Chapter 57 Venting
Wei Peng, born and bred in the army, possessed boundless strength that he used to grip Xiao Chong’s wrist with an ironclad hold. The latter was rendered motionless, his face twisted in agony.
“It’s you! Release me this instant!” Xiao Chong roared, unable to contain the anger and pain that surged within him. “Don’t think that just because Pei Ji promotes you, you can do whatever you want. This place is not Hedong, nor is it Youzhou. I am not one to be trifled with!”
Wei Peng remained unfazed by the threat, his chiseled features contorted into a lethal scowl.
With a frigid glare, he applied more pressure to Xiao Chong’s wrist, causing the latter to wince in pain. “I have no interest in abusing my authority. However, I cannot tolerate seeing a woman being bullied.”
The sight of Wei Peng’s menacing expression caused Xiao Chong’s knees to buckle, and the throbbing pain in his wrist was unbearable. He could no longer summon the words to rebuke him.
As Xiao Chong teetered on the brink of collapse, Lan Ying finally intervened, her voice cold as steel. “Enough. Remember, he is the son of the Prime Minister.”
Wei Peng cast a sideways glance at her before slowly releasing his grip, shoving Xiao Chong towards a nearby column.
Xiao Chong’s face paled as his back collided with the pillar. Disregarding his dignity, he cradled his nearly broken wrist and glared fiercely at the pair before turning and stumbling away.
The sound of his fleeing footsteps echoed down the corridor, leaving only Lan Ying and Wei Peng standing in tense silence.
Though she felt his gaze locked on her, Lan Ying kept her eyes fixed on the ground. “Thank you,” she said icily, and turned to leave.
But before she could take more than a half step, Wei Peng grabbed her sleeve with a desperate urgency. “Lan Ying—”
She stopped, her expression impassive as she gazed out at the brilliant lights of the distant banquet.
“Have you been well these past three years?” Wei Peng asked carefully, convinced she wouldn’t flee again. He released her sleeve gingerly, studying her face intently under the dim light. When his gaze fell on her legs, however, his heart squeezed painfully. “Your legs—”
Lan Ying’s gaze dropped involuntarily, fixed on her legs which still throbbed with pain. It felt like she had been transported back to the time when she was the object of ridicule and gossip.
She pursed her lips, feeling a bitter taste in her mouth, but her words came out light and carefree nonetheless. “I’m fine. It was just an accident.”
Wei Peng fell silent for a moment before speaking in a strained voice. “Lan Ying, back then, I…”
His sentence was cut short by the sound of footsteps echoing down the corridor, along with the giggles of a few noble girls.
“Who would have thought that soldiers from the barbaric lands would have so many heroes among them?”
“Yes, I saw the newly appointed colonel of the Imperial Punishment, he’s no less impressive than the gentlemen of the Imperial Guards.”
“I heard your father is searching for a husband for you. Do you fancy anyone? A small military officer from Hedong, are you willing to follow him to the border and endure hardships?”
“You— ah, don’t talk nonsense. I have no such thoughts. He’s probably already married at his age! Moreover… as a person of his caliber, my father said he has both courage and the support of Young General Pei, he won’t stay in obscurity for long…”
The side hall nearby was often used for guests to change clothes or rest.
Both of them looked at the few young girls who had just entered the nearby hall.
Wei Peng hesitated, his once-resolute face now full of embarrassment and anxiety. Just as he was about to explain, he saw a smile appear on Lan Ying’s beautiful face as she faced the night breeze.
She turned her head slightly, and her clear eyes looked gently at him as she softly said, “The past is in the past, I don’t care about it anymore. Young Master, may your future be as bright as gold.”
With that, she didn’t linger anymore and left limping with her not-so-nimble legs.
Standing in a quiet corner, Li Zhi remained still under the soft glow of the lamplight. She gazed at the crescent moon in the sky, lost in thought.
Chun Yue hurried back from the main hall and spoke in a rush, “Miss, I caught sight of the Eldest Miss talking to the Young Master of the Wei family from afar, but before I could approach, she had already left. When I inquired at the banquet, the palace attendants informed me that Eldest Miss had already returned to the Duke’s mansion.”
Li Zhi remained silent for a moment, then let out a deep sigh.
As the eldest daughter, Lan Ying had grown accustomed to presenting a strong front to the world due to her responsibility to care for her younger sister. But even the strongest people have moments of fragility.
She had been willing to sacrifice her leg to break free from her uncle’s manipulative grasp. Although she never uttered a word of it, it must have caused her much pain and sorrow over the past two years. Now, facing Wei Peng in this way, her heart must be in turmoil.
“Never mind,” she said with a hint of resignation, “go and check on her for me in a few days’ time.”
Li Zhi paused and prepared to step back into the hall.
As she turned, a pair of scorching and somber eyes caught her off guard.
Li Jing Hui had approached her silently, without a sound.
Li Zhi halted her steps abruptly, her expression rapidly transforming to a cold demeanor. Her gaze towards him was guarded and unreserved.
“Your Highness.” She nodded curtly, intending to walk past him and leave.
Li Jing Hui also retreated a step, blocking her way and peering down at her in the dim light of the moon and lamps. “Li-niang, it has been a long time.”
In just a few months, the prince’s once youthful and spirited character had transformed into one consumed with a violent temper. As he neared her, his eyes overflowed with unrestrained covetousness.
Chun Yue attempted to leave cautiously to search for someone, but the prince stopped her with a frigid tone.
He approached her with a determined stride, his eyes focused on her delicate figure. “I’ve heard about everything that has been happening lately,” he said, coming within arm’s reach. “The way His Majestt has been treating you is unjust, isn’t it? Li-niang, just you wait. One day, I’ll come and rescue you from this miserable existence.”
Li Zhi’s heart surged with anger at his words, her jaw clenching as she met his gaze.
It was clear that they were brothers, she thought, as she studied his features more closely. After spending months on the frontiers, he had begun to resemble his older sibling more and more.
The brothers’ relationship had soured, and though it may have seemed to be her fault, she knew that it was simply their nature. Even if they replaced her with something more precious, the outcome would be the same.
She scoffed, refusing to be toyed with any longer. Pushing away his approaching hand, she turned to face him, her expression cold. “What kind of person am I, that you would try to steal me away like some object?”
Li Jing Hui frowned, his eyes narrowing as he stared at her intently. “Li-niang, you are already my Princess Consort “
“And what of it?” Li Zhi met his gaze with unwavering determination. “Did you ever consider my feelings when you begged for my hand in marriage? Today, I will tell you plainly— I never wanted to marry you!”
Li Jing Hui was taken aback by Li Zhi’s newfound coldness and ruthlessness. Her direct manner was a far cry from the charming and gentle woman he remembered from their past encounters. He stood there in shock, unable to snap out of it for a moment.
“Don’t always use me as an excuse to hide your own ambitions. I don’t believe you for a second,” Li Zhi said, leaning against the pillar with a heavy sigh. She didn’t even want to look at him.
Li Jing Hui felt as if she had struck a nerve, and his embarrassment was palpable.
He balled his fists tightly, gritting his teeth. “If you don’t want to marry me, then does that mean you’ve been scheming to win His Majesty’s favor?”
Li Zhi turned her head slowly, her beautiful eyes filled with contempt. “What? Just because I don’t want to marry you, that must mean I’m trying to cozy up to His Majesty?”
Li Jing Hui didn’t reply, and the tightness in his chest seemed to ease a little, but it quickly returned.
Li Zhi didn’t want to waste any more time on him and said coldly, “The palace is full of people coming and going. I don’t want to get tangled up in this kind of thing and get burned. Leave now.”
Chun Yue stepped forward and stood by her side, blocking most of Li Jing Hui’s view with a watchful gaze.
Li Jing Hui’s eyes were gloomy as they scanned the two of them, but unlike before, he didn’t act impulsively. He uttered a final statement, “I won’t give up,” before turning around and leaving with firm strides.
As the sound of his footsteps faded into the distance, Li Zhi leaned against the pillar, her body feeling devoid of energy. Slowly, she slid down until she was seated on the nearby railing.
“Miss!” Chunyue rushed to her side, asking with concern, “Are you alright?”
Li Zhi clasped Chunyue’s hand and suddenly let out a laugh, her previously expressionless face now lit up with an immensely satisfied smile. “I’m fine,” she said, “I just feel so relieved.”
For the first time, the words she had been holding inside were released without any restraint, and at this moment, she felt an immense sense of gratification.
No longer interested in returning to the banquet, she rose slowly to her feet and began walking towards the deeper end of the corridor.
In the grand hall, some of the soldiers were already half-drunk, and they had taken advantage of the intoxication to ascend the stage, where they began to dance to the vibrant music of the borderlands. The other guests in the hall were all captivated by this sight, and could not resist clapping and cheering along with the beat.
Seated on the throne, Li Jing Ye maintained his genial expression, but his eyes betrayed his growing impatience. He cast several glances at the empty seat beside him, as if waiting for someone to fill it.
Without realizing it, Sixth Prince had slipped away from the table unnoticed. By the time Li Jing Ye had noticed his absence, he had no idea how long he had been gone. Instinctively, he turned his head to where Li-niang had been sitting, but found her seat vacant.
The sight before him triggered a flood of memories from the night of Zhongqiu Festival.
On that occasion, Sixth Prince had stealthily set out to look for Li-niang, but returned empty-handed. Would it be the same today?
Though his eyes were fixed on the performers in the hall, Li Jing Ye was lost in thought, and his applause was somewhat mechanical. His restlessness was growing more pronounced by the second.
Just as he was about to summon He Yuan Shi to search for the missing duo, Sixth Prince reappeared with a serious expression, putting an end to Li Jing Ye’s growing anxiety.
He let out a sudden sigh of relief.
However, within moments, the feeling of unease returned, accompanied by a sense of vigilance and suspicion.
Had Li-niang and the Sixth Prince met? What had they talked about? Had she harbored resentment towards him for confining her to the palace recently, and confided in the Sixth Prince?
His mind was in turmoil, and he couldn’t help but rub his forehead. He stood up and, with He Yuan Shi’s help, made his way towards the side hall to take a brief respite while changing his clothes.
As He Yuan Shi led him out of the main hall, he whispered, “Your Majesty, General Pei has just informed us that he’s going to inspect various places and has already left the table. The Worthy Consort also said she couldn’t hold on any longer and went back to the Xianju Palace.”
Li Jing Ye nodded and tried to quell the restlessness in his heart, “Arrange for someone to personally escort the Worthy Consort back. Her health is fragile, and she needs to rest early tonight.”
Just as he was speaking, his gaze suddenly fell on a familiar figure.
In a place where people were scarce, a young girl of about fifteen or sixteen years old stood, her slender figure accentuated by a brightly colored long skirt. Her face bore a slight resemblance to the one that occupied his thoughts. As she turned to face him, her eyes looked at him shyly and timidly.
It was none other than Fourth Miss Zhong, Miao Yun.
Li Jing Ye came to a halt, his brows slowly furrowing.
“Fourth Miss Zhong!” He Yuan Shi hurriedly said, “This is the imperial palace’s private hall, and outsiders are not allowed to approach.”
He knew that His Majesty was not in a good mood at the moment and couldn’t afford to offend him. He couldn’t help but curse the eunuchs who were supposed to be guarding the area tonight. They let a little girl come here.
Previously, he had felt that this Zhong miss was completely different from the Noble Consort, with a lot of cunning in her heart. Now, seeing her again, he realized that her courage had grown even more.
Miao Yun stirred her sleeves, seemingly nervous and afraid. “I didn’t mean to intrude, but I was careless and entered here by mistake. Please forgive me, Your Majesty.”
Li Jing Ye’s face turned dark, hands behind his back, and said coldly, “I remember you were very bold before, why are you afraid today?”
Miao Yun cautiously looked up at him.
“Put away your thoughts.” Li Jing Ye no longer looked at her, strode towards the hall again. “I have seen enough. I have the best already. Why bother with a second-rate one?”
In just a short sentence, it was like a slap that mercilessly hit Miao Yun’s face, making her feel embarrassed and unable to face herself. She hastily lowered her head and turned around to leave.
Near the west side annex hall, Pei Ji went about his usual routine of inspecting every post to confirm that everything was safe before leaving Linde Hall and heading towards Zichen Hall.
However, for some reason tonight he felt a little absent-minded and was reluctant to leave easily.
Just now at the banquet, he noticed that Li Zhi seemed to be in a bad mood and left early.
Later, while talking with his fellow soldiers, he discreetly looked twice, but she never reappeared.
She was always calm and composed, never showing her emotions directly on her face, and when he caught a glimpse of her before she left, there was nothing unusual. He didn’t know if something had happened.
Thinking this way in his heart, his footsteps involuntarily stopped outside a familiar west side annex hall.
He belatedly looked up and realized that he had unconsciously walked to the secluded palace where he had spent the spring night with her on Zhongqiu Festival.
His breath caught, and his heart pounded uncontrollably.
In the dim moonlight, her beautiful figure sat leaning against the railing of the porch, gazing quietly into the darkness in the distance.
The night breeze blew, swaying her dress.
She seemed to sense something and slowly turned her head, locking her gaze with his.
The alluring and seductive smile that appeared on her face, bathed in a soft light, carried a hint of wicked provocation and unrestrained delight, pulling him towards her step by step like a hook.
“Darling Third,” her soft voice called out as if summoning her most intimate lover, “you’ve come.”
Pei Ji slowly closed his eyes and allowed her to wrap her arms tightly around his neck.
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