At the Noble Consort’s Feet Chapter 92

Chapter 92 Disappointment

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The next morning, Pei Ji woke up before sunrise, hurriedly got ready, washed his face with cold water, kissed the sleeping Li Zhi, and quietly climbed out of the window to head towards the nearby camp near Jiuxian Gate.

The vicinity of Jiuxian Gate was still quiet. He hurried back to his room, brought water, and tidied himself up carefully. He put on clean official clothes and then rode a horse to quickly reach the army camp stationed outside the city.

The Emperor had stopped attending court recently, so there was no need to go to Yanying Hall for morning court meetings. The officials could handle government affairs directly at the government office. Only the two chief advisors, a few secretaries, assistant ministers, and other officials with important matters to report or discuss would go to Yanying Hall separately.

Pei Ji had already met the Emperor yesterday, so today he could directly deal with the piled-up matters from the past two months.

Fortunately, there were over 20,000 soldiers in the Imperial Guards on both sides. They had become disciplined because of his hard work, so even with the General temporarily gone, they continued their daily training, guard rotations, and fortifications, making the capital and the imperial city inside and outside as safe as a fortress.

He picked two city gates from a few options, carefully examined them while riding a horse, and listened to the newly appointed Deputy General briefly talk about the affairs of the past two months. After making time for an hour, he read through the accumulated documents and then rushed to the Ministry of War.

The Ministry of War was different from the Imperial Guards. It had many people working, from secretaries and assistant ministers to lower-level officials. Even though the secretary had been imprisoned and investigated, the official work could still proceed smoothly without any significant problems. That was why when he came, he first read through the recent official documents and sorted out the progress of various affairs.

However, when he read the military reports from different places, he paid special attention and carefully analyzed the military situation in Lulong, Yiwu, and Hedong. As expected, just as General Zhang had mentioned before, in the past few months, the Turkic raids in the border areas were mainly focused on Youzhou, which was different from their previous scattered attacks.

However, because these recent raids were quick attacks followed by immediate retreats, with no major conflicts except for plundering citizens’ possessions, the reports provided were casually written and quickly brushed aside. It seemed that they hadn’t caught much attention from others.

He thought to himself quietly, having a sense that there must be some connection between these incidents and the recent events in Puzhou. However, he couldn’t fully understand it at the moment, so he decided to remember all the details for now.

In the evening, as the sky turned dark, Pei Ji left the Ministry of War and politely declined a few colleagues’ invitations to join them in Pingkang District for a gathering. He brought his horse and waited outside Danfeng Gate, planning to return home with his father.

The Emperor’s words from yesterday weighed heavily on his mind. He needed to talk to his father about it as soon as possible.

When the central officials were leaving the palace to go home, there were many people moving around. Pei Ji waited for a whole thirty minutes until most officials had already left. Finally, his father arrived on horseback with a serious face. He noticed Pei Ji waiting but didn’t stop, just waved his hand and said, “We’ll talk when we’re back.”

Once they arrived home, both the father and son had unhappy expressions. After greeting Madam Pei and the Grand Princess, they went separately into the study to talk about important matters.

Pei Ji stood beside, bowing to Pei Yan and asking, “What happened in the palace earlier that made father look so upset?”

Pei Yan put his outer robe aside, took a sip of cool tea, and took a deep breath before temporarily suppressing his dissatisfaction. “Today, when discussing the case of Chen Ying Shao and Fan Huai’en with Prime Minister Xiao, I advocated for a thorough investigation. Although the evidence presented so far allows us to conclude that these two individuals colluded in secret, taking advantage of the imperial court’s iron ore mining and forging iron bulls to gain personal profit, there are still some unclear details that need to be verified. However, Prime Minister Xiao insisted on swift resolution without much ado.”

Pei Ji furrowed his brows in response and asked, “Has the person I had sent back, the courtesan named Yun-niang, been questioned?”

Pei Yan rubbed his forehead and nodded. “Yes, she has been questioned. The interrogation started a day or two before you came back, and today we have the results. According to her statement, a stranger bought her and sent her to Puzhou. A painter made a portrait based on her description, and it closely resembles the steward in Fan Huai’en’s mansion.”

Pei Yan took another sip of tea, placed the teacup on the table with force, and said, “The problem is right here. The courtesan implicated Fan Huai’en’s steward, and the steward confessed to it. However, Fan Huai’en denies everything and firmly states that he has no knowledge of it, claiming that he is being falsely accused.”

Pei Ji contemplated for a moment and said, “I also think that this matter is not as simple as a corruption case. Fan Huai’en is the governor of Youzhou and has been stationed there for almost ten years. Chen Ying Shao, on the other hand, has been working in the Ministry of War for many years. These two should have had some connection before, but their records show no shared school or hometown. How could they suddenly collude at this time? If Fan Huai’en doesn’t know Chen Ying Shao well, how can he be so sure that he would be tempted by lust and profit?”

Pei Yan listened and completely agreed, nodding in approval. “Father also thinks the same. But Prime Minister Xiao ignores what others think and wants a quick investigation. Hmph, he acts as if nobody knows his intentions. It’s obvious he wants to use this opportunity while the temporary deputy hasn’t established his authority yet and put his own people in those two positions!”

Xiao Ling Fu has been using his power for many years to promote his own people. Earlier, due to His Majesty’s scolding, he restrained himself. But recently, with Minister Du’s retirement, he started becoming more autocratic. However, in front of His Majesty, he acts very restrained, always respectful and obedient, showing great skill in playing his cards.

Pei Ji said, “Apart from this matter, I have also discovered some other hints recently.”

He then mentioned the affairs of the Turks.

“In the reply I sent to General Zhang, I secretly told him to send some people to secretly investigate all the places where iron is smelted in Youzhou. We mustn’t let anything slip away.”

Pei Yan’s face became more serious, and he asked, “Do you suspect that this matter is connected to Chen Ying Shao’s case?”

Pei Ji nodded.

The two of them remained silent for a moment, and Pei Yan nodded. “You’ve done well. Now that you’ve found this lead, we mustn’t let it go.”

After speaking, he felt a surge of emotions within  “My third son, you have truly grown up. Your attention to detail and assertiveness in your actions surpass even mine, who has been an official for decades.”

Pei Ji, upon hearing his father’s praise, didn’t feel happy. He managed a forced smile and slowly began recounting what happened in the palace yesterday.

He spoke very slowly, almost retelling every little detail from meeting the Empress Dowager to leaving Zichen Hall.

Pei Yan’s previously relaxed face gradually became serious as he listened. Especially towards the end, when he heard the Emperor’s meaningful words, a sense of sadness washed over him.

“His Majesty… really say that?”

In his usually bright and attentive eyes, a hint of disbelief flickered. But as the words were about to leave his mouth, he realized it was unnecessary. “Never mind, I understand.”

Pei Ji knelt on the cushion, head bowed, and spoke softly, “Lately, during court discussions, Father must speak cautiously and avoid any sensitive topics that may displease His Majesty.”

Although his Father knew how to restrain his sharpness, he was not as straightforward as Minister Du. However, being a former military officer, he carried an upright and stubborn demeanor that rivaled Minister Du’s.

“I understand.” Pei Yan couldn’t help but let out a chuckle, mixed with self-mockery or a sigh. Even his usually upright posture slightly slouched. “It was to be expected. His Majesty has long been displeased and dismissed Minister Du. The next target will be me…”

Pei Ji looked at his father’s expression and felt a pang in his heart. His hands, resting on his knees, subtly tightened. Somehow, he asked, “Father, with your unwavering loyalty, but facing such treatment from His Majesty, do you feel any resentment?”

Pei Yan didn’t speak, but his hunched form trembled fiercely.

He came from the Pei family of Hedong, where his great-grandfather was a celebrated hero during the founding of the Wei Dynasty. The noble title had been passed down to him, carrying on the family’s proud legacy. In his younger days, he fought alongside his father in the northern battles, defeating the Tibetans, repelling the Turks, and even clashing with the Uyghurs multiple times. His rise to prominence was earned through years of relentless struggle.

Those years of fighting had left countless scars and enduring ailments on his body, which no amount of medicine could heal.

Nevertheless, he remained resolute, whether facing the Late Emperor or the current one, wholeheartedly loyal to the court.

Even after marrying a princess and having a son, he didn’t dare to pamper the child out of selfishness. Despite knowing his son’s frailty from a young age, he made the tough decision to bring the twelve-year-old boy along to Hedong, enduring hardships and battles together for a full four years.

Children raised in the palace were often physically weak, and just when they were reunited with their parents, they were mercilessly thrown into the army, sharing the same hardships as the soldiers. As a father, he watched with concern and affection, without a trace of regret.

The sons of the Pei family were destined for such a path from the moment they were born.

Throughout all these years, he considered himself honorable and honest, with a clear conscience towards the ruler and the people, as well as his parents and wife.

Yet, in the end, he found himself suspected and disliked?

Even though he had worried about it since last year, he had privately shared his concerns with his third son during their visit to Wenquan Resort. Later, witnessing Du Heng’s expulsion, he couldn’t help but sense his own impending downfall.

Worries were one thing, but experiencing the truth was a different matter.

Witnessing the imminent collapse of the glory he had cherished throughout his life, sadness overwhelmed him.

How could he not feel any resentment? But he couldn’t…

“‘As a loyal servant, there are unavoidable obligations. Sacrificing personal desires for the greater good, who has time to think about seeking pleasure while fearing death?'” His somber eyes gradually regained their brightness. “Third Son, do you still remember this saying?”

Pei Ji’s body froze, slowly lowering his eyes, and nodded. “I remember.”

Those words came from the “Zhuangzi,” which he had heard from his grandfather and father when he was young. It meant that as a servant, one should prioritize the common good over personal desires, accept one’s fate, and not worry about life and death.

His father was reminding him to stay loyal to his duties as a servant.

But what did “accepting one’s fate” mean? Were the ruler’s preferences considered the so-called “fate”?

For the first time, he began to doubt the unwavering belief he had held for many years. What had he been working so diligently for, just like his grandfather and father?

Was it for the people, for the world? Or was it for the family, for the ruler?

Doubts filled his mind, and he instinctively wanted to argue, “But father…”

Before he could finish his sentence, Pei Yan sternly interrupted, “Third Son, say no more!”

The father and son looked at each other, and Pei Ji stopped talking. However, the resistance and doubt in his dark eyes didn’t fade away.

After a long pause, Pei Yan sighed softly, patting his son’s shoulder, and spoke with deep sincerity, “Father has high hopes for you. I hope that in the future, you can take my place and become His Majesty’s trusted aide, creating a story of loyalty between ruler and minister.”

His gaze carried a heavy burden, filled with heartfelt expectations. “Father has said it before, that I entrust you with difficult truths, and you must remain loyal to His Majesty. Don’t disappoint me.”

Pei Ji felt utterly confused and lost inside.

The Emperor wanted him to distance himself from his father, while his father wanted him to stay loyal to the Emperor. Both of them didn’t want to be disappointed. But it was clear that he was feeling disappointed himself.

“Think about your mother, Third Son,” Pei Yan sighed, using the most genuine and heartfelt words.

Pei Ji’s gaze froze, then he lowered his eyes and whispered softly, “This son understands.”

His mother was a princess, having the blood of the Li royal family running through her veins. She shared a deep bond with the Late Emperor as siblings, and she was also closely related to the current Emperor. Naturally, she hoped that he could assist the Emperor and become a wise minister by his side.

“It’s good that you understand. You can go now,” Pei Yan relaxed slowly, his hunched back becoming more noticeable. “Don’t let your mother know about His Majesty’s words. It would only make her sad.”

In truth, it was not really a big deal, he thought. As one grew older, there xame a time for retirement. It was just happening a bit earlier now. The Emperor was kind-hearted. At most, he would treat him like he did with Du Heng, allowing him to return home and focus on rest, no longer dealing with political matters.

It was not a significant issue at all.

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