At the Noble Consort’s Feet Chapter 85

Chapter 85 Interrogation

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Have a good time together, then part ways amicably?

Pei Ji stared at her, pondering those words deeply. He felt a sudden shift from happiness and excitement to a profound disappointment.

She did feel a fondness for him, a growing affection, but honestly, she hadn’t considered the notion of fully relying on him and sharing her life with him.

The sudden decline in his mood brought about a sense of melancholy.

But as he thought about it more, he couldn’t help blaming himself.

How could he have control over his own life? Even decisions about his marriage were subject to the wishes of his parents, grandmother, and even the Empress Dowager and the Emperor. In matters of great importance to the family and the country, his opinions carried little significance. If he couldn’t even have control over his own destiny, how could he ask her to depend on him wholeheartedly?

Besides, she stood out from the rest in her own unique way.

He dimly remembered the period when he was enthralled by her.

He constantly doubted her intentions for approaching him. If he were to get entangled with her, it would not only strain his relationship with his two cousins but also bind him for the rest of his life. In the end, he couldn’t break free, but it wasn’t because of her.

She simply extended a rope to him, and he willingly bound himself with it. Not only did he tie himself up, but he also wished to bind her as well.

However, she was the one being bound by others.

She possessed such tenderness, such distinctiveness, yet she herself couldn’t attain freedom. However, she was determined to grant him his freedom, unwilling to impede his future.

How could he not feel a pang of sadness?

“Li-niang, I won’t let you go.” He embraced her waist, burying his face in her chest as he spoke in a muffled voice.

Li Zhi caressed his tightly bound black hair, her eyes filled with a hint of pity. “Darling Third, you don’t have to make those promises to me anymore. Life is uncertain, but remember what I told you earlier so that you won’t have regrets later on. It will give me peace of mind. Otherwise, I might regret involving you in this mess.”

Pei Ji embraced her tightly, and after a long moment, he spoke slowly, “I get it.”

He understood her feelings and didn’t want her to be concerned. But whether he would regret it or not, that wasn’t for others to decide. All he knew was that if someday she became free and still wanted to leave him, he wouldn’t try to hold her back, but he would never be the one to initiate the departure.

Li Zhi nodded gently, as if she had let go of a burden.

She took out the hairpin from her hair, letting her long hair fall down. Then, she tried to sit up straight, kneeling on either side of him, and looked down at him with a smile on her face, saying, “Darling Third, I’m still mad, you know.”

Her warm and feverish hand gently brushed his cheeks and neck, wiping away the sorrow and dullness from his eyes.

Inside the Chang’an Hall, the Empress Dowager lay weakly on the bed. Her eyes, though hazy, remained open, and her hand, reaching out for the palace maid to check her pulse, trembled from time to time.

The Grand Princess sat beside her, waiting for the outcome of the pulse examination, and gently comforting the person lying on the bed.

Empress Dowager Du came from a noble family and received great favor from the Late Emperor as soon as she entered the palace. For the first half of her life, everything went remarkably well. But now, in her old age and as the Empress Dowager, a time when she should have been enjoying a comfortable life, she was suddenly struck by numerous hardships. Her children had become distant from each other, and it seemed impossible to mend the rift. As a mother, she felt herself gradually crumbling.

After a while, the palace maid stood up slowly.

The Grand Princess quickly inquired, “How is Her Highness?”

The palace maid’s face became serious, and she pondered for a moment before speaking slowly, “Her Highness’s illness has been going back and forth several times. Each time there’s a little improvement, it quickly takes a turn for the worse. This repeated pattern has caused a great loss of her energy…”

She didn’t have the courage to say it directly, but this time it was worse than before. She had just coughed up blood, which was a clear sign that her condition was deteriorating. Currently, all they could do was use medication to sustain her and see if there were any signs of improvement.

The face of the Grand Princess became serious, and she turned to console the Empress Dowager. But when she looked, she saw that the Empress Dowager was only staring at the ceiling, shaking her head slowly.

“How am I doing? I know it very well. No need to hide it from me. Just prescribe the medicine,” she said, holding her chest and taking two breaths, then asked, “Has Minister Du arrived?”

The Grand Princess let out a gentle sigh and nodded. “We have already asked someone to fetch him. He should come soon. Your Highness, please take a rest for a while.”

The Empress Dowager shook her head. “I have something to talk to my brother about. Since he’s not here, how can I possibly fall asleep?”

The Grand Princess fetched a cushion and, with the assistance of the palace maids, positioned it behind her for support. She then instructed the maids to bring a freshly made nourishing soup and fed it to the Empress Dowager spoonful by spoonful.

“Your Highness, please don’t worry too much. His Majesty, Prince Rui, and Princess Ling Yue are your children, and they are equally dear to you. It wouldn’t be good if favoritism were shown. In the end, they will all be filial to you. Let’s not interfere in their affairs.”

In the past year, she observed the conflicts among the three siblings, even her own son was almost dragged into it. Fortunately, he showed remarkable resilience and didn’t get entangled in the troubles.

The Empress Dowager has always favored the younger children and was strict with the eldest son. Additionally, as he was declared the Crown Prince early on, she had high expectations and demanded perfection from him. She, being their aunt, could discern the varying closeness among the three children. The current situation didn’t come out of nowhere.

After hearing that, the anger in the Empress Dowager’s eyes faded away.

“How can I control them? I just hope that they won’t turn against each other in the future…”

The Emperor’s words from earlier echoed in her ears, leaving her feeling fearful. Conflicts among siblings were normal, but when it came to a power struggle, one had to be careful.

Not long after, a palace maid outside the hall reported, “Your Highness, Ministrr Du has come.”

The Grand Princess felt it was time to go as Du Heng entered the room with a serious and concerned look. When he saw the Empress Dowager sitting on the bed, he finally relaxed and greeted her respectfully.

“That’s enough, no need for formalities among family,” said the Empress Dowager, waving her hand to signal him to sit down. She also asked the attendants to leave.

“On my way here, I heard from the palace attendants that Your Highness had an argument with His Majesty during the banquet, and it made you vomit blood. Is it true?” Du Heng, who was already old, had been greatly affected by the incident where Xu Yong died unexpectedly. He appeared more worn out today, and upon hearing about the Empress Dowager’s condition, he became even more worried. He hurried here, looking somewhat flustered.

“I’m getting old and not as capable. I got angry for a moment, and then I couldn’t breathe properly. It felt stuck in my chest, and that’s when I vomited blood. But I’m feeling better now after drinking hot soup.” After drinking the hot soup, the Empress Dowager’s discomfort eased a bit. She didn’t appear as weak as before. Looking at Du Heng with a serious expression, she continued, “However, I did have a conversation with His Majesty earlier.”

She recalled their conversation outside the Qingsi Hall and began to feel a sense of self-reproach. “It was my impulsive behavior. As soon as that Lady Zhong approached, I spoke without thinking. I just wanted to defend Sixth Son and Ling Yue. That’s what angered His Majesty… This child, although he’s becoming more and more unruly, I owe him in the past… Brother, I have a bad feeling that something will happen in the future. If my prediction comes true, you must stabilize the situation.”

Du Heng also had a serious look on his face, propping up his tired body and bowing respectfully, he said, “I understand. Even if the Empress Dowager didn’t instruct me, I would do the same.”

“I know, you have always been loyal and honest,” the Empress Dowager smiled. “I don’t have many concerns, except for our Du family and those three children. Brother, if something happens, please do your best to protect Ling Yue and Sixth Son. They both have simple minds and are not good at planning and politics. They can easily be swayed by others, and I don’t trust anyone else to take care of them. I can only rely on my brother to have peace of mind.”

This older brother of hers had been taught by her side since the Emperor was still in the Eastern Palace. Naturally, he always thought for the Emperor’s sake and rarely paid attention to those two younger ones.

Du Heng couldn’t help but lean forward from the bed and pat the Empress Dowager’s hand. His usually upright and serious face showed a slight change as he solemnly nodded and said, “Your Highness, don’t worry. They are the Late Emperor and the Empress Dowager’s own flesh and blood. They are also as close to me as my own family. I will do everything I can to protect the Princess and Prince Rui.”

The Empress Dowager finally felt a bit relieved.

Outside the hall, Li Jing Ye held a porcelain bottle, standing quietly under the corridor, his gaze fixed and thoughtful as he looked into the distance, lost in his thoughts.

He Yuan Shi stood behind, his back drenched in cold sweat.

After leaving Dajiao Temple just now, the Emperor went directly to Chang’an Hall.

Despite the constant disputes with the Empress Dowager, they were still family bound by blood. The Emperor was worried, so he personally went to Master Yuan to ask for medicine. But when he arrived, he saw everyone outside the hall keeping their distance. He also heard that Minister Du had come. He told everyone not to make any noise and approached on his own.

He stood beside the Emperor and could hear Minister Du and the Empress Dowager’s conversation clearly. But he didn’t know what the Emperor was thinking.

He definitely wouldn’t be happy.

Li Jing Ye squeezed the porcelain bottle in his hand and opened the door without showing any emotion on his face.

“His Majesty has arrived.” The Empress Dowager was surprised, and there was a hint of guilt in her eyes.

Du Heng quickly stood up and made a respectful bow.

Li Jing Ye sat on a nearby couch, looked at Du Heng, and then at the Empress Dowager. He seemed like he wanted to ask something but ended up saying calmly, “Is Mother feeling better now?”

“I’m feeling better now. It’s not easy for Your Majesty to come here in person.” The Empress Dowager was still upset about what happened earlier, but her anger had mostly subsided. 

“That’s good.” Li Jing Ye nodded and put the porcelain bottle he was holding on the desk. “I was worried about Mother, so I personally went to Dajiao Temple and got a few pills from Master Yuan to give to her.”

“Master Yuan?” Du Heng frowned, looking at the porcelain bottle, and asked without thinking, “Is it the commoner Taoist invited by Your Majesty earlier to pray for the Empress Dowager, the Immortal Ancestor Yuan?”

“Exactly. This person is well-respected among the common people. I had He Yuan Shi personally investigate him, and he indeed has some genuine abilities. Lately, I have also been taking his pills in the palace, and they are really extraordinary.”

“How can Your Majesty take pills from an unclear source?” Du Heng was shocked and instinctively asked with his usual tone of interrogation.

A young ruler who had not yet reached his prime should be full of energy. How could he be dabbling in mysterious arts and alchemy like a middle-aged Emperor?

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