Chapter 9: Drought (1)
Before Old Shang could answer the man, Chen Rong sat up and said with an alert voice: “I’m still awake.”
“Excellent, excellent,” the other voice said heartily.
Chen Rong’s carriage began moving and soon arrived at the forefront of the cavalcade. At this time, Chen Rong, having tidied her robe and hair, proceeded to lift the curtain.
Carriages of the Wang house lined the road. When they saw Chen Rong’s approaching carriage, all simultaneously looked in her direction.
Chen Rong met their gazes with her lucent one.
Wherever her eyes went, a good number of people turned sideways to avoid her gaze. The girl who mocked her was nowhere to be seen.
Chen Rong’s carriage drove up beside Wang Zhuo’s.
His laughter rang out from the side even before she got near. “Is that Ah Rong? Come closer, have a talk with your uncle.”
He sounded very kind.
“Aye,” Chen Rong replied with a bow.
Wang Zhuo had long lifted his curtain. He was sitting in his carriage to regard Chen Rong with a pair of penetrating eyes, sighing when Chen Rong looked in his direction. “Ah Rong, how I regret I didn’t heed your warning that day.”
His face scrunched up at the memory.
He truly regretted it. Last night’s incident would forever be a taint on their clan’s good name! Be it the fact that they had slain refugees or that they had conceded to leave food in exchange for stolen goods, either incident would make them face the clan’s reprehension. His political future hereafter would be bleak – if he couldn’t even handle a small group of refugees properly, how could he be counted upon to govern the people on behalf of the state?
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Looking at Chen Rong, he ceremoniously said, “I’ve invited you over for I want to personally make an apology. Ah Rong, I pride myself in being wise, but I am far inferior to you who are a woman.”
He was sincere in saying this.
Nevertheless, Chen Rong knew that if Wang Zhuo did not want to carry a foolish, conceited, and unrepentant reputation, whether he was willing to or not, he hadn’t any choice but to apologize to her.
At the moment Wang Zhuo bowed to her, Chen Rong quickly leaned sideways to avoid his gesture. She bowed her head and respectfully said, “Sir, why do you say this? Leading a clan to migrate south is a major undertaking. Even the sages would overlook a thing or two!”
Though her consolation was not very moving, it was nonetheless pleasant to hear. Wang Zhuo’s face immediately grew even more affable. He sighed twice and said to Chen Rong: “Ah Rong, whatever may come our way henceforth, you only need to tell me frankly. Do let me know any concerns you have.”
He sighed again.
Chen Rong glanced at a sullen Wang Zhuo, bowed and said, “I’ll take my leave of you, then.”
After such calamity, the Wang house finally understood simplicity. For lunch that day, each member of the family was only presented with four to five dishes.
Chen Rong had also been officially invited to the group, sharing meals and journeying with them.
The team had presently traveled for twenty days and had gone five hundred miles from the City of Ping. Their journey was half-way through.
Today, a small voice sounded outside: “Fifth brother, the fields on both sides are dry.”
Wang Wulang had not answered by the time he heard a swoosh. The curtain was lifted, giving way for Chen Rong to poke her head out.
The Wang youngsters all turned to look at her. Although they had only spent a few days together, they’d found that Chen Rong, despite her young age, could be very calm in the face of crises. This was the first time they saw her so flustered.
Chen Rong ignored their curious eyes and only frowningly stared at the fields on both sides of the road. After a long pause, she told her retainer: “Old Shang, bring me to see Sir Wang.”
This translation belongs to hamster428.
The carriage drove on.
Under the youngsters’ eyes, Chen Rong’s carriage soon pulled up next to Wang Zhuo’s carriage.
From inside, Chen Rong bowed toward Wang Zhuo and said to him, “Sir Wang, look at these dry fields. Perhaps there is a drought here.”
She had barely finished speaking when three ripples of laughter rang out behind her. A faint, small voice spoke: “My father was just being somewhat polite to her last time, now she thinks she’s actually special.”
The voice had belonged to the 7th daughter of the Wang house – Han’yun – the one who had mocked her.
Since that day, Chen Rong had always been respectful whenever she saw Wang Zhuo. She had not suggested anything again until now.
Wang Zhuo frowningly raised his head, looking to the fields on both sides of the road. There was no water in these fields, but he vaguely remembered that on the way here, the fields in need of harvesting were also dry.
At this thought, Wang Zhuo nodded to Chen Rong. “Thank you for reminding me, Ah Rong.” There was a slight impatience in his expression.
Seeing this, Chen Rong faintly smiled and again bowed to Wang Zhuo, then pulled away.
As soon as her carriage left Wang Zhuo’s, Han’yun, the 7th daughter of the Wang house, stared and called after Chen Rong: “Ah Rong of the Chen house, don’t tell me you want to show off again with one of your silly ideas?”
Chen Rong smiled. She didn’t need to look back to know that Wang Zhuo was still observing her. “If you don’t believe me,” she raised her voice slightly and replied in seriousness, “why don’t you ask the nearby villagers? Or ask the refugees ahead, and then we will know whether my words are true or not.”
Wang Han’yun snorted. She turned a disdainful eye and scoffed, “I can’t bother to ask those peasants.”
When she was done rolling her eyes and saw that Chen Rong’s carriage was driving to the back, she yelled out: “Hey, you’re not going to ask them, are you?” She paused to snigger. “Ah Rong, listen to me, you are only a woman. Why try to mind everything? Don’t tell me you want to be recognized for your wisdom and become a court official?” She burst out laughing as soon as she finished her words.
Chen Rong paid her no attention.
She just drove her carriage on and came back to the middle of the queue. After she returned to the Chen group, Chen Rong very soberly announced, “From now on, if you see water, be sure to remember to stop. We can’t leave until all the barrels are filled up with water. Additionally, no one is allowed to wash any longer. Unless you are extremely thirsty, do not use the water in the barrels!”
The moment these words were conveyed, the crowd looked at one another in confusion. At length, they replied with an “Aye.”
Chen Rong went back inside the carriage. She stared at the gloomy sky ahead for a while, poked her head out and added, “Nurse Ping, tell people to wet all the fabric we have and load them back onto the carriage.”
This time, people were more surprised. They hesitated for a long while before they acquiesced at Chen Rong’s cough. Looking at the drawn-down curtain, Nurse Ping turned to Old Shang and whispered, “What’s going on with our lady? Why is she making such a fuss?”
Old Shang shook his head. He looked to the people standing around and softly said, “The lady is acting very strange this time. All of you, just quietly do as she says and remember not to tell anyone.”
“Aye, aye. Exactly so.”
Chapter 10: Drought (2)
The servants had worked together, but all they could bring were three barrels and several small tubs. Of the three barrels, one had been used for Chen Rong to bathe, the other two had been for the servants.
After traveling for more than ten miles, a body of water appeared in front of them. The Chen servants filled up the three big barrels and several small wooden tubs, and then thoroughly soaked the fabric.
Wang Zhuo frowned as he watched the Chen people running to and from the lake behind him. He contemplated a little and then shouted left and right: “Go and fill a few drums of water, too.”
He took everyone by surprise. A Wang lad exclaimed: “Uncle, why believe a woman’s nonsense?”
Wang Zhuo abruptly barked: “What are the empty carriages for? Why are you so full of opinions? Fill them up!”
Through twenty days, both the Wang and Chen houses had eaten a large amount of food. Now there were several empty carriages, perfect to hold this water.
Nobody dared to say a thing at Wang Zhuo’s shout. They couldn’t but follow behind the Chen house to fill up water. But merely wanting to do a perfunctory job, they only loaded a total of twenty barrels.
As the cavalcade moved forward, three more large lakes appeared in the next ten miles. Looking at those clear rippling waves, the Wangs repeatedly shook their heads. Wang Zhuo glowered again and regretfully thought: She is merely an ignorant girl who pretends to be learned. Why did I listen to her and believe her words? Alas, I’ve made myself a laughingstock!
In the evening, the team settled down next to a water source. Under the ridiculing eyes of the Wang youngsters, Chen Rong quietly told her people to refill the barrels that had spilled during the bumpy travel. Then under Nurse Ping’s care, she chose a clean location at the water source and took a bath.
Not only did she wash, but she also forced her group to wash thoroughly.
Fortunately, those who had followed her here were all loyal retainers in the Chen family. Despite feeling that their lady was making a fuss over nothing, they nonetheless carried out her orders without a word.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Early next morning, Chen Rong bade everyone to soak the fabric in water again before she began to wash and leave.
Today, the horizon was glaring red the moment the sun rose from the east.
Nurse Ping looked to the sky and called into the carriage: “Miss, it’s going to be a blazing day.”
From the carriage came Chen Rong’s soft hum.
Since yesterday afternoon, Chen Rong had returned to the middle of the queue not wanting to see the looks the Wangs were giving her.
The team continued to drive forward.
By this time, the Wang children were no longer in a playing mood. Under their urging, the group moved at a brisk pace. They covered almost forty miles in only one morning.
By noontime, however, the weather got increasingly stifling.
Everything on the ground was heated by the scorching sun above. As the cavalcade moved along, scattered dust was sent straight to the sky. It appeared this place had not received any rain for some time.
The troop suddenly slowed down in front.
Poking her head out, Nurse Ping was surprised to find smoke whipping high ahead. They turned out to be uniformed men on horsebacks belonging to the Wang house.
Strange, their trip had been peaceful all along. Why had the house of Wang sent explorers to scout the roads?
These men rushed to the Wang patriarch. She did not know what they said. All of a sudden, the Wang children’s griping murmurs flowed into their ears.
“What happened?” Nurse Ping asked in curiosity.
Next to her, Old Shang lowered his voice in reply: “They said there is no water within thirty miles ahead of us. The wells have dried up along the way, and the villagers said it had been a full month without rain here. The water they normally use is from the east side of the mountain, but that Qishan mountain range is twenty miles from here. Going there and back will take at least one day.”
At this point, Old Shang looked into the carriage where Chen Rong sat. Shock was evident in his eyes, as it was in Nurse Ping’s. She looked to the fluttering curtain in astonishment while uttering: “Our lady seems to have known about this.”
This translation belongs to hamster428.
The cavalcade came to a stop at this time.
Nurse Ping noticed that the Wang servants were taking a few barrels of water from the carriage and began to feed the horses.
With the clear water in plain sight, a girl suddenly demanded: “Uncle, why give water to these animals? It’s such a sweltering day, and I still hadn’t taken a bath.”
Another Wang lad also cried out: “Father, let us take a bath and then give what’s left to these animals.”
The rest quieted down for Wang Zhuo’s reply that shortly came: “Silence. Before we can find a well, we shan’t waste a single bucket of water.”
“Uncle, we’ll only wash lightly. As long as we don’t make a splash, it would be all right.”
“Aye, aye, it’s so wasteful to let these animals drink such clean water.”
Wang Zhuo briefly paused before his commanding voice rose again: “I’m only giving eight barrels of water to the horses. With so many of you, to whom should the eight barrels be given? Stop making a ruckus. No one is allowed to use the available water to bathe.”
“We will speed up after the horses have their water,” he began to placate them at this point. “We shall have to find sufficient water as soon as possible. By then, there would be plenty for you to bathe and play.”
This time, the Wang children stopped their clamor, but the low mutters and complaints remained.
Nurse Ping had just recovered her attention by the time Chen Rong’s voice came to her from the carriage: “Nurse, let our horses chew on the wet fabric.”
After all the horses had been fed, the team started up again. This time, they quieted down and began to go at full speed.
Both houses of Wang and Chen had thoroughly planned for the journey south. It could be said that this team was primarily composed of carriages. In addition to four pulling horses, there were two backup horses for every carriage.
Under the present situation, the thirty-mile road took an hour to travel.
The sun in the sky nonetheless remained scorching. Fields on both sides of the road were still covered in dry cracks. Dust filled the air as they drove along, not a drop of water was found in the wells. Thick clumps of weed told them that this place had been arid for a long time.
This time, the Wang children had a vague feeling that things weren’t so good. Their grumbling soon turned into worried questions and curses.
The cavalcade continued to rush forward.
Another hour passed by.
The sun was descending to the west, and the air current was not so stifling anymore.
Nonetheless, the team was shrouded under a dreadful unease. The more south they went, the more they discovered in dismay that the conditions of the fields were getting worse and worse.
Everyone now felt his throat to be parched. Even the dashing horses began to feel anemic.
And yet in front of them was still an empty vastness. It was only early autumn, but everything in sight was barren and dry!
Panic and anxiety seized the group. Only horses of the Chen house were still full of energy for having chewed on soaked fabric.
Amid restless eyes, Wang Zhuo gave an order: “Wang You, give the horses enough to drink and go scout the area. Report back once you see water!”
After a pause, Wang Zhuo’s tired voice spoke again: “Call Ah Rong of the Chen house over.”
The order had scarcely been accepted before a Wang child hastily said, “Father, don’t. You must not do that.” He lowered his voice and nervously added under the questioning eyes of Wang Zhuo: “Father, you are the patriarch of the Wang house. But in just a short distance you have twice asked for advice from a concubine-born daughter of the Chen house. Isn’t this the same as handing your reputation to Chen Rong?”
Chapter 11: Drought (3)
Wang Zhuo sullenly pondered for a moment, waved and motioned everyone to leave.
The cavalcade stopped to feed the horses some water again before continuing on.
To save water, the Wang house stopped cooking and only gave out some dry food for dinner; a small amount of water accompanied this food. Because there were so many people, only a kettle of water was sent to each group of ten. Against the setting sun, Wang Zhuo stood in front of the carriages and sternly said, “The remaining water had been sent to you. Before we can find water, it’s best to be prudent.”
The team was abuzz.
In the midst of the clamoring crowd, the 7th young lady’s voice was the most resounding. “Father, how can you give us the same amount of water as everyone else? These lowly people also have a share?”
Silence took over the moment she spat these words out.
All the guards and servants kept their heads down. Everyone seemed to be holding his breath, the air thick with tension.
Wang Zhuo glanced at the burly guards and snapped at his daughter: “Hold your tongue! We are in this together; thus, we must share our suffering. Don’t let me hear such words again!”
These words rewarded Wang Zhuo the servants’ grateful eyes as he had wished.
When had the 7th lady of the Wang house been reprimanded like this by her father? She pulled a long face, her eyes welling up with tears. Her complaining siblings muttered nonstop next to her.
At this time, a faint moon hung in the vast sky. If one did not look closely, he might not find it.
The team sallied forth. As the last rays of light faded, torches were lit up for illumination. In the autumn wind, these torches’ fluttering sounds gave the team a needed vitality as they moved along in the night.
Their pace was brisk due to restlessness.
Chen Rong sat inside her carriage. Her team did not have many people, and because they had received her orders, they were never wasteful, only consuming a small amount when they were extremely thirsty. After one day, the large barrel was still full of water.
For this reason, The Chen House appeared to be much calmer compared to the anxiety outside.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Time trickled on. Before they knew it, the team had gone through most of the night. By the time the moon was already high in the sky, they still found in dismay that they had not seen even half a drop of water.
The scouts sent by the Wang House had not come back. In desperation, Wang Zhuo sent more people to ask nearby commoners where water lay. The answer they received was that the nearest source of water lay forty miles of mountainous road away, rugged and difficult to travel. Even the locals who were familiar with the area would need an overnight trip to bring the water back. For this reason, many villagers had also migrated to the south after they were unsuccessful in praying for rain.
The team did not stop for rest in the evening. When dawn came, the thirsty and tired horses trotted to the roadside for a few licks of dew drops. Of course, the Wangs could not behave like animals and run out to drink morning dew.
By the time the sun rose high, the Wangs had stopped to rest and contemplate their situation. Until now, the scouts they sent still had not returned.
By noon, the Wangs used up the last of their water, now made to face the never-ending thirst.
Their eyes finally turned in the direction of the Chen troop who was still full of energy due to having sufficient water supply.
Crisp hooves made their way to Chen Rong’s ears.
Nurse Ping leaned into the carriage and whispered: “Miss, the House of Wang is here.”
The hummed reply inside remained calm and cool.
Considering the situation, her tone gave Nurse Ping much peace.
Soon, Wang Wulang’s apologetic voice arrived from outside the carriage: “Ah Rong, pardon my presumptuous visit. Please do not take offense.”
The curtain lifted.
The Wangs lit up when they saw Chen Rong, revealing a mix of jealousy and envy. Chen Rong’s face at this time remained clean, her hair was still dark and glossy, and she did not look tired in the slightest. Compared to her, where had their former elegant and refined looks gone?
Chen Rong faced their eyes with a smile. Before anyone had a chance to speak, she unhurriedly said, “If you do not mind, then this barrel is yours to take. It was previously used as my bath tub and is relatively clean. The remaining two barrels were used for my servants to wash, and I fear they will foul your noble persons.”
She was sincere. She knew that this drought was not widespread. Within a few days, they would be able to get out of this predicament. What she needed now was the Wang family’s goodwill and the good reputation that could be spread by the literati.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
The Wangs never imagined she would be so pleasant. Up to this point, the 7th lady of the Wang house had thought of at least ten things to accuse or insult her, but not one of them could be used now!
After Chen Rong had stunned everyone, Wang Wulang cleared his throat and led the group in thanking her, then tilted his head to signal his people.
Three servants promptly came forward. They carried Chen Rong’s tub and returned to the front.
When the water was brought before Wang Zhuo, his daughter pursed her lips and said bitterly: “Father, there’s only half of the barrel left! Hmph, I’m sure Chen Rong kept using it to wash. That’s how she wasted so much of it!”
The moment her words escaped, Wang Zhuo glared at her and snapped: “What kind of nonsense are you spouting? She had given you water. Not only are you unappreciative, but you’re also resenting her with no sense of restraint. How did our family give birth to a daughter like you?”
His scolding was very harsh.
In reality, he had to reprimand her. The 7th lady’s voice was not low. Those standing around must have heard her.
The 7th lady of the Wang house never imagined she would be scolded like this by her father. Moreover, she had never heard this kind of disgust in her father’s voice before. Tears welled in her eyes. Sniffling her nose, the 7th lady pulled down her curtain and crawled into a corner. Shortly after, sobbing filled the carriage.
“Yun’er is still young. She doesn’t mean what she says,” a middle-aged man advised.
Wang Zhuo growled: “She and Ah Rong of the Chen house are the same age. Why is she still young while Ah Rong already knows how to conduct herself appropriately?”
He next sighed and closed his eyes. “Invite Ah Rong to come over.”
Chen Rong did not delay when the Wang house asked her over. She immediately left for the forefront.
In the distance, she bowed to Wang Zhuo from her sitting position in the carriage and respectfully said, “Good greetings, Sir Wang.”
Her expression and tone of voice were exceptionally respectful, even more than they had been two days ago.
Wang Zhuo’s frown unconsciously relaxed. He waved at her kindly and called out: “Ah Rong, come closer.”
“Ah Rong, let uncle ask you, how did you know there would be a drought? Why did you so decisively tell people to fill water and wet the fabric? Did you receive divination from the gods? Is that how you knew there would be such a turn of event?”
When he mentioned the ‘gods’, Wang Zhuo increased his tone of voice and watched Chen Rong’s eyes, unconsciously giving himself a ray of hope.
Chen Rong understood what he was hoping for. She quickly bowed in saying: “It’s as you said.”
At these words, Wang Zhuo lit up while the neighboring whispers came to a silence.
Chen Rong said compliantly: “When we arrived in this county, I had dreamed of an elderly white-haired man who faced the cracking fields and sighed. Two days later, I heard brothers of the Wang house say that there was too little water in the fields. That was when I remembered my dream and came to let you know.”
“So it really was a divine warning,” Wang Zhuo sighingly said while nodding his head. “I have only myself to blame for I did not believe in the supernatural.” This was an era in which Confucianism was rebuffed, Daoism and Buddhism ran rampant, and Mohist atheism still persisted. Wang Zhuo had covered up his mistake with a simple ‘I did not believe in the supernatural’. In a few nice words, he had easily erased his blunder.
At this moment, not only Wang Zhuo but even the Wang youngsters were regarding Chen Rong with hospitable eyes. Not only did she unhesitatingly acknowledge to have received a divine warning, but she also mentioned that the Wangs had long known about the drought. Consequently, even if people talked, they would only hold them responsible for being careless.
Wang Zhuo stroked his beard. After he had received the answer he wanted, he waved to dismiss Chen Rong.
Her horse carriage had barely pulled away when he suddenly thought of something else and hurried to ask: “Ah Rong, did the elderly man in your dream say how many more days this drought will last?” After showing concern for the overall fate of the populace, he asked what he really wanted to know: “How many more days do we have to go until we can get out of this dilemma?”
Chen Rong indicated for the carriage to turn around. She bowed and shook her head, humbly replying: “I also do not know this.” Seeing Wang Zhuo’s disappointment, she added uncertainly: “Perhaps not very long?”
“I certainly hope so. Go.”
Wang Zhuo watched Ah Rong’s gradually disappearing carriage, stroked his long beard, and suddenly said, “That Chen Rong is a fine lass. I dare say she’s suitable for my son!”
Chapter 12: Escape
A middle-aged man frowned in reply. “But she is, after all, a concubine-born daughter of a subsidiary branch; her father is also concubine-born.”
Wang Zhuo shook his head. He did not speak, but he was quietly thinking to himself that: Though Chen Rong is lowly born, she will inevitably become known to the nobles in the wake of these two incidents. Furthermore, if she married into the Wang house, what happened would not be her feat to boast. The honor would belong to the exceptionally clever daughter-in-law of the Wang house. Then, our reputation would no longer be undermined, no?
Wang Zhuo began to feel a little anxious and could not help but carefully consider the matter.
“But if you make her a concubine, I’m afraid she won’t agree,” the middle-aged man offered after some thought.
Wang Zhuo nodded while thinking again to himself: Pity that her father is not here. This marriage will have to wait until we arrive in the south to be decided.
In the evening, the scouts sent by the House of Wang returned and reported that from what passers-by had told them, they would be able to find water if they went a hundred miles more.
This news lifted the Wang family’s spirit and the team hurried on.
Even so, both men and horses were parched. They had only gone fifty miles though they had traveled through the night.
The early morning dew was no longer for only horses. People also began to slurp up what they could. Of course, the Wangs had Chen Rong’s half-full barrel and were not reduced to lying on the grass to lick morning dew. Doing so were only the servants and guards.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
By the time the moon emerged on the third day, they finally came across a patch of green, and when they listened, they could hear the sound of rushing water.
The cavalcade abruptly burst into cheers. Ecstatic, they drove the carriages ahead without waiting to be told.
The cheers did not cease this evening. Many were reluctant to leave their soaking spots in the river all the way until dawn.
The sun once again climbed high.
As they marched on the green road and listened to the chirping of birds coming from the trees from time to time, each of them reveled in the miracle of being alive again.
By now, the Wang youngsters had also matured; they did not complain about the birds in the sky and instead laughed in delight.
“Ah Rong, come over here.” Wang Wulang waved to her from afar; a light glinted in his elongated eyes.
Since she met with Sir Wang yesterday, Chen Rong found that Wang Wulang’s attitude toward her had begun to contain more apparent enthusiasm. The gaze he directed at her would always be accompanied by a strange gleam she did not quite understand.
Chen Rong nodded in Wang Wulang’s direction, indicating for her carriage to head that way.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Because Confucianism was fiercely rebuffed in this time period, what previously confined women had considerably eased. In certain states that were established by northern tribes, even women could enjoy political status. In the state of Jin, it was not uncommon to see widows remarrying. It was common for women to express their admiration and gladness to men. As occurred in history, each time the heartthrob Pan An went out, droves of women would encircle him and throw fruits into his carriage. Pan An would always come home with his basket full. Wei Jie, another heartthrob, even suffered a claustrophobic death from these women’s attack. He contributed to history the idiom “Wei Jie was watched to death” (看杀卫玠).
Wang Wulang’s inviting Chen Rong to accompany him was thus as ordinary as it could be.
Chen Rong had barely drawn near when she heard the irritable voice of the 7th lady: “Fifth brother, that Chen Rong is only a concubine-born daughter, how is she worthy of you? Your treating her like this is making the family lose our face!”
Chen Rong wrinkled her brow upon hearing these words. She lightly sneered and said to Old Shang: “Old Shang, slow down.”
When her carriage stopped, the griping voice ahead was still ringing out: “I don’t know what father is thinking. If you ask me, Chen Rong is only fit to be your concubine. Marry her as a wife? Hmph, she is not worthy!”
At those last few words, Chen Rong’s black, bottomless eyes flashed a cold chill.
But she instantly concealed her emotions and lightly commanded her retainer: “There’s no need to go anymore. Let’s turn around.”
As a servant, Old Shang understood the 7th lady’s words even better than Chen Rong. He nodded right away and drove the carriage off.
Wang Wulang was lowering his voice to answer. When he raised his head and saw Chen Rong’s carriage turning around, he hastened to call: “Ah Rong, Ah Rong, why are you turning back?”
Chen Rong did not answer him.
Wang Wulang frowned. As he was about to chase after her, another youngster protested: “Fifth brother, don’t chase her. You can’t indulge her like this.”
Wang Wulang gave some thought and then slowly raised his hand, motioning the carriage to stop.
Chen Rong had just returned to the middle of the cavalcade when she heard a burst of noisy commotion ahead.
She lifted her curtain and looked outside.
Before she could see what was happening, Old Shang, who was squinting to look ahead, gave a cry: “Miss, it’s Wang Qilang’s troop! I can’t believe we get to meet him here!”
Immense joy was heard in Old Shang’s voice.
She unconsciously recalled his handsome figure in her mind. She drew her curtain and tilted her head to look.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
A very large troop came into sight. It was not any smaller than the group she had joined. From the waving flags, she could tell that in addition to Qilang of the Wang house – Wang Hong – the team also included people from the Yu house.
No wonder Old Shang was so happy. Now that both teams had met up, they would be much safer!
“Old Shang, let’s go up to them,” Chen Rong said, staring at the dusty smoke rising ahead.
No one noticed Chen Rong’s arrival. All Wang youngsters were rushing out. In an instant, there was a group of fifty to sixty persons between the two teams. And everyone in this group was handsomely dressed to match their fine-looking faces.
In addition to about two dozen members of the Wang house, Chen Rong had never met the rest before. She reckoned they must be members of the Yu house.
These people formed a circle as they talked and laughed, trapping the two men within. At a glance, Chen Rong could see the 7th son of the Wang house, Wang Hong, standing out like a heavenly existence in the crowd.
Next to Wang Hong was another man with extraordinary bearing, but at this distance her line of sight was blocked, and Chen Rong could not make his face out.
As Chen Rong was watching them, a sigh came floating next to her: “I heard that whenever members of the Wang house of Lang’ya (1) gather, people would sigh ‘like gems and pearls’. Now as I watch these youngsters, somehow I feel ashamed and foul.”
Qilang belongs to the larger Wang clan, but his branch hails from Lang’ya, hence he is also sometimes known as Lang’ya Wang Qi. I assume this is one of the more influential, if not the primary branch of the Wang clan.
The speaker was the middle-aged scholar who was often seen accompanying Wang Zhuo. Although he was of gentry background, his family name was on the lower rung of high society. After he had finished speaking, he turned to look at Chen Rong, who was sitting inside her carriage and lamented: “I fear only you can understand my lamentation.”
Even though Chen was an exceptionally distinguished house, Chen Rong’s father was a concubine-born son of a subsidiary branch. She, too, was concubine-born. They could be said to be of a lower class among the nobility. This was the reason why the middle-aged scholar had lamented thus.
Chen Rong made no answer, but when she gazed to the Yu and Wang youngsters, her eyes were remarkably clear and bright, betraying neither shame nor foulness. After the scholar carefully regarded her for a while, he suddenly offered: “Miss, your looks and knowledge are both superior compared to ordinary people. No wonder you don’t share my feelings.” He briefly paused and then could not help himself from adding: “Unfortunately, your background is still too humble.”
Chapter 13: The Sensational Sonata
Chen Rong remained unspeaking. She knew her background was indeed too humble.
But what does that matter? I have started over again! Chen Rong clenched her hands and said to Old Shang: “Old Shang, go up a bit.”
Going forth was to squeeze in between these boys and girls.
As Chen Rong’s carriage approached, several youths turned to look in her direction. Their gazes forthwith turned agog as they stood silly in place.
Chen Rong’s looks were originally exquisite. After she was reborn, a maturity also existed in her youthful beauty. This maturity belonging to a woman combined with the innocence of a young girl made her particularly stand out among the group of adolescents.
A young man from the house of Yu gawked at her with bright eyes. “Whose house does this young lady belong to?”
Without waiting for Chen Rong to speak, Wang Wulang smiled and answered, “She belongs to the Chen house in the City of Ping. Her given name is Rong.”
The Chen House in the City of Ping? The moment this name was announced, every lad in the Yu house lit up. The Chen House in the City of Ping was only a small branch of the Chen clan – their daughters were not considered very high in status. Since she did not have a high status, the beautiful damsel in front of them was not difficult to obtain, whether as a wife or a concubine.
Under the appraising gazes of the Yu youngsters, Chen Rong’s mien remained as placid as water.
She stepped down from the carriage and took two steps forward. She next raised her head and, with eyes as black and bottomless as the midnight sky, she looked to Qilang of the Wang house, Wang Hong, who was currently being encircled by a group of girls.
Wang Hong was also looking in her direction.
Standing face to face, the handsome man who rarely smiled suddenly beamed. Against the sunlight, his snow-white teeth blurred one’s vision. Unconsciously, Chen Rong tilted her head to the side and looked away as she did the first time they met.
Suddenly seeing his smile, the congregation of girls swarming Wang Hong first went into a trance before erupting in delight.
The man next to Wang Hong was Yu Zhi. He appeared to be at most twenty years old, possessing a rectangular face and sword-like brows – a handsome young man in all respects. When he heard the squeals, he could not but turn around and follow Wang Hong’s gaze.
Facing the beautiful Chen Rong, Yu Zhi chuckled and said to Wang Hong: “So this is the kind of beauty you like.”
“She is Ah Rong of the Chen House I had told you about.”
Yu Zhi’s eyes lit up with interest. He again looked toward Chen Rong with appraising eyes before withdrawing his gaze.
Chen Rong had scarcely arrived but had already attracted the two handsome men’s attention, making the other ladies feel incredibly frustrated. They threw a look in Chen Rong’s direction and, in an instant, every single head and fluttering garment, and even several carriages had squeezed in and obscured Chen Rong’s sight so that she could not see Wang Hong and his friend anymore.
Chen Rong recovered her gaze and went back into her carriage.
As soon as she was inside, she retrieved the seven-string zither placed next to the carriage wall.
At this age in her previous life, she had indeed been unlearned.
But ever since she met that man, she had practiced the zither for a number of years to remove her ‘vulgar’ repute. Turning out to be quite a talent, she was able to grasp the zither’s secret after only two years of practice. Before her death, she had made a name for herself with just her zither playing.
Chen Rong bowed her head, placed the zither on its table, and then lightly plucked the strings.
With the birth of the soaring music, the noisy crowd momentarily quieted down.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Chen Rong did not look up.
She lightly plucked the strings to make music which flowed like wind and water. Like the moon in the sky, it quietly came and spilled over the sky.
All noises died out.
The group of girls turned around to look at Chen Rong.
At this time, Chen Rong’s focus was entirely on the zither. Her features were as tranquil as vernal water though glowing and radiant – a beauty which appeared to be woven from both serenity and light.
Unknowingly, the crowd had been enraptured by her performance.
With their backgrounds, these youngsters must have had an excellent education. Even if they were not proficient in the four arts (2), they must’ve been taught at least the basics.
The four arts are music, chess, poetry, and painting.
As soon as Chen Rong’s zither soared in the air, they knew her playing was extraordinary.
The zither has a tradition dating back to the times of Emperors Yao and Shun. Its sound is upright and elegant. It was the musical instrument most esteemed by contemporary scholars. Very few among the literati did not play this instrument. Without mentioning others, Qilang of the Wang house, Wang Hong, was an outstanding player.
Since their first meeting, from Chen Rong’s approaching footsteps, Wang Hong had known her to be a zither player.
But he never imagined Chen Rong could play so well! A fifteen-year-old girl having such techniques, changing her notes so quickly – notes as smooth as the wind, boundless and vast – as if she was confiding in him her longing during their separation and her joy when they reunited. What’s more, these feelings drifted like vernal wind and streaming water – at times affectionate, at times aloof – ’twas a sentimental piece.
That is to say, all scholars without exception wanted to express honor and elegance in their music. But this girl’s zither playing had a striking ardor different from everyone else’s.
Her playing was not any inferior to his.
Involuntarily, they all raised their heads. Wang Hong and a few others even closed their eyes to listen.
No one knew how long it lasted until those flowing zither notes gradually dissipated and vanished into oblivion.
Chen Rong slowly raised her head.
A ray of playful sunlight danced on her jade-white cheek as she quietly raised her midnight eyes to Wang Hong.
They locked gazes.
There were shyness and joy both in Chen Rong’s eyes. She next looked down and slowly said, “I’m very happy to see you again, sir.”
After these eight words, she drew her curtain closed. A muffled command was heard from inside, at which Old Shang steered the carriage and turned around again.
Amid whispering voices, Chen Rong’s carriage drove back to the middle of the queue.
Everyone, be he a Wang or a Yu, looked in the direction of Chen Rong. But no matter how they may stare, that curtain did not lift again.
At length, a Wang girl exclaimed: “When did she learn this level of zither playing?”
No one had an answer.
Wang Wulang at last recovered from his stupor. He knitted his brow while shaking his head, saying: “I’ve never heard anything of it.”
“Chen Rong’s zither is indeed pleasant. Unfortunately, she is nothing more than a concubine-born daughter of a subsidiary branch.” This sneer came from the 7th lady of the Wang house.
Her voice was rather loud.
Several people nodded in agreement at her words. Their bemused eyes instantly unclouded. Unconsciously, disdain once again returned to their proud faces — so what if she had extraordinary zither skill? So what if she was beautiful? A concubine-born woman from a subsidiary branch would always be beneath them. Somebody like that did not deserve their admiration.
The group regained their lucidity and promptly withdrew their gazes from Chen Rong.
At this point, a Yu girl hastily cried out: “Hey, where’s Hong Lang?”
The girls all turned their heads to look. After searching about, they discovered that Wang Hong and Yu Zhi had long returned to their carriages. What they could see was only a fluttering curtain.