CHAPTER 15 Intellectual disability
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Lan Dan hadn’t laid eyes on Shentu Rui in a number of days. She wondered if his absence was due to his busy schedule or if he was still nursing his anger over her behavior from a few days prior.
As the days passed, the weather began to turn, and the harsh winter gave way to a gentle warmth that crept in with the sunshine. The once snow-clad terrain had now shed its white cloak, revealing damp soil that looked fit to nourish a lush growth of greenery.
Lan Dan enjoyed basking in the sun’s warmth, and it was a daily routine for her to unlatch the two wooden doors leading to her small courtyard, allowing the sunbeams to penetrate the room and the chilly spring breeze to follow suit.
As Shentu Rui strolled in, his eyes darted towards the open sliding doors and clicked his tongue disapprovingly, promptly shutting them despite Lan Dan’s preference. When he pivoted around to face her, Lan Dan had already managed to steady her nerves and chose to pretend that the previous awkwardness had never occurred.
Shentu Rui wasn’t prepared to lock eyes with her so soon after turning around. Lan Dan’s expression was a composed one, with no discernible hint of anger or joy. This made him feel somewhat pressured for a moment.
“It’s still quite chilly outside,” he began, grasping for something to say. He felt uneasy and resentful, wondering why he was the one feeling uncomfortable. “Is your resting bitch face still not better?” he maliciously questioned her lack of expression.
“Hmm, no.” She answered casually.
He sat, brooding in silence, until a maid interrupted his thoughts with news of an unexpected visitor.
Already in a bad mood, he became even more unhappy after hearing about the visitor. He spoke sternly, “Did I not make it clear that I did not wish to receive anyone?” But as soon as the words escaped his lips, he regretted them and felt embarrassed in front of Lan Dan. He tried to mask his embarrassment with a deep frown, hoping to regain some semblance of composure.
The maid wasn’t scared, but she seemed nervous as she spoke. She blinked twice while hesitating before saying, “It’s… her.”
Shentu Rui thought for a while, then sneered at the corner of his mouth. “Her? Her Excellency?”
The maid’s surprise was evident, and she seemed momentarily taken aback by his lack of discretion in front of Lan Dan. However, she quickly composed herself and listened intently to his instructions.
Shentu Rui got up and left the room, with the maid following him. Shortly after, she returned to the room and checked the sliding door before warning Lan Dan in a serious tone, “Don’t make a sound.”
Lan Dan nodded cautiously in response. The maid left the room with satisfaction, carefully closing the door behind her.
Lan Dan sat still, unable to figure out why Lan Huang would come to Shentu Rui’s private residence. Did they have some business deal? She unconsciously bit her lip, realizing that Shentu Rui’s praise of Lan Huang might not be as simple as she had thought.
“Alright, let’s talk here.”
Shentu Rui’s indifferent voice came from outside the wall of her room. The structure of Lan Dan’s room was unique. On one side, a sliding door led directly to a small garden, while on the other, a veranda had been blocked off along the wall. During her walks, Lan Dan had often pondered the unusual design, wondering why the veranda had been cut off in such a peculiar manner. It seemed impractical that she had to go all the way around the house to enter her own room.
However, as she listened to Shentu Rui and Lan Huang’s conversation, Lan Dan finally grasped the purpose behind the unique structure. Standing at the end of the veranda, her eyes scanned the small garden inside the high walls, watching as people came and went, their movements crystal clear. The wall was devoid of any windows, and it appeared to be a secure dead end, a corner from which one could observe the outside world.
Now that Lan Dan had unravelled the mystery behind the blocked veranda, she couldn’t help but be perplexed once more by another aspect of the room’s design. On the wall at the corner, there were two slender sliding doors that allowed her to hear conversations from outside with utmost clarity. She couldn’t fathom the purpose of the doors and why they had been installed there.
Lan Huang didn’t speak right away. Lan Dan understood her scheming better than ever before, as if seeing her looking around to make sure that they were really safe and hidden.
Lan Dan’s heart sank. Lan Huang’s low tone was so suggestive that Lan Dan couldn’t ignore it. Setting aside the complicated relationship between the Shentu and Xiao families, Shentu Rui was at least her younger brother-in-law, right? Even Lan Cheng never used such a tone!
“I received a secret report that my Fifth Brother escaped from exile,” Lan Huang said gloomily.
“Xiao Bing Wen ran away?” Shentu Rui laughed lightly as if he had heard a joke. He now had a hint of disdain and a sense of detachment.
“What are you laughing at?” Lan Huang was a little anxious, but there was still a bit of coquettishness in her tone.
“I’m laughing at the trouble you’re in.” Shentu Rui remained indifferent.
“Rui, I can only come to you. Only you can help me with this favor.” Lan Huang even lowered herself to plead.
“Hmm? You want me to personally kill Xiao Bing Wen?” Shentu Rui laughed again, seeming quite pleased with his own humor.
“Shentu Rui!” Lan Huang stomped her feet.
“Yes, my dear lady,” Shentu Rui replied with a teasing tone that made him sound like a playboy. He seemed somewhat helpless in the face of Lan Huang’s demands, as if he would agree to anything she asked of him.
“Shentu Cheng is just waiting for him to escape so he can chase him down and kill him without any guilt. I need you to take on this task,” Lan Huang said urgently, cutting to the chase without any flirtation
“Hmmm,” Shentu Rui readily agreed.
“You must… let him go.” Lan Huang paused, and her tone turned to pleading again, “He was exiled to the north, and if he’s going to escape, he’ll head to Beimo. The gatekeeper of Yeliang City is a trusted confidant of Shentu Cheng. Without your help, my Fifth Brother will never be able to escape.”
Shentu Rui didn’t answer for a long time. “Why not just let him die?”
Lan Huang’s tone suddenly became more excited and agitated. “Rui, do you doubt me? My promise to you will never change! My family only has one male member left. If he dies, our family line will be cut off. I have committed too many sins. I don’t want to continue to be so ruthless! Besides, if I give birth to a prince, and have your help, I won’t need to leave any escape routes for myself. Furthermore, if my Fifth Brother has a chance to return to court, the person he would most want to kill is me. Keeping him alive is the least I can do to repay my ancestors and avoid further guilt.”
“Alright, alright, I’m just asking a question, no need to get worked up like this. It’s not good for the baby,” Shentu Rui responded casually to her passionate speech. “Rest assured, I will handle this matter properly.”
Lan Huang breathed a sigh of relief. “I won’t stay long. There are many things… I won’t say, but you understand.”
Shentu Rui hummed and said, “I won’t see you off either. Take care.”
Lan Dan was still lost in thought when Shentu Rui came in through the main door, carrying a faint scent with him. Lan Dan frowned and turned her head away.
Shentu Rui sat down, pursed his lips into a smile, and asked her, “So, what do you think of this matter?”
Lan Dan pinched her fingers, thinking that this was Shentu Rui’s test. She thought for a while before seriously answering, “She and Shentu Cheng are in a stalemate… I didn’t expect Lan Huang to still care about the last bit of bloodline in the Xiao family.”
Shentu Rui was momentarily stunned, but then he suddenly roared into laughter, as if he had just heard the funniest joke in the world. He laughed so hard that he toppled over and pounded the floor, completely beside himself with amusement.
Lan Dan looked at him angrily, unable to comprehend why her response had elicited such a strong reaction from him.
After laughing for a while, Shentu Rui finally calmed down, resting his hands behind his head and luxuriating in the warmth of the dragon’s breath. He then sighed deeply.
Lan Dan perked up and prepared to listen carefully to what he was going to say, but he just said, “You’re right, Ge Chun’s skills aren’t that great! When he gave you a makeover, why didn’t he also treat your intellectual disability?”
Intellectual disability? It took a moment for Lan Dan to realize that he was mocking her for stupidity.
In a fit of fury, she snatched an apple from a nearby dish and hurled it at him. Shentu Rui effortlessly caught it mid-air, sat up and began to munch on it. He even thanked her, as if afraid that he hadn’t angered her enough.
“Let me ask you something. Your family had plenty of brothers, so why is it that only your Fifth Brother is still alive?” He casually chatted with her while eating.
Lan Dan couldn’t come up with an answer to his question. The Xiao family had nine Princes, and it was logical to kill the Crown Prince. The Third and Ninth Princes were killed by their wives. Even the princes with no real power, like the Second and Fourth Princes, were killed. Yet, the ambitious Fifth Prince was still alive. If Shentu Cheng wanted to show mercy and compassion to the world, he should have spared those who posed no threat to him, shouldn’t he?
“Say it!” She glared at him, afraid that he would make fun of her again, so she decided not to answer.
Shentu Rui teased her with a mischievous tone, “Surely I don’t have to spell it out for you that Xiao Bing Wen has ambitions to usurp the throne, right?” Lan Dan couldn’t help but roll her eyes at him in annoyance. “My brother has soldiers now, and your sister has loyal ministers. They can hold their own in court and even outdo your Prince of Yan.” He threw her a knowing look.
Lan Dan hummed disapprovingly, rebuking him, “If you have something to say, just say it properly. Why do you have to make eyes at me?” It seemed very indecent!
“With your expressionless face, why would I make eyes at you?” Shentu Rui looked at her face with a mischievous grin, but when Lan Dan turned her back on him, clearly angry, he regained his composure and began to speak seriously. “Have you ever wondered why Lan Huang is not the Empress?”
Lan Dan stood with her back to him, listening attentively, but he didn’t follow up on his question, so she turned back to him, both angry and helpless, and shouted at him, “Why!”
“Lan Huang didn’t want to, and Shentu Cheng was happy to go along with her. They sleep and eat together, but they are constantly fighting for each other’s bargaining chips, with the winner gaining the upper hand and the loser facing death. Lan Huang fears that Shentu Cheng might resort to violence to eliminate her, so she flirts with me to divert his attention from her. This ensures the safety of her child. Once she successfully diverts Shentu Cheng’s attention to me, her child will be safer. Additionally, she has a backup plan by putting her trust in me. In case I do try to seize the throne, she can still maintain her position.”
Lan Dan’s mind began to buzz and she felt confused. If Shentu Rui could see through Lan Huang’s plot, then… maybe he truly liked her?
“She still doesn’t trust me, so she’s put her second backup plan in Xiao Bing Wen. Do you think Xiao Bing Wen really had the ability to escape from the watchful eyes of the guards? Should my brother and I ever dare to go against her will, she will not hesitate to throw open the gates of the north and welcome the Beimo people to support Xiao Bing Wen’s ascension to the throne. The only reason he remains alive is that he still holds some value in her eyes. He’s ambitious and has some intelligence, but he’s also shameless. Even if he knew that Lan Huang was responsible for his parents’ downfall, he wouldn’t care as long as she could help him. He’ll be delighted to ally with her.”
Lan Dan’s head drooped with a heavy heart. It was apparent that Lan Huang had meticulously assessed the worth of each individual, and Fifth Brother was just another pawn on her chessboard.
“I still admire her,” Shentu Rui says sincerely. “She’s so scheming, but it’s all for the sake of her child. A mother’s love is powerful, and I can’t help but sympathize with her.”
“Mmm…” Lan Dan sighed, feeling discouraged. “Compared to her, I really do have an intellectual disability.”
Shentu Rui couldn’t help but erupt into an uncontrollable fit of laughter once again. “You dare to compare yourself to her? You can’t even match my Qiuyue.”
“Who is Qiuyue?” He spoke the name so intimately, was she perhaps a maidservant?
Shentu Rui responded indifferently, “Wait a minute, I’ll call her,” then shouted loudly outside the door, “Call Qiuyue in.”
In a short while, a big yellow dog ran in, its tongue lolling out in excitement. It bounded towards Shentu Rui, who gathered it in his arms, relishing in the softness of its fur. With a nod of his head, he directed the animal’s attention towards Lan Dan. “Qiuyue, say hello to your sister.”
Lan Dan stood up abruptly, kicked the plate of apples over, and pointed to the door. “You! And your Qiuyue! Get out!”
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