Chapter 65: Ran Min and Chen Rong
The news that Wang Qilang had sent gifts along with the fact that he had stayed with Chen Rong through two days and nights at the prince’s estate simultaneously traveled through the grapevines. Almost suddenly, Chen Rong discovered that carriages and young ladies were coming to visit her courtyard in streams.
It was the third day following Chen Rong’s return to the estate.
With the laughter in the guest hall ringing in her ears, she gave Nurse Ping a wink and quietly made her exit. She was drained by these people’s endless questions and insinuating words after a full hour of conversation with them.
Nurse Ping quietly nodded her head when she saw her retreating.
Chen Rong walked to the back door, made a turn, and then stepped into the bushes.
It was a warm and sunny day. She looked around, paused, and then thought of returning to her room to take the riding-whip out for some fun.
At this moment, a soft voice gave sound beyond the garden walls: “I heard there are now traces of the barbarians outside the city.”
After a brief silence, it was Chen Shu’s voice that answered: “General Ran is on his way. He says he’ll be here by noon.” Worries lurked in his voice.
Ran Min has come back? Chen Rong smirked and turned around to go.
After only two strides, however, she suddenly stiffened and couldn’t make another movement.
Ran Min has come back? At this time?
That’s not right; something’s not right.
… She started. There was something, yes, she remembers it now. Something big should occur with his return this time.
Chen Rong rushed into her house like the wind. She then took the riding-whip from her bedchamber and ran back outside.
“Ah Rong, Ah Rong, where are you going?” Chen Qian called after her.
“Ah Rong, why are you holding a whip?” Chen Wei likewise exclaimed. “That’s for boorish men.”
Chen Rong didn’t answer them. Her feet flew and carried her away like an arrow. In the blink of an eye, she had left the girls behind in a whirlwind of dust.
They stood dumbstruck. go to moc.824retsmah
Chen Rong hastened as fast as she could to the stable and shouted to a servant: “Take me to the north gate!”
It had been some time since the boy last saw his mistress panicking this badly. “Aye,” he answered and picked out a good coach, jumping onto the driver’s seat.
Chen Rong gazed out toward the sun in the sky, pressing: “Drive faster!”
“A little faster.”
Under her repeated urging, Chen Rong’s carriage gained speed and, with no heed for the gatekeeper’s questioning, rushed out of the Chen estate.
Nan’yang was emptier than it had been two days prior. There were no pedestrians on the streets, and even the noblemen’s outing carriages were nowhere to be seen.
Under these circumstances, her carriage smoothly arrived at the north gate.
The vehicle suddenly came to a stop. “Miss,” the driver’s uncertain voice said to her.
Chen Rong lifted her curtain. go to moc.824retsmah
She saw two rows of heavily armed soldiers stationed at the gate. As she gazed upward, some dozen middle-aged scholars in long robes and tall headpieces appeared at the top of the walls. She at once recognized them. There were Sir Yu, Zhang Gongqian, and even Chen Gongrang of the Chen estate – all were influential clan chiefs in the city of Nan’yang.
Chen Rong withdrew her gaze, saying: “Go forward.”
Seeing her firm expression, the servant cried “Yah -” and propelled the vehicle forward once more.
At this time, Chen Rong had drawn her curtain all the way up, presenting herself and everything inside the carriage to the soldiers.
They peered at her and then withdrew their spears.
Moments later, the carriage had driven out of the north gate.
As they exited, Chen Rong heard a soldier mutter: “I can’t believe she’s taking a trip at this time.” His voice unnerved the driver, who turned around and say: “Miss, let’s…”
Chen Rong interrupted him, saying decisively: “Continue forward.”
They drove out of the city limits and onto the highway.
The road was bleak, with little more than dry wilderness on either side. From time to time, they could see blocks of tiny huts and refugees who lay by the roadside, their stench assailing their nostrils.
“Miss,” the driver blurted upon seeing this scene.
“Don’t speak. Steer the carriage straight ahead. If there are refugees in the way, I don’t care who they are, run over them.” She had now lowered the curtain down.
The driver reluctantly obeyed and drove the carriage forward.
The farther they went, the more thatched huts and refugees appeared to them on either side of the road. Chen Rong even saw some young ones digging up grass to eat. There were ten to twenty people who huddled together for warmth. Their eyes lit up when they saw Chen Rong’s lone carriage coming toward them. At someone’s croaky command, two young children staggered out to the middle of the road.
The driver involuntarily slowed down when he saw them in the way.
“Why are we slowing down?” Chen Rong asked from the carriage.
“Two wee ones in the road, miss,” the driver nervously answered. “One of them a baby girl. They be blocking us.”
Chen Rong’s face sank as she ordered: “Yell at them to move out of the way. Don’t let the carriage slow down!”
“Aye.” The driver gave his whip a flick and shouted: “Get outta the way, outta the way! Outta the way for me!”
His shouts grew increasingly harsher, but the two children stayed rooted on the road. Worse, a young woman also rose to her feet and came out to stand behind them.
The driver’s shouts were growing anxious; he yelled: “I told ya to move, d’ya hear me?”
Chen Rong gave a listen and then lightly lifted a corner of the screen. She looked to the road ahead where seventy to eighty people had gathered; behind them were a dozen children corpses. These corpses had completely been scraped out, as if each and every piece of flesh had been licked off and the bones had been boiled many a time for them to be that clean. She looked at the three people blocking the roadway, pulled her curtain down, and forcibly ordered: “Full speed ahead.”
“Them just children, miss!” the driver exclaimed.
“Go full speed ahead if you don’t want to die!” There was a ruthlessness in Chen Rong’s voice that belonged to one who had been used to seeing death. In truth, she had seen her share of manslaughter when she had been with Ran Min in her previous life. “Go! I command you to go!” yelled Chen Rong when she didn’t receive the driver’s answer.
Finally, the driver clenched his teeth to reply: “Aye.” He screamed at the top of his lungs: “Get outta the way, d’ya hear me? I’ma run over ya if ya don’t! Yah…”
Clopping horseshoes, rolling wheels. Seeing that they weren’t slowing down, Chen Rong’s heart finally settled.
The carriage went faster and faster. go to moc.824retsmah
The two children and the woman standing in the middle of the road stayed where they were. They didn’t mean to dodge at all.
Next to them, a man with eyes as large as bells screamed out: “Stop the carriage, stop the carriage quickly.”
Behind him, another beautiful young woman cried: “Stop the carriage, stop the carriage. You wicked nobles!”
Two men nearby watched this scene with wooden eyes and a doltish expression.
As the carriage sent dust scattering high, Chen Rong ordered her driver: “Ignore them and press on!”
“Aye.” The driver cracked his whip, shut his eyes and yelled: “Yah…!”
The carriage pulled through. Bang, bang, bang. The carriage suddenly leaned over and slowed down.
A dozen cheers erupted while the refugees surrounded their carriage.
The driver quickly opened his eyes. His driving technique remained quite excellent. Within a few shouts, the carriage had been stabilized.
It surged through, knocking the band of refugees and also flinging the three bloody bodies behind.
The driver turned around and almost vomited at what he saw.
The man with bell-like eyes walked to the three wounded ones with a knife. At the swing of his blade, their twisting bodies ceased to move.
Next to him, the beautiful young woman led several others to fill ceramic pots with the flowing blood.
The driver retched twice and couldn’t help himself from saying to Chen Rong: “Miss, good thing ya smart.”
Chen Rong didn’t answer him. go to hamster428
The carriage rushed along for an hour until a blanket of dust appeared ahead. A banner with the character “Min” seemed to loom in the midst of it.
“Stop,” Chen Rong ordered when she saw the banner.
“Aye.” The carriage slowly came to a stop on the side of the road.
Chen Rong lifted the curtain to see that the distant smoke was suddenly approaching them.
She opened the carriage’s door and peered outside.
Under the banner, that black armored man, handsome and cruel, turned to look at her while another man was whispering something to him.
He waved his right hand and brought the 200-people queue to a stop.
Ran Min rode his horse near Chen Rong. Shortly, he halted his fiery red stallion and regarded her. He raised his clasped hands and politely said, “It’s all thanks to you that Sun Yan’s provision raising was successful. I’m much obliged.”
Chen Rong regarded him. Faced with his dark, smiling eyes, she lowered her head, slightly bowed and said, “Please come over, General. I have something to say.”
Ran Min kicked the horse’s girth and came to her side.
He leaned in very close, close enough that she could smell the familiar essence of him.
Chen Rong looked up. She glanced behind him and whispered, “Are you returning to Nan’yang, General?”
“I am.” Ran Min raised an eyebrow in surprise, suddenly asking: “Have you left the city by yourself just to look for me?”
Chen Rong nodded. go to hamster428
Ran Min’s expression sobered up. He raised his clasped his hands to her again. “Please speak.”
Chen Rong gazed down and asked, “Have you arrived with a few assistant generals who came from gentry backgrounds?”
Ran Min regarded her and said in displeasure, “Sun Yan even told this kind of thing to a woman like you?”
Chen Rong whipped her head up looking at him. Glaring, she said, “This woman has risked her life to come here only to tell you one thing. The City of Nan’yang is currently swamped with rumors. Many among the literati believe that you will attack Nan’yang in Shi Hu’s stead. But there are also those who don’t believe such stories and know that you despise the barbarians. Many nobles will come to greet you upon your arrival at the city. If, at this time, your men were to unexpectedly assassinate several highly respected clan chiefs, what would you do?”
Chen Rong lifted her small chin, staring at Ran Min. “Hmph, do you think I want to come here?” she scathingly spat. “If I hadn’t heard a few whispers and sensed that something may be amiss, I wouldn’t have bothered to come.”
At this juncture, she flicked the whip in her right hand and yelled at her driver: “Let’s go!”
He complied and began to put the vehicle into motion.
Just then, Ran Min reached for Chen Rong’s wrist. He stared at her, lowering his voice to say: “Let’s go together.”
Casting a glance, he noticed blood on her carriage and horses. He promptly grinned at her. “You went as far as taking lives just to see me, little miss?”
Chen Rong gave a scoff. She twisted her left hand to shake off his grasp.
Ran Min’s grip grew tighter. go to moc.824retsmah
With her so near to him, he slightly leaned over and charged: “Stay still while I go question them. We’ll leave together after I’m done.”
His warm breath had tickled her ear when he spoke. Before she knew it, her small face was flushing, and her heart was beating erratically.
Ran Min first raised an eyebrow before studying her carefully. “Only now do I know how bewitchingly beautiful you are, little miss,” he suddenly crooned.
“Hold your tongue!” growled Chen Rong. She raised her whip and viciously added: “Say things like that again and don’t blame me for being ruthless!”
Ran Min had paused at first before his laughter gave sound. As he laughed, he turned his horse and returned to the troop.
Seated on horseback, he surveyed the crowd with an icy glare. Shortly after, he pointed his spear and barked, “You, you, you, you, and you. Come out for me!”
The five men he referred to traded looks, hesitated, and then shuffled out.
Whoosh. Ran Min’s spear pointed to the throat of the man in the middle.
The spear’s tip was bone-chillingly cold as it was frightening. The man involuntarily reeled backward, warbling as he did: “General, why are you doing this?”
Ran Min’s handsome face iced up. “Speak!” he roared. “For what purpose did Shi Hu send you here?”
Thump. The nobleman standing fourth from the right dropped to the ground – his knees had gone soft for some reason.
Upon seeing this, Ran Min glared with a ray of icy ferocity: something’s indeed awry!
He lifted his right hand and thrust the spear forward.
The scholar who was pointed at by the long spear could not hold out. He dropped to his knees and cried: “D-don’t kill me. I’ll talk, I’ll talk… His Majesty, His Majesty said your heart is entirely with the Han people. That won’t do, so he wants us to kill some respected clan chiefs when you enter the city.”
It was just as Ah Rong of the Chen house had said. But she was only a young girl, where did she hear such accurate and confidential information? In spite of himself, Ran Min turned and stared at Chen Rong.
What he saw was a beautiful, delicate girl. go to hamster428
Ran Min averted his gaze from her and returned his attention to the scholars, issuing a low bark: “What about the Prince of Nan’yang? Does His Majesty want you to kill him while you are at it too?”
The scholar repeatedly shook his head. Crouching on the ground, he hastily answered, “Nay, nay, His Majesty said the old fogy poses no problem even if he’s in Nan’yang.”
Ran Min withdrew his spear. “Li Wei,” he called.
“Drag them down and find out whether they have other accomplices. They’re yours to deal with afterward.”
“Aye!” A lanky middle-aged man who seemed rather forbidding rode out of the line, waved his hand and started to drag the pleading scholar away.
Ran Min turned his horse to Chen Rong. When he saw that she was still turned away, he faintly smiled and said, “Stop looking. There’s nothing scenic that way, nor handsome men!”
Chen Rong scoffed and turned back to look at him.
As they faced each other, Ran Min frowned and quite sincerely asked, “Little miss, have I really not offended you?”
“No,” Chen Rong quickly replied. go to moc.824retsmah
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure.” Chen Rong gave him a supercilious glance. “We’ll leave now that we’re done here,” she added and reached for the curtain, intending to pull it down.
Like lightning, Ran Min’s hand outstretched to fasten her wrist before sliding down and taking hold of her hand.
His large palm completely encased her smaller one. Chen Rong’s blush instantaneously reached her neck. She gazed up with panic and tears in her eyes.
Greatly befuddled, Ran Min again drew near. They were only inches apart this time, their breaths lacing each other.
From his height, Ran Min stared at her beautiful face as his thin lips, intentionally or otherwise, touched her small crimson face.
Chen Rong seemed to be scared senseless by the contact of his lips. Her mouth gaped while she tearfully looked up at him.
Ran Min’s eyes did not stray away from her as he watched every change in her expression. Upon seeing her look, which had changed from condemnation to surging tears and grievances in a matter of seconds, his brow furrowed as a hint of an amused smile appeared on his flawlessly handsome face. His thin lips upturned to hoarsely articulate: “Ah Rong of the Chen house, I’ll ask the Chen estate for your hand in marriage.”
“No!” Chen Rong as good as screamed out loud. Her hands came up, wildly beating his chest. “Stay away from me.”
Ran Min didn’t move, letting her push him. He reached out to gently wipe the tears from her face. Then, he gazed down at the teardrop on his fingertip and swallowed it into his stomach.
Chen Rong was surprised by what he did. She parted her rosy lips as she watched his movements in disbelief.
“A little salty,” Ran Min declared with a raised eyebrow after he had sipped her tears. He next stared up at Chen Rong, asking: “You truly haven’t met me before?”
“I said no!”
Ran Min lightly chuckled at Chen Rong’s low growl. He reached out once more to caress her face. His calloused fingers gently stroked her cheek until, little by little, he had slowly wiped her face of all its tears. He then bowed his head, his nose almost touching hers, as he softly asked, “Don’t you want me to marry you?”