Chapter 9 Flower Wine
<Previous Chapter<Table of Contents>Next Chapter>
For almost two weeks now, Li Zhi had been consuming the medicine regularly.
As the month was coming to an end, she was struck with unbearable pain and her body shivered with cold sweat. After a medical attendant examined her pulse, it was determined that she should cease the consumption of her medicine.
Li Jing Ye seemed to be filled with guilt. For several consecutive days, he had not set foot in the harem, and every evening after finishing state affairs, he would head to the Wangxian Temple.
It seemed he was no longer avoiding discussions with people. More than ten days had passed since he began lodging at the temple.
Due to his presence, Li Zhi had not been able to get close to Pei Ji for a long time. After much anticipation, the Qixi festival had finally arrived.
A more open-minded culture had been adopted in the Great Wei dynasty, leading to fewer limitations for women. Qixi, a festival designated for women, was thus enjoyed by officials and the masses in unison.
Following the usual custom, a grand banquet was prepared in the Linde Hall, with the Emperor being invited by the imperial concubines. The banquet would continue well into the night with an array of music and entertainment.
As for the palace maids who served in the different palaces and Linde Hall, they had the opportunity to earn additional wages by staying on duty. However, if they were not required to serve, a separate feast was organized in the Yeting Palace, allowing them to attend in groups.
A few days had passed, and Li Zhi frequently heard the harmonious melodies of music and dance emanating from the palace theater. She surmised that the palace concubines were beginning to feel restless as the Emperor had not visited them for some time.
Days such as these demanded that Li Jing Ye no longer stay at the Wangxian Temple.
He made a point to visit Li Zhi in the afternoon and have some light refreshments with her. It wasn’t until dusk that he headed towards Linde Hall.
Before leaving, Li Zhi accompanied him to the entrance of the Taoist temple, as she usually did.
He stood by the side of the sedan chair, holding her hand with a gentle expression of pity. “Li-niang, give me two more days, and I’ll release you from this place. By next year’s Qixi Festival, you’ll surely be seated by my side.”
In the twilight, Li Zhi’s bewitching countenance appeared somewhat blurred.
She clasped his hand and stepped back to the roadside, speaking softly with a smile, “I’ll await that day.”
The sedan chair, hoisted by the eunuchs, began to move away along the slope towards the west. On the other side of Daming Palace, a thousand and one lamps had already been lit, and the palace maidens and court performers were all waiting for the Emperor’s arrival.
Li Zhi stood atop the slope, gazing until the Emperor’s sedan chair vanished from her sight, and then she turned around and went back to her quarters.
The courtyard was silent, and the newly appointed palace maidens were all off to revel at the banquet in the Yeting Palace. Only Chun Yue and a few female attendants who kept to themselves in the eastern wing remained.
The room had been thoroughly cleaned, not a trace of Li Jing Ye remained. As Li Zhi sat down, Chun Yue presented the freshly-scented clothes and selected hairpins.
Li Zhi sat before the bronze mirror, swapping her clothes and adorning herself while listening to Chun Yue’s intel.
“Miss, these past few days, I have been to see the guards near the pavilion. They pass by every two to three quarters of an hour, and there are fewer eunuchs passing by. But today is the Qixi Festival, and everyone from the other palaces is either in Linde Hall or the Imperial Garden, so they are unlikely to pass by that area.”
Li Zhi made a sound of acknowledgement and, after finishing her eyebrows in the mirror, she carefully put on her hairpins and asked, “What about the wine? Has it all been sent out?”
Chun Yue nodded, her tiny birthmark flickering as she spoke, “Just as you had commanded, Miss. We adorned the wine with coral peony petals, and sent it out to every destination half an hour ago.”
Li Zhi returned the tweezers to her dresser and dabbed some rouge on her lips, smiling.
The bronze mirror reflected her faultless appearance. Looking more alluring and tantalizing than usual, it made people’s hearts and minds flutter.
It was a quarter past five in the evening when Pei Ji started his routine patrol. He set out from near the Chongming Gate and made his way to various locations.
The Imperial Guards had a rule that required a nobleman or higher rank to be stationed at the gate of the palace every night. Pei Ji was no exception. He stayed on duty three times a month, always on the seventh day.
Today was the Qixi Festival, and it happened to be the seventh day, which meant it was Pei Ji’s turn to stay on duty.
The palace was adorned with colorful lanterns and decorations, and many of the palace people had hidden their wishes in the decorations, hoping that a young, unmarried guard might find and fulfill them.
The guards of the Imperial Guard were mostly young and vigorous, and it was hard not to be tempted by the festive atmosphere. When on duty, they tended to be lax.
Pei Ji was not strict, but he never tolerated negligence. As he patrolled, he had already tidied up several places, and his usually cold and handsome face became even more serious.
He walked until he reached the vicinity of Wangxian Pavilion, his face completely frozen over with a cold glare.
There was no guard station at the foot of the mountain near here, but after Prince Rui secretly entered the pavilion, he took advantage of the sparse population at night by Taiye Pool and established an additional station at the foot of the mountain near Wangxian Pavilion.
The four stationed guards here today, instead of standing upright awaiting his arrival, were seated on stone benches beneath the trees by the roadside, leisurely drinking.
Hands clasped behind his back, he approached them with a stern expression and asked icily, “What’s going on here?”
The guards were facing west while drinking and chatting with their pottery bowls, enjoying the intermittent melody from Linde Hall. They were comfortable until his voice penetrated their consciousness, prompting their relaxed minds to tense up automatically. In unison, they rose from their seats, standing straight and saluting him, “General!”
Fortunately, he hadn’t yet lost his sense of military discipline.
With a cold glance, Pei Ji swept over the four men. “What is the punishment for drinking privately during duty according to military discipline?”
The four men stood rigidly in place, nervous and frightened, and replied, “We should be publicly whipped and demoted, General.”
Pei Ji nodded, his eyes drawn inexplicably to the two barrels of wine on the stone table, where a subtle fragrance of coral peony flowers hung in the air.
He frowned even deeper, his left hand unconsciously rubbing his fingertips against his back, realizing that he was not feeling himself today and that his mind was foggy.
“What is the reason for this behavior today?”
Since he had been appointed as the General, he had strictly enforced military discipline among the Imperial Guards, leaving no room for anyone to flout the rules. He was certain that there must have been some compelling reason for this aberrant behavior.
As he suspected, one of the men spoke up to explain, “General, the wine was a gift from Lady Lian Zhen, who had arranged for the palace attendants and eunuchs to partake in the celebration of the Qixi Festival. She had received the permission of His Majesty to do so.”
It was that calamity again.
A wave of complex emotions washed over Pei Ji’s heart, and he spoke with a stern face, “With His Majesty’s permission, it won’t be considered a violation of military discipline today. But don’t let your guard down too much.”
The four individuals visibly relaxed upon hearing his words and quickly gave their agreement.
One of them lifted a wine jar and handed it over to him, asking in a cautious tone, “General, you’re on duty tonight in the palace. Would you like a drink to refresh yourself?”
As the jar neared him, the fragrance of coral peonies mixed with the scent of wine assaulted his senses, causing him to involuntarily purse his lips.
Another person took a sip of wine and became bolder than usual, laughing, “The lady is considerate of us, who cannot attend the banquet, and sent us this flower wine.”
Pei Ji’s eyebrows furrowed imperceptibly as he looked down at the small jar.
There wasn’t much wine, and the four of them could not become intoxicated from it.
However, with the addition of flower petals, it had become “flower wine.”
The woman was such an attention-seeker.
Other concubines were cautious not to involve the guards in their gift-giving, but not her.
She had to go above and beyond, adding coral peony petals to the already exquisite Dukang wine, giving it an extra color.
He suddenly remembered the scent of her clothes and the strange dream from that night, his throat feeling dry.
He tried his best not to look away, shook his head and said. “Forget it, you can drink it yourselves. I’ll go somewhere else.”
Without waiting for their response, he turned and strode away.
He circled around Wangxian Temple’s mountain slope and reached an open space near the Taiye Pool.
Linde Hall, brightly lit and filled with music, was located on a high ground to the west. Its sounds echoed over to Taiye Pool, making the area appear even more isolated and abandoned.
From the moment he left just now, Pei Ji had been feeling an inexplicable sense of restlessness. He strode forward, brow furrowed, and before he knew it, he had arrived at a familiar pavilion on a shimmering lake. How did he get here again?
Ever since encountering that calamity in the pavilion that day, he went out of his way to avoid it during his patrols, afraid of coming across her again.
Perhaps it was just his own overactive imagination, but since that day, he couldn’t help but glance from afar at the pavilion before passing by, yet he never saw her again.
Today, as he approached it unintentionally, he was inwardly annoyed and about to turn and leave, but his gaze was suddenly drawn to the captivating scene before him.
The pavilion’s gauze curtains were all lowered, gently swaying in the breeze by the water’s edge.
Within the pavilion, the light and candles cast a slender and graceful figure onto the fluttering curtains. She swayed and danced, shrouded in a veil of mystery.
The woman in the pavilion seemed to sense his presence, and turned around. With a flick of her wrist, she lifted one side of the curtain, revealing her form as she stood by the pavilion and looked towards him.
The radiant flicker of candlelight caressed her alluring and enchanting visage – it was none other than the same calamitous woman.
Pei Ji stood still, his fingers furtively clenched by his side.
In his line of sight, the woman’s almond-shaped eyes were filled with affection, and a smile as beautiful as a spring cherry blossom bloomed on her lips like flames.
“Amidst all the feasting and revelry today, only I remain here alone. Would the General like to come and have a drink?”
In the distance, the ethereal melodies of silk and bamboo instruments could be heard, wafting and waning, heightening the captivating aura she exuded.
Pei Ji’s gaze roamed from the woman’s swirling sleeves and skirt, when a sudden waft of her enticing fragrance hit him.
He was tense all over, silent for a moment, then took a step up the stone steps of the pavilion.
<Previous Chapter<Table of Contents>Next Chapter>