Fuzhu’s Ballad Chapter 45

Chapter 45 Spark Ignition

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As Lan Dan slowly turned the warm wine pot in the porcelain bowl, the green plum wine in the pot exuded a faint aroma of wine and some freshness of plums. Shentu Rui went to take another shower, not due to the heat, but because he was restless. Lan Dan lifted the wine pot out of the hot water, causing a misty fog to envelop the porcelain pot, which looked alluring and charming in the light. Lan Dan gently fanned the mist away with her hand, concerned that Shentu Rui might not be able to sleep without drinking some wine. To avoid any harm to his spleen and stomach, she had specifically instructed Xia Xin to prepare a milder green plum wine.

She was wiping the pot when Shentu Rui rushed into the room, with dripping hair and feet, leaving a trail of footprints. He walked heavily and fast, the wind he brought with him shook the candle flames.

Lan Dan put down the wine pot, glared at him, and complained, “What a mess you’ve made. Dry yourself first before coming back.”

Shentu Rui didn’t care, sat down next to her, and signaled her to pour him a cup of wine. “It’s refreshing this way.”

Lan Dan stood up and hesitated on whether to wipe the water on the floor or his hair. She returned with a handkerchief and stood behind him. He poured himself a cup of wine and looked at her with disapproval, sensing that she did not value his hair that much.

Lan Dan sighed as she looked at the water stains on the mat caused by his wet hair. She knelt down to help him wipe his hair while Shentu Rui slowly enjoyed his drink with a soft chuckle.

“Your Highness… Your Highness…” It was Sun Shi Xiang, who shouldn’t have appeared in the inner courtyard at this hour. His urgent voice suggested that something serious had happened.

Lan Dan felt her heart race. Ever since her experience with stealing babies, she couldn’t stand these sudden, urgent moments. Shentu Rui’s cup fell on the table with a loud bang, startling Lan Dan. Before she could gather her wits, he had already stood up and quickly walked to the door.

“Is it…?” Shentu Rui’s voice was becoming unsteady.

Even Sun Shixiang couldn’t afford to beat around the bush at this moment, and even interrupted, “Yes, yes! The Empress Dowager has no choice but to agree to send troops. Xiao Bing Wen is estimated to reach Tongye in three or two days.”

“Good!” Shentu Rui was extremely excited. “Prepare the horses, I’m going to find Su Yi Ming.”

Sun Shi Xiang responded, and ran out with heavy footsteps. Shentu Rui grabbed a cloak randomly without even bothering to comb his hair, and left in a hurry without saying a word to her.

Lan Dan silently wiped the water on the mat, trying to recall the conversation. Empress Dowager? Fifth Prince? If it was related to the border of Tongye, it should not be the Empress Dowager in the imperial city, then… could it be the Empress Dowager of Beimo? She suddenly realized everything. The Beimo hostage had taken control of Da Min, and his most desired goal would naturally be to take revenge and reclaim Beimo. In order to stabilize the will of the people in the imperial court, it was necessary to set out with a good reputation whenever there was a military conquest. There was no better reason than for the previous dynasty’s Prince to unite with Beimo and counterattack the new dynasty. No wonder Shentu Cheng vigorously reduced taxes, supported agriculture and commerce, and let Lan Huang control the court without excessive killings— it was all to win the people’s hearts as soon as possible.

Lan Dan threw the handkerchief far away at the door. She took the lamp beside her bedroll, lay down, blew on the lamp, and smiled wryly. She had thought that when Shentu Rui released Fifth Brother, it was out of respect for her and Lan Huang, leaving some blood for the Xiao family, but she didn’t expect it was just one part of their prearranged plan. She wasn’t very clever, and neither was Lan Huang, but thinking about it, her sense of defeat wasn’t as strong anymore.

Thinking of Lan Huang, she suddenly remembered what Zi Fu had said a few days ago, that the opportunity would come soon… could it be referring to the Fifth Brother leading a counterattack with the army? If that’s the case, then did Lan Huang already know about the prearranged plan?

Lamenting, she realized that she was the only stupid one among them.

Shentu Rui returned near dawn, but she didn’t want him to know she was still awake, so she quickly turned over. Obviously, there was someone else who was still awake, and she heard Zi Fu call out to him outside the door.

“Her Excellency requires that you must see her when you enter the palace tomorrow.” Zi Fu’s tone was very cold, as if passing a message for Lan Huang was no longer as important to her as before.

“Hmm, I got it,” Shentu Rui responded absentmindedly and pushed the door open gently. He didn’t light up the lamp, probably afraid of waking her up. He walked to the low table and drank all the wine from the pot before taking a few deep breaths and lying down on the floor.

Facing away from him, Lan Dan furrowed her brows as she noticed Shentu Rui’s unusual behavior. Even Sun Shi Xiang was acting abnormal, and yet, shouldn’t Shentu Cheng be the most excited about the troops being sent to Beimo? Why was Shentu Rui also restless and anxious? Did this have to do with the urgent meeting between Shentu Rui and Lan Huang? Were they going to carry out their grand plan of usurping the throne?

Shentu Rui returned from court, in high spirits and extremely happy. As soon as he smiled, the entire mansion seemed to emerge from the gloom of the previous days. Only now did Lan Dan realize that the entire mansion had been watching him closely and reacting to his slightest changes. This was why wise people were always good at observing others’ words and expressions, as they could easily detect any anomalies. Although Shentu Rui had always been very accomplished, he had a strange reaction to the troops being sent to Beimo, and Lan Dan remembered what he had said that night. She realized that no matter how cunning a person was, they would eventually reveal their true nature when they became too obsessed with something.

Xia Xin brought a few maids, all of them with smiling faces, busy packing their luggage. Even Zi Fu’s side was bustling with laughter, sending people over from time to time to ask Xia Xin if this or that prince would take them or if they needed to bring anything.

Amid the hustle and bustle, only Lan Dan stood by, watching them coldly.

Lan Dan remembered a similar scene from when Shentu Rui had to go to Tongye to release Fifth Brother, and she had felt anxious and restless, fearing that Shentu Rui would leave her behind. This time, however, she really didn’t want to go and was preoccupied with her own thoughts.

Shentu Rui walked up to her. She was leaning against the window reading a book. “Don’t you want to go?” he asked

Lan Dan put down her book and replied with some uncertainty, “I don’t want to go.”

“This time, the Emperor and Her Excellency will personally go, as the imperial carriage is leading the troops.” He said with some sarcasm, but didn’t directly persuade her to go.

“Lan Huang? But isn’t she still in confinement from giving birth?” Lan Dan asked in surprise.

Shentu Rui chuckled and sneered at her words, “Being in the royal family, and with such a major incident happening, who cares about whether or not she’s in confinement?” He paused, lowering his voice, “If she prioritizes her postpartum period, she might not even live to see the end of it.”

Seeing Lan Dan’s puzzled expression, he sighed and looked at her with pity.

“This campaign may not be a matter of life and death for Beimo, but for Shentu Cheng and Lan Huang… only one of them may return.”

Lan Dan’s heart shrank. Although she couldn’t fully understand the situation, she knew one thing for sure: both Shentu Cheng and Lan Huang were equally matched in the court, and Shentu Cheng had even gained the upper hand. With the little “Prince” in Lan Huang’s hands, and Shentu Cheng’s ruthless means to deal with her, the two of them had come to the point of life and death. This trip to the border to resist the enemy was a perfect opportunity for them to get rid of each other. It was better to die on the battlefield than to die in the palace. Therefore, they had tacitly made a decision to go on the imperial expedition together, with one leading the way and the other following closely. It seemed like a case of husband and wife going together, but in reality, they had both made up their minds to do something ruthless.

“I don’t even want to go,” Lan Dan said. This kind of bloody killing, especially between two people who had been “loving” each other day and night, felt more cruel and disgusting.

Shentu Rui’s smile disappeared. “You aren’t given a choice. You have to go, whether you like it or not.”

Lan Dan looked at him and thought he could have just been upfront with her instead of making things more difficult by being indirect.

On the day of the expedition, the gates of the northern city were opened, and the people cheered while saw them off along the road.

Lan Dan was sitting in the carriage, frowning as she looked outside. In reality, the main army was stationed outside the city, and the thousands of Imperial Guards marching through the city were considered the most trusted subordinates of Shentu Cheng. Leading them was General Li Qin, who had been tasked with surveilling them when they returned home that day. General Su was nowhere to be seen, and only his son, Young General Su, was present with a few attendants, walking behind Shentu Cheng’s carriage with a carefree smile.

She looked back at Shentu Rui who was eating snacks in the car. “Don’t you need to go out?” Shouldn’t he fight for this opportunity to show his face in front of the people and show off his might?

“What a rare opportunity.” He leaned idly, with a lazy look. “You do know how to worry about me.”

Lan Dan glared at him and asked him, “Where’s General Su?”

“He’s preparing troops in the south, ready to come to Prince Qin’s aid whenever needed,” said Shentu Rui nonchalantly.

Lan Dan lowered her head Who was this “Prince” that Su Ying Wei had to serve?

The Empress Dowager was escorted to an open area outside the city where there were formal rituals to present offerings and pay respects. Lan Dan naturally got out of the carriage and followed Shentu Rui in kneeling and bowing.

Lan Dan saw Lan Huang at a glance, holding a baby in her arms. Lan Dan looked at Shentu Rui in surprise, a questioning look in her eyes.

Shentu Rui coldly laughed and whispered, “With those who aren’t at ease, they all have to bring them along.” Then, he deeply glanced at Lan Dan. The sharpness in his eyes that understood everything made Lan Dan’s heart tremble. He had to reflect on whether he had any flaws that were noticed by Shentu Rui.

Shentu Cheng drank the congratulatory wine poured by the Empress Dowager and said gratefully and solemnly, “Mother Empress, the palace will be entrusted to you during my absence.”

Although this was an ordinary polite remark, those present understood its weight. The ruthless people who were struggling for power were all heading out, and the safety of the old nest depended entirely on the Empress Dowager sitting in power.

“Mother Empress must also take care of herself, and wait for her son to return from victory.” Shentu Cheng clasped his hands solemnly.

The Empress Dowager understood the meaning behind his words, so she held his hand and patted his hand back. “My child, go without worry. Come back after your victory. Mother will take care of things here, so you don’t need to worry.”

After hearing this, Lan Huang smiled lightly. While the mother wished for her son’s safe return, the Empress Dowager, who still had charm and grace, would likely not live long enough to see his return after they succeeded in their mission.

After the ceremony was completed, everyone boarded their respective carriages. Lan Dan saw Lan Cheng personally walking up to Su Yi Ming’s horse, looking up with a smile that contained affection towards the Young General. Although she couldn’t hear what was being said, judging from Su Yi Ming’s expression, it must have been something extremely heartwarming. He also looked at Lan Cheng, smiling in a way that was different from usual, showing a hint of masculinity, shedding his childishness.

Lan Dan got into the carriage, endured it for a while before asking Shentu Rui, “How did Shentu Cheng persuade Lan Cheng?”

It was amazing. While the sound of Lan Cheng gritting her teeth and vowing that everyone would suffer a disastrous end still echoed in her heart, on the other hand, Su Yi Ming and someone else were already exchanging glances and showing affection towards each other?

Shentu Rui snorted, and said amusedly, “How else can she be persuaded? Tell her to learn from Lan Huang, go all out and use the Su family to help her seize real power, and then dispose of them once they are no longer useful. At that time, I’ll be like a plucked phoenix, how could I not be at the mercy of him and his sister? Even if they don’t ask me to marry her, I would still be powerless to resist their control. If they were to demand that I become a court eunuch and serve the princess on every first and fifteenth day of the lunar month, I would have no choice but to comply if I wanted to stay alive. Right?” 

Lan Dan was choked up for a while. Although it was the truth, the way he spoke was too blunt, making her feel embarrassed.

The embarrassment passed, but her heart was still cold…

Yes, this was their way of thinking. Lan Cheng… finally became one of them. Although they claimed it was for love, it was still cruel and ugly. Disgusting people.

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