Fuzhu’s Ballad Chapter 39

CHAPTER 39 A sudden twist

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The Summer Festival was originally a day for the whole family to celebrate the return of spring and the summer solstice. The palace banquet did not have many outsiders, and three tables were enough in the Lingguang Pavilion. Everyone sat close together, enjoying the clear evening sky and the boundless lotus leaves. The cool breeze blew gently, and from afar, they could hear the music played by the orchestra on the lake, with its elegant sounds of the zither and the bamboo flute. It was a harmonious and joyful atmosphere. Everyone sat close to each other, looking at the evening photos of the clear sky, the boundless lotus leaves, the cool breeze blowing gently, and listening to the zither, flute and elegant music played by the music troupe on the lake.

Zi Fu, the newly appointed Side Consort, received congratulations and jokes from the other women present, wishing her and the Prince Yan to have children soon.

Shentu Rui had an emotionless expression and could not maintain even the politeness of a perfunctory response. The wives who attended the palace feast were usually important members of the court and thus, experts in observing words and expressions, yet they continued to congratulate Zi Fu despite the Prince of Yan’s obvious unhappiness.

Lan Dan slowly ate the seasoned preserved fruit, seemingly unaware of the other women’s actions. She knew that these women were all acting on the orders of Lan Huang, deliberately trying to upset her. She found their attempts to please her repulsive. Shentu Rui quietly reached for her hand under the table, which she coldly pushed away. She wondered if Shentu Rui’s fake gesture was meant for her or for Lan Huang.

Lan Cheng coldly watched while drinking her wine, chuckling to herself. She wasn’t afraid to be heard, raising an eyebrow as she asked Shentu Rui, “Just what did you do to offend Her Excellence? Looks like she won’t stop until she completely ruins you and the Prince of Yan’s household.”

She sat at the head of the round table, separated from Lan Huang by just one table setting. She spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear, not just Lan Huang, but also the Empress Dowager and Shentu Cheng.

The Empress Dowager’s lips twitched in approval at Lan Cheng’s words. It was clear that Lan Huang’s actions towards Zi Fu were unfair, and she was taking advantage of her position.

Shentu Cheng tried to smooth things over with a laugh. “Zi Fu has been with Huang’er for many years, and their relationship runs deep. It’s natural for her to show a bit of favoritism towards her and be a bit more selfish.”

Lan Huang responded with a slightly reproachful smile, giving Shentu Cheng a disapproving glare. “If the Emperor says so, it makes me look like I’m the one being petty and small-minded.”

Shentu Cheng nodded and joked, “In that case, you should raise a glass to the Prince of Yan even more. You’re making him miss out on this good fortune, and he might not appreciate it.”

Although she was already heavily pregnant and had difficulty moving, Lan Huang stood up and walked towards Shentu Rui with a wine glass. A group of eunuchs and palace maids followed her, and Shentu Rui impatiently raised his eyebrows, stood up, and had to receive her toast.

The Linqiang Pavilion was not very spacious, and the aisle was somewhat narrow. As this group of people approached, it became crowded.

“Prince of Yan…” Lan Huang approached and was about to offer a toast, but suddenly her feet gave way, and she fell heavily to the ground. Although Shentu Rui reacted quickly, he was still two or three steps away to catch her.

The sound of people screaming in panic filled the room, causing chaos and making it hard to hear Lan Huang’s cries of pain.

“Quickly summon the imperial physician! Send the lady back to her chambers.” Although his face was pale, Shentu Cheng still commanded with authority.

Lan Dan had long been scared out of her wits. She was standing behind Shentu Rui and clearly saw that when he squatted down to help Lan Huang up, she squeezed his hand hard. Lan Dan’s heart twisted at the sight, knowing that this was Lan Huang’s way of communicating her wishes to him. Although they didn’t dare look at each other, they both understood.

The relatives from outside the palace were escorted to leave, and except for the Empress Dowager, the close relatives were not comfortable leaving and gathered outside the Kunyi Palace waiting for news.

The imperial physicians huddled together, their faces ashen, whispering in low voices. The midwives and palace maids were sweating profusely as they rushed in and out. Shentu Cheng ordered the servants to bring out chairs for everyone and thoughtfully had the palace maids serve tea to calm their nerves.

He sat by the door, observing everyone as the palace maids served tea one by one. When his calm, scrutinizing gaze swept over Lan Dan, she felt a chill run down her spine. Even she could tell that Shentu Cheng was guarded.

Although it was much quieter than Lingguang Pavilion at the moment, Lan Dan’s heart was even more disturbed. Countless thoughts and ideas flooded into her mind, and she seemed to understand, yet there were still many things she wasn’t clear about.

Today’s incident was definitely unexpected for Lan Huang and Shentu Rui, because neither of them showed any signs before entering the palace. The day they had prepared for should not have been today.

Then… there was only one possibility. Shentu Cheng had also guessed that Lan Huang planned to have an imperial son, and knew that this was extremely disadvantageous for him. Lan Huang’s fall had greatly advanced the delivery date, disrupting all plans, and with everyone staying here as a matter of course during the Summer Festival banquet, Shentu Rui, who had a thousand tricks up his sleeve, wass powerless at the moment.

Lan Dan frowned and looked at Shentu Rui, who looked tired and unconcerned, sitting under the shade of a tree, leisurely sipping tea. Shouldn’t he be in a state of agitation? Or was he composed enough to appear impervious? Zi Fu was next to him, with a restless expression, sitting uncomfortably and even pacing around in circles in the courtyard, furrowing his brow and listening to the sounds from the hall.

A little eunuch rushed into the courtyard in a panic, reporting that the Empress Dowager had drunk a few too many glasses of wine, was frightened, and sprained her foot on the way back to the palace. The imperial physicians were currently being summoned.

Shentu Cheng was lost in thought and did not immediately respond upon hearing the news.

Shentu Rui threw his teacup onto the tray held by the palace maid with a scowl, saying impatiently, “What kind of day is today that one person falls after another?” He stood up and asked Shentu Cheng, “Brother, are you coming or not?”

Shentu Cheng sighed in distress, “It looks like it will be a while before we get any results here. I’d better go see the Empress Dowager with you first.”

Shentu Rui nodded and approached Lan Dan to take her along, but was stopped by Zi Fu.

“Your Highness, I am worried about Her Excellence and must stay here to keep watch. Let Fu Zhu stay here to talk to me so I won’t be too anxious.”

Shentu Cheng had already walked over and Shentu Rui didn’t say much more. He just gave a cold glance at Zi Fu and left with Shentu Cheng.

As they left, Lan Cheng also stood up, intentionally speaking loudly to the nearby palace maid. “I also need to go see the Empress Dowager. When your mistress gives birth, just tell me whether it’s a boy or a girl.”

Gradually, only Lan Dan, Zi Fu, and some attendants of the imperial physician remained in the yard.

Lan Huang suddenly screamed, and Zi Fu couldn’t care less about being discreet. She hurriedly went towards the sleeping quarters and took a few steps before remembering something, and then came back to drag Lan Dan along.

Although Lan Dan didn’t understand why Zi Fu insisted on bringing her along, she thought it was better to go inside and see what was happening than to wait foolishly in the courtyard. So she followed Zi Fu quickly into the sleeping chamber. There were several midwives and palace maids inside, but since Zi Fu had previously served Lan Huang, she was not stopped from entering with Lan Dan.

The inner hall was brightly lit, but only Zi Yuan and Zi Dai were attending to Lan Huang. The exquisite curtains were also drawn, and when Zi Fu entered, she couldn’t help but let out a soft exclamation.

Lan Dan saw Shentu Rui and felt as though her heart had been hit hard. The pain was greater than the shock, and she opened her mouth but couldn’t even make a sound.

He stood far away, three steps from the bedside where Lan Huang lay, still calm, but with a tinge of sorrow.

“Everything’s ready, but… do you really have to do this?” He frowned as he looked at Lan Huang on the bed.

Lan Huang was sweating profusely from the pain, her face contorted. “It must be a prince! It has to be!” she screamed. “Since you’re already prepared, why take the risk to come here?” Her voice was hoarse, tears streaming down her face, but it was unclear if it was due to the pain or sadness.

Shentu Rui sighed. “I know it’s dangerous, but if I don’t ask you one last time, I…” His expression turned cold as he walked towards the curtain behind the bed. “I pray to the heavens that you really give birth to a prince.” He disappeared behind the curtain, which was likely hiding a secret passage.

“Get out! Get out! Get out!” Suddenly, Lan Huang started shouting like a madwoman, screaming at Lan Dan and Zi Fu, and hurling a pillow at Zi Fu’s leg with all her strength.

Zi Fu returned to the courtyard without saying a word, standing under the shade of a tree with a blank expression, lost in thought.

Lan Dan smiled faintly. Zi Fu was a girl trained and cultivated by Lan Huang. Her mind was hard to read, but she now knew what Zi Fu was thinking, probably because… in terms of liking Shentu Rui, she and Zi Fu were in the same boat.

While Lan Huang’s dismissive behavior had been humiliating, what was even more disheartening for her and Zi Fu was that Shentu Rui not only had free access to Lan Huang’s bedroom, but also… he had eyes only for Lan Huang.

“Did you know about that secret passage before?” Lan Dan felt like she was asking a question she already knew the answer to. If Zi Fu knew, she wouldn’t have been so shocked earlier.

“No,” Zi Fu said coldly.

“You think… Her Excellency’s child could be…” Lan Dan unconsciously picked a leaf from a nearby tree. “Could it be…”

“No!” Zi Fu almost screamed, attracting the attention of nearby palace maids. She couldn’t even bear to hear the name Shentu Rui.

Lan Dan looked at her with pity. This clever girl was lost in a deep dream of love, and after what had just happened, she wondered if she would ever wake up.

Shentu Cheng returned with his personal attendant, but Shentu Rui and Lan Cheng were not with them. Although Shentu Cheng was busy running around, he did not seem tired or annoyed. When he saw the inquisitive look on Lan Dan’s face, he kindly told her that Shentu Rui had drunk a few too many and was resting with the Empress Dowager. Perhaps it was just Lan Dan’s imagination, but there seemed to be a hidden meaning in his words. “The palace gate has already been locked. You won’t be able to return home today. If you’re tired, you can also stay with the Empress Dowager. A place has already been arranged for you.”

Lan Dan knew exactly when the palace gate had been locked, two hours earlier than usual. Her suspicions were confirmed. Everything was part of Shentu Cheng’s plan. Now everyone was trapped in the palace, and it was no wonder he seemed so relaxed and content.

Putting aside the fact that Shentu Rui said that everything had been prepared, but what if Lan Huang would really give birth to a boy? Had Shentu Cheng been too complacent too soon?

The noise in the inner hall grew louder, making it even more chaotic. Shentu Cheng still sat in his chair by the door, frowning as he watched the chaotic shadows on the window. From the shadows, Lan Dan would glance at him from time to time. This man, whom she never really understood, what was he thinking now? Was he worried about Lan Huang, who was fighting for her life and death?

Lan Dan smiled sarcastically. Even if he did worry, it wouldn’t be too much. After all, he could still sit so steadily in his chair. It could be imagined that when he was asked to sign the decree that ordered her execution, he probably didn’t even frown.

Zi Fu misunderstood her sarcasm and gave her a cold stare, lowering her voice and saying, “Don’t get too proud of yourself. Although he doesn’t value me, he never valued you either.”

Lan Dan was stunned for a moment, and laughed helplessly after a moment of thought. This girl was still caught up in the question of who was more important in Shentu Rui’s heart. She suddenly remembered when Lan Huang roughly said that although the Father Emperor doted on her, no one was important than state affairs. Lan Huang had more experience with this. In Shentu Rui’s heart, neither of them were important, and even Zi Fu was stupid enough to have such moments.

“It’s born! It’s born!” The joyful voices were boiling up in the inner hall. They almost reached the hall’s door but were drowned by a burst of sad lamenting. Women inside started crying and moaning as if something terrible had happened.

Everyone’s attention was drawn to the noise coming from the inner hall. Lan Dan and Zi Fu unconsciously walked a few steps toward the hall’s door, not knowing what was happening inside.

The crying hadn’t died down yet when another voice of surprise broke through the sobbing, “There’s another one! There’s another one!”

Lan Dan’s heart was thrown into turmoil by the cries of the palace women, and even Shentu Cheng’s serious expression seemed frozen like a statue in the cool night air.

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