At the Noble Consort’s Feet Chapter 96

Chapter 96 Jealousy

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The melodious sound of silk and bamboo music coming from Linde Hall could still be heard. The festive atmosphere in the palace had not diminished at all.

Li Jing Ye was stunned and pointed at the servant. “What did you say?”

The servant came running, sweating and out of breath. When he heard the question, he repeated what he said before and added, “General Xiao from the Left Golden Shield Guards discovered it. He’s probably going to see Your Majesty now.”

Li Jing Ye was shocked and his legs gave way, but he managed to hold onto the pavilion’s column.

He felt a heavy weight on his chest that made it hard to breathe. He rubbed his chest with his other hand.

He Yuan Shi and two servants helped Li Jing Ye towards the imperial carriage.

Li Jing Ye took a few steps forward and then remembered something, turning to look at at Li Zhi .

She stood still, looking at him without any emotion on her face.

He was no longer angry after her direct rejection, maybe because he was hit with a bigger shock.

He seemed like he wanted to talk to her but ended up not saying anything, taking a deep breath and gesturing for them to go to the Linde Hall.

The area around the pavilion became empty all of a sudden.

Li Zhi stayed still for a while, feeling the breeze until she was sure they had gone, and finally relaxed.

She stood stiffly and swayed a bit, reaching out to hold the railing beside her and thinking about what had just happened.

She was used to being away from him, but being close to him reminded her of when she first entered the palace and wanted to run away every day.

She acted impulsively and pushed him away with a quick glance at the Golden Shield Guards approaching in the distance. If those people weren’t coming for Li Jing Ye, she might be in trouble tonight.

Fortunately, she won the bet.

The eunuch spoke of “General Xiao”, referring to Xiao Chong, the son of Xiao Ling Fu. He had been the General of the Left Golden Shield Guards since returning from Tibet last year.

Today is the Qianqiu Festival, but Xiao Chong did not attend the palace banquet. Instead, he personally led a patrol outside the palace and discovered Li Ling Yue’s secret gathering, attempting to support Prince Rui. This made her suspect that he had ulterior motives.

After all, Xiao Ling Fu had been in court for over twenty years. Even after being demoted, he still gained the favor of Li Jing Ye with his ability to read people’s hearts. This was not easy. Even Du Heng, Pei Yan, and other people who had been taught and served Li Jing Ye since childhood were not as good as him.

Alternatively, Du Heng and others were proud of their noble birth and had their own sense of pride. They did not want to flatter the monarch as Xiao Ling Fu did.

No one understood better than Xiao Ling Fu how to make this young Emperor angry.

What did he want?

Li Zhi frowned and thought for a moment before understanding that he was the Pure Consort’s father and also the maternal grandfather of the Eldest Prince. He wanted the position of the Crown Prince.

Although Li Zhi didn’t know much about the court’s affairs, many of the imperial concubines came from prominent families and were well-informed. Recently, Chun Yue and Qing Zi had been asking around about certain things while walking around the Chenghuan Palace.

The matter of discussing the heir to the throne was coming up soon, but Xiao Ling Fu didn’t mention the Eldest Prince. Instead, other people brought up Prince Rui.

Xiao Ling Fu needed to make sure everyone gave up the idea of supporting Prince Rui. Li Jing Ye would be absolutely furious if he heard that his younger sister was secretly contacting official to support his younger brother in front of everyone on his birthday.

Li Zhi rubbed her forehead, took a deep breath, and waved her hand to the nervous Chun Yue beside her, indicating that everything was fine. “With such a big event happening, the Linde Hall is probably in chaos. Let’s go back quickly. It will get crowded later.”

The two walked back along the brightly lit palace path by the pool in silence, unconsciously picking up their pace.

However, when they passed a dense area of lush trees near Qinghui Pavilion, someone suddenly grabbed Li Zhi’s wrist and pulled her into the shadows behind the lamps, hidden by the tree’s dark silhouettes.

Chun Yue was frightened and let out a short cry, but quickly covered her mouth.

She couldn’t see clearly, but she had a feeling that the tall, broad figure hiding among the bushes was Young General Pei!

“Miss,” she looked around, then whispered as she stepped closer.

There was a rustling sound from the bushes, followed by Li Zhi’s trembling voice, “You go ahead, watch out up ahead, be careful.”

Chun Yue now knew that the person was General Pei. She took two steps back and hid, keeping watchful in all directions.

Inside the Linde Hall, Xiao Chong arrived just in time.

Li Jing Ye descended from his carriage and prepared to interrogate Xiao Chong and several Golden Shield Guards in a side hall. But as he did so, Xiao Ling Fu stepped down from his seat and approached Xiao Chong with a frown. “Why have you come now?” he scolded. “And why have you brought these people here? It’s His Majesty’s birthday today, he is celebrating with the people. Why aren’t you guarding outside the palace?”

Under his father’s stern gaze, Xiao Chong quickly pleaded his case, bowing repeatedly. “Please forgive my recklessness, Prime Minister. But something serious has happened, involving the Princess of Wuyang. It must be decided by His Majesty himself immediately.”

The conversation between father and son had caught the attention of the people in the hall, who had been drinking and chatting. They began to gossip and speculate about what could have happened.

Pei Yan, who sat next to Xiao Ling Fu, felt uneasy and got up to take Xiao Chong to a side hall to wait for His Majesty’s return.

However, the palace attendants had already passed on the news to the Empress Dowager.

The Empress Dowager was tired and about to leave the banquet hall when she stopped and pointed to Xiao Chong. “What happened to my child, Ling Yue?”

Xiao Chong and his father knelt in front of the Empress Dowager. “Today is the Qianqiu Festival, a celebration for the country. I led the Golden Shield Guards to patrol the outskirts of the city, and we found over ten officials and the Princess secretly plotting to support Prince Rui,” Xiao Chong reported.

The news caused an uproar in the hall.

Officials whispered to each other in shock, while foreign envoys looked at each other, unsure of what to do.

Xiao Chong and his father remained silent, while Pei Yan yelled at Xiao Chong, “Why did you reveal such a major matter in front of so many people?”

Xiao Chong quickly apologized to Pei Yan, “I am sorry, Deputy Minister Pei. The Empress Dowager asked, and I could not remain silent.”

After hearing what he said, the Empress Dowager was so shocked that she couldn’t stand and fell back onto the couch. She didn’t care about the pain and asked with trembling hands, “Do you have any proof? My daughter is only sixteen years old. She has never been involved in politics before. How could she possibly have such ideas?”

Xiao Chong was in a dilemma and said, “I dare not accuse the Princess. There are people and evidence. Before entering the palace, two people who went to meet her have already confessed…”

As soon as he finished speaking, the hall erupted like a pot being blown open.

The Empress Dowager felt cold all over and her cloudy eyes were blank for a moment before she started moving again. She happened to see Li Jing Ye coming in from outside.

The mother and son looked at each other, one had returned to his senses from shock and anger and become cold and sarcastic, while the other was old and weak, full of heartache and prayers.

“Eldest Son…”

The Empress Dowager reached out her trembling hand to her son, not knowing whether she wanted to plead for her daughter or say something else.

Li Jing Ye looked at her briefly and then turned away, asking Xiao Chong with a straight face, “Where are the people? Are they all detained?”

Xiao Chong bowed and said, “Yes, I didn’t dare act without permission. I have temporarily detained them all at the Golden Shield Guards’ quarters, and as for the Princess… she’s still at the mansion by Qujiang River, and will be watched by the Golden Shield Guards separately.”

Li Jing Ye sneered, “No need to watch her separately. According to the law, detain her as well. She dared to be so audacious and attempt to rebel under my nose. She shouldn’t be afraid of my punishment!”

Since the matter had already been heard by everyone, even the foreign envoys knew about it, he no longer tried to hide it.

“Interrogate them overnight, one by one. I want to know who else is involved behind them. I want to find them out one by one!”

In the darkness, Li Zhi was forcefully pinned against the wall, her heart pounding and gasping for air.

She was startled when she was suddenly dragged in, almost crying out in fear, but luckily recognized Pei Ji right away, so she swallowed the cry that was already at her lips.

“Darling Third, what brings you to this place?” she asked, looking at the young man in front of her, one hand on her chest.

The shadows of the trees fell perfectly on Pei Ji, masking most of his expression, leaving only a vague outline of his figure and facial features.

He remained silent, yet for some unknown reason, Li Zhi sensed that he was simmering with dissatisfaction.

Her heart twisted in knots, inexplicably suspecting that he had been lurking here for a while, observing everything that happened between her and Li Jing Ye.

“How long have you been here?” She furrowed her brows, unable to put her feelings into words, feeling increasingly agitated.

Pei Ji still didn’t say a word, but instead held her firmly against the wall, cupping her face with one hand and studying her closely.

As their eyes met, Li Zhi finally saw that his dark, enigmatic gaze was filled with an overwhelming sense of jealousy and pain, as though a single touch could shatter him.

He was different from his usual restrained and calm self. He exuded a feeling of oppression that made her want to turn her head away.

However, he didn’t let her escape. He caught up with her and rubbed his nose against hers before suddenly taking her lips. 

“Darling Third…” Li Zhi’s eyes became moist and her breathing became labored due to his sudden kiss. She tried to make him relax a bit.

However, he was unyielding like the wall behind her.

His body heat spread through the layers of clothing, warming her skin. The faint scent of alcohol in his breath made her feel dizzy.

She stopped struggling and placed her hands on his broad shoulders, sticking tightly to him.

A small sting spread from her collarbone and Li Zhi bit her lip. “It hurts a bit…”    

“Li-niang,” he whispered, his voice full of pain and jealousy, “I might not be able to hold back anymore.”

With just those words, Li Zhi knew what he meant.

If someone as strong as him could barely control himself, how could she?

She didn’t want to stay there even for a moment.

But the time was not right yet, and the fire had already started. She couldn’t let her guard down now as it could ruin all her efforts.

She tried to calm him down by gently caressing his back and head.

“Darling Third, do you know why the Golden Shield Guards came into the palace at this time?” She whispered softly. 

Pei Ji concentrated and replayed the recent events in his mind before he regained his composure.

It was the Emperor’s birthday today, and the Golden Shield Guards’ intrusion at this moment must be because of something important.

He held onto her and asked, “Why?”

Li Zhi breathed a sigh of relief as she heard him regain most of his composure, and answered, “The Princess of Wuyang is in trouble. Xiao Chong found out that she secretly gathered several courtiers tonight to conspire to support Prince Rui.”

Pei Ji was shocked at the news and released her with disbelief, “Is this true? The Princess… has rebellious intentions?”

Li Zhi nodded with a solemn face, “I heard it myself from the eunuch who delivered the message. It’s absolutely true, and Linde Hall is probably already in chaos.”

With the father and son of the Xiao family present, they probably hope to make this matter known to all. However, they probably did not expect that Li Jing Hui, who was on the remote border, really had some plot. Whether it was related to Li Ling Yue was unknown.

How would Li Jing Ye handle this once he learned about it? He would definitely investigate it thoroughly.

No Emperor could tolerate someone coveting the throne, not even his own sister. This time, even the Empress Dowager may not be able to save Li Ling Yue.

Besides Li Ling Yue, the person he was most worried about was probably Prince Rui, Li Jinghui.

“Darling Third, you need to leave now. He might come looking for you.”

Li Zhi looked at him with a serious expression, and spoke calmly.

Pei Ji’s face also became serious.

He already suspected that some of the recent actions of the Xiao father and son, might have been suspicious. He thought that tonight’s incident might have been caused by this father and son.

As for the Emperor—

He remembered the scene he had just seen by the pavilion, and felt a sudden pang of jealousy and pain.

Regardless of how his father behaved, the Emperor still trusted him, his cousin. He would probably come looking for him soon, and he couldn’t stay here any longer.

After a moment of silence, he straightened her clothes and said in a deep voice, “You go first.”

Li Zhi turned away, but he quickly pulled her back into his embrace before she could leave the darkness. He held her close and whispered, “Li-niang, I will take you away.”

“Yes, I understand,” she replied calmly, looking into his eyes.

His expression grew serious. “Be patient. Don’t anger him like before, or it will be even harder for you.”

Li Zhi gazed at the moon shining in the night sky through the tree branches. The full moon looked like a silver plate, causing her eyes to ache.

“I know. I must go now,” she said as she tried to pull away from him.

Pei Ji didn’t speak but placed a soft kiss on her neck before letting her go. He watched as she and her servant quickly walked away along the wide palace path by the pond and disappeared from sight.

Only after Li Zhi was out of sight did Pei Ji emerge from the shadows and quickly disappear in another direction.

After the big event, the banquet in the Linde Hall couldn’t continue.

The Empress Dowager was taken back to Chang’an Hall, and the Emperor left. Guests went towards the palace gate, and concubines returned to their residences listlessly.

Li Zhi didn’t want to see anyone and hurriedly walked with Chun Yue to avoid meeting people. They went through the Left Treasury and entered the palace gate.

In Chenghuan Palace, she forced a smile and greeted several palace maids before sending them away. She closed the door to her bedroom.

Chun Yue boiled hot water and dissolved the pill for her. The medicine smelled bitter.

Li Zhi took the medicine without feeling disgusted and only realized the bitter taste when Chun Yue gave her a sweetmeat.

“What’s wrong, Miss?” Chun Yue asked, worried that Li Zhi was upset because of Li Jing Ye’s sudden intimacy.

Li Zhi shook her head and reassured Chun Yue that they would leave soon.

Chun Yue widened her eyes in surprise, with an expression of doubt.

She naturally believed her young mistress, but in the current situation, she couldn’t see anything.

Li Zhi smiled at her and said, “Keep your thoughts to yourself, don’t let anyone find out. In the next two days, let’s take a look at the exquisite and valuable things around us, pick some suitable ones, and I will have someone send them to my eldest sister’s place.”

Saying that, she stood up and walked to the table, took pen, ink, paper, and inkstone, and started writing a letter.

She had to write a letter to Lan Ying first, briefly explaining the situation, and let Lan Ying send the people who had been brought out of Chang’an when she got married to wait for her outside the city, ready to take her away.

She didn’t know how far away the final moment was, but one thing she could be sure of was that if Li Jing Ye really suspected Prince Rui and sent someone to investigate in Youzhou, or even directly ordered him back to Chang’an, then even if he wasn’t fully prepared, he would have to start a rebellion.

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