At the Noble Consort’s Feet Chapter 99

Chapter 99 Letter

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In the evening, the officials in Chang’an finished their daily tasks and rode their horses or carriages back home.

Pei Yan spent extra time discussing matters with the Ministry of Personnel. When he left from the outside of Danfeng Gate, most people had already left. Only his son, Pei Ji, was waiting on the roadside, as if he had intentionally stayed back for him.

“Third Son,” he called out as he rode his horse over, his face looking a bit off.

Pei Ji, seeing his father’s tired and weak appearance, couldn’t help but furrow his brow and ask, “Father, has your injury come back?”

Pei Yan instinctively reached out his left hand and lightly tapped his back, but shook his head and said, “No, don’t worry—especially don’t tell your mother. Father had just talked a lot with the people from the Ministry of Personnel, sitting for a long time. It will be fine soon.”

Pei Ji glanced at his father’s waist and back, calmly tightened the reins, and instructed the horse to slow down its trotting speed.

“Recently, the people in the Ministry of Personnel have been very busy and stressed. They have to deal with more than twenty officials and find suitable replacements, which is not easy at all. Especially when there are people trying to create obstacles…” Pei Yan had a serious face and shook his head with a sigh. “Never mind, let’s not talk about that for now. Have you received General Zhang’s letter?”

Although he wasn’t optimistic about the situation in the court, he made an effort to understand the Emperor’s perspective. Being the ruler, regardless of being wise or not, he wouldn’t allow anyone to have ambitions for the throne. When it came to dealing with rebellion cases, they always preferred to make mistakes by killing rather than risk leaving any traitors alive.

Pei Ji pressed his lips together and nodded. “Shi Quan had already told me about it when I was still at the government office. The letter has been delivered to our home.”

It wasn’t convenient to open and read it at the government office, so they had to wait until they returned home.

He paused briefly and whispered, “Shi Quan mentioned that the person who delivered the letter seemed in a hurry. General Zhang specifically instructed them to deliver it personally into my hands.”

Such an instruction clearly hinted that the letter contained something extremely important that couldn’t be delayed. That was why he intentionally stayed there, waiting for his father. If his father had any evening commitments, he wanted to inform him beforehand.

Both the father and son had a serious expression on their faces for a moment.

Finally, they reached their home and greeted Madam Pei together. Then, they hurriedly made their way to the study.

The Grand Princess was already waiting in the study. When she saw the father and son approaching, she greeted them with a smile and took a warm bowl of herbal soup from a servant girl’s hands. She handed it to Pei Yan and said, “Quickly, drink this medicine. I know you two well. When you get busy, you tend to forget everything.”

Pei Yan’s old injury had been bothering him lately, so the Grand Princess arranged for an imperial physician to prescribe a new herbal remedy.

Seeing his wife present, Pei Yan’s originally serious expression instantly relaxed. He casually took the medicine bowl and drank the bitter liquid in one go.

“Alright,” the Grand Princess smiled at him with satisfaction and instructed a maid to place the remaining two bowls of lotus seed soup on the table. “The medicine is very bitter, so drink the lotus seed soup to get rid of the bitterness quickly.”

Pei Yan smiled and looked at her, saying, “I drink quickly, I’m not afraid of the bitterness.”

The Grand Princess gave him a stern look and said, “I’m afraid, if you don’t want it, I’ll leave it for Third Son to drink.”

After she spoke, Pei Yan willingly held the bowl and raised the spoon to drink the lotus seed soup.

The Grand Princess felt satisfied with his response and told her son to finish it as well. Then, she left with the maid.

Once the door closed, the expressions of the father and son turned serious again. They both lowered their heads and silently drank the lotus seed soup.

Before much time passed, Shi Quan led the messenger who had traveled a long distance to deliver the letter. He handed the letter to Pei Ji.

Just as they were about to open and read the letter, they suddenly heard a loud noise outside the courtyard. Soon after, a large group of people entered in an orderly manner, surrounding the entire courtyard.

Pei Ji’s expression turned serious, hurriedly tucking the letter into his sleeve. He stepped out of the house and faced the approaching person, asking, “May I ask, Secretary Liu, why have you suddenly come to my home?”

The visitor was Liu Ji, the Minister of Justice. Although he had entered with a group of people, there was no trace of arrogance or dominance. Instead, he nervously nodded at Pei Ji as a greeting and cautiously said, “General Pei, Deputy Prime Minister Pei has been implicated in a case involving the Princess of Wuyang’s conspiracy. I have been ordered by His Mjesty to take Minister Pei to the prison of the Ministry of Justice for questioning.”

“How could my father be involved in this case?” Pei Ji’s forehead tightened, and he was instantly shocked. “He has always been honest and upright, serving as an official for many years without forming any factions. He didn’t even participate when some people suggested making Prince Rui the Crown Prince!”

Liu Ji’s face revealed fear as he said, “General Pei, I am just following His Majesty’s orders and dare not conceal anything. According to the eunuchs in the Imperial Household Department, His Majesty discovered a short message among the physical evidence in this case, and it had the exact same handwriting as Minister Pei’s. That’s why he wants to bring him back to the prison of the Ministry of Justice for questioning.”

He paused, providing some details, and fearing that the Pei family might not release Minister Pei, he added, “Even the Chief Censor has been scolded by His Majesty for ineffective investigation and is now also in the prison of the Ministry of Justice. This case has been handed over to the Office of Three Chief Judicial Officials, and it is beyond my power to decide.”

Originally, there was no need for the Minister of Justice to come personally and take someone to prison. But because Pei Yan held an extraordinary position, Liu Ji had no choice but to come himself.

Pei Ji furrowed his brow, wanting to speak, but the Grand Princess, who had just left, hurriedly arrived with her attendants. Seeing the commotion in the courtyard, she was startled and quickly went to her son’s side, looking around and asking, “What’s happening? Everything was fine. Why have so many people suddenly come?”

Liu Ji didn’t dare to disrespect this aunt of the Emperor, so he quickly bowed to her along with the people behind him.

With a serious expression, Pei Ji quietly shared what Liu Ji had said earlier with the Grand Princess.

“How could your father possibly do such a thing?” The Grand Princess first showed surprise, as if finding it hard to believe, but then grew anxious and nervous. “Your father’s health has been declining lately. How could he endure the hardships of imprisonment? This… it’s utterly baseless. Why does it feel like he’s already been convicted?”

The mother and son stood outside, facing the officials from the Ministry of Justice, while Pei Yan sat by the window, looking disheartenedly at the mostly empty bowl of lotus seed soup on the table.

He had already expected that he would be in trouble, but he never thought he would be involved in a treason case.

He remained silent, reaching out to finish the leftover soup before slowly standing up and walking out, under the watchful eyes of everyone present.

“Deputy Prime Minister Pei, I apologize for any offense caused. I hope you can forgive me.” Liu Ji lowered himself, showing great humility, and respectfully bowed as he approached.

Pei Yan nodded at him, trying hard to maintain a serious expression. “Since it is His Majesty’s command, I have no reason to disobey. Rest assured, I will go with you shortly. However, for now, please allow me to speak with my wife and son.”

Liu Ji quickly ordered everyone to step back, creating some space for the family of three.

“Husband…” Thr Grand Princess hurriedly approached and took Pei Yan’s hand, her eyes becoming teary. “I will go to the palace and see His Majesty…”

“Hua’er,” Pei Yan held her hand and called her by her old name, making her calm down. “Listen to me, don’t worry about this matter. Just stay home and wait patiently. Once everything is sorted out and they find out I’m innocent, I’ll come back for sure.”

The Grand Princess stared at his eyes, and after a moment, she slowly nodded, agreeing to his words.

Pei Yan turned to his son and whispered, “Third Son, when I’m not here, you must take care of your mother. Your grandmother has your uncles there, so I’m not too worried about her. As for this matter… don’t act hastily. Plan carefully, and make sure your uncles and brothers stay stable.”

As he spoke, he secretly looked at Pei Ji’s sleeve where he had hidden the received letter.

Pei Ji’s eyes suddenly sharpened, and he nodded solemnly in response, feeling a deep and indescribable sadness inside.

His father was ordered to be arrested by the Emperor, yet he still cared about assigning him tasks.

“I understand, Father.” He lowered his eyes, quietly clenched his fists, suppressing the anger and dissatisfaction in his heart. “Please take care of yourself and don’t overexert yourself in everything.”

Pei Yan nodded and patted his shoulder before turning around.

Before leaving, he smiled at the Grand Princess and said, “Hua’er, I finished all the lotus seed soup. It’s not bitter at all.”

Tears filled the Grand Princess’s eyes, and she instinctively wanted to turn away. But when she saw the many officials from the Ministry of Justice around her, she held back her tears until she saw him confidently walk away with the others. Only then did she start crying.

“My Third Son, what are we going to do now? Have you talked to your father about anything?” The Grand Princess held her son’s hand, looking worried.

Pei Ji’s heart was filled with anxiety and uncertainty.

He had somewhat expected this situation since the day he heard the Emperor’s warning. Now, faced with the reality, he couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of resentment and disappointment, without any outlet to express it.

His father was loyal to the court and wouldn’t even engage in secret discussions about the succession. How could he be involved in treason? Moreover, his father was always careful in his actions, so how could he have written a letter with such recognizable handwriting, giving someone a handle to use against him? Clearly, someone purposely tried to shift the blame onto his father, but fearing exposure, they didn’t even sign the letter, making it difficult to prove the false accusation.

It was just what the Emperor wanted to do, to get rid of the powerful people in the court.

“Yes, Father knew about today’s events in advance,” he gathered his thoughts and replied, “Once we clarify the situation, everything will be fine. Mother, don’t worry. Tomorrow morning, I will go to the palace and see His Majesty.”

The Grand Princess felt completely lost for the first time. She wanted to go to the palace herself to see the Emperor and the Empress Dowager, but she remembered Pei Yan’s words and had to hold back for now.

After finally comforting the Grand Princess, Pei Ji hurried to Madam Pei’s residence in the neighboring mansion. He explained everything in detail and reassured everyone before finally finding a moment to return to his study.

It was already late in the evening, and he sat near the lamp, taking out the letter he had hastily tucked into his sleeve and carefully reading it.

The letter’s words were simple, just two pages long, but as he read, his face tightened, and his heart thumped in his chest.

According to General Zhang’s letter, he had secretly observed the Youzhou region for several months and finally made a discovery. The iron mines that were supposed to be confiscated by the imperial officials were not all collected as planned. Almost half of the high-quality iron ore had been smuggled to the border area. There, someone had built a hidden forge and was using that top-notch iron ore to make excellent weapons day and night!

This was a serious crime!

One should know that in the past year, all the iron mines in the country were used to forge iron bulls for the construction of the pontoon bridge in Pujin Crossing. Even the armor and weapons for the guards and soldiers were not replaced. But in Youzhou, someone was secretly forging weapons. It was obviously a planned rebellion!

Currently, while they were investigating the rebellion case in Chang’an, which was full of flaws and seemed like a child’s play, the real rebellion was quietly taking shape a thousand miles away on the border.

He didn’t need to hesitate about the person behind it. He could almost be certain it was Prince Rui, Li Jinghui. People from the borderlands mostly come from poor backgrounds, and the military officers who rise through merit have never had excessive power. They would never have such ambitious thoughts. Only Prince Rui, who was also the Late Emperor’s biological son, could be capable of such actions.

The letter also mentioned that the iron mining operation was kept extremely secretive, and there were hardly any traces to be found. It was only after they captured and convicted Fan Huai’en, leaving the position of Youzhou’s Governor temporarily empty, that they dared to act more openly. The newly appointed governor, who was Xiao Ling Fu’s ally, was not familiar with the local affairs and was practically being controlled by Fan Huai’en’s former subordinates. Most likely, the power in Youzhou had already slipped into the hands of others.

Pei Ji suddenly remembered what he had said during the investigation by the Imperial Censorate. He had mentioned that all the confessions were extracted from Fan Huai’en’s subordinates, while Fan Huai’en himself adamantly refused to confess. It was only when Xiao Ling Fu repeatedly pushed for progress that news of his confession suddenly emerged.

Now, looking back, Fan Huai’en was probably just a scapegoat. Maybe he was the true person of integrity, unwilling to go along with corrupt practices, and was framed and ultimately lost his life!

He stood up suddenly and paced back and forth in the room, feeling his chest tight and struggling to breathe.

In just over a year, things had escalated to such an extent!

When Prince Rui was still in Chang’an, he had foolishly hoped to mend the strained relationship between these two cousins. Now it seemed that it was just his wishful thinking.

The bond between brothers, despite years of closeness, could be as thin as a sheet of paper.

He had already advised the Emperor multiple times, openly or secretly, mentioning that the cases involving Governor Fan and Minister Chen were likely more complex than they seemed. Unfortunately, the Emperor repeatedly ignored his concerns, focusing solely on the political situation within the court. Additionally, the influence of Xiao Ling Fu and others, driven by immediate gains, had led to the current state of affairs.

The most pressing matter was to enter the palace and inform the Emperor, urging him to swiftly stabilize the court’s situation and deploy Yiwu and Hedong’s armies to quell the brewing rebellion.

However, his father was just taken away by officials from the Ministry of Justice and was probably locked up in their dungeon. He had no idea when he would be released.

Thinking about this, Pei Ji felt as if someone had drenched him with a bucket of cold water, leaving him rigid and unable to move.

The ruler he was loyal to was not someone who could discern right from wrong, loyalty from treachery, or prioritize matters effectively. Blind loyalty may not always be a good thing.

He stood by the window, holding onto the frame with both hands, his gaze heavy as he stared at the quiet courtyard.

Maybe it was time for him to make something good out of this situation.

If he took the chance to challenge the Emperor, perhaps he could ensure his father’s safety. Maybe he could even convince the Emperor to willingly set Li-niang free. The rivalry and discord between the two brothers began because of a woman. Only by willingly releasing her could he stop the endless gossip.

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