Chapter 77 King Xiang
Inside the chamber, a couple of eunuchs stood between Miao Yun and Li Ling Yue, ensuring they would not engage in another confrontation.
Miao Yun remained consistently uneasy and maintained a state of constant vigilance.
Alongside her brother’s wedding on the second day, she had endured the princess’s slap twice, each time more humiliating than the last. However, given her lower status compared to Third Sister, she had no choice but to be cautious and yield submissively.
On the other hand, Li Ling Yue, after venting her frustrations, seemed somewhat composed. Now, she refused to spare a glance towards Miao Yun. Instead, she tidied her attire, took a seat by the couch, and indulged in a few sips of steaming tea.
The hurried entry into the palace left her with little time for basic necessities, not even a moment for proper refreshment. It was only during this brief respite that she realized her throat had become parched.
Despite the lingering scent of the sleep-inducing incense from the previous night, she felt no signs of fatigue. Instead, she was filled with excitement.
Xuan Guang had already passed away.
The image of the blood-drenched head she had witnessed in the early morning was imprinted clearly in her mind. Even in the moment of decapitation, he exuded an aura of benevolence similar to that of a serene Buddha, devoid of fear.
However, she knew that he still harbored unfulfilled ambitions.
He yearned to immerse himself in the translation of Buddhist scriptures, to traverse the vast expanse of the Central Plains, and embrace the diverse splendors that Great Wei had to offer. Someday in the future, he aspired to return to his beloved homeland of Fusang, rescuing the struggling people still entangled in the clutches of hardship.
His demise should not have been in vain.
Li Ling Yue held the cup firmly in her hand, her gaze fixed upon the color of the tea, gradually dimming with a tinge of melancholy.
She was a princess, elevated to lofty heights. In the past, she had indulged in wilfulness, unrestricted and carefree. Yet, her very essence bore the indomitable and obstinate blood of the Li imperial lineage.
Today’s events would inevitably exact a toll from the instigators who had set them in motion.
Li Jing Ye entered the hall with an impassive expression, taking his seat once again.
Miao Yun shivered, stealing cautious glimpses of him, hoping to decipher something from his face.
However, Li Ling Yue didn’t hesitate. She rose from her place and knelt in the hall, her back held straight. “I do not seek Your Majesty’s understanding. I willingly request permission to enter the outer imperial mausoleum and guard the spirit of the Late Emperor.”
As she spoke, her face remained composed, displaying an air of dignity as she respectfully bowed before him.
Li Jing Ye observed her intently, his hand resting on the armrest involuntarily tightening. After a prolonged moment, he spoke in a subdued tone, “Very well, the imperial mausoleum offers tranquility. Take this time for introspection and return when the moment is right.”
A fleeting glint of derision flashed in Li Ling Yue’s eyes, nearly escaping her restraint to utter words of defiance. However, she managed to hold back, her voice chillingly calm as she said, “I don’t hold any hope of returning. There is only one request, I implore Your Majesty to consider it out of familial bonds, granting my plea.”
Her gaze gradually turned towards Miao Yun, casting a dense malevolence that sent a shiver down Miao Yun’s spine.
“As a Royal Princess of Great Wei, I naturally upholds the honor of the imperial family. Even if I have committed a grave offense, I still remain Your Majesty’s own younger sister. The marriage into the Zhong family was an unavoidable circumstance. While the husband is both a spouse and a subject, there is a clear distinction between a sovereign and a subject. Your Majesty, if the husband mingles with courtesans and songstresses, it not only brings disgrace upon me but also tarnishes Your Majesty’s reputation. Now, hearing that the Duchess of Qinguo intends to take the husband as a concubine and bear his child before me, it truly borders on overstepping boundaries and disrespecting authority. I beseech Your Majesty to mediate on my behalf. Let the husband remain solely devoted to Li Ling Yue as husband and wife, without seeking additional concubines.”
Since Fourth Miss Zhong claimed to have brought Xuan Guang’s matter before His Majesty in order to alleviate her mother’s and elder brother’s concerns, Li Ling Yue would not allow her wishes to be fulfilled.
Although there has never been an explicit prohibition against husbands taking concubines, throughout history, many husbands indeed had concubines and offspring. However, Zhong Hao was unlike them.
She was the Emperor’s sole beloved sister, her status noble and esteemed, while Zhong Hao was merely a privileged son. As long as the Emperor gave his consent, his aspirations would remain unfulfilled.
“Your Majesty!” Miao Yun finally detected a profound malevolence in the princess’s words and fell to her knees with a thud. “My elder brother is also a cousin of the Noble Consort!”
Li Jing Ye silently observed his sister, with Li Zhi’s words still reverberating in his ears.
She had no need for his benevolence towards her.
His gaze subtly flickered, and he nodded slowly, whispering, “I grant it.”
Li Ling Yue remained upright in her kneeling posture, releasing a sigh of relief upon hearing his response. With a gentle smile, she rose to her feet and turned her head to looked down on Miao Yun. “As I mentioned to you earlier, if one dares to act, they must also bear the brunt of my fury. Will your mother still cherish you in her heart when she realizes that you have severed her son’s path completely?”
With those words spoken, she paid no attention to the now slumped Miao Yun and departed with her head held high.
In the empty hall, only Li Jing Ye and Miao Yun remained. He gazed at her with a distant look in his eyes, his lips sealed in silence.
He Yuan Shi stepped forward and softly inquired, “Your Majesty, regarding Fourth Miss Zhong… shall she be sent away from the palace?”
Upon hearing the words “sent away from the palace”, Miao Yun’s withered spirit was abruptly rekindled. With a burst of strength, she hastily supported herself and moved forward, bowing deeply, “I beg Your Majesty to allow me to stay!”
Li Jing Ye, lost in his thoughts, maintained a prolonged silence. Suddenly, he let out a soft chuckle, “Is it your desire to remain in the palace?”
Tears welling in her eyes, Miao Yun nodded and responded, “All I yearn for is to be by Your Majesty’s side…”
After such an incident, if she were to be exiled from the palace, she would truly lose all dignity.
“Very well, you may stay.” Li Jing Ye shifted his gaze, peering at an empty courtyard outside the hall, seemingly reminiscing about the person who had stood there moments ago. The haze before his eyes deepened.
Before Miao Yun could relish the joy, he spoke calmly once again, “Let us confer upon you the title of Lady of Yingguo. Your residence shall be the Zilan Hall.”
Miao Yun’s entire body stiffened, her complexion turning deathly pale in an instant.
Even He Yuan Shi and the other eunuchs were taken aback by his words.
The rank of a Lady of a Country was not low, comparable to that of the Four Consorts. However, it was not a title bestowed upon imperial consorts but rather on external noblewomen. Only the wives of dukes and marquises held such a position.
Now, as an unmarried young lady wishing to remain within the palace, she was granted the title of an external noblewoman. How was this any different from being kept as a consort outside the palace by the Emperor?
It was undoubtedly a deliberate act of humiliation!
Miao Yun’s palms pressed against the ground as she trembled slightly. After enduring the bitterness in her heart for a considerable time, she lowered her head and suppressed her emotions, quietly expressing, “I am grateful for Your Majesty’s benevolence.”
Acting on He Yuan Shi’s subtle signal, two eunuchs came forward and guided her out of the Zichen Hall, leading her towards Zilan Hall.
Within the Zichen Hall, Li Jing Ye gradually leaned back, his body slumping with weariness. He gazed upwards, his eyes fixed on the intricate patterns of the carved beams and painted rafters above him, the exhaustion etched on his face.
“Yuan Shi,” after a prolonged silence, he softly uttered, “arrange to send more treasures to Zilan Hall.”
He Yuan Shi nodded respectfully, swiftly turning to oversee the implementation. However, a sense of bewilderment lingered within him.
The Emperor undeniably harbored strong aversion towards Fourth Miss Zhong, but he refrained from expelling her from the palace. Instead, he contrived a plan to humiliate her, keeping her within the palace and conferring upon her the title of an external noblewoman. And now, he intended to bestow additional treasures upon her. The true intentions behind these actions remained elusive.
In the afternoon, after attending to the accumulated state affairs at the Ministry of War, Pei Ji was on his way to Yanying Hall for an audience with the Emperor. It was at this moment that he coincidentally encountered He Yuan Shi, who had just returned from successfully handling the matters concerning the Zilan Hall.
Spotting Pei Ji, He Yuan Shi hurriedly approached him with a relieved smile, as if he had been granted respite. He greeted him, “Young General Pei, you have finally arrived. His Majesty’s spirits have been rather low, but your presence may provide solace.”
Pei Ji had harbored concerns about the events that transpired earlier in the morning. However, once he had escorted Li Zhi to Zhaoqing Gate, he proceeded to the government office. Unaware of subsequent developments, he maintained an outwardly composed demeanor, expressing his genuine and ordinary concern by proactively asking.
He Yuan Shi speculated that Pei Ji had likely remained at the wedding ceremony until curfew, choosing to stay alongside the guests. Being aware of the Princess’s dispatching of someone to create a commotion this morning, he saw no need to conceal the matter. After a moment of contemplation, he proceeded to reveal each undeniable detail.
The more Pei Ji listened, the tighter his brows knitted, unable to restrain himself from speaking, “You mean to say that after the departure of the Noble Consort, His Majesty decided to retain Fourth Miss Zhong within the palace and even bestowed upon her the title of Lady of a Country?”
What kind of reasoning was this? Each time he returned, he found the Emperor’s actions more confounding than before, making it increasingly difficult to fathom his intentions.
He Yuan Shi sighed, nodding repeatedly, “Indeed! We dare not speculate on the thoughts of the wise ruler. We merely carry out His Majesty’s directives. Perhaps the Noble Consort said something to him.”
In a short while, the two of them entered Yanying Hall.
Li Jing Ye sat at the desk, lost in a trance, a faint blush adorning his cheeks. Only upon hearing the sound of footsteps did he realize that Pei Ji had arrived, promptly straightening himself and bowing respectfully.
Li Jing Ye straightened his posture, conjuring a smile and motioning for a couch to be brought in. He gestured for Pei Ji to take a seat, saying, “You were up all night just yesterday, but you arrive early today. Why didn’t you stay at home to rest for an additional day? It would prevent my aunt from worrying unnecessarily.”
Pei Ji suppressed the swirling thoughts in his mind, maintaining his usual composed and cool demeanor. With a respectful bow, he replied, “I dare not delay my duties even for a moment. Moreover, Your Majesty attended the wedding ceremony last night and proceeded with the regular court assembly today. Having missed the court assembly, I cannot afford to slack off any further.”
Li Jing Ye smiled briefly and remained silent.
Following protocol, Pei Ji meticulously reported the matters concerning the dispatch to Puzhou, closely resembling his previous submitted memorials. However, toward the end, he briefly mentioned Chen Ying Shao’s clandestine meeting with an unidentified individual.
“Your Majesty, although this matter may appear insignificant, I believe we must not underestimate its importance. The iron bull casting project is intricately tied to the nation’s iron mines. If someone were to exploit it for personal gain, the resulting losses would be far from trivial.”
Pei Ji presented his case with utmost sincerity and earnestness. However, Li Jing Ye sat in a contemplative daze, leaving uncertainty as to whether he truly absorbed Pei Ji’s words. With a faint nod, he issued his instructions, “I entrust the complete handling of this matter to you. I have always placed the greatest trust in you.”
Li Jing Ye’s demeanor caused a slight furrow to appear on Pei Ji’s brow. Just as he was about to explain further, he witnessed the Emperor casually pushing the stack of memorials on the desk forward and reclining back. Softly, he inquired, “Zi Hui, do you believe that everything I have done before was wrong?”
Seated on the couch, Pei Ji momentarily stiffened his body, promptly raising his head to discreetly assess the Emperor’s face.
Though the specifics were left unspoken, Pei Ji had an instinctual sense that His Majesty was subtly alluding to matters concerning Li Zhi.
Silently clenching his teeth, he lowered his gaze, meticulously selecting his words. He spoke, “I am unaware of the specific matter Your Majesty alludes to. However, since my youth, I have often heard Your Majesty recount the tale of ‘Mending the pen after sheep are lost, it is not too late.’ Should Your Majesty genuinely believe there were missteps, immediate rectification would be of no consequence. Such actions by a ruler would be deemed sagacious, worthy of eternal acclaim.”
This served both as consolation and a veiled implication.
During the Warring States period, King Xiang of Chu fell into debauchery and neglect, leading to the expulsion of Zhuang Xin, a loyal and forthright official who dared to offer admonishments. However, when the mighty State of Qin launched an invasion, swiftly approaching the capital city of Ying, the king deeply regretted his decision and hastily commanded Zhuang Xin’s return to the kingdom.
Zhuang Xin found solace in his heart. To inspire King Xiang, urging him to redouble his efforts and revitalize the kingdom, he spoke, “To fixate on a hare while neglecting a hound is not too late; to reinforce a sheepfold after losing a sheep is not a delayed endeavor.”
Pei Ji was nearly ready to propose that if His Majesty were to have a sudden awakening, it would be preferable to allow the Noble Consort to depart at this moment, even if it meant assigning her to a serene sanctuary outside the palace to seek spiritual purification.
Once the storms of the future had subsided, the possibility of returning her to the common folk was not entirely impossible.
Li Jing Ye also seemed to reminisce about his youth, recalling the time when he shared the anecdotes of “Warring States Strategies” by the Grand Tutor with his six-year-old cousin, who was but a child.
At that time, young Pei, plagued by frailty and frequent ailments, would summon the imperial physician periodically. Clutching a medicine jar in his hands, he earnestly regarded his thirteen-year-old elder cousin, speaking with utmost seriousness, “Father and Mother instilled in Little Third the virtues of loyalty and righteousness. Regardless of the Crown Prince’s future path, Third Brother is willing to be his Zhuang Xin.”
Those words spoken to him in his tender years remained firmly embedded in his memory to this day.
His heart stirred, and a subtle glimmer shone in his eyes, just as it did all those years ago.
But King Xiang of Chu—despite his intentions and the indifferent divine maiden—ultimately failed to reverse the fate of Chu’s downfall.
How could someone like him ever be compared to that?
“Forget it,” he silently closed his eyes, gesturing with a wave of his hand. “Perhaps I am simply weary. It was a passing remark, nothing worth pondering. If there is no urgent matter, you may retire.”
Pei Ji observed his reaction, a fleeting hint of disappointment crossing his eyes.
With a respectful bow and a farewell of “Take care, Your Majesty,” he ceased to linger, stepping out of the hall.
While the daylight lingered, he still had to make his way to the Ministry of Personnel to confer with his father and Minister Du, providing a comprehensive account of the situation in Puzhou. Following that, he must hurry to inspect the defensive measures at various city gates. Before curfew, he must return to the palace.
It was time for him to fulfill his duties within the palace.
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