CHAPTER 11 Not recognizing someone when they are right in front of you
Lan Dan slightly tilted her neck, and the gold and pearl jewelry on her head jingled. She looked at herself in the mirror, smiling in a way that was difficult to interpret.
Despite feeling bitter and struggling to smile naturally due to her poker face, the woman in the mirror remained stunningly beautiful, particularly when dressed in ornate palace clothing.
She never had such a luxurious outfit even when she was an imperial princess, and now as a woman with an awkward identity, she was adorned with wealth. For a moment, she didn’t know whether to feel sad or resigned.
“Please come in,” the maid said politely but not subserviently. This was a shared trait among servants in the Prince’s household.
Lan Dan was accustomed to the peculiarities of Shentu Rui’s household, where all the servants had their own distinct mannerisms, but none of them were considered normal.
Lan Dan struggled to get up, her legs numb after grooming herself for too long. The hairpins on her head were heavy, and the elaborate clothings on her body were even heavier. As she stepped out of the door, a maidservant draped a thick fur cloak over her. She couldn’t help but sigh inwardly.
The imperial carriage was still spacious and luxurious, but Shentu Rui was not in it. Lan Dan breathed a sigh of relief. She opened the curtains to take in the festive atmosphere of the capital.
She had been ill for a few days, and New Year’s Eve had passed. The streets were bustling with people preparing for the Lantern Festival. The streets had been transformed, with every household hanging red lanterns. The lanterns had a uniform style, indicating that they had been provided by the government. Wealthier households hung additional lanterns of different styles, which was seen as a way to curry favor with the court. The color red was the perfect touch to enhance the festive atmosphere, and it helped to dispel the gloominess that had been hanging over the capital. The old buildings and walls were covered in snow, and the lanterns resembled a long dragon winding its way through the city.
As Lan Dan looked at the smiling faces of the people, she realized more clearly than ever before that the dynasty belonging to the Xiao family had truly come to an end, even more so than when she had seen Shentu Cheng wearing the dragon robe or when she had seen Madam Shentu sitting in the Taici Palace as the Empress Dowager.
In such a short period of time, people have forgotten Da Min and the former imperial family.
She also thought of Shentu Rui’s remarks. Civil and military officials didn’t care who the ruler was, as long as they could climb the ranks and receive a good salary. Similarly, the common people didn’t care who the Emperor was, as long as they could live in peace and prosperity.
Even those who had been highly favored and privileged by the Emperor of Da Min, such as Lan Huang and Lan Cheng, didn’t seem to be concerned or affected by his downfall.
Ironically, while she was without power or favor, the lowly and neglected Danyang cared. Her emotions were stirred up, as if the grievances of the people buried in the shallow graves were gathering and attacking her.
The carriage continued on its journey into the imperial city. The festivities were taking place in the Liangyi Hall.
Shentu Rui stood at the entrance with a pleasant expression, and several young ladies who had arrived at the celebration greeted him bashfully. He responded politely to each one of them, without showing any special preference for those from prominent families.
The attendant lifted the curtain and helped Lan Dan out of the carriage, but Shentu Rui took a few quick steps forward and held her waist, lifting her out of the carriage.
“You’re really heavy,” he whispered playfully in her ear. “How could you gain weight after getting sick?”
Lan Dan didn’t bother retorting. She steadied herself from the shock of being suddenly lifted. She noticed that her dress had a long train that was still hanging from the carriage. Shentu Rui picked it up and carefully arranged it for her.
Lan Dan had never been so scrutinized before. She felt like all eyes were on her. Even though she used to be an imperial princess, she was starting to feel overwhelmed by the attention.
Fortunately, Shentu Rui came over and took her hand, walking proudly with her into the palace without any hesitation.
Her seat was deliberately placed next to a pillar, which blocked some of the onlookers. However, Lan Dan still felt like almost everyone was looking at her with various inquisitive glances, whether direct or feigned. She had attended countless celebrations before and had always blended in with the crowd. This was the first time in her life that she had been in the spotlight.
She looked at Lan Huang, who was also looking at her with a cold gaze.
Lan Huang sat high on Shentu Cheng’s side, a position meant for the Empress.
She saw Lan Dan as a lowly woman who relied on her beauty to captivate Shentu Rui. Lan Dan, on the other hand, felt a mixture of emotions upon seeing her sister and couldn’t make up her mind. Lan Huang did not recognize her, and she did not recognize the Lan Huang who sat confidently in her seat with an air of intelligence.
Shentu Rui sat far away from Lan Dan at the Empress Dowager’s table, but he didn’t spare her a glance.
The Empress Dowager specially asked the noble ladies from official families to come to her table to toast and introduced them one by one to the young and handsome Prince of Yan. She even watched closely to see the Princes’ attitude towards the noble ladies, smiling approvingly when he showed little interest.
The intention was too obvious. Lan Dan’s existence seemed trivial and laughable. Sooner or later, the Prince of Yan would marry a daughter from a prominent family, and the poor girl who sat alone in the corner, no matter how beautiful, was just a plaything and unimportant.
After the initial amazement wore off, everyone stopped paying attention to her, and everyone in the hall shared the same opinion as Lan Huang. In the imperial city, beauty alone was not enough. The fortunate few who possessed both a noble status and a beautiful appearance, like Lan Huang and Lan Cheng, were few and far between.
Lan Dan began to see the former Madam Shentu in a different light. Despite being reclusive for many years, she surprisingly seemed to understand the rules of the court and could place everyone in their proper places without saying a word.
Regardless of their status, whether they were lowly maidservants, noble young ladies, or even the powerful but uncrowned ruler of the harem, Lan Huang, she did not show any favoritism. The former consorts from the previous dynasty were even met with contempt and not a shred of kindness.
She was unapologetically clear about her likes and dislikes, but also balanced, as evidenced by her treatment of her two sons.
The imperial family of Da Yan only had two male descendants. The Emperor sat in the middle, drinking by himself, while the Prince of Yan by the Empreas Dowager’s side was basking in the limelight, attracting the attention of all. It was clear to all who was favored by the Empress Dowager.
Lan Dan was perplexed by the Empress Dowager’s behavior. Although the Empress Dowager was a shrewd person, why was she showing such favoritism to her younger son when the imperial power was not yet stable? Wasn’t she afraid of bringing trouble upon Shentu Rui?
There was still much about Da Yan that Lan Dan had yet to uncover and understand.
The singing, dancing, and music continued until evening, and the people’s excitement did not wane, but instead grew stronger.
Da Yan continued the tradition of the previous dynasty’s “Grand Celebration”, hanging tens of thousands of lanterns by the outer Taiye Pond for the Lantern Festival, which was the most exciting time of the night.
The palace maid led the young and beautiful ladies to a prepared chamber to change into casual clothes. Without the restrictions of palace attire, casual clothing allowed them to display their unique beauty. For a moment, they were all graceful and magnificent.
Shentu Rui’s maidservant had also prepared well for Lan Dan. Unlike other girls who were heavily decorated, Lan Dan only wore a jade-inlaid bracelet and a white fur-lined brocade skirt, looking as cool as a snowflake falling in the pine forest.
Shentu Rui was tightly managed by the Empress Dowager and had no time to say a word to her. When he was waiting to leave under the stairs, he supported the Empress Dowager and smiled at her slightly across the crowd.
Following the Empress Dowager was Shentu Cheng, who also looked at her calmly without any expression.
Lan Dan’s heart felt as if it had been pricked by a needle. The momentary gaze was different from Shentu Cheng’s lingering look at her in the past, conveying an indescribable but perceptible feeling.
It was a stark contrast between a stunning beauty and an ordinary girl.
Even after a prolonged gaze, it did not have the same captivating effect as that momentary glance.
If someone had liked Danyang back then, and had looked at her with loving eyes, Shentu Cheng would not be able to fool her.
Lan Huang did not follow the old tradition of walking half a step behind Shentu Cheng, but strode alongside him with her head held high. The palace lanterns lit up the surroundings like daylight, making them look even more beautiful.
Lan Dan watched coldly at their emotionless faces and unfathomable, murky eyes. Their features, no matter how exquisite, couldn’t save them from their evil and unfeeling personalities.
Amidst the thousands of nobles kneeling and sending them off, they boarded the luxurious imperial carriage with a proud expression, but every step they took was on the bones of their own loved ones.
Their arrogance angered Lan Dan. Like her, Lan Huang had participated in the Grand Celebration for nearly twenty years. Did Lan Huang ever think about her late Father Emperor and Mother Empress, who had also attended the celebration in the past?
Lan Huang’s arrogance was even more unforgivable than Shentu Cheng’s.
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