Fuzhu’s Ballad Chapter 47

Chapter 47 Greed takes root in the heart

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The summer morning light was as bright and refreshing as usual, but the orderly marching footsteps and clanging of armor outside made the atmosphere tense and heavy. Lan Dan couldn’t help but listen carefully to the various sounds coming from outside the courtyard, imagining how magnificent the scene of going to war would be. She had lived in peaceful times since she was a child, and when the Battle at the Dragon Wall happened, she was too young to have any impression. She had seen parades and even the Emperor’s personal expedition, but those were just for show. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like when two armies really fought.

She looked at Shentu Rui, who stood in the middle of the room with his arms stretched out, being helped by Sun Shi Xiang and two soldiers to put on his armor. His graceful and charming figure was now clad in heavy armor, making him look bulky, but still attractive. She couldn’t do anything but sit in her chair and watch. She unconsciously smiled, thinking about what a great man he was… and he used to be hers. Well, she allowed herself to be so shameless, knowing that a man like him could not be owned by anyone, but she wanted to think so. In the long years to come, she was willing to think of him on beautiful moonlit nights, remembering the laughter and quarrels they had when they were together. Because he was the first person she had truly loved, even Shentu Cheng and the harm he brought her became insignificant. She had gazed at him on the desolate grasslands and kissed him in the beautiful rapeseed flower fields. She finally knew what it was like to love someone.

The only regret was that this kind of liking was one-sided.

The most profound impact that Shentu Cheng had on her wasn’t the foolishness of adolescent love, but rather the sorrow that comes with unrequited affection.     

Because she knew how sad it was, she dared not even persevere. Even if the other person was Shentu Cheng, the pain would be unforgettable. If it were Shentu Rui, she might not even be able to live. Second Sister’s words inspired her deeply. Every surviving member of the Xiao family, no matter what misfortune they carry, must strive to live on and provide shelter for the other surviving members of the Xiao family to the best of their ability. Of course, this was the thinking of the weak remnants of the Xiao family. The real strong ones probably wouldn’t care about anyone else. Strength itself was infused with other people’s blood, as exemplified by the Shentu brothers and Lan Huang. Lan Dan admitted that she was weak and wanted to live with dignity in the way of the weak. She wanted to go to Jingu.

She considered many options and ultimately chose Jingu, which was located west of Da Yan and Beimo, where the Silk Road trade was very prosperous and powerful. It would not be easy for Shentu Rui to extend his hand to Jingu. She had seen the girls of Jingu in Fengyang, who were unrestrained and passionate. She also inquired privately and found that in Jingu, girls engaging in business were very common, and men and women were not as rigidly divided by status as they were in Da Yan. As long as she worked hard, perhaps the surviving bloodline of the Xiao family could come to Jingu to seek refuge with her. Although they would be leaving their hometown, they should be able to leave their past behind and live a happy life. She had secretly packed her luggage, and the Jingu headscarf and clothes she bought in Fengyang would come in handy, which she didn’t expect at the time of purchase. Perhaps it was fate.

“What are you smiling at?” Shentu Rui asked, pulling her back from her reverie.

“Smiling at how good you look,” she praised honestly. Time was running out, and she didn’t want to waste any more of the beautiful moments between them on pointless emotions.

Shentu Rui was taken aback by her answer. Sun Shi Xiang next to him couldn’t help but chuckle, making him feel slightly embarrassed. He glared at Sun Shi Xiang and shouted, “Get out and keep watch. If you dare to step away from the doorstep today, I’ll take your life!”

Sun Shi Xiang held back his laughter and pretended to agree solemnly, but he didn’t leave. He looked at Shentu Rui sadly, “Your Highness, we’re going out to fight in the city today, and the personal guards of the Prince of Yan’s mansion are stationed in the General’s mansion. There should be no problem. Why don’t you take me with you to have some fun?”

“No problem?” Shentu Rui asked back expressionlessly. “Other than myself, I only trust you. So I left you here, and you’re telling me ‘no problem’?”

Upon hearing this, Sun Shi Xiang was both moved and regretful. He repeatedly apologized and bowed before stepping back outside the door.

Lan Dan originally wanted to plead for Sun Shi Xiang, but after hearing Shentu Rui’s words, he didn’t know what else to say. He turned around and looked deeply at her. “Come here,” he ordered softly.

She stood up obediently and walked over. For some reason, she wanted to snuggle into his arms, so she hugged his waist and pressed her face to his chest. The breastplate was hard and cold, and she couldn’t feel his warmth, but she was already very satisfied.

He didn’t speak for a moment, enjoying her tenderness. “You have to listen to me and don’t go to the city wall to watch the battle.” 

“Why?” She began to understand a little of how Sun Shi Xiang felt. After all, it was rare. Shouldn’t the official expedition to Beimo begin next time? She… wouldn’t be able to see it.

“I…” He didn’t finish the sentence, he hesitated for a moment, but decided to tell the truth, “I don’t want you to see me like that.” He knew what war was like, blood and carnage, and having seen himself swinging a sword to kill, would she be scared? Would she despise him? He remembered the first time he went to battle with his father.  The hero praised by everyone was also a bloodthirsty madman. Although he knew he should be closed and admire him, he still felt fear from the bottom of his heart. He didn’t want Lan Dan to experience this.

Lan Dan raised her head, looked into his eyes, and softly murmured, “Mmm.”

He also lowered his head to look at her, he loved her eyes the most, he could clearly see joy, anger, grief, and happiness in them. Perhaps these things didn’t matter, it was only because they were Danyang’s eyes.

“Don’t even leave this room, there are too many malicious people, even I can’t tell them apart,” he said with a bitter smile.

Lan Dan knew that he was speaking the most sincere words from his heart. Malicious people… was he one of them?

Even though the battlefield was far away, the deafening sounds of battle seemed to be ringing right beside her. Lan Dan fidgeted in her room. Knowing that she couldn’t see anything, she still went outside and stood in the yard, futilely looking up at the sky in the direction of the battlefield. Sun Shi Xiang stood beside her with his hands behind his back, his face full of regret. Together, they looked out at the continuous billowing smoke that covered the sky from the battlefield all the way to the airspace above Tongye. Even though it was a bright and sunny day, it was dark and gloomy with the sky and earth obscured. She didn’t know which side blew the horn of war, which rang throughout the land and sounded even more mournful and resounding amidst the sounds of battle. After hearing it, Lan Dan couldn’t help but shed tears.

When the guards brought food at noon, Lan Dan didn’t feel like eating. After some thought, she gave orders, “Prepare some good dishes. The prince will definitely be hungry when he returns.”

Sun Shi Xiang smiled wryly, shook his head and said, “No need. The Prince probably doesn’t have the appetite to eat. With all the blood and gore, he hasn’t been on the battlefield himself in a long time. He may not be able to handle it easily.”

Lan Dan lowered her head and remained silent. She never thought that Shentu Rui, like her, would feel fear and disgust in the face of extreme cruelty.

Time passed slowly, making it especially agonizing. Lan Dan listened intently with her ears pricked up, and finally, she heard the gradually subsiding cries of killing and the clear sound of the drum calling for the troops to withdraw from a distance.

Sun Shi Xiang had been downcast all day, but hearing the horn blow, he perked up and walked to the courtyard gate, eagerly looking towards the direction of the city gate.

Lan Dan also wanted to go see, but there were already troops passing by the main gate, and she couldn’t show herself too much. She could only pace back and forth at the door, paying attention to Sun Shi Xiang’s expression. Suddenly, Sun Shi Xiang shouted and ran away like smoke. Lan Dan’s heart pounded as she realized that Shentu Rui had returned. She quickly took a few steps and thought of going to meet him at the main gate.

The first one to enter was Shentu Cheng. Lan Dan rushed in and almost collided with him. Shentu Cheng was taken aback and reached out to help her, but she had already bypassed him and ran straight towards Shentu Rui in the back.

Shentu Cheng smiled slightly, not exactly feeling disappointed. He should have understood long ago that no one would eagerly anticipate his return and wait for him. He looked around the courtyard, which was empty except for the guards. The entire General’s mansion was now his residence, with more than just one concubine, but other than Fu Zhu, no one had come out to greet him, not even a maid or servant. He turned to see Shentu Rui being supported by two guards, while Sun Shi Xiang paced anxiously beside him. Lan Dan was too scared to approach, but tearfully asked, “Where are you injured? Is it serious?”

Shentu Cheng felt a little annoyed and gave a half-hearted laugh. “It’s just a little cut on the back, just a superficial wound.”

Fu Zhu probably didn’t expect him to speak, and quickly looked up at him with tearful eyes, which seemed familiar to him… like someone he had seen before, but he couldn’t remember who.

Shentu Rui also spoke up, but what he said to the girl who came to greet him was not pleasant. “Don’t make a fuss, stop crying, go back quickly and don’t cause a scene here.”

Lan Dan sniffled and felt uncomfortable in front of Shentu Cheng, so she lowered her head and obediently followed behind Shentu Rui into the courtyard.

Shentu Rui asked the guards in the courtyard to help him remove his armor, fearing that the smell of blood would be brought into the room. His wound on his back was bleeding a lot, and his undershirt and armor were stuck together. The guards were experienced and, with a glance at each other, they simultaneously exerted force to remove the breastplate neatly, causing Shentu Rui to groan and almost collapse if not for the support of Sun Shi Xiang. Tears welled up again in Lan Dan’s eyes as she grabbed a towel from the edge of the basin filled with hot water, quickly soaking it and wringing it dry. Shentu Rui had already been helped into the room by Sun Shi Xiang and had collapsed on the high-backed chair. Lan Dan rushed to help him clean up, but he stopped her.

“Dirty…” He frowned. He was covered in blood, even his hair was foul-smelling. He didn’t want her to see him like this.

“Of course it’s dirty, that’s why we need to clean it!” she scolded him with a serious expression.

Shentu Rui was surprised, and a smile crept into his eyes. Looking at her was even more comfortable and warmer than wiping his face with a hot towel.

Lan Dan was a little afraid of blood, especially when he was covered in it like this. But she tried to remain calm and steady, not trembling even with the cloth in her hand. She looked like a strict mother disciplining a child, grabbing his already messy hair.

“It hurts! It hurts! It hurts!” Shentu Rui complained a bit dramatically. “Be gentle! Do you want to make me bald?”

“Even if it hurts, you still have to wash your hair!” He sat while she stood, finally able to look down on him with authority. “You’re skilled at everything, why did you get hurt?”

Shentu Rui remained silent and endured the pain as he hunched over to let her help him wash his hair.

After finally feeling clean and having his wounds tended to by the medic, Shentu Rui lay on the bed looking more exhausted than before. Despite being cleaned, he could still smell the blood and gore of the battlefield, and it felt like he’d been away from war for too long, despite growing up following his father to battlefields.

Lan Dan led the guards to bring a light dinner for Shentu Rui, who was obviously very hungry, but unable to eat. He shook his head and his stomach churned.

Lan Dan sighed but didn’t try to persuade him, and signaled for the guards to leave.

“Danyang.” He fell weakly on the pillow, expressionless but with deep eyes. “Come here…hold me…”

She nodded and carefully climbed onto the bed. Just like the last time he had a fever, she held him tightly in her arms, letting his head rest against her chest, and in her embrace, he relaxed and felt comfortable. All the exhaustion and vulnerability received the most powerful comfort, and he rubbed against her gently, making a satisfied sound, truly letting go.

Lan Dan smiled indulgently. She realized that even someone as emotionally guarded as him could be vulnerable and in need of someone to make him feel safe and warm, like a mother would.

She gently touched his still-damp hair and said, “Sleep… I’ll stay with you.”

“Are you feeling better?” Shentu Cheng did not ask for permission to enter, and walked straight in. Seeing this scene, he smiled slightly and said, “It looks like you’re doing better. Then, I can rest assured. Rest well.” He turned around and left.

Although it was only a brief moment, Shentu Rui saw a lot in Shentu Cheng’s eyes. He knew him too well, and at that moment, there was an unmistakable envy and greed in his eyes.

Shentu Rui’s back stiffened, and Lan Dan noticed it. She thought it was because Shentu Cheng’s sudden arrival and departure made him uncomfortable, so she gently rubbed his shoulders and arms, trying to help him relax.

“The road ahead… will be even harder,” Shentu Rui sighed. “You need to stay close to me, understand?”

Lan Dan’s hand paused slightly, and she softly replied, “Alright…”

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