Chapter 75 Disheveled
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In Shicui Palace, Pure Consort Xiao got up early and played with her awakened baby in her arms.
The child was only a little over two months old, and his awake time was limited each day. At this moment, after finishing his milk, he was being gently patted on the back by his mother, his round, shiny eyes curiously surveying his surroundings.
He was born after the New Year festival and would soon reach one hundred days. The Empress Dowager and His Majesty both sent people to suggest holding a hundred-day banquet for this precious firstborn son, but Pure Consort Xiao politely declined.
She was his mother, and no one knew better than her the difficulties this child had faced. On the day he fell into the water, she almost thought he wouldn’t survive. Miraculously, he had grown and thrived over these past two months.
There were a few instances of discomfort during this period. Female attendants were called, and the ailments quickly healed.
He was a fortunate and lovely child.
She paid no heed to a mere hundred-day banquet. Besides, palace folk had always said that premature babies were prone to perishing. To ensure the child’s destiny remained intact, grand celebrations for the hundredth day and birthdays before the age of five were deemed unnecessary.
A child born into the royal family ought to follow such customs, and beyond that, he had a long journey ahead.
Born superior to the masses, the child’s gaze should be set upon loftier heights.
After a moment, Si Zhi, nestled against his mother’s shoulder, finally let out a string of burps. His round, glossy eyes blinked with innocence as they aimlessly roamed.
Pure Consort Xiao tenderly kissed her son’s cheek, placing him on the bed as she received the garments handed over by the wet nurse to dress him.
Si Zhi lay on the bed, excitedly waving his little limbs towards his mother, but after a brief moment, his response slowed, indicating weariness.
Lan Zhao entered the chamber from outside the hall, ready to speak but was quickly silenced.
Pure Consort Xiao carried the child and walked to the side of the small bed, gently laying him down. She bent over, watching until his eyes closed in deep slumber before quietly taking Lan Zhao to the outer chamber.
Lan Zhao closed the door and whispered, “Your Highness, it’s related to Zichen Hall. This morning, I saw Chief Eunuch He heading to Dajiao Temple!”
Dajiao Temple was Immortal Ancestor Yuan’s residence. After His Majesty took the elixir from Immortal Ancestor Yuan’s hands, he had paid no further attention. But today, he suddenly sent Chief Eunuch He there. What could be the reason?
Most likely, he had already consumed the medicine.
Xiao Ling Fu had accurately gauged His Majesty’s suspicions and had previously instructed Immortal Ancestor Yuan that for the first dose, the discomfort should be minimized. Even if it meant reducing the effectiveness, they could not allow His Majesty to harbor any doubts.
It should be noted that whenever he administered elixirs to other officials, wealthy merchants, commoners, or even himself, there would always be some degree of discomfort during the first intake.
His Majesty’s credibility could not afford to waver. Once doubts crept in, the consequences could be as dire as those faced by Imperial Physician Zhang, eroding trust day by day.
Pure Consort Xiao took a sip of steaming tea, her expression momentarily veiled by a fleeting mix of hesitation and bewilderment. A profound silence enveloped her, prolonging the weight of her contemplation.
Lan Zhao stood nearby, her demeanor a delicate interplay of restrained words and unspoken thoughts.
“Is there something else?”
“Yesterday, His Majesty attended Lady Zhong’s nuptial festivities.”
Pure Consort Xiao furrowed her brow, nodding with a combination of comprehension and acknowledgment. This particular piece of information had already reached her ears the day prior.
“It is said that among those who returned together last night, there was a young woman who bore a resemblance to the Noble Consort,” Lan Zhao hesitated, her words trailing off. “Early this morning, I took the opportunity to catch a glimpse when I delivered a bowl of revitalizing ginseng soup to the imperial court. That woman looks like the Fourth Miss Zhong…”
Pure Consort Xiao’s hand holding the cup froze in mid-air as fragmented memories from the previous palace banquet floated hazily into her consciousness. Gradually, a somber shade draped over her eyes.
Placing the delicate tea cup back onto the intricately carved table, her gaze fixated on the concentric ripples swirling within the tea. In a hushed tone, she whispered, “Later, send a message. Invite my mother to pay a visit to the palace.”
The matter of His Majesty taking the elixir required her to convey it to her father through her mother. This would enable her father to discreetly observe and delicately probe during private discussions with His Majesty. Should any discrepancies arise, he could subtly address them and alleviate any lingering doubts.
With a new beauty entering the palace one after another, he ultimately lacked true devotion.
Inside Zichen Hall, Miao Yun struggled to smooth out the wrinkles on her clothes in front of the bronze mirror. She stood in the room, at a loss as to where to go.
In the vast Daming Palace, there was not a single building that belonged to her.
After hesitating for a moment, she suppressed her hunger and sat down on the mahogany footstool by the bed.
No one brought her food, and the palace maids who came in to clean all lowered their heads as if they hadn’t seen her, going about their tasks around her.
Before long, the sleeping chamber was restored to tidiness. The palace maids filed out, leaving her alone in the room.
She remained seated for a while longer, finally mustering the courage to rise from the footstool. She cautiously moved her sore legs and began to survey the imperial sleeping chamber.
Her fingers lightly brushed over the shelves, the bed, the folding screens, and the porcelain vases, unable to express the astonishment and admiration that welled up within her heart.
This sleeping chamber was more spacious than the courtyard of the Duke of Qinguo’s mansion. Many of the exquisite objects within it were completely unfamiliar to her, both in appearance and name.
Indeed, only within the imperial palace could one experience such lavish opulence.
Several volumes of books were stacked upon the desk, but she dared not linger her gaze on them. Instead, she sat at the edge of the bed, directing her attention towards a wooden box placed nearby.
The box was open, revealing a pair of white jade bracelets enveloped by red silk.
The jade bracelets were translucent and pure, as white as blossoming pear flowers on a spring day—a precious gem she had never encountered before.
Lost in fascination, she couldn’t resist extending her index finger and lightly touching the bracelets.
The sensation of coolness and suppleness permeated her fingertips, enticing her to lean in closer and gradually trace the curves of the jade bracelets.
“What are you doing?” A voice, filled with an icy and commanding tone, suddenly resounded from outside the hall, causing her to swiftly withdraw her hand in alarm.
Li Jing Ye, freshly descended from the morning court, entered the chamber with an impassive expression. His frigid gaze briefly scanned her face before descending upon the pair of jade bracelets she had dared to touch.
Those bracelets were intended to be a gift for Li Zhi.
Without delay, Miao Yun climbed down from the bed, casting a respectful and elegant bow in his presence.
Li Jing Ye, without speaking a word, proceeded past her, approaching the edge of the bed to retrieve the wooden box. Turning his attention to He Yuan Shi, he delivered a chilling question, “Why is she still here?”
He Yuan Shi stood motionless in the distance, momentarily stunned. His Majesty had not given explicit instructions on how to handle Fourth Miss Zhong. Thus, he refrained from making any presumptuous decisions and instructed everyone to pay her no heed. Now, with His Majesty’s inquiry, it became apparent that he had no intention of retaining her presence within the palace.
He bent his body and cast a sympathetic glance at Miao Yun, quickly summoning two eunuchs with a wave of his hand. “Hurry, escort Miss Zhong back to her residence.”
Miao Yun stood in stunned silence, her voice trembling as she called out, “Your Majesty…”
“Miss, you have endured much hardship, staying in the palace all this time to uncover the actions of that monk. Now that the matter is resolved, it is time for you to return home,” He Yuan Shi interjected, disguising her overnight stay with His Majesty as part of the investigation into Xuan Guang’s affairs, a necessary measure.
“No, no, I am not…” Miao Yun stepped back repeatedly, finding it hard to believe the turn of events.
His Majesty clearly cared deeply about a woman’s innocence. After the princess had a liaison with her own brother, he promptly married her off to him. So why, after spending the night in Zichen Hall with her, would he not let her stay in the palace?
It was evident that when His Majesty was with the Third Sister, he displayed a gentle and refined demeanor.
He Yuan Shi, seeing her reluctance to leave, was about to signal the two eunuchs to take action when suddenly a voice from outside the hall shouted, “Your Majesty, the Princess of Wuyang has arrived!”
Li Jing Ye set aside the book in his hand. “Let her in.”
As soon as the words fell, Li Ling Yue stormed in with flushed eyes, disregarding the customary greetings, and directly demanded, “Why would Your Majesty treat him like this!”
“Him” naturally referred to Xuan Guang.
“You should ask yourself what shameless deeds you have engaged in with him.” Whether it was due to the lingering effects of the elixir he had consumed the previous night or for some other reason, at this moment Li Jing Ye, although filled with anger, felt an inexplicable calmness within, no longer experiencing the previously uncontrollable rage and suffocating pain. “The garments of a Royal Princess were found in a monk’s meditation room, tarnishing the reputation of the royal family!”
Li Ling Yue’s eyes were bloodshot, shaking her head vigorously in response, her voice hoarse as she said, “He and I have never engaged in any shameless acts! He traveled from Fusang across the vast ocean to Great Wei, wholeheartedly seeking the true essence of Buddhist teachings. After great difficulty, he became a disciple under Heavenly Master Hui Xian and has rigorously observed the precepts for many years. How could he suddenly lose his resolve because of me…”
Tears of guilt lingered in her eyes. “That cloak was merely a sentimental token, yet Your Majesty, without even questioning me, ordered his execution!”
When she suffered a miscarriage, her heart was filled with pain and unrest. Each night, sleep eluded her until she entered the palace to attend to her ailing mother. It was her mother’s counsel that urged her to seek repentance and solace before the Buddha.
On that day, she knelt alone before the Buddha, and it was Xuan Guang who lit a bright lamp for her as an offering. With closed eyes, she recited scriptures, experiencing a tranquility and peace that had eluded her for several months.
He had embraced the path of Buddhism, and there was no connection between them. It was her own lingering attachment that refused to fade.
Within the sleeping quarters, Li Ling Yue gradually lowered herself, her hands clasping her knees, unable to contain the tears of anguish any longer. “Your Majesty made me give up my cousin, and I did. You made me marry Zhong Hao, and I accepted my fate, I married him… Now, only by his side can I find a moment of peace, yet Your Majesty treats him like this! I am a Princess, how can I have lost even this modicum of power?”
Li Jing Ye sat on the couch, looking down at his huddled younger sister and calmly spoke, “For this matter, you have only yourself to blame.”
He slowly shifted his gaze away, his words carrying a trace of melancholy. “When you embarked on marriage, I made it clear to you that if you were ever mistreated, you must inform me, and I would take charge. But now, reflect upon your actions. Even if the person you engaged in an affair with had been an ordinary spouse, I would not have dealt with it in such a manner. However, fate had it that he is a practitioner of the Buddhist path, a highly regarded and trusted disciple among the populace.”
Li Ling Yue paused, a mixture of guilt and self-reproach flickering in her eyes, causing the flames of her anger to momentarily subside.
However, suddenly, she stood up, emitting a bitter laugh filled with sarcasm. “Your Majesty, you are mistaken. How can you blame me? When you took my brother’s wife, did you not send Third Miss Zong into the realm of the monastic order? How is my connection with a monk deemed taboo? Is it a matter of allowing officials to commit arson while prohibiting the common people from lighting a lamp?”
“Do not speak recklessly!”
It had been a long time since anyone mentioned the absurdity of that time in his presence. He had almost deceived himself into thinking that others had forgotten about it. But now, his own younger sister had brought it up again, as if striking at the core of his being, causing ripples to surge through his previously calm heart.
Li Ling Yue paid no heed to his reprimand, her gaze sweeping across the hall until it finally landed on Miao Yun, who stood in the corner.
“It’s really you. You are bolder than your mother, who was both petty and cowardly.” She took a couple of steps closer, her eyes burning with deep-seated hatred and resentment, as she scrutinized Miao Yun from head to toe. “Tell me, why is it that while my elder brother can indulge in the wine shops and brothels of Pingkang District every day, I am not allowed to set foot outside the temple? What sense does that make?”
Startled by her piercing gaze, Miao Yun instinctively took a step back, clasping her fingers tightly. “Princess, you have misunderstood. I merely wanted to alleviate my mother’s worries and ensure that my elder brother has an heir soon.”
“I don’t believe a word you say.” Li Ling Yue closed in, her entire being filled with unrestrained anger, showing no restraint whatsoever. “Since you are so filial, perhaps you can bear the brunt of my wrath on behalf of your mother.”
Speaking those words, Li Ling Yue wasted no time and swiftly raised her hand, delivering a forceful blow.
A resounding “slap” echoed through the air as Miao Yun, caught off guard, felt the impact on her left cheek. Stumbling to the side, she collided with the corner of the couch, causing a surge of pain that brought tears streaming down her face.
Witnessing Li Ling Yue’s unwavering advance, Miao Yun hastily reached out, grasping onto the edge of the couch to help herself up.
In her struggle, the fabric of her attire slid slightly, revealing several bruises on her exposed skin.
Li Ling Yue’s eyes flickered briefly, then she looked at the pair before her and let out a hollow laugh. “Your Majesty abhors my actions, and yet you yourselves indulge in illicit relationship with an unmarried lady. Zhong Miao Yun, you shamelessly attempt to ascend His Majesty’s bed, and yet you have the nerve to criticize me? How preposterous!”
Trembling with fear, Miao Yun instinctively moved closer to Li Jing Ye’s side. “Your Majesty—”
Li Jing Ye, however, had no intention of looking at her again. His gaze remained fixed on the wide-open doors of the hall.
Under the bright morning sunlight, Li Zhi stood by the entrance, calmly observing the chaotic scene within the hall, her expression devoid of emotion.
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