“This consort once heard that the Bashu region is surrounded by tall peaks and dangerous passes that could make one’s spine shiver,” Consort Xi immediately voiced out her reluctance.
The Emperor, accustomed to being flattered, was surprised by her opposing words. Upon hearing this, he turned to Consort Xi with astonishment.
Those eagle-like eyes made Consort Xi’s heart tremble. She quickly lowered her head to appear vulnerable. “To speak the truth, Your Majesty, I have grown up in a flat and barren land, and have never truly experienced mountains. I’ve only climbed a few small mounds. Due to an innate fear of heights, when Your Majesty mentioned the mountains surrounding Bashu, it filled me with dread…”
“I see,” the Emperor, captivated by the charming appearance of the beautiful consort, extended his hand to pull her closer, and said reassuringly, “Since you have come to Great Qi, you should try to get used to it. Otherwise, you will miss out on the famous mountains and beautiful sceneries of this realm. What a pity.”
Consort Xi was embraced in his warm arms, but her whole body felt chilled.
This man, both in public and private, showered her with endless affection. Could it be that he was acting out this play, pretending to be ensnared by her beauty, so that the common people wouldn’t despise the unjust ruler but blame the beautiful consort for the nation’s downfall?
Consort Xi felt pathetic and absurd for the occasional flutter in her heart over the past years.
If the Emperor truly had even a fraction of genuine affection for her, why would he cast such a dreadful accusation upon her?
In the imperial harem, where countless concubines longed for favor, the Emperor’s infatuation with Consort Xi was at least seventy percent genuine.
It was precisely because of this that Consort Xi was the most convincing person to play the role of the beauty who bewitched the ruler.
The Emperor didn’t lack love for her. He simply loved himself more.
Consort Xi suppressed her grievances and playfully said, “This consort’s fear of heights is innate. Even in the garden, I simple stone bridge. Your Majesty, if you wish me to get used to it, shall I walk over that stone bridge ten times every day?”
The Emperor chuckled and patted her shoulder. “How long will that take? I plan to take you on a tour of Bashu, where you’ll see countless mountains and rivers. There will be plenty of opportunities for practice then.”
Consort Xi, in terror, broke free from the Emperor’s embrace and stood up shakily. “Your Majesty, this consort dare not climb mountains!”
“Your delicate frame isn’t meant for mountain climbing, and I wouldn’t allow it. We are currently preparing to build the Road to Shu. When the time comes, a carriage will carry you comfortably along the official mountain roads.”
The Emperor’s lips curled up, a hint of tenderness in his commanding eyes. He held Consort Xi’s left hand, lowered his head, and gave her a gentle kiss. Looking into her eyes, he softly murmured, “Even if I have to carry you up the mountain myself, I would never let your embroidered shoes touch a speck of mud.”
Consort Xi stood there, as if turned to wood, gazing at the handsome and affectionate man before her.
People believed that the supreme ruler had no trouble winning women’s hearts, and there was no need to charm them. Little did they know, the Emperor understood the nuances of romance better than most common men.
Having encountered so many women, the Emperor knew that the ones who genuinely cared for him were a hundred times more passionate than those who were just fulfilling their duties.
Even if he was responsible for himself, he wouldn’t be too perfunctory with women who piqued his interest.
Moreover, the Great Qi Emperor had an impeccable appearance, standing at eight feet tall, with a face like jade, and dressed in luxurious clothing.
Even for an ordinary noble’s son, such looks would easily charm a young lady, let alone the fact that he was the Emperor.
Consort Xi also had genuine feelings for him.
If it weren’t for Xue Yao’s reminder, Consort Xi would have already been moved to the point of losing her ability to think and would have agreed instantly.
However, at this moment, she knew that beneath this man’s devoted facade lay a wicked heart. The memories of past affection had turned into a bitter poison in Consort Xi’s heart. Everything had become hatred in an instant.
“What’s wrong?” The Emperor raised an eyebrow, leaning closer to Consort Xi, playfully looking at her and teasing, “I came with great excitement to invite my beloved consort on a tour of Bashu, but now…”
The Emperor’s nose approached Consort Xi’s tearful peach blossom eyes. “Is it the fragrance of unwillingness to share a bed tonight?”
Consort Xi immediately lowered her head to wipe away her tears and remained silent.
“What’s the matter?” Seeing her lack of response, the Emperor’s playful expression darkened with displeasure. “I told you there’s no need to climb the mountain yourself. This was supposed to be a fun event, but you’re acting like you’re going to the execution ground. Are you dissatisfied that I always think of you in everything?”
Noble Lady Yi had been restless for days, with an irresistible impulse swirling in her mind, unable to break free or suppress it.
Old Fourth had told her that Consort Tong had placed a palace maid named Chunfang, who used to serve by her side, near Consort Xi.
This counted as a significant secret, one that could greatly assist Consort Xi, far more valuable than sewing small plush toys for the Seventh Prince.
Noble Lady Yi had long sought to ingratiate herself with Consort Xi, but not for the sake of brotherly harmony between Old Fourth and the Seventh Prince.
Her intention was to ride on Consort Xi’s coattails to secure an audience with the Emperor.
Everything else was superficial. As a mother who lacked favor, her son had to flatter the useless Third Prince, ddisregarding his dignity.
But what could ingratiating achieve?
The Third Prince could never become Emperor, and Old Fourth could never be conferred as a Prince.
Noble Lady Yi sat down at her dressing table, picked up a wooden comb, and tidied her side-swept hair.
She was already twenty-eight. The youthful features from when she was sixteen, during her first night with the Emperor, had quietly transformed. She had lost some of her youthfulness but gained a touch of elegance, as if a flower had reached its fullest bloom before withering, possessing a unique kind of beauty.
She wanted to secure one more chance before her looks faded.
Without further hesitation, Noble Lady Yi got up and retrieved a carefully sewn scemted pouch from beneath her pillow. Carrying Consort Tong’s secret with her, she summoned her personal palace maid and headed to Qingqiong Hall.
She intended to use that secret to ingratiate Consort Xi, hoping that Consort Xi would mention her to the Emperor in the future. Little did she know that, on her first visit, she stumbled upon a stroke of good luck.
As she turned into the outer alley of Qingqiong Hall, she unexpectedly bumped into the Emperor dressed in dark crimson casual robes.
The palace maid hastily greeted the Emperor.
Caught off guard, Noble Lady Yi’s hand slipped, causing the scented pouch to fall to the ground. She even forgot to offer a bow and stood there, staring dumbfounded at the Emperor.
The Emperor appeared displeased, as if he had encountered some trouble in Consort Xi’s residence. He raised his eyes to the woman who seemed unfamiliar with court etiquette.
He didn’t immediately recognize Noble Lady Yi, but her bewildered appearance stirred a touch of compassion inside him. He suppressed his anger and took a step forward, picking up the scented pouch that had fallen to the ground.
“Your Majesty, this is inappropriate!” Noble Lady Yi tried to stop him, but it was too late.
The Emperor straightened up and shook the scented pouch in his hand, as if asking, “Is this yours?”
Noble Lady Yi, unsure of his mood, tremblingly extended her hands and said in a quivering voice, “Many thanks, Your Majesty…”
The Emperor didn’t return the scented pouch to her but instead gestured for her to come closer.
Noble Lady Yi, feeling at a loss, took a step forward. The Emperor suddenly reached out and encircled her waist.
The man she had been separated from for so long instantly enveloped her in his presence. Noble Lady Yi’s heart felt like it might leap out of her chest. She wasn’t sure if she was awake or in a dream.
The Emperor attached the scented pouch to Noble Lady Yi’s belt and, with his head slightly lowered, asked softly, “Are you here to see Consort Xi?”
Noble Lady Yi’s brain had ceased to function, leaving only a reflexive response, “Yes…”
The Emperor huffed coldly, “She gets dizzy just from sharing a meal with me, and now she suddenly has the energy to chat with her sisters?”
Noble Lady Yi snapped back to reality but didn’t dare to lift her face to look at the Emperor. She asked in a trembling voice, “Is Her Highness feeling unwell?”
“Unwell? She’s just throwing a little tantrum,” the Emperor said, looking down at Noble Lady Yi. “Raise your head.”
Noble Lady Yi tried to display a bit of the grace an Emperor’s woman should have but was so nervous that she froze. She lifted her face, pale and with her eyes constantly evading his gaze.
“Are you willing to accompany me on a tour of Bashu?”
Noble Lady Yi truly doubted if she was dreaming.
She wouldn’t even dare to dream of such an honor.
The Emperor was inviting her to accompany him on his tour?
“I…” She took a breath, about to agree, but the Emperor raised his hand to stop her.
“Don’t answer right away. Think about it, and let Consort Xi know. Have Consort Xi relay the message to me.”
The Emperor finished speaking and then left.
Noble Lady Yi stood there in a daze for a long time, her body trembling slightly.
The palace maid by her side also stared at her profile in disbelief, unsure why the Emperor had suddenly favored this concubine from the cold palace.
Noble Lady Yi was equally clueless.
She didn’t know if the Emperor was merely testing her loyalty to Consort Xi by teasing her and making Consort Xi jealous.
Noble Lady Yi believed the Emperor genuinely intended to take her on the tour.
She hadn’t even presented the significant secret to exchange with Consort Xi yet, and she had received the Emperor’s favor.
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