Chapter 80: Jealousy
Wang Hong stroked Chen Rong’s porcelain face and faintly smiled. “Listening to your tone, you must know her very well?” He raised an eyebrow, slowly adding: “Ah Rong does whatever she pleases and I do whatever I please. Don’t you think you’re concerning yourself too much, general?”
Sun Yan angrily balled his hand into a fist and was about to throw a punch at Wang Hong’s face, just as Chen Rong chose this exact moment to stir awake. While Sun Yan paused, she poked her head past him, gripped the shaft, and retched.
Color was finally restored to her face once she vomited. Not paying much attention to his ire, she looked up at Sun Yan and shakily asked, “Where’s Old Shang, is he here? Is he still alive?”
They never thought the first person she asked for upon waking up would be her servant.
Sun Yan hadn’t opened his mouth by the time Wang Hong pulled her back into his arms. He gently looked into her eyes and reassured her that: “Old Shang’s fine.”
At the same time Wang Hong answered her, a Wang servant added: “Miss, that old servant of yours had fainted. His leg got wounded by an arrow so he was bleeding a bit. Don’t worry, he won’t die.”
Having received this answer, Chen Rong relaxed, exhaled, and closed her eyes. It wasn’t long before her eyes flew open again. Looking up, she saw that Wang Hong was holding her while looking at a cranky Sun Yan with slightly amused eyes. Chen Rong broke into a smile and murmured: “You’re both here. I’m so very glad.” As though she had spent all her strength, her eyes closed again and her limbs slackened.
Sun Yan harrumphed, grabbed Chen Rong’s arm and, after giving Wang Hong a warning glare, pulled her out of the carriage. He staggeringly stuffed her into another carriage, then turned and shouted: “Got enough rest? Let’s move it.”
Everyone swiftly complied. They urged their horses, took arms, and made sure that their wounds were well bandaged. Those who could continue to ride, rode; those who couldn’t ride were thrown onto the carriages. The cavalcade again rushed away in the direction of Nan’yang.
As they pressed on, unending battle cries and neighs could still be heard from Mo’yang.
Looking at the growing number of torches at the south gate, Sun Yan quietly thought: It seems the barbarians have begun to send reinforcements from the other gates. If those nobles hesitate any longer, they are going to lose their chance. However, it had nothing to do with him, for he felt he had done everything he could.
In the dark, the crackles of fire and cries became the main sounds that helped mask their footsteps.
They hastened on and soon found that dawn had arrived. They had gone 100 miles from Mo’yang and finally reached safety.
The crowd cheered loudly and began to dismount the vehicles and horses. The moment they got off, the horses staggered with some even foaming at the mouth. It was time to rest.
By the time Chen Rong recovered her spirit, daylight had lit the sky. She sat up, stretched her sleeve to wipe her eyes, and found blood stains on it.
While she was staring at her sleeve in a daze, a familiar voice called to her: “Miss.” It sounded weak, as if it wanted to cry but also to laugh; it was Old Shang’s voice.
Chen Rong raised her head to see Old Shang crawling over to her, shakily saying: “Miss, we got out alive.” And then he burst into tears.
On Chen Rong’s wan face bloomed a brilliant smile. “Yes, we got out alive,” she hoarsely repeated. “And so did they.” Her eyes shone brightly as she spoke, her face likewise vibrant. She sat upright, reached for the curtain, and looked outside.
Watching Wang Hong’s carriage and Sun Yan on horseback, Chen Rong shakily whispered, “Old Shang, I have gone to hell and back with them. From this day forth, my situation should be better.”
Old Shang didn’t expect this would be the first thing she thought about after waking up. He momentarily grinned and replied, “Aye,” giving her a look of sympathy and heartache.
Sun Yan turned around to see Chen Rong poking her head out of the carriage. He galloped over to her, leaned a little forward and whispered: “I’ve already warned them. They’ve agreed not to speak nonsense. You can rest assured, Ah Rong.”
“What are you talking about?” she quizzically asked.
Caught for words, Sun Yan stared at her and clamped his mouth with no intention to explain. He waved his hand to one of his soldiers and shouted: “Bring the bamboo tube here.”
“Aye.” The soldier handed him a freshly cut bamboo tube.
Sun Yan stuffed it into Chen Rong’s hands and told her, “Clean the blood on your face.” When he finished, he turned to go back.
Two paces later, he stopped and turned around to look in Chen Rong’s direction, wanting so say something to her but decided not to after some thought.
The bamboo tube was filled with water, which Chen Rong used to clean her face and rinse her mouth.
At the time she threw the tube away, she could see Wang Hong dressed in a black robe, strolling in the wilderness with his hands clasped behind his back. The cold wind was blowing his hair, brushing it across his handsome face.
Looking at his profile, Chen Rong could not help but think: Whenever I see him, I’m always made to feel that I’m in a wondrous place. This man always has excellent bearings and graceful manners that he makes others feel small.
She withdrew her gaze. Having suddenly remembered something, she slightly tilted her head and asked Old Shang with a lowered voice: “Old Shang, wasn’t I in Wang Qilang’s carriage before?”
“Aye, it was General Sun who brought you back.” His voice remained the same.
Chen Rong’s face was turning from white to ruddy, then ruddy to white, however. After a long pause, she suddenly exclaimed: “So this was what Sun Yan meant.” She raised her curtain and walked to him.
Sun Yan was talking to a young captain. When he saw her approach, he waved his hand to dismiss the other man and walked up to her.
At three paces from him, Chen Rong gave a curtsy and gratefully said, “Thank you for that.”
Sun Yan’s beautiful face flared up in irritation. He stared at Chen Rong for a long while and then suddenly asked, “Do you like Wang Hong that much?”
When Chen Rong’s response didn’t come fast enough, he scoffed, “You’re not even betrothed but you’re already throwing yourself at him! Ah Rong of the Chen house, have you decided to be his concubine?”
Chen Rong turned cold; she replied by reflex, “No!”
Sun Yan’s rigid face slightly relaxed. He glared and her and snapped, “Then be a little more careful!” He seemed to be very angry at Chen Rong when he harrumphed and turned away.
She began to chase him but stopped herself.
Unconsciously, she looked back in Wang Hong’s direction. She suddenly stiffened at this turn. Wang Hong was folding his arms in front of his chest, watching her and Sun Yan… for some reason, his eyes flustered Chen Rong.
At this time, Sun Yan’s loud bark gave an order: “We’re leaving right after breakfast.” He glanced to see Chen Rong and Wang Hong trading glances, and harrumphed in disgust.
He wasn’t far from Chen Rong, and she had heard his disapproval loud and clear. She shuddered, quickly withdrew her gaze and went back to her carriage with her head bowed low.
After partaking some dried food, they took off again.
With Mo’yang farther and farther behind them, people gradually allowed themselves to be more at ease.
At noon, the scouts sent by Sun Yan returned and relayed that the Hu were sighted near a fork ahead, but they were few in number.
Since they were few in number, there was no need to fear and the team moved on.
By late afternoon, Sun Yan chose a site to camp so that the troops can begin a thorough rest.
Chen Rong languidly leaned against the carriage wall. With Mo’yang far away, her heart also eased up. For some reason, the relaxation made way for an overwhelming exhaustion, and her limbs felt strengthless as though she was seriously ill.
The moon came out in the evening.
Sun Yan pulled Chen Rong to a tree. She lazily leaned against her seat, looked up and watched the moon in the sky.
At this time, the melodious zither floated to them.
Chen Rong slowly turned around.
She saw Wang Hong sitting in the wilderness with a zither placed in front. His delicate fingers flitted across the strings. Like the silvery moonlight, his profile was also emitting a faint glow. At this very second, he seemed as if he belonged in a painting, unreachable by her… He was clearly right there close to her, but she felt they were separated by rivers and hills.
Chen Rong idly turned sideways to watch him, enjoying the arresting sight under the moonlight.
There were sounds of death in his usually ethereal music. As she listened, Chen Rong could almost see a blood moon in the sky.
At this time, her leg received a kick. She looked up in surprise to find Sun Yan’s glower. She glared at the handsome boy and asked, “What?” Because she was tired, her voice had started to sound hoarse.
Sun Yan glared back in annoyance, looked around, and lowered his voice to tell her: “You were drooling.”
Chen Rong gasped. She quickly wiped her mouth before stiffening half way through. “Liar.”
Sun Yan gave her a supercilious look and unceremoniously sat down. He had taken off his armor and was now wearing a blue robe. He sat in front of Chen Rong, hugging his knees to watch the sky for a while, then suddenly asked, “Ah Rong, do you really like Wang Qilang?” He hadn’t looked at her, but his question was serious.
Chen Rong thought about it. “Aye.” She paused, and then innocently smiled, “Doesn’t every girl in the world like a man like him?”
Sun Yan turned around. There was something strange about the way he looked at her that Chen Rong didn’t quite get. After some time, he suddenly got up and turned to go, his footsteps striding faster and faster.
Chen Rong opened her mouth to call him back, but stopped when she saw several people staring her way.
By the time Sun Yan had gone twenty paces, a series of clopping hooves approached.
All chatters halted. Some hastily turned and ran to their horses. They had all experienced killing and deaths, and knew something must’ve happened the moment they heard the horse hooves.
Sun Yan also stopped, his handsome face growing somber.
The rider approached him, dismounted and gave a bow. “General Sun, our men are spotted a hundred miles from here. They said General Ran and Murong Ke had met up.” He looked up, raised his clasped hands toward Sun Yan and hastily said, “The general does not have sufficient force. General Sun, let’s go lend him a hand.”
“Alright,” Sun Yan quickly made up his mind.
Wang Hong finally finished his tune at this time. He slowly dropped his hands from the instrument and looked up at Sun Yan. “Murong Ke? Where is he right now?”
“There’s a valley a hundred miles to the west from here,” replied the soldier.
Wang Hong turned to look in the direction the soldier told him and murmured, “So that’s what happened.”
“What?” asked the young captain who was on good terms with Sun Yan.
Wang Hong faintly smiled. “The troops were transferred away from the south gate last night because Murong Ke had wanted to use them against Ran Min. It seems your general has come pretty quick to have taken Murong Ke by enough surprise that it was too late for him to call his own men.”
The young captain had a square face, a dark complexion, and a large booming voice to go with his large body. When he heard Wang Hong’s explanation, he came to realize the situation and thus proudly said, “I heard Murong Ke is bent on killing all the Han heroes, especially those who has an understanding of the military. But defeat is his only option when it comes to our general.” He excitedly went on: “Once, our general only brought with him 2000 men, but he was able to repel 15000 of his. If you ask me, there’s no one who can rival our general in this world!”
He was still basking in pride when Sun Yan shouted: “Li, shut your yapping for me. The general’s still waiting for us to bring reinforcements.”
The young man named Li shuddered and quickly replied, “Aye.” He raised his head, turned and ran back to his subordinates.
While people were finishing up, Sun Yan urged his horse to Wang Hong’s side. He stared down from above and shouted, “Wang Hong, will you return to Nan’yang by yourself or will you go with us to see General Ran?”
Since last night, Sun Yan had started to shout and scream at Wang Hong whenever he saw him, with not one thought given to cordiality.
Wang Hong smiled and turned his gaze to Chen Rong, slowly walking toward her.
Sun Yan’s hair stood on their ends as he yelled: “Stop right there!” When he saw nearby people looking at him, he lowered his voice, stared warily at Wang Hong and asked, “Wang Qilang, what are you doing?”
Wang Hong merely smiled as he watched Sun Yan baring his claws. He beckoned Chen Rong over and insouciantly explained, “Nothing, I just want to call my darling over to ask for her opinion.” Whether he was intentional or not, there was an extra emphasis placed on the word “darling”. He amusedly watched Sun Yan and unhurriedly remarked, “You look so nervous, general. Or have you taken a fancy to Ah Rong of the Chen house and want to marry her?”
Sun Yan froze on the spot at these words.
Chapter 81: Return to Nan’yang
Wang Hong smiled to see that he was speechless.
At this time, Chen Rong saw Wang Hong waving to her and thus quickly came over. Seeing Sun Yan’s irritated expression, she turned and looked at him with concern before asking Wang Hong: “What’s the matter?”
“General Sun wants to go rescue General Ran. Do you want to go with him?”
“I’d like to go with you, Qilang.”
Wang Hong nodded. He turned to face Sun Yan, raised his clasped hands and said, “That being the case, we’ll not go there. I’ll see you again, General Sun. Let’s have a drink then.”
Despite giving a scoff, Sun Yan also returned his clasped hand gesture.
He went to Chen Rong and whispered to her: “Come with me.”
After he had led Chen Rong a hundred paces away, he tilted his head glancing at Wang Hong, then turned to Chen Rong and frowningly said, “Ah Rong, that Wang Qilang is a playboy; he knows how to win over the women. You mustn’t be fooled.”
At this moment, his jet black eyes, which resembled those of wolves, gave off a flash of tenderness. He gently held Chen Rong’s shoulders, regarded her and said, “We are the same, you and I… we cannot afford to fool around.”
Chen Rong returned his gaze with one of gratefulness. Slowly, she dropped into a curtsy, lowered her gaze and replied, “I’ll remember your words, my lord.”
After giving him this formal reply, she looked up, blinked her large eyes, and playfully asked, “Sun Yan, if one day you can be in control of your marriage, and you don’t have someone you love, will you marry me?” Her smile was one of innocence, but her eyes were those of earnestness.
The same earnestness with which a wolf longs for warmth and companionship after countless years of loneliness and disappointment.
Sun Yan could not understand this earnestness. He frowned and pondered, but in the end shook his head and whispered back, “I don’t want to promise what I don’t yet know if I can do.”
He lightly pressed on Chen Rong’s arms, rasping: “I do not know whether we will see each other again after this parting. Ah Rong, you must stay strong; and stay smart. You mustn’t let them deceive you or destroy you.”
Having said this, he turned to go.
Chen Rong’s gaze followed him. She looked at the young man who was striding away then was mounting his horse, and at the two thousand men sending smoke into the moonlit sky.
While she was lost in thought, a string of melodious music sounded. Different from what was played just now, it was full of melancholy and the sorrow of separation. It contained the sentiments of a gentleman who was sending his friends far away – a willow branch of sorts, a promise of next year’s reunion.
Chen Rong turned around. Under the moonlight, she saw Wang Hong attired in black and masked under a layer of fog, playing his zither. She slowly approached him.
When she reached him, a maid swiftly brought out a seat at Wang Hong’s right side.
Chen Rong sat down and startlingly stared at Wang Hong’s handsome profile.
His dancing fingers slowed down. He turned his head to look at Chen Rong, his eyes shining like the stars. They were real stars, as far as she was concerned – very bright, very clear, and so very far away…
Chen Rong looked up at him.
Wang Hong upturned his lips in a smile: “What are you looking at, Ah Rong?”
“You’re still alive.” Her gaze remained dazed.
She actually gave him such baffling words. She actually gave him those words with eyes that were empty and dazed.
Wang Hong raised his brow. He put the zither down, turned, and contemplated her.
At this point, Chen Rong gave a start, hesitantly smiled, and rose to leave.
Her footsteps paused.
He stood up and came up behind her. When she was only half an arm’s length away, he stopped, lowered his head, and softly asked, “Will you let me know why you came to Mo’yang?”
“I’ve already given you an answer,” she replied. Without waiting for him to ask again, she hastily went on.
Wang Hong faintly smiled watching her escape.
At this time, the middle-aged scholar came and said as he looked at Chen Rong’s back: “My lord, this Ah Rong of the Chen house is exceedingly strange. When she came with us to Mo’yang, she had led and planned our way in. She was very calm and confident, in fact. She was also very confident when we had plans to break out from the south gate. She was even crystal clear about the specific hour and the enemy’s number. But when she really faced the battlefield, she became so frightened that she was no different from other young girls. My lord, what do you make of Ah Rong of the Chen house?”
Wang Hong shook his head. He stared after Chen Rong’s departing figure, lightly smiled, and murmured: “Puzzling, isn’t she?”
Everyone fell asleep from exhaustion shortly after.
Early next morning, the team set off again.
Yesterday, they still had two thousand individuals; now they are left with a little over one hundred, thirty of which were wounded. With so few people, they had to be more vigilant on the trip. Wang Hong dispatched several pathfinders so that they could change their route if anything abnormal were to happen.
Finally, Nan’yang appeared to them on the third day.
They gave cries of joy at its familiar sight.
“Wang Hong,” a clear voice suddenly called.
Everyone turned around. From the carriage, Chen Rong was calling out to call Wang Hong, but she had put on men’s robe in order to not attract attention, her face was even painted with dirt.
While the crowd looked on in curiosity, Chen Rong urged her horse to Wang Hong and said to him in all seriousness: “Qilang, we’ll be in Nan’yang soon, I have something to ask of you.”
Wang Hong narrowed his eyes. He studied her, slowly smiled, and then very gently remarked, “Darling, have you dressed like this to tell the world that Ah Rong of the Chen house has never been to Mo’yang? And never mind the fact that you’ve followed my family’s retainers to accompany me?”
His smile had seemed cold, and it made Chen Rong shudder.
She was asking for something she thought was quite reasonable, but Chen Rong was suddenly made to feel guilty. She bowed her head, biting her lips to murmur: “I, I’m still unwed.”
And then she seemed to gain strength, looking up at Wang Hong and softly pleading to him: “We are separated by far more than what’s measured in miles. I will not be a concubine, sir.”
With these words, she snapped her whip, turned and ran back to her carriage.
Wang Hong looked after her and lazily said at length, “Did everyone hear what Ah Rong of the Chen house said?”
“Then do as she says.”
The middle-aged scholar gazed at Chen Rong’s pleased expression. He couldn’t help shaking his head as he said to Wang Hong: “But who is she trying to fool?”
Wang Hong merely smiled.
Hi again. Sorry it’s been a while. Several things happened but most of it was me spending a full week in bed, on painkillers, post surgery. I’m okay, it’s not life-threatening, so no need for commiserations 😷 I did get to limp my way to see Yuzuru skate at Worlds 😍 though I participated in very little fangirl stalking 😅
With that said, since I’m not in the best of conditions, I will begin to skip some chapters in the interest of keeping things moving. Just a heads up.