion by the Taiye Pool, Li Zhi had gradually led him into the abyss like this. Though he had once resisted his desires and pushed her away, today he only wanted to hold her tighter.
He felt as though he had descended to the depths of the water, from struggling and suffocating at first, to now giving in to his desires and finding solace only in holding her close.
He closed his eyes, then leaned down to bite the coral peony on the jade hairpin and slowly withdrew it from her mouth.
“I won’t be a good man anymore.” He removed the hairpin and pinned her down in the carriage, kissing her passionately.
The carriage arrived at the northeast corner gate, and Shi Quan gently rapped on the carriage wall.
Li Zhi’s face was flushed, her body weak from the intense kissing, yet her clothes remained immaculate.
Pei Ji put on her hat and carried her horizontally off the carriage, quickly entering the corner gate.
The front hall’s festivities continued with a cacophony of sounds, but the backyard remained quiet and desolate.
Pei Ji quickly carried Li Zhi back to the courtyard, went straight into the room, closed the door without bothering to light the lamps, and eased her down on the bed.
The warmth in the room wrapped around Li Zhi from all directions, and she no longer felt the cold as he helped her take off her layers of heavy winter clothing.
He turned her over and leaned in close to whisper in her ear, “I’ll bring you the medicine in a couple of days. Take it with ease and don’t worry about getting pregnant. I’ll figure out a solution.”
Li Zhi didn’t reply, only letting out soft purrs as he moved, wanting close contact.
After a long time, their breathing slowly evened out. Li Zhi’s forehead was covered with a thin layer of sweat as she rested her head on his shoulder, one hand resting on his chest, and softly said, “Thank you. I’m really grateful for everything you’ve done for me.”
However, besides gratitude, there was nothing more.
She didn’t voice the rest of her thoughts, but he understood them nonetheless.
He had long been aware of her frivolous nature, and her ability to show even a hint of gratitude was considered generous in his eyes. He admonished himself, acknowledging that being able to indulge in her company and derive momentary pleasure was all that he could ask for.
Despite their intimate encounter, a sense of melancholy weighed heavily on his heart, as the sound of her voice calling out his name continued to echo in his ears. He wanted more from her.
The thought crossed his mind, causing a wave of anxiety to wash over him.
He gazed into the abyss, overcome with a sense of loneliness and longing. His previously satiated desires now resurfaced, compelling him to roll her over and pin her down once more.
As they intertwined, the heat between them caused her entire body to blush.
Exhausted, she was unable to even lift her eyelids. Using a slender fingertip, she weakly poked at his chest twice, murmuring, “General, you should leave now.”
But instead of getting up and leaving as he had done before, Pei Ji held her close. With one hand tracing the curves of her spine, he spoke in a low voice, “I won’t be leaving tonight.”
“No,” Li Zhi said, her eyes still closed. Although her mind was foggy, she furrowed her brow without hesitation and refused.
Pei Ji pinched her waist and kissed her lips again, his voice low as he said, “We’re not in the palace tonight. There’s no one else here, nothing will happen.”
It was already late into the night, and the noise from the front hall had gradually died down.
Li Zhi was extremely exhausted and poked him with her fingertips again. Without saying another word, she fell into a deep sleep.
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