Fuzhu’s Ballad Chapter 4

CHAPTER 4 His Royal Highness the Prince of Yan

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In the still night, the city gate protested loudly as it swung open. Lan Dan unconsciously cowered. The creaking noise in the empty space made the chilly night even bleaker.

This was her first time hearing such a sound. Growing up in the imperial palace, she had always followed the rules and never went out late at night. Lan Dan could not help speculating about the identity of her benefactor, who could easily enter and leave the city gate at this time of the night… A few people quickly flashed in her mind, including the elderly, dying Imperial Uncle. The wheels bumped onto small stones, jarring the carriage and Lan Dan’s heart.

How foolish. How could this world still belong to Da Min? Those people who came to her mind might not even be able to protect themselves, let alone allow her to enter the city late at night.

The person who rescued her… It was really impossible to figure out what he was doing. She was picked up from the graveyard in the middle of the night in order to avoid people’s eyes and ears, yet she was brought directly into the city, breaking curfew as if they wanted everyone to know.

True enough, someone from a distance barked an imposing order.

“Halt! Who goes there?”

The sounds of approaching hooves and metal armors stopped around the carriage. Lan Dan’s heart was hammering so violently that she sat stiffly in trepidation.

The leader of the guards escorting her greeted in a somewhat oily tone, “General Zhang, are you on duty today?”

“You are…” General Zhang inquired coldly, not recognizing the other party.

“Oh, I’m just a subordinate of the Prince of Yan,” the head of the guards cheerfully answered, not at all embarassed by the snub. “This trip is to escort a family member of His Highness to the city.”

Seeing the guard’s lightheartedness in dealing with the General, Lan Dan thought that he must have a plan. Her heart eased, but she couldn’t help furrowing her brows. Prince of Yan? Who was this Prince of Yan that had suddenly appeared?

“Prince of Yan…” General Zhang pondered for a moment, his tone relaxing as he hesitated. “Brother, you are putting this Elder Brother in a difficult spot. Nowadays, the curfew in the capital is very strict. What kind of important family member in His Highness’ mansion insists on entering the city in the middle of the night?” The sound of armor clanking indicated that General Zhang had dismounted from his horse.

The head of the guards smiled apologetically. He approached General Zhang, and said in a low voice, “His Highness met this lucky girl in the suburbs. There was a small accident on the way back to the capital, so we were delayed until now. It is not appropriate for young women to stay outside the city, and His Highness is also not at ease. Hence, we had to trouble our brothers to open the gate for us at night.”

General Zhang laughed dryly. “Nevertheless, this General is duty-bound to inspect the carriage according to protocol. I apologize to His Highness for the inconvenience.”

The head of the guard stopped him in a panic, “General, General! Perhaps…”

General Zhang ignored him and quickly lifted the curtain of the carriage.

Having braced herself, Lan Dan looked back at the General quietly. After all, she was born in the royal family. A distinguised bearing had long been deeply engraved in her bones.

General Zhang stood there in a daze, impolitely staring at her for so long that Lan Dan began to feel embarrassed.

Fortunately, her face was too stiff to reveal her panic. Lan Dan fought to keep her gaze steady without revealing her inner turmoil. This person could not possibly recognize her.

The guard cleared his throat, arousing General Zhang from stupor. He retreated in embarassment, and slowly lowered the curtain of the carriage.

“If there is no problem, we’ll take our leave,” the guard said in a calm voice that was not as friendly as before.

When the carriage disappeared around the corner, the Deputy approached his General who was still in a trance. “What does the Prince of Yan’s new favorite look like? Is she so beautiful that he couldn’t even wait for tomorrow, and wants to get into a fierce battle this very night,” he jested obscenely.

“Let’s go!” General Zhang suddenly turned cold and angry.

Baffled, the Deputy hurriedly followed the General on his horse in silence.

General Zhang didn’t like the way the Deputy General talked about “her”. Even though he only seen her once, he didn’t want others to talk bad about her. In this life, to meet such a person could be considered an extraordinary encounter.

The ramp leading to the mansion was a bit steep. The carriage curtain tilted as they entered. Lan Dan was dazzled by the bright lanterns hanging under the eaves.

Before the curtain settled back into place, she quickly looked around as far as her eyes could see. It seemed that His Royal Highness the Prince of Yan was not favored by the new Emperor. She entered the mansion through the side entrance of the back alley. The size and shape of this mansion seemed extremely simple for a Prince.

Alighting the carriage was more embarrassing than climbing in. She had to lean to her right side to get down step by step. There was no one to help her. The guards had already retreated, only a maidservant in plain clothes was present to lead the way. Lan Dan had seen all kinds of palace maids and female court officials, but she had never met such an arrogant and indifferent servant girl as this one. She just guide the way for her, ignoring her difficulties in getting off the carriage and walking.

The interior of the palace was elegant, with many good ornaments displayed along the way. The small courtyard she went to was even more meticulously arranged. The servant girl led her into a small hall and opened the brocade curtains. Lan Dan sighed softly as the warmth of the room comforted her heart.

Warm, bright, and magnificient… She had been familiar with this comfort for eighteen years, and now that she was back in this environment after only a few months away, her heart was filled with conflicting emotions that she couldn’t quite sort out.

A young man drapped in a soft fur robe with loose straps was sprawled on the heated couch. His posture was leisurely and elegant. He was probably fair-skinned and handsome, with a tall and slim figure that exuded a hint of seductive charm.

“It’s you?” Lan Dan was somewhat surprised, but fortunately her poker face kept her astonishment limited to her eyes. The indifference and arrogance on her stiff face looked very natural.

The young man smiled and sat up. “Why?” He laughed, his eyes two deep and remote pools, sparkling like stars. “You didn’t think of me in your list of benefactors?”

“Indeed not,” Lan Dan answered honestly. Looking at Shentu Rui in front of her, she felt that there was something different about him compared to before. There had always been one “Young Master Shentu” who was popular in the capital, and that was Shentu Cheng. Shentu Rui, to many people, was merely the Second Young Master Shentu who vaguely existed in the background.

Now thinking back, the Second Young Master had actually attended palace banquets and noble gatherings, but his elder brother was too handsome and overwhelming that it drowned him out. If Lan Dan hadn’t been paying attention to everyone related to Shentu Cheng, she wouldn’t have recognized him or remembered if she had ever spoken to him. But… he was the one who saved her?

Meeting him again at this moment, Shentu Rui was so eye-catchingly beautiful… was it because his brother was not here?

Lan Dan didn’t want to think about Shentu Cheng. She quickly asked, “Why you?”

Shentu Rui laughed, the pearls on his jade crown trembling. He asked sarcastically, “You made it all the way into the mansion and still can’t figure out why I saved you?”

Lan Dan didn’t answer. She could barely control her own thoughts, let alone guess someone else’s.

“Could it be that you also want to use me to usurp the throne?” She sneered, not bothering to move the corners of her mouth, but just let out a disdainful snort.

Shentu Rui looked at her quietly, until Lan Dan could not stand the oppressive silence any longer and looked back at him. His brows were a little creased in concentration, his eye sockets were slightly hollowed, and the tails of his eyebrows were raised handsomely, as if they were about to sweep his temples. His black eyes were unusually deep.

His expression was stern and frosty, but his tone was still lazy. “Is it not possible?”

Lan Dan choked for a moment. Her throat was dry, and she almost couldn’t catch her breath. She was just being sarcastic, but had she inadvertently hit upon Shentu Rui’s true intentions?

Shen Turui smiled, and was surprisingly very frank. “Shentu Cheng was just a name without substance. If he could usurp the throne, why can’t I? Besides, I am an Imperial Prince.”

Lan Dan sent him a strange look. Seriously, she couldn’t understand what he was planning. Why was he talking about this so casually? And to a remnant of the previous dynasty, of all people, who had nothing to do with him?

Shentu Rui continued to regard her silently, a corner of his mouth tugging up. She was still far off the mark, her thoughts still like an open book like before.

She thought he was delusional?

A disdainful look crossed his face. “There is only one word differentiating wishful thinking from meticulous planning: scheming. Tell me,” he said, casting a sidelong glance at Lan Dan with a mischievous glint im his eyes. “Did Da Min’s Emperor ever think that Shentu Cheng, who is only known for being romantic, could take over his power? Or did he expect Princess Danyang, the least remarkable Imperial Princess, would kill him?”

Lan Dan’s face turned pale. After a while, she smiled mockingly, “It’s quite unexpected.”

“So, you don’t have to question my ideas and abilities. Just tell me whether you are willing to help me or not.” His smile disappearead as a majestic expression took hold over his beautiful face.

“Me? What can I do for you?” Lan Dan frowned, genuinely puzzled.

“Go to Shentu Cheng’s side, and wait for my signal to kill him.”

Lan Dan paused for a moment, struggling to understand what he said. Suddenly, she burst into laughters, her body shaking so hard tha her legs gave way. She fell on the ground and continued laughing.

It was too satirical. Too ridiculous.

Shentu Cheng used her to kill her Father Emperor with poison. Then, he usurped the throne and executed her in public. Shentu Rui went to great lengths to save her, but now he wanted her to poison Shentu Cheng to get that dragon throne.

Heaven loved to play such a big joke, but who exactly was the joke?

“What do I get out of this?” she asked, mocking herself.

Shentu Cheng promised her eternal love and lifelong commitment. She believed it. She believed everything he said. He also said that he had formed a secret alliance with the Crown Prince. Once the Crown Prince was enthroned, he would become a trusted and important minister, who could then give her a brilliant and respected life.

After being burned in the past, who said that she would easily believe anything she hears now? Her question was nothing but a mockery to herself.

“No idea.” Shentu Rui didn’t even bother to tell a lie. “I’m just asking if you’re willing or not. You might not even live to see the day I can reward you.”

This was so true. Lan Dan showed a genuine smile at his straightforwardness. She sat on the ground and looked up at him. It was the first time that she had looked at his face so carefully. It was very strange. The closer she looked, the less she seemed to know him.

“Why?” she asked faintly.

Shentu Rui hesitated for a moment, a questioning gleam entered his eyes.

“Why do you even want to be the Emperor?” Lan Dan had many questions, but she started with this one.

“Both brothers are on an equal footing. Suddenly, he becomes the Emperor. Wouldn’t I feel dissatisfied?”

Lan Dan lowered her head without saying a word. Did the Shentu brothers think becoming Emperor was as effortless as growing cabbages? Dissatisfied?

“Why save me?”

“Well——” Shentu Rui was slightly interested in this subject. He pretended to think deeply, then answered in a teasing tone, “Because your obsession with Shentu Cheng should have died by now.” He followed up maliciously, “Am I right?”

The corners of Lan Dan’s mouth twitched. She wanted to scold him, but she did not know what to scold him for.

“I’m not at ease sending any woman to him.” Fearing that she would not see that he was only acting, he let out a sigh reeking of an affected graveness. “You yourself know how good-looking Shentu Cheng is and how good he is at coaxing women. Whoever will be sent to him may be bewitched by him, then will refuse to kill him later and will even spill everything. It’s better if it’s you. If you are fooled twice by Shentu Cheng, I will admit defeat.”

Lan Dan stood. His jabs accurately stabbed her sore spots, making her so numb that she was able to remain steady.

“What happens if I don’t go?” she asked lightly.

Shentu Rui irritably ran his fingers through his hair. He made the feminine movement very natural and elegant. “You can only die, but I can’t bear it.”

The words sounded too greasy and frivolous, so he quickly added, “I can’t bear to waste the efforts I spent into you.”

Lan Dan nodded numbly, understanding.

“I don’t want to, and I’m not afraid of death.”

It was quite strange how the conversation between her and Shentu Rui was straightforward and honest. She was probably influenced by Shentu Rui, who was very good at explaining the conspiracy without holding back.

Shentu Rui laughed, partly gloating and partly smug.

“Don’t be in a hurry to refuse. After you see the inner palace of Da Min, you’ll probably change your mind.”

Lan Dan didn’t want to talk to him anymore. She didn’t want to see the inner palace of Da Min at all!

He grinned tauntingly, “Your family and home are just out there.”

She sneered. “I have no family, no home, no kins, no purpose.”

He laughed and returned confidently, “I can’t wait to show you around. You can answer me then.”

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