Chapter 59 Confession
Within the palace hall, over ten lamps and candles burned bright, their yellow flames incessantly flickering, casting a radiant glow that flooded the expansive interior, as if the sun itself was shining upon them.
The light of the lamps exposed everything, leaving no corner untouched.
Graceful hands rested upon the table, while her sleek, raven-black hair cascaded down her back, shrouding her pure, snow-white skin in a mysterious veil.
Her cherry-red lips parted, panting softly, as her captivating almond eyes shimmered with unusual clarity, gazing through the bronze mirror before her, into the intense eyes of the man who stood behind her.
Her candid gaze pierced through him like a potent elixir, goading him into even more ruthless actions, as if he were determined to meet her eye for eye.
Despite this, he maintained utmost restraint, careful not to cause her the slightest harm.
Her heart was suddenly seized with a tumultuous wave of indecision.
She bit her lip, still staring fixedly at him, and murmured in a voice thick with ambiguity, “Why have you come?”
He was well aware of the danger lurking around tonight. If only he had acted wisely, he wouldn’t have come.
Pei Ji leaned down, sinking his teeth into her delicate neck.
His teeth left a faint mark on her tender skin, and his dark eyes met hers without even the slightest blink.
“You once said, a single mistake or two, or even three, don’t make any difference,” he murmured in her ear, slowly tracing her neck. “Don’t you know the reason why I’m here?”
He loosened his grip on her waist and wrapped his arms around her delicate frame, holding her tightly.
Li Zhi felt her mind go blank as she stared blankly at him through the copper mirror for what seemed like an eternity. Unintentionally, tears welled up in her eyes and trickled down her cheeks.
Pei Ji’s movements abruptly ceased as his hand, wrapped around her form, tenderly swept away the tears that cascaded down her cheeks. “Don’t cry, Li-niang. Please don’t cry. I don’t want to see you cry.”
“Are you a fool?” Li Zhi wailed, writhing her body to face him. Her eyes glimmered with resentment. “I am unworthy of this. I am not deserving of your sacrifice!”
Pei Ji hastened to grip her shoulders, bending down to meet her gaze. “Your worth is not for you to decide. It is mine to assess and act upon.”
Li Zhi’s body quivered as she turned her head obstinately. “You don’t understand. I despise when people speak ill of me behind my back. But I know that their words are not entirely baseless. I am an atrocious woman. I am aloof and selfish. I intentionally seduced you for my own gain. On the night of Zhongqiu Festival, you assumed you had been drugged and had no choice but to transgress against me, yet it was I who took advantage of your vulnerability. You were the one who was calculated and hurt! You, you must think with a clearer mind!”
Pei Ji silently looked at her, his deep eyes filled with complex emotions.
Actually, he had already understood everything she said.
Especially now, his mind was unusually clear.
He knew that he was probably just a tool she used for revenge and self-preservation, and had never received even a bit of affection from her.
But he couldn’t bring himself to feel any resentment.
If he could restrain himself, how could he have fallen into this situation today?
“I am very clear-headed,” he closed his eyes and slowly embraced her, letting her cheek rest against his bare chest, and said softly, “I know you are just using me, but I am willing. You said you were cold and selfish, but I know that you are willing to teach your little maid to read and write, and you always do things yourself, rarely relying on the palace women, even when traveling you seldom use a sedan chair. Someone like this, where is the coldness, where is the selfishness?”
Today, he finally realized that behind her cool demeanor and nonchalant attitude, lay a tender and vulnerable side to her that he had never seen before.
She always teased and challenged him, pushing him to his limits, but deep down, it was only because she was afraid to believe that his kindness towards her was genuine.
Li Zhi furrowed her brows and lay silently on his chest, her ear pressed against his heart, murmuring softly, “I come from a family of commoners, and I cannot command others like you nobles do.”
He smiled softly and ran his fingers through her silky hair, “Like you, I also dislike bossing others around. But when I look at your cousins and aunt and uncle, they seem different. And the other people I’ve met outside also seem different from you.”
Li Zhi didn’t speak, lost in thought as she traced patterns on his chest with her fingertips.
After a while, she raised her head and met his gaze calmly. “I may never be able to give you what you want in this lifetime.”
Her emotions had been ground down to nothing, leaving her vulnerable and raw. Standing before him, she felt as though her heart was spilling over with a jumble of gratitude, bitterness, and guilt.
She couldn’t bear to deceive him or give him false hope, so she spoke with honesty and candor.
“If you no longer wish to continue, you’re free to leave at any time, as long as—”
“—As long as I remember the promise I made to you,” he finished, his tone laced with helplessness and pain.
Despite having warned him countless times before, she still mustered the courage to lay out the truth in full.
He never imagined he would find himself in such a situation, so humbled by a married woman. For her, he had cast aside all notions of ethics and morality, drifting further and further from his principles.
“Don’t worry, I won’t leave.”
Li Zhi looked up at him, her eyes showing a newfound sense of relief and pity.
This time, she could finally rest assured. She was convinced that the man before her would never renege on his promise.
Three soft taps sounded from outside, and Chun Yue’s voice followed, “Miss, His Majesty has gone to Xianju Palace.”
Li Zhi’s lips curved into a faint smile, her beautiful features regaining their former radiance.
She took Pei Ji’s hand and led him to the bed. Her ivory finger pressed gently against his chest, slowly pushing him down until he lay upon the mattress. Then she straddled him, her hands resting on his palms, and her lustrous locks tumbling down. “Tonight, there’s no need to worry anymore.”
The Xianju Palace was shrouded in dim light.
Worthy Consort Xu lay on her side, her face pale as a sheet. She gazed silently at Li Jing Ye, her eyes as sharp as daggers.
Li Jing Ye sat there for a while, feeling a pang of unease in his heart. He furrowed his brow and whispered softly, “Worthy Consort, you seem exhausted today. If there’s anything you’d like to discuss, I’ll return tomorrow.”
He was already in a bad mood tonight. When he saw the palace maid from the Xianju Palace come to call him, he didn’t want to come over. It was only because of his guilt and concern for the Worthy Consort’s health that he came to check on her. But unexpectedly, she didn’t say a word, only looked at him coldly.
As he spoke, he was already preparing to get up and leave.
After a long silence, Worthy Consort Xu suddenly tugged at the corner of her mouth and spoke coldly, “Your Majesty, don’t you want to know who pushed the Pure Consort on the night of the Lantern Festival?”
She was already weak and her voice was extremely soft, but in the silent night, her words sounded like thunder.
Li Jing Ye’s footsteps paused, and a sense of unease slowly rose in his heart.
He clenched his teeth and furrowed his brows, “That matter is in the past. The palace maids all said that they didn’t see anything. Perhaps the Pure Consort was too nervous and slipped, accidentally bumping into someone and mistaking it for being pushed.”
Worthy Consort Xu coughed twice, her breathing labored as she sneered, “Your Majesty knew from the very beginning that the Noble Consort was innocent, yet you still confined her to save face, didn’t you?”
Li Jing Ye’s face darkened, his hand balling into a tight fist at his side. “What exactly are you trying to say?”
Worthy Consort Xu struggled to sit up, her face ashen and sunken under the dim light of the lamp. “I will tell you the truth. That day, it was I who pushed Pure Consort Xiao.”
“Worthy Consort, this is not a matter to joke about!” Li Jing Ye’s expression turned grim as he looked down at the woman lying on the bed.
“I’m not joking,” she rasped, her eyes slowly filling with a sinister gleam. “Every word I said just now was the truth. My father was innocent, yet he was wrongfully accused and died a tragic death in prison because of your whim. I only want to avenge him. Since I can’t hurt Your Majesty, I will hurt your children instead.”
“You’re insane!” Li Jing Ye’s eyes widened in disbelief. “I remember you being a woman of integrity and honor. You and your Xu family have always been upright and respected.”
As Li Jing Ye mentioned the Xu family, Worthy Consort Xu’s composure shattered. She cut him off, ignoring protocol as she pointed at him with fury and pain, demanding, “If you knew my family had a reputation for being upright and honorable, why did you allow a scoundrel to fabricate charges and frame my father? Just to serve your own selfish desires?”
Li Jing Ye was so infuriated that his legs threatened to give out beneath him. He retreated twice, stumbling backwards until he caught himself against a nearby table, his fingers digging into the surface as if for purchase.
But Worthy Consort Xu would not be deterred, as if she was determined to unleash every last bit of her fury.
“Your Majesty truly reigns as the most self-absorbed and heartless individual in this entire world. You have relentlessly pushed away those closest to you, unceasingly oppressing loyal and just court officials. You are a foolish ruler, consumed with pride and deaf to reason!
“Do you truly believe that removing Minister Du from the picture would make the court officials submit to you and bring peace to the empire? But who is it that has stabilized the court and protected the borders for Your Majesty thus far?
“What about the Noble Consort? Did you honestly think that abducting her into the palace would make her love and respect you? And what about the other concubines besides the Pure Consort? Are any of them genuinely devoted to Your Majesty? Yet even to Pure Consort Xiao, you have shown such callous disregard, wasting away her years of unwavering loyalty!
“Your Majesty, just wait and see how long they will remain faithful to you!”
Li Jing Ye’s chest heaved with pent-up frustration, and he could no longer restrain himself. He raised his hand and delivered a stinging slap across her cheek.
The Worthy Consort was knocked into the bedpost, and the sight of blood dripping down her cheek and onto the sheets caused a shudder to ripple through Li Jing Ye’s body.
Without the strength to remain upright, the Wortht Consort collapsed onto the bed, glaring at him with venomous eyes. Her lips moved silently as she mouthed the words, “You will face the consequences.”
Stumbling backwards, Li Jing Ye pointed at her in disbelief, struggling to form the words to convey his rage and confusion.
Hearing the commotion, He Yuan Shi sensed something amiss and rushed in to investigate. Upon seeing the state of affairs, he was immediately gripped with fear, “Your Majesty, should I call for a female official to attend to the Worthy Consort?”
Li Jing Ye took deep breaths, slowly regaining his composure. He looked down at the unconscious noble consort and spoke with a calm and measured tone, “There’s no need. The Wortht Consort spoke out of turn and from this day forward, she will be confined to Xianju Palace, with no one allowed in or out.”
With those words, the Emperor commanded that no more medical treatment be given to the Worthy Consort, leaving her fate in her own hands.
He Yuan Shi was drenched in a cold sweat, and he dared not say another word. He cautiously supported the Emperor as they left the bedchamber.
Before he could even climb onto the imperial carriage, he suddenly felt a wave of dizziness sweep over him, causing him to collapse to one side.
The eunuchs standing nearby cried out in alarm and rushed over to him in a flurry of activity.
Inside Chenghuan Palace, Li Zhi lay softly upon Pei Ji’s body as he lifted her up and tenderly wiped away the marks on her skin.
The weight that had been suffocating her seemed to have lifted tonight, and she felt an unprecedented sense of relaxation. Her joyful mood inspired her to slowly begin contemplating other matters.
Before departing from the banquet, Lan Ying’s vacant expression flashed through her mind once more.
After a brief moment of thought, she asked with closed eyes, “The man under your command, Wei Peng, has he already married?”
Pei Ji’s movements came to a sudden stop, and his intense gaze fixated upon her as his heart constricted.
“What is your purpose in asking this?” His voice was slightly rough. “How do you even remember his name so well?”
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