CHAPTER 27 Epiphany
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Lan Dan was relieved to see him unharmed. It seemed that Shentu Rui had come to Tongye early, not to hurt Fifth Brother out of spite.
Sun Shi Xiang, who was usually arrogant, humbly opened the prison door and whispered, “Talk when we get out.”
Xiao Bing Wen’s face twisted in an expression of desperation to escape. When Sun Shi Xiang opened the prison door just wide enough for one person to pass through, Xiao Bing Wen burst out. Though it was only a few steps away, he appeared exhausted and pale with bloodless face, his eyes bright with excitement.
Lan Dan had been watching him, and the expression on his face at that moment frightened her. It wasn’t until Sun Shi Xiang reminded her that she remembered to hand the package in her hand to Fifth Brother.
Xiao Bing Wen hastily draped the cloak from the package over his body and pulled the hood over his head to conceal his face in the shadow of its fold. As he walked out of the prison, Lan Dan was surprised to see that Fifth Brother’s back was once again straight, and he had regained some of his royal demeanor that had been absent just moments before. While his drastic change in attitude lacked resilience and the fortitude of a great leader, it was clear that he could be easily swayed by the possibility of success. Without the kind of tenacity and mentality that a person who achieves great things should have, he appeared like a stray dog at death’s door, but as soon as there was a glimmer of hope, he would puff up his chest with arrogance.
She smiled wryly to herself, realizing that she was not a great figure either. Where did this sudden insight come from?
In fact, she had a vague feeling of this kind before, when she sensed that Fifth Brother had thoughts of rebellion. At that time, she even praised herself for being observant and astute. But after experiencing so many hardships, she realized that Fifth Brother was just too transparent with his thoughts, and anyone could see through them.
After getting into the carriage, Lan Dan felt that Fifth Brother must be more relaxed now. He sat up straight and even smiled at her.
“Have you met me before, Miss?” he inquired, speaking in a tone that was familiar to her.
“…yes,” Lan Dan stammered, avoiding his gaze. “I have met you before.”
Xiao Bing Wen made a knowing expression. “From your accent, are you also from the capital, Miss?”
Lan Dan suddenly remembered the silver coins she had prepared, quickly took them out from her pocket and handed them to Fifth Brother, apologetically saying, “It’s not much, but it’s what I could gather in a hurry. It should be enough for emergencies.”
Xiao Bing Wen took the money, showing a surprised expression, and stared at Lan Dan for a while. “Miss, you speak so well. Have you met this Prince before? Could it be that you are also from the old Min clan?”
It was a strange question. Lan Dan couldn’t help but take a closer look at him. Since Shentu Cheng usurped the throne less than a year ago, almost everyone could be considered part of the ‘old Min clan’.
“Since that’s the case… with such a beautiful appearance, how could this Prince not remember you?” Xiao Bing Wen frowned, his gaze deep and unclear, with an indescribable meaning when he looked at her.
Lan Dan felt annoyed. She had seen this expression on Fifth Brother’s face many times, when he lied to Yuan Yuan or other girls. Even if he didn’t know her true identity, why did he have to be like this even at this moment? He really had some nerve!
Fortunately, Tongye was not big. Within a few words, they arrived at the city gate. When Lan Dan was getting off the carriage, she felt like she had escaped a disaster. After being looked at presumptuously by Fifth Brother for a while, she really wanted to throw up.
The city gate was slightly ajar, and there were no guards in sight. The number of lanterns hung around the gate was also less than usual.
“Fifth… Your Highness take care of yourself on your trip,” Lan Dan said sincerely, knowing that outside the city lay Beimo, and Fifth Brother’s future was uncertain.
Xiao Bing Wen misunderstood Lan Dan’s sincere farewell. He took a daring step forward, clasping her hand and pretending to be sentimental, saying, “I’ll always remember your kindness, my dear lady.”
What? Embarrassed, Lan Dan took half a step back, trembling. Unexpectedly Fifth Brother followed suit and got closer.
“This Prince regrets not being able to meet you earlier and establish a good relationship. Please take good care of yourself by Shentu Rui’s side, and if I can make a comeback in the future, I will not let you down when we meet again.”
Lan Dan was too upset and ashamed to speak. She felt as though she had eaten a fly, but she managed to shake his hand off with disgust.
“You should leave now!” Sun Shi Xiang grunted in anger and disgust.
Xiao Bing Wen was briefly stunned and realized his situation. He bowed his head, turned around and walked away. As soon as he left the city gate, Sun Shi Xiang muttered under his breath, “Quick, close the gate! Quick, close the gate!” as though he had just gotten rid of a pest.
The guards at the city gate appeared out of nowhere and quickly closed and locked the gate. Lan Dan watched as the gate closed and heard the sound of the lock clicking. She breathed a sigh of relief, feeling less anxious.
Sun Shi Xiang gestured to her, pointing to the stairs at the top of the city. “His Highness is waiting.”
Feeling disoriented, Lan Dan numbly made her way towards the passage. Despite the cold and the difficulty of walking on the steep stairs, she had a sudden moment of clarity.
Only now did she understand the implication of what Fifth Brother said just now! Since he knew that she was “by Shentu Rui’s side,” and even said those flirtatious words, she had only felt disgusted and embarrassed at the time, angry that Fifth Brother still had not changed his debauched ways and was even hinting at people around Shentu Rui. However, was his behavior not so different from her own acceptance of Su Yi Ming’s confession?
Even though she knew it was only a superficial acquaintance and might not be trustworthy, she still flirted with him, leaving herself with an additional secret connection that could be helpful in the future.
As Shentu Rui had said, once deception was exposed, it appeared particularly crude. Witnessing others resort to such crude methods, Lan Dan felt disgust and contempt, and her whole perspective shifted.
What would Shentu Rui think if he saw her affected behavior towards Su Yi Ming today?
No wonder he looked at her with such disappointment and asked her what kind of person she wanted to be.
Filled with remorse, Lan Dan hurried up the city wall, panting heavily as her heart felt like it would explode.
The city wall was empty, with lanterns few and far between. The night wind was biting, causing the lanterns to sway and flicker, casting irregular shadows on the sections of the stone path. Shentu Rui stood between two arrow towers, his back to her, and the lantern light occasionally shone on him before moving away, hiding him in the darkness. He wore a light armor with arrow sleeves and had a slender waist and back, appearing both striking and heroic.
“Shentu Rui,” she called out to him, gasping for breath as she ran toward him. It was only then that she realized how ridiculous and shameful she was, wanting to sincerely apologize to him.
Ignoring Lan Dan, Shentu Rui smoothly drew out a long arrow, and expertly fired it at the target with a swift whoosh.
As Lan Dan ran towards him, she saw the wind lifting the arrow feathers and playing with the hair by his temples. His jet-black hair, soft and long, fluttered in the wind and was lifted up again by the gusts blowing over the wall. His jawline was beautifully chiseled and distinct in the dim light, his looks were exceptionally handsome. She lost her nerve and was fascinated, looking at him holding the bow. If there was a god of war in the sky, it should look like this.
A miserable scream echoed from the darkness far away.
She trembled with fear. It was Fifth Brother!
The clear and cloudless sky illuminated the night and enabled Lan Dan to see Fifth Brother lying on the ground with an arrow lodged in his thigh. He was struggling to stand up.
“What are you doing! What are you doing!” Lan Dan was outraged and resentful, rushing over to pound on Shentu Rui. However, he was taller than her, and all she could reach was his chest. Moreover, he was wearing light armor, rendering her hits ineffective.
Lan Dan was so angry that she cried. First, she was angry at Shentu Rui for injuring her brother, which he had promised not to do. Second, she was angry at herself for being so infatuated with him that she didn’t see through his deception. She and her brother are truly blood siblings!
Shentu Rui clicked his tongue and, with one hand holding a bow and the other effortlessly embracing her, he pinned her in his arms with ease.
“What are you doing!” he scolded her, but he was not really angry. “Look, your brother is thanking me.”
He tilted his chin, and Lan Dan, who was sobbing uncontrollably, looked in the direction of his gaze and saw that her brother was genuinely expressing gratitude to Shentu Rui as he limped away.
Lan Dan was dumbfounded, her wet face stinging from the cold night wind.
“If he didn’t get hurt, how could he run all the way to Beimo? With a full beard and tail, who would believe he escaped from Tongye?” Shentu Rui explained with patience.
After a moment of silence, Lan Dan buried her face in his chest and said in a muffled voice, “Shentu Rui… no matter what stupid things I do in the future, please don’t hate me.”
She couldn’t help but shed tears again, not wanting to be disgusted by him.
Shentu Rui paused for a moment and chuckled, “You make it sound as though you haven’t done plenty of stupid things before.”
Lan Dan was speechless.
His hand no longer pressed down on her, but instead gently patted her back and securely held onto her waist.
“If I despise you, why would I bother saving you from the execution ground and getting myself so angry that I want to vomit?”
His tone was still so sarcastic, but she suddenly had the courage to act coquettishly. She raised her arms and hugged his waist tightly, and spoke in a sweet voice. “If you couldn’t be disgusted before, you won’t be able to in the future!”
She moved her arms around his neck, hoping to avoid his reprimands. “I’m freezing…”
“Hold my bow.” He gave another order, sounding annoyed. “I’ll take Your Royal Highness to a warmer place now.”
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