At the Noble Consort’s Feet Chapter 86

Chapter 86 Sin

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Li Jing Ye disregarded his questioning and instead looked at the Empress Dowager, who sat weakly by the bedside. With a gentle smile, he spoke, “Mother, this is my filial piety.”

His voice sounded soft and tranquil, revealing a subtle expectation. It was as if he silently urged the Empress Dowager to embrace his display of filial devotion. Without delay, he ingested the pill.

However, the Empress Dowager glanced at the small porcelain bottle, her complexion turning pale. With a hesitant gaze fixed upon him, suppressing her astonishment and unease, she mustered a brief smile and said, “Your Majesty is considerate. I understand. I shall take it tonight.”

Li Jing Ye silently watched her, the smile on his face gradually diminishing, as his once gentle face turned cold.

Du Heng propped himself up from the bed and strode forward, kneeling before him. He solemnly pled, “Your Majesty, in your prime, should not succumb to this path, let alone offer it to the Empress Dowager. I implore Your Majesty to reconsider.”

“This is my filial piety.” Li Jing Ye shifted his gaze towards Du Heng, who knelt before him, and calmly reiterated his previous words.

The Empress Dowager had already sensed the change in his mood. After a moment’s hesitation, she slowly reached out and grasped the porcelain bottle, gasping for breath. She said, “Mother understands. It’s a kind gesture from Eldest Son. I will take it.”

The words “Mother” and “Eldest Son” caused a slight flicker in Li Jing Ye’s gaze, and there was a momentary softness in his expression.

However, Du Heng refused to back down and remained kneeling upright on the ground. He spoke with a deep voice, “Your Majesty, your filial piety is evident and renowned, but indulging in alchemy and esoteric arts is still inappropriate. I implore Your Majesty to reconsider. If you wish to show filial piety to the Empress Dowager, there are other ways.”

Li Jing Ye gradually shut his eyes, inhaling deeply as a hint of unnatural blush tinted his pallid cheeks. He murmured, “Does my benevolence hold no value?”

“Your Majesty, I bear no ill will!” Du Heng prostrated himself firmly, yet his resolve remained steadfast. He stated, “I merely hope that Your Majesty avoids the wrong path.”

He had always been known for his unwavering integrity, never shying away from addressing even the slightest misstep, let alone today when he unexpectedly discovered that the young Emperor, at such a tender age, had begun inviting a commoner Taoist practitioner to the palace for alchemical pursuits.

“Enough.” Li Jing Ye furrowed his brows tightly, his right hand clenched into a fist and struck the table. He said, “Vice Prime Minister Du suggests that I have gone astray and should find other ways to show filial piety. Should I personally visit the imperial mausoleum and Youzhou to bring back Ling Yue and the Sixth Prince?”

“Eldest Son, your uncle didn’t have any other intentions.” The Empress Dowager was well aware that he must have overheard their previous discussion. She was filled with great concern and struggled to catch her breath as she attempted to offer counsel, only to be immediately cut off.

Li Jing Ye suddenly stood up, towering above Du Heng. He said, “As the Son of Heaven, I must defer to Vice Prime Minister Du at every turn. If Vice Prime Minister Du tells me to change, then I must change. Will there come a day when Minister Du, thinking that I, as the Emperor, am not performing well, will use his status as an esteemed veteran minister and chief advisor to depose me?”

“Your Majesty! Vice Prime Minister Du’s loyalty to the court is unquestionable!” The Empress Dowager, filled with shock, disregarded her weakened state and struggled to rise, defending her brother.

“Yes, Vice Prime Minister Du may be loyal to the court, but he is not loyal to me!” Li Jing Ye coldly laughed, his usually gentle countenance displaying a hint of ferocity and distortion. The deep-seated hatred and dissatisfaction hidden in his eyes for many years became unmistakably evident. “If it weren’t for me, would you still have the Sixth Prince? Would it be more to your liking if the Sixth Prince were to take this throne instead?!”

He didn’t know what brought it to mind, but his eyes began to slightly redden.

Du Heng was shocked by his words, nearly forgetting proper etiquette as he remained kneeling on the ground. He lifted his head and stared blankly at him, seemingly discovering for the first time the deep resentment his nephew harbored towards him. A sense of disappointment and resignation gradually emerged in his aged eyes.

After many years of hopeful anticipation and tireless dedication, all that remained was a heart filled with bitterness and grievances.

He quietly bowed his head, resting his hands in front of him. His heart was overflowing with words, but they felt trapped, unable to escape his lips. Eventually, in a solemn tone, he uttered, “If Your Majesty holds such a misconception, I have no further words.”

Li Jing Ye grasped the bedpost to steady himself, pausing for a moment to calm his emotions. As he turned and began to walk away, he instructed those by his side, “Vice Prime Minister Du has toiled and devoted himself to the affairs of Great Wei for many years, exerting immense effort and wisdom. Now that he has reached an advanced age and is currently unwell, permit him to remain at his residence for peaceful rest. Starting tomorrow, there is no need for him to attend the court.”

While his official position remained intact, it was evident that his power and influence were being diminished. From now on, he would be excluded from participating in state affairs.

Du Heng shut his eyes, his brows knitted together as he bowed his head repeatedly. “This minister obediently accepts Your Majesty’s judgment and will not hold any grudges. Nevertheless, I cannot take back my previous words. I humbly implore Your Majesty to distance yourself from unscrupulous individuals, refrain from heeding malicious rumors, and find your way back to the right path.”

Li Jing Ye carried on with his confident strides, as if not hearing anything, making his way towards the exit.

“Eldest Son! He is your own uncle, your devoted uncle who has supported you since you were young!” The Empress Dowager’s face was filled with tears as she pleaded, trying to rise from the bed but abruptly losing her strength and falling to the ground.

Li Jing Ye’s steps hesitated for a moment as he turned his head, locking eyes with his mother, whose face was marked with tears. His usually composed lips twitched slightly.

Abruptly shifting his gaze away, he gestured to the palace attendants guarding the entrance, signaling for them to enter and tend to the Empress Dowager. With no further delay, he strode out without hesitation.

Inside the Chenghuan Palace, Li Zhi frolicked with Pei Ji for a while before feeling fatigued. She had no choice but to release his bound hands, allowing him to take the initiative and switch positions, engaging in playful antics.

However, it was still daytime, and with many people around, they did not dare to be as bold as they were during the night. After entwining for a good half-hour, they gradually ceased their fervor.

Pei Ji, not yet satisfied, held her in his arms and couldn’t help but feel a lingering desire. It took considerable effort to resist the urge to continue.

After getting dressed, Li Zhi pressed her face against his left shoulder, embracing his waist with her arms. Gently, she asked with a soft voice, “Darling Third, will you come visit me in the coming days?”

Having started the conversation, she now fearlessly shared her innermost thoughts with him.

Pei Ji sensed the longing in her words, and his heart warmed. His gaze grew dim, and he embraced her, initiating a passionate kiss.

“I’ll come tonight. I already mentioned in Qingsi Hall that you should stay in the palace today, waiting for me.”

Li Zhi nodded, smiling as she gazed at him. Her gentle almond-shaped eyes sparkled with a captivating brightness, emanating a unique charm.

Pei Ji planted a kiss on her eyes and lightly caressed his thumb beneath her full lips before stepping away from the window.

After climbing over the short wall behind Chenghuan Palace, he reached the vicinity of Mingyi Hall. Shi Quan had been waiting in the darkness for a while. When he saw him, he hurriedly approached, his face filled with seriousness. He said, “General, there was trouble in Qingsi Hall just now. The Grand Princess had just left Chang’an Hall and searched for you for a long time. Unable to find you, she went back to the residence first. She asked me to tell you not to get involved in the issues between His Majesty and the Empress Dowager.”

Pei Ji’s eyes focused as he listened. He walked towards the Left Treasury while Shi Quan whispered about the incident that took place in Qingsi Hall after Pei Ji’s departure.

The argument started because of Zhong Miao Yun.

His heart skipped a beat as he instinctively thought of Li Zhi, but he immediately redirected his thoughts.

The conflicts between His Majesty and the Empress Dowager were considered private family matters. Despite his royal status, he seldom involved himself in royal family affairs, let alone the Emperor’s affairs. Besides, he was no longer the person he used to be, who had nothing to hide and was completely transparent. He now had secrets he couldn’t share with others and someone to protect discreetly. He wouldn’t easily get caught up in such matters. His mother’s advice was mainly to prevent him from being unaware and accidentally committing forbidden acts.

The two of them walked quickly towards the direction of Jiuxian Gate. However, as they passed near the Jinluan Hall, they unexpectedly encountered several palace eunuchs walking towards them with their heads lowered. Each of them had a tense expression, and they were murmuring and discussing something incoherently. Occasionally, fragments of their conversation drifted over, causing alarm.

“…I’m not sure how it began…they started quarreling…”

“…They must have made up their mind…send the person back directly…”

“…Not feeling well, not participate in government affairs…”

“…Two veteran officials from different eras…”

Pei Ji suddenly halted and called out to the group, asking them a series of questions.

The group exchanged uncertain glances, stuttering and hesitating for a moment before gradually sharing the details of what they had overheard.

The Emperor and Minister Du, who entered the palace to visit the Empress Dowager, had a heated argument and refused to yield to each other. Eventually, the Emperor issued an order, citing Minister Du’s years of hard work, advanced age, and physical weakness, to have him stay in his mansion for recovery and no longer be involved in political matters.

As those individuals spoke, Pei Ji’s face became increasingly grave. In the end, it was as icy as winter. “Do you know why the dispute arose?”

One of the elder palace eunuchs responded, “This old servant dares not pry into His Majesty’s matters, so I am unaware of the reason. However, there were faint rumors that His Majesty made a special trip to Dajiao Temple to acquire elixirs from Master Yuan for the Empress Dowager, which seemed to have provoked Minister Du…”

Pei Ji’s heart skipped a beat, and he could almost grasp a few clues. Elixirs brought from the commoners and presented by the Emperor to the Empress Dowager… considering Minister Du’s character, he would certainly voice his objections…

Pei Ji refrained from further words and simply inquired whether the Emperor had returned to Zichen Hall. After receiving a confirming answer, he turned on his heels and made his way towards Zichen Hall.

“General!” Shi Quan hurriedly caught up and whispered, “The Grand Princess has given instructions not to entangle in this matter!”

Pei Ji shook his head, his expression serious. “What my mother said concerns the Empress Dowager, but Minister Du is an exception.”

Minister Du was the Emperor’s senior and the foremost elder statesman in the court. For years, he had prioritized state affairs with unwavering dedication. Apart from the Emperor, half of the court officials considered his words as authoritative.

As long as Minister Du remained in his position, the court’s situation would remain stable. But if Minister Du were to lose power, people’s hearts would disperse.

The Emperor’s relationship with these senior officials had been deteriorating for a while. The previous incident involving Xu Yong had deeply saddened many. It was only after the dust settled and Worthy Consort Xu received posthumous recognition that people’s worries were temporarily pacified. However, if Minister Du were to face another problem, all remaining stability would crumble.

The Emperor would not heed the words of others, but maybe he would be willing to give it a try.

Observing his resolute attitude and aware of his usual tact, Shi Quan refrained from speaking further and merely followed him with brisk strides.

Inside the Zichen Hall, Li Jing Ye stared blankly at the opened memorial on the desk. His eyes seemed distant, as if lost in contemplation. It was only upon Pei Ji’s arrival that he mustered a faint smile.

“Zi Hui, why have you come at this time?”

Pei Ji also remained silent. He bowed and respectfully inclined his body, speaking in a serious tone, “I heard that Your Majesty had a disagreement with Minister Du just now. Out of anger, you commanded him to withdraw from government affairs. I feel guilty for not easing Your Majesty’s concerns earlier, so I hurried here to ask.”

The forced smile disappeared from Li Jing Ye’s rigid face. He questioned, “Are you here to plead for him?”

Pei Ji paused, considering his words carefully, and said, “Your Majesty, Minister Du has always been straightforward and honest. His words may sometimes be blunt and provoke irritation, but his genuine and upright character is well-known. I don’t dare to plead for mercy, but I hope Your Majesty will think it over and avoid future regrets caused by hasty actions.”

“I have thought it over thoroughly. It wasn’t a rash decision, and I won’t have regrets later.”

“Your Majesty—”

“That’s enough.”

He was about to speak further but was abruptly interrupted by Li Jing Ye’s icy tone.

“Zi Hui, enough. I haven’t removed him from his post or revoked his title. Allowing Minister Du to recover in his residence is already a respectable arrangement. If it were anyone else today, I wouldn’t even bother listening.”

Pei Ji lowered his gaze, stayed silent, his expression growing chilly, yet a strong feeling of anger and rebellion burned within him.

In the past, he would have followed the Emperor’s desires, willingly conceding and avoiding further discussion of the matter. But today was not the same.

That was Minister Du, someone with significant connections to his father. The Emperor has taken action against Minister Du, so who will be the next target?

“Zi Hui, I always believed you were unlike them,” Li Jing Ye noticed his resistance and warned in a gentle voice, “Don’t let me down.”

Although the words were spoken softly, the underlying warning held great significance.

Pei Ji unconsciously lifted his head, meeting the Emperor’s gaze that had lost its previous warmth. A shiver ran down his spine.

This was the first time in so many years that he genuinely experienced the overwhelming dominance of the imperial authority bearing down on his shoulders.

Since he was young, he understood the difference between respect and inferiority. In front of his cousin, he always observed the proper decorum between ruler and subject, never overstepping his boundaries. He thought that as long as he spoke cautiously and knew when to yield, the Emperor would remember their family ties and long-standing bond, showing generosity and compassion.

But today’s events made him feel that reality might not be as he had believed.

Loyalty could also be a kind of sin.

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