At the Noble Consort’s Feet Chapter 69

Chapter 69 Steps

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Li Zhi turned towards the sound of his voice and caught sight of an empty porcelain bowl resting on the adjacent table. Her misty eyes paused for a moment before slowly recollecting.

As she groomed herself earlier, she had casually mentioned his upcoming social engagement to Chun Yue, who inquired if she should prepare a hang-over soup.

At first, she readily agreed without much contemplation. But later, upon realizing that she had not actually consumed any alcohol and that the hangover soup might arouse suspicion, she opted for a simple honey water instead.

Feeling exhausted, she didn’t bother explaining much when he asked about the hangover soup. She lazily nodded, pushed him away, and closed her eyes again, murmuring, “Go wash up, I want to sleep…”

However, Pei Ji didn’t move. His dark eyes sparkled with joy.

Slightly tipsy, he quickly removed his shoes, socks, and outer clothes. Without a word, he uncovered the silk quilt and draped it over her, sealing her in an airtight cocoon as he kissed her passionately.

Pressed down and silenced by his kisses, Li Zhi struggled to inhale. The sluggishness that had earlier enveloped her dissipated, and she knit her brows and gently pushed him away.

He didn’t comply with her as he always did, but instead he tightened his hold on her slender wrists, while his lips relentlessly chased after her movements, kissing her until she had to stop struggling. Finally, he caressed the tip of her nose with a hoarse voice, “Thank you, Li-niang.”

Li Zhi’s mind had just been deprived of oxygen and felt a little dazed. She struggled to catch her breath and recover her senses before finally realizing the unusual excitement that he was experiencing.

“I thought if you got really drunk tonight, you wouldn’t be able to climb over my courtyard wall,” she said, with a hint of mist in her eyes, looking at him with annoyance.

Pei Ji’s heart softened, and he couldn’t resist the urge to lower his head and nuzzle against her neck. His warm breath brushed lightly over her delicate and flawless skin as he whispered, “I know what I’m doing. I won’t get drunk.”

Why would he be willing to get drunk when he came here?

Li Zhi laughed softly and turned her head to avoid the ticklish sensation on her neck. “That’s good. If you fell under my courtyard wall, I wouldn’t be able to bear it.”

Pei Ji held onto the silk ribbon of her loose collar and gently pulled it apart. He gazed at her face and felt his heart melt like honey in warm water after her words.

Sleeping with her for three consecutive nights, he was almost immersed in the gentle paradise.

He felt especially touched tonight, as he arrived to find that not only had she left the lamp on for him, but she had also prepared a special hangover cure. It was so heartwarming that he almost convinced himself that he was her legitimate husband.

But as soon as that thought came to him, he couldn’t help but remember his father’s words from that morning.

They were not married, and the possibility of them becoming husband and wife seemed unlikely.

The Emperor was her husband, and even Prince Rui seemed like a more suitable match for her than he was.

However, he couldn’t postpone his own marriage indefinitely. Even though he might be able to come up with excuses to evade it for a year or two, in the end, he would have to follow his grandmother and mother’s wishes and marry a suitable girl from a noble family.

What would happen to her then, and how should he face her and his future wife?

The future that he had never dared to imagine now lay before him like an icy chasm, after his father’s words.

The taste of the honey water he had enjoyed so much now seemed different, as if it were slowly corroding his body and mind, like a poison that would inevitably take hold…

His excitement and joy slowly dulled, like a blunt knife slicing into his heart with each passing moment.

He held her tightly, not leaving even the slightest gap.

Sensing his sudden change in mood, Li Zhi gently stroked his hair and asked softly, “What’s wrong? Why have you fallen silent all of a sudden?”

Pei Ji opened his mouth but decided to keep his thoughts to himself. He instead used his rough fingertips to massage her shoulder. He chuckled and shook his head. “It’s nothing important. I was only reminded that I need to leave for Puzhou the day after tomorrow and won’t be able to come tomorrow.”

He would be away for roughly two to four weeks. On the night before his departure, he had to remain in the mansion to say goodbye to his elders and family.

Li Zhi was momentarily taken aback, but quickly regained her composure and smiled again. She pushed him away and propped herself up. She gazed down at him with a coquettish look and a more radiant smile. “Since that’s the case, let’s take advantage of the time we have left.”

She leaned down, placing her hands on his chest, and took the initiative to kiss his lips. She murmured, “Darling Third has grown up and is no longer a child. He can handle his own affairs now. Just take good care of yourself, understand?”

Pei Ji’s body went weak and his scalp tingled at her calling him “Darling Third,” but when she playfully joked about him being a child, he could only manage a wry smile.

She was undeniably three years his junior.

The previous gloom that had clouded his mood dissipated completely. Supporting her back, he smiled and said, “I understand. While I’m away, I’ll be thinking of Big Sister every day.”

If she wanted to play the elder, he would let her have her way.

The dim light of the lamp flickered and died, casting the room into darkness. In the narrow confines of the bed, two indistinct figures were locked in an embrace.

They spent a long time in their embrace, Pei Ji enjoying the moment and only stopping when Li Zhi became as pliant as water. He lifted her up from the bed, took a damp cloth, and carefully cleaned her. Li Zhi couldn’t help but tease him as he wiped her, tracing her fingers on his back to create an itch.

Pei Ji tensed up, and he grabbed her wrists, binding them behind her back, so that she couldn’t move. He leaned down to leave marks on her body while he continued to wipe her. 

After lingering for a long time, the two of them embraced and lay down again.

In a daze, Pei Ji held Li Zhi in his arms and whispered, “Li-niang, I will leave in a few days. You stay in Chang’an and take care of yourself.”

He was going to be away for a while, unable to communicate with her, and dared not inquire about her affairs. He knew all too well what it felt like to be in the dark about her every move, having gone through it during his previous campaign. It was an uncomfortable feeling.

Li Zhi was drifting off to sleep, barely registering what he had said. She gave a soft “Mm” and turned away from him, slipping into a deep sleep.

Pei Ji gazed at her back and let out a sigh, then held her in his arms once more and shut his eyes.

The next day, Pei Ji woke up before dawn, slipping on his clothes noiselessly, hastily grooming himself before departing.

Just before leaving, Pei Ji couldn’t help himself and used the dim light to take the coral peony jade hairpin from her dresser. He carefully stowed it away in his bag and leaned in to kiss her ear while murmuring, “Li-niang, I’m leaving. I just took your hairpin, and it’s like…” He trailed off before finishing his sentence.

Pei Ji lingered for a moment longer, his hands tracing her face, before finally rising to his feet and slipping out the door.

Li Zhi stirred at his departure, her hand reaching out to touch his cheek as she murmured, “Take care.”

Pei Ji nodded silently, his hand brushing against the bag where he had kept the hairpin, before turning on his heel and disappearing into the night.

In the days that followed, Li Zhi continued to work alongside Lan Ying every day, preparing for the upcoming wedding feast.

Despite having no parents, there were still many tasks that required Madame Yang’s personal attention. She did so, albeit reluctantly.

Madame Yang was now obsessed with seeking divine intervention to bless her son with a grandson. She was also mindful of the female officials and guards around Li Zhi, ensuring her safety.

Due to Wei Peng’s urgent need to return to Hedong, the wedding was scheduled in the fourth lunar month, allowing them more than a month to make necessary preparations.

In the third lunar month, He Yuan Shi led a few eunuchs out of the palace and paid a personal visit to the Duke of Qinguos’s mansion.

At the time, Li Zhi had just sent a few maids to accompany some elderly women from the family to deliver the dowry to the new residence and prepare the bride’s room. Upon seeing He Yuan Shi, her joy was momentarily dampened.

She had left the palace for more than half a month and almost forgot about Li Jing Ye and her status as a Noble Consort. However, He Yuan Shi’s arrival was like a wake-up call, instantly reminding her of everything she didn’t want to remember.

He Yuan Shi appeared very happy. As soon as Qing Zi led him into the front hall, he smiled broadly and greeted her with a respectful bow.

Li Zhi asked him to stand up and spoke in a calm tone, “Chief Eunuch, why have you left the palace today and come to my residence? Does His Majesty have any orders for me?”

He Yuan Shi bowed and replied, “This old servant was sent out of the palace by His Majesty to run an errand. During these past few days, His Majesty has been concerned about the Noble Consort and specially ordered me to return to the palace to visit and inquire about her.”

As he spoke, he gestured to someone outside the room, and then five or six palace eunuchs carried several square wooden boxes into the room. The boxes were open, revealing the gold, silver, pearls, and precious gems inside.

“His Majesty knows that Your Highness has a close relationship with your elder sister and hopes that her wedding can be more grand. Therefore, he specially ordered me to bring more gifts to add to the dowry.”

Li Zhi glanced at the wooden boxes and then smiled lightly, “Please express my gratitude to His Majesty, Chief Eunuch, for his kind concern.”

Her expression and words showed little joy or gratitude.

He grew anxious and motioned for the accompanying eunuchs to step back, before lowering his voice and saying, “Your Highness, since your departure from the palace, His Majesty has been missing and worrying about you every single day. However, as the Son of Heaven, he cannot bring himself to personally request your return to the palace…”

He left his sentence unfinished, but his meaning was clear.

Essentially, the Emperor regretted his impulsive decision to send the Noble Consort back to her family’s home after their argument, but could not bring himself to personally request her return to the palace. He hoped that the Noble Consort would show her submission and take the initiative to return.

The Noble Consort kept her gaze lowered and remained silent.

The events of her departure from the palace remained etched clearly in her memory.

Li Jing Ye was emotionally unstable at the time and, upon hearing her speak up for her elder sister, he assumed that she was like her sister, still in love with their former fiance. In a moment of disappointment, he impulsively sent her back to her family’s home.

In all of this, there was a subtle hint of warning and a lesson for her to learn.

However, he hadn’t anticipated that she would refuse to yield for so long, which caused him some unease. Therefore, he sent He Yuan Shi to gauge her response.

Of course, nobody dared to defy the Emperor’s wishes.

She knew that she couldn’t resist and was afraid that she would have to return to that palace.

But why should she comply with his wishes and act like a mere plaything, submissive and obedient, ready to go back at his command?

Her life outside the palace was too pleasant, and she had become increasingly reluctant to do what he wanted.

She feigned ignorance of He Yuan Shi’s intentions and smiled at him, saying, “Please convey to His Majesty that he need not worry about me. My elder sister is getting married soon, and I would like to be with her at that time.”

He Yuan Shi’s face stiffened. He didn’t expect that the steps were already laid out for her to descend, yet she still insisted on staying outside the palace. He was both surprised and uneasy. If he couldn’t persuade her, how could he explain it to the Emperor?

He pondered for a moment, intending to persuade her once more. However, she didn’t give him the opportunity. She ordered someone to bring tea and snacks, and after he had finished, she went back to the inner court first.

He Yuan Shi had no choice but to wipe his sweat, hastily finish the refreshments, and leave to report back to the palace.

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