Chapter 18.2: Danger

“What? Prince Zhou was caned?” 

Just as she was about to sleep, Fu Rou jumped up in shock upon hearing Shu’er’s words. The Crown Prince had presented <<Han Shu>> during court today and the Emperor had been overjoyed about it. On the other hand, a court official filed a report on Prince Zhou and the Emperor had punished him with twenty strokes of the cane. 

Shu’er confirmed, “That is right. The Emperor has always doted on Prince Zhou. No one expected that he would punish Prince Zhou out of anger this time.” 

Fu Rou asked, “Why was the Emperor angry?” 

“Mmhmm…” Shu’er replied, “It seems like Prince Zhou trampled on some farmer’s crops with his horse. He ran away but accidentally left his fan behind. Eventually, the court official found out about the incident and reported it to the Emperor.” 

Fu Rou thought to herself. She was clearly the one who lost control of the horse. Furthermore, Prince Zhou did not run away. He left his fan as a compensation for the farmer. Someone was clearly manipulating and taking advantage of the situation. 

This incident was her fault, but she knew there was nothing she could say. The next morning, she went to Lingxiao Palace. 

Coincidentally, Concubine Yan walked out of the palace and Fu Rou bowed towards her. Concubine Yan’s troubled expression eased slightly, and she glanced at Fu Rou’s hands. Fu Rou’s hands were empty.

“Head Seamstress Fu, are you here to deliver embroidery?” Concubine Yan asked. Fu Rou subconsciously replied, “Yes.”

Concubine Yan’s tone remained unchanged. “Prince Zhou’s body is weak after being punished and he must not be alarmed. The embroideries you deliver this time should not be too bright. Please focus on light and calming embroideries.” 

Fu Rou replied, “I understand.” 

“Continue to work hard.” Concubine Yan walked past Fu Rou. 

Fu Rou puzzled over Concubine Yan’s words as she entered the hall. Lifting her gaze, she found that Prince Zhou was smiling at her. However, she also noticed that his complexion was pale. 

“Your Highness, why were you willing to be punished by the Emperor? Why didn’t you just explain that the person who trampled over the farmer’s crops was me?”

“Are you feeling guilty?” If that was the case, his punishment was worth it.

“Yes, I am feeling very guilty.” Undeserved rewards should be declined. 

“You don’t have to feel guilty. I was protecting myself, not you. My punishment for trampling over crops at the very most is caning. The crime for bringing a lady out of the palace is more severe.” Although she was honest, Prince Zhou could not take credit.

“Regardless, I have to thank you.” 

One led the other out and the other followed. He was punished but she escaped unscathed. 

“Do you want to express your gratitude to me? Sure. You can help me read some history books. You can deepen your understanding of the world and understand the people around you as well.” Prince Zhou pointed at the book on the table. 

Fu Rou retrieved the book <<The Book of Changes>>. She read and thought of something. 

She recalled this morning’s events when she went to meet Empress Zhangsun. The Crown Prince happened to be there too. They had talked about Prince Zhou. The Empress had advised the Crown Prince to visit Prince Zhou more so as to not allow others to gossip about their relationship. The Crown Prince was bothered that the Emperor was biased towards Prince Zhou. Prince Zhou was supposed to get fifty strokes of the cane, but the Emperor punished him with thirty strokes. The Empress believed that perhaps a few strokes was enough to reduce Prince Zhou’s arrogance. 

When Fu Rou heard this, she felt extremely uncomfortable. Although the princes had different mothers, they were ultimately still brothers. However, she could not sense a single thread of affection between them and instead, they were always fighting against each other. She suddenly thought of her own siblings and became thankful that she was born in the Fu family.

The situation with the Crown Princess made things worse. In front of the Empress, the Crown Prince brought up the number of embroideries the Crown Princess was receiving and asked her to pay more attention to the Crown Princess. Fu Rou knew that the Crown Princess was still holding a grudge against her for the incident with the pearls and could not say much.

Fu Rou sighed.

Prince Zhou raised his brows, assuming that Fu Rou was sighing because of the book. “Although <<The Book of Changes>> is difficult, studying it is necessary as it encompasses the physical science of the world as well as changes in living organisms. It is just that humans are interested in ourselves and cannot fully comprehend the mysterious nature of the world. Eventually, this book became one of divine nature.”

Fu Rou focused back on the present and placed the book down. “I am afraid that I won’t be able to study this well.” 

If she read while she had other thoughts in her mind, she wouldn’t be able to understand.

“You don’t have to rush it. This book cannot be learnt in one or two days.” Prince Zhou gestured to the medicine bowls sitting on top of the table. “Give me the medicine first.”

Fu Rou looked at the medicine before looking at Prince Zhou. As she saw him look like he was waiting to be fed, she knew he wanted her to feed him. She frowned and remained still.

“Head Seamstress Fu, when you said that you wanted to thank me, was it all talk?” Prince Zhou smiled, lying lazily.

Fu Rou sighed once again as she resigned to her fate and picked up the medicine bowl. Sitting by the side of the couch, she delivered medicine to Prince Zhou spoonful by spoonful. Fu Rou finally fed Prince Zhou the last scoop when she saw some medicine by the side of Prince Zhou’s mouth. She casually took out a handkerchief and leaned forward to help him wipe it off. However, she could sense Prince Zhou’s burning gaze on her and wanted to take back her hand. It was a pity she reacted too late. In a swift motion, Prince Zhou grabbed onto Fu Rou’s wrist and looked at her intensely. Fu Rou pulled back her hand resolutely.

Prince Zhou appeared regretful as he retrieved his own handkerchief and slowly wiped the corners of his mouth. 

Fu Rou stared. “That is my handkerchief, why is it with Your Highness?” She reached for it.

Prince Zhou reacted quickly, and put it away. “I am a prince, young, handsome and well-read. My riding and archery skills are excellent as well. How am I inferior in any way to Sheng Chumu, who does not even have a good reputation?”

He had gotten the handkerchief on the night where Fu Rou had gone to meet Sheng Chumu before he set off. She had accidentally dropped the handkerchief in the Imperial Garden. He picked it up and took the chance to find out a few things.

Prince Zhou’s words threw Fu Rou into a state of shock. “How…how do you know about him?”

“Did you think I wouldn't investigate just because you don’t tell me? It is also not a secret that Sheng Chumu made a bet with Lu Yunji’s son because of you.”

“When did you find out?”

“Long ago.”

“Long ago? Then you…”

“What about me? Have I ever done anything to him?” Prince Zhou wanted to laugh but could not. He brought up <<The Book of Changes>> that Fu Rou had just read. “In part thirty-six of the book, it states that bodies can be brought back anytime.”

Fu Rou froze. “You!”

Prince Zhou waved. “I am joking. He is fighting for Great Tang, so how can I wish for something to happen to him? I just hope that when he comes back, he will bring with him a maiden that he rescued from the battlefield. Then I will do all I can to wish them all the best. With that, Head Seamstress Fu can focus on staying with me and reading to me.” She should understand his feelings by now.

Fu Rou suddenly stood up and bowed to Prince Zhou. She could not accept nor bear his feelings towards her. Her heart has already been occupied and cannot let anyone else in.

As she walked to the Imperial Garden, Fu Rou caught sight of Yang Bo and a group of attendants huddled together. She thought they were starting another illegal bet but accidentally heard them mention someone dying on the battlefield. Her heart could not help but skip a beat as she walked over. 

As soon as Yang Bo caught sight of Fu Rou, he immediately disbanded the group. He greeted her before running far away. Fu Rou narrowed her eyes before quickly catching up with one of the attendants. “What were you all talking about?”

The internal attendant did not understand the situation. “We received an urgent report today. The son of Duke Lu has died on the battlefield.”

Fu Rou suddenly felt as if her world had collapsed. “What did you say?” She grabbed onto the attendant’s arm. “Say it one more time!”

The internal attendant froze as he sensed Fu Rou’s change in emotion. He subconsciously replied, “The son of Duke Lu. The one that won the Imperial Competition previously. He had gone with Great General Lu to the battlefield and it was said that he was surrounded by the rebel army. He was unable to overpower them and died on the battlefield.”

Fu Rou’s vision blackened as if she had fallen down an endless pit. 

 

Meanwhile, a messenger reached Duke Lu Residence.

“Died in battle?” Sheng Chuling glared at the messenger from the palace. Was he dreaming?

He was on roster today and had been appointed at the last minute to Princess Xinnan’s palace. He had helped her retrieve a lotus lantern from the water and saw her face of joy. It immediately resolved the longing he had been feeling the past few days and he had been feeling like he was in a dream.

“The Emperor received an urgent message and immediately instructed me to relay the message to Duke Lu.” The eunuch’s expression was pained. “…my condolences.” He then turned and left.

Madam Sheng shut her eyes and fainted. Sheng Chujun caught onto her while shouting, “This cannot be true. Elder Brother is so capable. How can he die in battle!”

Sheng Chuling gritted his teeth. “Lu Yunji will not get away with this!”

“That’s right!” Sheng Chujun glared murderously. “He is the Main General while Elder Brother is the Assistant General. Now that Elder Brother is gone, how can he be safe? Let’s go to the Emperor! Lu Yunji must pay for Elder Brother’s life!”

Sheng Xiaojing bellowed, “Everyone shut up! There are risks in everything. It is not rare for armies to be wiped out. Once one has decided to join the army, one must be prepared to lose their life on the battlefield. Chumu was surrounded by the rebel army and killed. How can you ask the Emperor to punish Lu Yunji?! What logic is that!”

“But this is clearly Lu Yunji’s plot!” Even Sheng Chuling knew this without having to think hard.

“Father! Elder Brother’s death is too unfair!” Sheng Chujun could not accept this.

“Taking down numerous rebel cities one after the other and never backing down. He has brought glory to our country. Good! He is definitely worthy of being my son…” 

Blood spurted out of Sheng Xiaojing’s mouth and he fainted as well. He was once an unrivalled warrior, but in the end, he still lost his son to the enemy.

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Coca's Thoughts

Any guesses on what will happen to Chumu?