CHAPTER 10 Every cloud has a silver lining
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The servant girl deliberately walked with heavy steps outside the window, sounding a little hasty, but still maintaining her usual elegance and calmness when she announced, “Princess Chengyang has come in.”
Shentu Rui’s brows gathered in extreme annoyance. Instead of going to greet her, he sat down by Lan Dan’s bedside. To accomodate the dragon heater in her small bedroom, the bed was removed, and several thick layers of bedding were spread on the floor to sleep on. Shentu Rui sat cross-legged beside the bedding, drew Lan Dan in his arms and fed her medicine.
Lan Cheng confidently walked straight into the inner room with her head held high, but she was taken aback by the scene that greeted her. She paused and stood by the stove without getting any closer.
“Hey! Take off your cloak before coming over, so she won’t feel colder. It will help her recover.” With a serious and exaggerated attitude of caring and pity, Shentu Rui used the arm holding the medicine bowl to fend off the imaginary cold. Lan Dan glanced at him from the corner of her eye, unable to figure out why he had to be so deliberate in front of Lan Cheng. Was he not afraid that Lan Cheng wouldn’t hate her?
Lan Cheng’s mouth curved into a sneer as she sat down brazenly. Her exquisite white fox fur cloak spread out, giving her a somewhat heroic and cool appearance. “Good, I’ll sit here, so as not to cool off your precious darling!” she said with a strange tone, rolling her eyes.
Shentu Rui ignored her, and finished giving Lan Dan her medicine before speaking indifferently, “Why have you come here on such a cold day?”
Lan Cheng folded her arms and looked around with disdain. “Look at this ghostly place with so few servants. Brother Emperor and the Empress Dowager have said countless times for you to move to a better mansion, but you never listen! Are there buried treasures or beloved beauty here that you can’t bear to leave?” Speaking of the beloved beauty, she gave Lan Dan a spiteful look.
Lan Dan pondered her words and realized that Shentu Rui was truly a skilled liar who could make falsehoods sound even more sincere than the truth! Wasn’t it said that Shentu Cheng suspected him and deliberately made him live in a shabby house to humiliate him? It turned out that it was his own choice to live here!
Shentu Rui didn’t have much interest for small talk. He continued holding Lan Dan and gently stroking her loose hair, his gaze fixed on her face.
Lan Dan felt nauseous inside. She hadn’t even washed her hair since she fell ill. What would it feel like to touch it?
“I’m used to living here, why bother moving around? What do you want from me anyway?” Lan Cheng felt a little embarrassed as it was clear that he wanted to quickly send her away.
“Also… also,” Lan Cheng forced a smile to conceal her emotions, “it’ll be easier to move when you get married.”
“Married?” Shentu Rui looked up at her and asked ironically, “When did I say I was going to get married?”
“It’s what the Brother Emperor said,” Lan Cheng observed his expression, “He has several concubines already, but you’re still alone.”
Shentu Rui casually smiled. “This matter should be decided by the Empress Dowager. What did she say?”
Lan Cheng looked like a deflated lantern, her mouth pouting in frustration. “The Empress Dowager said you have no interest in marriage right now and that you’ve been bewitched by a vixen. Anyone who marries you will have bad luck!”
Shentu Rui then laughed heartily, “My mother and I really think alike.”
Lan Cheng’s complexion changed. She jumped up to her feet, and said, “But I’m not afraid of bad luck!” She ran out sobbing.
After a moment of silence, Lan Dan asked woodenly, “Does it feel sticky?”
Only then did Shentu Rui take his hand away. “A little bit.”
Lan Dan borrowed some of his strength to sit up straight. “Go out and have someone give me a bath.”
Shentu Rui suddenly smirked, his features becaming more attractive with a bit of wickedness. “Why call for someone? The Prince of Yan will personally wash you.”
Lan Dan absently swung her left arm and unexpectedly hit his shoulder. She exclaimed in surprise and looked at her left hand, flexing it a few times and feeling that it was more agile and powerful than before.
Shentu Rui moved his shoulder, pretending to be in pain. “It hurts, but your hand looks like it’s becoming better. It must have been the fever that activated your meridians.” He propped himself up and looked at her with a playful expression. “Try to smile. See if your face will look better.”
Lan Dan instinctively tugged up the corners of her mouth, but she still wasn’t very satisfied. Then, it suddenly dawned on her that he was teasing her and felt both angry and annoyed. She resentfully turned her back at him.
Shentu Rui laughed loudly and stood up. “I’ll go get someone to serve Her Royal Highness.”
Lan Dan twisted her body and ignored him as she listened to him laughing all the way out. The way she and Shentu Rui get along… was really strange. They should be enemies, but there was also a sense of gratitude between them, even if it was a bit forced. She knew that he had many secrets and a cruel heart, but she couldn’t bring herself to speak harshly to him. Whenever she relaxed her guard, he would become like a friend who left her helpless.
Friend? Lan Dan smiled mockingly at herself. She ended up in such a situation because she couldn’t see through others, but was easily seen through by them. Having friends was not meant for someone like her, and it was better to distance herself from anyone who could potentially harm her.
After taking a bath and having a meal, Lan Dan felt much better. She paced slowly in the room and was surprised to find that her left hand and foot had improved a lot after suffering from an illness. Although she had not fully recovered, she no longer had to limp and hobble.
Shentu Rui walked in without the servant announcing him. Of course, there was no need for him to do so since it was his home.
Lan Dan sat down in front of the mirror and started to comb her hair. It was a habit she had developed when she was young, as it made her hair dry faster and smoother.
Shentu Rui walked over and sat behind her, snatching the comb from her hand. Lan Dan refused to let go and tried to hold on tightly, but she was no match for his strength and he easily took it from her.
He continued to comb her hair, very gently and carefully, even lifting the tips of her hair to prevent them from touching the ground. “I’ve always liked your hair. Even in the palace, there weren’t many as nice as yours,” he said absentmindedly, enjoying the task.
Lan Dan looked at her beautiful new face in the mirror. It was so delicate and lovely that every time she saw it, she couldn’t help but touch it, fearing that it was just a fragile layer of painted skin that could fall off at any moment and reveal the plain Danyang.
Always… how long did that mean?
She also saw him in the mirror, now dressed in a casual robe without a belt that showed off his toned body. He had good hair too, jet black and thick, and the bun he tied up looked full and pleasing. He looked even more charming with a small jade hairpin. He was like a butterfly that had suddenly emerged from its cocoon, shining brightly. The layer of dull shedding that had covered him before was suddenly lifted. Did he deliberately conceal himself before to let Shentu Cheng shine alone?
“You thought my hair was pretty before?” She seized upon his words and and pressed him for an answer.
Shentu Rui’s hands paused, before he smiled and skillfully continued as if he had been combing her hair for a hundred years. “Mmmm,” he admitted generously. “When a pretty girl walks by, everyone naturally looks at her face. But if she’s not that pretty, then we can only look at her hair, neck, and hands.”
Lan Dan fell silent. He was right.
She looked away from the mirror, not wanting to see him or herself.
“Since we’re now allies,” Shentu Rui put down the wooden comb, and took out a delicate jade bottle from his pocket. “Then take this.” He poured out a small red pill. “I haven’t thought of a name for it yet, let’s call it Yurong Pills for now. It has similar effects to the one you took before. One pill a month will make your skin radiant and your eyes bright. If you stop taking it, your skin will become withered and your hair will turn white in just three days. In short, you’ll age instantly and then die.”
Expressionless, Lan Dan reached out and swallowed the pill.
Shentu Rui froze for a moment, then joked wryly, “You’re really decisive.”
Lan Dan coldly smiled without answering. As long as she could settle the debt, she didn’t care if she was at his mercy.
“This is also the masterpiece of Physician Ge, right? He still dislikes me so much.” Lan Dan swallowed again and complained, “This pill is so hard to swallow!”
Shentu Rui was amused again. “How dare you criticize him? He’s the number one physician in the world. Do you know how much effort I have spent to invite him?”
“Number one physician?” Lan Dan was unconvinced. “I still have facial paralysis and can’t control my hands and feet! How good is his medical skill?”
Shentu Rui burst into laughter and wrapped her in his arms. “As expected of Danyang! I’ll tell Ge Chun what you said, and I’m sure the next batch of Yurong Pills will be even more bitter.”
Lan Dan shrugged, trying to break free from his embrace, but he held her tighter, so she just stopped moving.
Danyang, who was plain-looking except for her beautiful hair… hadn’t been held like this by anyone in years..
She knew he wasn’t sincere, but she was greedy for the sense of security Shentu Rui’s embrace provided.
“To make a deal with the devil,” this phrase lingered in her mind, but… be it Xiao Lan Dan or Fu Zhu, in this lifetime, how could she ever receive a genuinely warm embrace?
From the moment the death knell rang, to the execution platform, to the mass grave… she was too cold, in desperate need of a comforting embrace, no matter how insincere it might be.
The never-ending blizzard in her heart was briefly assuaged. She tried to take a breath, to rest for a while before continuing to wander alone.
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