Chapter 34: General Ran’s Return
Chen Rong came to face with Nurse Ping’s and Old Shang’s teary eyes when she got back to her courtyard, both looking at her sadly.
“What’s wrong?” she asked in surprise.
Nurse Ping dabbed her tears with her sleeve and woefully said, “I didn’t know your admiration for Qilang of the Wang house was that deep!”
Old Shang likewise sighed: “Miss, what kind of person is Wang Qilang? It’s best you forget him from now on.”
Chen Rong was too dumbfounded to laugh. Without bothering to explain, she turned away and headed for her bedchamber.
The next day, as Chen Rong was going through her morning grooming, female chattering and laughter could be heard outside her doors. As though she could sense some movements inside, a young lady called in, “Ah Rong, come out to play with us.”
Another girl followed along: “Are you busy, Ah Rong? The water on the outskirts of town is very blue and clear. Everybody is going there.”
“These people are up to no good!” Nurse Ping angrily muttered.
She next worriedly looked to Chen Rong. However, looking back from the mirror was the same faint smile that often appeared ever since the lady concluded her zither piece. Nurse Ping could never explain this smile whenever she saw it.
Chen Rong stood up and opened her door.
The door squeaked open, and all the young ladies turned to look. They watched Chen Rong with interest as she slowly stepped out, every single one of them suppressing their laughter.
Chen Rong did not seem to notice any of this. She walked to the girls and asked, “Are you going to the purlieus?”
Chen Wei was the closest to her. She scurried to her side, tugged her sleeve and whispered: “Are… are you all right?”
She was met with Chen Rong’s bright eyes. Looking at Chen Wei, Chen Rong nodded her head and faintly replied, “Very well, thank you.”
Another Chen girl covered her smile. “When the banquet started yesterday, your servants said you were bedridden and even requested for a doctor. It turned out you were not sick from the fatigue of traveling, but you were lovesick from the fatigue of the heart.”
Chen Rong did not refute nor paid attention to her words. She knew this would be her plight to face from the moment she made her decision last night.
The girls’ smiles did not fade because they did not receive Chen Rong’s response. The eyes they used to watch her at this time contained a trace of sympathy in addition to scorn. Were there even girls in this world who did not love the celestial Qilang of the Wang house? Ah Rong was ultimately just another pitiful soul.
At this moment, Chen Wei pulled on Chen Rong’s hand and led her to the carriage: “Let’s go.”
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
This was the first time Chen Rong stepped out of the house since she came to Nan’yang.
The city looked much cleaner compared to several days ago. The beggars had also disappeared.
A girl poked her head out and laughed at Chen Rong, who was looking around. “Ah Rong, there’s no need to look. Qilang isn’t here.”
Laughter rose as soon as she said these words.
Another girl exclaimed: “Ah Rong is famous now. Quite a few people are asking about you. Hee hee, our estate will be rowdy from now on.”
Amid these girls’ laughter, Chen Rong remained to gaze down dutifully. Her calm expression was a look that said ‘no matter what people may say, it has nothing to do with me.’
Fewer beggars on the streets made space for more carriages. Elegant coaches ran along in a steady stream. Each time one drove by, a burst of perfume would drift into one’s nostrils.
The closer they got to the outskirts, the more carriages gathered. There were many fashionable youngsters, many powdered faces, and even more perfumed clothing.
Presently well into autumn, the southern purlieus were a barren scene. The river had dried up and in addition to an open field, there was not much scenery to see.
Nevertheless, it was a rare balmy day. For that reason, some carriages belonging to the young aristocrats could even be seen.
Young lads quickly neared when they saw the girls’ carriage. About seven or eight pairs of bright eyes swept across the girls. By the time they got to Chen Rong, one exclaimed: “Could it be that this lady is…?”
Before he could finish, one of the Chen girls from Nan’yang laughed. “She is indeed Ah Rong.”
A dozen pairs of eyes turned, simultaneously looking at Chen Rong.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
“You are quite brave, miss, for picking Wang Qilang as your heart’s desire!” cackled a young lad.
As soon as he opened his mouth to say this, another lad who stood beside the carriage, his long robe flapping in the wind and his face abnormally pale, at once coldly smiled: “Wang Qilang said no one is allowed to ridicule her!”
All was silent.
The young man turned his head toward Chen Rong and seriously appraised her for a while before sighing: “‘I do not ask that my feelings be returned. I do not ask for an outcome. My wish was merely to let you know…’ In reality, Ah Rong of the Chen house is just someone in love. Those who fall in love are bound to get hurt. Why rub salt in someone’s wounds?”
His last sentence was directed at the Chen girls. They pursed their lips, glaring at him and Chen Rong in irritation, their expression of mockery and jest quite clear.
A legitimate daughter of the Nan’yang house of Chen named Chen Qi opened her mouth wanting to refute this man. Her fellow sisters tugged at her sleeves and said, “This person likes to pass on messages. Say no more for now lest you offend Wang Qilang.”
Chen Qi quickly closed her mouth. She directed her glare at Chen Rong and said in frustration, “She’s done something so preposterous yet she still gets protected by Qilang? Hmph, what a joke.”
Seeing that the atmosphere had gotten stiff, Chen Wei quickly commented, “Let’s not stand around here. The warm weather is perfect to enjoy the autumn scenery. That’s right, Ah Rong, your zither playing is so good, why don’t you offer everybody a tune?”
Upon hearing her, Chen Rong looked up for the first time. She was about to respond when a sudden surge of rumbling hooves emerged.
The youngsters turned at the same time to look unto the dusty distance.
The young man who had just come to Chen Rong’s rescue was quick to purse his lips in displeasure. “It’s that commoner Ran Min!”
Chen Wei was flushed with anger. Her lips moved to dispute, but she stopped herself in time.
However, Chen Qi who stood next to her gazed in the direction of the dust and laughed instead: “General Ran is as tall and majestic as the snow-capped mountains – an admirable man.”
The young man scoffed but offered no rebuttal.
Chen Rong also raised her head to look toward the road. A few hundred knights scattered smoke and dust under their horses’ hooves, obscuring the sparse woods on either side. Watching the fluttering banners ahead, as well as the handsome male on his crimson stallion, Chen Rong quietly said, “He came in from the south gate.”
After saying so, whatever she may be thinking, Chen Rong turned her gaze to Chen Wei.
Like her, there were several people looking at Chen Wei. Under the crowd’s scrutiny, Chen Wei’s small face faintly blushed. Her autumn-like eyes dazedly followed the red horse as she softly replied: “Yes, he’s come back.”
Chapter 35: Ran Min’s Marriage
Chen Wei had been a little distracted up to this moment. By the time Ran Min and his men disappeared from sight, she had twice proposed to go home.
By the third time, Chen Rong offered, “Ah Wei, let’s go home together.”
Chen Wei was thrilled to hear this. She looked at Chen Rong with sparkles in her eyes and hurried to reply: “Yes, yes.”
While sitting inside the carriage on their way back, with her cheeks flushed bright, Chen Wei wrung her skirt and moved her lips awhile before turning to Chen Rong and said, “Ah Rong, we’re just the same, you and I.”
“Why do you say that?” Chen Rong looked up at her in surprise.
Chen Wei’s eyes were amazingly bright when she stared to the road ahead and replied: “You are in love with Qilang of the Wang house while I am in love with General Ran.” She squinted and then added a little smugly: “However, the person you love is the one and only Wang Qilang. You’ll only look at him from afar your whole life. But I, I will be marrying my love in the very near future.”
Really? Chen Rong quietly sneered and then turned to look in the other direction.
Chen Wei did not notice her expression for she was immersed in her own reverie. At the thought that she could see her admired soon, her grip on her skirt fabric tightened with each twisting motion.
While the two were lost in thought, the driver’s voice came to them from outside: “Misses, we’ve arrived at the estate.”
“Oh? Very good.”
Chen Wei recovered and quickly grabbed Chen Rong’s hand to dismount the carriage. Because she jumped in haste, Chen Rong staggered and, if not for her quickness, had fallen to the ground.
Slowed down by Chen Rong who almost fell, Chen Wei impatiently cast her cousin’s hand away and said, “Ah Rong, I’ll go on first to change my clothes.”
And then she was quickly off.
Chen Rong stared after Chen Wei’s back as she thought to herself: She is unusually eager. Is Ran Min coming directly to the Chen estate?
While she wondered about this point, she slowly walked forward.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Tall bare trees reached for the sky on either side of the road. Each time the wind blew, withered leaves would float to the ground. Chen Rong walked on, suddenly feeling a chill. She swiftly pulled on her sleeves, turned the corner, and walked toward the edge of the woods.
The windy currents alleviated once she was in the woods. She slowed down and let her thoughts wander again.
It was after more than an hour of aimless walking that a burst of boisterous laughter rang from behind the rockery to her left. Chen Rong strolled to the sound.
There, Chen Wei’s shy voice came to her ears: “Ran da’ge (Brother Ran), this time, this time, you’ll…” She was stuttering in her bashfulness when Ran Min’s strong and deep voice had impatiently snapped: “Speak up! Come talk to me when you’ve thought of what you want to say.”
His tone was stern and irritated. Stunned, Chen Wei’s blushing face drained white, tears also threatening to fall.
Ran Min frowned and turned to go at this sight. Chen Wei hastily held onto his sleeves, crying. “No, don’t. I…”
At this time, a lovely crystalline voice spoke on her behalf: “General Ran, my cousin wanted to ask how long will you stay this time now that you’re back?”
Chen Wei repeated in delight: “Yes, yes.”
She gratefully turned her head to look at Chen Rong, who was walking out from the woods. “Ah Rong, you’re here.”
The one who came was indeed Chen Rong.
Ran Min had turned around when she last spoke, staring at her quietly. His eyes were as paralyzing as she remembered them, as if there was an eternal flame burning in them yet also as if they were a bottomless abyss. This time, however, was she perhaps seeing from them a hint of curiosity and interest?
Chen Rong raised her head to meet his gaze.
She moved away after a brief glance, turned to Chen Wei, smiled and said, “Ah Wei, General Ran is accustomed to the battlefields, so he prefers things to be straightforward. When you speak to him, you must be direct.”
Chen Wei’s face suddenly darkened. She watched Ran Min, who was watching a charming Chen Rong. Suddenly, she stewed with an intense loathing for Ran Min’s excessive attention to Chen Rong and for the knowing tone of Chen Rong toward him. Moreover, how could Chen Rong, being so bold and direct, possibly understand the coquettish way of a young maiden like her?
Because of her distaste and differences, Chen Wei pursed her lips to say: “I naturally cannot compare to you. You dared to play ‘The Phoenix’s Love Song’ last night for the celestial Wang Qilang in the presence of so many people. But this is how I am. I cannot do that embarrassing kind of thing.”
Ran Min scowled at her words. There was a flash of displeasure on his handsome face at the time he beheld two ladies of the Chen house.
As Chen Wei was beginning to regret her words, he turned away and strode toward the grassy front where the elders were congregating without saying another word.
Chen Wei was flushed with anger; she furiously stomped on the ground and turned to berate Chen Rong: “You-you-you why did you have to appear? Now you’ve made General Ran angry with me.”
Chen Rong gave her a brief glance and then moved to go around her. When she passed by Chen Wei, she gently advised: “Ah Wei, I had meant well, and I was only trying to help. Why are you so hostile toward me? A man like General Ran does not like petty women causing a rowdy scene.”
After leaving behind these words, she went ahead without turning back. Behind her, Chen Wei sputtered furiously: “Who do you think you are? Who told you to put on that knowing look in front of him?”
Chen Rong started at these words, but her feet did not stop. She turned away with the intention to go home.
Just then, Chen Yuan, who was sitting on the grass to enjoy the courtesans’ performances, suddenly raised his voice: “Ah Rong, come here.”
Chen Rong halted.
She looked up and slowly forced a smile onto her lips. Then she fisted her hands and walked to Chen Yuan with her head kept low.
By the time she approached, Chen Shu was in the middle of gaily conversing with Ran Min: “General Ran, that girl there is Ah Wei. She’ll be sixteen in a few months. You were talking to her just moments ago. How do you feel about the lass?”
Chen Shu’s tone had carried a touch of spontaneous pleasantry. It seemed he was only saying what he said offhandedly and meant nothing more.
Ran Min took a swig of his wine. After a long while, he insouciantly replied, “Let’s talk about this some other time.”
He caught everybody by surprise. Chen Shu was taken aback. Chen Rong, too, whipped her head up to look at him.
Chen Yuan retrieved his attention from Chen Rong and turned around to look at Ran Min, asking unhappily: “What do you mean, General?”
Ran Min placed his cup back on the table and curtly answered, “Merely that I do not want to talk of marriage these days.”
Four sides quieted at his words.
Everyone looked to one another. Originally, the Chen house invited Ran Min and he also accepted their invitation to come. For both sides, the intention had been very clear. That is, the Chens would betroth one of their daughters to him and he had also agreed. What’s more, hadn’t Chen Yuan talked to him about Chen Wei on the way to Nan’yang?
In all of Nan’yang and in addition to the prince, the Chens were the most prominent nobles. With this said, this union not only concerned the house of Chen and Ran Min, but having been tacitly agreed by the prince, it was also an affair between Nan’yang and Ran Min.
He had come to the estate, met with Chen Wei, and spoken to her. Did he mean to say he was having second thoughts?
Ran Min looked up only to come to face with a stunned crowd. His dashing countenance all the more rendered people spellbound with the sudden birth of a smile. He poured himself a cup of wine while slowly saying: “Gentlemen, don’t be this way. It’s not as if your family only has one daughter named Ah Wei.” Whether intentional or not, his eyes cast a glance on Chen Rong’s figure before he continued. “It’s still best to carefully consider one’s marriage.”
Thus said, he threw his head back and downed his wine. He then pounded the empty cup onto the table, flapped his long sleeves and strode out.
When he had gone a long way off, Chen Yuan peevishly muttered: “He’s nothing but a commoner without a surname. If it were not for his escorting grace, who among the nobles would even see him out of the corner of their eyes? Don’t tell me that this commoner dares to despise my Ah Wei for being concubine-born in favor of marrying a legitimate daughter of the Chens? Bah! Legitimate daughters of the Chen house are all worthy of princes and aristocrats. The bloke should take a look at his own background!”
Chapter 36: Palm Print
While Chen Yuan seethed, Chen Gongrang, who had expedited his return, smiled on the side with tolerance and generosity. “Why are you getting so worked up over one marriage of a daughter?”
His influence in the family was great, and at his words, Chen Yuan immediately bowed and replied, “Brother, you’re right.”
Chen Gongrang stroked his beard saying: “This man Ran Min is fearless, smart, and ambitious. Such man does not like being led by the nose. It’s only a marriage between our house and him, why are you all so hasty?”
Thus said, he cast a glance at Chen Yuan.
Chen Yuan bowed his head in shame, naturally perceiving that Chen Gongrang was talking about the fact that he was too aggressive when it came to his daughter’s wedding. As long as Ran Min married a Chen lady, it didn’t matter which one they gave him provided that her status was suitable.
Chen Gongrang waved and closed his eyes, listening to the courtesans’ music.
His silence implied that this matter had come to an end. Chen Yuan withdrew his gaze.
He noticed Chen Rong again at this time and at once beckoned her to come closer.
He stared at her and scowled. Because he was already feeling offended, it couldn’t be helped that he would become irritated at Chen Rong’s sight. When he spoke, a slight chill was heard in his voice: “Ah Rong, do you know why I’ve called you over?”
“Do you? Then tell me.”
Chen Rong slightly pressed her lips, saying: “Are you referring to last night’s affair, uncle?”
“So you do know?” Chen Yuan sneered and clapped his hands. He then thought of something. “I really don’t know how your father has taught you. How can you do something so shameless! You! If Qilang had been less generous, the Chen house would’ve lost our face last night!”
Chen Rong kept her head low while Chen Yuan barked at her. At this point, her face betrayed a hint of a sneer, but she did not talk back.
Chen Yuan roared for a while and finally gasped for breath. His tone softened to say: “There is a dinner at the Nan’yang Prince estate tonight. You’ll go with me.”
“I won’t go!”
Everybody froze. Even Chen Gongrang opened his eyes to look at her.
Chen Yuan’s thin face scrunched up. “What did you say?”
Chen Rong slowly raised her head. Looking at Chen Yuan, she deliberately said, “I won’t participate in anyone’s dinner with you.”
And then she slowly got up.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Chen Yuan didn’t expect she would talk back to him like this, furthermore doing so while standing. Furious, he slapped on the table and was about to explode when Chen Gongrang gently interjected on the side: “You’re speaking to a child. There’s no reason to be so angry.”
Chen Yuan suppressed his ire at once. He stared at Chen Rong and barked: “Repeat that again.”
Chen Rong’s back was very straight though her eyes were looking at the ground. “On this trip to the south, I’d first warned the Wangs about the refugees and in the time of a drought had reacted faster than ordinary men. When we stopped by the City of Pu, not many men could do what I did to stock up on food. I dare say I have both uncommon wits and beauty and as such am perfectly suitable to marry young men of talents.”
Silence all around.
Chen Yuan pointed at her in shock and was about to scold her when Chen Gongrang laughed: “This lass has quite the confidence.”
“All right,” he said to Chen Yuan, “don’t get angry with a youngster.” Then he turned to Chen Rong: “You may leave.”
After leaving with her back rod-straight, she followed the green path, stepping on the yellow leaves on the ground, as she bit her lips thinking: On the way here, Chen Yuan had accepted me into his household. It can be said that unless my father and brother return, he is now my father and can directly decide all of my matters. Chen Gongrang will not interfere with whatever decision he makes. He’s so determined to take me to the Prince of Nan’yang, what should I do?
Suddenly her mind turned to Ran Min: Ran Min is being very strange. Listening to his tone, one would think he isn’t very pleased with this marriage! Yes, in the past, Ran Min had come to the estate several times but never settled his marriage with my cousin. I wouldn’t have gotten my opportunity had they not dragged it on like that.
In the middle of chasing her running thoughts, a shadow suddenly obscured her sight out in front.
Chen Rong looked up and was surprised to see a tearful Chen Wei.
While the pair of cousins stared at each other, Chen Wei suddenly lifted her right hand and slapped across Chen Rong’s face.
Chen Wei’s slap was both resounding and precise. Instantly, a swelling palm print appeared on Chen Rong’s left cheek.
After Chen Wei threw a slap in her face, she did not wait for Chen Rong’s reaction to suddenly burst out in tears. She covered her face and took a turn into a pebble trail.
Chen Rong recovered from the shock and anger and clutched her left burning cheek as her dark eyes stared in the direction Chen Wei had gone. After some time, she coldly smiled and quietly thought: I know you like Ran Min. Though I hated you, I wasn’t determined to take revenge. But now… hmph!”
At the time she turned around, the servants on either side of the road diverted their prying eyes to the ground.
Chen Rong did not care; she strode to her courtyard.
Along the way, passersby would turn to look at her and notice the palm print on her face, their eyes becoming curious.
Without knowing, everyone stopped to watch her. There were a few idle ones who followed behind her to laugh and jest.
Nurse Ping rushed over the moment Chen Rong got into her courtyard entrance. She had heard noises outside and, now at a closer look, exclaimed: “Miss, miss, what happened? Who hit you?”
She darted to Chen Rong and reached out to her face.
Unlike her usual self, Chen Rong grasped her hands and tearfully said, “Nothing. It’s just that General Ran came by a moment ago and… I-I was just standing there.”
She abruptly shushed.
Sudden realization dawned on everyone’s expression.
Behind Chen Rong’s closed courtyard, a few gossips had given sound and made the rounds:
“I heard General Ran rejected Ah Wei.”
“Then why did Ah Wei slap her?”
“Could it be that General Ran had fallen for Ah Rong and changed his mind? Not to mention, Ah Rong is rather bewitching with that slender waist of hers. If I were General Ran, I would choose Ah Rong too.”
“What nonsense are you saying? What kind of status does Ah Rong have? We’re not talking about taking in a concubine, how can General Ran leave Ah Wei for her? I think that Ah Wei is just taking it out on Ah Rong because she is unhappy about her matter with General Ran.”
“I suppose that’s possible. With Ah Rong’s status, anyone here can take our anger out on her. She’s the only one Ah Wei dares to bully, in any case.”