CHAPTER 6 A timely snow in winter augurs bountiful harvest
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Lan Dan slowly sipped hot tea. The heavy snow outside looked like cotton wool. She didn’t want to think about anything. Her thoughts were too much, too deep and too dark, so she instinctively avoided dwelling on them.
Shentu Rui must be a person who knew how to enjoy life. Although the Prince of Yan’s mansion was small, everything was organized satisfactorily. She found that her bedroom was connected to a small chamber furnished with a solitary low table. She wondered what it was used for. It turned out that the floor-to-ceiling window of the small chamber opened onto a small garden. On such a cold and windy day, the dragon heater was burning hot. Opening the window to enjoy the snow while leisurely drinking fragrant tea was really comfortable and soothing to the bones.
Shentu Rui strode in from her bedroom, bringing in the cold wind. He sat down on the other side of the low table in a free and easy manner. He didn’t even take off his coat. He look extraordinarily graceful and elegant in a royal robe.
Lan Dan looked at the dragon embroidered pattern on his shoulders, and sneered coldly. Da Yan dynasty usurped the throne too quickly. Many of the ceremonial regulations had to be followed according to the previous dynasty’s system. Even this ceremonial robe… she had seen it on her brothers countless times. She couldn’t help but think of Third and Ninth Brothers who were buried in the mass grave. Once upon a time, they were also such luxurious and distinguished figures.
Her eyes dimmed as her mood plummeted. Her fingertips swirled the teacup, but she didn’t have the heart to take a sip anymore.
“Why did you have the mirror taken away?” Shentu Rui asked with great interest, as if he didn’t notice the change in her expression, or he didn’t care at all.
“When it’s in front of my eyes, I can’t help but want to stare all day,” Lan Dan replied absent-mindedly.
Amused, Shentu Rui laughed, spilling a few drops of tea. “You are still the same as before.”
These words pricked Lan Dan’s heart. She turned her face and glared at him. How could she still be the same? Wasn’t it because of him that she changed like this?
Shentu Rui was stunned for a moment. Lan Dan probably didn’t know how imposing she looked with a glance like this. The alluring face coupled with the icy expression and the girlish resentment in her eyes could almost shoot an invisible sharp arrow through the heart. His heart tingled. His mouth opened on its own and coaxed her, “I meant your temperament. Your temperament has always been very interesting.”
Lan Dan’s expression froze. Interesting? When was she ever interesting?
“I went to pay respects to my ancestors today and I’m quite tired.” Shentu Rui reclined, and the ever observant maid immediately took a high pillow and placed it against his back.
“Your ancestral tablets are all displayed in my family’s ancestral hall now?”
Shentu Rui couldn’t help laughing again. In fact, she had always spoken in an interesting way, complaining with sharp wit and speaking softly with a kind of dry humor. But no one had ever listened carefully, including Shentu Cheng.
“What do you think… of your father?” she asked suddenly, absently watching the snowflakes outside the window.
“No idea.” Shentu Rui was no longer smiling. “I haven’t had a father since I was a child.”
His attitude towards his father made Lan Dan paused. His father, the Duke of Anguo, passed away almost fifteen years ago. Shentu Rui was now twenty three this year. It seemed too unfeeling to say that he had never had a father since he should have had some memories of him at the age of eight.
Did his father treat him badly? Was he biased towards the eldest son?
After thinking about it, she realized that the Duke of Anguo started his career with military exploits, and had a prestigious background as a military general in the court and the army. That was why the Shentu brothers were able to secretly unite with several military commanders and quickly stabilize the situation in the world.
Over the years, the Shentu family deliberately concealed their talents. Her Father Emperor, Mother Empress and all the dignitaries of the imperial capital regarded them as weak Young Masters of a declining family. They were only known in the capital for their looks. In fact, they should be called Young Dukes or Young Generals because at the beginning, the Duke of Anguo was also conferred the title of General Weilie. But all this time, only Shentu Cheng had always been “Young Master Shentu” due to his exceptional appearance.
She felt somewhat comforted. She wasn’t the only one who had been deceived, but the whole city and the whole world.
“What about you? What do you think of your father?” A smile crossed Shentu Rui’s face again.
Her Father Emperor should have been a taboo topic that shouldn’t be mentioned, but he didn’t seem to care.
Lan Dan sighed, stared blankly for a while, and then slowly said, “Father Emperor was very majestic. Although he would always smile at me… and I hardly see him get angry, I’m still afraid of him. He felt like a stranger.”
Shentu Rui leaned on the pillow and listened silently.
“Maybe you won’t believe it, but he had never held my hand or patted my head.” She unconsciously tilted her head slightly, her eyes losing focus in the misty snow. “We never talked once. I always felt that he was far away from me… But,” she frowned, “After he died, I realized that I was deeply connected to him. Although he was merely a figurehead in the vast imperial palace, his absence left me with nowhere to turn and no one to rely on.”
Shentu Rui was very quiet, his face devoid of expression.
“It’s strange how could I tell you these things.” She smiled wryly. Shentu Rui was the last person she should be confiding in. Perhaps she didn’t have other choice.
“It’s because I told you my biggest secret.” Shentu Rui smiled, and sat up straight. “When two people share a life-and-death secret, they naturally become absolute allies.”
“Who wants to be your ally!” Lan Dan’s face darkened. She hadn’t agreed yet!
His biggest secret? It was no more than his ambition to sit on the throne. She didn’t care who ruled the world or become the Emperor. It made no difference to her. Anyway, the world belonging to her Xiao family was gone.
She didn’t flat-out refuse his offer because she knew for herself that she still had selfish motives. She was going to die sooner or later, but before she died, she hoped to make amends for her relatives buried in the wasteland and at least give them a decent tomb. If one wanted something, they could not afford to be stubborn.
Fortunately, it wasn’t difficult for Shen Turui to help her with this, and she should be able to accomplish it without paying a high price.
“Alright, alright.” Shentu Rui impatiently waved his hand. “Let’s not talk about this on New Year’s Eve. After all those years of anxiety, let’s just have a peaceful year.”
Lan Dan glared at him again. Sure enough, the traitor had been plotting for many years.
Shentu Rui seemed to be amused by her again. He abruptly stood up, pulling her up with him. “Let’s go out.”
“Now?” Lan Dan asked incredulously. “It’s snowing so heavily!”
Shentu Rui laughed. “Right now! If we wait for the snow to stop, we may never go out!”
Madman! Lan Dan pursed her lips, but didn’t curse out loud.
Walking in the heavy snow proved to be difficult. Although many servants were clearing the pathway, the snow continuously covered the narrow and rough road.
Shentu Rui didn’t take the carriage or sedan chair. He led a spirited horse and urged it on a gallop. When the horse’s hooves skidded and sprang, he laughed heartily. Lan Dan was so frightened that she shrank into his cloak. Her two-layer cloak was useless against the cold, so she was forced to stick close to him to absorb the little warmth from his chest.
Before long, they arrived at the foot of the Dragon Wall. Shentu Rui carried her off the horse. Still badly shaken, Lan Dan pressed her hand on the white fur cloak over her chest. Looking up through the snow curtain, she saw the looming city walls and towers, which appeared even more imposing in the gloom.
The name “Dragon Wall” resulted from the misunderstanding propagated by the common people. A plaque, which read “Dinglong Gate”, was hung on Wu Gate facing the imperial palace. The outer wall of the imperial city, which was added by her father, was informally called “Dinglong Wall” by his officials. As time passed, this name was gradually distorted into “Dragon Wall” by the common people.
[T/N] 1. 定隆(dinglong) : Constant Prosperity 2. 龙(long) : Dragon
For her father, Da Min’s Emperor Ding, the Dragon Wall was a complex symbol of shame and luck. After its construction, no one was allowed to climb on it, not even the Emperor himself. Lan Dan had heard a lot of rumors about the Dragon Wall. It was said that many geomancy masters agreed that this isolated city wall had a very bad feng shui as it was blocking the dragon energy pouring into the imperial city. Now it seemed that… there was some truth in those mystifying stories.
“Come on, go up.” Shentu Rui smiled exuberantly.
“No…” Lan Dan flinched, instinctively declining. She had been taught from a young age that climbing the Dragon Wall was taboo and best not to be mentioned.
“What are you afraid of?” Shentu Rui smiled meaningfully, which enraged her. Indeed, what else was she afraid of? The person who would be angered the most had been poisoned to death by her. “If you don’t go up now, you’ll never get the chance again. It will be demolished after the new year.”
“Demolish?” Lan Dan gasped, aghast.
Because she had trouble walking, Shentu Rui put his arms around her waist, sharing half of her body weight. Their figures looked very intimate. The guards at the city gate saluted and stepped aside, making way for them to climb the stairs.
Shentu Rui led her up to Dinglong Gate. Looking down, the entire city was buried in the misty snow, washing off the colors and only leaving the desolate and cold white snow.
“This wall is too ominous. It blocks the luck.” Shentu Rui gazed around with a look of disdain. “It seems that Beimo really scared your father out of his wits, so he dared to take such risks and built this inauspicious wall.”
“You!” Lan Dan was a little offended that he actually talked about Father Emperor in such a contemptuous tone. She reined in her temper. If her father was still alive, would Shentu Rui dare to say such things?
“Did I say something wrong?” The knowing smile on his lips was exceptionally irritating.
Lan Dan averted her eyes and ignored him. He didn’t say anything wrong. She knew the origin of this wall! About twenty years ago, her father was young and ambitious. He personally led his troops to attack Nanyue, reaping victories in succession. Unexpectedly, Beimo breached the defenseless northern line with only thirty thousand troops.
Father Emperor’s army was far away in the southern border. At the end of the day, the northern line army was completely defeated. Beimo launched an offensive attack before the reinforcements could arrive. Da Min was in critical danger.
Fortunately, Da Min possessed incredible luck. Shentu Rong Qing, who was then General Dingyuan, received a secret report that Beimo had invaded. He risked being sentenced to death, did not wait for the Emperor’s decree, and mobilized troops on his own initiative. Eventually, he blocked the enemy’s main forces outside the imperial city. Within three days of bloody battle, Beimo was forced to retreat after suffering heavy losses. It was said that traces of the Beimo siege were left on the Wu Gate. After Father Emperor led his troops back in the imperial city, he spent enormous amount of money and manpower to replace the century-old gate with the Dinglong Wall outside Wu Gate.
For Father Emperor, climbing on the Dinglong Wall was like having another powerful enemy invading and already breaking into the heartland, which was particularly taboo. Unexpectedly… Da Min’s demise was not caused by war, let alone this Dinglong Wall.
“Isn’t this wall also ominous for your Shentu family?” she sneered. This was the beginning of their rise to power. Back then, Shentu Rong Qing was still a nameless warrior.
“Ominous.” Shentu Rui’s sneer was much more superior than hers. His voice and expression could freeze people’s hearts without them even knowing why they were terrified.
“Look.” Shentu Rui smiled meaningfully, and pointed a finger. “The noble ladies who are going to pay respects to the imperial harem are entering the palace.”
Lan Dan looked hard through the heavy snow. Gradually, she saw several resplendant carriages lining up one after another like a string of pearls. The spectacle looked especially dazzling in the snow.
“Who… Who are they?” Lan Dan recalled the cartful of corpses transported to the mass grave until it tripled in size. Weren’t all members of the royal and other powerful families slaughtered? How could there still be many noble ladies left?
The palace had no Empress. Who were they paying respects to?
“Curious?” Shentu Rui grinned wickedly, not hiding his intention to taunt her. “Want me to show you?”
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