Chapter 42: Heart-to-heart
The hall came to life again once Wang Hong entered it.
Yu Zhi spotted him from the distance and called him over: “Come, that boy Wang You was saying ‘if you want good health, your energy must first flow’. He also said I only know of tranquil void but do not know I must be like the generals to have true health, that one needs to vent when he’s angry, one needs to kill when he’s filled with hatred, and one should express his resentment if he feels such emotion. Only then are you living the ways of the Yin and Yang, Heaven and Earth. I couldn’t argue with this guy. Qilang, you should help me now that you’re here.”
Wang Hong laughed in reply. “All right, let’s go have a debate with him.”
As she listened to the scholars debate, a girl from the Wang house who sat behind Chen Rong said in distaste: “Didn’t I say Nan’yang is a shallow place? Even the men’s debate can’t be heard. If the Wang house of Lang’ya hadn’t come, tsk, we wouldn’t be able to hear these philosophical talks.”
Another lad cast a glance at Ran Min and lightly echoed her thoughts: “With a commoner like General Ran here, what kind of debates can Nan’yang possibly have?”
Sitting behind the screen, Chen Rong bowed her head in thoughts. She shook her head when she heard these words.
The buzzing behind her intensified at this point, every sentence turning blunt. Most had come to surround the scholars and listen to their arguments in rapture.
Unable to sit still any longer, Chen Rong moved her screen and walked out.
She followed the side hall and went out to the brightly lit area. Very few ventured outside at this time; when she turned and glanced around, there were only a few sparse silhouettes under the moonlight.
Chen Rong slowly walked along the gravel path.
Her head was bowed, watching her shadow and pondering as she walked. Tonight’s banquet was of particular significance to her. Now that it was coming to an end, Chen Rong recalled her words and behaviors and, for some reason, felt a little disappointed.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
At the end of the path was a small silvery lake glittering under the moonlight.
Chen Rong paused to raise her head and turn around, at which point she stopped in her tracks.
To the left of the lake just ten paces away from her stood a tall and great figure. At this moment, the owner of that figure was also turning around, his eyes staring at her quietly in the dark.
Chen Rong forced a smile onto her face and turned to curtsy to the man. “Good greetings, General Ran,” she softly spoke.
Standing there was indeed Ran Min. How strange, he was still inside when she left the hall. How was he able to walk ahead of her?
Ahem, now isn’t the time to think about this.
Ran Min’s eyes were astoundingly bright in the dark. As he watched Chen Rong, his gaze shifted to her feet – ones that were ready to sprint at any time. He curved his lips and said to her in a low voice: “Come here.”
“Pardon?” Chen Rong exclaimed.
Ran Min furrowed his brow and repeated: “I said come over!” It was a command.
“Aye,” Chen Rong replied almost involuntarily and lifted her soles to move toward him. And yet her footsteps loitered more and more as she walked.
Ran Min had turned to look at the horizon by this time and did not notice her struggle.
His hands were clasped behind his back, his black robe fluttering in the wind. At this moment, his thin lips were slightly upturned, making his chiseled profile even more handsome.
By the time Chen Rong dragged herself to his side, Ran Min’s deep and dynamic voice gently spoke: “These nobles are all our people, they are all Hans, the core of our country. Ha –” He burst out laughing somewhat mournfully. “The Hu Army must’ve laid siege to the city of Luo’yang tonight. Those who could not bear to leave their hometown will turn into corpses along with the ashes of the houses they have dwelled in for generations.”
He suddenly turned to look at Chen Rong.
He saw her watching him with respect and a faint tenderness.
Her gaze was apparently beyond his expectation. Ran Min chuckled as he contemplated her. “Are you not afraid of these bloody things, a young maiden like you who wears perfumed sachets?”
Chen Rong shook her head and lowered her gaze.
If she wanted to, there were a number of ways to please him. But she didn’t want to say any of those things. If this had been her past life, she’d try to make a good impression and keep comforting him. She’d praise him and try to tell him just how much respect and sympathy she had for him.
Even if her respect for him had indeed come from her heart every time she saw him like this.
Ran Min wasn’t waiting for her answer either. His eyes remained staring to the north, fiery flames dancing in its black pupils.
“My people…” he murmured at length.
As if it had a mind of its own, Chen Rong’s right hand outstretched to almost touch his sleeve.
Luckily she reacted in time and only completed half of this action.
Just as she drew breath and was about to quietly withdraw her hand, Ran Min looked down and saw it.
He eyed her milky hand under the moonlight and then slowly raised his head to look at Chen Rong.
What he saw was her turned profile. She was pressing her lips together, distractedly staring at the lake. She seemed to be a little vexed.
Ran Min laughed despite himself.
“I say, little miss, did I somehow offend you?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
Chen Rong emphatically shook her head.
“I’m sure I’ve offended you somehow,” Ran Min chuckled. “From the way you look, to say ‘offend’ might even be making light of the matter.”
Chen Rong’s lips drew into a line when she heard what he said. She hurriedly turned and curtsied to Ran Min, saying: “You haven’t, sir. I must head back now. Goodbye.”
She didn’t wait for his reply. She flapped her sleeves and hastily rushed off.
Watching the figure that was rapidly dissolving in the dark, Ran Min, whatever he might be thinking, burst out laughing again.
His laughter still rang in Chen Rong’s ears by the time she was a long distance away.
“Hmph!” Chen Rong stomped her foot on the ground. But as she was clenching her teeth, her dark eyes suddenly gleamed and, gradually, a little smile emerged on her stiffened face.
She straightened her back, lifted her soles, and walked like the wind in the direction of the hall.
Chapter 43: Sisters
Just as Chen Rong arrived at the steps, the hall door opened to a burst of fragrance. The nobles were now flocking out; the banquet had come to an end.
She froze and then quickly retreated into a corner, gazing at Wang Wulang’s figure among the flitting shadows with a pinch of disappointment. She hadn’t any opportunity to be alone with him the entire night.
She dithered awhile and then followed the stream of people as they flocked to the carriage square.
Nurse Ping and Old Shang were both there standing beside her coach. When they sighted her, they hurried over with twinkles in their eyes.
Old Shang laughed: “Miss, did you meet anyone else from the Lang’ya House of Wang? Do they also have a godly bearing like Wang Qilang?”
Nurse Ping gave him a poke and then proceeded with her own question. “Miss, were you able to ask for the Wang house’s help? We are both from Ping, and they had furthermore received your help on the way. It’s said that close neighbors are better than distant relatives. You can ask Sir Wang to persuade your uncle. It’d be best if Wang Wulang asked for your hand.”
Chen Rong gave her a wry smile and shook her head. “It’s not that simple, Nurse.”
Then she passed the two of them and climbed onto the carriage.
But they did not immediately leave after Chen Rong mounted the carriage.
Her status was the lowest among the people in this square. She did not want to compete with those distinguished people for the travel way.
After half an hour when the square was finally empty, Chen Rong’s carriage slowly pulled out of the Wang estate.
The streets of Nan’yang were enveloped in pitch darkness in these hours. There were only scattered lanterns hanging under the eaves of wealthy homes.
It had been fine when they left, but the sky suddenly sprinkled moments later.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Through the shade, Chen Rong looked back at the Wang estate under the drizzling rain. Their gates were still wide open, faint voices were heard inside, eight gold foiled lanterns lined both sides of the gates, swinging in the rain. Their flickering light radiated a sense of solitude in the mist.
Chen Rong withdrew her gaze after a brief glance.
The two estates of Wang and Chen were not far apart. In half an hour, her carriage quietly entered the Chen compound and pulled into her courtyard.
As soon as Chen Rong stepped away from her carriage, peals of laughter rang out from Chen Wei’s courtyard next-door. She paid little attention to them and continued on. “Is Ah Rong back? You there, open the door!” a girl’s voice was heard outside her yard.
The courtyard door’s squeaked open at this girl’s order.
At once, several girls in splendid gowns filled the courtyard with their chattering.
Chen Rong raised her head looking at the clouds that had receded and the moon that once again hung in the sky. Why did the rain have to stop? If it kept on raining, these girls wouldn’t endure the rain to come. That’s just too bad.
Once the girls came in, Nurse Ping and the others were put to work again. Soon, her study was brightly lit and filled with the fragrance of meat and wine.
Chen Qian looked around the room full of bamboo slips and burst out laughing: “I heard from people who came from Ping that you don’t read. That being the case, why do you have so many books on display? Are you trying to appear learned?”
Chen Rong was sitting in the host’s seat. Hearing this question, her docile face gave a smile as she softly answered, “Who says I don’t read?”
Chen Qian paused.
She tilted her head to appraise Chen Rong. She had thought of a thing or two to rebut before she suddenly thought of her recent display, which was truly not something an unread girl could have. “Perhaps I heard wrong,” she said with pursed lips.
At this time, Chen Wei who had been sitting silently in a corner suddenly spoke up. “Ah Rong, were you the one to say General Ran doesn’t want me anymore? Were you the one to say I bullied you?”
There was a sharpness that she couldn’t control by the end of her sentence.
Chen Rong looked up.
She widened her eyes in surprise at Chen Wei and then clutched the left cheek that had been slapped. “When had I said General Ran doesn’t want you? And when had I said that you bullied me?”
Chen Wei sprang to her feet, pointing at Chen Rong shakily. “If you didn’t say anything, then why did everyone laugh at me? You-you’re even covering your face. Aren’t you trying to let everyone know I had slapped you?”
Chen Rong swiftly let go of her hand, dropped her gaze and earnestly said, “Ah Wei, I swear I’ve never said General Ran doesn’t want you, nor have I said that you bullied me.”
Her dark eyes were penetrating in the candlelight. She looked at Chen Wei and said somewhat obscurely: “Our marriages are arranged by our parents. They’re also our parents’ order. How can General Ran not want you?”
Chen Wei went silent.
Slowly, a smile materialized on her face.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
“All right, let’s not talk about these boring things,” said Chen Qian impatiently.
She was a legitimate daughter of the direct line in Nan’yang. Ranked second, her status was higher than all the girls here. Once she opened her mouth, both Chen Rong and Chen Wei bowed their heads to reply: “Aye.”
“Tell us now Ah Rong, who did you see at the Wang estate?”
At this juncture, Chen Qian looked up to see Chen Rong’s charming face under the lights. She suddenly interrupted her from answering: “These things aside, did you get to see Wang Qilang? What did he say when he saw you?”
About seven or eight faces turned around, staring at Chen Rong with interest while awaiting her answer.
Watched by these eager eyes, Chen Rong opened her mouth and really wanted to tell them that Wang Qilang never blamed or spurned her. Instead, he was gentle enough to even comfort her.
She couldn’t say these words, however. If not handled properly, her coming days would only worsen.
She dropped her gaze and displayed a slight weariness on her face.
Such expression greatly amused the girls. Chen Qian laughingly remarked, “What did I say? To have someone like you confess in public and plainly say you want to be his first wife is an insult to the distinguished Wang Qi. Even I am not worthy to be his wife, much less you.”
Chen Wei, too, looked to be quite pleased. She covered her mouth as her eyes bent into lines.
While the girls giggled mirthfully, Chen Rong’s lips curved to reveal a secretive smile, one of joy and contentment.
This expression gave the girls pause. As they were staring at her in careful appraisal, Chen Rong stood up, curtsied to the girls and wearily said, “Sisters, I’m really tired.”
“Hmph, who wants to loiter at this place of yours?”
Chen Qian flapped her sleeves and led the girls away.
Staring after the girls going farther away, Nurse Ping came to her and sighed. “You’ve always run around with boys when you were younger. You were the only girl in our estate so of course you don’t even have any experience of getting along with other girls. Just now you should have waited for them to be bored. Then when they wanted to leave you still would’ve needed to try to keep them. That’s how you should treat your fellow sisters.”
Chen Rong merely smiled and softened her voice: “Nurse, get the water ready. I want to bathe.”
Chapter 44: Temporary Peace
The next day came quickly.
At noon, Chen Wei’s voice sounded from beyond the door: “Is Ah Rong in?”
Not waiting for Chen Rong to stand up, she pushed the door and went inside. Standing from some distance away, Chen Wei curtsied to her and softly said, “Ah Rong, it was my fault that day. Don’t be upset with me.”
Chen Rong never imagined she would come to apologize. She swiftly curtsied back after a momentary pause. “You are my jiejie, it’s within your rights to teach me. How can I be upset with you?”
Chen Wei smiled upon hearing this.
She neared and held Chen Rong’s arm, smilingly saying: “It’s warm today. Let’s go for a walk, Ah Rong.”
Walking side-by-side, Chen Wei whispered to her cousin: “I hadn’t been able to sleep for the past two nights.”
She turned her head to a surprised Chen Rong and continued: “Cousin, does your face still hurt?”
Yes, she was just that gentle.
Chen Rong looked at her in surprise, shook her head, and said with a moved expression: “Nay, it has stopped hurting a long time ago. Jiejie, don’t worry about it.”
Chen Wei hummed a reply, her long eyelashes fluttering as she looked to be a little absent-minded.
“What’s wrong?” Chen Rong hurried to ask with concern.
Chen Wei shook her head. After a moment, her mouth curved and then she winked at Chen Rong. “That’s right,” she cheerily began, “what did Wang Qilang say when you met him last night?”
Her smile was natural, her change of tone was also smooth. But as someone who had lived twice, Chen Rong had some understanding of this cousin. Her heart took a dip, her eyes lowered, and she shyly smiled. “Nothing.”
“How can it be nothing?”
Chen Wei sounded a little anxious. “You don’t want to tell me, is that right?” she pursed her lips and said with some chagrin.
Chen Rong’s mind quickly turned before she looked down and sighed for a while. “He, he was not upset with me.”
“And what else?”
“He also said he isn’t a cloud and I’m not mud. He told me to not be too concerned about it.”
Not seeing Chen Wei move for some time, Chen Rong looked up to see a stiff smile on her face. “Ah Wei? Ah Wei?”
By the fourth call, Chen Wei whispered back: “Really?” Her tone sounded a bit complicated: “He said that to you?”
Facing Chen Wei’s questioning eyes, Chen Rong emphatically nodded.
Chen Wei again forced a smile on her face and pressed her lips to say: “All right, let’s not talk about this anymore. That’s right Ah Rong, did General Ran also speak to you last night? What did he say?”
Chen Rong shook her head. Under Chen Wei’s stare, she gently said, “I didn’t say anything, and all he asked was a casual thing or two.”
“What did he ask you?” She sounded a smidge urgent.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Chen Rong hesitated for a moment, looking as though she was pondering. At length, she replied, “He asked about my fellow sisters in the clan. He also said that my approach to problems is like that of a man when I expected there would be a food shortage in Nan’yang and knew to stock up on grains. He said if I weren’t a woman, I could join his camp as a clerk or something.”
Chen Wei was completely stunned this time. “He said you were like a man?” she murmured. “I heard General Ran does not easily praise others, why did he praise you?”
“I don’t know.” Chen Rong shook her head.
“The barbarians call him the ‘Heavenly Prince’. My father said that though the nobles do not like him, the prominent clans along with the Prince of Nan’yang all hold him in high esteem. Father also said even the city of Nan’yang needs his protection at this time. What was his meaning when he praised you?”
“Who can really know the thoughts of a man like him?”
Chen Wei seemed a bit restless by this time. She slowly withdrew her hand from Chen Rong’s arm and tried her best to smile. “Ah Rong, I have something I must go to do. Let’s talk again in the afternoon.”
“I’ll go on ahead. You don’t have to see me out.”
Chen Rong stopped and stared after Chen Wei’s vanishing figure. Slowly, her mouth upturned to reveal an unsmiling smile.
Sure enough, this cousin had come on someone else’s order to probe around. It seemed she was fairly successful at last night’s banquet.
Having lived twice, Chen Rong learned that borrowing someone else’s influence did not necessarily mean she must have his promise. An intimate walk or talk was equally of great use.
The next few days passed by peacefully.
From what Nurse Ping was able to inquire, the Nan’yang house of Wang’s banquet lasted for four nights. In these four nights, clans brought their concubine-born daughters along to attend. Her Uncle Chen Yuan had also brought a daughter born to him by an unloved concubine. She was allegedly very frail. Besides her daily reading, she only meditated for she had the weak frame of a storm-worn blossom.
Then just last night, a small palanquin had quietly taken the sick girl away from the estate, never to return. Nurse Ping said that if you stood near the palanquin, you could hear her weeping.
Even so, Chen Rong knew it was no time to relax. Men like the Prince of Nan’yang could never have too many women in his inner quarters. If she knew this, then Chen Yuan would know it even better.
Winter had arrived.
Those first few days of winter were bright and cloudless. If she could go for a walk on such beautiful days, watching the blue sky and azure waters on the outskirts and speaking to friends, what a pleasure it would be.
In those nice days, Chen Wei next-door had sat in the carriage happy as a bird to drive in and out with the Chen girls of the Nan’yang branch.
Chen Rong also wanted to go. But she did not dare.
She had no other way. She was only a trifling concubine-born girl, looked down upon by everyone in this estate. She couldn’t bother listening to the other girls’ ridicules and insults if she were to join them. Knowing her personality, she feared there would come a time when she couldn’t refrain herself and instead burst out. Then all her efforts would be for naught.
She could also drive to the purlieus with a few servants, but she did not dare to – the refugees who had filled the city of Nan’yang couldn’t have all disappeared. They must be nesting in some remote corner at this time. It was easy for her to leave, but once she left, she might not be able to come back.