Chapter 68 Honey Water
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The early morning breeze carried with it a coolness that seemed to seep through Pei Ji’s skin and into his bones. He held onto the reins tightly, his knuckles turning white as he surveyed his surroundings with a sharp eye.
“Father’s words are in this son’s heart.” His mind raced with countless thoughts. “It’s just that there are many things happening in the court lately, and the situation is not very clear. I think that this matter can be put on hold for now, and a plan can be made once things have stabilized.”
The surface of the court was still, but beneath the calm waters, there were ripples of unrest. Most of the officials who had been loyal to Pei Yan and other veteran ministers had been moved to remote postings or relegated to less important positions. Meanwhile, to the north, the Turkic horde was biding its time, waiting for the right moment to strike again.
Pei Yan mulled over his thoughts for a moment, his gaze fixed on the horizon as he weighed the pros and cons of each possible action. “You make a valid point. I won’t press you, but your grandmother is anxious. If there is still no progress in two months, she will probably go to the palace herself and ask the Empress Dowager for help. You need to think carefully.”
Pei Ji cast his gaze downwards, shielding the fleeting darkness and acrid bitterness that crept within him. “Rest assured, Father. I know what needs to be done.”
Truth be told, Pei Ji was not averse to the idea of settling down. It was simply that the woman who had captured his heart could never be his wife.
Despite being aware of the futility of his efforts, Pei Ji clung to the hope of delaying the inevitable.
It would be grossly unjust to his future wife if he were to hastily tie the knot.
The Zhong’s mansion stirred with life as Li Zhi awakened earlier than the day before.
The break of dawn beckoned Li Zhi and Lan Ying to the main hall, where they meticulously checked the long list of presents destined for the newlywed’s house.
She had been worried about how to dispose of the items that Chun Yue had sent back every few days, and had to sell them bit by bit for cash. Now, they were all used as Lan Ying’s dowry.
As a Noble Consort, she provided a generous dowry for her own elder sister and added some extra items to the list, so that no one could say anything about it. Everything was carefully listed, so even if Madam Yang wanted to take advantage of the situation, she would have no opportunity.
After Lan Ying left Chang’an, a portion of the items would be quietly sent to Yangzhou.
Chun Yue was now able to recognize many characters, and when she saw that they were reading the gift list, she volunteered to hold it and read it carefully, asking Li Zhi and Lan Ying about unfamiliar characters.
The other servants then packed and collected the already-checked items into boxes, ready to be transported to the new house later.
The group worked busily for half a day before finally finishing half of the list.
As they rested, Li Zhi and Lan Ying sat together drinking tea and chatting.
“Why haven’t I seen Aunt and Miao Yun these past few days?”
Lan Ying spoke up, “Aunt and Miao Yun have been frequenting Changxing Lane every day for the past few days, and they would stay there for hours on end.”
“What could they possibly be doing in Changxing Lane?” Li Zhi paused to think, but couldn’t recall any other relatives of the Zhong family living in that area. Besides, it was not a bustling place like Dongxi Market with a constant flow of people.
Lan Ying chuckled, “There is a Taoist surnamed Yuan who has recently arrived in Changxing Lane. He used to practice Taoism on Longhe Mountain for many years and is now residing in the local temple. The temple has become so popular that even the entrance of the lane is always packed with people who come to offer incense and seek his divination.”
As Li Zhi poured tea into her cup, she suddenly stopped mid-action at the mention of a certain name. Slowly, she raised her head and inquired, “Is that the same Heavenly Master Yuan, also known as Immortal Ancestor Yuan, who is well-versed in the arts of alchemy and divination, and has a habit of treating people for free in the temple?”
Lan Ying was taken aback. “I’m not entirely sure of his name, but it’s true that he’s highly knowledgeable in alchemy and divination. For the past month, he’s been dispensing his secret medicines for free and has already earned a reputation for his miraculous treatments. It’s surprising that you have already heard of him even though you were still in the palace.”
Chun Yue’s eyes widened in surprise. “Miss, where did you hear about that? This servant was not aware.”
It was known that she often spoke with Qing Zi in the palace, and almost all of Li Zhi’s idle gossip was heard from her.
Li Zhi pursed her lips, remained silent for a moment, and then spoke. “It was mentioned in passing at the palace banquet by someone nearby.”
The confusion in Chun Yue’s eyes temporarily dissipated. Lan Ying did not inquire further, but simply replied, “I see,” and changed the topic. However, Li Zhi kept a hidden thought in her heart.
She had not heard of Immortal Ancestor Yuan’s name at the palace banquet, but in her dreams.
In her dreams, Li Jing Ye’s illness was accompanied by irritability and fatigue, and despite the efforts of the imperial physicians, there was no cure. He became suspicious and turned to folk remedies.
Xiao Ling Fu had a good grasp of Li Jing Ye’s intentions and brought Immortal Ancestor Yuan, who was already well-known in Chang’an, into the palace.
It was under the gradual influence of Immortal Ancestor Yuan that Li Jing Ye went from being skeptical to having deep faith in the man. He continuously took pills that seemed to relieve his body and mind, but in reality, he became more and more indulgent each day. Eventually, he didn’t even want to bother with state affairs, leaving everything in the hands of Xiao Ling Fu.
Although he was a young monarch, he had already made many mistakes that even the wisest rulers would only make in their later years.
Growing up repressed in his nature, he had already reached his twilight years before experiencing the peak of his youth.
And now, Li Jing Ye’s illness seemed to be progressing even faster than in his previous life. It was uncertain whether this Heavenly Master Yuan would also be brought before him earlier…
In the Yanying Hall, after the discussion of political affairs, the officials all left, but Xiao Ling Fu remained seated.
Seeing this, Li Jing Ye knew that he had something to say, so he stayed behind and asked, “Minister Xiao, do you have something to say to me?”
Upon hearing this, Xiao Ling Fu bowed and said, “I have heard that Your Majesty has been worrying about state affairs and overthinking, often needing to extend medical treatment. I am deeply concerned, and today I only want to advise Your Majesty to take care of your health and delegate more of the trivial matters to us.”
It was another reminder for him to take care of his health.
Li Jing Ye had heard these words many times before.
Even when he was the Crown Prince, whenever he deviated even slightly from the rules, the officials of the Eastern Palace would repeatedly admonish him. Even in cases of summer cold or spring rash, he would be criticized for not taking care of himself and not fulfilling the duties of a future monarch.
Even after becoming an Emperor, it remained the same.
In recent days, both Minister Du and Minister Pei had advised him, and now Xiao Ling Fu was joining in. Although his words were not as blunt as the two old ministers, they still made him uneasy.
He frowned and nodded hastily, then waved his hand to dismiss Xiao Ling Fu.
Xiao Ling Fu looked worried, quickly bowed and saluted before getting up to leave.
As he hurried out, his clothes brushed against the couch, causing a small porcelain bottle to tumble out of his sleeve and roll twice on the couch.
As it tumbled, the stopper came loose, and over ten black pills the size of fingernails spilled out onto the couch.
His departing footsteps came to a stop as he quickly bent down to pick them up.
Li Jing Ye looked at the porcelain bottle that had fallen on the couch and inquired, “Is everything alright with you, Minister Xiao? Are you taking some medicine?”
Xiao Ling Fu gingerly returned the bottle into his sleeve and responded, “Your Majesty, I’m perfectly fine. This is just a thoughtful present from my wife.”
He grinned a little and went on, “Recently, a Taoist named Yuan has come to Chang’an, who’s reputedly skilled in alchemy and healing. He has been a blessing to many people suffering from chronic illnesses. My wife was concerned about my health, remembering that I had some issues when I was stationed in Meizhou. Hence, she asked him for some medicine and advised me to take it during work. I’m sorry for my carelessness earlier.”
Upon finishing his words, he gave a furtive glance at Li Jing Ye.
It was clear that the medicine was not accidentally dropped by him, and the words he spoke earlier were intentional for the Emperor to hear.
A few days ago, his daughter summoned his wife to the palace and secretly told her about the Emperor’s recent strange behavior and distrust of the imperial physicians.
When she returned home that night, his wife told him about it, which surprised him greatly.
He had long noticed the Emperor’s unusual behavior and guardedness, which was not a secret. However, this was the first time his daughter had taken the initiative to reveal such private matters to the family.
He had hinted to her many times before, telling her not to focus all her attention on the Emperor and to consider her own family’s interests in all things in order to sustain their position. However, she was too enamored with the Emperor to take his words to heart.
Perhaps it was because she had given birth to a prince that she had finally begun to plan for herself.
As a father, he was filled with mixed emotions and immediately thought of Immortal Ancestor Yuan.
Many years ago, when he was stationed in Meizhou, he met this person.
This person not only had a silver tongue, but also had some real skills. He had been cultivating on the Longhe Mountain for many years, was familiar with all kinds of folk remedies, alchemy, and had some unique insights. He was already famous in Meizhou at that time.
Great Wei followed both Buddhism and Taoism, and many officials in the court believed in one or the other. He had kept his eyes on this person and tried to win him over.
Last year, he even invited him to Chang’an, hoping to use him to control more forces. Now he can recommend him to the Emperor.
However, the Emperor was suspicious and became more guarded towards him lately for some unknown reason, so he could not speak directly and had to act in this “indirect” way.
Sure enough, after Li Jing Ye heard it, he raised his eyebrows slightly and asked a few more questions before gesturing for him to leave.
After no one was left in the hall, Li Jing Ye remained lost in thought for a long time before summoning He Yuan Shi and ordering him, “Send a few people out of the palace to investigate the background of this Heavenly Master Yuan, I want to see how much skill he really has.”
Night had fallen, and Pei Ji didn’t arrive as early as he had on the previous two days. It wasn’t until the hour of the Dog had passed that he stealthily made his way to the outside of the house. Pushing the door open and entering, he found the outer room empty, with only a solitary lamp left burning on the table.
Yesterday, he had already mentioned that he would soon be departing for Pujin Crossing, a journey that could take anywhere from half a month to a month. This very night, he was scheduled to attend a banquet with his new colleagues from the Ministry of War outside the city. He would only return to the residence during the curfew, and it might take some time for him to arrive here again. As he entered the inner room, he rubbed his forehead and realized that Li Zhi must have fallen asleep by now.
On the bed lay a familiar figure, with graceful curves and gentle breathing. He was about to lean over and kiss her when he caught sight of a porcelain bowl placed on the small table beside the bed. It contained a slightly yellow liquid emitting a sweet fragrance, and he couldn’t resist taking a sip, savoring the delicious taste. A smile appeared on his face, adding a hint of warmth to his usually solemn expression.
It was a bowl of honey water, seemingly prepared just for him.
With his smile growing wider, he quickly drank it down and then leaned over to embrace her, his lips covering hers, plump and soft.
Li Zhi was awakened by the movement on top of her, and she felt a faint, sweet taste slowly permeating her mouth.
Her drowsy eyes fluttered open and locked onto a pair of eyes as dark as obsidian, brimming with a smile.
In the dim light, Pei Ji pulled back from her lips, his nose pressed against hers, and he gazed into her eyes, his breath redolent of both wine and sweetness. “Was that bowl of honey water meant to help me sober up?”
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