Fuzhu’s Ballad Chapter 40

CHAPTER 40 One wave, three turns

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When Zi Dai came out to report the good news to Shentu Cheng, Lan Dan and Zi Fu also walked to the steps. Everyone stared at her blankly, hoping to learn about the situation in the inner palace from her answer.

“Your Majesty…” Zi Dai had tried to force a smile, but as soon as she spoke, she trembled and knelt down, unable to contain her panic. “Her Excellency has given birth to twin princes, but… but one of them has already passed away.”

Shentu Cheng stood stiffly for a while, his face pale. He didn’t say a word, and everyone fell silent. Compared to the chaos and noise just now, the entire palace seemed to have been doused with a bucket of cold water. It suddenly became a disturbingly quiet place. Even the newborn baby did not cry. Shentu Cheng finally let out a long sigh, weariness seeping into the corners of his eyes and mouth. Lan Dan felt as if he had lowered his shoulders and slowly made his way towards the inner palace, devoid of his usual energy. “I’ll go see them,” he said wearily.

Zi Dai was still kneeling, afraid to get up, but still asked, “What should we do with the deceased prince?”

Shentu Cheng waved his hand wearily and ordered, “I don’t want to see it anymore. Take it away and dispose of it according to the law.”

Zi Dai secretly breathed a sigh of relief, took a deep breath, and then responded, “Yes.”

Shentu Cheng disappeared from view in a flash, and the palace maids and midwives emerged one after another, their faces sweaty and tear-stained, with damp hair sticking to their foreheads. They had also experienced the trials of life and death.

Lan Dan and Zi Fu backed away a little to make way for them. Too exhausted to bother with etiquette, the women stumbled forward with vacant stares as they exited through the courtyard gate.

After everyone dispersed, a nursemaid with two Kunyi Palace maids came out carrying a swaddled infant. Despite the situation, they still managed to bow and pay their respects to Lan Dan and Zi Fu. Lan Dan knew that the small corpse in the nursemaid’s arms was the newborn baby who had just died which must be burried quickly.

A chill spread from the soles of her feet to her heart, causing Lan Dan’s legs to almost give way. She collapsed onto the half-meter-high platform in the Kunyi Palace. The baby was probably born only two or three days ago and had already died due to the cruel plot of the adults. Lan Dan didn’t know how Shentu Rui brought him into the palace. It could have been through the secret passage she knew of or another one she didn’t. However, Lan Huang did give birth to a baby boy, but this child born of low status had no meaning to exist and was likely to be a disaster. Who was responsible for his death? Zi Dai or Zi Yuan? Or did Lan Huang herself do it? This little life was easily extinguished, and no one was willing to risk sending him out of the palace. This was what Shentu Rui meant by saying that the useless could only die.

A young eunuch ran into the courtyard and whispered a few words into Zi Fu’s ear. Zi Fu nodded in response.

“Since Her Excellency has safely given birth, we don’t need to stay here anymore. I suppose Her Excellency is also tired, so we’ll come back tomorrow to pay our respects and see the little prince,” Zi Fu said coldly to her. “His Highness has also sent someone to call us to rest early.”

Supporting her knees, Lan Dan struggled to stand up. She wondered how the witnesses managed to endure the conspiracy, while she, as an outsider, was already so exhausted. She was indeed an outsider. When Shentu Rui sent someone to call them, he only spoke to Zi Fu.

Sneering at her, Zi Fu looked down on her, her eyes full of contempt for Lan Dan’s uselessness. “Do you need help?” she asked, her two palace maids standing behind her and smiling without any intention of helping Lan Dan.

“No need,” replied Lan Dan with a cold smile. She was tired and hated these vicious people. They were full of victorious arrogance, but she didn’t admire them. On the contrary, she felt they were dirty, covered in blood from head to toe. Although she was already “dead” to their scheming and felt powerless, when she saw the small body that had just been thrown out and abandoned, she decided that even if she died, she did not want to become like them. Because she did not want to do such cruel things!

A wing room of the Taici Palace was cleared up for the female family members of the Prince of Yan’s mansion to stay in. Unlike the Empress Dowager’s living quarters, this place was brightly lit, resembling a fire pit in the Taici Palace. The rest of the place was dimly lit, except for the brightly lit rooms, which made it difficult for Lan Dan to open her eyes.

There were many attendants, with a palace maid standing every two steps along the way to the bedroom arranged for her. This formation… Suddenly, it dawned on her like the bright flames in this place, this was also a precaution taken by Shentu Cheng. Although he might not suspect Shentu Rui, both Zi Fu and her personal maids were from Kunyi Palace. If Lan Huang had any tricks up her sleeve, and someone took the child out of the palace, they would be the most suitable candidates. This was also why Lan Huang insisted on sending Zi Fu to the Prince of Yan’s mansion, and the reason why Shentu Rui tolerated it, not only to arrange Zi Fu outside the palace for convenience, but also to anticipate today’s situation and set up a plan from afar.

Zi Fu and her two palace maids were assigned to the room next to hers, and there were even more palace maids and eunuchs standing guard in the hallway outside their door.

Shentu Rui did not stay in this room. It made sense, because if he was also trapped here, how could he carry out his plans with everyone watching under Shentu Cheng’s arrangement?

Fortunately, Lan Huang gave birth to a son, otherwise it would would have been very difficult to send a baby girl out.

Lan Dan turned off two of the lamps in her room, as they were too bright and made her feel too hot. Two palace maids entered her room with replacement clothes and accessories, along with four eunuchs carrying a bathtub and hot water. Lan Dan was about to decline their offer and just wanted to wash up quickly and sleep, but one of the palace maids signaled her with a forceful look.

Lan Dan froze and swallowed the words.

The other rooms had already turned off their lamps, and although the lights on the corridor were still not extinguished, they were not as bothersome as before. The maids watching for the night whispered to each other, but they didn’t seem as nervous as before.

It was already late at night, and other than the sound of the timekeeping wooden clappers, there were no other sounds in the palace.

Suddenly, a burst of sharp curses came from Taici Palace, sounding particularly harsh in the quiet night, and soon alarmed everyone, causing the lights in each room to be turned on again.

Lan Dan came out of her room, and saw Zi Fu and her attendants also walking out to watch. Listening in the courtyard, it was clear that the person cursing was Lan Cheng.

“What’s going on?” Zi Fu’s attendant asked the little eunuch who had gone to inquire about the news.

“It’s terrible,” the little eunuch said, surprisingly smiling with a gloating look on his face. “A patrol maid from Yeting learned that the Prince of Yan was staying in the palace tonight, and shamelessly tried to seduce him. She was caught by the Eldest Princess. Now, not only has she lost her dignity, but will also lose her life as well!”

“What?” Zi Fu demanded, her voice sharp and direct, causing the little eunuch to become intimidated and stop smiling.

When Zi Fu led her people aggressively towards Taici Palace, they passed by Lan Dan’s room. She fixed her gaze on Lan Dan and scolded her, “Aren’t you coming with us? Are you already dead?”

Lan Dan was speechless and couldn’t argue back. She couldn’t tolerate this situation, especially since she was deeply in love with Shentu Rui.

Due to the commotion, all the lights in front of the Taici Palace were lit up again. The Imperial Guards, who were on patrol to safeguard the Emperor, arrived at the scene. Upon seeing the scandalous scene involving the harem, and with the added consideration that the Empress Dowager’s favorite son was involved, they hesitated to intervene too much. Since there was no immediate danger and they had already shown their presence to the Empress Dowager and the Eldest Princess, they fulfilled their duty and left the rest to the inner court to handle.

When Zi Fu and Lan Dan arrived at the palace entrance, the commander and two squads of soldiers were leaving. The clattering of their armor echoed through the halls and courtyard, making Lan Dan feel chilly and causing her to instinctively step back.

Even Shentu Cheng was awakened and came with a group of eunuchs, looking weary.

The Empress Dowager only came out to see what was happening when she heard Lan Cheng shouting loudly. However, she thought it was just a lowly palace maid trying to climb the social ladder and was too ignorant and shameless to be bothered with, so she let Lan Cheng punish her and went back to sleep.

Lan Cheng stood in front of the hall door with an expressionless face, wearing her bedtime clothes, with no ornaments on her hair. Although she was not impolite, she was not particularly dignified and cautious either.

Zi Fu’s sharp eyes scanned Lan Cheng up and down, intentionally showing a suspicious look. If the palace maid had a crooked mind knowing that the Prince of Yan was staying in the palace overnight, and Lan Cheng, the Eldest Princess, showed up here dressed like this, it was probably not a good sign.

Lan Cheng was annoyed by her gaze, and had to explain, “I came here to pay my respects to the Empress Dowager before going to bed, but I didn’t expect to bump into this shameless person!” She pointed at the shivering palace maid who was tied up and kneeling in the yard, “Sneaking into Brother Rui’s room.”

The person involved, Shentu Rui, had a look of amusement, wearing an undershirt and a long robe, standing with his arms crossed against the door, and looking like someone who was watching a good show.

Shentu Cheng looked at him with a mix of amusement and annoyance and asked, “What should we do?”

Shentu Rui raised his eyebrow and pretended to be surprised. “Why are you asking me? She didn’t succeed, and I didn’t suffer any loss. How should I know what to do?”

Shentu Cheng snorted, wanted to laugh but had no mood. He frowned at the palace maid in the courtyard, disgusted, saying, “Raise your head.”

The palace maid trembled and looked up as she was told, her face drained of color and her expression fraught with anxiety. Her features, once lovely, now looked tired and dull.

As the palace maid lifted her head, Lan Dan examined her closely and was surprised to recognize her as the one who had accompanied Jiang’er. Her name was Hai Shan.

“Your Majesty, this servant has been wronged!” Seeing the hostile gazes of those around her, Hai Shan knew her life was in danger and saw this as her last chance to plead her innocence. She quickly crawled forward two steps, tears streaming down her face, and cried, “This servant was only doing her duty and patrolling the area. The little eunuch, Shun Zi, who served the Prince of Yan, told this servant that His Highness wanted to see her, so this servant came to Taici Palace. Moreover, this servant knocked on the door and only entered after getting permission from His Highness!” She spoke clearly and distinctly, even in this tense situation.

“This Prince wants to see you?” Shentu Rui frowned in confusion. “Shun Zi? Is it him?” He waved his hand, and a little eunuch standing under the eaves walked into the bright light.

Hai Shan looked closely and shook her head. “No… it’s not…”

Shentu Rui turned his head and asked the old eunuch in charge of the Taici Palace, “Do you have another attendant named Shun Zi?”

The old eunuch spat lightly at Hai Shan and said, “Your Highness, don’t believe her nonsense. Where else would there be another Shun Zi? And this little eunuch served you to sleep and followed this old servant all the time. How could he pass the message to her?”

Shentu Cheng suddenly asked, “Why do you believe it to be true when someone says that the Prince of Yan is looking for you?” He was indeed a shrewd person, able to ask questions directly to the point.

Hai Shan wept and frantically searched among the crowd, and was overjoyed when she saw Lan Dan. “This young lady lost her way before. Jiang’er and I brought her back to Chunhui Terrace. She rewarded us, and the Prince of Yan also saw us!”

Shentu Rui looked at Lan Dan and his expression softened. He asked her gently, “Is that so?”

Lan Dan nodded.

The steward of Yeting rushed over at this point. As a manager, he had no face left to lose, and he feared he would be implicated as well. Upon hearing this, his eyes lit up, and he bowed to Lan Dan, asking, “May I ask what the young lady rewarded them with?”

Lan Dan didn’t understand why he asked this carefully, but answered honestly, “One gold hairpin for each person.”

The steward lamented, “Aiya!” and glared at Haishan, cursing her as a “vile servant with a heart as venomous as a snake and scorpion!”

Hai Shan didn’t expect that pulling out Lan Dan to testify would lead to past events. Her face turned ashen, sitting slumped on the ground.

“What’s going on?” Shentu Cheng asked, displeased.

The steward took the opportunity to kneel down and said, “Your Majesty, please do not listen to this wretched slave’s lies. She has always been a liar! A few days ago, the senior maid in charge of Yeting discovered that the palace maid Jiang’er had a finely crafted golden hairpin, which must have been a noble lady’s belonging. She asked about the origin of Jiang’er’s hairpin, afraid that she had stolen it. Jiang’er said it was a reward from a noblewoman in the Prince of Yan’s mansion, and that Hai Shan also received one. But when I questioned Hai Shan, she insisted that there was no such thing and even accused Jiang’er of stealing things around the Yuehua Palace. I punished Jiang’er according to the law, but unfortunately, she was young and weak and could not withstand the punishment and died. It turns out that what Jiang’er said was true, and poor Jiang’er was wrongly executed because of Hai Shan. I beg Your Majesty to punish me for my negligence.”

After hearing the details, Shentu Cheng grew impatient as it was merely petty conflicts between palace maids. “Forget it, you have done your duty. Since this person is so despicable, take her away and use her life to compensate for the one who died.”

The steward wiped the sweat off his forehead with his sleeve. He thanked Shentu Cheng and immediately ordered his men to take Hai Shan away for punishment.

“Wait,” Lan Dan called out, her voice trembling. “I have a question to ask.”

Shentu Cheng had already started to walk away but stopped and turned to look when he heard Lan Dan’s request. The steward quickly nodded and bowed, urging Lan Dan to proceed with her question.

Lan Dan’s head was buzzing. She swayed as if she might faint at any moment. She stared at Hai Shan, bewildered, and asked, “Why didn’t you admit it? Why did you instead accuse Jiang’er of stealing?”

With her hair and clothes in disarray and a crazed expression on her face, Hai Shan knew she had no way out and laughed hysterically, “Why?” She laughed twice, “You live a life of luxury, do you know how hard it is in the imperial harem? Do you know that being a slave in the imperial harem doesn’t even earn half a silver coin? If I testify for her, my hairpin will be snatched by those wicked old women too!”

Shentu Rui came down from the steps and half-hugged Lan Dan, afraid that she wouldn’t be able to bear the truth and collapse.

“Just because of a hairpin… you killed her?” Lan Dan’s breathing slowed down, her eyes widening, looking at Hai Shan, but it seemed like she was not seeing anything.

“It was you who gave her the hairpin, it was you…” Hai Shan screamed, but before she could say “it was you who killed her”, Shentu Rui kicked her and she passed out.

“You bitch!” Shentu Rui coldly snorted, then turned around and supported Lan Dan. “Stop talking nonsense. Trying to drag others down even in death, poisonous woman!”

The steward hurriedly called the maidservants to drag Hai Shan away.

Supporting Lan Dan, Shentu Rui looked at Shentu Cheng on the steps with a sneer. “I don’t think I’ll stay in this palace any longer. Who knows if someone will knock on my door in the middle of the night?”

Shentu Cheng smiled awkwardly.

Feeling guilty, Lan Cheng thought the comment was also directed at her. She snorted, turned around, and left.

Shentu Cheng also perceived the implication and nodded. “Forget it, tell Li Qin to open the lock and send the Prince of Yan back to his mansion.”

Shentu Rui helped Lan Dan walk out, and Zi Fu and her people followed along.

“Zi Fu… ” Shentu Cheng spoke calmly, “you don’t have to come along. Lan Huang has always cared for you, so stay in the palace and keep her company for a few more days.”

Upon hearing this, Shentu Rui turned to look at Shentu Cheng, then at Zi Fu.

While preoccupied with Jiang’er’s circumstances, Lan Dan noticed Zi Fu signaling to Shentu Rui in a subtle manner.

Shentu Rui remained calm and told Zi Fu, “Since the Emperor said so, you can stay a few more days without worry.”

Zi Fu smiled slightly and hummed.

To Lan Dan, this calm and collected smile appeared to be full of pride.

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