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Chapter 13

Everything wakes up, and the morning breeze is gently blowing.

Cheng Lingdong, feeling idle, was strolling in the Imperial Garden with a cat in her arms. Her maid, Yutao, rubbed her eyes and yawned discreetly, mumbling to herself, but Cheng Lingdong paid no attention to her.

In her memory, if she remembered correctly, it was around this time. Day by day, nothing seemed to change; although others might not notice, she knew it clearly.

The storm was approaching, but for some reason, it was delayed.

Lost in thought, Cheng Lingdong didn’t notice that she was petting the cat in her arms too forcefully. The cat meowed and jumped out of her arms, running far away, which startled her.

She didn’t react immediately. Yutao, being alert, saw the cat running off and, fearing it might disturb other nobles, quickly followed.

The cat seemed to be in a hurry, running freely in the Imperial Garden. Yutao called a few strong young eunuchs to help, but they couldn’t catch it. Seeing this, Cheng Lingdong hurriedly tied a knot at the top of her skirt and joined the chase.

Yu Zhi, a trusted aide of General Fang Heng, had entered the city at dawn after listening to Princess Qingyang’s suggestion the night before. Despite arriving early, the emperor, who usually attends court early, had not yet risen. Impatient, Yu Zhi had no choice but to wait outside.

Since the emperor had rested in the Empress’s Palace last night, the eunuch guiding Yu Zhi led him to the Imperial Garden. Yu Zhi, never having been to the Imperial Garden, was surrounded by beautiful scenery and rare flowers, but he had no interest in them.

He was anxiously waiting when he looked down and saw a small kitten. The kitten was snow-white, seemingly just a month old, and very endearing. As Yu Zhi was about to pick it up, he saw a flash of yellow near a rockery. Looking closely, he saw a young woman in a yellow palace dress.

The young woman seemed to be walking from the morning light behind the rockery, with her skirt slightly hitched up. She appeared to be quite young, her hair half-up and half-down, indicating she wasn’t fully dressed for the day. Her yellow dress didn’t look dull at all; instead, it made her look even more radiant. Yu Zhi was momentarily stunned, forgetting all etiquet and rules for a moment.

The approaching person was none other than Cheng Lingdong. Seeing the palace servants in a flurry, she joined the cat chase. The cat ran quickly, almost outpacing her, and led her to the rockery, where she saw a handsome young man.

“Who are you to be in the Imperial Garden so early?” Cheng Lingdong asked.

She couldn’t be sure she knew everyone in the palace, but she would have remembered a man this handsome. She could tell that this man must be from outside the palace.

The day had just broken, and even the morning court had not begun. How could this man be in the Imperial Garden so early?

She looked Yu Zhi up and down, and Yu Zhi examined her as well. He saw that she was a beautiful woman with graceful manners, clearly well-educated. A woman like her in the Empress’s Palace at this hour must be a noble.

“I am Yu Zhi, an officer serving in the military, waiting here for an audience with His Majesty.”

He couldn’t be sure of the identity of the young woman before him, so he responded respectfully and didn’t say another word.

Cheng Lingdong originally thought that this young man was quite handsome, and her curiosity led her to ask a casual question. But hearing his name, she was momentarily stunned and took a while to regain her composure.

Yu Zhi was known to her. He was a distinguished military officer with impressive battle achievements.

“Princess,” a voice called out.

Several palace attendants finally found her.

Yutao, along with a few young eunuchs, approached Cheng Lingdong, all of them panting from running. Cheng Lingdong glanced at them briefly, then turned her attention back to the man in front of her.

The kitten was now lying at Yu Zhi’s feet, its little paw hooked on the edge of his robe, meowing softly. Seeing her mistress’s skirt still hitched up, Yutao quickly knelt down, first untying the skirt, then moving over to Yu Zhi to pick up the kitten.

“Master Yu, Master Yu!”

Chang Lin, a palace servant sent by the emperor, hurried over to fetch Yu Zhi. It seemed urgent, as he was slightly out of breath, his flesh shaking slightly as he ran. Cheng Lingdong saw him coming and frowned slightly before shifting her gaze to the kitten in Yutao’s arms, reaching out to gently stroke its head.

“Your servant greets the princess,” Chang Lin said, catching his breath while still paying his respects to Cheng Lingdong. She nodded slightly but didn’t look at him directly.

Chang Lin, being a seasoned attendant of the emperor, was highly perceptive. Noticing that Cheng Lingdong seemed indifferent to him, he had no other thoughts but turned to speak to Yu Zhi.

“Master Yu, His Majesty is waiting for you in the Hall of Diligence. Please come with me.”

Yu Zhi nodded. Before leaving, he glanced at Cheng Lingdong, who was holding the kitten. He bowed respectfully.

“Your humble servant takes his leave.”

Cheng Lingdong nodded without looking up. Yu Zhi felt a strange pang in his heart at her indifference, but he remembered his important mission and didn’t hesitate to follow Chang Lin.

As he walked away, he seemed to turn back for one last look before hurrying off.

He left, but Cheng Lingdong stayed. She only looked up to watch his departing figure after he had turned away. She kept watching until he disappeared down the covered corridor of the Imperial Garden.

People often said that Yu Zhi rose to power through military achievements, and now she sees that this wasn’t without reason. Meeting him today was truly extraordinary.

“Princess, what are you looking at? Master Yu has already gone far,” Yutao said softly, dismissing the young eunuchs and turning to see her mistress still staring into the distance. Cheng Lingdong blinked at the sound and lowered her head.

“Let’s go back,” she said.

She turned around, gently cradling the kitten in her arms, and walked very slowly. Yutao followed her closely, not daring to urge her along.

The kitten meowed softly, and Cheng Lingdong looked up at the sky, which seemed about to be covered with dark clouds.

“Strange, the sun was just out, and now it looks like it’s going to rain,” she remarked.

The clouds were gathering, and the sunlight was fading. Cheng Lingdong quickened her pace, knowing that the rain was imminent.

Yu Zhi’s entry into the capital was something she had always been concerned about, and now it had become a reality.

The road ahead was going to be even more challenging.

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