Chapter 83 Admit
The Qingsi Hall was situated on a lofty terrain to the east of Daming Palace.
To reach Chenghuan Palace, one had to follow the winding path of the mountain to the west.
Li Zhi strolled leisurely, savoring the scenic beauty of the mountain on her left and relishing the serenity of the lake on her right.
“Is something troubling you, Miss?” Chun Yue walked alongside her, his voice gentle and concerned.
Only a few moments ago, they were spectators on the sidelines, watching Young General Pei play a game of polo.
The outcome was predictable, but her young mistress and Qing Zi were still fully immersed in the game.
In fact, Miss even joined in the enthusiastic applause of the audience as the game reached its climax.
However, in a matter of moments, just as General Pei was about to win with his final shot, her mistress suddenly rose to her feet and declared, “Let’s return.” Although Qing Zi and Chun Yue were not ready to leave the festivities, they followed her lead and departed without question.
“No,” replied Li Zhi calmly, with a smile on her lips.
“I just want to go back.
If you still want to enjoy the festivities, you may go ahead.”
Just outside Qingsi Hall, there bloomed a crab-apple tree.
She remembered seeking refuge under its branches to admire the blossoms when she first arrived at Wangxian Temple last year, trying to escape from her surroundings.
The crab-apple blossoms were usually in full bloom in the fourth lunar month, but now it was already the fifth lunar month.
The flower she held in her hand was the last one still blossoming on the tree.
She couldn’t explain why she suddenly wanted to leave.
She just didn’t want to stay in a place where everyone was laughing and having fun while she felt like an outsider.
She had been here for over a year, but had never truly integrated into the community or felt a sense of belonging.
She seemed to be nothing more than a fleeting visitor, arriving and departing hastily.
Chun Yue wanted to ask Li Zhi if she was leaving because of General Pei Ji, but with Qing Zi present, she had to hold her tongue for the time being.
Li Zhi smiled gently and said nothing more.
As she passed by Wangxian Temple, she paused for a moment, lost in thought, before continuing on her way back to Chenghuan Palace.
With the Dragon Boat Festival in full swing, the palace was empty, with the maidservants either gathered in the Qingsi Hall or having gone to the Yeting Palace.
Seeing that even the few people in the Chenghuan Palace had left for Yeting Palace, Li Zhi suggested that Chun Yue and Qing Zi join in the festivities, while she herself remained behind to rest.
Not wanting to leave Li Zhi alone, Chun Yue decided to stay behind as well, while Qing Zi was sent off on her own.
The two women had just settled in for a chat when they heard a sound coming from the window that was only heard at night.
Startled, they exchanged a glance.
Chun Yue rose to her feet and took a few steps closer to the window, hesitantly calling out, “General Pei?”
There was a moment of silence from outside the window before a deep, deliberate voice responded, “It’s me.”
Chun Yue breathed out in relief and looked towards Li Zhi.
Without waiting for any orders, she left on her own, making sure to close the door behind her before she went.
Li Zhi remained seated on the couch, not saying a word.
The person outside waited for a moment and then pushed the window open, quickly entering the room.
“How did you come here in broad daylight? Aren’t you afraid of being caught?”
Li Zhi continued to fiddle with the flower branch in her hand, not turning to face the person.
Her tone was even, making it hard to discern her emotions.
A faint fragrance filled the air, barely perceptible, yet it stirred something deep within.
Pei Ji didn’t answer, but strode over and sat on the other side of the table, scrutinizing her expression intently.
“Why did you leave earlier?” He sat upright, his dark eyes never leaving her face, as if trying to glean something from her.
“I hadn’t finished the game yet.”
Li Zhi didn’t meet his gaze directly, but she didn’t flinch either.
She smelled the fragrant flower in her hand, which had just bloomed, and gave a soft laugh.
“Why were you watching to see if I left during the match? This banquet was arranged especially for you.
Did you win? If you had taken the Grand Princess’s jade pendant, they wouldn’t have let you go so easily.”
“I didn’t take the pendant,” he sat across from her, his back straight, and his hand tightening around his knee.
He spoke in a low, muffled voice.
“This banquet wasn’t meant for me either.
It was arranged by Mother and Grandmother to please the Empress Dowager.
I finished the match, so naturally, I can leave.”
Li Zhi smiled and glanced at his waist, but there was no sign of the jade pendant except for the pouch he always carried.
“The Grand Princess is clearly fond of Seventeenth Miss Li and is picking him for you, but you don’t seem to appreciate it.”
Pei Ji’s expression darkened.
He reached across the table in front of him, gently grasping her hand holding the flower.
He spoke in a deep voice, “I had no knowledge of today’s banquet before I came.
It was arranged by Mother.
There’s nothing going on between Miss Li and me.”
He paused for a moment, recalling what had occurred a few days earlier before slowly explaining, “I was supposed to be on duty in the palace that day, but my mother had already arranged for Shi Quan to excuse me in advance.
She also invited Young Master Yang and some others to join us in practicing horse polo at the Furong Garden.
I couldn’t refuse, which is why I didn’t come to see you.”
Li Zhi hesitated briefly before regaining her composure and smiling, “You don’t need to explain to me.
We haven’t made any agreements.”
As she spoke, she attempted to withdraw her hand from his grasp.
But Pei Ji held on, stretching out his other hand across the table to hold onto her other hand as he looked at her intently and said, “I want to explain it to you myself.
I don’t want you to misunderstand.”
Suddenly, his solemn expression gave way to one of delight, and he grinned.
“Li-niang, were you angry with me just now?”
Li Zhi was momentarily taken aback, but then she looked up at him with a hint of confusion.
The smile on his face grew broader and more animated, adding a spark of life to his once-serious and somewhat old-fashioned features.
“I didn’t come to see you on time, and today, my mother and grandmother urged me to look at other women and win a jade pendant paired with someone else.
Li-niang, you were angry, weren’t you?”
His voice remained as deep as ever, but the once solemn tone had now lightened, taking on the quality of a gentle breeze that swept in to reveal Li Zhi’s deepest emotions, which had until now remained veiled.
It was no longer possible for her to deny what she had been feeling.
The pang of disappointment she had experienced on that day when he had failed to show up on time, and the inexplicable low spirits she had felt today, while observing him as he drew the attention of a bevy of delicate and pretty young ladies.
All of it made perfect sense now.
She had convinced herself that she was nothing more than a withered tree, devoid of any true emotional attachments to men.
But she was a living, breathing human being with emotions that were stirring and real.
This young man, who had just passed the age of majority, had somehow managed to sneak his way into her heart and disrupt the still waters within, unleashing a flurry of emotions she had not experienced in some time.
Indeed, he was everything that was good and reliable.
Who could resist his charms?
Li Zhi had always been starved for emotional connections, relying instead on her rational mind to guide her through life.
However, now that she had recognized the fresh and powerful emotions roiling inside her, she was able to feel more at peace with herself.
The confusion that had once clouded her eyes had now dissipated, replaced instead by a mixture of joy and nervousness as she met his gaze head-on and acknowledged, “Yes, I was a bit angry with you.”
Pei Ji felt a rush of warmth in his chest.
His normally dark eyes glimmered with joy, and he found himself unable to contain his excitement any longer.
“Li-niang, you do have some affection for me, don’t you?”
Li Zhi gazed at him, taken by surprise by the sight of his rare smile.
She felt her lips curve upwards and her eyes light up, like a crescent moon in the sky.
Nodding softly in agreement, she said, “Yes.”
With just one word, clear and to the point, Pei Ji had managed to strike a chord in her heart, like a precious gem that landed perfectly.
He could no longer hold back, and he sat up straight before leaning over the edge of the table, pulling her close to him and kissing her passionately.
Li Zhi had intended to push him away and finish what she was saying, but when she struggled and he did not budge, she surrendered and allowed him to kiss her.
The table still stood between them, and Pei Ji found it an obstacle.
He continued to kiss her deeply while standing in front of her.
With a strong embrace, he drew against his solid chest.
It was already the fifth month of the lunar year, and the heat had begun to seep in.
Pei Ji had just finished playing a game of polo, and his body was soaked with sweat, exuding a rough and humid heat.
In an instant, the heat spread to Li Zhi, causing a light blush to tinge her ivory cheeks, and a watery gleam to well up in her eyes.
As he watched her, his heart was warmed by an unfamiliar feeling.
He couldn’t help but let his hand, which was holding her waist, trail lightly beneath her thin summer dress.
Her outer garment had already slipped from her shoulder, and the ties had begun to loosen, when suddenly footsteps could be heard outside the room.
Chun Yue’s voice followed, deliberately raised, “What brings Chief Eunuch He here? The Noble Concubine is taking a nap.
Let me go and inform her.”
He Yuan Shi’s voice came next, full of smiles, “Thank you.”
The bodies in the room stiffened simultaneously.
Their eyes met, and they were filled with surprise.
Li Zhi reacted first and quickly pushed him behind a screen, pointing to the bed.
For a moment, Pei Ji hesitated, reluctant to hide from view.
However, his rational mind quickly took control.
He swiftly circled around to the back of the bed, hiding himself behind the veil and making no sound.
At the moment the palace doors opened, Li Zhi had already reclined back onto the couch.
“Miss, the Chief Eunuch has arrived.” Chun Yue looked inside and outside the door, unable to locate Pei Ji, before finally exhaling a breath of relief.
She gestured for He Yuan Shi to enter.
Li Zhi propped herself up from the couch, her clothing disheveled, her cheeks flushed, her eyes watery, looking delicate and fragile as if she had just woken up.
“Why has the Chief Eunuch come? Is there something he wishes to report?”
Even He Yuan Shi, who had been an eunuch for many years, couldn’t help but be taken aback by her appearance.
It was no wonder the Emperor couldn’t forget such a person.
In order to protect her from criticism by the people, he had to suppress his desires.
He presented the food box with a smile, revealing a plate of plump lychees resting on crushed ice beneath the lid.
“This plate, ordered by His Majesty, has one untouched lychee.
I have been commanded to bring it to you, Noble Consort.”
Li Zhi stood up and approached the food box, looking down at it for a moment without showing any sign of excitement or gratitude.
She reached out and touched the rough, bumpy surface of a round lychee before accepting the food box with a smile.
“I am unable to thank His Majesty in person.
Please convey my appreciation to him on my behalf.”
He Yuan Shi felt a faint disappointment but quickly regained his composure, knowing that it was to be expected.
Li Zhi offered him tea and snacks to enjoy in the palace, but he politely declined, claiming that he needed to return to Qingsi Palace as soon as possible.
Before leaving, he bowed respectfully to her, briefly lingering on her rosy lips before quickly turning and departing from the palace.
As he walked along the mountain path outside Qingsi Palace, he felt a stir in his heart.
The Noble Consort’s appearance just now reminded him of her fragile state after leaving the Emperor’s tent in the past.
Especially her plump, red lips, which appeared as though they had just been moisturized, with a tempting and radiant color that was impossible to forget…
He was taken aback and quickly chastised himself for being foolish.
How could one glance confuse his mind so easily? He had already severed his desires for many years, so why was his will so weak?
The Noble Consort was in Chenghuan Palace, and the Emperor was outside Qingsi Palace.
How could he receive her favor? He was confused and had unfounded fantasies.
The vast mountainous area was filled with the clear sound of young men and women laughing, and pink rice dumplings hung from the branches of precious trees.
He no longer indulged in his wandering thoughts and hastened his pace towards the Emperor.
After finally maneuvering through the crowd and walking behind the hall, ready to report his mission, he noticed several eunuchs carrying a sedan chair approaching from a nearby mountain path.
His eyes flickered, squinting carefully.
A bad premonition arose in his heart.
The woman sitting upright in the sedan chair had a particularly familiar appearance and figure.
It was the Lady of Yingguo, Zhong Miao Yun, who should not have come to the banquet.
She was dressed in bright clothing and heavy makeup, looking well-prepared.
When the sedan chair approached and caught everyone’s attention, she stopped it and walked directly towards them.
When he saw her, He Yuan Shi’s heart skipped a beat, and he quickly signaled to the nearby young eunuchs to intercept her.
But it was too late.
Li Jing Ye, who had been watching the young men shoot powder balls on the field, noticed that He Yuan Shi had remained silent and turned his attention elsewhere.
In that brief moment, Li Jing Ye caught a glimpse of Miao Yun, and his expression immediately turned cold.
He knew that the Empress Dowager still held a grudge against Miao Yun for what had happened to the Sixth Prince and Ling Yue, and he himself could not muster any sympathy for her.
He had clearly instructed that there was no need to inform the Zilang Hall or invite anyone to the palace banquet today, and yet she had come on her own at this time!
The Empress Dowager, who had just started to relax and feel a little happier, also noticed her presence.
“Hmph, how embarrassing!”
The Empress Dowager’s smile vanished, and she spoke with a sneer.
“On a day like this, why did you let her come? Are you trying to make me uncomfortable, Your Majesty?”
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