Chapter 45 Dawn
Li Ling Yue performed the required bowing in the grand hall before being ushered by the court ladies to her new quarters, leaving the lavish banquet behind.
The mansion and the new chamber had been erected well in advance, but the rushed wedding had not compromised the extravagant furnishings. Li Ling Yue marveled at the opulence surrounding her, each item handpicked by her mother over the years and perfectly arranged in the room.
The sight of the glistening gold and jade objects was almost too much for Li Ling Yue to bear. Her eyes stung, and her previously composed face gave way to the onset of tears.
Li Ling Yue’s attendants were sympathetic towards her distress and felt compelled to console her. “Your Highness, today is your auspicious day, you must not cry. The Empress Dowager holds you dear to her heart and would be devastated to see you upset. Moreover, you carry a precious life within, and the female official has warned us not to let you feel excessive sorrow. Allow us to fetch some food for you!”
The tenth lunar month had arrived, and Li Ling Yue’s pregnancy had surpassed three months. Despite her growing belly, she was plagued with frequent bouts of nausea and vomiting. She felt despondent, unable to eat even a morsel of food without persistent coaxing from her attendants.
While it is typical for pregnant women to gain weight, Li Ling Yue had inexplicably shed several pounds in the brief time since discovering her pregnancy.
Li Ling Yue’s attendants had been chosen by the Empress Dowager herself and were keenly attuned to the needs of the princess. Despite their best efforts, they couldn’t shake off their mounting worry.
Li Ling Yue sat before a copper mirror, taking in her delicate makeup and finely adorned appearance. She placed a gentle hand on her bulging stomach, holding back tears with tremendous effort.
“No need. I’m tired. Let’s stop here,” she said coldly, removing the golden hairpin from her hair.
One of her attendants peered outside with a quizzical expression, “But the Prince Consort hasn’t return yet…”
Li Ling Yue slammed the hairpin onto the table with a resounding clatter. “No need to wait for him. This is my household, and am I not the one in charge?”
Seeing this, the palace maid didn’t say another word and immediately fetched a warm cloth to help her remove her makeup. She then assisted her in changing into comfortable clothes and settling onto the wide bed.
The lights were extinguished, and the room was cloaked in darkness. The clamor of the front hall intermittently seeped in through the gaps in the door.
Li Ling Yue felt an intense wave of annoyance, and she drew the silk coverlet higher to muffle her ears. Nevertheless, the din seemed to be boundless and still infiltrated through the heavy blanket.
She took a deep breath and could bear it no longer. She lay on her back, gazing unblinkingly at the ceiling, her expression unchanging, waiting for everything to pass.
Her nuptial night had passed in boundless agony.
Later in the night, the noise gradually subsided, and she finally sank into a fitful sleep.
However, shortly afterward, the sound of heavy, disordered footsteps suddenly arose from outside, followed by the anxious voice of a palace maid, “Prince Consort, the Princess has already gone to sleep—”
The person who had arrived was none other than Zhong Hao, who had been drunkenly carousing at the banquet.
His fair, handsome face was flushed with red, and his eyes were clouded with confusion. Ignoring the palace maid’s words, he impatiently pushed her out of the way and stumbled towards the door, slamming it open. “Princess…I’m back…”
The room was still shrouded in darkness, and his steps were unsteady as he entered. He had only taken a few steps when he accidentally kicked a bench and fell to the ground, wincing in pain.
The palace maid rushed in and lit a lamp, bowing to Li Ling Yue who had just risen from the bed. “Forgive me, Your Highness. The Prince Consort barged in without warning, and I was unable to stop him.”
Li Ling Yue said nothing, her face solemn as she watched a pained and whimpering Zhong Hao on the ground. Her eyes flashed with unconcealed disgust.
Besides the Zhong family, there was hardly anyone else who seemed truly happy about this marriage.
The home of an unknown government official was elevated to the status of a Duke’ household thanks to a beautiful niece. Not only did they ascend in rank, but they also succeeded in marrying her brother off to a princess, making them true members of the royal family.
She recalled the wedding ceremony where Zhong Cheng Ping and Madam Yang had looked at her with obsequiousness and smugness, causing a surge of revulsion within her.
She turned her eyes away and said expressionlessly, “Drive him out.”
A few palace maids followed closely and quickly responded.
Zhong Hao appeared to have regained some of his sobriety as he glanced at Li Ling Yue lying on the bed and quipped, “Tonight is my wedding night with the Princess, so naturally, I must stay in the bridal chamber.”
As he spoke, he extended his hand to prop himself up on the nearby couch, and made an effort to stand up, with the intention of approaching the bed.
The palace maids were startled by his drunken and unstable condition and hastily huddled together to drag him away, pleading, “Prince Consort, the Princess needs to rest now—”
Zhong Hao’s patience was wearing thin as he struggled and shouted at the attendants, “Get out! I command you to leave us be and not to disturb the happiness of the Princess and I on this special day!”
He mumbled incoherently and swayed unsteadily on his feet, almost falling onto the bed.
Everyone exclaimed in shock and rushed to support him.
Li Ling Yue tightly gripped the porcelain bottle beside her, ready to hurl it at him if necessary.
However, Zhong Hao swayed and, instead of falling onto the bed, he stumbled and hit his head on a nearby shelf.
The wooden sculpture on the shelf crashed to the ground with a loud thud, cracking into several pieces.
Zhong Hao cried out in agony, clutching his head with both hands before collapsing onto the ground, his eyes rolling back into his head as he lost consciousness.
“Your Highness…” The attendants looked helplessly at Zhong Hao’s unconscious form, unsure of what to do next.
Li Ling Yue sneered, “Drag him outside. Let him sleep if he wants to sleep. You don’t need to worry about him.”
As the palace maids exchanged glances, they had no choice but to summon two sturdy eunuchs to lift Zhong Hao’s unconscious body and take him out to the covered corridor outside the room.
The outside was filled with howling wind and snow, and the corridor’s eaves provided some shelter from the snowflakes, but the biting cold of the north wind remained unabated.
The two eunuchs looked at each other nervously and threw Zhong Hao a warm brazier and a blanket with hesitation.
The following day, Li Zhi was still as resplendent as before, and she awoke with a gentle stir at dawn.
On ordinary days, when Li Jing Ye stayed in her palace, he would rise before dawn to attend court. Despite having fallen asleep late last night, she was still able to wake up on time this morning.
However, last night had been too tiring, and now, upon awakening, her mind was still muddled. Feeling a warm body pressed tightly against hers, she instinctively pushed it away and murmured, “Your Majesty, it’s time to get up—”
This was usually the most delightful moment for her.
With Li Jing Ye gone, she would finally have at least half a day of leisure.
But the body against her back stiffened, and instead of pulling away, it drew closer. The large hand wrapped around her waist began to rub vigorously.
The roughness of his palm was in stark contrast to the softness of her skin, causing her to shiver. The broad and solid chest behind her rubbed against her smooth back incessantly, leaving her with mixed feelings of familiarity and strangeness.
She slowly came to her senses and realized that she was no longer in the palace. The person sleeping beside her was not Li Jing Ye but Pei Ji, and last night’s passionate moments flashed before her eyes.
Last night’s romantic moments began to replay in her mind, causing her to feel both embarrassed and stimulated.
“General Pei—” She tried to speak but was cut off by his lips pressing against hers. She reached out to cover his wandering hand, twisted her body slightly, and surrendered to his passionate kiss.
In just two short hours, Pei Ji found it difficult to sleep. He was too consumed by the passion and craving he felt for her.
It had been over a month since he last touched her. Last night’s two rounds were not enough to satisfy him, but he knew she was exhausted and didn’t want to push her too far. He held her tightly in his arms and tried to fall asleep without moving.
He felt her move slightly, but before he could speak, she called out “Your Majesty” as if scolding him, leaving him unable to face the situation.
She was the Emperor’s Noble Consort, someone he could not desire.
He flipped her over, pinning her arms down, and kissed her deeply, his eyes downcast as if afraid to be ensnared by her mesmerizing beauty.
Even after a sleepless night, he was still brimming with energy, his imposing presence as unyielding as a mountain.
Li Zhi was still in a daze, her body weak and sore. Although she longed to wrap her arms around his neck, he held them down, leaving her unable to move.
She had to twist her body slightly and tilt her head up to meet his kiss.
When she opened her eyes, she saw that the person next to her was not Li Jing Ye, and for a moment, she felt a sense of relief.
Both of them remained silent, wrapped up in each other, filling the previously silent room with a renewed sense of springtime romance.
Gradually, their breathing slowed and became more even.
Pei Ji rose slowly, throwing on a coat before grabbing a towel to wipe her clean. Then he gathered the discarded clothes from the floor.
Li Zhi shook her head and motioned to the nearby wardrobe, saying, “Get me something clean to wear.”
She couldn’t wear the clothes from the previous night due to the snow that clung to them.
Pei Ji set the clothes down on the bed before turning towards the wardrobe and selecting a neatly arranged outfit.
Before he could even lift Li Zhi, footsteps could be heard outside, followed by Chun Yue’s frantic voice, “Miss, Madam and the Princess are having a row, and they need you to come over right away!”
Li Zhi, who had been leaning on a pillow with a quilt in her arms and a smile on her lips as she looked at Pei Ji, had her expression darken and a hint of impatience flicker across her eyes upon hearing this news.
She paused, her voice dripping with ice. “Understood. Wait for me.”
She lifted the quilt, her feet touched the ground, and she stood up gracefully. Taking the clothes from Pei Ji’s hands, she dressed herself calmly in front of the bronze mirror.
Pei Ji stood behind her, watching as she adjusted her dress. He approached her silently, gathered her loose strands of hair, and tightened the knot of her silk dress. He spoke softly, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“There’s no need,” Li Zhi said coldly, her eyes devoid of emotion. “General, it’s time for you to leave.”
Li Zhi’s cold demeanor pierced through Pei Ji’s heart. He averted his gaze and stared at the faint light seeping through the window.
After she put on her outer garment, Pei Ji released her hair and took two steps back. He quickly put on his clothes and whispered, “I’ll take my leave now, Your Highness. Please be careful.”
He spoke but did not leave through the door. Instead, he made his way to the window in the far corner and carefully pushed it open, surveying the area to ensure that it was safe before climbing out.
The room was empty, with only Li Zhi standing still, her fingers tightly gripping a wooden comb, feeling the sudden emptiness around her.
After a moment of confusion, Li Zhi quickly called for Chun Yue to assist her. She washed her face and combed her hair before donning a long robe, forgoing any makeup or powder. With a determined stride, she pushed open the door and made her way straight to Li Ling Yue’s quarters.
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