At the Noble Consort’s Feet Chapter 76

Chapter 76 As one wishes

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He stood up and walked purposefully towards the entrance of the hall, extending his hand with the intention of drawing her near. “You’ve returned!”

Li Zhi averted her gaze and subtly retreated a step, evading his outstretched hand. She then inclined her body in a respectful bow before him.

“So, Miao Yun has been by His Majesty’s side all along.” She gave a brief smile, glancing at Miao Yun who was lying limp on the ground in the hall. Her tone was calm, but to the ears of those present, it carried a subtle hint of ice. “When I returned, my aunt had dispatched people to search everywhere. It seems it was a false alarm.”

Li Jing Ye’s hand remained suspended in the air, his face betraying a subtle uneasiness.

Li Ling Yue looked around, her smile gradually spreading.

She couldn’t help but laugh, tears welling up in her eyes. She covered her mouth with one hand and took a moment to regain her breath, casting a gaze at the cousins inside and outside the hall, filled with both mockery and delight. “It seems the Noble Consort is still in the dark. Your younger sister here, at such a tender age, is already so scheming, stepping on others’ backs to climb up!”

Finishing her words, she advanced two steps, her face contorted in a grotesque manner under the sunlight that streamed into the hall. “So, this is the way the Eldest Brother treats the Noble Consort. Back then, he resorted to any means necessary to snatch her away from Sixth Brother, and now, in just over a year, he is entangled with her younger sister. Noble Consort, you’re really pitiful…”

She had held a deep-seated aversion towards Li Zhi for quite some time. However, as she observed the situation today, she could only perceive her as a pitiful soul.

Even she, a princess, lacked autonomy. How much more so for an ordinary woman? Nothing more than a mere plaything.

Li Jing Ye’s complexion paled slightly as he listened to his sister’s cutting words.

The efficacy of the elixir appeared to be quickly fading, leaving his heart in a tumultuous state, wave after wave. It grew increasingly intense until he could no longer suppress the urge to explain, “Li-niang, do not listen to her words. My feelings for you have never wavered! The situation with your sister is not as it appears!”

With her gaze averted, Li Zhi hung her head and silently pivoted away, seemingly uninterested in hearing his explanations. “As Your Majesty is busy, I shall not impose. I will take my leave for Chenghuan Palace.”

As she spoke, she took a step forward, ready to depart.

Seeing that the situation was completely different from what she had anticipated, Miao Yun found herself at a clear disadvantage. Disregarding any concern for her own dignity, she endured the pain and quickly rose to her feet. Taking three steps, she rushed towards the entrance of the hall and called out loudly, “Third Sister! In the name of our sisterly bond cultivated over the years, and in consideration of our parents raising you and Eldest Sister, I implore you to grant me this favor!”

Li Zhi halted her steps, standing on the spacious ground outside the hall. Slowly turning around, her expression became complex as she gazed at Miao Yun.

She felt somewhat surprised in her heart.

In such dire circumstances, Miao Yun brought up the bond of sisterhood and the debt of upbringing.

This younger sister always sought to compete with her and Lan Ying, but ever since she entered the palace, her resentment had only intensified. When had she ever cherished the bond of sisterhood?

The words spoken by Miao Yun held a hint of sarcasm, which was indeed ironic.

Regarding their uncle and aunt who raised her and Lan Ying, their motives were purely self-serving. Moreover, it was a clear provision in the laws of Great Wei for an uncle to care for the orphaned daughters of their deceased siblings.

She had never considered herself indebted to this family, yet Miao Yun now seemed to imply a sense of gratitude and obligation.

What kind of absurd reasoning was this? She could barely restrain herself from bursting into laughter.

However, she couldn’t let it slip away. This, for her, presented an opportunity.

With a single glance from Emperor Li Jing Ye, He Yuan Shi swiftly escorted five eunuchs to bring Miao Yun and Li Ling Yue back inside the hall.

Only Li Zhi and Li Jing Ye were left outside the door.

Moving closer, he cupped her hands in his, his voice tinged with an almost imperceptible plea, reminiscent of the way he had persuaded her when he initially brought her into the Wangxian Temple. “Li-niang, I will swiftly remove her from the palace. You needn’t worry.”

Li Zhi gazed into his eyes and gently inquired, “Last night, did Fourth Sister spend the night with Your Majesty?”

Li Jing Ye paused briefly, then nodded. “Yes, she deliberately lured me last night. I will take appropriate action.”

Upon hearing this, Li Zhi slowly withdrew her hand and turned away, facing her back to him. She said, “How will Your Majesty handle this? Will you expel her from the palace? She is still an innocent maiden who has yet to marry.”

Li Jing Ye furrowed his brow, seemingly perplexed by her statement. “She spoke those words herself last night, expressing her willingness. I did not force her.”

He had never made any promises to Fourth Miss Zhong. It was merely her own delusions. He held great disdain for women who didn’t cherish their own worth and manipulated others for their own gain. Women like Fourth Miss Zhong were not deserving of his attention.

“But she believed that Your Majesty would keep her in the palace, and that’s why she willingly…” Li Zhi’s head hung low as she spoke in a hushed tone.

Li Jing Ye’s brows furrowed deeper, and he questioned, “And what of it? Am I, as the Emperor, expected to rectify the aftermath of her shameless behavior? If she has the audacity to act this way, she must bear the consequences.”

Throughout history, Emperors have had numerous women in their lives. At times, even palace maids were favored during such encounters. If the Emperor did not hold affection for them, they would not be granted the status of concubines. Furthermore, Fourth Miss Zhong was a woman from outside the palace.

While he had never engaged in such behavior and seldom imposed strict rules on the women in the palace, it did not imply that he would accept everything without question.

“Li-niang, did her words just now soften your heart?” He approached her from behind, enveloping her in his embrace. A fleeting idea crossed his mind, and a faint smile formed on his lips. “Or… could it be that you dislike it when I grow close to others?”

Li Zhi trembled from head to toe, then untangled herself from his arms and shook her head. “If Your Majesty wishes to draw closer to someone, how could I dare to intervene? Apart from my elder sister, I do not share such profound affection and friendship with anyone else. I am simply… feeling a bit tired.”

She slowly turned around, standing at a distance of half a feet from him, shedding the facade of docility she had maintained for so long. She gazed at him with cold detachment.

“Throughout this past year, does Your Majesty know what others have been saying about me?”

Li Jing Ye paused, his face revealing a flicker of guilt and embarrassment.

Although he couldn’t be fully aware of how others discussed her, he had heard the majority of it. How could he remain ignorant?

Although he couldn’t be fully aware of how others discussed her, he had heard the majority of it. How could he remain ignorant? 

Without waiting for his response, Li Zhi continued, “They all say that I am an absolute calamity, with wicked intentions, resembling a demonic being that disturbs the Emperor’s mind. From the moment I entered the palace and was bestowed the title of Noble Consort, to the marriage between the Princess and my cousin, and later the incident with the Pure Consort’s premature birth after falling into the water—every single event, in the eyes of others, is blamed on me. But what have I done wrong? Your Majesty knows it better than anyone else. Of all these matters, which one was my doing? But all the blame falls squarely on me… Ironically, this time, when I returned to my family’s home, others believed that I had lost favor with Your Majesty and would be treated as a discarded woman. Though they reveled in their malicious joy and harbored ill intentions, in my heart, it felt like a sigh of relief. Sometimes, I wonder if truly losing Your Majesty’s favor might actually be a blessing…”

She glanced at the chamber door not far away and continued, “If Miao Yun is expelled from the palace in such a pitiful state today, I fear that the malicious words from outsiders will ultimately still fall upon me. I can already anticipate it. They will accuse me of being narrow-minded, jealous, and intolerant, claiming that I only know how to captivate the Emperor with my beauty and refuse to give way even to my own sister…”

Li Jing Ye gazed at her intently, his eyes never wavering, filled with a mixture of bewilderment and astonishment. “Li-niang, so it has always been your thoughts? You still concern yourself with the opinions of others. I thought…”

Previously, he had asked her multiple times if she held any resentment towards him, but she never provided a direct answer. He had always carried a sense of guilt, yet he foolishly believed that she would empathize with his predicament.

It turned out that she had meticulously kept track of all these thoughts within her heart.

Li Zhi shook her head gently and spoke in a serene tone, “People are not like plants, able to remain indifferent. How could they not care? It’s just that I know, even if I were to tell Your Majesty, it would be in vain. So I chose to remain silent. Little did I know that even my cousin would become entangled in this affair.”

Li Jing Ye stood rooted in place, his gaze fixed upon her. After a long pause, he summoned the courage to ask the question that had burdened his heart all along, a question he had not even posed when she departed from the palace, “Do you hold resentment towards me because of Sixth Prince?”

All his anxiety and insecurity stemmed from the fact that he had snatched her away from his own younger brother on that day.

When she first entered the palace, he had the courage to ask her directly, but her answers always left him uncertain. As time went on, he found it increasingly challenging to broach the subject, and she no longer offered any explanations.

This thorn had remained lodged in his heart, causing excruciating agony with every slight disturbance.

On the day she emerged from the Xianju Hall, he subtly broached the subject, but her answer left him utterly disappointed. It was an impulsive act that led him to send her back to her family home.

After finally suppressing the doubts that plagued his heart and making an effort to reconcile, he extended an invitation for her to return, praying that her response would not shatter his hopes.

Li Zhi locked eyes with him, her mind racing to decipher his intentions. After a moment, she gently shook her head. “It has no connection to Prince Rui. Before my marriage, I had hardly crossed paths with Prince Rui, and there was no genuine affection between us.”

Li Jing Ye, upon hearing her answer, released a slow exhale, a sigh of relief escaping his lips.

However, before he could ease his mind, she spoke again, “But to me, Your Majesty’s favor feels as heavy as a thousand pounds, making it hard for me to catch my breath. I have become a target of public scrutiny, and I fear I won’t be able to bear any more of Your Majesty’s kindness.”

“No, Li-niang, I will protect you,” he rushed to assure her, longing to bring her comfort and reassurance.

She responded with a gentle smile and a shake of her head. “Have you forgotten, Your Majesty? I am unable to bear children, as I once promised the Empress Dowager. The Pure Consort alone has given birth to your eldest son. If I am unable to provide further heirs, I will be deemed a sinner of Great Wei. The more you protect me, the more I become a target of public scrutiny, and it is a burden I cannot endure.”

“So, my intentions have become such an unbearable burden…” Li Jing Ye’s heart grew cold, and his strength waned. “I have been oblivious all this time.”

He had been engaged in a long-standing struggle with the forces that had restrained and oppressed him for years. He was on the verge of breaking free, but little did he know that when he took the first step, he unknowingly pushed her in the opposite direction.

He was the Emperor, and even he feared the judgment of others, feeling bound and restricted. What about her, then?

Li Zhi dropped to her knees and spoke with a solemn tone. “If Your Majesty possesses even the slightest trace of mercy for me, I beseech you to spare me from further torment.”

His eyes glazed over, and he stumbled backward two steps, his movements weightless. A wan smile played upon his lips before he swiftly concealed his pain. Standing with his hands clasped behind his back, he averted his gaze from her and uttered in a detached tone, “I comprehend. I shall fulfill your request. You may depart…”

Li Zhi took a deep breath, respectfully performed a bow, then lowered her gaze as she rose to her feet, no longer lingering. She walked directly towards Chenghuan Palace.

Li Jing Ye remained rooted in his spot, his eyes fixed upon her receding figure until it vanished completely. Only then did he wearily let his shoulders sag.

“Yuan Shi,” he gestured with a wave of his hand toward He Yuan Shi, “Where is the medicine?”

He Yuan Shi hastily presented the freshly acquired elixir, observing closely as he swiftly picked up one pill and swallowed it before stowing away the porcelain bottle.

Li Jing Ye caressed his chest until a faint warmth began to rise from his abdomen, spreading through his limbs. It dispelled the numbness that had enveloped him moments ago and cast a hazy veil over the pain in his mind. Only then did he turn around and return to the hall.

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