Fu Rou held onto the wall to support herself. Her knees felt like they were getting pricked by numerous needles and she could not straighten them.
She had just come from Lizheng Palace where she was punished to kneel for half a day after Empress Zhangsun found out she had left the palace with Prince Zhou previously. There was no wall that was impenetrable by wind. This time, she was only punished to kneel. The Empress even asked Wei Song to give her medicine promoting blood circulation, showing how much the Empress cared for her. After staying in the palace, eventually everyone’s wish would eventually resign to just staying alive. She was no exception.
All of a sudden, she tripped over a crack on the ground and stumbled forward. Before she could fall, a hand reached out to hold her.
“Prince Zhou -- Ah!” She exclaimed in surprise. She did not have time to react as Prince Zhou carried her in his arms. She shouted in protest, “What are you doing!”
Prince Zhou spoke in a low voice, “Shout all you want. It is not my problem if people come because of your shouting!” Fu Rou had no choice but to allow him to bring her back to Lingxiao Palace.
Prince Zhou placed Fu Rou on the couch and grabbed her ankle. He then rolled up the side of her skirt. Fu Rou was shocked as she struggled to get away and curled up in a corner.
Prince Zhou held a bottle of medicine as he said, “I just want to help you apply medicine.”
“Her Majesty has already given me medicine.” Fu Rou said as she took out a bottle of medicine. “Moreover, I have only injured my knees. If Your Highness were to help me apply medicine, I won’t be able to face anyone else.”
Prince Zhou seemed to ignore the last part of what she said and his eyes hardened. He snatched the bottle of medicine and smashed it on the ground. “I don’t need her fake kindness!”
Fu Rou assessed his words and facial expression. “Did Her Majesty also punish Your Highness as well?”
“She did not punish me. However, she did something worse than punishing me.”
Empress Zhangsun always used him to control his mother. “She never shows her evil intentions outrightly but always secretly kills two birds with one stone.”
Fu Rou felt guilty. “It is all my fault.”
“No, it has nothing to do with you.” Prince Zhou let out a bitter laugh. “She merely used you to do what she wanted and took the chance to put me and my mother down. Ever since I was young, I could never get close to anybody. As soon as someone treats me well or I start getting attached to someone, something will always happen to them. My nanny who doted on me got chased out of the palace for breaking palace rules. There was a palace maid that was like my elder sister. She knew I was afraid of the dark and always stayed by my bed every night to tell me stories. Eventually, she became slightly ill and passed away. I don’t wish to hurt anybody and always kept my distance. Even if I am still scared of the dark, I would no longer ask someone to accompany me and instead read books to get me through.”
Fu Rou looked at him sympathetically. She didn't expect such a tragic reason behind his love for reading.
“Tutor Qian used to teach me and was like a father to me. Because of them, he was sent to the Qi State. I always call you over just so I can have someone to talk to. But I know that eventually, I will cause you harm.” Alas, because of him, she was punished by the Empress.
“If it is just to talk, that will not be a problem. I learned a lot from talking to Your Highness.” This came from her heart.
Prince Zhou looked into Fu Rou’s eyes and waved his hand. “Don’t look at me with those sympathetic eyes. Even though I am unlucky, it is not so bad that I need a female official to pity me. I am not feeling great today so I said a few words. Just let my words go in one ear and out the other. Don’t take it to heart.”
It was rare that Fu Rou listened to him obediently. “Okay, in one ear and out the other.”
“I guess you are clever.” Prince Zhou finally smiled. “The Empress said that I have no regard for palace rules? I merely took a female official out of the palace for a while. That perfect son of hers that is going to ascend the throne even walk boldly along the streets, in broad daylight, with that actor. I really want to ask Imperial Father, who is the one that is not abiding by the rules?”
Fu Rou was startled and immediately pleaded, “Chen Ji is innocent. I beg Your Highness to not bring this up to His Majesty.”
Prince Zhou was surprised. “You are usually extremely stubborn. Now, you are actually begging me on behalf of someone you hardly know?”
Fu Rou replied, “If the Emperor knows about this, he will simply scold the Crown Prince. However, most of the punishment will fall onto Chen Ji. Prince Zhou, you won’t be able to vent your anger on the Crown Prince. How can Chen Ji bear the brunt of the Emperor’s anger? I am not kneeling just for Chen Ji, but also for you.”
Prince Zhou looked up.
“Your Highness is well-educated from all the books you read. Please do not let the beauty in you become the base of evil. Without compassion, kindness and sympathy, no matter how high a position one reaches, they will never be happy. I do not wish to see Your Highness become someone like that.” Sun Lingshu had changed so much, Fu Rou did not even want to go near her.
“Then will I be happy if I let them attack and put me down?” In the moment that he saw the Empress step over his mother, an evil root had appeared in his heart.
“Remain true to yourself and you will have a clear conscience.”
Prince Zhou remained silent for a while. “Okay, I promise you. I won’t use this to get back at the Empress. It is neither for Chen Ji nor for myself but for you, Fu Rou.”
Princess Xinnan finally received a letter from Sheng Chuling asking to meet her at a lake outside the city. She was overjoyed. In order to sneak out of the palace, she begged the Crown Prince, and lied to him that she dreamt of Bodhisattva telling her that she must leave the palace that afternoon.
The Crown Prince obviously did not fall for her nonsense but just took it as his sister wanting to go out and play. He thought of how hard it was for her to leave the palace and agreed.
In addition, he happened to have a surprise for Chen Ji and did not mind giving it early. Chen Ji had been saving up in order to buy a small property for himself to settle down. These days, Chen Ji has been accompanying him to fish, hunt and play chess.
Whenever he was troubled, Chen Ji would help him resolve his troubles and even saved him from the tiger. He thought that the only way to show his thanks was to give him a house of his own.
The security around the palace gates were a lot stricter than before. They had to obtain a special pass from the Empress before they could leave the palace. This was how Master Faya was banned from entering. However, no one dared to impose these rules on the Crown Prince and allowed him to bring anyone he wanted out of the palace. They probably did not realise that Princess Xinnan was among the guards that followed the Crown Prince out.
After they left the palace, Princess Xinnan parted ways with the Crown Prince. She then rushed to the lake outside the city.
The water was turquoise while the sky was dark blue. However, Princess Xinnan was not interested as she focused on her reflection in the water and tried to neaten her appearance.
When Sheng Chuling appeared, she hurriedly put away her face powder. Princess Xinnan crossed her arms and pouted. She wanted to let him know that things were serious this time and she was not going to forgive him unless he coaxed her.
When Sheng Chuling got closer, his expression did not look good and he did not say anything.
Princess Xinnan could not stand the silence. “You ask me to come out but you are not saying anything. What do you want?”
“Head Seamstress Fu was punished to kneel by the Empress for leaving the palace. Were you the one that told on her?” Sheng Chuling heard this from the other guards but could not wrap his head around it.
Princess Xinnan was furious as she pointed at Sheng Chuling. “You asked me out just to ask me this?”
“That’s right. So was it you?” Sheng Chuling had to know.
Princess Xinnan shouted, “Yes! It was me. So what? I don’t think my mother punished her severely enough. How can she only be punished to kneel? She should at least have her legs broken and lofty face disfigured!”
Sheng Chuling’s expression sank. “Say it again!”
Princess Xinnan suddenly felt extremely wronged. “Did you forget that I took a beating on your behalf? Today, you are actually shouting at me because of Head Seamstress Fu…”
“I am shouting at you because you are in the wrong.” This Princess is pissing him off! Last time, she had dirtied the embroidery pieces and caused his brother to punish him by doing the horse stance. This time, she caused Fu Rou to get punished. Will his Elder Brother hang him up and beat him?
Princess Xinnan decided to reveal her true thoughts. “This is all because you are fickle minded and choose to fool around with her.”
Sheng Chuling froze. “What nonsense are you saying?”
“I saw you and Head Seamstress Fu in the garden. Both of you were laughing and she even gave you a pouch, a spice bag and fans. All that is missing are clothes!”
Sheng Chuling’s mouth dropped open. “Oh my god, that is not for me, it was for my elder brother!”
Princess Xinnan froze.
“Head Seamstress Fu is my future sister-in-law.” Sheng Chuling did not know whether to pity Xinnan or himself.
“Ah?” Xinnan was so stunned she turned around in several circles. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“Did you ever ask me? After seeing me talk to her once, you disregarded everything and fought with me every time we met. You even went to complain to the Empress!”
He wanted to jump. After so long, it was because she had thought that he had something going on with his sister-in-law. He was really speechless. “We can’t be together anymore.”
“Why not?” Princess Xinnan did not think that it was so serious.
“An elder brother is like a father and an elder sister-in-law is like a mother. You caused my sister-in-law to suffer and still want to marry into our Duke Lu Residence and become our second daughter-in-law?” Just Elder Brother was enough to stop them.
“I didn’t want to do this. It was my sister-in-law that told me and hinted at me to complain to Imperial Mother.”
“What sister-in-law?” When did another one appear?
“The Crown Princess.” Princess Xinnan was not going to take the blame for this. Sheng Chuling immediately pondered on this.
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