Chapter 73 Elixir
Li Jing Ye sat quietly in the expansive carriage, seemingly unperturbed by the presence of an extra passenger.
With care, Miao Yun knelt down beside him and stole a quick glance in his direction. When he did not speak, she began, “Your Majesty, I have something to say regarding the Princess of Wuyang.”
She had already planned out what she needed to do before arriving.
In order to meet the Emperor, she required a legitimate excuse. Aside from her relationship with Third Sister, the only other connection she had to the Emperor was through the princess who had married into the Zhong family.
The rumor of the princess’s affair with the monk had only spread within the household and the commoners. Those in positions of power knew of it, but it had not reached the ears of the palace.
As the princess was her sister-in-law and the Emperor’s biological sister, mentioning the matter would undoubtedly draw the Emperor’s attention.
This presented a chance for her to express her loyalty to the Emperor while also helping her mother by solving a longstanding issue that had caused her elder brother much distress due to his marriage to the Princess of Wuyang.
Li Jing Ye remained silent as he opened his eyes and stared ahead at the swaying carriage walls.
“The Princess has been avoiding intimacy with her husband of late and has been seen frequenting Daci’en Temple where she has become closely acquainted with a disciple named Xuan Guang under the tutelage of Master Hui Xian from Silla (Korea). Rumors are circulating in the city that the Princess is dissatisfied with her marriage and may be having an affair with the monk…”
“Enough!” Li Jing Ye’s voice broke the silence as he picked up a porcelain cup and threw it forcefully, outraged by the scandalous accusation against a royal princess. “This is a matter of the royal family’s reputation. How dare anyone spread such slanderous rumors!”
The porcelain cup missed Miao Yun’s cheek and flew out of the carriage, breaking on the ground below. The curtain briefly revealed the eunuchs outside who were surprised by the commotion before quickly closing again to shield the occupants’ privacy.
Miao Yun knelt on the ground, her face lowered as she spoke cautiously. “I do not mean to speak out of turn, Your Majesty. However, if you doubt my words, you can verify the situation at Daci’en Temple with an investigation.”
Li Jing Ye stood with his fists clenched tightly by his side. His chest heaved with uncontrolled rage, and his once gentle eyes now glinted with anger.
He Yuan Shi nervously waited outside the carriage, calling out in a hushed voice, “Your Majesty?” upon seeing the commotion inside.
Without hesitation, Li Jing Ye bellowed “Stop!” and, upon He Yuan Shi’s entry, he pointed to Miao Yun and issued a cold command, “Take her off the carriage and watch her closely.”
“Your Majesty—” Miao Yun gasped, her eyes widening in shock. But before she could say more, two burly eunuchs who had received He Yuan Shi’s signal rushed in and dragged her away without uttering a word.
The sound of Miao Yun’s cries faded quickly into the night.
Li Jing Ye remained silent for a moment, then declared, “Send someone to Daci’en Temple at once. Bring that Monk Xuan Guang here and search him thoroughly.”
He Yuan Shi checked the time and inquired cautiously, “Your Majesty, it’s almost curfew. Shall we wait until tomorrow?”
“No! Immediately! Hurry!” Li Jing Ye thundered, his eyes now rimmed with bloodshot veins.
“Yes, I’ll go give the orders right away, Your Majesty.”
Walking down the long corridor, Pei Ji felt an invisible hand squeezing his heart, spreading waves of pain throughout his body.
Earlier, he followed from a distance, unable to get any closer due to the presence of the eunuchs. He pretended to go outside for some fresh air and waited in a secluded and dim corner.
He could barely make out the figures of the two people in the light.
They began standing apart, but gradually moved closer until they were in each other’s arms, kissing passionately.
Although he wanted to turn away, his body wouldn’t obey, and he found himself unable to look away from the entwined figures.
It was only at this moment that he truly understood the difficulty of letting go once you have something.
Those three peaceful nights had brought him a sweetness he had never tasted before. At that time, he was content, but now he was consumed by pain.
For a fleeting moment, he entertained the idea of pushing away the person holding her and disappearing forever.
The thought vanished just as quickly.
He felt like a fish out of water, unable to do anything except hold her tightly, kiss her fervently, and call out her name.
“Li-niang, come away with me, let us leave this place…”
Without realizing it, he began to tug at her clothing, kissing her ear in a trance-like state, oblivious to what he had just said.
But Li Zhi had heard everything.
She felt like someone who had just been yanked out of a deep pool, her mind suddenly clear.
How could they leave now? Running away was not an option, and it would only put Lan Ying in danger.
She tenderly wrapped her arms around his neck, as if comforting a young boy, and gently stroked his neatly tied black hair. “We can’t leave.”
Pei Ji’s movements came to a slow halt.
He stood motionless, holding her close to his body, his face buried against her neck. His muscles were tense, as if straining against an invisible force.
A gentle breeze blew past, as if attempting to extinguish the sparks in the air, but the flame only grew brighter.
Without a word, he suddenly grasped her waist and hoisted her onto his shoulders, striding purposefully towards a house he had personally chosen. He knew every nook and cranny of its layout.
This was a place of sanctuary, where they could be together without fear of discovery.
In pain, he closed his eyes, loosening his grip and sitting up straight, staring into the empty darkness without saying a word.
Li Zhi looked at his silhouette, hidden in the night, feeling an unexplainable sense of loneliness.
She propped herself up with one hand, skillfully undoing the jade buckle on his waist with the other. She slid into his half-opened shirt, using her palm and fingers to gently knead his solid chest.
“Darling Third, have you lost weight? Have you not been taking care of yourself while you were away?”
She tried her best to keep up her usual banter with him.
His body instantly tensed up and his previous despondency dissipated somewhat.
A callused and large hand covered her playful little one, and his tall form once again leaning against hers.
“I miss you so much.” After hesitating for a moment, he asked, “Do you miss me too?”
In one night, two men had consecutively expressed their longing for her. Li Zhi bit his lip, his eyes and brows curved with amusement, but she didn’t respond.
Pei Ji couldn’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment.
Li Zhi’s teasing and flirtatious ways always left him wanting more, but never quite satisfied his heart.
Despite his disappointment, Pei Ji felt a sense of peace wash over him, as if he had finally accepted the unattainable nature of their relationship.
Holding her close, Pei Ji’s affection intensified as he embraced her warmly, cherishing their deep connection. He felt her gentle touch as they embraced, savoring the moment. “I just returned, and now you have to go?”
Li Zhi smiled softly, unsure if she was comforting him or herself when she replied, “It won’t be long now.”
The Zichen Hall was ablaze with light, casting deep shadows across the room.
Li Jing Ye sat alone, his face calm and collected, his thoughts consumed by the weight of his responsibilities.
The words that Fourth Miss Zhong had said in the carriage were still echoing in his ears, making his forehead throb incessantly, and the frustration in his heart was almost unbearable.
If what she said was true, then the princess was actually having an affair with a foreign monk who had entered the monastery. Once this news spread to the ministers and the common people, it would be a source of great embarrassment for the royal family.
He had just managed to put aside the ugly incident that happened last Zhongqiu Festival, but now there was an even more shocking and scandalous event.
Moreover, that monk named Xuan Guang was also one of the twelve disciples of Master Hui Xian. It was he, the Emperor himself, who ordered Master Hui Xian to set up a translation center for Buddhist scriptures at Da Ci’en Temple and also personally commanded people to bring Hui Xian and his twelve disciples into the palace to pray for the Empress Dowager.
He never expected that the audacious little monk would dare to communicate secretly with Ling Yue right under his nose!
The more he thought about it, the more he felt a suffocating pain in his chest, unable to help but stand up and pace back and forth.
The restlessness that had not appeared frequently since the Worthy Consort’s death had returned with a vengeance, making him sit and stand restlessly.
The palace hall was silent for what felt like an eternity, until a faint sound was finally heard from outside.
He Yuan Shi rushed in with a palace eunuch carrying a tray. Both were drenched in cold sweat and shaking as they knelt down before the Emperor, reporting in haste, “Your Majesty, we have searched and interrogated everyone.”
Li Jing Ye halted his steps, clenching his fists in anticipation as he urged, “Speak up, quickly!”
The eunuch swallowed nervously, his head bowed as he continued, “Your Majesty, Xuan Guang insists that the Princess only had a destined connection with Buddhism, which was why she often visited the temple… But, I found this in Xuan Guang’s meditation room…”
He lifted the tray high, revealing He Yuan Shi carefully removing the silk cloth that covered it.
A beautiful piece of pomegranate-red silk brocade was folded neatly in the tray, painted with gold and silver powder flowers and birds, adorned with several smooth, round pearls as the flower pistils, sparkling brilliantly under the candlelight.
The corner of the brocade was carefully folded to rest on the top, and embroidered with a flowing, ethereal “Yue” character in gold thread.
Li Jing Ye’s eyes remained fixed on the character embroidered on the silk, turning redder and redder with each passing moment. Without warning, he swung his arm and flung the tray away, sending it crashing to the ground several yards away.
Recognition dawned on him, and he realized that the cloth lying on the tray was the very one she wore on her thirteenth birthday. His mother had carefully stitched the “Yue” character in the corner herself.
The discovery of the princess’s clothing in the monk’s meditation room was damning evidence. Xuan Guang’s attempts to explain it away were futile.
“Find that wretched monk who dared to have an affair with the Princess! And execute him tonight!” Li Jing Ye’s face contorted with fury as he pointed to the darkness beyond the hall, barking his command.
The eunuch scrambled to his feet and hurried out without delay, sweat pouring down his forehead as he did so.
Li Jing Ye stared at the cloth, which lay folded neatly on the ground. His legs almost gave way, and he stumbled back two steps before He Yuan Shi caught his arm and steadied him.
He slowly lowered himself to the steps, covering his eyes with one hand as he struggled to regain his composure, his voice barely above a whisper.
“Yuan Shi, bring the elixir.”
He Yuan Shi approached, holding a porcelain bottle and a teacup, and poured out a single, dark pill into his palm.
The pill was smooth and polished, with a deep red sheen that glimmered faintly in the lamplight.
His hand trembled slightly as he examined the pill, then carefully swallowed it with a sip of water from the cup.
He Yuan Shi watched him intently for a moment, then asked, “Your Majesty, what shall we do about Fourth Miss Zhong?”
Holding an unmarried girl without explanation was hardly appropriate, especially with the Noble Consort absent from the palace.
Li Jing Ye sat back down on his couch, propping himself up with effort. He felt a rising heat in his abdomen, as if a warm current was circulating through his body and soothing the restlessness that had been plaguing him. A hazy feeling slowly enveloped his mind.
Upon hearing this, he gathered his thoughts slightly, let out a cold snort, and waved his hand, saying, “Bring her here.”
Miao Yun had been waiting in a side hall for a long time. She had gradually calmed down from her initial panic. Now, seeing someone come to lead her, she steadied her mind, tried her best to maintain her composure, and stepped into the main hall, bowing to the Emperor seated high above.
Li Jing Ye’s gaze fell upon her. It seemed that only now did he notice the colorful dress she was wearing today, which resembled somewhat the attire his Noble Consort had worn when she danced for him on the night of the Zhongqiu Festival.
He was momentarily stunned, then remembered something. He asked coldly, “Why have you come to tell me such a thing today?”
Miao Yun lowered her head, struggling to control her trembling legs. “I only wish to inform Your Majesty of everything I know, so that you will not be kept in the dark.”
Li Jing Ye’s tone was sarcastic, as he mercilessly exposed her. “You have a heavy mind for such a young age.”
Miao Yun bit her lip, and without considering their surroundings, she lifted her head to gaze at him with a pair of pitiful eyes. “Your Majesty, I admit that I have taken every chance to approach you because I sincerely admire you.”
Li Jing Ye’s gaze faltered, and his pupils gradually widened.
Her dress wasn’t the only thing similar. Her makeup was also reminiscent of the headdress that Li Zhi had favored. Coupled with her face that bore a striking resemblance to Li Zhi, it made him dizzy.
The haze in his mind thickened.
“Admiration?” He gazed at her and spoke in a low voice, “I don’t lack admiration or respect. My heart has already been given to someone else. Although you may resemble her, you are not her.”
Miao Yun knelt before him, looking up with teary eyes. “Your Majesty, she could never love you as much as I do. If it means being by your side, I am willing to do anything.”
Li Jing Ye expressionlessly looked down at her, slowly reaching out to pinch her chin and examining her under the light.
Tears slipped down from those eyes that resembled Li Zhi’s.
He brushed away a teardrop with his thumb, only to see fresh ones replace it.
“Anything?” he asked, watching her intently.
Miao Yun nodded, her eyes sparkling with hope and desperation.
Li Jing Ye averted his gaze with a hint of repugnance, letting go of her chin and resting his hand nonchalantly on the armrest.
With a flick of his foot, he gestured towards an empty spot on the floor, “Undress and kneel down there, face down.”
He Yuan Shi waited outside Zichen Hall, braving the chilly night wind without daring to stray too far.
Fourth Miss Zhong had disappeared inside the hall for what seemed like an eternity, leaving no trace of when she might emerge again.
Having served His Majesty for many years, he knew all too well the meaning behind the muffled sounds that emanated from within the hall. Yet even to the woman in there, His Majesty was no longer the gentle and affectionate man he once was. In Fourth Miss Zhong’s voice, he detected an undercurrent of resentment and discomfort.
Despite himself, he couldn’t resist sneaking a quick peek inside the hall, and felt a complicated swirl of emotions in his heart.
To see an unmarried young girl so recklessly abandon her dignity in pursuit of social status was both shocking and devoid of any sympathy.
These two cousins were as different in character as night and day.
Upon observing the Emperor once more, there was no sign of tenderness towards his youthful demeanor.
There was only one Noble Consort in the world, an elusive figure, like a moon reflected on water, impossible to grasp.
The eunuch who had just gone to the Daci’en Temple returned in a hurry, holding a wooden box with a bloody head inside, his face pale with fear as he asked, “Chief Eunuch, should I present this to His Majesty?” He had served the Emperor for many years and knew the sound of the inside very well. However, today the Emperor was in a bad mood, and there was a sense of grievance and discomfort in the voice of Fourth Miss Zhong.
He had just glanced secretly, feeling an indescribable complex feeling inside.
He Yuan Shi quickly waved his hand to make him stand further away, and he walked to the door with a body full of goosebumps, knocking twice and saying, “Your Majesty, it has been taken care of.”
The sound inside the room did not stop.
After a long time, a gloomy voice came through, “Send it to the Princess’s mansion tomorrow morning.”
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