Chapter 80 Reckless
Inside the Chenghuan Palace, several candles had already burnt down to mere stubs, leaving only two still flickering on the lantern stand behind the silk screen.
The dim light shrouded the entire sleeping chamber.
The sky had shed its winter chill, and Li Zhi lay beneath a thin brocade quilt.
Her exposed shoulders gently met the cool air, caressed by the palms of Pei Ji, who tenderly massaged them.
He brushed aside the stray strands of hair that clung to her forehead and spoke with concentration, “In the future, please don’t be so bold.
Nothing is certain, and if something goes wrong, it would be bad if you got hurt.”
Li Zhi’s mind remained clouded as she squinted and nodded in a daze, taking her time to grasp the true meaning of his words.
It finally dawned on her that he referred to her daring request for Li Jing Ye to maintain distance.
“What troubles you?” Gradually, her eyes regained their clarity, and she couldn’t shake off the feeling that his words held deeper significance than a mere cautionary remark.
Pei Ji lowered his head, silent for a moment.
He let out a slow sigh, turned over and looked up at the canopy above.
In a deep voice, he said, “His Majesty… has become increasingly different from before.”
Li Zhi narrowed her eyes slightly, staring at his complexion and asked, “Have you discovered something?”
Pei Ji’s brows knitted together tightly.
With one hand encircling her back, he unconsciously tensed.
The other hand came to rest on his forehead as he pressed his lips and spoke softly, “While I was in Puzhou, I stumbled upon Minister Chen’s secret dealings with an unknown person.
Today, I reported it to His Majesty, but he remained indifferent, instructing me to handle it independently.
Later, during my visit to the Ministry of Personnel, where I met Minister Du and my father, I discovered that His Majesty had recently invited a Taoist from the common folk into the palace, claiming it was for the Empress Dowager’s blessings.
It is truly worrisome.”
Previously, when His Majesty invited individuals into the palace for prayers, they were always monks or Taoists from the imperial temples and shrines.
However, this Heavenly Master Yuan was merely a well-known Taoist among the common people.
How did His Majesty come to know about him? And why would he summon him into the palace, particularly when the Empress Dowager had already regained her health?
Apart from that, the issues regarding the Turkic people near Hedong and Lulong lingered in his thoughts, causing him increasing unease with each passing day of indecision.
Li Zhi fell into silence, earnestly studying him.
For the first time, a sense of admiration arose within her for the perceptive nature of this young man before her.
The affair involving Immortal Ancestor Yuan had yet to reveal any clues, and she never expected him to harbor suspicions at this point.
Initially, she hadn’t paid much attention to the matter concerning the iron bull casting in Puzhou, but upon his explanation, it all came rushing back to her.
The old Li Zhi had little concern for the weighty affairs of the court, and her dreams rarely brushed against them, merely presenting fleeting fragments that quickly vanished.
She recalled a time when Li Jing Ye wasn’t as enigmatic as he was now.
It seemed that more than just the Minister of War was involved in this matter.
Those two individuals swiftly presented their reports, accusing an official from Youzhou of shamelessly accumulating wealth during this opportune moment.
As for which official it was and the intricate details, she remained entirely oblivious.
All she knew was that the incident, although highly sensational at the time, swiftly subsided due to irrefutable evidence.
It wasn’t until later, when Prince Rui conspired against the throne, that this matter resurfaced once more.
With such astuteness, prudence, and unwavering loyalty, it was no wonder that even the excessively skeptical Li Jing Ye could entrust him with every matter.
Pei Ji detected the glimmer of admiration in her eyes, and an unexplainable bashfulness tinted his face.
Trying to feign composure, he inquired, “Why do you look at me like this?”
Li Zhi burst into a smile, her almond-shaped eyes forming crescent moons as she revealed a row of pristine, neatly aligned teeth.
It added a hint of charm and loveliness to her already captivating face.
“Only today have I come to realize that Darling Third possesses both courage and strategic prowess.”
Pei Ji arched an eyebrow, gently tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear, and asked, “Li-niang, did you once perceive me as a brute with nothing more than physical strength?”
Li Zhi covered her lips, emitting a soft laughter as she shook her head repeatedly.
“How could it be? If you were an empty-headed brute, how could you manage to sneak into my room each time without anyone discovering?”
Pei Ji continued to raise an eyebrow as he gazed at her, his eyes growing increasingly profound.
Her words seemed to imply that all his strategizing was solely dedicated to sneaking in through windows and climbing over walls at night.
While not entirely inaccurate, it sounded particularly awkward.
Li Zhi laughed until her body trembled, quickly diving into his embrace and wrapping her arms around his waist.
However, her fingertips restlessly traced light patterns along the spinal line behind him.
“Darling Third, I was mistaken.
Please don’t be angry.”
“I’m not angry.” Pei Ji, provoked by her actions, tensed up his upper body, firmly holding onto her waist, his voice even becoming hoarse.
“Just don’t tease me.”
“I’m not teasing you.
You mustn’t accuse me falsely.” Li Zhi innocently gazed into his eyes, her fingertips showing no signs of stopping.
Pei Ji remained silent, directly releasing his hands that were entwined around her waist, swiftly maneuvering them behind her and forcing her to straighten her upper body to face him.
The vast scenery stretched directly before his eyes, causing his gaze to grow increasingly dim.
“Are you not tired so soon?” He looked down at her, and his deep gaze gradually descended from her eyes, which shimmered with a hint of moisture.
Li Zhi stared at him with wide eyes, filled with astonishment.
She immediately softened and obediently resorted to coquetry, seeking forgiveness.
However, Pei Ji didn’t show his usual leniency.
He merely removed the ribbon from her dress and blindfolded her eyes.
Early the next morning, when Li Zhi woke up, Pei Ji had already vanished without a trace.
She didn’t feel surprised but rather remembered that they would not see each other for some time ahead, which inexplicably left a hint of melancholy in her heart.
She couldn’t explain why, but recently, whenever she saw Pei Ji, she couldn’t help but notice an increasingly difficult-to-ignore strange feeling within herself.
Chun Yue entered with a handkerchief and water, noticing her dazed expression.
She approached and began by recounting what she had heard while accompanying Qing Zi outside the palace.
“Miss, I heard that His Majesty spent the night at Lady Wei’s courtyard!”
Since Li Zhi entered the palace, Li Jing Ye mostly stayed in Chenghuan Palace or occasionally visited the Pure Consort’s Shicui Palace.
He rarely set foot in the other consorts’ residences.
It was indeed unexpected that he went to Lady Wei’s quarters last night.
Li Zhi snapped out of her trance, smiling lightly.
“Where His Majesty stays from now on has little to do with us.
Instead of prying into such matters, it would be better for you to focus on improving your literacy.”
Chun Yue wrinkled her nose and chuckled.
“I study every day, and Qing Zi has also learned many characters now.
It’s just that the palace’s daily affairs, even without paying much attention, still manage to reach our ears.”
Within the palace, everything revolved around His Majesty.
Naturally, what people discuss was all about him.
Continuing, Chun Yue furrowed her brow.
“It would be better for us if things become peaceful here.
Our only wish is that our daily provisions remain sufficient.”
“The Pure Consort is in charge, she wouldn’t do such a thing.” Li Zhi had no doubts that Pure Consort Xiao would take advantage of the situation to withhold funds from Chenghuan Palace.
“Let’s hope it stays that way.” Chun Yue still held some concerns.
It wasn’t just her.
Other palace maids in Chenghuan Palace were also extremely worried.
Fortunately, as Li Zhi had anticipated, after a dozen days had passed, everything remained as before, except for a slight sense of desolation.
Only then did everyone truly let go of their worries and embraced the calm and comfortable days with Li Zhi.
However, besides Chenghuan Palace, the rest of Daming Palace was far from peaceful.
On the second day after the princess went to the imperial tomb, the Empress Dowager, suppressing her sorrow and reluctance, used the excuse of seeking blessings from Xuan Guang’s entry into the palace and requested the Emperor’s permission to send his remains back to Fusang.
The person had already passed away, and the Empress Dowager had suffered a great blow.
Seeing her health deteriorating, Li Jing Ye, who wished to preserve his reputation as a filial son, naturally would not refuse.
He immediately agreed.
Li Jing Ye had not set foot in the Noble Consort’s palace for over half a month.
Instead, he visited several concubines he hadn’t been close to in a long time.
Every two or three days, he would even make a trip to Zilan Hall.
Though he didn’t stay overnight, he would linger there for an hour or two.
Everyone was puzzled, unable to grasp the Emperor’s thoughts.
They could only secretly speculate that the Noble Consort had fallen out of favor, and the person occupying the Emperor’s heart had changed to the Fourth Miss of the Zhong family.
However, due to the lingering affection for the Noble Consort, the Emperor had only bestowed the title of Lady of the Country upon the Fourth Miss.
Li Zhi heard these discussions but dismissed them with a smile.
She could vaguely sense that Li Jing Ye might also be eager to have a child.
She wondered if her words from that day had somehow stimulated him.
Most of the other palace attendants in Chenghuan Palace were dissatisfied.
“In recent encounters with the Lady of Yingguo, she has been accompanied by over a dozen palace attendants.
Her aura surpasses that of our Noble Consort and Pure Consort Xiao.
It is said that she also has a strong temperament and frequently scolds and berates others when she’s dissatisfied.”
“When I accompanied Her Highness back to the palace earlier, I couldn’t help but feel that the Fourth Miss and Our Highness, though sisters, were as different as heaven and earth…”
The young maid next to them glanced at Li Zhi, who was playing with the incense burner, and hurriedly intervened, gesturing for the person to be silent.
Li Zhi glanced at the two individuals and simply smiled without saying a word.
Miao Yun, with her temperament, would be generous and tolerant towards those around her if she were leading a good life.
Only when things weren’t going well would she vent her anger on the palace attendants.
Only she knew the truth.
After Pei Ji paid his respects to his grandmother early in the morning, he accompanied his father into the secluded study, where they closed the door and engaged in a discussion about recent affairs.
“Father, there have been developments regarding the situation in Puzhou.”
Pei Ji took a seat opposite his father at the grand desk, thoughtfully pouring a cup of tea for his father first.
At the crack of dawn, as the city gates creaked open, a secret missive arrived, delivered by Huangfu Jing from Puzhou.
Pei Yan nodded, calmly savoring the tea, his eyes fixed on his son, awaiting further information.
“Regarding those individuals who clandestinely engaged with Minister Chen, their true identities are still elusive.
However, under Huangfu Jing’s watchful eye, it was discovered that after departing Puzhou, they embarked on a journey northward to Youzhou.
Their final destination seemed to be none other than the residence of Youzhou’s Governor, Fan Huai’en.”
Pei Yan’s brow furrowed upon hearing this revelation, his face reflecting deep contemplation.
After a brief silence, he inquired, “And what of Chen Ying Shao? Has there been any news regarding his activities?”
Pei Ji responded, “According to Huangfu Jing’s message, Minister Chen appears to be behaving normally.
However, the individual who trailed them to Youzhou has reported an intriguing discovery.
It seems that the iron mines in the vicinity, contrary to the new regulations set by the imperial court, have retained an additional thirty percent of their output in Puzhou.
This discrepancy may lead to trouble.
I believe it would be wise for me to revisit the area in a few days.”
The salt and iron industries were under the exclusive control of the imperial court, yet it appeared that someone clandestinely withheld three percent of the iron from the mines in Youzhou, hinting at opportunistic profiteering.
“Hmm,” Pei Yan’s face grew solemn, and he nodded thoughtfully.
“There is no need for haste.
We must avoid arousing suspicion prematurely.
Continue to keep a close watch.
This matter must not be leaked.
When you go, treat it as a routine duty.
However, remember to first inform His Majesty tomorrow.”
Pei Ji nodded in agreement, engaging in a brief conversation with his father before preparing to take his leave.
However, just as he reached the doorway, Pei Yan called out to him, beckoning him back.
“Third Son, in a few days, there will be a grand Dragon Boat Festival banquet in the palace.
You should accompany your mother and attend the event.”
“Understood.” Pei Ji respectfully acknowledged with a cupped hand but felt something was amiss.
He couldn’t help but inquire, “Father, won’t you be attending?”
In the past palace banquets, both father and mother would attend while he went alone.
However, based on his father’s words just now, it seemed to be different.
“Mostly young people will be there, so I won’t go,” Pei Yan lightly coughed, took a sip of tea, and said, “You can go to Puzhou after that day.”
Pei Ji was filled with suspicion.
The palace banquet usually consisted of many young people.
Could it be that this year’s Dragon Boat Festival banquet would be different from previous ones?
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