Misfortune comes without warning
Lan Dan fell ill and had a high fever.
After experiencing the pain that came with the complete transformation of her appearance, she became accustomed to the pain in her body.
However, in her hazy consciousness, there still remained a trace of clarity.
Like a person who died in vain, aimlessly wandering around the place where she died and reliving everything before death, she repeatedly experienced the darkest period of her life— pouring the poison into the soup and watching the eunuch take it away.
Terrified, she kept pacing around in her palace, as if she would faint if she stopped.
Then, the funeral bell rang throughout the capital, which she could hear more clearly in the imperial palace, as if it was striking her heart.
It was too stuffy and painful.
She continued to pace around, with nothing in her mind.
The noise from the long street outside the palace kept coming in.
However, it was not the palace maids or eunuchs who came to convey the news of Shentu Cheng's success to her, but the Imperial Guards driving her palace servants to arrest her.
The wailings throughout the imperial city filled her ears, but she did not cry— she had lost all dignity, being dragged by the soldiers, with her hairpins falling to the ground.
Her brain couldn't function properly, she couldn't think of too much, and she didn't even think of Shentu Cheng.
She was struck by one fact: she had poisoned the Emperor, her own father.
It wasn't until the death knell rang, the cries shaking the sky, and she was thrown into a dark prison that it sank in— she had killed someone, and that person was her father.
She was executed and reviled by the world, but she never felt wronged.
She knew she was a heinous person, and she admitted it herself!
The crowd's insult under the execution platform, the empty city tower, the executioner's blade swinging down in the wind, her body falling on the piercing icy snow.
she was back in her bedroom, sprinkling the poison into the soup, watching the eunuch left, the death knell tolling…
Exhausted and in unbearable pain, Lan Dan struggled to recall the experiences that followed.
She vaguely knew that Lan Cheng and Lan Huang did not die.
They were still in the imperial palace, manipulating and controlling everything.
The Third and Ninth Princess Consorts tried to please the Empress Dowager but to no avail.
She couldn't break free and kept repeating the agony of the execution.
“What should I do?” she babbled, feeling helpless.
A clear and handsome voice with a smile replied, “Don't be afraid.
You have me.”
Like the sound of a golden Buddhist sutra, all the darkness and pain were swept away by the warm golden light…
Suddenly, Lan Dan burst into tears and cried out loud, embracing the person who spoke.
Strength was often a necessity.
Once someone was willing to say such words to her, all the carefully maintained calmness within her crumbled to pieces.
She regretted it! She hated it too!
As soon as the depression in her heart dissipated, the fever gradually subsided.
The first thing she did when she woke up was to search for the person who spoke those words…
Apart from the servant girl who warmed the medicine for her, there was no one else.
She silently recalled that voice.
Was it Shentu Rui? She couldn't remember clearly, and she even wondered if she had only imagined someone saying those words to her.
She smiled sadly.
What else was there for Xiao Lan Dan who had lost her country and family?
Nothing at all.
Shentu Rui entered the room, wearing a gorgeous black fox fur cape today.
Lan Dan looked up at him carefully, and noticed that his ears were red from the cold.
“Have you just returned from the palace?” she asked in a low, hoarse voice.
“Hmm,” Shentu Rui replied as he sat down by the warm stove to dry his hands.
Lan Dan's heart sank with disappointment, realizing it wasn't him who had said those words.
She immediately mocked herself again.
Even if it was him who said it, it would have been just a lie.
Shentu Rui was more honest than his brother, and had already made it clear to her that she was just a disposable pawn to him, discarded once she had served her purpose.
“I'm agreeing to the alliance,” she said lightly.
Shentu Rui simply responded with a sound of acknowledgment, showing no surprise.
“But you must tell me the truth, the whole truth about everything.”
Shentu Rui withdrew his hand and propped it on his leg, looking at her with a handsome smile.
“No problem, we are now allies in life and death.
I will never speak a single word of falsehood.”
Lan Dan suddenly smiled.
She believed him, not just because of his sincerity in that statement, but also because they both knew that their alliance may not last forever.
When it ended, it would be a matter of life and death.
After serving the tea, the maid retreated tactfully.
Shentu Rui leisurely took a sip and exhaled comfortably.
“The fall of Da Min can actually be traced back to two neighboring countries.” He put down his teacup and patiently explained, smiling slightly at Lan Dan.
“After the disastrous defeat of Beimo at the Wu Gate, Da Min gathered 300,000 troops and stationed them at the border for deterrence and demonstrations.
Beimo's vitality was severely damaged, so they had to swallow their pride and beg for peace.
They sent their Third Prince into the capital as a hostage, accompanied by his mother.”
Lan Dan's gaze became distant, as if floating back to the shores of Taiye Pond ten years ago.
She was eight years old at that time, with a particular liking for fresh lotus seeds.
A palace maid had peeled several and wrapped them in a handkerchief for her, which she held as she skipped to the cool pavilion to enjoy the breeze.
There, she met a young man in exotic clothing.
He appeared to be around her age but was taller than her, and very handsome.
She liked him a lot and gave him two lotus seeds.
The eunuchs and maidservants who came after her seemed to be in a panic, quickly pulling her away and warning her not to talk to the boy.
They said that he was a hostage prince from Beimo and that the people there were very cruel and wicked.
“The Great Khan of Beimo was depressed all day long, and eventually died the following year after the peace treaty was signed.
His eleven-year-old son inherited the throne, and with his mother strong and capable, power naturally fell into her hands.
The exiled Prince and his mother had significant influence in Beimo court and became a great concern for the Empress Dowager, who sought to eliminate them.
The assassins successfully ambushed the Prince and his mother, but failed to kill them.
Another exile from Beimo in the capital, the Duchess of Anguo, saved the Prince.
However, the Empress of Da Min captured the Prince's mother during the chaos,” said Shentu Rui, his mouth curling in a sneer.
“You should remember her, she was Lan Cheng's birth mother, Consort Xi.”
Lan Dan vaguely recalled that beautiful woman, who had spent too short a time in the palace to leave any exciting legends.
All she remembered was that she was very beautiful.
Many years later, people would still mention how beautiful Lan Cheng's birth mother was.
So that was it… no wonder Lan Cheng called Shen Tu Cheng 'Brother'.
“Let's talk about Nanyue.” Shentu Rui took another sip of tea.
Lan Dan felt that she did not need to ask more about Beimo.
It was nothing more than the Prince enduring humiliation and concealing his identity while lurking in the Duke's mansion, working hard and waiting for the right moment to strike.
“Nanyue sent one of their Imperial Princes to request a marriage alliance a year ago.”
Lan Dan nodded.
That Nanyue's Prince…
seemed to be called Chong Wen.
He had a handsome southern appearance, causing a stir in the imperial harem.
Nanyue was wealthy and the Prince was attractive, so several unmarried Princesses were eager to marry him, even arguing in front of the Late Emperor to win his favor.
“Prince Chong is very popular, and several princesses see him as a good match.
Can you guess who else wanted him?” Shentu Rui sneered again, not really expecting Lan Dan to guess.
“It's your good sister, Princess Kunyang Lan Huang.”
Lan Dan didn't say anything.
She was indeed too lowly to have heard such news.
“Lan Huang is very different from you.
She knows what she wants and will stop at nothing to get it, so the Nanyue Prince enjoyed her favors,” Shentu Rui said with a wicked smile, implying something.
“It should have been a perfect match between a talented young man and a beautiful girl, but when Chong Wen came to propose, Emperor Ding firmly refused.
No matter how much she begged and cried, Emperor Ding wouldn't agree and even confined her to her bedroom.
Your father is an extremely greedy man.
He failed to conquer Nanyue in the past, and for more than a decade, he has been thinking about this fertile land in the south and secretly preparing for war.
With the perfect opportunity approaching, Nanyue sent their Prince to propose marriage, and that Prince even had sex with Emperor Ding's favorite daughter.
Do you think that wouldn't be a headache?”
Lan Dan frowned and ignored his vulgar language.
These were things that happened in another world that she had no knowledge of.
“Lan Huang didn't think so, and even generously announced that she was carrying Chong Wen's child.
She said she must marry him even if she didn't want to.
But your father absolutely couldn't let her marry him, otherwise it would have been a dead end.
As a result, Emperor Ding hated Chong Wen and assassinated him on his way back to his country.
This is also why Lan Huang hates him to the bone and agreed to help us.”
“Help you?” Lan Dan finally couldn't help asking him.
Shentu Rui paused for a moment, looking at her with some pity.
“Haven't you figured it out yet? You've been in the palace for eighteen years.
Have you ever seen your father eat the food you gave him?”
Lan Dan sat up stiffly.
She didn't know where she got the strength from, but she sat up straight after being bedridden for days.
“The soup was personally delivered by Lan Huang and maybe even hand-fed to him.
Because of his slight affection for his daughter, he ultimately ruined his own life.”
Shentu Rui sighed, thinking about how different things would be if Emperor Ding didn't care about his daughter's life and agreed to let her marry her lover.
Lan Dan spoke incoherently, her lips moving for a long time before uttering something meaningless, “I…”
“You…” Shentu Rui sighed.
“Lan Huang suggested choosing you because of your personality.
Not only will you not plead innocence, but you will also admit guilt.”
Lan Dan was stunned for a while before letting out a long breath.
She lowered her eyes and smiled faintly.
“I didn't expect her to know me so well.
At that time, in my heart…
I really wanted to kill my father.
What am I going to plead innocent for? Do I have any grievances?”
“That's right.” Shent Rui nodded in agreement.
“I don't even know how to evaluate Lan Huang as a person.” He furrowed his brows, appearing genuinely conflicted.
“On one hand, she's intelligent, but on the other hand, she made the mistake of collaborating with Chong Wen.
While she can be considered naive, she has managed to win over the powerful figures in the capital, even gaining the support of key ministers in the court, effectively serving the new dynasty.
Because she holds half of Da Yan's lifeline in her hands, you can see how pleased she is with herself.”
“What can I do?” Lan Dan asked wearily, feeling extremely tired of all these plots and calculations, even hating them.
She just wanted to know what Shentu Rui wanted her to do.
“You must have a name first.” He blinked, seemingly lost in thoughts.
“What do you want to be called?”
Lan Dan was silent for a while before answering, “Fu Zhu.”
Lan Dan nodded.
“I'm guilty, and I've already been sentenced to death.” When she died on the execution platform, Xiao Lan Dan had no grievances or resentments.
“But there are still so many others who are clearly guilty but have not been executed.
Not only do they refuse to admit their guilt, but they also live so righteously.
They should also be executed and come with me to meet our father to confess their sins.
Otherwise, how can those who died unjustly under their hands rest in peace in the afterlife?”
Shentu Rui frowned tightly and wanted to say something, but ultimately refrained from doing so.
Fuzhu, literally means floating cinnabar/vermillion, is a type of red pigment or ink that is used in traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy.
In Chinese mythology, it refers to a type of spirit or deity that is said to inhabit the flowers of the red silk cotton tree.
In some folklores, the spirits of women who died tragically or unjustly can transform into these beings.
These spirits are said to be stuck in the intermediate state between death and rebirth, and may be seeking guidance or assistance from the living in order to find their way to the afterlife or be reincarnated.
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