Chapter 77: Young Lover
His warm breath wormed its way from Chen Rong’s ear into her heart, bringing with it a grassy scent that seemed to dissolve her.
Her legs buckled. Ashamed and angry, she watched the mayor of Mo’yang walking away as she took a quick inhale to bark at Wang Hong: “Let me go!”
She elbowed him when he did not comply and again told him to let her go after he gave a grunt.
Wang Hong slightly squinted his eyes at her while clutching his stomach. Then, he raised a lock of her hair to his nose and took a whiff.
He was about to say something when, below the walls, thundering drums drowned out all other sounds and brought with them a deadly air.
Wang Hong gently took hold of Chen Rong’s hand. “I had thought that Ah Rong wasn’t afraid of death,” he said to her with a smile. “It’s all right, don’t be afraid,” he next told her, his voice having softened like mellow spring.
Startled, Chen Rong quickly broke away and turned her head from him.
She saw the Hu slowly retreating to the sides below the walls like a receding tide, making a clear path.
A masked general appeared in the open space. Behind him, a powerful army ceremoniously knelt down on either of his sides.
All Chen Rong could see was rows upon rows of soldiers. Her heart suddenly sank. She placed her hand over her chest and found it the only way she could bring her rampantly pounding heart back down. It certainly appeared that these Hu were united as one! Were the so-called flaws in the past still really there?
At this time, Wang Hong’s light voice sounded beside her: “He is Murong Ke, the Xianbei’s God of War.”
When he didn’t hear Chen Rong’s response, he couldn’t help but turn around.
He was made to see Chen Rong’s ashen face, empty eyes, and lips that were tightly drawn into a line. Down below, the Hu soldiers rose to their feet at Murong Ke’s wave of the hand.
The Xianbei general gazed up at the walls, his eyes translucent behind his mask.
No matter where he was or how many people were around, Wang Hong always seemed to attract attention with ease. Murong Ke only needed to shift his gaze before he found him.
Meanwhile, Chen Rong cast a glance to see that Wang Hong was also looking down at Murong Ke with a smile.
This strange smile was entirely different from his usually nonchalant and gentle expression. It has seemed threatening to her.
Nobody knew whether Murong Ke had seen Wang Hong’s expression. He merely looked up and quietly appraised the man who stood like an unmoving pine in the wind, as airy as a celestial being.
After a while, Murong Ke withdrew his gaze, waved his hand and whispered something to his generals. They spoke quietly and at a far distance that no one could really hear what they said.
“Let’s go,” said Wang Hong at this point.
He flapped his sleeves and took the lead to descend the fortress wall.
Chen Rong briefly dithered before picking up her pace to follow him.
She blindly followed him with her head down as she tried to recall the details she had heard in the past.
Wang Hong stayed ahead and did not say anything.
At length, the beating of drums sounded.
Chen Rong looked up.
She only now realized she had followed him to the streets in town. Mo’yang was surprisingly quiet at present. Even when they saw the occasional pedestrians, these people’s faces would be clouded by restlessness as they hurriedly came and went on the streets that were guarded by marching soldiers.
Chen Rong gave the surroundings a scan before turning her attention back to Wang Hong.
He was still walking in front of her.
In the bright daylight and at such a perilous time, his figure remained straight and tall, clothed entirely in white and enveloped by an air of transcendent unworldliness.
Chen Rong watched him, her lips quivering.
Wang Hong chose this moment to turn around.
His eyes were exceedingly transparent under the sun. He looked at Chen Rong and said with a faint smile, “You’ve been preoccupied ever since we met again. May I know what it is that’s on your mind?”
Chen Rong didn’t have a chance to open her mouth. A burst of rapid hooves was fast approaching them.
“Wang Qilang!” a loud cry woke Chen Rong from her reverie.
A young captain was galloping forth. After he pulled his horse to an urgent stop, he raised his clasped hands toward Wang Hong and relayed: “Sun Yan is looking for you.”
He glanced at Chen Rong who stood next to Wang Hong. Almost at once, he frowned and ironically smiled: “Only you scholars would still be traipsing around with a lover boy at a time like this.”
As soon as these words were said, Wang Hong heard a sharp draw of breath next to him.
He slightly tilted his head.
At his side, Chen Rong’s face had reddened. She shot daggers at the young captain and eventually drew her lips into a tight line.
Wang Hong outstretched his hand to lightly press a slender finger on Chen Rong’s lips.
After successfully stiffening her, he turned around, smiled at the young captain and replied, “We should go, in that case.”
When he finished, he was the first to leave.
The captain alighted from his horse, caught up to him and said, “Murong Ke is here. Qilang, do you think he’ll begin the attack tonight?”
From the front, Wang Hong’s airy voice sounded: “Tonight? He won’t.”
He sounded rather certain.
“Why not?” asked the young captain in surprise.
They talked as they walked, going farther and farther until their figures disappeared around the corner. Only then did Chen Rong stomp on the ground in vexation and made a sound, flushing and gnashing her teeth all the while. But her voice was small and vague, and never did form a complete sentence.
After fuming for a time, Chen Rong turned around.
She kept her head down while limply walking back to the mayor’s estate.
She had scarcely entered the front door when she heard Old Shang’s voice: “Miss.”
Worry was apparent on his face. “Miss, you and Wang Qilang…” he began. He then sighed and murmured: “The city will soon fall. There are only a few more days for indulgences. If you like him, then do as you please.”
Chen Rong didn’t expect to hear such a suggestion from the ever old-fashioned and loyal Old Shang.
She was so infuriated that her small face flamed red. She opened her mouth to curse, but then closed it up, flapped her sleeves, and whipped around to go inside.
She stopped after five paces, whirled back and shouted at Old Shang: “Prepare the carriage. I’m going to see General Sun.”
Chapter 78: Like-minded
Hearing this, Old Shang frowned and said, “General Sun must be busy and can’t get away at a time like this. Miss, not everyone is as patient as Wang Qilang.”
Chen Rong wrinkled her brow and yelled: “Enough nonsense, go on.”
Hearing her resolute voice and thinking of her conduct when they had entered the city gates, he nodded and gave his reply: “Aye.”
The carriage drove to West Street where Sun Yan was staying.
Chen Rong had found out that there were about twenty thousand soldiers in Mo’yang, with the addition of two thousand more Sun Yan had brought with him, and more than ten thousand commoners along with the major clan’s private guards. In total, they had much more manpower than the Hu.
Nonetheless, the opposition was led by the God of War, Murong Ke! In this world, he was only second to Ran Min in military prowess, the reason being this handsome general who perennially wore a mask to the battlefield was notably crafty in his tactics.
Furthermore, if they were to really go to battle, the twenty thousand soldiers in Mo’yang weren’t nearly as good as Sun Yan’s two thousand men. Only when the major clans sent out their private guards might they have any chance.
Sitting in her carriage, Chen Rong organized the information she had collected while frantically searching her memory. She must think and figure out all the important things she had heard in the past.
While Chen Rong was pondering, the carriage stopped and Old Shang announced at the same time: “Miss, we’re here.”
Chen Rong hummed a reply and lifted the curtain.
The north gate appeared before her eyes. Sun Yan’s two thousand men were stationed here, with their general living on the tower.
She hopped down and strode forward.
Soldiers were standing like an unmoving mountain range from the ground to the top. Their eyes did not shift when they saw the pretty lad Chen Rong.
She began to climb the steps.
She had scarcely embarked on the wall when a desolate song rang into her ears: “The world is without heroes and so begins an illegitimate man’s reign. The barbarians run rampant and the Hans’ bones are laid under the snow…”
She looked back to see a raggedy beggar dragging his leg forward, tapping on his broken bowl. His bleak voice drew long to harmonize with the howling wind. Suddenly, the world was cloaked under a frightening chill.
Watching him, Chen Rong couldn’t help thinking: This man is literate and has most likely fallen to destitution after moving south. Not only is he reduced to begging on the street, but he also can no longer guarantee the safety of his life. Not a sentimental girl, she gave him no more than a glance before continuing to stride forward.
She soon reached the tower where she raised her clasped hands to a guard and asked, “Is General Sun here?”
When he saw that she was wearing a noble outfit and footwear, the guard knew she belonged to the gentry. He at once respectfully replied, “General Sun has gone to see the mayor.”
Chen Rong naturally knew he had gone to see the mayor. She raised her voice to say: “I have important business with him. Please let me wait for him inside.”
She had only entered when she heard the guard whisper: “This young lad looks just like a maiden, down to his figure. Unfortunately, someone so beautiful is also waiting to be killed like us.”
For whatever reason, the people in this era had always cherished and valued young, beautiful men. Take this guard for example. He was going to get killed himself, but he only bothered to feel sorry for Chen Rong.
Chen Rong came into the guest hall and chose a corner to sit. It was dark, significantly blurring her figure and facial features.
Time trickled by.
A while later, a tired voice sounded: “Aren’t we supposed to be a team? Clearly, the mayor only wants it his way. Had I known the nobles in Mo’yang are so united, I wouldn’t have brought my brothers to this bloody place.” This extremely disgruntled voice had belonged to Sun Yan.
Another voice, gruff, exclaimed: “It’s useless to say that now. Murong Ke’s tactic of surrounding three while letting one go is written in the Art of War. But if the mayor doesn’t say it’s a ruse then he calls it a bluff. Fine, we’ll let them break out from the west gate.”
At this juncture, Sun Yan harrumphed and wearily said, “Even the Wang retainers are better than these noblemen!”
“Aye, the Wang house from Lang’ya is renowned. But every time Wang Qilang opens his mouth, the mayor always opposes him. Sir, why don’t we listen to Wang Qilang? Let’s gather all the troops and break out from the south gate!”
Chen Rong’s eyes lit up upon hearing these words. Her hands knotted together as her hope rose.
The second voice started again after a short pause: “The barbarians arrived too suddenly… as if there’s something they’re after.”
Sun Yan absently hummed a reply.
“General Sun,” the gatekeeper said at this time, “there’s a pretty young man looking for you. He’s been waiting for a long time in the guest hall.”
He only relayed the facts without recalling that Sun Yan was beautiful himself. The young general hated “pretty” as a word used to describe men. He instantly barked: “I got it. Go.”
The man with the gruff voice laughed. “A pretty lad? How does he compare to our young General Sun?”
“Shut your fuckin trap!” Sun Yan shouted before stalking away.
Clad in armor and with a weary face, Sun Yan soon strode in. He searched around the moment he entered through the door.
Chen Rong quickly got up when she saw him.
He first tilted his head to stare at her, then gave a start and waved his hand: “Out, everybody out for me!”
The young captain also appraised Chen Rong. He did not seem to mind Sun Yan’s rudeness. He only cocked his head to study Chen Rong and then looked back at Sun Yan. “Quite like a pair of sculpted statues,” he murmured after a while.
“Men!” Sun Yan barked.
“Present!” Two guards came in.
Sun Yan pointed to the young captain and shouted, “Kick this guy out for me!”
The guards unhesitatingly complied and went for the young man.
Seeing that he really got mad, the young captain waved his hand. “All right, all right, I’ll leave.” By the time he reached the door, he still peered back inside with a rather annoying look. He glanced at Chen Rong, then at Sun Yan, gave a sigh, glanced back at Chen Rong, then at Sun Yan, and sighed again…
After Sun Yan dismissed his guards, he took a few long strides to Chen Rong, took her hands and shakily said, “Why did you come here, Ah Rong?” His eyes reddened as he angrily yelled: “Ah Rong of the Chen house, do you know where we are? Do you know the consequences of being here?”
Chen Rong wanted to cry when she saw the intensity of his concern. Looking up at him, she suddenly said in a decisive tone: “I know how to break out of here!”
Sun Yan stilled. He placed his hand on Chen Rong’s forehead and questioned, “Little girl, do you know what you’re saying?”
Chen Rong steadily held her gaze and repeated herself: “I know how to take you guys out of here!”
Sun Yan tilted his head. His beautiful face was full of doubt. He reached out and pressed on Chen Rong’s forehead. When he saw her brightly staunch eyes, he raised an eyebrow and released her. He next stepped back and took a seat across from Chen Rong. Having seated, he picked up a bottle of wine, took a swig, then eyed Chen Rong and said, “Repeat that again!”
Chen Rong took her time to gracefully sit down. She overlapped her hands on her knees, straightened her back, stared at him and repeated: “I know how to break out of here.” Not waiting for Sun Yan to respond, she lowered her voice to continue: “But I won’t tell you how I know, or do I want to tell you. Sun Yan, I just know that by the Ox hour at dawnlight tonight, the Hu soldiers at the south gate will suddenly be called away, leaving only three thousand of them behind. These soldiers moreover do not belong to Murong Ke, and will not be united. This will be our only chance of survival.”
Sun San suddenly stared at Chen Rong and asked, “Did Wang Qilang tell you this?”
Chen Rong wasn’t sure what he was talking about.
“Just now, Wang Qilang had carefully suggested this again, but he hadn’t offered any specifics. He only said we should gather all of our troops and break out from the south gate tonight, and perhaps we’d have some hope of surviving. The nobles of Mo’yang didn’t listen to him, however. The mayor didn’t even let him finish talking. Ah Rong, what do you mean by repeating his words?”
“Is that what he also said?” Chen Rong murmured. She lowered her gaze, which caught a ray of twilight that revealed wistfulness in her eyes. “It turns out he doesn’t have any other way either…”
Sun Yan watched her expression in perplexity.
She collected herself, then looked up at him and decisively said, “If they don’t listen to us, then that’s their problem. We’ll leave by ourselves! We’ll bring your two thousand soldiers and the Wang house’s retainers, then break out from the south gate tonight!”
Sun Yan looked her up and down. After a moment, he waved his right hand and shouted: “Anyone out there? Go and invite Wang Qilang over, and tell him that he might have found a best friend.”
Chen Rong’s face lightened upon hearing the footsteps receding in obedience, glowing instantly with a smile. Sun Yan flushed as he watched her enchanting countenance. He slightly tilted his head and looked no more.
The room fell into silence.
“That’s right,” Sun Yan began some time later, “I heard the Wang retainers had been unflappable when they entered the city, even smiling with ease. Ah Rong, you must’ve come in with them.”
Detecting the tone in his voice, Chen Rong reckoned her display of wisdom upon entering the city had not been spread. It appeared to be at Wang Hong’s private behest. She could never see through that man.
Chen Rong checked herself, nodded and replied, “Aye,” a pause, “it was my idea. I knew we could come in from the west gate, and that the Hu would not attack us.”
Sun Yan whipped up looking at her. “It was your idea?”
Sun Yan got up and paced around the room. After a few steps, he stopped and turned to look at Chen Rong with eyes that shone increasingly brighter. “You know warfare strategies?! That’s great! If you also think that way, then we will break out tonight.” He turned and walked outside.
Chen Rong quickly called after him: “You won’t wait for Wang Qilang?”
“Why would I wait for him? I’ll go find the mayor of Mo’yang and the heads of the major clans to tell them my decision. I don’t give a fuck if they don’t listen to us. Wang Qilang is practically a god, I’d rather believe him.” He strode out as he spoke, and was gone in the blink of an eye.
Chen Rong smiled at his departing figure and finally calmed down.
She had been a little rash at the time she had just arrived in Mo’yang. Thinking she was merely a young girl and that no one would believe what she said, she ventured to offer an idea to the Wang entourage in hope that she would win credence and show that she was trustworthy. At the time, it seemed she had achieved the result she wanted. Nonetheless, she hadn’t expected the Wangs to neglect crediting her to outsiders. What’s more, Wang Hong had always brushed her off the several times she tried to speak to him. Luckily enough, what she said happened to coincide with Wang Hong’s words! Luckily enough, Sun Yan was willing to believe the two of them!
Chen Rong slumped onto the divan, raised her wine, and threw her head back for a swig.
The moment she threw her head back, her sight was suddenly darkened. Chen Rong released her cup, used her sleeve to dab her mouth, and then glanced out of the corner of her eye whereupon her graceless wiping stiffened.
A snow-white figure was standing at the door, his head slightly tilting to the side with a faint smile, looking with interest at Chen Rong.
Chen Rong’s face instantly colored.
She knew the nobles in the south placed great emphasis on demeanors and appearances, so much so that they even had special instructions and trainings for their children. Up until now, she had always remembered to behave with a bit more grace in front of others, for it was of great importance. When people believed that one was noble due to his bloodline, then his courtliness was expected to exude from within. If a man was uncouth, they could say that he was straightforward or contemptuous of traditions, that he did not mind what other people said, and that his conduct was befitting of the carefree literati. But if a woman was uncouth, it could only prove that she did not belong to the gentry.
Of course, the reason why Chen Rong placed so much emphasis on it was because these trivial behaviors of hers had been ridiculed by the noble ladies as well as the maids and concubines of the Ran estate in the past. These unending ridicules that jabbed at her self-respect day after day had become a psychological haunt.
To think that she got caught by an illustrious nobleman the first time she exposed her true uncouth self, and he was also the perfectly refined and godlike Wang Hong!
He moved toward her. When he was half an arm’s length away from her, he bent slightly forward and closed their distance.
In the dark corner, his eyes shone as bright as stars. Looking at her with breathing that could be heard, Wang Hong extended his slender fingers to help her wipe the wine from her mouth as he gently said, “How careless of you.” His voice sounded like a spring breeze that was passing by.
At his touch, Chen Rong slowly lowered her hand from the air. She looked to the floor and slowly resumed her sitting position.
At the same time, Wang Hong also took a seat on the divan. He raised the wine and threw his head back for a swig, dabbing at his mouth with his sleeve after – every action being just as Chen Rong had done. And yet, his elegance was that which truly exuded from within. They had been the exact same actions, but there was a completely different charm when he performed them compared to everyone else.
It was enough to put others to shame. Chen Rong sighed quietly but was grateful to him. He was, she knew, comforting her in his own way.
Wang Hong let go of his wine-stained sleeve, lifted his eyes to look at Chen Rong and asked, “Didn’t Sun Yan say I might find my best friend here? Why is it that he himself isn’t here either?
Hearing him, Chen Rong immediately put away her wandering thoughts. She straightened her back, took a breath and then looked at Wang Hong. “I’ve just told Sun Yan that the Hu soldiers at the south gate will suddenly be transferred away at the Ox hour tonight, leaving only three thousand soldiers behind. These soldiers are moreover not under Murong Ke’s camp; they are not united. That will be our only chance of survival.” In the dark, her expression was steadfast, but her eyes were a bit evasive when she faced Wang Hong. “After Sun Yan decided to call you here, he had gone to look for the mayor of Mo’yang. He said that if they do not listen to him, he will take his two thousand men and break out of here themselves.”
She said all of this in one breath, after which silence resumed in the room.
Wang Hong looked at her, slowly poured himself some wine and softly smiled. “So the best friend Sun Yan spoke of was you, Ah Rong.”
He kept his voice light, and Chen Rong didn’t know whether he meant it as a compliment or something else.
He emptied his wine and placed the cup down. “If that’s the case, then let’s do as you say.”
Ecstatic, Chen Rong couldn’t help but ask: “Why aren’t you asking me why I can be so certain?”
Wang Hong tilted his head looking at her with a smile. “Would you tell me if I asked?”
Chen Rong shook her head.
He laughed and said, “Then why should I ask you?”
She also gave him a smile as she lowered her head.
At this time, Wang Hong’s pleasant voice sounded: “Ah Rong, you’re blushing again.”
Chen Rong dropped her gaze, wrung her hands and murmured: “I’m always making a fool out of myself in front of you.”
“Is that so?”
“Aye.” She mustered up all of her courage to look at him, blinking and appearing as though she was waiting for his consolation.
He did not console her. He curved his lips and lightly said, “You have to be careful.”
Be careful? What did he mean? Was he saying that she had always been an uncouth person, so she needed to be more careful?
All of a sudden, Chen Rong’s small face turned ruddier. She pursed her lips, but did not form any words.
She did not notice that, at this time, Wang Hong was lazily studying her from the shadows.
A while later, Chen Rong composed herself and inwardly bristled: So what if he found out? He isn’t a prattling person who will go around to tell others about my uncouth nature. I… I won’t marry him either, so why should I care what he thinks? She felt much better at this thought.
The sky was darkening.
Chen Rong watched Wang Hong drinking his wine and somehow did not feel the passage of time.
This was a very strange thing. Sometimes, she truly felt that time went by very quickly whenever she was with him, even when nothing was said.
They sat that way for some time before hurried footsteps approached them. These footsteps swiftly made their way to the stairs and were followed by Sun Yan’s command: “Tell our brothers to make dinner and prepare to act. Remember to keep your voices down.”
Forthwith, Sun Yan entered the hall. He strode to Chen Rong and Wang Hong, reached for the cup on the table that Chen Rong had drank from, threw his head back and took a swig.
He next placed the cup down and, without paying attention to Chen Rong and Wang Hong’s expressions, angrily fumed, “These Mo’yang nobles are fucking annoying. Fuck! They insist on breaking out from the west gate and won’t let me take my soldiers away. Motherfuckers, they want my men to be the first to die.”
He sat down and said to Wang Hong, “I already know what they decided. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Wang Hong, I’m not going to let them know what I’ll do.” There was a faint unease in his voice.
It was understandable. Every move at this time would implicate the lives in the city. If Sun Yan were to act on his own, it would be a huge blow to the people of Mo’yang who were counting on his two thousand men. Thus, he looked at Wang Hong and waited for his verdict.
“If it’s been decided, then act on it,” Wang Hong smilingly said.
“You agree?” Sun Yan exclaimed in excitement.
Wang Hong smirked, lightly saying: “They’re too like-minded. If you tell them that you want to break out on your own, they’ll only lock you up and then take control of your soldiers.”
Sun Yan sprang to his feet, growling: “I dare them to!” As soon as his shout was let out, he recalled that the seemingly refined mayor of Mo’yang was actually someone who would do such a thing at a time like this.
At this thought, he said resolutely, “Good, we won’t let them know. We’ll break out of here ourselves.” He again reached for Chen Rong’s half-drank cup.
But he was grabbing at empty air.
Wang Hong had unhurriedly and gracefully reached out to take Chen Rong’s cup ahead of him. He then threw it into the corner as if he was tossing away rubbish, held the bottle and poured each of them a new cup.
He did this series of actions so smoothly that Sun Yan naturally did not notice anything out of the ordinary. He pulled his hand back, lifted the wine cup Wang Hong had filled and drank up.
Chen Rong had taken a pause at first, but when she saw Wang Hong’s natural actions, his smiling face and tranquil countenance, thought nothing more of it.
Edited: Here is Hamster’s low-tech explanation of the situation:
The Hu’s expansion campaign begins from the north and thus far, they had captured Luo’yang. So it makes sense that the majority of their troops will be at the north gate. They also blocked east and south because those are easily accessible from Nan’yang, where aids would most likely come from. Thus Chen Rong suggested entering from the West. But now, if they think they can get out the same way (like the mayor thinks, though he attributed it to a double bluff instead of a single bluff) then they are wrong because Murong Ke had purposely left it open to lure them. It’s the south gate that would open up. This is why Wang Hong also deduce the same conclusion as Ah Rong.
He had likely died previously because he had not gotten concurrence from the others and did not have Sun Yan’s support.