CHAPTER 26 To be of one heart and one mind
Lan Dan’s heart sank as soon as the words left her mouth. She had said something stupid, something awkward, and she knew it. It wasn’t the first time she had put her foot in her mouth around Shentu Rui, but usually, he would say something to ease the embarrassment. If he was in a good mood, he would crack a joke or make light of the situation. But if he was in a bad mood, he would make fun of her, which made her feel angry. This time, however, he said nothing. The silence was deafening, and Lan Dan’s face burned with shame. She wished she could disappear into the ground, escape this awkwardness that seemed to cling to her like a second skin. Without a word, she turned to leave, but he stopped her by grabbing her arm.
He had already stood up, and Lan Dan dared not look at him. Shentu Rui let go of her hand, slowly embraced her, and rested his head on her shoulder. With a low and gentle laugh, he said, “Let’s go together and see how far we can go.”
Lan Dan’s tense back slowly relaxed. Although he was leaning on her, she felt warmth and secured.
She wasn’t sure if this was a confession or a promise. Having experienced both joy and sorrow, she understood the helplessness and danger of being in the royal family. Shentu Rui didn’t give her a solid commitment. Promising something was certainly easy, but fulfilling them was difficult. He didn’t want to deceive her, so naturally he wouldn’t say things that he wasn’t sure about.
He laughed softly again. “You really have limited experience. You think just being able to walk together for a while is good enough, but the further we go, the better.”
Lan Dan smiled wryly. He had set another trap for her, waiting for her to fall into it so that he could laugh at her. It seemed like his mood had improved.
“Do you think Shentu Cheng and Lan Huang are walking on the same path?” he asked, casually pulling his cloak around her, dragging her back to sit on the bench in the pavilion.
Lan Dan nodded.
“But the longer they walk together, the more they will torment each other.” Shentu Rui sneered, then his expression became somewhat respectful. “When Pang Lin died, both Shentu Cheng and I intended to spare your Elder Sister’s life, but she didn’t want it and chose to die with her husband.”
Tears welled up in Lan Dan’s eyes again. “Eldest Sister and Brother-in-Law were very in love with each other.” They were also good to her. If it wasn’t for her father forcing her to marry the second son of the Pang family, she would have been closer to her sister and brother-in-law.
Shentu Rui agreed with her. “So, it’s not important how far we walk together. What truly counts is whether we share one heart and one mind.”
Lan Dan anticipated him to proclaim that being together was of the utmost importance, but he had used the lackluster phrase “one heart and one mind”?!
Lan Dan’s mouth twitched, and she pulled it down in disapproval. Wasn’t he good at speaking? Right! He was even good at speaking frivolous words. How well he talked with Lan Huang that day, but when it came to her, his words seemed dull and uninspired, reduced to the cliché of “one heart and one mind”?
“Look, you don’t have to be too depressed. Among the royal family, not all of them are like your treacherous and lowly Third and Ninth Sisters-in-Law. There are also people like your Eldest Sister, who have love and loyalty.”
Lan Dan muttered angrily, “Who is depressed!”
He pierced through her small thoughts again. “You’re not happy with my pledge, are you?”
Pouting again, she realized that he knew what she was thinking all along!
“I think you’re playing tricks again!” She said everything that was on her mind, “When we get back to the capital, are you going to send me to the palace, and our journey will come to an end?”
He said nothing in reply.
She spoke on impulse, but when he didn’t reply, she became uneasy and distressed. In the end, their difficulties were all linked back to this very issue.
“It depends on your performance,” he said coldly.
Confused, Lan Dan looked up at him. Although he appeared angry, there was a hint of amusement in his eyes.
“If you continue to act like a vixen and cause trouble for me everywhere, I will send you to the palace!” he said viciously, but she was not afraid anymore. A series of laughter burst out of her eyes through her tears.
“Who’s causing trouble everywhere?” she protested.
He sneered, his eyes coldly glaring at her with a look of contempt.
“What… what should I do with this?” She stretched out her small hand tremblingly from the cloak, and in her hand was the playful red and green snow lotus.
Shentu Rui snorted dismissively and plucked a fruit. After chewing it briefly, he spat out the seeds with distaste. “It’s disgusting!”
Lan Dan had been curious to try the fruit herself, but after seeing his reaction, she dared not take a bite.
“Lan Cheng will hate you to death.” He suddenly mentioned Lan Cheng’s name gleefully.
Lan Dan looked at him in confusion, and Shentu Rui glanced back at her. “You snatched two husbands from her.”
Shentu Rui clicked his tongue, staring at her with a fierce look. “Me, and Su Yi Ming!”
Lan Dan was taken aback, and suddenly laughed. It turned out that he planned to let Su Yi Ming marry Lan Cheng. “By the way, you also said that you want to be Lan Cheng’s Consort yourself. Is the date set?”
Shentu Rui rolled his eyes, and looked into the distance again, unwilling to be teased by her. “Laugh all you want!”
When Lan Dan returned to the courtyard with Shentu Rui, Su Yi Ming was sitting with Sun Shi Xiang drinking tea and stood up nervously when they arrived.
Shentu Rui abruptly stopped walking, and Lan Dan almost bumped into him from behind. He turned slightly, with his arms folded, and had a look of arrogant provocation.
Su Yi Ming laughed, pretending to be calm. “Brother, you’re back?”
Shentu Rui suddenly turned around, scaring Lan Dan who almost jumped. He snatched the snow lotus from her hand and threw it to Su Yi Ming.
“This thing tastes good, go and get me more.”
Grinning, Su Yi Ming made a helpless expression, and said bluntly, “Brother, I know I was wrong, please don’t keep finding faults with me. It’s natural for a man to let loose their wolf nature in front of a beautiful girl like her.”
Shentu Rui let out a sarcasm, “Wolf nature? You are clearly a dog who rushes to grab sh*t when you see it!”
Lan Dan choked, standing behind him so he couldn’t see her expression. She bit her teeth and cursed in her mind. What sh*t? Wasn’t he just insulting her as well?
Su Yi Ming and Sun Shi Xiang both had strange expressions. They wanted to laugh or refute, but didn’t dare to.
Suddenly, Shentu Rui realized his mistake and scolded himself. He clicked his tongue in annoyance and said indifferently, “You!” He pointed at Su Yi Ming with his chin.
Su Yi Ming immediately suppressed his laughter and pretended to be obedient, leaning in to listen to his instructions.
“Come with me now.” He didn’t need to say more, Su Yi Ming understood what he wanted.
“Yes, Your Highness! Should this subordinate fetch a horse for Your Highness?” Su Yi Ming ingratiated himself with a smile.
Shentu Rui coldly snorted, “What are you waiting for? Hurry up.”
Su Yi Ming nodded repeatedly in obedience, turning to walk towards the stable. Before leaving, he handed the snow lotus in his hand to Sun Shi Xiang. “Here, you can have this, Shi Xiang. Actually, the person I like has always been you.”
Sun Shi Xiang was also someone who liked to play practical jokes. He had just put on a flattered expression ready to play along, but as soon as he saw his master’s cold gaze, he wilted.
“Take her with you in the carriage, there’s no need to hurry.” Shentu Rui was just as cold towards him, and Sun Shi Xiang obediently complied.
Lan Dan felt that there might be an underlying meaning behind the words “no need to hurry” said by Shentu Rui. After sending him and Su Yi Ming off on their horses, she suddenly worried. Would he really go and harm Fifth Brother?
She urged Sun Shi Xiang to hurry up, but fortunately Zhaoling was only half a day away from Tongye by carriage. Before evening, they finally arrived at the city of Tongye.
“Miss Fu Zhu.” Sun Shi Xiang stopped the carriage and knocked on the door frame. “It’s better to walk in the gates of Tongye.”
Not understanding, Lan Dan decided to get out of the carriage and walk into the city.
They took the southern gate as the sun was setting in the west. The sunlight illuminated the city with golden light, while the outside of the city wall was hidden in shadows, appearing particularly ancient and desolate.
If Zhaoling was a border town, Tongye was more like a pass, with thick city walls and solid gates, like a fortress. The lack of water surrounding the city meant that there was no moat to protect its people. Lan Dan walked on the bumpy cobblestone road, slowly walking from the shadows to the splendid sunset in the middle of the city.
“Miss Fu Zhu, look.” Sun Shi Xiang pointed to the heavily eroded ruts on the cobblestone road, and the orange sunlight shone obliquely, reflecting off the stone, making those twisted and tangled shallow gullies more apparent. “These were left behind when Beimo directly attacked the capital several years ago. At that time, the giant stones and dragon columns used for attacking cities and seizing territory were transported from this road, through this gate, straight to the capital.” Sun Shi Xiang sighed.
Lan Dan remained expressionless as she followed the marks left by the past war. There were no more iron cavalry from Beimo, no more mighty passes from their homeland. Everything had returned to peace and was buried under the dust. She knew this battle was crucial for her father, Shentu Cheng, and even Shentu Rui’s fate. Her father had narrowly won the war and secured his seat in the Central Plains. He built the Dragon Wall, thinking it could protect the prosperity of the country for ten thousand years. When the Great Khan Sa Ju left with resentment, had he ever thought that his son would obtain the vast territory and achieve his dream without a single soldier?
She thought her life had already been tumultuous enough, but compared to these important people, what was her little storm worth?
Her mood sank until she arrived at the lodging of the General’s mansion. Even after washing and changing clothes, she could not feel better.
Shentu Rui also came into her room with a new look, dressed in luxurious attire like a normal Prince of Yan.
He looked up and down at Lan Dan, who was sitting in front of the dressing table, and reluctantly nodded. “Your hairstyle is suitable. However, the frontier is a desolate place, and there are few skilled maids. We’re lucky that your clothes were brought from the capital.”
Lan Dan had no interest in dressing up. She listened to him sullenly, not wanting to respond.
“Go,” he came over and pulled Lan Dan up, “Sun Shi Xiang will take you.”
Lan Dan looked at him puzzled. “To where?”
Shentu Rui smiled and took off a waist plate from his waist and handed it to her. “Go see your Fifth Brother, and release him.”
“Me?” Lan Dan was surprised.
“You just need to give him the plate, and send him out of the pass. He will understand. Just…” Shentu Rui shook his head slightly, not very confident in her. “Don’t stupidly reveal your identity.”
Lan Dan had no spirit to argue with him, and walked out without a word. She got on the carriage, and Sun Shi Xiang led her straight to the prison.
The prison guards were drinking and playing games in a room at the end of the hallway, their loud voices echoing throughout the cells.
Carrying the bundle given to her by Sun Shi Xiang, Lan Dan slowly walked through the narrow path of the prison, her heart filled with mixed emotions. Not long ago, she was filled with fear of the prison, its darkness and smell a nightmare for her. But now, with her changed identity, returning to this familiar place not only didn’t scare her, but gave her a sense of peace and superiority.
She no longer shy away from it, this sense of security came from Shentu Rui.
Huddled in a corner of the cell, Lan Dan almost couldn’t recognize her Fifth Brother. His back was bent, his spirit lost. His downfall was not only visible from his tattered clothes and messy beard, but also his defeated spirit and despair.
When he saw her, he almost crawled over and clung to the railing, afraid to speak too loud, his voice increasingly hoarse, “Did…did you… come to save me?”
Lan Dan looked at him with pity and sadness. She struggled to keep her emotions in check, and nodded as calmly as possible.
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