Chapter 37: Invitation
Back in the courtyard, Nurse Ping pressed a cold towel onto Chen Rong’s face while choking back tears. “Your father and brother’s absence is all to blame. We’d be able to move out if they were here.”
“Nurse, don’t cry.”
Nurse Ping nodded vigorously in reply: “Aye, I won’t cry, I won’t cry.”
Footsteps were heard at this time, followed by Old Shang’s hesitant voice outside the door: “Miss?”
Hearing his tone, Chen Rong immediately asked, “What is it?”
When she sensed no movement outside, she frowned and said, “Just say it, whatever it is.”
“Aye.” His voice was still a bit shaky as he relayed: “The master has just ordered each courtyard to dismiss five servants.”
“Did he say why?”
While Chen Rong was in rumination, Nurse Ping nervously asked, “Miss, what do we do now?”
Chen Rong glanced at her, naturally knowing why she and Old Shang were so apprehensive. She presently had but fifteen servants. These fifteen were all loyal individuals who had served her throughout the years and had come with her all the way to the south. There was a strong bond between them. It hadn’t been easy to get here, and now she was forced to chase them out. Without the support of a large clan, these people would be homeless and helpless once they left her door.
Chen Rong received the hand towel, dressed her face and said, “There’s no need to panic.”
Nurse Ping and Old Shang quieted down, looking at her at the same time.
“Old Shang, go tell the steward that I’ll no longer require the clan’s help with paying for my servants’ keep. I’ll assume the responsibility myself.”
“Miss, the clan has never helped us!” Nurse Ping exclaimed.
Chen Rong smirked and dismissively said, “You’re right, they have never helped us. Old Shang, if the steward insists, tell him: ‘Our mistress says we still have plenty of food to feed these few people.’”
When she saw the old man giving no reaction, Chen Rong sighed: “I gather the master has made this decision mainly due to the lack of grains and silk in the estate. I heard that at present, the exchange price is two carriages of silk for half a carriage of grains in Nan’yang.”
“Aye, aye,” Old Shang recovered to say. “I’ll go and let him know.”
Listening to his hasty footsteps running off, Nurse Ping was also delirious with joy. “Why, you must be one of the gods, miss. If you hadn’t bought so much food on the way here, we would be miserable right now.” Yes, they would be very miserable. This was just the first instance of dismissing servants at the Chen estate. The Chen house of Nan’yang would be downsizing their labor force three times before they weathered the storm. In her previous life, she had only been a parasitic orphan and had, therefore, become the primary cutting target. After six months living in Nan’yang, only Nurse Ping and Old Shang were left by her side.
Old Shang came back very quickly. Sure enough, after the steward heard what he had to say, he swiftly decided that all expenditures in Chen Rong’s courtyard would be her sole responsibility hereafter. Though she had been responsible for them all this time, the steward’s verbal acknowledgment was now tantamount to publicizing the matter.
The servants finally relaxed after Chen Rong’s decision. Especially now that they knew of the tension outside due to food, for a whole day with nothing better to do, they went to the warehouse and stared silly at the grains. Even Nurse Ping stared at the two dozen carriages in the warehouse for a long time. By the time she returned to Chen Rong’s side, there still remained a giddy smile on her face.
If the grains were used solely as food, two dozen carriages would last them up to twenty years. During a time when everyone was worried about food, holding so much wealth naturally felt very satisfying.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Time flew by.
The next afternoon arrived in the blink of an eye.
Chen Rong had remained inside her own courtyard for the past two days. She knew Chen Wei must be fuming mad. With her nature, how could she stand others’ pointing at her? She must be crying and then trying to explain to them that Ran Min never said he wouldn’t marry her or that she had never bullied Chen Rong out of jealousy. Chen Rong’d only cause more trouble if she showed herself now.
In the evening, Chen Rong was idly sitting in her study to practice her zither when suddenly a loud voice reached her ears: “Is Ah Rong of the Chen house in?”
Not waiting for Nurse Ping to reply, Old Shang answered back: “My lady is in.”
“I come bearing the Wang estate’s invitation. Please come to dinner tonight at the hour of the dog (7 pm).”
Overjoyed, Old Shang profusely thanked him. “Even our lady has an invitation? How wonderful.”
The man from the Wang estate chuckled. “Why do you think so lightly of yourselves? Everybody could see your lady’s intelligence and we all admire her for it. If she were born to a slightly better status, her name would’ve been propagated by the scholars by now and she would’ve become a prominent guest among the noblewomen’s circles. Even now, if we did not invite her to the estate, I fear people would gossip. Haha, let me stop talking. Please remind your lady to come on time tonight.”
He was a humorous one. After having walked a few steps, he turned around to tease: “Qilang of the Wang house will also be there. Ah Rong will certain rejoice to see him haha.”
As soon as the man went away, Old Shang ran to the door and called in: “Miss, haha, it’s an invitation from the Wang estate.”
The door squeaked open.
This time, Chen Rong was wreathed in smiles.
Old Shang chuckled at the sight of her being so happy, but his face soured a moment later. The lady is so happy, he thought, is it because she gets to see Wang Qilang?
Because the dinner would soon be underway, Chen Rong quickly bathed with Nurse Ping’s help. As for clothes – her old outfits had all been from Ping and were now outdated in Nan’yang, and new clothes had not been bought, thus she could only put on the set of yellow and purple gown again.
The hour quickly arrived.
Chen Rong, who had groomed herself anew and donned beautiful clothes, mounted her carriage.
By the time her carriage drove out of the courtyard, Chen Wei and several girls from next door all stopped laughing as they turned to look at her.
Staring after her departing vehicle, Chen Qian bitterly kicked the ground and said in indignation, “The Wang estate is being unfair! They said people from the Wang house of Lang’ya would be coming and invitations were limited! Hmph, why did they even bother to say so much? That Chen Rong did nothing but casually say two things on the way and play a song to seduce Wang Qilang. Yet they actually disregarded a legitimate daughter like me to invite someone like her?”
At this juncture in her grousing, Chen Qian turned to see an ashen-faced Chen Wei. She laughed: “My situation’s not so bad. So I just won’t go to a banquet. Ah Wei, I heard that your dear Mr. Ran has been snatched away by that shameless woman, isn’t that so?”
Chen Wei was none too happy to hear these words. Her face reddened as she hastily exclaimed: “That’s not true! I’ve just said there’s no such thing.”
Once again, the girls listened to her clarification with a knowing smile on their faces – the loathsome kind of knowing smile. Chen Wei was purple with rage.
Chapter 38: His Remarks
Chen Rong’s horse-drawn carriage slowly drove on the street. It was at a time when the lights were beginning to go up. Rows of lanterns swayed under the eaves, pedestrians were getting sparse on the streets, and only when they passed by small alleys could they come upon rosy lights and laughing sounds behind the windows that gave rise to a sense of prosperity brought about by extravagant cosmetics, fragrance and music.
Inside the carriage, Chen Rong was now bowing her head and looking to be very calm, but her hands were tightly wringing her skirt. Her nurse looked on worriedly, afraid that the only formal gown she owned would be ruined.
At this point in time, Chen Rong freed her skirt and took a deep breath. “Nurse, I’m feeling a little nervous,” she whispered with her eyes closed.
“Miss,” Nurse Ping watched her with pity, “Wang Qilang belongs to the sky above. Forget him.”
Chen Rong wanted to laugh. She pressed her lips together to suppress her laughter as she replied: “Your words make me feel a lot better.”
Nurse Ping only looked at her confusedly.
Chen Rong reached her hand out to lift the shade. She murmured while looking up to the sparsely dotted sky: “I’ve died once. What is there to be afraid of?” Her voice was very low.
At this time, the carriage had turned into a small lane to cut to another street. Once there, the road ahead was awash in light, and amid the flurry of noises, carriages were weaving in and out in every direction.
“We’ll be there soon, miss,” Old Shang told her from outside.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Chen Rong was about to answer him when another carriage pulled up to their side.
It was a great ebony carriage, its two pulling horses also jet black and tall. As Chen Rong gazed toward the vehicle, its cover slightly lifted to reveal a handsome yet grim-looking face.
Chen Rong almost instinctively pulled her curtain down at the sudden sight of this man. She stopped herself, however, just as her hand touched the draping fabric.
His intensely dark and chilly eyes paused on her right hand before moving to its owner.
Whatever gesture he gave, his coach began to move closer to Chen Rong’s.
All of a sudden, the two vehicles were separated by only an arm’s length. Chen Rong pinched herself and forced a smile onto her face. “Good greetings, General Ran.”
Who else could he be but Ran Min?
Ran Min ignored her hello. He studied her fixedly and, after some time, his deep, authoritative voice made its way into her ears: “Little miss, though you’ve tried to collect yourself, you always seem different from your usual self every time you see me. Now why is that?”
He was so close that when he spoke, his breath gently swept past her hair and into her ears.
Chen Rong stiffened. She pinched her palms and tried her best to suppress her rushing emotions as she slightly lowered her eyes to avoid his. “General, you jest. How can I be different to you when I’ve never known you?”
She at last looked up.
Under the lights, her eyes were just like his – dark and bottomless.
As they locked gazes, her lips upturned to say: “I’d venture to say that with your being so remarkably handsome, there is no shortage of women in this world who would act differently when they see you.”
“Is that so?”
Chen Rong nodded.
Ran Min laughed. He watched her with an intense gaze, asking: “Do you like Wang Qilang?”
Chen Rong paused before slowly nodding her head.
He laughed again.
Laughing for a while, his voice lowered to a deeper note but retained its softness as he asked her, “If I ask the Chen house for your hand, would you agree?”
It was a clap of thunder straight from the sky!
Everything was becoming a blur to Chen Rong. Her heart thumped unendingly, almost threatening to leap out from her throat. A feeling filled her heart, she couldn’t tell whether it was bitterness or hilarity. Suddenly, she wanted to laugh.
But she did not laugh, only slowly raising her eyes.
She studied the man from her bumpy carriage. She hadn’t had a close look at him since meeting again after her rebirth. Chen Rong’s mouth twitched; she matched his tone to say: “General Ran, this joke isn’t funny.”
And then she decisively pulled down the curtain. With the thin cloth standing between them, Chen Rong sank against her seat and almost collapsed into Nurse Ping’s arms.
The nurse was about to question her when Chen Rong’s right hand outstretched to cover her mouth – she’d never want to reveal her vulnerability in front of this man. It was she who was stupid and stubborn in the past…
On the other side, Ran Min’s deep eyes remained to stare at the fluttering curtain; his brow furrowed, but his mouth unknowingly curved upward.
Slowly, he also leaned back into his carriage. He closed his eyes and relaxed the grip from his strong and large palms that usually wielded weapons, tapping them as if he was strumming a musical instrument.
At length, the carriage made a jerk and came to a stop. Old Shang called: “Miss, we’re here.”
Chen Rong gritted her teeth, wanting to sit up but her body was still too limp to do so. Nurse Ping swiftly lent her a hand. She dismounted the carriage first, and with the help of Old Shang, supported Chen Rong down.
As soon as she left the coach, Chen Rong could feel a pair of eyes staring at her. She turned her head and once again came to face with those intensely dark eyes. Almost instinctively, she turned around and straightened her back, then threw off Nurse Ping and Old Shang’s support to stalk forward.
The grounds outside the Wang estate’s main compound were crammed with parked carriages. In the lantern light, waves of laughter and whiffs of scents floated to them. Chen Rong’s eyes made a turn to find that the people present were all wearing exquisite clothing and appeared to be fully at ease; and she was not acquainted with very many of them.
While she was scanning the area, strong footsteps passed her as Ran Min strode into the illuminated area.
All eyes turned to him almost as soon as he appeared.
He was wearing a black robe with red patterns, his long hair left loose over his shoulders as was the fashion. He was already very tall, with broad shoulders and a tapered waist. When he was dressed this way, he possessed a kind of blinding handsomeness like that of the rising sun.
This type of imposing good looks and aura were entirely different from that of the moon and clouds, the popular feminine style everyone appeared to favor.
Ran Min seemed unaware that he had become the center of attention. He marched to the door and went inside.
Silence surrounded Chen Rong after he went in, for the crowd ceased their noises and began to take turn entering.
Chapter 39: Banquet
Chen Rong paused to receive the veiled hat Nurse Ping had prepared for her and then entered the hall from a side door.
The hall was scented by its guests’ garments; lights from crimson lanterns and candles intertwined. As the smoke wafted, the finely dressed youngsters all seemed as though they had come out of a painting. There were quite a few ladies within Chen Rong’s peripheral view who were as beautiful as she, and therefore her arrival did not stir as much excitement as did Ran Min’s.
She took several steps and passed her gaze over others’ shoulders toward the host seat.
There, she saw Wang Qilang standing out like a crane among fowls. Ran Min was sitting at the same table. They were in rapt conversation, clapping and laughing from time to time.
Next to Wang Qilang were two dignified-looking men and a handsome young boy. Surrounding them were other people. They seemed to be members of the Lang’ya house of Wang.
Chen Rong was still looking around when Wang Wulang glanced over at her in the midst of chatting to other lads.
Chen Rong halted and looked up.
Wang Wulang’s handsome face seemed a little gloomy. “Come with me, your seat is over there.”
Sensing the displeasure in his voice, Chen Rong followed behind after catching a brief glimpse of him.
Her seat was in the second row on the right side, close to the wall.
After Wang Wulang asked her to sit down at her table, several maids immediately stepped forward and blocked her area with a screen.
Not only her, but all ladies present would be enclosed behind screens as soon as they sat down. The screens were only a man’s height, their surface made of a layer of gossamer silk. Due to the candlelight on the tables, the ladies behind these silk screens seemed to be brighter than the others, but of course, they also seemed somewhat hazier.
Wang Wulang turned to go after Chen Rong took her seat. But after just two steps, he paused to look back at her, saying in a low voice: “Your mind can be quite profound even though you are so young. Do you think someone like Qilang would fancy you?”
He stood in front of her screen with his head bowed. Contemptuously, he stared at Chen Rong with a slight ire. “With your status, it is already difficult to find an able man who will marry you. But you have no self-respect and did this unto yourself. In my opinion, your life might as well be over.”
His voice was very low and the few nearby tables were empty. Except for Chen Rong, no others heard his remark.
Listening to these harsh words, Chen Rong’s heart was lit with indignation. She whipped her head up to look at him.
She opened her mouth to counter, but when she saw his resentful and grudging eyes, she felt bad and bowed her head to softly say: “What does it matter whether my life is over or not? My uncle already intends to give me to the Prince of Nan’yang as his concubine.”
Her voice was low, stifling back a choke while carrying a subtle hidden meaning. She seemed to be asking for his help while at the same time wishing to explain herself.
Wang Wulang was astounded.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Pressing his lips together, he watched Chen Rong’s vaguely fragile face under the candlelight and unknowingly softened his voice: “Give you to that old Nan’yang Prince who refuses to die? That fellow Chen Yuan must be mad! Does he not know the prince likes to collect pretty women but has no kindness for them? Your life would be ruined once you entered his inner quarters!”
Chen Rong was near tears at his words. She muffled her sobbing to say: “But he is my uncle. I, Wulang, you’re the only one I can say this to…” She quietly raised her misty eyes at him in a quick glance before lowering them down again.
It was only a glance, but the picture of a languishing pear blossom in the rain and dew drops weeping from a white lotus completely bewildered Wang Wulang in just a moment’s time.
He stared agape at Chen Rong and did not look away.
At this time, a man not far from there called to him: “Wulang, Wulang, come over here for a moment.”
Wang Wulang sobered at the call. He dithered for a while and then lowered his voice to say: “Don’t panic. I’ll, I’ll think about it.” His voice was actually very gentle.
He had barely stepped away when someone’s voice urged him on. After a few steps, he turned to look at her despite himself. From his vantage point, the only thing he could see was Chen Rong’s brightly lit yet hazy figure. She seems even more beautiful in only a few days, he couldn’t help himself from thinking.
By this time, a steady stream of nobles were filing in. A quarter of an hour later, the entire hall was filled with seated guests.
Being only a young lady, Chen Rong’s prominent position in the second row next to an elder was attracting more and more attention.
Gradually, whispers rose from all sides: “Who is that girl? Is she a legitimate daughter of the Wang house of Lang’ya?”
“No, she is Ah Rong of the Chen house who played ‘The Phoenix’s Love Song’ for Wang Qilang in front of everyone. I heard that on the trip going south, she had twice helped the Wang house of Ping overcome their troubles. She’s remarkably clever.”
“Don’t take her lightly. This girl is very intelligent. Even the old fox Wang Zhuo is far inferior to her.”
“Aye, I heard that when she was still in the City of Ping, she even made the generous act of dispersing her family wealth right before moving south.”
Amid the clamor, people’s regard of Chen Rong grew warm and welcoming. This talk even drew the attention of several members of the Lang’ya Wang house who proceeded to glance over.
Listening to the crowd and feeling the looks they cast her way, Chen Rong’s back progressively straightened.
Acknowledging Chen Rong was equivalent to invalidating the Wang house of Ping. With each murmur in the hall, the members of the Wang house of Ping all looked to be slightly discomfited.
Almost out of the blue, a girl’s sharp laughter rose from the corner behind Chen Rong: “Ah Rong of the Chen house, my cousin Qilang is here, you must be happy to see him?” It was the voice belonging to the 7th lady of the Wang house, Wang Han’yun.
The dialogues stopped dead.
The youngsters in the hall all looked up in intrigue at Chen Rong and Wang Qilang.
What stunned everybody at this time was that Wang Qilang, who had been conversing easily, also turned his head like the rest of the room to look in the direction of Chen Rong’s seat.
Under the room’s scrutiny, Chen Rong sat behind the screen with her head lowered, wringing her skirt for a good long while before saying: “I was unable to refrain myself at the time… Upon careful reflection, I’m now very ashamed of what I’ve done.”
She slowly rose, but without raising her head, she bowed in the direction of Wang Qilang and said shakily: “I was imprudent that day… I’m grateful that you did not take offense and have allowed me to remain in society.” There was a vulnerable humility in her voice.
Wang Hong slowly placed his cup down and fixed his gaze on the person behind the screen. Under the light, Chen Rong seemed to become ever more enchanting.
Beside him, even Ran Min turned his head at this moment to watch her quietly.
In this silence, Yu Zhi laughed and clapped his hands, attracting the crowd’s attention. “Ah Rong of the Chen house, what are you ashamed of?” he inquired loudly. “If you love him then Qilang will naturally appreciate your feelings! Now that you’ve secured his appreciation, you should bravely chase after him. Who knows, maybe one day Wang Qilang will get a dizzy head and marry you as his wife. Hahaha.”
At this point, as if he didn’t want anyone else to interject, he cleared his throat and explained: “What I mean to say is that this young lady seems the kind to talk the talk and walk the talk! I’m sure she’ll finish what she started. You…” He wanted to go on, but Wang Hong had already scowled and shouted: “Hold your tongue!”
Yu Zhi immediately shut his mouth. To express obedience, he even tightly covered his mouth with his hands, leaving only a pair of round, woeful eyes looking to Wang Hong. He looked so comical that in a short while, laughter began to fill the hall. The solemn atmosphere, in the blink of an eye, had been swept away.
Chapter 40: Questioning
At this time, a middle-aged scholar sitting in the middle stood up. He raised his cup to the crowd and laughed: “On this moonlit autumn day we have been spared from the barbarians’ horseshoes and successfully arrived in Nan’yang. We are truly fortunate. Gentlemen, to our blessings!”
When he finished, he threw his head back and took the wine in one gulp.
Those seated raised their cups and likewise drank up.
After the middle-aged scholar refilled his wine, he raised his cup toward Ran Min to say loud and clear: “General Ran, without your help this time, we wouldn’t have escaped from the clutches of the barbarians. The house of Wang will never forget your kindness. Cheers!”
Ran Min stood up and raised his cup toward the scholar, lightly saying, “I, too, am a Han. It’s merely my duty.”
Next to him, Wang Hong raised his voice: “No, that’s not all!” He stood up and turned to the crowd. “Gentlemen, do you know who we met the second time we encountered the Hu?”
All shook their heads.
“Murong Ke! That masked boy was called Murong Ke!” Here, his face expressed a slight disappointment, the reason being that the bunch of scented youngsters all carried a uniform perplexity on their faces at the mention of Murong Ke.
Wang Hong sighingly said: “Murong Ke of the Xianbei tribe isn’t any ordinary man. It was to General Ran’s credit that we were able to get away from his cavalry that time.”
He turned to face Ran Min, suddenly bending over in a deep bow.
The hall erupted in commotion to see Wang Hong give such a salute.
Having offered his ceremony, Wang Hong walked back to his seat and sat down. He picked up his wine to drink as he sighed, “There’s no difference between the nobles and commoners. There are few men of honor left among the people of Jin.”
Ran Min’s countenance remained quiet, his deep eyes staring at the stirred wine in his hand.
Ever since Wang Hong bowed to Ran Min, the crowd’s regard for Ran Min finally turned more considerate and respectful.
Just then, the sound of stringed and wind instruments drifted in from a corner of the hall.
With the music, the hall became even noisier and all the youngsters stood up and began to come in.
The ladies also quietly cleared their screens and moved the tables together to talk and jest.
With her head lowered, Chen Rong was in the midst of sipping her wine when her screen shifted to reveal the 7th lady of the Wang house and several other young girls.
The 7th lady reached her hand out and unceremoniously snatched Chen Rong’s cup, then pulled on her sleeve and whispered: “Come out, I have something to ask you.”
Chen Rong didn’t resist. She let herself be pulled away as she followed behind them to the side hall.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Shortly after, they came to a small corridor on the right of the side hall. The 7th Wang lady let go of her sleeve, then holding onto the railings, she glared at Chen Rong and said, “Ah Rong of the Chen house, do you even feel shame? Who asked you to play ‘The Phoenix’s Love Song’ for my cousin?”
With her head still lowered, Chen Rong lightly replied, “No one.”
“No one, and yet you dare to be that shameless?”
Chen Rong slowly looked up.
She stared at the 7th lady of the Wang house with eyes that carried a slight murderous intent. The 7th lady froze; she thought she was seeing things. Another girl beside her sighed: “Han’yun, she already lost her face, what are you anxious for?”
“But… she implicated our cousin and-and my brother, too.”
“Your brother? How does this have anything to do with him?”
This time, the girls were all curious.
The 7th lady clammed up. The girls around her all belonged to the Nan’yang branch and did not know Wang Zhuo had once intended Chen Rong for Wang Wulang.
Unlike the Chen house, the Wang house of Nan’yang was only a branch within a branch, its status inferior to the Wang house of Ping. Though Wang Han’yun was a guest, she did not need to be mindful of them.
At the 7th lady’s indecision, a delicate voice rose from behind: “Ah Rong of the Chen house, just now Wulang said your uncle Chen Yuan wants to give you to the Prince of Nan’yang?”
This was sensational news.
Whirl. All the girls turned to look at Chen Rong.
She blanched under their peering eyes, then pressing her lips together, she curtsied to them and turned away.
This time, the 7th lady of the Wang house did not stop her. She stared after Chen Rong’s frightful receding figure, murmuring: “So it’s like that. No wonder.” Her voice was full of pity, faintly however, there was even some pleasure taken at the expense of others’ misfortunes.
With her lowly station, what good was Chen Rong’s intelligence? Doesn’t her own family want to sacrifice her?! Hmph, luckily my brother did not want to make public the fact that he wanted to marry her, or else this shameless Ah Rong might not have seduced my cousin, but my brother instead.
Chen Rong walked with her head down for several steps before she saw a side door not far from there and strolled outside.
Stepping out of the hall, a burst of wind passed by. It would soon be winter and the rush of night wind already carried a bone-deep chill with it.
Walking on, Chen Rong unconsciously arrived at a small lake. This lake was only two acres in size, its water so clear one could see to its bottom. Unfortunately it was now late autumn, and there was nothing more than a bright reflection of the moon in the water.
Chen Rong bowed her head, looking at her reflection. Even though the water was rippling and the moonlight faint, it was clear the girl in the water was as pretty as a flower and at the height of her youth. Watching herself, Chen Rong reached her hand forth without bending her waist to fish her own reflection out.
As she was doing so, a strong force pulled her back, followed by a man’s shout: “What are you trying to do?”
Chen Rong stopped and raised her head. The man who pulled her in was a muscular guard about thirty years of age. This man seemed rather familiar. When she saw him, Chen Rong’s eyes instinctively followed the lakeshore.
She saw a white-attired man as handsome as jade by the rolling waves.
She never expected to see Wang Hong here and now. For some reason, Chen Rong actually felt a little embarrassed. She quickly curtsied and addressed him, “Good greetings, Qilang.”
In the clopping of wooden clogs, Wang Hong slowly came up to her.
Before long, his willowy and snow-white figure appeared in her purview. Bowing down to look at her, Wang Qilang remarked: “Why is it that the brilliant Ah Rong of the Chen house is actually ashamed to see me? Do you not have the courage to even raise your eyes?”
Chapter 41: Mud and Cloud
Always the refined gentleman, an inspiring air was born from Wang Hong’s very presence.
With that said, Chen Rong did not need to raise her head at this moment to sense the overwhelming superiority of one who came from high society.
Wang Qilang watched a stock-still Chen Rong briefly and then smiled. He tilted his head, clasped his hands behind his back to watch the moon’s reflection in the lake and softly asked, “Were you thinking of casting yourself in the lake just now?”
“No!” Chen Rong abruptly looked up. “Life is a gift from the gods. I wouldn’t dare to think of death!”
She was suddenly met with Wang Hong’s lofty, clear eyes under the moonlight – eyes that seemed to show he knew. She couldn’t help lowering her head.
Chen Rong gripped her right hand tightly and, after making her palm ache with her nails, she took Wang Hong’s lead in staring into the water and softly said, “Just now I saw myself in the lake, young and beautiful. But in a matter of seconds, I’d turned gray and old. It was as if the reflection in the water was just an illusion so I could not help myself from wanting to hold onto it.”
She finally collected herself at this point. She thus looked up and bravely regarded Wang Hong.
Under the moonlight, Wang Hong was attired in a large robe, wearing a tall headpiece and a broad belt. It was obviously only an ordinary robe, but on him, it had the elegance of jade and moonlight.
Chen Rong watched him with eyes slightly dazed.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
After struggling to snap awake, she was met with Wang Hong’s scrutinizing eyes.
His eyes were like the moon: so clear yet so high, obviously very near, but also unreachably far.
Standing face to face, Wang Hong’s lips unturned as he slowly said, “Ah Rong of the Chen house, don’t you have something to say to me?”
His voice was especially supple, his words clashing like jade and ice. Such spoken tone accompanied by his lofty, ethereal temperament made Chen Rong felt for the first time that the man before her eyes was as far as the clouds, separated from her by more than just thousands of miles.
Strangely enough, as she recognized this, her shame and discomfort all vanished like wisps of smoke.
Chen Rong lowered her eyes, quietly staring at the reflections in the lake. “There are countless girls who admire you in this world,” she whispered, and then as though she was glancing at him yet as though she was not, her gaze turned to reveal a natural bewitchment on her beautiful face: “Do you ask every girl you meet ‘why’?”
Light breeze and rippling waves, and such a bright moon!
Wang Hong regarded Chen Rong quietly and then broke out laughing. He turned his head to say: “It is I who have thought too much.”
And then he turned to go.
As Chen Rong watched his fluttering sleeves going farther and farther in the distance, she couldn’t help herself from murmuring: “The gentleman is a cloud in the sky; a smile of yours can topple the mountains. I am a leaf on the bough. I’ll become mud as soon as the wind brings me to the ground after the autumn rain.”
There was no sorrow in her voice. She was merely stating a fact in calmness. It was but an objective fact.
Unconsciously, Wang Hong paused and looked back at her.
Under the pouring moonlight, the Chen maiden’s obsidian eyes were unfathomable. Though her youthful face was innocent, her charming figure was beguiling. As she said, she was like a leaf with an earthly tawdriness.
Nonetheless, such a tawdry girl, standing by the rippling lake under this moonlit sky, was telling him their differences in so frank a fashion. She so blithely praised him for his ‘toppling smile’ and called herself a leaf that would turn into mud after the storm. Because of her helplessness and desolation, her attitude appeared to have been stemmed from the resignation of someone who had been hurt before and had now learned to let go. It pricked Wang hong’s heart.
His eyes seemed to carry the moonlight in them as he contemplated her. “Ah Rong, don’t say such things about yourself. Everyone in the world is like that; we’ll all become mud after the autumn rain. There is no difference between you and me in this regard.”
After a pause, he gently said, “You’re not mud, neither am I that cloud.”
Chen Rong bowed her head and softly replied, “Truly?”
Wang Hong quietly watched her from ten paces away. At length, he smiled ruefully and murmured: “Heaven help me, this woman…”
By the time Chen Rong raised her head, she was left with only the moonlight; Wang Hong’s figure had drifted into the yonder.
He was so far away, but his figure still resembled the moon and clouds. Chen Rong shook her head, thinking: Which girl can catch such a man’s attention, I wonder?
She did not want to think anymore, so she lifted her soles and walked back toward the main hall.
From a long way away, before she was anywhere near the gathering, a series of troubled zither notes accompanied by quiet singing rose in the air: “The orchid is the plant of the king’s fragrance. Though it still flourishes, it now mingles with the likes of the grasses. Similarly, there lies the difference between a sage who bides his time and a common fool…”
Chen Rong shook her head listening to the lyrics. Perhaps this is how the world is. Even men have sorrows they cannot let known. Take him for example. He spent so many years wishing to kill all the Hu, why was he not yet overtaken with hatred and anger?
Chen Rong entered the hall in the middle of her pondering.
In the center of the hall, a courtesan was strumming and singing. Everyone else listened to her in mesmerization, nodding their heads to the music.
Chen Rong took her seat. After repositioning her screen again, she quietly leaned back and raised her head to peer through the screens, which was also peering at that man.
All along, she did not want others to read her thoughts through her eyes. Whenever she looked at other people, she only gave a quick sweep and never stayed long.
Presently however, she could watch as much as she pleased thanks to the blocking screens.
In particular, the black-robed man sitting in front of her. She could observe him all she wanted without concern: Just a while ago he said he would ask the Chen house for my hand. Why would he say that?
Despite the fact that Chen Rong was married to him for years, they spent very little time together and she could never guess this man’s mind.
She shook her head. I’ve lived once more, what am I still thinking about this for? No matter what, I will never repeat my mistakes this time around! I won’t be the fool who puts all my love and devotion on a man only to be driven to a point of no return!
Amid her thoughts, some noises gave sound from the hall’s doorway, the most audible being those of female laughter.
Chen Rong turned around to look.
She was met with Wang Hong’s waltzing into the hall in his white robe.
No matter where this man went, he was always the center of attention. Along with each of his movements, all the ladies who were talking, smiling, whispering, or simply sitting there without fail turned their attention to him.