Chapter 97 Moxibustion
Outside the Zichen Hall, Pei Ji arrived shortly after Li Jing Ye had returned.
He supported his weak body and took the elixir under the service of He Yuan Shi. When he heard that Pei Ji was coming, he motioned to lead him inside.
Pei Ji stood outside the hall with a solemn expression. Hearing the call from the hall, he didn’t take a step immediately. Instead, he lowered his head and took a deep breath, making the hands hanging on both sides of his body lightly tighten into fists, and squeezed the pain in his heart. The stagnation that was difficult to vent was firmly suppressed, and then slowly loosened, and stepped into the hall with steady steps.
“Alright, Zi Hui, you don’t need to salute, just sit down.” Li Jing Ye was sleepy, with an unnatural flush on his pale cheeks, seeing that Pei Ji was still politely saluting as soon as he came in, he was inexplicably impatient. ” I knew you were still in the palace, so I wanted Yuan Shi to call you over, but you just came. Have you heard what happened just now?”
Pei Ji sat upright on the couch that He Yuan Shi had personally moved, nodding at Li Jing Ye’s words. He replied in a deep voice, “I saw the Golden Shield Guards outside Linde Hall from afar, and it seemed that the palace banquet had ended early. I rushed over and don’t know what happened. Please enlighten us, Your Majesty.”
In truth, he had already heard the general details from Li Zhi. On his way here, he first called two guards from Linde Hall to ask about the situation. But now, he had to understand what the Emperor wanted and figure out how to respond.
Li Jing Ye tiredly leaned on the soft cushion, his eyes closed, while a servant massaged his temples. “Xiao Chong brought some people into the palace tonight and caught over ten individuals secretly gathering near the Qujiang River. They were plotting to support Prince Rui.” He mentioned a few names and sneered. “Among them, there were even people from Minister Du’s faction, and surprisingly, Ling Yue was leading them.”
Pei Ji calmly observed him and asked, “How could the young Princess be involved in such matters?”
Li Jing Ye let out a cold laugh, waved his hand to dismiss the servant behind him, and opened his eyes. “Indeed, I never imagined my own sister would be so bold and reckless. Even today, Mother still treats her like an innocent little girl. In my opinion, after spoiling her for more than ten years, there’s nothing she wouldn’t dare to do!”
Considering the conflicts among the three siblings, Pei Ji couldn’t speak casually. “Some colleagues in the court have previously suggested making Prince Rui the Crown Prince. Tonight’s ‘support,’ although a taboo, might not be a genuine act of treason. I hope Your Majesty investigates thoroughly to prevent someone from taking advantage of this matter.”
He felt certain that the matter was related to the Xiao family, but he had no evidence to accuse them. Besides, the father and son were the Emperor’s trusted confidants for years, only less close than his own blood relatives.
The words “supporting Prince Rui” sounded like a rebellion, but it might be that they only wanted to help the Crown Prince ascend to the throne, and someone manipulated the situation to make it look like a rebellion.
He feared that the Emperor ignored other hidden dangers in the court and was misled by those with ulterior motives, wasting his effort on insignificant matters and neglecting the real issues that were becoming more severe.
However, Li Jing Ye did not understand or agree with his thoughts. He believed that he had been too lenient towards them and would not tolerate any further disrespect.
As he spoke, his emotions became somewhat agitated, and he suddenly stood up from the bed, his hands behind his back, pacing back and forth. “I have been manipulated by them for so many years. I have only sent Du Heng back to his home, without changing his official position or title. But they do not know how to appreciate it. They are repeatedly taking advantage of the situation. They wish to control the entire Great Wei, and there is no semblance of the relationship between ruler and subject.”
Pei Ji understood that the Emperor had likely connected this incident with Du Heng and his followers in his mind, and regardless of their motives, they would be punished.
He couldn’t help but bow his head and furrow his brows in silence.
Recently, he had been sensing more and more disagreement with his cousin on various matters, and now he even felt a sense of personal crisis.
If one day he was also suspected by the Emperor for something, what would he do? Could he control his scattered thoughts and remain loyal to the Emperor, reminding himself of his father’s words?
He had an unsettling answer in his heart, which frightened him greatly.
Li Jing Ye halted at the desk, took up the teacup, and drank two large gulps before gradually regaining his composure.
He stood by the window, gazing out into the darkness, his expression indescribable. “Zi Hui, do you think the Sixth Prince is aware of this? Or is it… that he ordered it himself?”
He really wanted to know this. The officials around him need not worry too much. At most, they will be questioned one by one. But Sixth Prince was far away at the border.
He was appointed as Lulong’s defense commander, but he did not have any real power. His main job was to supervise and assist in the defense of Lulong. He was far away on the other side of the country, and no one knew exactly what he was doing.
“If you suspect something, why not secretly send someone to observe?” Pei Ji suggested, recalling his own doubts. “I don’t want to lie to you. I still have questions about the case of Fan Huai’en, the governor of Youzhou. I have always thought that the inside story has not been cleared up, and I am afraid it is also related to this matter.”
Li Jing Ye thought for a moment and then said, “Tomorrow, I will order the Imperial Censorate to send someone to Youzhou again to investigate thoroughly with the supervising censor who is patrolling there. Especially, they must check Sixth Prince’s movements for me.”
“This matter is still unclear. I think it is better to investigate secretly to avoid alerting the enemy.”
Such matters required a low-key approach. It was better to be proactive than reactive. If they investigate in a high-profile manner, it would only give the other side an opportunity. If they were not careful, things would get out of hand and be difficult to contain.
Li Jing Ye pondered for a moment, then shook his head decisively. “As the Emperor, it’s my prerogative to investigate cases. Even if we don’t find anything, it’ll still be a lesson to those involved. Alright, my mind is made up. You may go now. We must tighten our security in the palace and throughout the capital in these coming days.”
Pei Ji didn’t speak any further. He simply nodded, bowed, and left the hall.
Walking on the silent palace pathway, he looked up at the empty night sky and felt lost in thought.
Nowadays, when the Emperor summoned him for discussion, it wasn’t the same as before when he sought his opinion. He was just being used as someone to listen.
How much farther could he continue on this path of loyalty?
Even though it was past curfew, the streets of Chang’an suddenly became full of spacious carriages.
Outside the Danfeng Gate, clan members, court officials, and envoys were leaving and returning to their own homes. As usual, they should have been drinking and celebrating until dawn in the palace and leave the next day when the gates opened. However, something unexpected had occurred, so they had to leave earlier.
Luckily, Xiao Chong had already told the Golden Shield Guards to spread the message. The martial commanders patrolling and guarding the city gates were all prepared.
Xiao Ling Fu sat in the carriage with his eyes closed, listening to Wang Chun who had come along with him and spoke quietly.
“…Don’t worry, Prime Minister. Everything has been arranged. When the time comes, they’ll confess according to your wishes.”
According to their plan, besides making the Emperor decide to appoint his eldest son as heir, they could also use the Princess of Wuyang’s situation to kill two birds with one stone: getting rid of dissenting voices in the court, with the key target being Pei Yan.
The people under Du Heng were inflexible and stubborn, especially rigid in their principles. They had Wang Chun simply write a short letter in Pei Yan’s handwriting, unsigned and anonymously handed to one of the persons involved, leaving no trace.
Unless something unexpected happened, it would definitely attract the Emperor’s suspicion.
Xiao Ling Fu nodded. “If no one brings it up, there’s no need to be in a hurry. His Majesty is observant, and will surely find out. This way, it’s even better.”
Wang Chun kept it in mind and thought of something else. A worried expression appeared in his eyes. “Prime Minister, this matter involves Prince Rui. If they are truly connected to Prince Rui in secret, then what about us?”
Xiao Ling Fu didn’t care. “No worries. Whether or not there is a connection with Prince Rui, it has nothing to do with us. Both Prince Rui and the Princess were pampered since childhood, with simple minds and no deep thoughts. They can’t cause any big trouble.”
These two imperial children did things for different reasons. One ran away because of a woman, while the other acted impulsively due to disagreements with his sibling. However, they made many mistakes and couldn’t achieve anything important. They weren’t worth mentioning.
In Chenghuan Palace, after finishing writing the letter, Li Zhi sealed it carefully and placed it under her pillow before getting up to bathe in the bathroom.
Perhaps because she had drunk a few too many glasses of wine at the banquet, she felt a little dizzy from the steam while lying in the bathtub. She held onto the edge of the tub for a long time before slowly recovering.
She eased her body into the warm bath, and all her previous worries and tensions melted away.
Chun Yue helped her untie her hair, combed it carefully, washed it with water, and left the bathroom, leaving her alone for a while.
She sat halfway in the bathtub, resting her head on the edge, and dozed off with her eyes half-closed. Suddenly, she heard a soft sound from the window behind her.
The heat behind her was replaced by a cool autumn breeze. She opened her eyes and turned around, only to find herself staring into a pair of deep, black eyes.
Pei Ji had entered the bathroom without her noticing. He was now gazing at her while she was still in the bathtub.
Li Zhi blushed. She bit her lip lightly, put one hand on the edge of the tub, and slowly sank down without moving. “How did you get here?”
Pei Ji’s gaze quietly wandered over her skin, his eyes becoming slightly dimmer. His Adam’s apple rolled silently up and down.
“I came here and couldn’t find you in the bedroom, so I looked for you and found that you left the window open.”
He spoke very quietly, as if he was trying to control something, and this made Li Zhi feel a little weak.
She remembered that she opened the window a bit before bathing because she felt hot after drinking.
“The window is meant to be opened during bathing. It faces the high wall and trees. Who knew you would come in through there…”
Her eyes met his briefly and then quickly looked away, making Pei Ji feel a little nervous.
He stopped himself from approaching her and tried not to open his eyes. He said, “It was my fault, I’ll leave now.”
He waited for her response but didn’t receive one, so he turned around to leave.
“Darling Third.” Li Zhi called out to him, turning to face him in the bathtub, with her arms folded and her chin resting on them. “Please don’t go.”
Pei Ji stopped walking and his eyes started to get a little red.
He slowly turned around and saw her flirty look, making him tense up.
“I’m done washing,” she smiled at him and turned around in the bathtub.
The sound of water got louder and the air became more humid.
With her back facing him, Li Zhi stood up slowly from the bathtub and turned her head to show half of her face. “Can you bring me a towel, Darling Third?”
Pei Ji was lost in thought, his eyes following the wet black hair that hung down her back, moving down bit by bit. Even though there was still some mist, he imagined seeing tiny drops of water running down her skin from her shoulders to her arms, falling back into the bathtub.
The blurry fog made everything look less real in his mind.
He stared at her back for a moment before realizing what she said. He walked closer and pulled a towel off a shelf, handing it to her.
Li Zhi took the towel, but her damp fingers softly brushed against his wrist.
The gentle touch, quickly withdrawn, still ignited him all at once.
With his quick martial arts reflexes, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her into his arms before she could move away.
The water in the bathtub splashed out and wet his clothes.
Li Zhi pouted as she leaned against him. “Darling Third, you’re so clumsy. Your clothes are all wet now.”
Pei Ji didn’t care about his damp clothing. He held her close with one hand and wiped her down with the towel with the other hand.
Li Zhi didn’t give up. She stood up in the tub again and made Pei Ji’s clothes even wetter. She even wet the areas that he had just dried.
“Li-niang,” Pei Ji tossed the towel aside. He hugged her with both hands and nip her earlobe. “You always tempt me, and I can’t resist you.”
When he arrived earlier, he felt a little sad because he was still thinking about the converstaion in Zichen Hall. But being with her now made him feel much better.
Li Zhi was always like this. No matter what happened, she still had the mind to play with him. Pei Ji used to hate this kind of “not serious” behavior the most. However, now he found that it could clear all his worries away.
“Where can’t you resist?” Li Zhi turned her head to look at him. “Young General Pei is clearly a gentleman.”
Pei Ji couldn’t resist her charm anymore. He closed his eyes slightly and sighed, as if he had accepted his fate.
“I’m not a gentleman. If you still don’t understand, I’ll show you today.”
With that, he turned her around, held onto her, and kissed her passionately.
After thirty minutes, most of the water in the bathtub had turned cold.
Pei Ji used a towel to dry Li Zhi while the water was still warm, and then cleaned himself up too.
Li Zhi wanted to collapse into Pei Ji’s arms and have him carry her back to the bedroom, but it was too risky to go through the front door. So she wrapped herself in a towel and put on a shirt before leaving on her own.
Pei Ji climbed out of the window again with a serious face and jumped into the bedroom from outside.
He remembered the few days when he could enter and exit through the front door of Zhong’s mansion. He felt a little sad and wistful at the same time.
He wondered when he could finally come and go freely and openly.
Li Zhi was already back in the bedroom, kneeling in front of the incense burner with some clothes spread out on top of it.
Pei Ji realized that it was his damp outer shirt lying on the clothes.
He lit some incense in the burner, and the fragrant smoke mixed with the heat gradually fumigated the wet shirt. The rich fragrance became even stronger as it soaked up the water and penetrated deeply into the nostrils, making him slightly intoxicated.
Pei Ji’s heart was warmed, he stopped walking and silently watched her back, then slowly embraced her.
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