Fuzhu’s Ballad Chapter 52

Chapter 52 A fleeting dream

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“Let’s start with you.” The Empress Dowager looked at Shentu Cheng, smiling coldly. “Do you still remember your mother?”

Shentu Cheng thought for a moment and spoke in a cold tone, “When she was taken to the palace, I was only eight years old. I only remember her as a beautiful woman. She was not favored and did not live with my father in the capital of Beimo. So I grew up in a remote small city with only two maids serving us. We lived a very hard life.” He sneered. “So that’s why I was chosen as a hostage and sent to another country.”

The Empress Dowager chuckled, her words full of irony. “It seems that you have no feelings for your mother at all. You even blame her for not being favored, for causing you to wander outside and being sent to an enemy country as a hostage.”

Shentu Cheng smiled indifferently, acknowledging her words. Not every child would be fond of their mother. His memories of his mother and childhood were vague, filled only with bitter cold and endless wasteland. Even the bond of dependence left no trace. His mother? To him, she was just a woman who passed away early.

“You dislike your childhood very much, so you didn’t deliberately recall or verify it, which led to many mistakes.” The Empress Dowager smirked. “Tongye used to be a territory of Beimo more than a decade ago, called Junye. Does it sound familiar?”

Shentu Cheng’s expression suddenly became cold and stern. Frowning tightly, he drank his wine in one gulp, seeming to be recalling something.

“Back then, Da Min’s frontier generals were stationed in Jixian, which is now known as Junye. Normally, they rotated every five years, but one person did not get rotated in time and stayed in the northern border for ten years. That person was Shentu Rong Qing.” The Empress Dowager’s smile disappeared, her expression filling with disgust as she mentioned Shentu Rong Qing. “It was also him who, in order to gain credit, fought against Beimo several times and took over Junye, expanding Da Min’s borders. In the battles, he seized many Beimo refugees. Men were forced to become slaves to build the Junye city walls, and women… suffered even more tragically, becoming playthings. One of them even gave birth to his son. Of course, he was not very concerned about this mother and child, abandoning them in the unfinished Junye city walls, where they remained for seven years.”

The Empress Dowager paused, feeling a bit sorrowful. “It was precisely because he had a strong foundation in the northern border that when Beimo’s Khan launched a surprise attack, he was still the first to know the news and led his troops to resist. He took a risk and made great contributions, receiving the title of Duke of Anguo. He felt he had achieved success and fame and brought his abandoned son and concubine to the capital. This is what you remember as being ‘sent as a hostage.’ Think about it, isn’t it exactly the same?”

Shentu Cheng tightly gripped his wine glass and sat stiffly.

“Actually, the real Beimo hostage entered the capital before you. When you arrived at the Duke’s residence, Shentu Rong Qing was already on his deathbed.” The Empress Dowager sneered. “So, you don’t have much of an impression of him.”

Shentu Cheng frowned and smiled bitterly, not really questioning it, but casually pointing out the mistake, “Was he really sick?”

The Empress Dowager waved her hand, not bothering to explain, and looked at Shentu Cheng with an understanding gaze. Who cared whether Shentu Rong Qing died of illness or poison? Anyway, he deserved to die, and it was his time to go. “At that time, Consort Xi had already been taken into the palace, and the hostage had escaped with his life, changing his name and hiding.”

“Shentu Rui?” Shentu Cheng’s mocking tone was full of bitterness.

The Empress Dowager nodded, then looked somewhat pleased. “Think about how ridiculous Shentu Rong Qing was, he worked hard to achieve success and fame, but just when he finally succeeded, he died, and his enemy’s son took over his lair. He must have died an unfulfilled death!”

Shentu Cheng had regained his composure and asked coldly, “Then who are you?”

“Me?” The Empress Dowager’s gaze became unfocused for a moment. “I am another Beimo slave that was captured by Shentu Rong Qing during the Battle at the Dragon Wall.”

Shentu Cheng frowned at the Empress Dowager, clearly not believing her. However, he didn’t press her further on her identity because he had a more pressing question. “Then why did you make me believe I was a Beimo hostage?”

The Empress Dowager leaned on the table and sighed. “The situation was very dangerous at the time. The Khan had died, and Jiao Rong had usurped the throne. We couldn’t even survive in the capital, let alone return to Beimo. Fortunately… there was Yinghe Zan. He prevented us from being isolated in the capital and made sure that Beimo’s envoy saw you before pretending to be you. This made you firmly believe in your identity. In case the plan failed, you could at least act as a substitute for Rui’er and provide him with another layer of protection.”

Shentu Cheng suddenly laughed, realizing something. “I finally understand what Lan Huang meant,” he said angrily, smashing his glass. “I’m just like that substitute baby, a useless puppet and a replacement! I killed him, and someone will eventually do the same to me! Everything that Beimo and I conspired to do has been arranged with you, just to confuse me? But why? Why would you make me the Emperor?”

He stood up, shaking with the secret that had overturned his life. He had to support himself on the table to stand firm. His eyes were red with anger as he glared at the Empress Dowager. “Why?”

The Empress Dowager smiled again, feeling extremely pleased. “You’ll see… how will history remember you and Rui’er?”

Shentu Cheng was stunned for a moment, looked up and laughed bitterly, his voice instantly hoarse, “I am a treacherous minister who conspired to usurp the country, and he is the Founding Emperor with great achievements? You… are too cruel! Gnawing the bones and sucking the marrow, even the bone scraps were chewed up.”

“I do owe you an apology,” the Empress Dowager said insincerely. “Originally, Rui’er wanted to give you a way out after everything settled down, to let you travel far and wide, but who knew, your heart was too greedy and too ruthless.”

Suddenly, Su Yi ming reported outside the door, “Your Highness, my father has sent word that he has stationed troops 30 miles at the outskirts of the capital. Meng You, the magistrate of Tongye, has already rushed to Yingshan County with imperial edicts to immediately restore the position of governor of Yingshan and prepare everything for the Emperor’s return.”

Shentu Cheng sneered, the Emperor’s return… the Emperor no longer referred to him.

“Understood.” Although the Empress Dowager was relieved, she showed a very tired expression. She wanted to stand up but swayed, and Lan Dan, who had been sitting silently listening to their conversation, quickly supported her. The Empress Dowager smiled at her and said softly, “Go, bring me the package I left on the table in the back room.” After a pause, she smiled bitterly, “Hurry.”

Lan Dan had a sense of foreboding and her mood instantly became extremely painful. She didn’t dare to delay and ran to get the package. When she returned to the hall, the Empress Dowager and Shentu Cheng were sitting on stools, supporting themselves on the edge of the table, both looking very bad.

“Open it.” The Empress Dowager was panting, as if struggling to hold on.

Lan Dan quickly opened the package, revealing a set of Emperor’s dragon robes. Shentu Cheng looked at it and smiled lightly, saying to the Empress Dowager, “You had this prepared a long time ago, didn’t you?”

The Empress Dowager coughed and spat out a mouthful of blood. When she smiled, it was somewhat terrifying, but she was so proud. “Yes, I’ve been making this imperial robe for Rui’er for two whole years.”

Shentu Cheng’s nose also started to bleed, but he paid no attention to it, only shaking his head and sighing. “No wonder… Lan Huang told me that every Emperor in the Da Min Dynasty used eighteen perfect pearls to decorate their auspicious robes. When the Emperor fell seriously ill, she searched for eighteen priceless perfect pearls for the Crown Prince in the imperial palace, but couldn’t find them. It turns out that you had already taken them.”

The Empress Dowager laughed again, unable to hold on any longer, slowly sliding to the ground. “Lan Huang is such a sinister girl. How could she not know where those pearls went? She just wanted to ridicule you once again when you found out the truth.”

Shentu Cheng’s mouth also began to bleed, nodding his head and sneering, “Fortunately, she also died in utter defeat and with hatred in her heart. Otherwise, I… I would truly be too unwilling. She was ambitious and sinister her whole life, but in the end, she was just like me, empty-handed…”

The Empress Dowager leaned against the stool, and when Lan Dan tried to help her up, she waved her hand and pushed her away. “Do you think Lan Huang liked Rui’er because of his status?” The Empress Dowager sighed. “This was probably the least motivated she had ever been in her life when it came to liking someone, at least at the beginning. Rui’er had a very difficult childhood. His mother was taken captive to the palace, and he had to endure humiliation and live in hiding to survive. Otherwise, with the temperament of Consort Xi, how could she have ever yielded to Emperor Ding and given birth to Lan Cheng? Emperor Ding was extremely fond of Consort Xi, so he left a way out for Rui’er. Naturally, Rui’er had to keep a low profile and bide his time. Otherwise, with his looks and talents, how could you have ever surpassed him in fame in the capital?”

Shentu Cheng couldn’t stand and slowly sat down on the ground. He didn’t speak anymore and listened quietly.

“At that time, very few people in the palace knew about Rui’er’s identity, and Lan Huang was one of them. Rui’er wanted to see his mother, but because of Emperor Ding’s prohibition, he couldn’t formally request an audience. Only with the help of Lan Huang could he occasionally meet her. Rui’er has always remembered her kindness towards him. Later, Lan Huang endured and helped him repeatedly.”  The Empress Dowager looked at Lan Dan. “So don’t misunderstand him anymore. He has no personal feelings for Lan Huang, just gratitude.”

Lan Dan nodded tearfully. Although the Empress Dowager only used a few words to explain Shentu Rui’s past suffering, she felt it deeply. It turned out that the mother Shentu Rui called when he was ill gave up everything for him.

Shentu Cheng looked at Lan Dan and asked, “Why is she fine?”

The Empress Dowager smiled, “I know you suspect me, but you are sure that I wouldn’t harm Lan Dan. I wouldn’t do anything to make Rui’er sad. You drank wine only after Lan Dan did. Do you remember the poison I gave her? Actually, it was the antidote. Look, Shentu Cheng, everything has cause and effect. Your greed includes Lan Dan. So when Rui’er had an accident, you locked her up in the shed, making her think Rui’er was heartless. You wanted to wait for Rui’er to die so you could come out as her benefactor, to revive the old relationship. But when I told you I would execute her because she was still thinking of Rui’er, and she was willing to die for him, you refused to save her. Your liking for someone is always calculating and scheming. Even Lan Huang has had someone she truly liked, but you haven’t! If you had saved her because you liked her, I wouldn’t have had a chance to use her. It wouldn’t have been so easy to trick you into drinking the poison, and you could have lived a few more days.”

Shentu Cheng’s mouth started to bleed quickly, and he held his chest, not knowing whether it was because of the poison or real heartache. “I… have one last question… Where is my mother?”

The Empress Dowager spoke with difficulty, “You asked the most important question of the night, but saved it for last… She contracted a cold when she entered the capital, and due to years of accumulated fatigue and illness, she passed away two days after Shentu Rong Qing’s death.”

Shentu Cheng fell down and slowly closed his eyes, taking a long breath, which was his last breath in life. “It seems that… I really have nothing left to worry about…”

The Empress Dowager watched him take his last breath and then spat out a mouthful of blood. She had been holding on, just to see him die. “Xiao Lan Dan…” Her eyes started to bleed, and she couldn’t see anything. She reached out her hand in confusion.

Lan Dan quickly held her hand and said, “I’m here, I’m here!” He held her in his arms so that she wouldn’t fall to the cold ground.

The Empress Dowager’s expression softened. She was no longer aggressive and sarcastic. She smiled, which was still very beautiful. “Rui’er… I’ll leave him to you. He has been very bitter, very bitter. You must be good to him for the rest of your life… I finally completed all the tasks, and I finally… Sa Ju… Sa Ju… How did I do? Sa Ju…”

Lan Dan didn’t dare to make a sound. He watched her chase after the person she had missed all her life, knowing that she had also paid her life for this person.

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