CHAPTER 25 Swinging the pendulum too far
<Previous Chapter<Table of Contents>Next Chapter>
The dull, overcast sky shrouded the travelers’ journey as they trekked through the light snowfall. Darkness had already descended upon the land as they approached Zhaoling. In the distance, they could make out the silhouette of the city gate tower, adorned with two rows of yellow lights that flickered in the gloom. The tower’s simple and robust structure gave the impression of a typical border town, especially in the faint light.
Lan Dan’s legs were sore from the friction, and she followed the team with her head down, only thinking about reaching the resting place quickly. Zhaoling was situated in a remote region, where the inhabitants were known for their peaceful and honest nature. At this hour, the majority of the population had extinguished their lights and retired to bed. Only a few government offices were still lit with lanterns, and the rest of the streets and markets were immersed in the darkness and silence.
Upon receiving the news, the county magistrate had eagerly awaited their arrival at the intersection near the government office, clutching a lamp in hand. Su Yi Ming appeared to be well acquainted with him, as they shared a few jovial jests. The Zhaoling county magistrate was a man in his thirties, exuding an air of poise and competence. He spoke to Shentu Rui with a sense of self-assurance and reason, earning the latter’s admiration. Shentu Rui even dismounted his horse to engage in conversation with him, impressed by his manner.
Lan Dan shivered on her horse, disinterested in their conversation. However, she caught one sentence that she only cared about. It seemed that both the post station and government office were too small to accommodate their sizable entourage. In response, they had arranged for the Prince of Yan and his company to lodge in two adjacent residences situated along the same street as the government office.
The county magistrate of Zhaoling made extremely appropriate arrangements. The two residences were both typical four-sided courtyards, cleaned and tidied up, with cozy kang beds and softly glowing lamps, emitting a warm and inviting aura. Lan Dan only hoped to crawl into the warm bed and have a good rest after a simple wash. Sun Shi Xiang picked a room for her, and she dragged herself inside without even saying goodbye to the others.
Shentu Rui remained silent throughout their journey, only exchanging brief words with the county magistrate before retiring to the room adjacent to Lan Dan’s. Su Yi Ming’s eyes glimmered with curiosity. He seized Sun Shi Xiang, who was also yearning for rest, and inquired in hushed tones, “Your master does not sleep with that girl?”
Sun Shi Xiang was also exhausted and answered honestly, “Never slept together.”
“Oh——” Su Yi drew a long tone, lost in thought, and walked back to his own room.
That night, silence hung heavy in the air. The warmth of the bed cocooned them from the chill of the winter air, and with no pressing matters at hand, everyone slept until noon the following day.
After washing up, Lan Dan’s hair had dried, but she didn’t see Shentu Rui come out of his room. She wondered if he had silently left again. But when she saw Sun Shi Xiang running around in the courtyard, she knew he was still inside. She couldn’t help but worry that he might be sick again. His expression while playing the reed flute was too sad, and his mood had been low since then. It was no wonder that the freezing cold weather had caused his old illness to relapse.
She was standing in front of the door in a daze when Su Yi Ming came in from the courtyard, greeted her with a smile and called her “Fu Zhu,” but her mind was elsewhere, and she failed to respond. Su Yi Ming assumed she was deep in thought and didn’t think much of it. He approached her with a smile and called her name again, “Miss Fu Zhu.”
Only then did Lan Dan snap out of her daze, gazing up at him in surprise. Su Yi Ming’s cheeks were flushed from the cold, lending him a boyish appearance of a thirteen or fourteen-year-old. Perhaps it was because of his guileless expression and untainted eyes that had not yet witnessed the ugliness of the world or been stained by its darkness, that he appeared so youthful. His smile was as radiant and warm as the spring sunshine, and Lan Dan seldom witnessed such a grin, feeling her heart lightening. She couldn’t help but smile back, unconsciously.
“Can I call you Fu Zhu?” Su Yi Ming asked cautiously, his smile becoming even more endearing.
Lan Dan nodded, slightly intoxicated by his smile. But deep in her heart, she couldn’t help but wonder about the young man’s background and how he could become a general at such a young age.
The thought came to her suddenly, startling Lan Dan. She realized that she had started to look at people the way the Shentu brothers and Lan Huang did.
“What’s your relationship with Brother Rui?” Su Yi Ming asked bluntly, emboldened by Lan Dan’s smile.
Lan Dan was taken aback. Her relationship with Shentu Rui… She had been grappling with this very question for some time now. She didn’t even have an answer for herself, so how could she answer him?
“Well…” She frowned and pondered for a moment before answering, “He is my savior…” That much was very clear and beyond doubt.
“Then how are you going to repay him? By offering yourself?” Su Yi Ming’s serious expression and intense gaze showed his nervousness.
Lan Dan was stumped by his questions. Actually, the answer was very clear. She had to help Shentu Rui seize the throne to repay him. But she couldn’t say it. Su Yi Ming’s blunt question seemed simple, but it was difficult for her to answer.
“I… I… I haven’t thought it through yet.” Lan Dan turned her head away, feeling a little embarrassed and annoyed.
Su Yi Ming was delighted to hear this. He burst into laughter, which echoed throughout the courtyard. Sun Shi Xiang heard it and rushed over, making a hushing gesture with his finger on his lips. But Su Yi Ming ignored him and smiled even more brightly, like the water of peach blossom ponds in the spring. “It’s good that you haven’t made a decision yet! That means there’s still a choice to be made!” He pulled out a plant from a small cloth bag hanging from his waist and presented it to Lan Dan.
“This is a snow lotus, a unique species that grows in the frigid borderlands. Despite the harsh climate, it boasts remarkable resilience and tolerance to the cold. The people of the northern regions often use its fruits as a source of food or to make wine”
Looking closely at the snow lotus in his hand, Lan Dan saw that the leaves were thin and deep green, and the bright red fruits hung like beads, with seven or eight strands on a single plant, very bright and beautiful.
“This is for you.” Su Yi Ming’s smile was somewhat unusual, affectionate, and his tone changed from his usual recklessness to surprisingly gentle.
Lan Dan smiled gratefully and thanked him for the gift.
“You can’t accept it! You can’t accept it!” Sun Shi Xiang exclaimed. “This is a love token that Northerners give to the women they love!”
Su Yi Ming pushed Sun Shi Xiang aside, his eyes still glued on Lan Dan’s face. He did not refute Sun Shi Xiang’s words, but instead recited slowly, “Snow lotus grows on the snowy cliff, resisting the fierce and arrogant wind. I would like to be with you, day and night, as your precious jewel.”
After hearing this, Lan Dan suddenly felt that the plant in his hand was a bit hot. She was about to return it to him, but when she looked up, she bumped into his clear and bright eyes.
Expectation, sincerity, and a hint of eagerness to please.
Her heart trembled heavily. The emotions he conveyed were familiar to her— they reminded her of the way she used to look at Shentu Cheng, with the same depth of affection and hope for a positive response.
She looked into Su Yi Ming’s eyes almost greedily. So this was how it felt like to be liked by someone! It seemed that he had the qualifications to manipulate this person and had risen above him.
Su Yi Ming emphasized eagerly, “You can take it now!”
Lan Dan lowered her head and played with the snow lotus plant in her fingers, giving no clear answer.
Su Yi Ming’s heart was overflowing with joy, causing him to break into a lively dance. He yearned to express his excitement but was interrupted by the creaking sound of the door opening.
Lan Dan suddenly felt a wave of guilt and quietly lowered the hand holding the snow lotus plant.
Su Yi Ming happily called out to Shentu Rui, “Brother, you finally woke up?”
Shentu Rui responded with a lazy hum and strolled out of the courtyard without even sparing a glance towards anyone.
He seemed to have not yet freed himself from yesterday’s despondency. Lan Dan took a worried step forward, then furrowed her brows and stopped. All the emotions that were restrained and churned in her heart swept over her again in an instant.
“Oh!” Sun Shi Xiang rolled his eyes to the sky, disregarding etiquette and pushing Lan Dan, then earnestly bowed to her, gesturing for her to catch up.
Lan Dan let out a soft sigh, realizing how easily she had succumbed to her emotions, all for a flimsy reason. Sun Shi Xiang’s words from the day before echoed in her mind, “Don’t make the Prince unhappy, especially not today.” She couldn’t help but feel guilty for allowing herself to be swayed by his words. The sound of Shentu Rui’s mournful flute continued to echo in her heart, much like her own emotions at that moment.
Finally unable to resist herself, Lan Dan lifted her leg and trotted after him. Regardless of what he felt about her in his heart, she only wanted to accompany him, talk to him, even if it was just to repay the warmth and light he had given her when she was trapped in darkness and loneliness.
“Wait…” Su Yi Ming also wanted to follow, but was dragged back by Sun Shi Xiang.
“General, please don’t get involved in Miss Fu Zhu’s affairs with our Prince,” Sun Shi Xiang advised.
“Why?” Su Yi Ming protested. “Didn’t you say there’s nothing going on between them?”
Sun Shi Xiang gave a bitter smile and patted Su Yi Ming’s shoulder. “In any case… forget about Miss Fu Zhu, Young General, it’s impossible.”
Lan Dan hurriedly rushed out of the gate, but by the time she reached the small alley, Shentu Rui had already turned the corner and was a few strides ahead of her. She tried to catch up with him, but his long legs made it impossible for her to keep pace. Finally, after a strenuous climb to the top of the mountain, Lan Dan found Shentu Rui sitting in a pavilion, enjoying the scenery for quite some time.
Feeling frustrated and out of breath, she collapsed next to him, struggling to catch her breath. Shentu Rui leaned against the rough wooden pillar of the pavilion, seemingly ignoring her presence. Lan Dan’s heart softened as she observed the once radiant man now dejected. She asked him hesitantly, “What’s the matter?” She wanted to ask if he wasn’t feeling better, but felt it wasn’t appropriate, so she just asked a vague question.
It took a while for Shentu Rui to blink his eyes before saying woodenly, “Why accept it?”
“Ah?” For a moment, Lan Dan didn’t understand what he was asking.
Shentu Rui’s head moved, and he looked scornfully at the snow lotus in her hand.
Lan Dan regretted clutching onto it so tightly when she had chased after him. Even though he had just been inside his room, he must have overheard everything.
“Having more than one person who likes you is also an opportunity, a force that can be used, is that it?” He turned his head again and looked into the distance at the city walls.
Lan Dan lowered her head, unsurprised that he could easily see through people’s darkest intentions. He laughed coldly, his expression twisted with a sneer. “Are you still harboring thoughts that perhaps one day, if you fall into hardship again, he would suddenly appear like me and become your ‘savior’?”
She had never planned to hide anything from Shentu Rui, as their conversations had always been open and honest. Besides, her innermost thoughts were like notices plastered on a city wall, easily visible to him.
“Hmm.” She nodded honestly.
As if he had heard the funniest joke in the world, Shentu Rui’s face twisted with mockery and disdain. He snorted heavily.
“You only just met him, and have only known him for two days, yet you think he can save you from a dire situation?”
Lan Dan was a little angered by his tone and asked him back, “Then how many times have you seen me? How long have you known me?”
Shentu Rui was taken aback and just pursed his lips without saying anything.
“Don’t you always laugh at me for being foolish? Don’t you always tell me to be smarter? Accepting Su Yi Ming’s admiration and keeping a backup plan for myself, isn’t that the smart thing to do? You are always flirting with officials from various prefectures and counties, isn’t that the same thing? And isn’t it the same with Lan Huang’s feelings for you?!” Her voice gradually rose, her back straightened, and she almost stood up by the end of her sentence.
Shentu Rui still lazily leaned against the pillar and sneered, “I wanted you to learn about deception, to understand it, so that you may be able to see through it and not fall for it again. Who made you deceive others?”
This sentence hit Lan Dan’s sore spot and she immediately deflated.
Yes, she also realized that her scheming against Su Yi Ming was just like what Shentu Cheng did to her. Shentu Cheng hurt her, and if she became capable, she would also want to hurt others in the darkest corner of her heart.
“I know your heart has turned cold,” Shentu Rui’s tone softened a bit, “some people, once their heart turns cold can never be warmed up again. But some people are different, their heart remains warm, no matter how many times it’s been frozen.” He looked at her. “Which type of person do you think you are?”
Lan Dan’s nose tingled and tears burst out without warning. She felt embarrassed crying like this, but she couldn’t help it. She could only cover her face with both hands.
“I don’t know!” she said, as if throwing a tantrum, “But I… don’t want to become someone like Shentu Cheng and Lan Huang.”
Shentu Rui laughed genuinely this time, and teased her, “Don’t you always admire Lan Huang’s insight and cleverness?”
Lan Dan pursed her lips and cried sullenly. Did she have any way out? Sooner or later, she would be trapped in the battlefield of human coldness. Without Lan Huang’s ability, she would end up on the execution platform again.
“What should I do when you abandon me…” Her words came out suddenly in a moment of despair and vulnerability. Lan Dan was shocked, but since she had already voiced it, she had let go of all the heavy burden in her heart. “If I am useless to you, I would rather be dead. I’m afraid, I’m afraid of being left alone on the road… walking…” She cried inconsolably.
Shentu Rui slowly sat up straight and looked at her silently. She spoke incoherently, but he understood her so clearly.
But didn’t he also understand?
“Lan Dan, in this world, no one can walk the same path from beginning to end. Sickness, aging, and death are unpredictable. It’s inevitable to be alone.” He smiled.
Lan Dan’s tears flowed more and more fiercely. “I know! I know!” He was saying it again, and everything he said was right. But she didn’t want to listen anymore! “But I want to walk the same path with you! The longer, the better!”
She suddenly stopped, dumbfounded. What did she just say?
If you enjoy this novel, support the Translator ginevre on her ko-fi account :))
<Previous Chapter<Table of Contents>Next Chapter>
1 thought on “Fuzhu’s Ballad Chapter 25”
This book my god. The ml, I don’t hate him, but it’s so obvious he’s a manipulator. He can deceive, he compliments everyone who can deceive as smart, calls her dumb, but he also is like, you shouldn’t deceive tho …….