I hope my fellow Americans had a great Thanksgiving! And didn’t spend too much money ^_^
Chapter 57: Lament of the Scholar
Chen Rong did not bother about the maids’ increasingly empathic eyes. She only concentrated on making the sky lanterns and releasing them one after another to the sky.
The entire evening was spent by making lanterns and floating them.
By midnight, when Chen Rong had fallen asleep from fatigue, the younger maid gave her companion a push and whispered: “She’s just another pitiful woman, this Ah Rong.” There was a vague melancholy of youth found in her voice.
The next day swiftly arrived.
Early in the morning, reed music filtered past the windows from the woods. Chen Rong slowly opened her eyes and gazed past the silk screens.
The overcast sky was very dark and looking as though it would rain any minute now.
She propped her arms to sit up, hugged the quilt and looked to the sky in a trance.
At the same time, the younger maid called out to her: “Miss, would you like to wash?” Her voice was noticeably milder compared to yesterday; the eyes she used to look at Chen Rong were also faintly sympathetic.
Chen Rong shook her head without looking at her.
Watching a blank Chen Rong, the young maid suddenly spoke. “Miss, even though His Highness often abandons the old for the new, and has the tendency of giving the old to his subordinates, you ultimately will still be wrapped in silk.” At this juncture, she suddenly stopped to recall that Ah Rong wasn’t poor; on the contrary, she came from a large clan and had always enjoyed this kind of sheltering.
Ah Rong raised her head.
Without morning grooming, her face remained surprisingly fresh and fair. She looked at the maid and managed to whisper a thank you.
The young maid bowed her head, stammering: “Don’t mention it,” before hurrying outside.
Gradually, a flute joined the floating reed music. When the distant and lingering flute intertwined with the reed, they produced a sentimentality belonging to springtide.
Chen Rong lowered her eyes, muttering all the while: “There’s already reed music so early in the morning. The Prince’s Estate is certainly home to peace and pleasure.”
She put on her wooden clogs and walked to the screens where the window opened to two beautiful women.
They hastily turned away. By the time they reached a barren peach orchard, Chen Rong had heard one of them say: “His Highness didn’t come to keep the new woman company? That’s rather odd.”
“I asked,” the other replied. “They said she is a guest. Hah, a visiting beauty. His Highness has only ever used this trick five times.”
Taking a deep inhale, Chen Rong ordered: “Bring me water.”
“Aye,” the maids answered her in unison. They came in with a water basin, towel, and some blue salt for washing.
While they quietly helped her wash and comb, Chen Rong asked, “Is there anywhere in the estate I’m not allowed to go?”
The older maid helped put her hair into a cloud-shaped chignon as she answered, “In addition to the main courtyard, you are free to go anywhere within the inner quarters and the east and west wings.”
Chen Rong hummed a reply. She noted that this maid’s plaiting technique was rather ingenious. The quivering cloud chignon gave off a languid loveliness. With no ornamental pin on top, it had a most romantic charm.
Chen Rong wrung her sleeves. She had expected just as much and had taken her own hairpin.
When the two finished their work, Chen Rong rose to turn and leave.
The younger maid gave her long skirt and slender waist a look, cocked her head and murmured: “She has a lovely figure. No wonder the prince has to have her.”
When Chen Rong got to the courtyard, she saw fashionable girls flooding the small path, the pavilions, and everywhere else.
However, her steps halted this time.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
While Chen Rong stood there, a good dozen pairs of eyes stared in her direction. Facing these eyes, Chen Rong suddenly thought: The longer I live in the Nanyang Prince’s estate, the more detrimental it will be to my reputation. Even if I can deal with these women and even if I know what’s going on, the worst will be idle rumors. If they manipulate the things I inadvertently say, then what will I do? Forget it, it’s better for me to return.
Once back, she ordered: “Close the door to the courtyard.”
The two maids looked at her in puzzlement.
Chen Rong stared at them and repeated her order: “Close the door to the courtyard. Regardless who comes, you can’t open it without my consent. Did I make myself clear?”
The two maids looked at each other and then complied.
Once the courtyard closed, Chen Rong ordered them to bring the zither and then began to play.
The piece she played was called “Lament of the Scholar”, a song she had overheard one of the scholars play during her marriage to Ran Min in her past life.
“Lament of the Scholar” was lofty and distant, fairly proud and haughty. It was much to her liking due to its melodious and sinuous appeal, and she, therefore, had always remembered it.
The light zither was born and slowly mingled with the reed and flute, gradually weaving into the gloomy clouds.
Each of the present beauties, even if she did not play the instrument, was at least accustomed to listening. Once Chen Rong’s “Lament of the Scholar” sounded, the girls that had been pointing curiously at her closed doors eventually quieted down.
As they listened, they soon found that this song was a new piece they had not heard before, and quite an elegant one.
Gradually, as the zither heightened, the reed and flute came to a halt.
Steadily, the lofty and lonely zither was the only sound that wove through the dark clouds in the west wing.
A handsomely dressed girl closed her eyes as she quietly listened for a moment. “Actually quite noble,” she murmured.
Another girl with features as gentle as water lowered her gaze. She softly said, “Has the prince forced even someone so upright and honorable to come here? Her life is not for long, it seems.”
Standing behind them, an enticing woman in her thirties sneered: “So what if she’s noble? So what if she’s upright? That’s because His Highness hasn’t slept with her yet. Wait until she has gone to his bed; she would not be playing these sounds then.”
What they didn’t know was that Chen Rong was playing this song to let everyone know she was a guest of the estate, that she hadn’t had intimate relations with the Prince of Nan’yang.
Amid the murmuring and drifting zither, night gradually descended.
By suppertime, the racing wind was whipping leaves and branches, and shaking the shingles outside.
Chen Rong placed her chopsticks down and looked out to the sky. “Is it going to rain tonight?” she softly asked.
Hearing disappointment in her question, the younger maid couldn’t help but chuckle. “Do you want to release lanterns again, miss?”
Chen Rong nodded and hummed an answer.
So rare was her mild demeanor that the maid sighingly advised her: “Miss, you should forget him.”
Chen Rong made no reply.
Just then, the wind subsided outside. Chen Rong placed her utensils down, walked to the courtyard to look up at the gradually dispersing cloud in the sky and said cheerfully: “The stars have come out.”
She turned around, her eyes vividly bright. “Prepare the materials. I want to float at least ten lanterns tonight.”
Chapter 58: Shooting the Lanterns Down
The two maids gave her a sympathetic look and replied, “Aye.”
Before long, a heap of bamboo strips and candles was placed in front of Chen Rong.
Not caring about image, she squatted down and began to focus on making the lanterns.
The night drew on.
Stars filled the sky along the gleaming Milky Way. As time went by, lanterns were floated away again and again.
Chen Rong released her hand and watched the lantern rising from her palm. In the red candlelight, the man’s face on the paper faintly smiled with a cold, distant expression she was afraid to look at.
On the fortress wall.
Seeing the general who was slowly approaching, the soldiers bowed to him. “Good greetings, general.”
The general nodded.
He looked to the dark wilderness out in front where, even with only dotting starlight, he could see a black stretch ahead. This mark had been caused by wildfire.
This was the first thing he did after Luo’yang fell.
He quietly stood on the fortress and, looking toward the horizon for a while, suddenly said, “Thinking back on that year, hadn’t Sun Zhongmou and Zhuge Liang also watched the sky like this, quietly waiting for the other side to attack?”
There were satisfaction and ease in his voice.
The soldiers behind him did not respond. The general had been a scholar. At any given time, he could spout a series of sentiments they had no way of understanding.
The general sighed. He looked back to the wooden soldiers and shook his head murmuring: “The wise are always alone.”
When he finished, he sighed again.
Suddenly, he saw something at a glance and shouted: “What is that?”
The soldiers quickly turned and looked, one laughingly answering him: “It’s a sky lantern. There was quite a few last night; I didn’t expect there to be more tonight.”
The general knitted his brow.
A gust of wind at this time blew a flying lantern to him.
He stared at it and suddenly paled, anxiously yelling: “Shoot it down!”
Seeing his soldiers standing there looking at him in puzzlement, he shouted: “There’s a Hu script on it!”
This was no small matter.
The soldiers shuddered. Almost simultaneously, two young soldiers took their bows and aimed to the sky.
Arrows flew out like meteorites.
Within seconds, a sky lantern had been shot to the ground.
It had just landed on the ground, however, when the crooked candle began to burn through the paper. Not waiting for the soldiers to make their way down the fortress, it soon left only a few charred bamboo strips.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
“Shoot them down, shoot them all down!” the general barked.
“Aye!” orderly answers sounded as a dozen soldiers raised their bows and fired into the sky.
The general watched the arrows flying into the empty space and shouted: “Bring my bow and arrows!”
Before long, his bodyguard had brought a gorgeously painted black bow and three arrows to him.
He raised the bow and drew an arrow.
The lanterns had flown very high by now and the soldiers’ arrows could not reach them. They stopped and turned to look at their leader.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh –
Three consecutive arrows flew out like meteorites in the night sky.
The first shot through a lantern.
Just when the candle inside bent over, the second arrow arrived to put the burning core out.
Directly, the third arrow struck another lantern and put the wick out in one single shot. In the blink of an eye, two lanterns drifted to the ground.
The soldiers cried out in cheers and looked back at their leader with admiration.
He puffed up his chest and barked: “Pick them up!”
Two soldiers ran down and rushed to the fallen lanterns.
Within a short while, the two sky lanterns had been brought before the general.
He put them together and frowned. “They’re the same.”
He picked one up, stared at the portrait on it and murmured: “Who is this?”
Needless to say, no one answered.
He turned the lantern over and looked at the written words on the other side. Staring at the flowery script like that of the Hu, he stood up and yelled: “Shoot all the sky lanterns down!”
“Ask around to see where these had flown in from.”
“Ask Sir Yu to come here. He is familiar with the Hu scripts. I’m sure he’ll know what this says.”
While he was issuing one command after another, almost suddenly, one of his soldiers pointed to the prince’s estate and cried: “Over there. The lanterns are flying out from there.”
The general turned around.
He looked to the rows of houses and eaves and softly murmured, “The prince’s estate?”
“Pay close attention.”
Chen Rong didn’t know her lanterns had been shot down. She was still tirelessly making them, one after another.
The young maid walked to stand behind her and whispered: “Miss, are you tired? Why don’t you take a break?”
Chen Rong looked up.
She was met with the young maid’s empathic eyes. She smiled, looked down again and quietly said, “I’m not tired.” Her voice had started to turn hoarse.
She was too anxious, but today was already the second day.
What she did that day could only keep her safe through tonight. But could it tomorrow and the night after?
“We’ll help you,” the younger maid offered.
Chen Rong’s eyes lit up as she nodded her head vigorously: “Yes? Thank you, thank you.”
The maid shook her head: “Don’t mention it.” She looked to the older servant.
But the other was showing obvious reluctance. The young maid alone squatted down.
Because someone was now helping her, Chen Rong shook her sore arm and leaned back.
At this time, a sorrowful, lingering flute piece drifted in the air. Accompanying the flute was a woman’s singing voice. Seeing Chen Rong looking to the brightly lit building ahead, the younger maid said to her: “I heard the Cui House of Hedong has sent a girl over tonight. The prince is now patronizing her.”
She stared at Chen Rong. When she saw that her face was slightly ashen, she couldn’t help comforting her: “If that girl wins the prince’s heart, then perhaps he will forget you.” There was something vacant about her voice. Those who are forgotten by the prince will still be remembered by his underlings, she had also left out.
Chapter 59: Attending the Banquet
Sir Yu had been invited.
He silently stared at the Hu script on the sky lantern for a length.
The middle-aged general frowned and asked, “Sir Yu, what does this say?”
Sir Yu looked up at him, pointed to the words and replied, “This means Wang, this means Hong.”
“Wang Hong? Does it really say Wang Hong?” exclaimed the general.
Sir Gong nodded. “There are two other words on the back: Ah Rong. It’s also someone’s name. General Wen, the two sides join together to make four words: Wang Hong, Ah Rong. They’re both names.”
General Wen went blank as he murmured: “Wang Qilang? This is related to Wang Qilang?”
A change came over his expression. After a long while, he deeply bowed toward Sir Yu and asked, “Sir, how do you think this matter should be dealt with?”
Sir Yu turned a supercilious eye and answered him: “What’s the big deal? Just give these lanterns to Wang Qilang.”
Detecting hesitation from General Wen, he continued: “You must stay composed when you work with Wang Qilang’s personality.” He then paused and sighed: “But Wang Qilang is not in Nan’yang at present. You’ll have to wait two more days to see him.”
General Wen nodded, laughed and said, “Since these sky lanterns mention Wang Qilang, they must not have anything to do with the Hu. We’ll wait two days, then.” He laughed heartily though uncertainty was still heard in his voice.
Sir Yu nodded, said no more, and bowed to take his leave.
At the prince’s estate.
Another night passed.
Chen Rong had spent an entire night floating sky lanterns. When she at last fell asleep due to exhaustion, in addition to the sky lanterns, she also saw the man she had drawn glowing in her dream.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Early next morning, Chen Rong woke up to a burst of chirping.
With the help of the two maids, she groomed herself and began her day’s routine of playing “Lament of the Scholar”. Fortunately, it was a tolerable piece, else even if she could stand playing it day after day like this, the two maids and nearby women would not be able to bear it.
The afternoon quickly came.
Exhausted from playing, Chen Rong went back to her divan and took a nap. At this moment, the young maid’s voice called from outside: “Miss, are you awake? His Highness has sent someone to invite you to a banquet!”
Chen Rong was awakened from her dream. She sat up staring at the door, asking: “A banquet?”
“Aye,” the young maid answered. “He says for you to freshen up well so that you can attend dinner in half an hour.”
Chen Rong very slowly extended her sleeves. After wiping the sweat on her brows, she blinked and said in lowered voice: “Prepare warm water.”
“Aye,” the maid answered after a brief silence.
Even at the prince’s estate, not every house had a washroom. Besides, Chen Rong’s status was not entitled to such luxury.
The two maids swiftly boiled water and filled a large barrel with it.
Behind the veil of steam, Chen Rong watched her rippling reflection in the water.
The two maids stood on either side but did not urge her when they saw her hesitate.
A while later, Chen Rong opened her arms and said, “Undress me.”
Almost half an hour had lapsed by the time Chen Rong finished washing, combing, and simply putting on a gown.
At the main compound, reed music and songs drifted out. Even from a distance away, she could smell the powder and perfume wafting in the wind.
“Let’s go.” Chen Rong picked up her pace.
The two maids exchanged looks. The younger one bowed her head, curtsied and said, “Miss, please leave behind the hairpin.”
Chen Rong stared at them, smiled coldly, and merely reiterated: “Let’s go.”
She then flapped her sleeves and turned to go.
The maidservants watched her leaving back. “What should we do?” the younger one whispered.
The older shook her head and said, “Pretend like we don’t know. We’ll follow her.”
Twilight was approaching by this time.
The western horizon blazed red with brightly dyed clouds. As she looked to the sky, Chen Rong’s stiff pace began to relax.
Many young and beautiful girls came to attend dinner. But the beauties all without fail turned to look at Chen Rong when they saw her.
Chen Rong had been painstakingly dressed up by the two maids. She had a fine figured to begin with, coupled with the outfit that complemented her skin color and body, she could be said to be so luminous that she overshadowed all those standing around.
Facing the girls’ stunned eyes, she flapped her sleeves and pained herself with the tightening of her grip on the hairpin.
Chen Rong left the west wing.
Walking down the path that led to the main compound, the scents of cosmetics and sound of music gave forth a sense of prosperity. Chen Rong watched the steady stream of beauties as she suddenly thought: Does someone like the Prince of Nan’yang really deserve Ran Min and his men’s protection at the risk of their lives?
This idea only lasted a moment, for she was instantly reminded of the fate of everyone in the city should Nan’yang fell. She shook off the disgust in her heart and went on.
To go from the west courtyard to the main compound only took a few hundred steps. Even if Chen Rong did not ride in a carriage and was moseying very slowly, she arrived within half an hour.
Standing in the yard and watching the brightly lit hall, Chen Rong took a deep breath and strode inside.
The prince’s estate was different from other estates in that whether a woman had status or not, as long as she came to attend a banquet, she would be coming in from the main entrance.
By the time Chen Rong stepped into the hall, in front of her was already a myriad of beautiful women while behind her were still many more.
In front of the hall, the Prince of Nan’yang and his dozen subordinates were sitting on the main divan, sipping wine in enjoyment. With the help of music, they delighted in the scene of beautiful women lightly streaming in.
Chapter 60: Drawing Attention
Chen Rong took a few steps before seeing herself among a group of beautiful women. No one was particularly paying attention to her, and a thought flashed across her mind.
She slowed down and stepped backward as if nothing was happening.
At this time, all the women had assembled and nobody noticed her leaving. Moreover, she had only entered and was therefore only a few steps from the door.
Chen Rong retreated outside.
There, the two waiting-maids were startled by her reappearance. They hastened after her and reached out to pull her sleeve.
Chen Rong bade in a low voice: “Bring my zither here.”
When this was said, she did not turn around, her face smiling.
The pair of maids exchanged glances. The younger one frowned and admonished her: “Miss, stop causing trouble!” Impatience was already detected from her voice.
The older one also iced up as she tiredly asked, “Where do you think we are? Why would you need the zither?”
Chen Rong slowly turned around, staring at the two of them.
They gave a start and involuntarily faltered back.
Chen Rong lifted her soles and joined the beautiful women, again gliding forward.
Only then did the maids exhale in relief.
Chen Rong walked as she looked around, but in the large hall, besides a large number of musicians and beautiful women, there was only a handful of men sitting in the main seats. It seemed these were prince’s favorite subordinates.
Chen Rong carefully observed her surroundings, her hands wringing under her sleeves.
At this time, the beautiful women entering ahead of Chen Rong had each found a place to sit.
The women’s seats were altogether different from the men’s. They were blocks of jade shaped like a stool. Each of these translucent jade was extremely valuable, and yet they had actually been carved into chairs for the women to sit on.
To thus preserve these jade, as well as to enhance their beauty, the women only half-sat on the jade blocks and made sure to straighten their postures.
Chen Rong also sat down on such a jade.
She had scarcely sat down when she heard the Nan’yang Prince order: “Open the main gate.”
Answers from all sides rang out to the appearance of four handsome lads. They went to the entrance and opened the east and west doors.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
A blast of cold current instantaneously rolled in. When this wind rushed into the hall, it swayed the candlelight and blew the women’s long skirts, making them float like lotus leaves. Immediately, tens of hundreds of beautiful women and tens of hundreds of colorful dresses were swaying and blossoming in the wind, the scents of rouge and perfume permeating in the air. It was a scene straight from a painting!
The Nan’yang Prince laughed, clapping his hands as he said to the crowd at large: “Gentlemen, even immortality does not compare to the pleasure we have here.”
All the men followed along to laugh with him.
Meanwhile, Advisor Xu squinted his eyes and leered at these women from head to toe. Soon, he pointed toward a few inside and said, “Your Highness, even though beautiful women are like the clouds, there are five that particularly resemble the moonlight protected by encircling stars, a red flower surrounded by green leaves. One glance and I cannot move my eyes away.”
The prince also narrowed his puffy eyes to stare with interest in the direction his advisor was pointing to. Soon, his eyes fell upon Chen Rong.
Watching her slightly bowed head, full bosoms, round buttocks on the jade block, and thin, slender waist, all culminating in a most beguiling figure, the prince licked his plump lips and croaked: “You’re absolutely right.”
He hooked a finger toward Chen Rong and bade, “Pretty one, come here.”
Dozens of eyes at once turned to Chen Rong.
She slowly looked up to meet his eyes.
The Prince of Nan’yang apparently didn’t expect it to be her. He first widened his eyes, then laughed, “So it’s this young lady? You look so beautiful tonight, my dear, that you’ve made me very pleased. Come, come.”
His tone was disrespectful, his smile odious. He was really treating Chen Rong like a part of his harem.
Chen Rong slowly rose to her feet.
She very slowly straightened her back and walked toward him.
In the large open hall, cool wind swirled her dress like a lotus flower in full bloom, outlining her small waist even more distinctly.
The prince’s eyes were glued to her body, unable to move away come what may.
There was a reticence in Chen Rong’s expression. Under her wide sleeves, her right hand slightly moved and in an instant a golden hairpin had fallen into her palm.
The prince squinted his eyes as he admired her swaying figure, smiling to the crowd at large: “This young lady comes on waves and steps on silks…”
His eyes shifted to her feet. He stroked his short graying beard and pleasantly said, “Next, I will send her to go barefoot on the gravel path. She’ll certainly sway side to side like a rose in the wind.”
They all unanimously praised him. “How extraordinary Your Royal Highness’s literary talent is. Every word you speak becomes poetry.”
“’Swaying side to side like a rose in the wind,’ even Zuo Si’s Odes to the Three Capitals pale in comparison to this line.” (1)
Zuo Si is a poet in the Western Jin period, his Three Capital Odes include ‘Ode to the Capital of Shu’, ‘Ode to the Capital of Wu’, and ‘Ode to the Capital of Wei’.
“Precisely so; such beautiful words would overshadow even Cao Zijian’s ‘Ode to Luoyang’.” (2)
Cao Zijian is better known as Cao Zhi, prince and son of Cao Cao in the Three Kingdoms period.
The Prince of Nan’yang appeared to enjoy the flattery heaped upon him; he raised his head, stroked his short beard, and nodded his head in pleasure.
In the noisy merry-making, powerful footsteps thumped, thumped, thumped across the ground.
A guard came within ten steps of the front hall, clasped his hands, and said, “Your Highness, General Wen requests an audience.”
The prince scowled, waved his hand and barked: “I don’t want to see him. Really, what is he seeking audience at this time for? Cursed!”
“Aye,” the guard answered and then turned around to go.
With the guard gone, Advisor Xu saw Ah Rong pausing and not taking another step. He said, “Miss, what are you still standing there for? Hurry over here.”
The Prince of Nan’yang also turned his head to look at her, smiling pleasantly. “Pretty one, don’t be afraid. There are two things I’m good at in my life, wherein the first is that I treasure beautiful women like jade and gems, hahaha.” The crowd followed suit in laughing with him.
Chen Rong slowly looked up, lifted her soles, and started in the direction of the musicians.
She had barely taken a step by the time the sound of other footfalls arrived. Forthwith, a guard raised his voice to report: “Your Highness, General Sun Yan requests an audience!”