Chapter 63 Leaving the Palace
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The palace road outside Xianju Palace was quiet, with only the occasional rare passerby.
Li Zhi took Chun Yue with her and walked slowly without saying a word.
With Worthy Consort Xu’s current state, it was probable that she would never have the opportunity to reveal her relationship with Pei Ji. She should feel relieved, but more than that, she couldn’t shake the feeling of being caught up in a dangerous situation.
Once again, she was reminded that the Emperor was the unquestioned authority in Great Wei, and no matter how obvious his misdeeds were, no one would dare to challenge him.
Just like back then, when he had kidnapped and brought her, his sister-in-law, back to the palace, causing a scandal that reverberated throughout the empire. But as always, he had chosen to ignore the controversy and hide behind a facade of tranquility, leaving her to bear the brunt of the criticism.
Worthy Consort Xu was no different at present.
The root cause of everything was Li Jing Ye’s cowardice and negligence. His lack of action had led to the death of a loyal and upright minister, yet he continued to turn a blind eye and pretend everything was fine. As a result, it was the Worthy Consort who now lay dying in Xianju Palace.
Even the Worthy Consort herself, amidst all the anger and resentment, felt a pang of shame.
It appeared that as long as he was not a tyrant who made the people suffer, everything he did was justifiable because he was the Emperor. The concepts of orthodoxy and righteousness would automatically align with his actions.
Li Jing Ye sat in the imperial carriage, which was being carried rapidly towards her by eunuchs.
Li Zhi came to a halt and gazed from afar, seemingly recalling the time when her soul had just crossed over and was confined in Wangxian Temple. Everyone around her had pressured her to yield, suffocating her like slowly sinking into water.
She was on the verge of complete surrender.
“Li-niang—” Li Jing Ye appeared before her, approaching with three or four steps to hold her hand. His gentle expression had been replaced with an uncontainable anxiety. “What did the Worthy Consort say to you?”
His fluster and restlessness only served to gradually calm Li Zhi down.
She gazed quietly at him and asked, “Your Majesty, what do you think she might have told me?”
The Worthy Consort’s resentful glare and biting words on that day lingered in Li Jing Ye’s ears, causing him to feel uneasy as he stared at Li Zhi, like a fishbone stuck in his throat.
“Did you honestly think that abducting her into the palace would make her love and respect you?”
“Li-niang… do you resent me?”
He knew it wasn’t her doing, but he still kept her under house arrest. Later, even after learning the truth, he allowed others to gossip about her behind her back.
There were many other things. He forcibly brought her back to the palace, made her drink sterilization medicine, and made her unjustly accused by others…
Li Zhi looked at him expressionlessly. This time, she didn’t want to say anything hypocritical. She said, “I want to ask Your Majesty for a favor for my elder sister.”
“What’s the matter?” Li Jing Ye’s eyelids twitched, feeling inexplicably uneasy.
“It’s a marriage. Does Your Majesty still remember the newly appointed Colonel Wei that day? My elder sister has been engaged to him since childhood, but three years ago, Uncle refused to marry him because he thought he came from a humble background. Now, he is a promising colonel and has come to propose marriage again, but General Xiao Chong also wants to take my elder sister as a concubine. Both parties are present, and Uncle cannot decide. I want to ask Your Majesty to say a word for my elder sister.”
Li Jing Ye’s heart slowly tightened.
One was a pre-existing and seemingly legitimate marriage, while the other was a latecomer with greater influence.
The parallels between this and his own situation with the Sixth Prince were not lost on him.
“Which suitor does your elder sister hold in higher regard?”
Li Zhi smiled radiantly at him, her face alight with a beguiling aura. “It’s Colonel Wei, of course.”
Li Jing Ye’s heart plummeted, and his steps faltered. “But isn’t Xiao Chong an excellent match? He is already the General of the Left Golden Shield Guards and is poised to inherit his father’s title. Even if he takes your elder sister as a concubine, I can still bestow upon her the title of Lady of the State. Why wouldn’t that be desirable?”
“My elder sister’s heart has always belonged to Colonel Wei,” Li Zhi’s voice was steady and unfaltering. “I humbly ask for Your Majesty’s approval.”
Li Jing Ye’s complexion turned ashen, and his body lost much of its strength. He leaned heavily on He Yuan Shi’s shoulder to steady himself.
With a furrowed brow, Li Zhi gazed at him, bewildered by his unusual behavior.
“I understand,” he said, managing a weak smile before waving his hand wearily. “Let her marry Wei Qing.”
Li Zhi bowed deeply in gratitude, ready to depart, when he suddenly called her back.
The sun shone brightly on the spring day, painting the surroundings in a vibrant green hue.
He gazed vacantly at the willows swaying by the palace wall and spoke in a gentle tone, “I know you cherish a close bond with your elder sister. You may return home and keep her company. You need not stay within the palace walls these few days.”
His words left the two eunuchs beside him in utter disbelief. They exchanged furtive glances before quickly averting their eyes, afraid to make even the slightest noise.
The duration of “these few days” was shrouded in ambiguity, perhaps spanning from a mere few days to several months, or even longer. By using this vague phrase, the Emperor seemed to imply his intention to send the Noble Consort back to her family.
Li Zhi also understood the Emperor’s meaning.
She met Li Jing Ye’s gaze with a hint of anticipation, and instead of bowing and kneeling and begging for mercy as he intended, she simply responded, “Thank you for your concern, Your Majesty,” and stepped aside, turning to leave.
Within half an hour, the news had spread.
In Shicui Palace, Pure Consort Xiao cradled the infant who had just nursed from his nursemaid, gently swaying him until he succumbed to sleep. After tucking him back into his crib, she cast a tender gaze at him before stealthily leaving the inner chamber.
In the outer chamber, Lan Zhao hurriedly approached her and whispered, “Your Highness, just now His Majesty sent someone to inform you that you need to select two female attendants to accompany Noble Consort Zhong back to the Duke of Qinguo’s mansion.”
Pure Consort Xiao was surprised and asked, “What does the Noble Consort want to do at the Duke of Qinguo’s mansion? And why does she need to bring female attendants with her?”
It was not uncommon for Consorts to visit their families or invite them to the palace for a brief visit. However, for the Noble Consort to bring female attendants with her, it seemed as if she intended to stay for a prolonged period.
Lan Zhao’s expression was a mix of surprise and disbelief. After a moment of hesitation, she spoke, “I heard… that the Noble Consort paid a visit to the Worthy Consort earlier. Shortly after, His Majesty issued a marriage edict for the Zhong family’s eldest daughter and the newly promoted colonel. Then, he ordered the Noble Consort to return to her mother’s house, claiming that she was accompanying the eldest daughter. But it sounded more like she was being banished from the palace…”
The Noble Consort had enjoyed more than half a year of favor and was at the height of her glory. It was hard to fathom why she was suddenly sent back to her mother’s house after just being released from house arrest.
The Emperor had done countless absurd things for her on that day, and everyone had witnessed them. Could it be that he had grown tired of her after just half a year?
Pure Consort Xiao bit her lip and remained silent for a long time.
She didn’t know why, but she didn’t feel happy at all. Instead, a chill ran down her spine.
The words of the Worthy Consort from that day were still ringing in her ears.
Suddenly, she shuddered all over.
In Chenghuan Palace, Li Zhi’s complexion had been pale and devoid of any emotions since her return.
In her dreams, she had never experienced this before. But when Li Jing Ye spoke those words just now, she was initially surprised, but more than that, she felt relaxed and absent-minded. As she sat quietly in her room now, she even felt a bit excited.
Li Zhi was far from Li Jing Ye, accompanied only by Lan Ying. If the opportunity arose, she could personally oversee everything in Yangzhou.
In theory, this should have been a good thing.
However, the rest of the people in the palace didn’t seem to share this sentiment.
A group of young palace maids were busy with troubled expressions, packing up various belongings in the hall. They would occasionally steal furtive glances at Li Zhi. One of the little maids couldn’t help herself and approached the Noble Consort, her eyes red and puffy, as she offered her sympathy, “Don’t be sad, Your Highness. His Majesty is just angry. Once he cools down, he will bring you back to the palace.”
Li Zhi couldn’t help but chuckle, gently patting the maid’s hand. “You needn’t worry about me. I’m not sad. But you seem to be, your eyes are red. If you’d prefer to stay in the palace, I’ll ask the Pure Consort to arrange tasks for you.”
The little maid shook her head vigorously. “I’ll go with you, Your Highness!”
They had been serving Li Zhi for half a year, enjoying a comfortable life with abundant food and clothing. Apart from sweeping the hall, they had hardly any other tasks, and they had never received any punishment. What better job could they find in the palace?
Noble Consort Zhong was both stunningly beautiful and kind-hearted. It was hard for them to believe that the Emperor could truly be tired of her.
Qing Zi seemed to be afraid that the little palace maid might upset Li Zhi, so she quickly came over and pulled her away.
Only Chun Yue, taking advantage of everyone’s inattention, sat down next to Li Zhi and whispered, “Are you really not upset?”
Li Zhi smiled lightly and shook her head, then reached out to pinch her round cheeks.
Chun Yue’s tense expression suddenly relaxed, and a simple and honest smile emerged on her face. “Then this servant can rest assured.”
The matter of leaving the palace was not delayed at all.
An hour later, two court ladies from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and more than ten eunuchs from the Imperial Household Department arrived. With her belongings newly packed, Li Zhi left the palace with their escort.
The carriage exited from Guangshun Gate, passed through Zhaoqing Gate and Jianfu Gate, crossed over thick city walls, and finally arrived at the street outside the Danfeng Gate. Li Zhi felt a sense of trance in her heart.
She couldn’t help but lift the curtain and look outside.
On the broad avenue, pedestrians and carriages of various colors were bustling, including officials in official robes riding horses, vendors carrying goods on their shoulders, and ordinary residents walking in groups between neighborhoods.
The streets were lined with Guangzhai and Yishan alleys, their low walls unable to contain the lively bustle within.
Li Zhi had never before witnessed the vibrant scene of Chang’an street during the day, and her heart was stirred with emotion for what seemed like an eternity.
Just as she was caught up in wonder, a familiar figure appeared from a parked carriage up ahead, tall and striking. It was none other than Lan Ying.
Waving to her, Lan Ying stepped down from the carriage and approached her.
Quickly stopping the carriage, Li Zhi personally helped Lan Ying inside, greeting her with a warm smile, “Did A’Zi come to pick me up herself?”
But Lan Ying’s expression was grave as she took Li Zhi’s hand and asked, “Third Sister, were you sent back because of me?”
Earlier, a messenger had arrived from the palace to announce Li Zhi’s engagement to Wei Peng, which had caused unease among her uncle and aunt, who were already worried for her safety and now feared that she had provoked the Emperor’s wrath, resulting in her sudden return from the palace.
She couldn’t help but feel anxious in the mansion, fearing that her marriage had offended the Xiao family and would bring trouble to her in the palace, leading to her being sent back home. She thought about it and decided to personally come to pick Li Zhi up before she even had a chance to return.
Li Zhi understood her concerns, smiled, and took her hand, nodding first before shaking her head. “It’s true that I have talked about your marriage to Brother Wei, but it’s not really something that would cause trouble.”
She didn’t want anyone outside the carriage to hear, so she leaned in closer and whispered, “A’Zi, don’t worry. I’m actually very happy about this!”
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