Sheng Chumu was extremely frustrated. They had scanned through the entire place and only managed to find the Grand Emperor’s broken carriage and Lu Qi who had busted his head on a stone. He could not find Fu Rou anywhere.
He knew that Fu Rou was smart and would not panic. However, as the sky darkened, he could not stop his imagination from running wild. What if Fu Rou had fainted from hunger or thirst or met with a wild animal or fell down a cliff…
“General, we found something!” A soldier started waving a piece of cloth in front of him.
Sheng Chumu’s heart was palpitating but his legs did not hesitate. He was the first to rush towards the soldier and found that the cloth was made of the material used in the Royal Palace. The black dots and lines drawn on it were very familiar.
Rou’er! He was confident that she was the one that drew this.
“This is a map. It records many paths but it does not look like a mountain pass…” Sheng Chumu spoke and suddenly exclaimed, “Could this be within the cave? Search this area immediately, take note of any cave openings!”
Very soon, someone found a cave opening. Sheng Chumu rushed in front of the cave. Wind was blowing into the cave and the flame that they were holding barely lit the place up. However, he walked in fearlessly. He was holding the map that Fu Rou had personally drawn and Fu Rou had never made a mistake before.
Sheng Chumu brought some men into the cave. They walked for a very long time and were amazed at Fu Rou’s brilliance. The map was detailed and accurate. If not for the map, they would have gotten lost a long time ago.
“This is the starting point of the map.” He hit the stonewall and shouted, “Rou...Grand Emperor! Your Majesty!”
Very soon, they received a reply.
Sheng Chumu looked at the small dot on the map, it was different from all the other symbols. Very soon, he found the mechanism to open the door to the stone rooms. He immediately saw Empress Zhangsun, Grand Emperor and Grand Prince Liang.
Empress Zhangsun was extremely weak. “You are finally here.”
Sheng Chumu greeted, “Sheng Chumu here. Greetings Grand Emperor, Your Majesty and Grand Prince Liang…”
Grand Prince Liang ignored him as he rushed to ask the soldiers for something to eat.
Empress Zhangsun spoke, “General Sheng, you saved our lives. When we return to Chang’an, I will definitely get His Majesty to reward you.”
Sheng Chumu scanned the surroundings and did not see Fu Rou. “I heard that Fu Siyan escaped along with Your Majesty, why...are there only three people?”
Empress Zhangsun froze. “Eh, Fu Siyan went to find the exit. I thought she brought you all in here. Why? Didn’t you see her outside?”
Sheng Chumu’s heart sank as he held up the map. “We found this outside the cave but did not see Fu Siyan.”
Empress Zhangsun looked at it. “That’s right. This is the cloth that I gave Fu Siyan, but why is she missing?”
Sheng Chumu grabbed his fist and bowed. “I am not capable enough, I will continue to look for Fu Siyan.”
Empress Zhangsun muttered, “Fu Siyan saved me, Grand Emperor and Grand Prince Liang. Now that she has gone missing, I cannot rest assured. General Sheng, I am counting on you. No matter how much you have to do, you must definitely bring her back safely. I will handle His Majesty. You will not be considered to have failed your duty.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. I will not let you down.” Sheng Chumu turned and left.
He was already planning to flip the entire Cangshan Mountain with or without the Empress’ permission. Failed to do his duty? He didn't care about any of them. There was nothing more important Fu Rou in this world.
The smell of fragrant rice woke Fu Rou up. She opened her eyes and assessed her surroundings. She saw a wooden table, wooden chairs, and everything made of wood. A simple and realistic feeling rose in her. Birds were chirping outside and the sound of a spatula hitting a wok could be heard. Every sound seemed to remind her of Taoyuan. She breathed out comfortably. All of a sudden, wet stone walls, scary white bones and dark human hearts seemed to flood her mind.
Grrrr. Her stomach rumbled. She got up and walked to the neighbouring house. Her footsteps halted beside the door.
It was a simple kitchen with a blazing fire as the steam floated out of the iron wok. The spatula was handled expertly, frying vegetables. Green, yellow, red and green. The colours looked appetising.
However, what made her stop was the man cooking. His back was towards her. He had broad shoulders, muscular arms and was so tall, he looked as if he would break the roof. Who would have expected such a heavenly man to stay in such a simple house and be cooking vegetables.
“Yan Zifang.” She called out his name lightly, seemingly in a sigh.
Yan Zifang froze but did not turn back. “Wait a while. The food is almost ready.”
“Her Majesty and the rest…”
“Sheng Chumu took your map and saved them.”
“Thank the heavens.”
“If you are thanking this heavens, why are you not thanking me?”
“Who did you think rescued you from the tiger’s mouth?”
“Thank you.” She was a reasonable person.
“There is no need to thank me. It is natural for a man to save his own wife.” He was someone that was difficult to please.
Yan Zifang scooped the vegetables onto a wooden plate and got ready the bowls of rice. He walked to Fu Rou and prepared the table. Fu Rou was starving and did not stand on courtesy. She sat across Yan Zifang and asked him why he was at Cangshan Mountain.
“Hong Yide was the one who attacked your entourage. I recognised him.” Yan Zifang used his chopsticks to pick up a few vegetables for her. “When he entered Chang’an, I saw him by accident. I have been suspicious of what he is planning.”
“Since you already knew, why didn’t you report him?” If they had been prepared, there wouldn’t be so many deaths and they would not have encountered such a disturbing situation.
“It is not my place so I did not do anything.” Yan Zifang did not think anything was wrong. “Moreover, I was just curious and asked people to watch them. I did not know that Hong Yide was planning to attack your entourage.”
“It is not my entourage. It is the Empress’ entourage.”
“That’s right. The Empress has such a high status. Her movements are not something someone with my status can find out.”
“Perhaps you did not know who they were planning to attack, but you should not have kept silent. Even if it were carriages belonging to citizens, how could you just watch and not do anything?”
“Rou’er, why does it seem like everything I do is wrong in your eyes?” Yan Zifang suddenly placed down his chopsticks and took out the Longevity Pendant. He slammed it down on the table. “Or is it to say that you have degraded me so much that everything I do is wrong. Don’t you feel guilty loving Sheng Chumu?”
“This has nothing to do with you and me. I don’t agree with your actions. You clearly knew someone might get hurt, yet you simply stood by and watched. It is not the behaviour of someone upright.” Fu Rou’s eyes were clear. “As for the Longevity Pendant, it is a promise between our parents. At that time, we were both still very young and did not know any better. I treated you as family. I will never forget the snowy day when you were chased out of my family. However, you vanished since then, leaving only news of your death. In a blink of an eye, over ten years has passed. I have never forgotten you, but not as a fiancé. I think of you as an elder brother that doted on me. Moreover, ever since the moment Sheng Chumu fell from the tree, I have let go of you.”
Yan Zifang remained silent for a long while before standing up. “The food is getting cold. Hurry up and eat.”
Fu Rou looked as Yan Zifang walked out. She could not resist asking, “My clothes…”
“I was the one that helped you change.” Yan Zifang did not turn back. “The handkerchief and bottle that you were carrying are all placed beside the bed. You can check it later.”
Yan Zifang walked out of the room, his hands in fists. He released a long breath. This was the first time Fu Rou told him how she felt. She was very honest but it also hurt him. While he was struggling not to drown and when he had fought to get out of his predicament as a pirate, he had always wished to grow old together with her. He only managed to survive for so long because of this goal.
She said that she had already let go of him. Then what about him? How could he let go of the longing he had all these years?
Empress Zhangsun arrived back at the Royal Palace. The Emperor came out to greet her and everyone was celebrating. The Crown Prince, Prince Han and the young Prince Qin surrounded Empress Zhangsun. They were all extremely emotional.
Empress Zhangsun wanted to bow to greet the Emperor but he quickly supported her and held her hand. They walked through the palace gates. Only after the Emperor and Empress walked past did the various concubines rise from their kneeling position.
Concubine Xi laughed, “Her Majesty must be confused from being too exhausted. She forgot to ask us to rise.”
Concubine Zhen glanced at Concubine Yan. “Sister Xi, you must be joking. If other people are confused it might be okay, but how can the Empress be confused? I think Her Majesty just wants to make it a point to some people that as long as she is still the Empress, they better follow the rules and not have any wild thoughts.”
Concubine Yan was calm. “Sister Zhen, you are becoming more incredible. You even know what Her Majesty is thinking. Hopefully Her Majesty also knows how you feel and encourages His Majesty to go to your place more often. I heard it has been three months since His Majesty went to your place. I feel anxious for you.”
Concubine Zhen’s face was sour and departed.
Everyone dispersed leaving Yu He to accompany Concubine Yan back to her palace. A palace maid served a bowl of ginseng soup.
Concubine Yan shook her head. “Take it away. I don’t have an appetite.”
Yu He coaxed her, “Your Highness, you have to take care of your health.”
Concubine Yan changed her mind as she took the ginseng soup and slowly drank it. “In the past, my Imperial Father told me something. He said when people fight against one another, they are merely fighting to see who can live the longest. When all your enemies are dead and you are the only one alive, you are the biggest winner.”
Yu He lowered his eyes. “The previous Emperor has always been wise.”
“Hence, I have to take care of my body.” Concubine Yan gracefully took her last sip of the ginseng soup.Previous Chapter Next Chapter