Chapter 21: The Clansmen’s Arrival
Just then, another series of rapid hooves was gaining on them.
The resulting flying dust did not clear for a long time, and when it did, was to the appearance of at least four or five thousand people.
Before they could realize what was happening, flying flags with a wolf-head coat of arms were coming into sight. “The Hu…” dozens of Hans cried out.
These mere two words revealed how terrified they felt.
At this moment, that large army burst into cackles. A man shouted using a strange Han accent: “They are Hans. So many Han nobles. Bwahahaha.”
His laughter was extremely disrespectful.
Unwittingly, the nobles turned to Ran Min, their expressions were those of panic and apprehension, and mostly despair. They knew what ‘five thousand elite Hu soldiers’ meant. Ran Min’s army only had 800 soldiers, how could he rival the other party? Not only him, but even 100,000 Jin soldiers would end in total defeat were they to confront 5,000 Hu.
Ran Min’s expression was that of indifference as he faced the crowd’s full attention. A cold light flashed from his blazing dark eyes. He looked in that direction nonchalantly, then blithely turned his head and continued to ride forward.
In a moment’s time, that large team had come within five hundred paces of the nobles.
Once again, the soldiers raised their bows and aimed their arrows at the sky.
In the blink of an eye, hundreds of arrows pierced through the sky and landed in front of the barbarians’ horseshoes.
Being superb riders, the Hu simultaneously reined their horses and, after the animals gave long neighs, came to a halt.
A young Hu, who was masked, rode out and demanded: “Who are you people?”
He was, of course, asking about the clans’ escort.
Again, the soldiers replied in unison: “Our general is the Heavenly Prince Shi Min!”
The masked Hu was visibly stunned. He pulled on the rein, repeating: “Heavenly Prince Shi Min?”
He frowned upon hearing this. At a glance, he could see the nobles’ escorting team was composed of less than a thousand soldiers while he had five thousand behind him!
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Noticing the Hu’s hesitation, the nobles became unnerved. They all turned their heads anxiously watching Ran Min.
They were met with his back as he leisurely continued to ride forward as though none of this mattered to him.
Yes, of course he doesn’t care. Even if we really clashed with the Hu, he could very well leave us. As this thought passed through their minds, the young nobles’ dismay heightened significantly.
At this point, another Hu rushed his horse forward and started whispering: “Fourth brother, why are you hesitating? There are so many carriages, all of them filled with treasures. These are nothing but stupid Jin slaves, what are you afraid of?”
“He’s Heavenly Prince Shi Min!” the masked man coldly replied.
At the same time, he raised his clasped hands toward the man in question and spoke: “I did not know you are the Heavenly Prince. Do accept my apology. Retreat!”
Upon his words, the elite army began to change direction, slowly and orderly receding.
Only until they were two or three miles away and the dust their horses left diminished to mere specks did the nobles turn to look at Ran Min.
Ran Min continued on in his leisure pace, his red stallion’s hooves clopping on the ground in an extremely relaxed manner.
“This man can actually frighten the barbarians so?” Wang Zhuo muttered quietly, his voice full of disbelief.
In reality, all of them were staring in disbelief at Ran Min while their murmurs filled the air.
Nonetheless, they relaxed much more visibly after this experience. He did not take a second look at the 5,000 elite Hu soldiers though he only had 800 men. With this kind of escort, what were they afraid of?
The team kept their pace going forward. At this time, an extremely handsome boy rushed his horse to Ran Min’s side as he said something to the other man.
The Wangs and Yus knew this lad as the young gentleman from the Sun house who had been traveling with Ah Rong of the Chen house. They wondered what it was he had to say to Ran Min.
Curious, they kept looking to the two of them.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Not long after, they saw Sun Yan trotting on and retreating behind Ran Min, following him.
After encountering the barbarians twice, the road was pronouncedly quieter.
They went on like this for two days. By the third day, the cavalcade had gone nearly a hundred miles from the Yellow River.
Just then, a burst of excitement gave sound. Amid the noises, Wang Wulang shouted: “Ah Rong of the Chen house, come out, come out quickly. Your clansmen are here!”
That’s right, they should be arriving at about this time!
Chen Rong faintly smiled and drew her curtain.
From the other side of the drapery, Wang Wulang seemed to her very happy. He looked at Chen Rong with sparkles in his eyes, smiled and said, “It’s another branch from your clan. Isn’t that great?”
Great? Why is it great?
Seeing Chen Rong stock-still, he turned and told Old Shang: “Quick, take your lady to see her family.”
Chen Rong’s carriage drove forth and squeezed through the crowd, toward the group that had just joined in the front.
At this time, several elders from that group were circling Ran Min. Fifty paces away from them, a beautiful and frail girl about Chen Rong’s age was staring silly at him. Her eyes were gleaming with joy, ardency, and even desire.
Chen Rong closed her eyes upon seeing this scene.
Meanwhile, Nurse Ping, who was walking beside her carriage looked to Wang Wulang while happily telling her: “Miss, I think Wulang of the Wang house really likes you. Look how happy he is to know that your family has come. Perhaps he will even ask for your hand tonight.”
Chapter 22: Déja Vu
Very quickly, Chen Rong’s horse carriage arrived at the forefront of the queue.
Several elders were talking to Ran Min. Since she came at an inopportune time, Chen Rong quietly remained on the side.
The beautiful, frail girl finally recovered her gaze at this time. When she saw Chen Rong, she approached her with the help of a maid and then looked at her smilingly. “Are you Ah Rong? They were just talking about you a moment ago. They have nothing but praises for you.”
“My name is Chen Wei,” she then added. “I am your older cousin.”
Of course Chen Rong knew she was her cousin.
“How do you do,” she raised her voice in reply while dropping her gaze. When she found herself unconsciously wringing her garment, she drew a deep breath and relaxed her grip.
Chen Wei blushed; there was an abashment on her beautiful face that commonly belonged to young maidens in love. She again stared dreamily at Ran Min and actually imprudently asked Chen Rong: “Ah Rong, do you think is he a true man of honor?”
The ‘he’ she spoke of was, of course, Ran Min.
Chen Rong turned her gaze in his direction. At this time, a faint smile was found on his face, the blaze was gone from his dark eyes, and his entire being looked to be much gentler.
She removed her gaze and indifferently said, “Yes, he is a man of honor.”
Having received Chen Rong’s confirmation, Chen Wei’s small face grew redder. She happily looked at Ran Min and said, “I’m glad you also feel he is a man of honor.” Her blush had now spread all the way to her neck. She looked down and said to her cousin in embarrassment: “For some reason I like you the moment we met. I just want to tell you everything.”
Really? Chen Rong sneered deep down inside.
She lowered her eyes, smiled and said, “Jiejie (older sister), you’re like a lotus flower. Your purity stems from within.”
Chen Wei was overjoyed by Chen Rong’s assessment. Only now did she begin to properly look at the other girl for the first time.
Watching the undisguised joy and pride on Chen Wei’s face, Chen Rong could not help but feel taken aback: The truth was that she had forgotten. She had forgotten that after the last segment of their journey, she was no longer the old Chen Rong of the past. Her opinions now carried with them a certain weight.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
At this time, the elders surrounding Ran Min had dispersed, leaving only a middle-aged scholar who beckoned Chen Rong over.
She stepped down from the carriage, curtsied to him and bowed her head while saying in an honest manner: “I’m Chen Rong from the City of Ping. Good greetings, uncle.”
The middle-aged scholar nodded. “So you are Ah Rong? You don’t have to introduce yourself. I know who your father and brother are. I saw them a year ago before they followed everyone to Jiankang.”
He paused to wave Chen Wei over.
Chen Wei’s gaze quickly withdrew from Ran Min, running to her father’s side with her face still colored with a flush.
“Wei’er,” the scholar lovingly said to Chen Wei, “Ah Rong’s guardians are not here. We are her family. I hope you’ll take care of each other as though you are sisters.” Then he turned to Chen Rong and said, “Since your father and brother are not here, I will be your guardian. When we arrive in Nan’yang, you and Wei’er will stay together.”
Chen Rong bit her lips, wanting to say something. After some deliberation, however, she could only whisper an “aye” in reply.
Chen Wei smiled and happily complied. “I got it, father. We were just talking moments ago. Ah Rong even said I’m just like a lotus flower.”
There was a naiveté in her voice. The middle-aged scholar laughed and caressed her hair, shaking his head. “When will you ever grow up? All right, run along with Ah Rong now.”
Chen Wei laughed and bounced to Chen Rong, taking her hand and skipping off to the crowd. Even as she ran, she could not help looking back toward Ran Min.
One glance at that masculine handsomeness rendered Chen Wei’s face a deep red again.
Perhaps sensing Chen Wei’s gaze, Ran Min suddenly turned around and cast a glance at the girls with his deep electrified eyes.
Chen Wei blushed terribly and quickly lowered her head, almost to the point of burying it into her chest.
At this sight, Ran Min raised a brow in curiosity and then walked over to them.
Holding Chen Rong’s hand, Chen Wei involuntarily trembled as she asked, “H-he’s coming over. Ah Rong, what should I do? What should I do?” Embarrassment, joy, and fear were all detected in her voice.
Chen Rong quietly watched the man who was making his way over. “He’s only coming over,” she lightly said, “He won’t eat anyone. What are you afraid of?”
Despite saying so, her left hand clenched into a fist under her sleeve. In her previous life, she had never understood this man. Years later, she would recall this scene and think that he had likely walked toward the two of them out of affection for her cousin.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Living it all over again, she could finally see things clearly.
Ran Min had at this time reached the two girls.
He was a tall man. When he stood like that in front of them, looking down from above, he felt strikingly towering. Chen Wei shook despite herself.
Chen Rong was much calmer. Her eyes were not directed to Ran Min, nor were they to Chen Wei. She just stood there as if she didn’t know that he was standing in front of her.
Ran Min gave Chen Wei a glance before turning his attention to Chen Rong. “What are your names?” he inquired with a pleasantly deep voice.
Right, in the past, he had also opened with this line.
Chen Rong didn’t answer this time. She turned to her cousin waiting for her to speak first.
Chen Wei blushed and nervously curtsied to Ran Min, stammering: “I’m… I’m Chen Wei.”
Ran Min’s eyes returned to Chen Rong.
She slightly moved her lips to say in a low voice: “I’m Chen Rong.”
“Ah Rong of the Chen house? I know you,” he remarked, nodding. These were not words he said in the past. Back then, he had looked at the whip in her hand and asked, “Are you fond of using riding whips?” How had she answered him then? She had likely wanted to say yes, but thinking of the world’s opinion on a woman who uses a whip, she had quickly hid it behind her and answered, “This is someone else’s. I’m only borrowing it to play.”
He said he knew her. Though they were three simple words, Chen Wei’s rosy face drained white the moment he said them, and then she extracted her hand from Chen Rong’s.
Chen Rong looked over to Chen Wei, this time not answering Ran Min.
He watched her for a while, nodded, then turned and walked away.
Chen Rong stood rooted to the spot all the way until his back disappeared from her sight. So too, did Chen Wei.
All of a sudden, Chen Wei whipped around and hurried back to her carriage.
Watching her departing figure, Chen Rong frowned in puzzlement and thought to herself: Could it be that he also doesn’t feel much more for her? I used to think he fell in love with her at first sight, was that just a mistaken speculation?
Chapter 23: A Lifetime Lost Due to a Glance
While Chen Rong was staring off, a clear voice came to her from behind: “Ah Rong?”
It was Wang Wulang.
Chen Rong turned and spoke: “Good greetings, Wulang.”
“There’s so need for such formality between you and me.” Wang Wulang hopped down from his carriage and went to Chen Rong’s side. He dithered for a moment before asking: “Ah Rong, did your uncle say how your father and brother are doing in Jiankang right now?”
“How they’re doing?” Chen Rong looked at him quizzically.
“That is, what ranks are they holding currently?” As soon as he said these words, Wang Wulang hurried to repeat himself: “I’m just asking, I’m just asking.”
Chen Rong looked at him. After offering a little smile, she suddenly replied just as he was turning to go: “I think my father is still only an eighth-ranked magistrate.”
Wang Wulang paused at her words. He knitted his brow, his face a bit solemn when he asked, “What about your brother?”
“Likely also an eighth-rank.”
“Is that so?” He sounded disappointed. He gave her a nod and took his leave.
He had barely left by the time the 7th lady’s carriage drew near. She glanced toward Chen Rong and asked her brother, “Fifth brother, what did she say?”
Wang Wulang frowned and said unhappily, “Her father and brother are still only minor eighth-ranked officials.”
The 7th lady scoffed: “Promotions are common among nobles who went to Jiankang. I can’t believe her father and brother are so useless that they’re still only minor eighth-ranked officials.” Here, she turned to Wang Wulang and told him in seriousness: “Fifth brother, if that’s the case, then you cannot marry Chen Rong as your primary wife.”
Wang Wulang nodded, saying in uncertainty: “But if I were to ask her to be my concubine, I’m sure she wouldn’t agree.” When his eyes turned to Chen Rong, her beautiful face blinded him under the sunlight. Admiring her awhile, his heart drummed a bit quicker. “This is an important matter. I should talk to father about it regardless.” He removed his gaze from Chen Rong’s face and clenched his teeth determinedly: “I will let father know and then discuss the matter after we arrive in Nan’yang.”
This translation belongs to hamster428.
The team started moving again.
In the Chen camp, Chen Yuan was laughing in delight.
At his resounding laughter, the Chen children all turned to look at him in surprise.
“I did not expect Ah Rong to be so clever. How capital!” Ah, so he was talking about Chen Rong. The youngsters nodded and paid him no further attention. When Chen Yuan and Ran Min were talking earlier, all the young nobles were also standing nearby and had heard of Chen Rong’s matter. After all, Chen Rong as a young lass was able to foresee correctly three times. Something so rare and remarkable easily became a topic of gossip.
Chen Wei sat in her carriage listening to her brothers talking about Chen Rong outside. She pursed her lips at first, but whatever she was thinking, she immediately clenched her teeth and lifted the curtain.
She instructed her carriage to approach Chen Rong’s, and then from across their curtains, she timidly spoke: “Ah Rong, I was rude. Don’t be upset with me.”
Chen Rong lifted her curtain, her expression was one of grievance and confusion. “Jie, I don’t understand. Why were you angry at me?”
Chen Wei froze.
She carefully regarded Chen Rong and when she saw that her look of grievance did not seem to be pretense, she bit her lips, bowed her head and quietly said, “Ah Rong, how did you know General Ran Min?”
Chen Rong looked at her in puzzlement and asked, “Wasn’t everyone talking about my foretelling? He naturally knows me from those stories.”
Suddenly realizing the matter, Chen Wei smiled and said in a slight embarrassment: “I-I-I thought he was happy to see you.”
Chen Rong watched her timid older cousin and all at once felt a rush of dread. She unconsciously clenched her fists again before letting go an instant later.
Not hearing Chen Rong reply, Chen Wei raised her eyes to study her and said rather seriously, “Ah Rong, you don’t like him, do you? Tell me you don’t like him.”
Chen Rong gave a tight-lipped smile, lowered her gaze and slowly said, “Jie, our marriages are determined by our parents.”
“My father wants to betroth me to him,” Chen Wei immediately replied. “Ah Rong, it’s fine as long as you don’t like him.” She raised her head, watching an indecipherable Chen Rong across the curtains. As she watched her, her heart took a little dip. For some reason, she always felt that her cousin, while not necessarily more beautiful than her, was so enchantingly different. If Ah Rong didn’t want to yield, Chen Wei was definitely not her opponent.
With that said, she was only a concubine-born daughter of a concubine-born man belonging to a subsidiary branch. Chen Wei, although also concubine-born, was daughter to a direct descendant. In terms of status, hers was much higher than Chen Rong’s.
Chen Wei looked to be a little too anxious.
Chen Rong furrowed her brow when she saw this look. She gave some thought before looking to the crowd, her eyes unconsciously landing on the somber handsome man.
She silently smiled and lowered her eyes, coyly saying: “Jie, let’s not talk about feelings and love.” And then she turned her back toward the other girl.
That… wasn’t acquiescence.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Layers of dark clouds took over Chen Wei’s heart. She bit her lips, wanting to probe yet again, but in the end felt a bit embarrassed to do so.
Night soon fell. The cavalcade stopped and the servants hurried to set camp and prepare dinner.
The nobles felt gratitude toward Ran Min ever since he scared away the barbarians twice. They all knew that without his help, their fate would be very worrying.
Unknowingly, the scholars all surrounded him. Elders like Wang Zhuo also came to sit by his side, according him full respect and ceremony.
Ran Min seemed as though he did not notice any of these things. He did not pay heed to the elderly scholars around him, merely keeping his head down as he carefully wiped his double-edged spear with a cloth. Under the sunset, the cold tip vaguely seemed as if it was seeping blood.
After some time, Wang Zhuo scowled when he did not get a response to the few things he said, stood up, flapped his long sleeves and walked away.
More time lapsed when the rest angrily rose and left like Wang Zhuo.
In the end, only Wang Hong, who was busy tuning his zither, still sat next to him. It was uncertain whether he noticed if there was a bloodthirsty and tasteless man who was playing with a weapon at his side or not.
Chen Wei bit her lips saying worriedly: “Everyone thinks so highly of him. Why doesn’t he appreciate their respect and indulge them in conversations on philosophy or the arts, instead of playing with weapons like that? I only hope my father will not change his mind.”
She turned to look at Chen Rong and when she saw her looking at Ran Min in absorption, she could not help calling: “Ah Rong, Ah Rong, what are you looking at?”
She had to call a few times before Chen Rong suddenly awoke. She whirled around, hopped off the carriage, ignored Chen Wei and strode to the distance.
Chen Wei bit her lips at this scene, her face filled with anger.
Chen Rong quickened her steps forward, her hands balling into fists as she thought: No, not again, never again… Last time, it was at this very moment that I fell in love with that man.
It was with her entire life that she had had to pay for this one glance!