Fuzhu’s Ballad Chapter 23

CHAPTER 23 Walking on the same road

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Lan Dan dreamed all night that she turned into a passionate and unrestrained dancer, twirling and spinning in a joyous dance with abandon. Her headscarf, adorned with golden pieces, sent a continuous spray of shimmering light before her eyes. She was on a high platform, surrounded by bright lights flickering in all directions, and she couldn’t see the audience around her clearly. She just kept spinning, unable to tell if the radiance came from the lights or from herself. She felt extremely happy, as if someone was dancing with her. That person was tall, and his hand was raised above her head. She held his hand and jumped and laughed like a spinning top. His face came into view—

It was Shentu Rui.

Lan Dan sat up straight from her sleep, her heart pounding. She pressed her hand on her chest and took deep breaths, momentarily unsure if it was just a dream because everything felt so real. She struggled to catch her breath, imagining that it was from dancing too vigorously..

She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, calming herself down. Looking around, she confirmed that she was in a guest room at the Fengyang Inn. She collapsed back on the bed, silently recalling her dream.

The sky was already starting to brighten, casting a hazy blue light through the window and making the room feel even colder and lonelier. Lan Dan was immersed in this dim and melancholic atmosphere, caught between sleep and wakefulness.

She could no longer deny Shentu Rui’s special place in her heart. Setting aside their family backgrounds, he was, objectively speaking, the most special man in her life. Unconsciously, he had entered her heart. She argued and fought with him, but she trusted him, relied on him, and confided in him without any concealment. This was the most incomprehensible thing to her. Even though she and Shentu Rui were allies, they should have been wary of each other, but for some reason, she increasingly felt that he was good to her. This kind of goodness was unfamiliar and difficult to express in words…

Whenever she talked to him, she didn’t hide her wit, and when they walked together, she could naturally hold his hand. When she was sick, she didn’t resist his embrace, and when he was sick, she hugged him and couldn’t bear to let go. He was too close to her heart, and she refused to think about the reasons, because she knew the answer would be cruel.

In the plae light of dawn, she silently asked herself, what is the difference between Shentu Rui and the former Shentu Cheng?

In fact, she already knew the answer: there was no difference, except for their means and methods.

Shentu Cheng was too calculating and insincere, putting on a fake show for everyone around him, including her. His motives were always hidden, his emotions carefully guarded. Shentu Rui was different. He didn’t seem to be acting at all, and he was always willing to give and be good to her. Even if she were to awaken from this dream and see him for who he really was, she knew she wouldn’t hate him, and her gratitude towards him would be genuine. But regardless of the differences in their approach, their purpose and outcome were the same. Shentu Cheng had wanted her to kill the Emperor, and now Shentu Rui wanted her to kill Shentu Cheng. When they returned to the capital, despite his high standing in her heart, she knew that he would send her to the palace and hand her over to Shentu Cheng.

Shentu Rui had always been straightforward with her. From the beginning, he had declared that they were allies, and that anyone who proved to be useless would have to face their end.

Xiao Lan Dan was indeed a shallow person when it came to men. She had met the likes of Shentu Cheng before, but she was still captivated by Shentu Rui. She thought he was different. He made her feel like a desirable woman, and she couldn’t help but be captivated by him. If she didn’t remind herself constantly, she would have admitted that she liked him.

However, she wasn’t good enough. She wasn’t the kind of person who could walk with him until the end.

She began to have delusions because it felt wonderful to be on the same path as Shentu Rui. She was like an ordinary girl who had found her true love but was too scared to confess her feelings.

Sadly, she was Xiao Lan Dan. She already knew clearly that she and Shentu Rui were on the same path for a short time, and they might soon reach a fork in the road. He would still be galloping ahead, shining brightly, while she would only have a rugged and dark dead end.

She had once experienced the feeling of being abandoned by the person she loved. It was unforgettable, and she didn’t want to experience it again.

Furthermore, family background and social status could not be ignored, and Shentu Rui was not the man she could ever be with. She had transformed from Xiao Lan Dan to Fu Zhu and didn’t want to suffer because of a man anymore.

As they gathered to set off on their journey once again, Sun Shi Xiang suggested that Lan Dan ride in the same carriage as Shentu Rui. However, she declined with a polite shake of her head, “I’ll ride a horse.”

Shentu Rui was about to get on the carriage when he heard her refusal. He frowned as he looked directly at her.

Knowing that Shentu Rui was a perceptive man, Lan Dan made a point of smiling at him in a friendly manner. She understood that being too formal would only serve to create a cold and distant atmosphere.

Sun Shi Xiang was eager to convince her to change her mind, but Shentu Rui intervened with a raised hand. A smirk played on his lips as he said, “Then we’ll all ride horses! Let’s make up for lost time.”

As they rode for hours on end, Lan Dan began to feel a burning sensation on the inside of her thighs from the friction of the saddle. She didn’t dare to touch it, enduring the discomfort as best she could.

It was clear that Shentu Rui was determined to push on with their journey, even stopping only briefly at a deserted village inn for lunch and bypassing any opportunities to rest in a nearby town.

The guards were gathered around the flickering flames, warming themselves as they chatted away. Meanwhile, Lan Dan excused herself and slipped away to a secluded wooded area nearby. The multiple layers of clothing she had purchased earlier from Fengyang helped to cushion her saddle, but her thighs still stung with pain from the friction. Gently lifting her dress, she examined the injury, and it was evident that it would soon turn into an unsightly bruise. Though her skin felt rough and blistered, she remembered the ointment she had obtained from Beimo, which brought some relief upon application.

Lan Dan hobbled back to the group with a slight limp, her legs aching from the multiple layers of clothing and the injured thigh. She didn’t want to show any signs of distress, especially in front of Shentu Rui, so she walked slowly and steadily. Sun Shi Xiang saw her approach and kindly beckoned her over to join the small fire they had set up. Lan Dan hesitated a little when she saw Shentu Rui sitting by the small fire warming his hands, but then she realized that all her caution and distance were just self-imposed barriers. Shentu Rui was her companion on this journey, and she didn’t want to appear affected. So she put on a slight smile, slowly walked over, and sat down in the vacant spot away from Shentu Rui.

The boss of the roadside inn served them their meals in large wooden bowls, with rice at the bottom and three steaming dishes on top. Lan Dan was fascinated by this unique and unfamiliar way of dining. The bowls were heavy, and she had to bend her knees to keep it steady on her lap while using one hand to wield her chopsticks. Although the dishes were slightly salty, they were hot and delicious, and Lan Dan happily devoured them. As she finished, she realized that Sun Shi Xiang and Shentu Rui had already finished their meals and were watching her with amusement. Sun Shi Xiang poured two cups of tea and excused himself to fetch more water, leaving Lan Dan alone with Shentu Rui. Shentu Rui moved closer to her, teasing her for struggling to hold the wooden bowl and the chopsticks at the same time, and then kindly helped her take the bowl away and handed her the tea.

“Still angry?” He lowered his head and awkwardly smiled. “Who hasn’t been frivolous in their youth?”

At first, Lan Dan didn’t understand what he was referring to, but then realization dawned on her, causing her face to turn beet red. She pursed her lips and said frankly, “I’m not angry.”

Shentu Rui glanced at her from the corner of his eye, clearly thinking that she was saying one thing but meaning another.

She didn’t know if he was sincere or not, but this was dangerous for both of them, especially for her. Lan Dan remained silent for a moment before saying, “Why are you explaining? I’m not angry, and I don’t have any reason to be.”

Shentu Rui fell silent as he stared at the campfire with furrowed brows.

The sound of galloping horses came from a distance. It seemed like another group of people and horses had arrived to rest and eat.

“Shentu Rui— Brother Rui—”

The young man at the front of the horse team ran a short distance away and began waving and shouting. Shentu Rui stood up, hummed a tune, and his expression improved.

The young man wore light armor and a black fur cloak. He had a handsome appearance that looked similar in age to Shentu Rui, but he was much brighter and more candid.

He ran closer, jumped off his horse, and rushed over to embrace Shentu Rui, patting him on the back and joyfully exclaiming, “Brother Rui, I haven’t seen you in a year!”

Shentu Rui pulled away with some displeasure. “Are you trying to kill me? Why aren’t you guarding Tongye properly? How did you end up here?”

The young man in military uniform laughed, “Didn’t you want me to keep an eye on Xiao Bing Wen? I might as well lead my troops to welcome him. Otherwise, with his old bones, when will he arrive at Tongye? How can I have the patience to wait for him every day at home?!”

Pouting secretly, Lan Dan looked at the teacup, and slowly turned it in her hands. Her Fifth Brother was not even thirty yet, how could he have old bones?

“Where is he?” Shentu Rui smiled wryly, but there was a hint of humor in his tone.

The young man in military uniform didn’t answer immediately. He sat down by the fire, looked at Lan Dan with a smile, and said, “Brother Rui’s new recruit? Why are you so thin?” With a slap on Lan Dan’s back, she stumbled forward, spilling tea all over her clothes.

Lan Dan furiously glared at him.

The young man in military uniform stared for a while, then lightly exclaimed. Feeling embarrassed by his direct stare, she quickly got up and moved to the other side of the fire, pointedly ignoring him as she busied herself with gathering dry firewood.

“Su Yi Ming!” Shentu Rui sternly called out to him. “I’m asking you a question! Where is he?”

Still in a trance, the young man in military uniform murmured in confusion, “Who?”

Shentu Rui couldn’t help but laugh in annoyance. “Xiao Bing Wen!”

Su Yi Ming shrugged. “He’s in prison. Are you expecting me to keep him locked up in my father’s mansion like a Prince?”

Seeing him back to normal, Shentu Rui also relaxed and said with a stiff smile, “You did well, I’ll remember your contribution.”

Sun Shi Xiang deftly served Su Yi Ming a large bowl of rice brimming with vegetables. Su Yi Ming, still young at heart, ate heartily, and even Lan Dan thought his food tasted better than everyone else’s.

Shentu Rui sat back down by the fire, snorting and sneering as he watched Su Yi Ming eat. After a while, he finished eating and Shentu Rui looked at him with a kind smile and asked, “Are you full?”

Su Yi Ming wiped his mouth and looked at him with a side glance, saying dumbly, “Yes… if you have something to say, don’t smile at me like that. It’s scary, you know I’m timid.”

Shentu Rui snorted, “I think your becoming bolder.”

Su Yi Ming chuckled twice, unsure if he understood Shentu Rui’s meaning.

“When you’re full, go back and break one of Xiao Bing Wen’s legs for me!” Shentu Rui coldly sneered, deliberately dragging out his tone.

Lan Dan’s eyes widened in shock at the brutal order, her mouth opening as if to protest, but no words came out.

Meanwhile, Su Yi Ming seemed almost gleeful at the prospect, rising from his seat and patting his bottom as he agreed, “Alright, I’ll go do it now.”

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