Fuzhu’s Ballad Chapter 42

Chapter 42 Beneath the glitter

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To avoid arousing suspicion, the baby had to be sent out of the mansion in the cargo truck in the afternoon. Before leaving, Shentu Rui asked Xia Xin to bring the baby over for one last meeting with Lan Dan.

Lan Dan sat by the window without moving. When she saw the baby in Xia Xin’s arms, she suddenly didn’t know how to face this little baby. She sat in the shadow of the window lattice and, even though it was the hottest time of early summer, she felt a chill all over her body.

Shentu Rui had been lazily leaning on the bed all along. Even after a night’s rest, he still looked worn out. When Xia Xin brought the baby in, he had no interest in looking, but instead threw a glance towards Lan Dan.

Xia Xin understood and went straight to Lan Dan, kneeling down and lifting the baby up for her to take a closer look.

Shentu Rui looked at Lan Dan and said lightly, “Take a good look, maybe you won’t see each other again in this lifetime.” His tone was too casual, as if he was not talking about a parting.

“Can I hold him?” Lan Dan looked at the baby in Xia Xin’s arms and made a gentle request, not with a determined attitude.

She even hoped that Shentu Rui would refuse her request, because she didn’t know why she wanted to hold the baby, and was afraid that doing so would create a bond that would be hard to break.

After a moment of hesitation, Shentu Rui nodded.

Xia Xin carefully placed the child in Lan Dan’s arms, but Lan Dan didn’t know how to hold a baby, and fumbled a bit, relying on Xia Xin’s help to steady the baby.

Shentu Rui watched, and laughed at her clumsiness, and the atmosphere became warm for a while.

Lan Dan looked down at the small and soft baby in her arms. The baby was still too young and wrinkled to tell if she was pretty or not. She was the daughter of Chong Wen and Lan Huang, so Lan Dan was still her aunt. Bringing the baby out of the palace tied to her leg was her chance to survive. Holding the baby, Lan Dan felt her fragility and smallness. Tears fell down her face, landing on the baby’s small face. Lan Dan gently wiped them away, afraid of hurting the baby’s delicate skin. The baby was so small and soft, and now she was going to be separated from her mother, living alone and in hiding. Today’s farewell may be forever. Lan Dan hoped that the people who adopted her would treat her well and give her a peaceful and simple life, never knowing the secret of her identity. 

“Send her away,” said Shentu Rui, not wanting Lan Dan to feel sadder.

Lan Dan watched as Xia Xin carried the baby away from her embrace and out of the room, out of the Prince of Yan’s mansion, and out of her world. A sense of powerlessness and desolation filled her heart.

Shentu Rui, on the contrary, did not even glance at the baby. Lan Dan turned her head away, not wanting him to see her crying face. She knew he was heartless and that the baby had nothing to do with him, so he had nothing to worry about.

“Why are you crying?” Shentu Rui forced a smile. “Compared to the little prince, she is already very lucky. At least… she is safe.”

Lan Dan raised his hand and wiped away his tears with his sleeve. He was right, the baby boy who became the prince would have to live on the edge of a knife from now on. Even if he managed to survive and grow up, he was the child that his mother, Lan Huang, would help to ascend to the throne. Being sent away and living incognito was certainly pitiful, but being left behind to be a foil was even more tragic.

“Su Yi Ming is coming to the capital. Do you want to go with me to greet him and relieve some stress?” Shentu Rui sat up straight and asked her, looking at her.

Lan Dan shook her head. “I don’t want to go out.”

She didn’t have the mood or energy. Last night’s events and today’s departure had drained too much of her mental energy, even though she was only responsible for the most trivial parts.

“Alright.” Shentu Rui curled his lip. “Just try to stay away from that kid from now on.” He wasn’t feeling too good.

“Is this trip to the capital to arrange a marriage for him and Lan Cheng?” Lan Dan knew he was only pretending to be jealous to amuse her, but she didn’t play along and changed the subject.

“Hmm.” Shentu Rui got up, ready to wash up.

“Lan Cheng… is she willing?” Lan Dan recalled how she felt when her father wanted to arrange a marriage for her. Although Su Yi Ming was much better than the second son of the Marquis of Wen Yue, he was still a stranger to Lan Cheng.

“Who cares if she is willing or not,” Shentu Rui said indifferently and turned back to glare at her. “What? You hope she doesn’t agree and marries me instead?”

Lan Dan smiled, not because it was funny, but because she knew that the reason he spoke so carelessly about Lan Cheng was because she did not have the luxury of refusing. If it were Lan Huang, even if he tried his best, he might not succeed, and he wouldn’t speak so casually.

Two days after Shentu Rui left, Zi Fu and her maids finally returned to the mansion. The intrigue in the palace over the past two days had left them all pale and exhausted.

With Shentu Rui gone, Zi Fu boldly called Lan Dan to her room and gave her a package of silver and gold.

“This is a reward from Her Excellency. Keep it safe, you may need it in the future.” Zi Fu was probably too tired, and her tone was very impatient. “Also, Her Excellency wants you to make plans early. There may be an opportunity soon. If it’s delayed… the Prince of Yan’s power is great. Even if she wants to help you, she may not be able to.”

Lan Dan felt a little ashamed when she received the money and goods. Zi Fu’s attitude also made her uncomfortable, but she couldn’t refuse. Actually, she was a little curious about the opportunity that was coming soon, but she didn’t want to ask Zi Fu, and Zi Fu might not even know.

Shentu Rui never returned home, but suddenly sent Sun Shi Xiang back to take Lan Dan to the palace for a banquet.

“I don’t want to go.” Lan Dan refused without even thinking about it. Going to the palace was the last thing she wanted to do at this point in her life.

“Miss…” Sun Shi Xiang looked anxious, but he was very helpless at her rejection.

Zi Fu walked in with a commanding presence. Lan Dan didn’t know how long she had been listening outside the door. Zi Fu said seriously to her, “You must go.”

Lan Dan was leaning against the dressing table, but after hearing Zi Fu’s words, she coldly glanced at her. She wondered why this Side Consort’s influence seemed to be growing larger and larger.

With a slight raise of her eyebrow, Zi Fu said in a dignified manner, “Everything in the Prince of Yan’s mansion must be carried out as normal. There can be no slightest difference.”

Lan Dan was stunned. She naturally knew what Zi Fu meant. Shentu Cheng failed to intercept the baby, so everyone in the palace that day must have been suspect. Zi Fu would be the primary suspect, and Shentu Rui would also be highly suspicious. At this time, they couldn’t afford to raise any doubts or attract Shentu Cheng’s attention. Lan Dan felt helpless and did not want to attract Shentu Cheng’s attention, nor did she want to put the life of the baby in danger.

She sat in the carriage to enter the palace, dressed up and feeling resentful. She was annoyed that even Zi Fu, a relatively insignificant person, had the power to manipulate her. She had always been subject to the whims of others, even when she was a princess.

After getting off the carriage and heading towards the banquet, Lan Dan learned from a palace maid that the banquet was held to welcome General Su, who had just arrived in the capital. Along the way, she saw musicians and dancers rushing past her in formation towards Linguang Pavilion. Lan Dan frowned at the unusual grandeur of the occasion. Despite being a Young General stationed in a northern border town, why would Su Yi Ming need such a large-scale reception?

Upon arriving at the banquet, Lan Dan saw that both Shentu Rui and Su Yi Ming were standing outside the hall, not yet seated. When Shentu Rui saw her, he just gave a slight smile, while Su Yi Ming greeted her with a courteous bow. It was the first time she saw him in formal attire, and compared to his military uniform, he appeared more refined and elegant. Lan Dan returned the gesture, thinking that Su Yi Ming was a charming young man. She hoped that even someone like Lan Cheng, who was picky with men, would not dislike him.

A little eunuch came over, panting and shouting, “General Su has arrived, General Su has arrived!”

Lan Dan looked at Su Yi Ming in confusion. “General Su” didn’t arrive earlier? Then, she noticed that everyone in the hall had come out, with Shentu Cheng supporting the Empress Dowager, and Lan Cheng following them dejectedly.

A robust middle-aged man approached, escorted by two attentive eunuchs. He had no attendants, but he walked with an imposing air, as if he had an army behind him. 

Su Yi Ming’s expression changed constantly, as if he wanted to cry and smile at the same time. Sometimes he seemed afraid, sometimes ingratiating. He rushed forward and fell to his knees with a thud. His voice did not reveal whether he was happy or sad, but he seemed uneasy. “Father…”

The scene was quite amusing. It was a classic scene of a mischievous son meeting a stern father. Everyone suppressed their laughter to save face for the Young General Su, but Shentu Rui couldn’t hold it in and let out a chuckle. Even the great General Su couldn’t help but smile, and he glared at his son and kicked him lightly. “Get up. I entrusted you with the defense of Tongye, but you keep running to the capital. Incompetent.”

The Young General jumped up from the ground and in front of such a fierce father, his usual arrogance disappeared. He said with a grievance, “I don’t always run around…”

With a smile, Shentu Rui helped his friend explain, “General Su really misunderstood. Young General was summoned back to the capital to report on his duties by the Emperor this time.”

Shentu Cheng also spoke up, “Indeed, the Young General has worked hard guarding the Northern Frontier. This time, it was my order for him to come to the capital and meet with the General.”

Su Ying Wei smiled and then proceeded to give his respects to the Emperor and Empress Dowager. Shentu Cheng hurriedly commanded Su Yi Ming to help him.

“General Su has served the country loyally in guarding the Southern Frontier. Please don’t be overly courteous and join us for a chat at the table.” Shentu Cheng’s smile was warm and attentive.

Lan Dan followed at the back of the crowd, suddenly realizing that Su Yi Ming was from a military family. Of course, if he didn’t have a father that even Shentu Cheng had to stand up and greet, he wouldn’t have been a general at such a young age. This General Su… Lan Dan thought for a long time but didn’t have any impression of him. When her father was alive, she didn’t know much about court affairs, but among the generals who guarded important territories, there was definitely no one like him. He must be the one that the Shentu brothers placed in the Southern Army. With a change in the world, General Su rose to great heights.

As the feast began, with singing and dancing and wine flowing, even Shentu Rui left his seat to join Su Ying Wei’s table, enjoying drinks and conversations with the Su family.

Lan Dan sat in silence amidst the splendid and bustling scene. Everyone in the hall was smiling and chatting, and their witty remarks often caused uproarious laughter. But just three days ago, these same people had been vicious and scheming, with blood-stained hands that were almost impossible to hide. The place was the same, the people were the same, but it was as if a different world had been exchanged. Looking at these elegant and eloquent people was like seeing a group of ghosts, beautiful and refined on the surface but deeply sinister and evil within. Their pleasant and harmonious demeanor was too convincing, making those who had witnessed their true nature even more horrified and fearful.

She had seen the exhaustion and helplessness in the eyes of people like Shentu Rui. They were all now laughing and enjoying themselves, their smiles dazzling. Perhaps these beautiful ghosts harbored pains and resentment that ordinary people could not imagine. The reason they succeeded was because they were capable of hiding all of their pain and suffering, and by keeping it hidden, it would not become a weakness.

As the wine flowed freely, Shentu Cheng naturally asked about Su Yi Ming’s marriage. Su Ying Wei, who was not a brutish warrior, smiled and said that his son was spoiled and not yet engaged.

Shentu Cheng smiled and said, “This is truly a match made in heaven. My younger sister is also waiting for a marriage proposal.” He raised his robe sleeve towards Lan Cheng, “She is equally beautiful as Young General Su, and this makes for a perfect match. I shall act as the matchmaker.”

Lan Dan was unsure if Lan Cheng knew beforehand about Shentu Cheng’s intention to arrange a marriage, but she did not seem surprised by his words. As a girl who grew up in the palace, she displayed appropriate etiquette by standing up and paying her respects to Su Ying Wei.

The father and son of the Su family stood up and kneeled down to express their gratitude, and another round of toasting and congratulations began.

Lan Dan paid attention, and naturally found that Lan Cheng and Su Yi Ming seemed unusually quiet amidst the celebration, even though it was their union being celebrated. They appeared to be the most detached from the festivities.

Lan Cheng’s reaction was not surprising. Even though she was the Eldest Princess, she had no say in her own marriage. Lan Cheng was a girl who could handle even her own father turning against her, and she knew the importance of the relationship between the Su family and the Shentu brothers. She wouldn’t show any negative emotions in public and ruin things.

Lan Dan couldn’t help but wonder how much Lan Cheng really liked Shentu Rui. Since Shentu Cheng announced the marriage, Lan Cheng has been sitting there quietly, with a pale face, looking down and not looking at anyone, let alone Shentu Rui.

Would she blame Shentu Rui in her heart?

Having experienced the same helplessness, Lan Dan could understand Lan Cheng’s thoughts and sympathize with her.

Shentu Cheng didn’t really care about Lan Cheng’s feelings. When she insisted on marrying Shentu Rui, it didn’t matter to him, as there was no harm in it. Shentu Rui’s plan to use her to win over the Su family father and son was what caught Shentu Cheng’s attention and he readily issued the imperial decree for their marriage without hesitation. Imperial daughter? Imperial sister? Imperial Princess? Eldest Princess?

It was all a cruel joke from heaven.

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