Chapter 18: The Trap on the Other Side
Because they would be crossing the Yellow River the next day to go to Luo’yang, everyone rested for half an hour and then returned to camp.
They set out at daybreak the next morning, reaching their destination in just ten miles. Rolling water called to their ears at the same time a line of moored ships emerged along the river bank.
There were big ones, small ones, old ones, and new ones. The nobility groused upon seeing these ships – their complaints nothing more than why there were so many small and old vessels, for such crudeness and dirtiness were not befitting their status.
“These are the only ships we have,” shouted one of the well-known scholars. “Those behind you even need to build temporary ones to cross the water.”
Another lad also shouted: “Say no more. Fortunately, we left early. Had we been late, we wouldn’t even have a ship to sit on.”
The grumbling gradually ceased at the double remarks.
At this time, the guards began to organize the crowd and prepared to board. Larger ships carried the carriages while smaller ones carried guards and servants.
There were not many large ships, however. After assigning places, many members of the nobility had to ride on the smaller ones.
Because Chen Rong was the sole master of the Chen house, and because she had also made good merits on the journey, they were able to board a larger ship with their carriages.
The rowdiness transpired for half a day until noon, at which time all the ships finally started moving.
On the oscillating waves, Chen Rong saw those on the smaller boats praying for a peaceful voyage.
Good luck indeed smiled upon everyone, for they had a very peaceful voyage. It made sense, since the Central Plains were going through a dry-spell presently. Otherwise, it could be very dangerous if they were to encountering stormy weather on the water.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
The long line of vessels meandered its way to the other side.
It felt to be a long time, but also only a brief moment. “We can see the banks! We can see the banks!” These cheers came to Chen Rong while she was sitting in her carriage, spreading far and wide.
After half an hour passed by, a surprised voice abruptly sounded: “Hey, what are those black spots on the other side? Are they people? Or perhaps our clans have sent people waiting for us?”
People at once looked up; their chattering filled the air. Amid the cheers, Chen Rong’s face was one of indifference.
When the cheers outside had gradually subsided, Wang Wulang’s hasty voice at last called to her: “Ah Rong of the Chen house, Ah Rong of the Chen house, come and take a look. Aren’t these people all Hu soldiers?”
In his voice was evident panic.
Chen Rong lifted her curtain.
She had barely poked her head out when everyone on the large ship turned to look at her. There was hope interspersed with dismay and panic in their eyes. Looking at these people’s hopeful eyes, Chen Rong smiled wryly and thought to herself: You all can’t really be thinking that a woman such as myself will be able to come up with a way out?
Chen Rong nodded and murmured: “They are indeed soldiers.” She did not mention anything about the barbarians.
At her words, Wang Wulang staggered several steps backward, almost slumping to the ground.
He was better than the nearby young men who had begun to tremble with fear.
A cry came from the next ship over, the bewailing of a thin boy: “How can there be soldiers? What are we going to do? What are we going to do?”
The boy’s crying attracted the crowd’s sympathy. Momentarily, sobs and screams arose all around.
Fear is contagious. Instantly, cries and screams, thuds of kneeling and kowtow, and even frantic splashes of those who jumped into the water ceaselessly came into ears.
Amid the panic, the ships started to lose their control.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
At this very moment, Wang Hong’s honorable voice shouted: “Don’t panic! Boatmen, helm your ships!”
His strong plea brought everyone back, and the crowd slowly quieted down.
“Turn around, let’s turn around!” someone else yelled.
“We must never turn back!” Wang Hong opposed in a stern manner.
Many looked at him in surprise. In the meanwhile, Chen Rong’s team had turned to look behind them — up till now, the ships were speeding up while marching forward without paying any attention. At this time, all of them were crowded together. If the boatmen were not careful, the ships would ram into one another let alone being able to make a turn.
It is of relevance to say that these nobles had lived in the north for so many years that they were afraid to even see a river and simply did not know how to swim. One improper movement would send all the ships colliding and overturning people into the water.
While everybody was busy thinking of how to turn around, dozens of ships suddenly emerged upstream on the other side. This fleet had evidently been renovated to add more speed. Before they knew it, these ships had reached them.
As the crowd was caught in a frenzy, those large ships lined up and push them to the shore.
They were forcing them to come ashore!
As realization dawned upon them, people’s faces began to drain like a sheet of paper. In this panic, Wang Hong shouted: “Everyone, calm down. As long as they are not barbarians, there is nothing to worry about!”
The crowd finally reacted to these words. Yes. The ships behind them and the people ashore ahead of them were all Hans. As long as they were Hans, even if their banners did not show that they belonged to the royal house of Jin, they would not act in the ways of the ruthless.
While reassuring themselves so, the ships sped toward the riverbank.
Near Chen Rong, several shaking youngsters clustered together, their teeth chattering in fear.
Once the ships docked, respected scholars such as Wang Hong straightened their backs and cheerfully talked as they walked ashore.
With their lead, the crowd no longer hesitated. Both men and carriages soon arrived at the river bank.
A dozen scholars ordered the crowd to line the carriages up. Afterward, Wang Hong went to the front. He raised his clasped hands toward the expressionless and motionless soldiers, announcing: “I am Lang’ya Wang Qi. I and the nobility across the state would like to offer our greetings.”
At this juncture, he pointed to the carriages in the back: “Please take the properties you see behind us. I only ask that you let us go and allow us to return to Luo’yang with our robes unstained.”
His resounding voice shot through the clouds.
At length, a long burst of laughter rang out.
Amid this loud laughter, a burst of hooves shot to the crowd, causing the stoic soldiers to clear the way.
A young man in purple was galloping forward at the end of the road. Mingling with his laughter was the flapping of his long dark cape in the wind.
The crowd fought for breath at his arrival.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Society in this era preferred a frail and androgynous beauty. Yet the young man standing before them was not fair, had chiseled features, a pair of deep eyes, and a defined straight nose.
If one were to speak of his features, then there were almost no flaws on his face – it was the sort the heavens had specially sculpted. Most importantly, his waving purple cape and imposing presence exuded a different handsomeness from the frail men of words. A very uninhibited, very feral, but also very blinding handsomeness.
After the cavalry galloped to the nobles, the young man alighted from his horse and walked to them in majestic strides.
Now that he was standing on level ground, the scholars discovered that he was a tall man, with wide shoulders and a tapered waist. He was yet near but already felt to them threateningly imposing.
He stopped in front of Wang Hong and company and then turned his head to survey the crowd. His deep eyes seemed to contain a moving flame while also bearing an endless darkness. Wherever his eyes swept, they would force the noble youngsters to hold their breath and retreat backward.
His eyes finally returned to Wang Hong, accompanied by a dazzling smile. He clasped his hands together and spoke loud and clear to the crowd: “I, Ran Min, am delighted to hear that you have arrived from afar. I’ve specially ordered my men to wait here for you.”
Chapter 19: That Man
Ran Min smiled affably, but the nobles only stared at him without a word.
Wang Hong clasped his hands together, looked at him and asked, “Ran Min? Are you perchance a descendant of Ran Yong, one of the twelve philosophers?” (1)
The ‘twelve philosophers’ refers to the twelve eminent disciples of Confucius
“That’s right,” Ran Min replied with a smile.
These two words caused the crowd to stir in whispering noises.
The weight of a prestigious family status had carved into the bone and marrow of the literati. The nobility in the Central Plains knew crystal clear which surname descended from which scholar. There were those who did not read much but had had lineages memorized. Wang Hong’s opener was the only thing the scholars needed to immediately know who was standing in front of them.
Their whispers were low, everyone suppressing his voice. They seemed to want to avoid provoking the man in front of them.
Wang Hong sighed in a murmur: “Sir, your roots are from the Central Plains. Your ancestor was also disciple to a sage.” Here, whatever he may be thinking, his tone changed to instead be full of dignity: “What is it that you want to do? Are you to gift us to Shi Hu? Or are you to take our properties to fund the army?”
His words were beginning to lose their courtesy.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
At this time, Wang Hong was still looking calm and sounding eloquent, but the nobles standing behind him had paled upon hearing ‘Shi Hu’. They migrated south because they were avoiding the barbarians; they never imagined they’d still fall into the barbarian’s hands though they had crossed the Yellow River!
Furthermore, they were falling to the hands of the most fearsome Shi Hu! This man had ordered that any nomadic tribesman could openly obtain from the Hans whatever he might be missing, be it clothes, properties, or women.
Wang Zhuo stood with a face as white as a parchment. Behind him were the trembling Wang children.
This time, they not only experienced despair but also remorse: That young lady from the Chen house is evidently a prophet! Why didn’t he listen to her advice? Why didn’t they wait another day or two and then cross the river after the scouts return to report their findings?
This regret and despair spread throughout the crowd in a short period of time. Many youngsters could not keep steady, and some were unable to suppress their sobbing.
Ran Min leaned against his tall red horse, his deeps eyes quietly sweeping across the crowd.
He only had to stand there to instill a soaring bloodlust in the air. Moreover, there was an intense flame in his eyes at this time. Wherever they went, people would shrink away.
Looking at these timid people, Ran Min slowly straightened up.
He was already very tall. When he stood straight, his towering build was even more striking. His fiery and fathomless eyes swept the crowd, and then suddenly he howled, “Do not cry!”
The crying came to a grinding halt.
Ran Min let go of the rein and took two steps forward. People involuntarily retreated with his movement. Only Wang Hong and other renowned scholars did not move, smiling and calmly looking at him instead.
Upon seeing this, Ran Min’s thin lips curved downward into somewhat of a frown.
How imposing was he? Only one wrinkled brow had sent dozens of noble children dropping to the ground in a series of thuds.
Ran Min’s frown worsened. He turned around and glared at the children, his clear voice ringing in a bellow: “Don’t be frightened so easily. Don’t forget you are men!”
The children continued to tremble nonstop, but a few scholars lit up, looking at one another.
At this time, Ran Min’s voice softened: “Don’t be afraid. You will not lose your lives. Nor will you lose your money and goods.”
All voices vanished. Even those who were crying had widened their teary eyes in surprise, hopefully looking at the rootless vagabond in front of them.
Ran Min smiled and turned back to the scholars, pointing a finger toward Luo’yang to say: “Gentlemen, please return to your carriages! I, untalented Ran Min, will escort you back.”
After the scholars looked at one another, Wang Hong stepped forward, raised his clasped hands toward Ran Min and audibly asked, “Lord Ran, your meaning?”
Ran Min grinned, flashing a penetrating coldness from his white teeth: “Nothing really. The Hans in the north have migrated to the south. After they heard of this news, the Hu have been waiting in nearby areas. I don’t want to let them get more provisions, so I’m blocking them.”
His words caused people to buzz in murmurs.
Wang Hong and his group looked up, their eyes observing Ran Min. A faint smile appeared on Ran Min’s face as he nonchalantly let them appraise him.
Of these people, only Chen Rong believed what this man said was true.
The murmurs grew louder. People continued to whisper, their eyes avoiding Ran Min while surprise and doubt surfaced their countenances.
At long last, Wang Hong suddenly turned around and searchingly surveyed the crowd.
He saw Chen Rong bowing docilely, as calm as a water surface. He picked up his pace and walked to her.
All eyes were on his actions. It should be said that Wang Hong was the most famous man in the cavalcade, he was everyone’s pillar.
Wang Hong came to Chen Rong’s side and, after nodding to Wang Zhuo and his group, turned to her, placed his hands together and asked, “Ah Rong, do you think what General Ran says is the truth?”
In front of so many people in such a time, he actually asked a little girl about an important affair.
All of a sudden, those who were stunned could not be counted.
Stunned, too, was Ran Min. He stared with interest toward Chen Rong and, ignoring everyone else, took big strides to her and Wang Hong.
He walked very briskly, and when everyone automatically gave way, he arrived behind Wang Hong in an instant.
All eyes were now gathered on Chen Rong.
“When he saw us,” she replied while bowing to Wang Hong, “the general claimed a Han surname. His words do not appear to be lies.”
Wang Hong regarded her for a second, nodded and murmured: “This man has no reputation for lies, that I have heard.” Here, he smiled wryly, thinking that they were meat on a chopping board anyway. Whether Ran Min wanted to cook them or mince them, there was nothing they could do. It was unnecessary to ask a lady like Chen Rong.
Then again, this young lady had been correct three times on their way here. Her words are credible.
At this moment, Ran Min’s laughter arose behind them: “I would never have thought that after all these years in my life, the one who understands me would be a beautiful damsel.”
And then he turned back amid his booming laughter, his dark purple robe flapping in the river wind. He leapt onto his red horse, waved his right hand, and shouted: “Let’s go –”
Chen Rong noted with clarity that although he said she ‘understood him’, his eyes were lucid and not the slightest trace of awareness a man might have for a woman’s beauty could be seen from his face.
Chapter 20: The State of Affairs
The soldiers’ footsteps also marched forward at Ran Min’s departure. Under Wang Hong’s leadership, the nobles followed behind them.
All were now looking at Chen Rong in astonishment. They just could not understand why Wang Qilang would ask for a young lady’s opinion. Why did Wang Qilang seem to be more at ease once she said Ran Min could be trusted?
In just a short time, the group arrived at the main road.
The road was covered in deep wheel paths. Wang Hong furrowed his brow as he bade for the carriage to approach Ran Min. Placing his hands together, he asked the other man, “Sir, why are there so many carriage marks on the ground?” Anxiety was evident in his voice.
Ran Min turned to look and faintly smiled at Wang Hong.
There was a strong bloodlust in his handsomeness, his entire being as if enveloped in burning flames; even his eyes could burn. At the same time he looked over, the children lowered their heads to avoid his eyes, and even Wang Hong’s group sank in spirit.
Ran Min said dismissively, “Everybody is moving south. Naturally there would be heavy wheel paths.”
Wang Hong gave a start.
Without waiting for him to speak, Wang Wulang hastily asked, “What is your meaning, sir? They are so close to Luo’yang – why do they still go south?”
Wang Wulang’s voice was very loud. Suddenly, the crowd’s murmurs stopped as they looked up, waiting for Ran Min’s answer.
Ran Min gazed to the front, there was an indescribable somberness in his indifferent voice: “Why do they go south? Didn’t I already say? This place is overtaken by the barbarians!”
He was saying there were many barbarians here. But, wasn’t this Luo’yang?! This was the capital of Jin. Had the situation gotten so dire?
The crowd began to panic. Sobs again arose amid the commotion.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Witnessing the confusion growing louder and louder, Ran Min who had been looking to the front shouted: “Silence!”
His shout was so savage that the children quickly shut up in shock.
In the silence, Ran Min coldly spat: “So what if you’ll die? You are men of honor, how can you be so quick to tears? Hmph! What a disgrace!”
His words were somewhat harsh. These youngsters were used to being pampered and had always felt superior to other people. Even if Ran Min were incredibly frightening, in their eyes, only the frail scholars were true men of honor. Despite being extraordinarily handsome and remarkably imposing, just like a volcano hidden under a snowy peak, the man in front of them was but a barbaric brute.
All of a sudden, many turned a disdainful eye at Ran Min. Nonetheless, they could only secretly roll their eyes, for the person before them was a devil incarnate.
Wang Hong gloomily stared in the direction of Luo’yang and then at length whispered: “Is Luo’yang presently a ghost town, then?”
“There are some who haven’t moved,” replied Ran Min.
He paused and turned his head, looking at Wang Hong to say, “Might you have guessed who have left and who remain?”
“Would Lord Ran happen to know where the people of Luo’yang have gone to?”
Short history lesson: Luo’yang is the Jin’s capital from 265-311 AD and Jiankang is its capital from 317-420 AD. The change was caused by the invasion of the nomadic tribes in the north, pushing the Hans south.
Jiankang? That was thousands of miles away. Dismay once again seized the crowd.
Wang Hong lowered his voice to ask: “Then, are you escorting us to Luo’yang? What if we want to continue ahead?”
Ran Min laughed, replying without once looking back: “Do you not believe me, still? Rest assured. After 100 miles, you can decide for yourselves whether you will go to Luo’yang or Jiankang.”
Everyone was overjoyed. Wang Wulang raised his voice: “Lord Ran, are your words true?”
Answering him was Ran Min’s cold harrumph.
Seeing his mood had soured, the crowd who awaited his confirmation closed their mouths.
The long cavalcade once again kicked dust up to the sky. As they drove on, a series of hooves advanced from afar. A man hollered out in a strange Central Plains accent: “Han clans, it’s a group of Han clans.” Excitement filled his voice.
Several hundred nomadic men turned in their direction. Whiz, not waiting for Ran Min’s order, all of his soldiers simultaneously raised their bows. A shower of arrows instantly landed before the newly-arrived calvary’s hooves.
The Hu hastily pulled the rein on their horses. After a long silence, the same large man shouted: “Which tribe do you belong to?”
A series of disciplined voices came as a single reply: “Our commander is the Heavenly Prince Shi Min. (3)” This translation belongs to hamster428.
Ran Min was adopted by one of the nomadic tribes so his adoptive name is Shi Min. His title is explained here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tian_Wang.
As soon as ‘Shi Min’ was announced, the man exclaimed: “I did not know you are the Heavenly Prince Shi Min. We shall leave at once.”
Following his panicking voice was another dignified one: “Please don’t be affronted. We were merely passing through here.”
Several hundred stalwart Hu soldiers all at once turned their horses and raced away like the wind. Their speed was even faster compared to when they came.
The nobles stared at one another.
What happened had exceeded their knowledge and experience. In their cognition, barbarians were like wild beasts. Under normal circumstances, one barbarian could easily handle four or five Han soldiers. Until now, they had only heard of the Hans fleeing away upon meeting the barbarians. This was the first time they saw the barbarians fleeing when meeting the Hans.
The ‘Heavenly Prince’ was indeed a resounding appellation!
Wang Hong signaled for the carriages to go ahead while he walked behind with Ran Min. He raised his clasped hands and spoke: “Sir, we are all men of honor. I’ve misspoken.” A Han who could chase the barbarians away was, no matter what, always worthy of respect.
He took a pause and then sincerely asked, “In your opinion, would it be favorable for us to go to Jiankang?”
“The road leading to Jiankang has been taken hold by the Di and Xianbei tribes. If you insist on going, you will only become their army provisions.” Ran Min’s voice remained indifferent. It did not change because of Wang Hong’s display of respect.
He said ‘army provisions’ very simply, but those who knew the term’s meaning could not help themselves from shuddering. Barbaric cannibalism. The so-called provisions for the army were referring to them, living people.
Wang Hong bowed deeply as he inquired: “Though this world is large, I dare ask if there is any place for us?” His voice had started to sound bleak.
Suppressed sobs rose from the crowd yet again.
This time, Ran Min did not stop them. He pondered for a while and said, “You might try Nan’yang. The road leading to Nan’yang is under my jurisdiction. The Prince of Nan’yang, Sima Mo, also has a great army. For the time being, that place should be secure.”
“I thank you for your counsel, escort, and regard!”
Wang Hong was well-traveled. His experience compared to the present nobles was profound and broad. He thus could clearly determine Ran Min’s words were not lies.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
While Wang Hong and Ran Min talked, Chen Rong kept her curtain down and quietly stayed in her carriage. She had been abnormally quiet since Ran Min appeared.
Suddenly, her curtain was lifted – it was Sun Yan poking his head in to see her. He first stared at her before raising his raspy voice: “Is Ran Min truly trustworthy?”
She gave him a nod.
“My parents and the rest of the family were all made into army provisions by the Xianbei tribe.”
Suddenly hearing such a thing from the lad, Chen Rong looked up at him, stunned.
After some silence, she whispered: “It’s all in the past now. Don’t be too sad.”
“I’m not sad! I have to make them pay with blood. I can’t afford to be sad!”
Sun Yan slowly straightened his back. Eyes staring at Ran Min, he murmured: “The barbarians are all afraid of him. The barbarians are actually afraid of him! Ah Rong, tell me, should I join this man’s camp?”
Chen Rong stared wordlessly at him.
Recently, he was no longer submerged in grief and hatred. He ate well and slept well. His face grew healthier in color, his facial features increasingly handsome and fair. That silky skin, those sword-like brows and crystal eyes, straight nose and rosy lips, they all gave this young man an androgynous beauty.
Seated on horseback this very second, his thin stature and slender waist were more pronounced. Viewing his figure and milky handsomeness from the side and then thinking of his killing appearance on a battlefield, unconsciously, in Chen Rong’s mind emerged a line: “The warrior bends his willow waist…”
While she was in her trance, Sun Yan turned his head and watched her.
After some time, his dark eyes seemed to have caught on as a flash of ire sparked in them. A hint of blush also emerged on his overly beautiful face. He glared at Chen Rong and gritted his teeth: “Ah Rong of the Chen house, are you looking down on me?”
Chen Rong shuddered, quickly withdrew her gaze, and emphatically replied, “No, of course not.”
Sun Yan harrumphed and cracked his whip to send the horse darting forward. He left her an ashamed and chagrined line: “Ah Rong of the Chen house, you…! I’ll make you regret this!”
She stared after his disappearing figure, flabbergasted. “I didn’t even say anything…”