Chapter 104: Waiting for a Hapless Hare
“And you? Where will you be?” she asked.
Wang Hong smiled. “Me? I’ll stay in Nan’yang, of course. Could there be a bigger joke than Lang’ya Wang Qi fleeing at the mere sight of a barbarian?”
Chen Rong gave some thoughts before lowering her voice to say: “Then I’ll also remain in Nan’yang.”
Wang Hong still had his back turned to her, his posture ever the same. “Are you not afraid of dying, my darling?”
Dying? Of course she was afraid of dying.
“If my lord is not afraid of dying, Ah Rong would not dare to be afraid.”
When she did not hear his reply after some length of time, she turned around to take a look.
Standing face to face at that moment, she saw in his fixed gaze something like love… but in the blink of an eye, he had returned to his smiling mien.
At this time, a burst of billowing smoke appeared behind them, causing the dozen refugees on the roadside to turn their attention from the city gate.
They scurried backward. Even the boy retreated far away where he curiously gazed over.
Two hundred armored men came into Chen Rong’s sight. They were tall and large, and dauntless in appearance. These men must have been from the north, for each of them was the size of three refugees.
They rode forth and encircled the carriage.
Chen Rong turned to look at Wang Hong, and was reassured to see that he didn’t appear to mind these men.
One man rode out of his rank; he clasped his hands toward Wang Hong, calling him: “M’lord?”
They turned out to be Wang Hong’s guards, after all. So they had been behind us the entire time, Chen Rong thought. Only now did she realize that she hadn’t asked Wang Hong how he had looked for her alone last night. Logically speaking, his servants would never leave his side like that.
Wang Hong stepped down from the carriage and, casting Chen Rong a glance, ordered: “Wang Sheng, escort Miss Chen back to the city.”
A guard in his late twenties with a rectangular face rode forward. He accorded Chen Rong ceremony, then dismounted his horse and stepped onto the driver’s seat.
The carriage moved forth.
A few paces later, Chen Rong gazed back at Wang Hong and opened her mouth to say something. But seeing Wang Hong surrounded by his guards, smiling but distant and stern, she decided to close her mouth after all.
Her carriage gradually drove away and shortly after arrived at the gate.
The prince’s personal soldiers were blocking the gate. They were preventing the nobles from leaving the city but did not care who was entering.
Chen Rong smoothly entered Nan’yang and returned to her courtyard.
When she stepped down, she thanked the guard who was hastily turning to leave, then rushed to her courtyard, crying: “Old Shang! Old Shang!”
Her voice began to panic when no one answered even though she had called twice.
At this time, Nurse Ping’s ecstatic voice sounded inside. “Are you back, miss? Are you back?” She ran out to Chen Rong’s side, holding onto her arm to take a good look at her.
Chen Rong pried her hand away and asked, “Where’s Old Shang?”
“Lying in bed.”
Chen Rong exhaled in relief. She broke into a smile and said, “I’m glad he’s home. When did he come back?”
“Early this morning,” Nurse Ping answered. She glanced outside, leaned into Chen Rong’s ear and whispered, “The moment the gate opened at dawn, Old Shang had appeared at the store on South Street.” Her voice took an anxious turn: “He passed out as soon as he saw someone coming out. After he woke up, he kept crying for you.”
Chen Rong pressed her lips together, whispering, “Is he staying at one of the stores on South Street?”
Nurse Ping looked up at Chen Rong, stammering a long time before asking: “Miss, last night, you…”
Chen Rong could hear the worry in her voice. She immediately glared and snapped, “I’m still chaste!”
“Aye, aye, aye, you’re chaste, you’re chaste.” Despite saying so, the anxiety in her voice was evident.
At this time, it got clamorous outside.
Lady Li’s shrill voice rose amid the noises: “Is Ah Rong home?”
Chen Rong hadn’t reacted but her nurse had already paled and muttered: “I knew it, I knew it. They came last night asking for you twice. Then this morning at dawn, they came again to say your aunt has called for you. Now you’re barely home and already they’ve followed you here. I knew they wouldn’t let you off!”
Chen Rong’s heart sank upon hearing this. She thought of the invitation that had brought her into peril.
“She is home, ma’am,” she heard a maid reply.
“Oh is she?” Lady Li laughed. She sashayed in with the escort of four maids, eyeing Chen Rong once she was inside.
Looking at Chen Rong’s wrinkly outfit and tangled hair, she laughed and narrowed her slanted eyes, shrilling: “My my my, if it isn’t the audacious Ah Rong who had dared to go to Mo’yang to die with her lover.” She walked to Chen Rong, made a turn about her, and clucked her tongue: “How bold you are. Last time you disappeared for several days and then made a fool out of your elders with your lies after you returned. This time it’s early morning yet your clothes are unchanged and your hair is uncombed. Tsk tsk tsk, there’s also a lingering smell of a man on your body.” She made an exaggerated sniff: “It seems that the little girl cannot contain herself for a few days without a tryst, now that she knows the taste of a man!”
These were harsh and humiliating words!
Chen Rong suppressed her anger and was about to speak when Lady Li waved toward the four maids and ordered: “Seize her!”
The four women immediately took two steps forward and surrounded Chen Rong, reaching out to grab her.
Chen Rong eyed Lady Li, flicked her arms and threw the maids off. “Ma’am, my every movement is being watched these days. Please tell them to move, I can walk myself!”
Her voice had barely faded when Lady Li broke out laughing.
Her laughter was both shrill and haughty.
Once she had had enough, she stared at Chen Rong and mockingly said, “Do you still think that you’re under the Wangs’ protection? Tsk tsk tsk. Ah Rong, you must not have known, your Wang Qilang is being targeted by both the barbarians and the Prince of Nan’yang. Even Wang Yi who tried to escape this morning with his private guards is now under the prince’s control. Even if he hadn’t been controlled, you had rejected his offer in front of everyone that night. How important do you still think you are?”
With the smug face of a villain, Lady Li shrilly laughed as she ridiculed: “The exalted Wang House of Lang’ya is full of cowards. Tsk, they’re nothing compared to our Chen House of Yingchuan.”
Chen Rong’s heart sank as she listened. She could tell from her voice that she was deferential to the Nan’yang Prince but disdainful of the Wang clan. Had something happened at home? Had Chen Yuan completely sided with the prince?
In a good mood, Lady Li stopped her taunting and waved her hand again. “Seize her!”
Several maids grabbed Chen Rong’s arms and held her down by the shoulders.
The wheels in Chen Rong’s brain rapidly turned.
Yesterday’s invitation was clearly meant to kill her. Even though she didn’t know who had done it, she knew she had only ever offended this family!
Lady Li’s behavior and expression were much too arrogant! Something was amiss!
Making a quick decision, Chen Rong shook her shoulders and pushed the two maids away to retreat backward.
Her resistance caused Lady Li to scream: “Blasphemy, blasphemy!” Then she loudly ordered, “You, get her.”
She was pointing to the two guards who had just crossed into the yard.
Chen Rong knew these guards. They had come as part of Lady Ruan’s dowry. It had been with their competent escort that Lady Ruan was able to reach the south safely.
Chen Rong stopped when she saw the large guards, and her own nurse and servants huddling in a corner screaming and crying for help.
She ceased her futile struggle.
The two guards in front of her stopped when they saw that she did not try to run anymore. At the same time, the four maids swarmed Chen Rong and cuffed her hands again. They pushed her to thebfront and yelled, “Let’s go.”
Just like that, Lady Li sashayed out in front, spewing insults along the way as they marched Chen Rong to Lady Ruan’s courtyard.
Before long, they had entered Lady Ruan’s courtyard. The moment they got to the main hall, a maid gave Chen Rong a shove and caused her to stumble forward. “On your knees!” a stern voice spoke.
Chen Rong did not kneel.
She raised her head to stare at Lady Ruan, her eyes unfathomable. “Madam, even if the Wang House in Lang’ya has discarded me, General Ran will undoubtedly remember me. I don’t imagine our strife to be so great that you must detain me with so much fanfare.”
Once again, Lady Li shrilly laughed the moment she finished talking. “Don’t tell me you’re still thinking of protecting your reputation? Hahaha, you stayed outside an entire night. Who knows how many men you’ve slept with. Still has the audacity to blame us for detaining you with fanfare.”
At once, Chen Rong’s face was purple with rage. She whipped around glaring at Lady Li.
“Slap your mouth!” Lady Ruan softly admonished.
Lady Li first halted before her face reddened. She slowly lifted her hand and lightly slapped herself, crying: “Madam!”
Lady Ruan didn’t bother to look at her. She sipped her tea and unhurriedly said, “The Chen family prides ourselves in generations of gentility. The peasants may say these vulgar things, but you may not.”
Lady Li quickly bowed her head saying: “Aye Aye,” and gave herself a few light slaps.
Lady Ruan turned toward Chen Rong.
A hint of a smile appeared on her round and pampered face as she stared at the girl.
Chapter 105: The Twists and Turns
Smilingly, Lady Ruan extended her painted fingers, sipped her drink, and then quietly said, “You’re right, you’re a temptress whom Lang’ya Wang Qi, General Ran, as well as the Prince of Nan’yang had all sold their souls to.” Whatever she may be thinking, she added with a disgusted smile: “It’d be a pity if you died.”
She waved her right hand and ordered, “Take her away, remember to watch her. Keep an eye on her people, too.”
Lady Li walked up behind Chen Rong, gave her a shove and yelled, “Go!”
Chen Rong turned around to glare at her. The murderous intent in her eyes caused Lady Li to retreat despite herself. Only then did she turn and walk outside.
As she crossed the door step, Chen Rong suddenly paused and asked, “When we were in Mo’yang, people of the Wang House had asked me what I was afraid of. Do you know what my answer was, aunt?”
Lady Ruan frowned and impatiently placed her teacup down. As she was about to order the maids to drag her away, Chen Rong audibly stated: “I said that what I fear most isn’t death, but that I can’t make my uncle Chen Yuan and his wife happy.”
She gave Lady Li and Lady Ruan a smirk, turned and strode away.
Staring after Chen Rong’s back, Lady Ruan slapped the table, her face red with anger. “Did she threaten me? How dare she threaten me?!”
Lady Ruan sat down again to sip her tea and sneered: “Did you use the Wang House in Lang’ya to scare me? Ah Rong of the Chen House, Wang Hong can’t even guarantee his own life at this point. And even if he could, he wouldn’t make you his honored concubine. You have no worth. Hmph, why don’t you take a good look at your situation before you rely on a fleeting lover!”
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Chen Rong entered the same cabin she had been to in her previous life.
When the door closed, the maid who stood beside Lady Li – the one with a pointy chin and a beauty mark by her mouth – shrilly laughed at her. “Ah Rong of the Chen House, I thought your dagger was fun to play with? Why aren’t you playing with it today?” At this juncture, she turned to Lady Li with a look of flattery.
Lady Li haughtily raised her chin to stare at Chen Rong.
Chen Rong turned away, not bothering with them.
At this sight, the maid smiled and said, “Let’s see how long you can turn your nose up at us!” At this time, Lady Li also shrilled, “Keep an eye on her at all times. Lock the door.”
After the door was locked, Chen Rong heard her shouting outside: “Keep a close watch on her.”
Time gradually passed.
Chen Rong held her knees as she sat in bed, looking at the skylight on the ceiling.
She wasn’t particularly smart, otherwise, she wouldn’t have met her end in her last life.
She sat wracking her brain but was unable to find any way to escape. She could only pray that the invitation hadn’t been sent by Lady Ruan and Lady Li. Otherwise, she was really done for.
Chen Rong buried her face between her knees and saw Wang Hong in her trance. The terrifying memories of last night played in her mind over and over again.
Darkness descended in the blink of an eye.
The cabin was already too dark for her to see her own fingers. If not for the voices and laughter outside, Chen Rong might have been driven mad from her own heartbeats.
Uncertain how long had passed, starlight gradually filtered through the skylight while the chatter lessened outside.
At this time, she heard footsteps approaching.
She dashed to the door and helplessly looked out.
Sure enough, they were coming for her.
Thump thump, Chen Rong’s heart beat rapidly.
Soon, the footsteps stopped at the door. Then came the sound of the door unlocking.
Chen Rong walked back to the divan and sat down again.
The door opened at a squeak, letting starlight spilling in.
Two maids and two tall guards appeared. After the maids shot Chen Rong a look, they turned to the guards and whispered, “Make it quick.”
Make it quick!
Chen Rong panicked.
She quickly stood up. Before she could do anything, the four of them had swarmed her and gagged her mouth with a white cloth. At the same time, her hands were cuffed and she involuntarily stumbled forward.
A carriage was parked by the door.
The guards swiftly threw her in. As soon she was released from their grasps, Chen Rong made a move to jump down. Unexpectedly, the maids knew martial arts, and they rushed up on either of her sides to hold her down by the shoulders as soon as she made a movement. The cloth that had just loosened gagged her mouth once more.
As the carriage began to move, the maids took out a rope and tied her up.
Once Chen Rong had been tied into a zongzi and none of her limbs could move, they dragged her down to sit.
By this time, the carriage had driven out of the estate.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Since she couldn’t move, Chen Rong did not continue her struggle. She lay on the carriage floor wide eyed and thought to herself: They’re planning to take me out of the Chen estate. Do they want to kill me or lock me up somewhere else?
Strangely enough, she didn’t panic at the thought of death. Perhaps it was because she had died once already. Or perhaps it was because she didn’t know herself how to keep going down this path.
The carriage made its way out of the Chen estate and headed into town.
It was late, and the city was cloaked in silence. Only the gilded houses located deep in the roadways produced singing and laughter… It was always like this, even if the Hu captured Nan’yang tomorrow, the nobles never forgot to indulge in their music.
While Chen Rong was lost in her train of thought, the carriage produced a tipping sound and made a turn.
A burst of cold wind lifted the curtain, affording Chen Rong a glimpse of the tall wall that enclosed a village.
She knew this village from the past as a village Lady Ruan had set up in Nan’yang.
The curtain dropped again.
Chen Rong closed her eyes and began to estimate the distance from the sound of the wheels.
After half an hour, the carriage pulled to a stop.
The maids carried Chen Rong down and threw her into a simple room.
After untying the rope, they locked the door and left.
Chen Rong moved her numb feet to slowly stand up.
Although it was simple, the room was furnished with a divan and a table, and had doors and windows. Nevertheless, the windows were covered by cow hide and prevented her from seeing outside. Behind the divan was a small door which led to a toilet.
From the footsteps she heard, she reckoned there were at least four guards outside.
Seeing that her life was safe for now, Chen Rong exhaled and went to the divan to get some sleep.
Unsurprisingly, sleep didn’t come, and she lay there eyes wide open listening to the footsteps and frogs croaking outside.
Murmuring sounded at length. Finally hearing people’s voices, Chen Rong quickly stood up and soundlessly went to the door to listen.
“She should be sleeping, right?”
“It’s almost morning, a little girl like her has to be falling asleep after suffering all night.”
“You sound as if you know her?” the first one asked in surprise.
The second voice was a little hoarse when he chuckled: “Of course I do. There may be many girls in Nan’yang, but none can compare to her. Tsk tsk, that ass and those tits, tsk tsk, just looking at her makes me go weak. I wouldn’t mind dying if I could sleep with her for one night.” He laughed lewdly.
At this time, a third voice interjected: “That’s enough, Madam has told us to watch our mouths.”
The first one laughed it off and lowered his voice. “She can’t escape anyway, what’s the harm in talking a little?” A pause. “Besides, she’s sleeping,” he muttered.
Seeing that the third man did not rebuke him, the second man hoarsely spoke: “Aye aye, what’s the harm? And what a pity it’ll be. According to Sister Hong, Madam wants to watch her for a couple of days and if nothing happens, to give her a white cloth.”
Chen Rong made a shiver when she heard him. Lady Ruan actually wanted to kill her? Moreover, she even wanted to make it look like a suicide?
The voices outside went on. This time, the one to speak was the man with the gloomy voice. His interest was apparently piqued, sounding slightly excited now. “You’re right.” He lowered his voice: “Y’all don’t know this, but Sister Hong said that when that time comes, we can enjoy ourselves to our content, and even if she dies from our playing it wouldn’t matter.”
His words caused low gasps from the other men.
“Keep your voices down!” he barked.
After a stretch of silence, he laughingly whispered: “Of course, it would be even better if we can get her to kill herself. I heard Sister Hong said she’s an unwed girl who had stayed out all night, and no one knows what had happened. Everybody is gonna believe it if we say she took things hard after coming home.”
Once more, four crude laughter simultaneously sounded.
Chen Rong sat up.
She coldly smiled in the night.
Soon, light was born in the east.
Followed by a din of voices.
And quickly went down in the west.
Time continued to go by but no one had come to give her food.
At last, as the light gradually left the room, the door opened at a creak.
A maidservant stood by the door with a basket in hand. She glanced at Chen Rong, who was staring warily at her from the divan, and placed the basket down. Then she wordlessly shut the door again.
Chen Rong caught a glimpse of four middle-aged men standing outside. They were lecherously smiling at her until the door was closed.
Night fell once more.
The frogs came out to croak. Reed music sounded from a distant place.
Chen Rong sat motionlessly on the divan while her nails dug into the palms of her hands. She told herself that if she escaped this time and even if it showed her vulgar nature, she would ask Wang Hong and Sun Yan to help her dispose of Lady Ruan and Lady Li.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Time did not stop.
Unknowingly, Chen Rong had fallen asleep.
When she next woke up in cold sweat, the room was still pitch black but the footsteps had ceased outside.
Chen Rong perked her ears to confirm it was really quiet before quickly running barefoot to the door and giving it a hard push.
The door was securely locked.
She ran to the window.
As she was about to push it, footsteps again sounded outside.
They stayed for nearly an hour, and thus Chen Rong had to go back to the divan and fell to a groggy slumber.
By the time she woke up, the east was bright again.
The sun was blazing when the maid brought her food.
Like yesterday, the four men huddled together and leered at Chen Rong when the door opened, clamping their mouths so their drool wouldn’t spill.
The maid locked the door and went away again, leaving Chen Rong panicking by each passing second.
She had known this village. It was located by the northern gate of Nan’yang, in a remote and sparsely populated area. It was also often left vacant. By listening for the past two nights, she discovered that there were only her and the four guards in the entire village.
All she could do now was pray that Wang Hong could quickly make his own escape and remember about her… Aside from that, she really didn’t know what else to do.
She spent three more days in this groggy state.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
On the fourth morning, she heard the sound of rolling wheels.
Listening to them getting closer, Chen Rong suddenly broke away from her trance, jumped down from the divan and ran to the door.
She clasped the hairpin in her palm, unblinkingly staring at the door.
Soon, the carriage stopped in the courtyard. Subsequently, Chen Sanlang’s voice spoke: “Is she here?”
He sounded somewhat angry.
The maid with the pointy chin and a beauty mark cried, “Aye, aye.”
She only managed two words by the time she made gurgling sounds. She sounded to have been gagged.
Chen Rong pauded, holding onto a ray of hope.
Before long, Chen Sanlang’s voice came to her, gentle and warm: “Ah Rong, Ah Rong? Dear sister, are you inside? Your brother is here to take you home.”
Chen Rong stared outside and ecstatically replied, “Third brother? Is that you? Have you come to take me out?”
She pounded on the door.
Chen Sanlang shouted: “What are you waiting for? Open the door.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
The door creaked opened amid the repeated answers.
Due to sunlight in her eyes, Chen Rong covered her face with her sleeve.
At this time, Chen Sanlang strode up to her as he painfully exclaimed, “Ah Rong, you’ve gotten thinner. Look at your chin. It breaks my heart to see how pointy it has become.” He spoke as he held Chen Rong. Behind him were several maids and tall guards. Intentionally or otherwise, they blocked Chen Rong’s view, as if they didn’t want her to see this village.
When she heard his concerned voice, grief overtook her and she covered her face to cry.
Chen Sanlang went to her. He stared at her slender waist and satin-like hair that retained its silkiness though it had been a few days. He reached out trying to hug Chen Rong.
At this point, her feet gave out, sending her falling forward.
Chen Sanlang quickly let her go and brushed away the sleeve that was covering her face. Looking at her closed eyes and wan face, she couldn’t help himself from falling into a daze.
“The young lady has fainted from joy,” whispered a servant behind him.
Chen Sanlang snapped awake and quickly shouted: “Quick, take my sister to my carriage.”
Two maids stepped up to take Chen Rong. Intentionally or not, their long sleeves were placed over Chen Rong’s face and blocked her eyes.
After only two paces, Chen Rong woke up and broke into tears. She was as loud and annoying as could be!
Stunned, Chen Sanlang couldn’t help from grimacing. “Don’t cry, dear sister.”
Unknowingly, his words prompted Chen Rong’s wails to grow even louder.
Her cries were sharp enough that they could tear his eardrums apart. Chen Sanlang screamed. When he saw that she didn’t hear him, he got irritated, waved his sleeves and shouted, “Get her in.”
The two maids almost pushed Chen Rong into his carriage when Chen Sanlang thundered: “Are you blind? Let her sit with you!”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
They took Chen Rong and stuffed her into their smaller carriage.
At this time, the maid with the beauty mark, who had been thrown aside after Chen Sanlang had gagged her mouth with a cloth, was lifted by the guards and thrown into the last carriage.
The vehicles drove on. With each jolt, the curtain stayed down and didn’t lift even when the cold wind blew.
Gradually, Chen Rong’s sharp cries softened and eventually ceased.
By now, the carriage had left the village and onto the paved road.
Finally receiving some peace, Chen Sanlang took a deep breath and a mouthful of tea before cursing: “Damnation. It’s as if the sky is falling every time a woman cries!”
He then thought of his own matter. He lifted the curtain and kindly smiled toward the other carriage. “Dear sister, are you feeling better now?”
Some time later, Chen Rong’s hoarse voice quietly replied: “Aye, much better… thank you.”
Chen Sanlang chuckled, but quickly frowned and said, “I got here too late and caused you to be locked up for many days.”
At this juncture, he hatefully cursed: “It was that lowly wench! Speaking nonsense to my mother using her silver tongue. But rest assured, dear sister, I won’t forgive her. After we return, you can beat her or kill her however you want!”
He had sounded so sincere and moving.
Chen Rong sneered. If she hadn’t heard the guards last night, she would also have thought that Lady Ruan only wanted to lock her up for a few days.
“I won’t let her off easy,” she gritted her teeth. Her voice was cutting and spiteful: “So that wench was the one to harm me? Third brother, I won’t forgive her!”
“Aye aye, don’t forgive her.”
Chen Sanlang laughed twice and then signaled his carriage to near Chen Rong’s.
He poked his head out, leaned toward Chen Rong’s carriage and concernedly said, “Ah Rong, the past few days have been hard on you. Go home, vent, and take a few days to rest. I have told the cook to make chicken soup and lamb stew to nourish you back to health.”
“Thank you, third brother.”
Chen Sanlang laughed.
He retracted his head, cast a glance at Chen Rong’s vague figure inside her carriage, and inwardly thought, No, it cannot be rushed. Lets broach that matter after she’s had a day to rest.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
The carriage arrived at the Chen estate.
It did not go to Chen Rong’s courtyard, but instead went directly to Chen Yuan’s.
Soon, it pulled to a stop.
Chen Rong had just stepped off the carriage when vague sobs were heard. She saw the maid with the beauty mark kneeling in front of Chen Yuan with her hands tied behind her and her mouth gagged with cloth.
Chen Yuan sat before her while both Lady Ruan and Lady Li stood below with their heads bowing in shame.
At the time Chen Sanlang led Chen Rong in, Chen Yuan stood up to welcome her. He concernedly looked at her and said, “Ah Rong, do forgive me.”
There was anger in his voice.
He was genuinely angry.
Chen Rong looked at him in surprise. Chen Yuan’s face was drawn long in a shade of black, his eyes were also cracking fire. His anger didn’t seem to be pretense.
At this time, Chen Yuan noticed her looking at him. He regarded her and again said, “Ah Rong, do forgive me.”
She heard sincerity in his voice.
Chen Rong bowed her head and feebly said, “You’re exaggerating, uncle.”
“Not at all.” Chen Yuan was very angry. He paced in place and gravely said, “I’ve only left for a few days but the house is turned upside down. These days…” He gasped for breath, strode to the maid and gave her a hard kick.
He had used all of his strength. The maid gave a cry and rolled backward. Even Lady Li and Lady Ruan who were standing nearby made a shiver, their heads bowing lower.
The kick did little to lessen his ire. Chen Yuan again rushed forth to give the maid another kick in the chest. She lurched to the side and spat out blood. Due to her mouth being stuffed with cloth, the blood stained through the fabric in a red blob.
Despite this, Chen Yuan was still furiously kicking and thundering: “A blind lot of fools. Is Ah Rong someone you can touch, you lowly wench?”
Chen Rong looked toward Lady Ruan and Lady Li who were shrinking back in fear. She couldn’t help herself from thinking: Perhaps Chen Yuan really had not consented to any of this?
Chen Yuan gave a few more kicks and only stopped to catch his breath. After a while, he waved to Chen Sanlang and said, “Ah Rong must be tired. Take her back and let her rest.”
Chen Rong had just turned around by the time Chen Yuan’s barely suppressed fury again roared behind her. “And you, stay inside. You’re not allowed to go anywhere without my permission!”
“Aye,” Lady Ruan replied at long last.
“Have you gone mother fucking blind?!” He next cursed. “Drag this woman away and lock her up for three days. Nobody is to give her any food.”
Lady Li’s weeping sounded at this point: “My lord.” Her voice had lowered into a whisper, but she did not beg to be pardoned.
As the voices behind her faded away, Chen Rong grew increasingly curious: Had something happened? Why have Chen Yuan come for me? And appearing so livid, at that?
Chapter 106: Traveling a Thousand Miles to Seek His Help
When Chen Rong came home, Nurse Ping and Old Shang rushed up to hold her as they cried.
Chen Rong was already immensely exhausted. She impatiently pried them off and bade for a tonic bath to be prepared.
Feeling better after some time in the water, Chen Rong lay in the tub as she tried to relax amid the rising vapor.
She kept her eyes wide open staring at the ceiling.
She knew that no one in Chen Yuan’s family had liked her in the past and that Chen Yuan had also repeatedly schemed to give her away. Even so, she was only angry at the time, never feeling any strong hatred.
But now, to come home to this after having just received an invitation to hell only proved to her that she had wholly offended Chen Yuan’s family, and there was no possibility for further harmony or compromises.
As far as Chen Rong was concerned, that invitation must have been forged by someone in Chen Yuan’s household. Why else did Lady Ruan and Lady Li send people to inquire after her whereabouts as soon as she left for her appointment? Moreover, she had only ever offended this family.
Ruthlessness glinted in her eyes as they narrowed at this thought.
Then, she thought of Chen Yuan and Chen Sanlang’s abnormal behaviors.
But that was of little concern. Whatever act they may be putting on, she expected them to show their hands to her in a few days.
The night went on in her tossing and turning.
The next day was bright and sunny again. As she looked at the sky outside, like the people on the streets of Nan’yang, Chen Rong grew nervous about the Hu’s impending attack.
She had asked Old Shang to find out about Wang Hong and his clan’s development. After much inquiry, however, there was still no news to relay.
After breakfast, while looking at the gradually rising sun, Chen Rong who was finally in better spirit after having had some sleep called Nurse Ping over to help her get ready for an outing.
Just then, footsteps sounded.
“The master has asked for Ah Rong,” a maid announced.
Chen Rong stood up and drew her lips into a cold smile, thinking to herself: Showing your hands so soon already?
She replied, got dressed, and then followed the maid to Chen Yuan’s courtyard.
After they entered the courtyard, she saw that both the servants and nobles alike were all hanging their heads in apprehension.
The girl walking in front of her was one she hadn’t seen before. She was also keeping her head down and just quietly leading the way.
When Chen Rong arrived at Chen Yuan’s yard, a tall and beautiful maid was waiting for her at the steps. Upon seeing Ah Rong, she dropped into a curtsy and said, “The master is inside.”
Chen Rong hummed an acknowledgement and went in.
Only two people sat in the spacious hall. The host was no other than Chen Yuan; below him was Chen Sanlang.
Upon Chen Rong’s arrival, Chen Yuan put his wine down and gave her a good look. Then he sighed and smiled at her. “You seem to have recovered your spirit after a good rest, Ah Rong.”
Chen Rong dutifully went to her uncle, curtsied, and replied, “I didn’t mean to be a cause of concern, uncle. I rested very well last night.”
Chen Yuan nodded, pointed to the seat on his right and kindly said, “Ah Rong, sit down.”
Silence pursued after she took her seat. If they wouldn’t speak, then neither would she.
At length, Chen Sanlang’s voice broke the silence. He looked at Chen Rong and lamented: “I’m sorry for being late and causing you to be frightened for days.” He looked at her guiltily. “Ah Rong, do you resent me for it?”
Chen Rong quickly shook her head. “How could I?”
She quietly hung her head in again.
Chen Yuan cleared his throat, stroked his long beard and said, “Your aunts only gave you troubles because they had listened to that wench’s provocation.” He then ordered, “This matter is over now. Don’t bear a grudge, Ah Rong.”
Chen Rong hurriedly stood up and placed her palms together: “Aye, I wouldn’t dare.”
Chen Yuan nodded and then motioned for her to sit down.
Again, he cleared his throat and said to her, “Ah Rong, General Ran seems to have a good impression of you?”
Chen Rong looked up.
Her uncle was stroking his beard, appearing to be pondering his words.
Soon, he coughed yet again and looked at Chen Rong who had lowered her head back down, before finally winking at Chen Sanlang.
Chen Sanlang caught on and turned to Chen Rong to lament. “Ah Rong, did you know that the clan is in trouble?”
Chen Rong rounded her eyes at Chen Sanlang and anxiously asked, “Has something happened?”
Seeing that she was concerned about the clan, Chen Sanlang began to smile before quickly putting on a frown. “Aye, something terrible has happened,” he woefully replied.
He stood up and paced the room while saying to his cousin: “I don’t expect a young lady like you would know this. Life has been difficult this year. With so many of us arriving in Nan’yang, even the cost of feeding the horses amounts to the cost of feeding a few hundred refugees, let alone the cost of room and board.”
At this juncture, he looked toward Chen Rong’s bewildered face and chuckled. “I’ve forgotten that Ah Rong is just a young lady. You only need to enjoy the clan’s finance while thinking about your fashionable clothing and sumptuous meals. How would you know any of this?”
Chen Rong maintained her bewildered look, but she was inwardly sneering: You sound as if I’ve received so much help from you people. I pay for all of the expenses in my courtyard, why wouldn’t I be aware of this?
“Ah Rong, you know the Hu will lay siege to the city,” Chen Sanlang added after a brief pause. “If we are fortunate, we might endure for six months and drive them back. But if we are unfortunate, we might be under attack for a year or two only to lose in the end. I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Chen Rong softly hummed to show she was listening.
“Ah Rong,” Chen Sanlang murmured after a sigh, “you didn’t know this, but not too long ago, the clan had spent a large sum of money to acquire some food supply. Unluckily, news arrived a few days ago that our cavalcade had been robbed by the Hu when we were passing by Ximing.”
Chen Rong was surprised to hear this. The Hu had robbed their food cargoes? But what was the use of telling a girl like her?
Chen Sanlang obviously knew what she was wondering. After looking to Chen Yuan, he briefly deliberated and continued with the story: “Our people happen to know that General Ran is also nearby. With his valiance, it would be child’s play to seize the grains back.”
He paused, struggling to say these next words: “But when we looked for General Ran, we were prevented from seeing even his shadow. It was like that every time we tried… Ah Rong, I heard that General Ran is very good to you. It seems only you can shoulder this task.”
These words were indeed difficult to say. She, an unwed girl, was actually being asked to travel such distance to see a man!
Chen Rong inwardly sneered having understood the whole story now. She slowly looked up at Chen Sanlang, blinked, and ventured: “But Ah Wei is also acquainted with General Ran, why doesn’t the clan send her?” She paused and then dipped into a whisper: “And you would’ve helped a good match.”
She had barely finished when Chen Sanlang blurted, “If she was useful, we wouldn’t need to look for you.”
Chen Yuan gave him a warning glare.
Knowing he had slipped, Chen Sanlang immediately put on a harmless smile. He went to Chen Rong, sighed and said, “Ah Rong, I know asking you to do this is disadvantageous to your reputation. But this is an exceptional time, the Hu will attack Nan’yang before we know it. If we were to have a food shortage, the first to starve would be you girls.”
He paused, and then seemingly said in passing: “I heard there had been cities where even women and children were killed for food due to famine…”
His voice was low and unintentional, but it was just enough for Chen Rong to hear.
At this time, Chen Yuan impatiently said to Chen Sanlang, “Enough already.” He then turned to Chen Rong and cut to the chase: “Ah Rong, go and make preparations. It’s best to leave this evening.”
He was so resolute that he gave her almost no room to refuse.
Based on the fury he had directed at Lady Li and Lady Ruan, she could see how important this matter was to him.
She had known they wouldn’t let her refuse.
For that reason, she said nothing more and just stood up to give them a curtsy and head out.
“Where are you staring off to? Go and make arrangements for Ah Rong’s escorts!” Chen Yuan snapped at Chen Sanlang who was still staring after Chen Rong’s departing figure.
Chen Rong returned home. After telling her servants what had happened, she turned and went into her room.
Behind her, Nurse Ping was struggling to contain herself. “That means the clan has relented! They must have decided to give you to General Ran. Isn’t this wonderful? This is so wonderful!”
She wasn’t alone in her celebration. Even Old Shang and the other servants lit up at their young mistress.
It was only a few days ago that Chen Rong had spent a night outside the city and come back at dawn with the escort of the Wang House of Lang’ya. They didn’t say how they had met her or did they offer to explain that Ah Rong of the Chen House was still chaste.
Because they had said nothing, people had had to guess. Talks shuttled across the estate. Some said Ah Rong had encountered the refugees and gotten raped, meeting the Wang House and receiving their help by chance. Others said she was meeting her lover and was already carrying his child.
The stories were endless.
Listening to such stories, her servants had felt that their mistress had better to ask Wang Qilang to accept her as a concubine. Never in their wildest dreams did they think that the clan would relent and that General Ran might ask to marry her. They only hoped that before these rumors could reach Ran Min’s ears, Chen Rong’s fate would be sealed with marriage.
As she packed, Chen Rong looked at Nurse Ping bursting with joy beside her. She dropped her gaze with a pensive expression.
She had barely finished packing by the time Chen Sanlang came to find her.
He brought her to the square where fifty to sixty guards stood waiting alongside several carriages. Chen Sanlang waved the tallest guard over, pointed at Chen Rong and ordered: “Li Cheng, remember well. No matter what happens, you must protect your mistress. Come back if she is safe, but there’s no need to return to Nan’yang should anything happen to her.”
“Aye,” the man named Li Cheng solemnly replied.
He turned his head toward the troop and shouted: “Brothers, do you hear what the master said?”
Chen Sanlang nodded.
He turned around to look at Chen Rong.
“Ah Rong, these people will be at your beck and call. They are all extraordinarily skilled. Rest assured, they will bring you safely to General Ran.”
Chen Rong dutifully curtsied to him. “Aye, third brother.”
Chen Sanlang sighed and added, “I had wanted to send you off, but I’m swamped with work and cannot extract myself.”
You mean you know the journey isn’t safe and you’re afraid of misadventure? Chen Rong smirked but kept saying: “Don’t worry about it, third brother.”
After Chen Sanlang said a few more words, he looked at Chen Rong, gave some thought, leaned in and said, “Ah Rong, if General Ran still wants you, you ought to accept. I’ll explain to the clan.”
Chen Rong looked up at him in surprise. “What about Ah Wei?”
Chen Sanlang furrowed his brow, waved dismissively and said, “Ah Wei is a lady, but so are you. You don’t have to yield to her when it comes to marriage.” Despite saying this, his eyes could not hide contempt when he looked at her. Does she really think General Ran would want to marry her? He’ll take her as a bed maid at most. (1)
- 房中人 This is not a concubine. This is a maid whose duty also includes sleeping with her master.
Chen Rong lowered her eyes and, shortly after, gave him a curtsy.
Chen Sanlang said another thing or two, waved his right hand and ordered, “Go and Godspeed to your return.”
The cavalcade set off.
Chen Rong brought Nurse Ping to sit with her. As she lifted her curtain, she saw Chen Wei standing under a willow tree and dazedly staring after her. Her face was now skin and bones, her eyes welling with tears.
When she met Chen Rong’s eyes, Chen Wei bit her lips and made little effort to conceal her hatred.
Chen Rong withdrew her gaze and drew the curtain down.
The city of Nan’yang remained shrouded under a morbid atmosphere. Because of what had happened with the Wang House of Lang’ya, travelers were now only allowed in but not out.
Nevertheless, when Chen Rong’s cavalcade left the city, she saw Li Cheng holding something up while saying: “We’re on His Highness’s official business.” The polearms withdrew and gave way to them.
Chen Rong stopped looking and secretly sneered: No wonder Chen Yuan was in such a panic. The Prince of Nan’yang also has a share in that shipment.
Her carriage drove out of the city.
Seeing Chen Rong looking around, Li Cheng rode to her and respectfully said, “Don’t worry, miss, we’re taking a smaller road this time and won’t be running into any refugees. We may not even run into any barbarians if we are careful.”
Chen Rong nodded, then bowed from her seat and softly said, “Sir, our safety hinges on you, please act with prudence.”
Li Cheng scratched his head and boyishly grinned at the flattery, saying: “Don’t worry miss, I would be careful even for myself.”
He turned his head shouting: “Faster.”
The cavalcade turned onto a smaller road after thirty miles outside of Nan’yang just like Li Cheng had said. The rugged road was difficult to navigate, and was muted in desolation. The day went by with only the sound of rolling wheels and the guards’ chatter and laughs.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
In the blink of an eye, three days had passed.
Throughout this time, their team traveled during the day and camped at night. Because it was winter, there were few wild animals around, and their journey was surprisingly smooth.
By noon, the cavalcade rerouted back onto the paved road.
Li Cheng rode to Chen Rong’s carriage and said while looking ahead: “I had thought it would take five more days. But it looks like we’ll arrive in Ximing tomorrow morning.”
Chen Rong lifted her curtain to look to the barrenness ahead. “Is General Ran in Ximing? Then he must be nearby?”
Li Cheng hummed his reply.
He turned to look at Chen Rong’s vague features behind her veil, praising her: “Miss, what a fine example you make. You do not say a word even though it must be hard on you.” He paused and then murmured, “Other masters and mistresses are even fussy about their meals. They make it tiring and time consuming for all of us.”
Chen Rong smiled without answering.
They rushed away at full speed with the reminder that Ximing was just ahead, and especially when they began to see refugees and a few Hu from time to time.
In the evening, Chen Rong and everyone else ate some dry food and quickly went on.
A full moon hung in the clear sky tonight.
After consulting with Chen Rong, Li Cheng decided to continue through the night and stop to camp only after they arrived in Ximing. After his order was passed down, the guards lit torches and urged their horses ahead.
Li Cheng was apparently knowledgeable in militarism. He ordered each guard to hold two torches and tie ten more to each carriage. All of a sudden, a few dozen people had turned into a few hundred. They rushed through the night, their rumbling hooves no longer cautious.
Two hours later at midnight, Ximing’s tall city walls appeared before their eyes.
The guards erupted into cheers, their hollers carried to the distance by the wind.
Li Cheng likewise smiled at the sight of the city. He waved his right hand, shouting: “Set camp.”
They were used to pitching tents, having spent most of their time in the wilderness. Everything was in order in less than a quarter of an hour. Chen Rong and Nurse Ping’s tent was placed in the center.
After her tent was set, Chen Rong bent down to go inside. She watched Nurse Ping occupying herself with lighting the incense and making her bed. Then, looking at the moonlight spilling into the tent entrance, she whispered, “Nurse.”
Nurse Ping turned to look at Chen Rong when she didn’t hear an answer.
“Miss, what is it?” she called again at the sight of a pensive Chen Rong.
“Tell me, nurse, if General Ran still wants to marry me, should I accept his offer?”
This was the first time she volunteered to talk to Nurse Ping about this.
Overjoyed, Nurse Ping threw her work aside, ran to her and happily said, “Of course you should, of course you should.”
“Of course. Heaven will spite you if you keep rejecting such a good thing!”
Chen Rong slowly turned to look at the doorway that was dusted over by a silvery light. She didn’t move for a very long time. Just as Nurse Ping was running out of patience and wanting to speak, she heard Chen Rong hoarsely say: “Whenever I think of him now, there is neither hate nor resentment. Sometimes when I try to recall him, even his face has become blurry… Which is great, because I have finally let it go… But him, he’s so noble and extraordinary that even a princess isn’t good enough for him. When will it ever be my turn? I know myself, once I recognize my feelings, I won’t tolerate a grain of sand in my eyes. I won’t be satisfied as his honored concubine let alone an ordinary concubine. If I see him with his wife, I will be driven mad with jealousy… Nurse, since I’ve forgotten my hatred for him, does that mean I can marry him? Is this unhappy ending the only way can I get the peace I want?”
At this juncture, Chen Rong slowly turned around to look at her nurse.
Nurse Ping was blinking her small eyes in puzzlement.
“What are you talking about, miss? You keep saying ‘he’ this and ‘he’ that. I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
The nurse looked up at her mistress, coaxing her: “Why don’t you tell me again?”
“Never mind if you can’t understand,” said Chen Rong, dismissively.
She turned away staring at the silvery light on the ground.
Nurse Ping watched the contemplative Chen Rong and thought that she couldn’t look lonelier. It was an eternal loneliness that would last a lifetime and into eternity, the loneliness of someone who could only confide in herself be it joy or heartache.
Nurse Ping hurt for her. She hastened to put on a smile and almost spoke if not for a series of hooves arriving outside.
They came with a dreadful rumble and eerie air.
Laughter halted to the sound of the fast approaching gallops. At once, Li Cheng shouted: “Take arms and mount your horses.”
“Aye, aye.” Nervous answers and neighing simultaneously returned.
Chen Rong got up and went out to see that all the guards had finished tidying up, now riding into their ranks.
At the same time, a dozen knights had come to within 200 paces of them, lurking in the darkness ahead.
Chapter 107: Chen Rong’s Request
Looking at the knights whose faces were obscured behind their helmets, Li Cheng strode out, raised his clasped hands, and began to speak.
Before he could offer his greetings, however, one of the knights had spoken to him in the tongue of the Jins: “Do you belong to the Chen House in Nan’yang?”
They recognize who we are.
Li Cheng and his guards erupted in cheers. Only Han people would be able to recognize their many complicated family crests.
“Aye,” Li Cheng quickly answered. He placed his hands together and respectfully asked, “And you are…?”
“We work under General Ran,” the armored knight replied, motioning his subordinates to remove their masks and reveal their faces.
Li Cheng and his men laughed like loonies when they heard their answer and saw their faces. Some of them were even making their horses run in circles while they laugh.
Li Cheng likewise beamed from ear to ear. “I beg your pardon, our guys are beyond thrilled to hear that you are General Ran’s men.”
The dozen or so knights hadn’t bothered lifting their eyes amid the guards’ guffaw. Only until Li Cheng spoke did the Jin voice sound again: “It’s getting late, ask your mistress to go see General Ran.”
Li Cheng did not question how they knew a young lady was with them. He just joyously replied: “Aye, aye, aye.” He waved his right hand and shouted, “Stop horsing around and get ready. We’ll go and meet General Ran tonight.”
“Aye,” the guards replied and started to get busy.
Thic translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Soon after, they had tidied up and followed the knights forward.
Chen Rong quietly lifted her curtain to look around, beckoning Li Cheng closer as she did so.
He rode over and broke into a pleasant laugh: “Miss, how may I be of service?”
His booming voice caused the knights to turn their heads.
Chen Rong shyly bowed her head and waited until the knights impatiently turn away before motioning Li Cheng near again. “Li Cheng, are these men truly General Ran’s subordinates?” she whispered.
Li Cheng chuckled, but seeing Chen Rong’s unimpressed face, he quickly dropped his voice and replied, “Rest assured, miss. They are General Ran’s personal guards. We’ve met them before.”
Only then did Chen Rong relax.
Li Cheng laughed again and then caught up to the knights.
After nearly an hour, the torch-lit cavalcade arrived at a mountain cleft lined with tents.
Chen Rong peered outside and saw numerous flying banners in the distance with the character “Min” on them.
The camp site was packed with tents. Besides the flapping flags, all was quiet.
Having arrived at such a solemn place, Li Cheng and his men ceased their noises and followed the armored knights to the centermost tent.
Chen Rong’s carriage stopped outside while Li Cheng and several guards followed the knights inside.
Nurse Ping eyed them as she whispered from Chen Rong’s side: “It’s already so late, General Ran won’t summon you, will he?” Unease was heard in her voice.
At length, footsteps sounded.
Chen Rong looked up only to find her gaze suspended.
A handsome yet severe man in a black outfit appeared at the entrance. He apparently had just bathed, water dripping from his dark hair. A few droplets rolled down his chiseled face and onto the strong chest hidden behind his black undergarment.
His appearance caused the guards and knights to bow their heads, not daring to breathe a breath too loud.
Chen Rong was no exception. She lowered her head the moment his inky eyes set upon her.
Ran Min strode to her carriage and then stopped.
He stared at her and, all of a sudden, huskily laughed. “Little lady, we meet again.”
In the carriage, Chen Rong bowed to him and respectfully replied, “Aye, good greetings, general.”
Her voice was cool and calm.
“Lift your head,” he abruptly commanded.
Chen Rong stiffened, but still obediently looked up.
They faced each other in the moonlight.
As he carefully studied her, Ran Min’s eyebrows ever slightly furrowed.
A second later, he moved his thin lips, waved and barked, “Be sure to make arrangements for Miss Chen!”
“Aye.” Several soldiers stepped out, surrounded Chen Rong’s carriage, and steered it in a different direction.
At this point, Nurse Ping exhaled and said in a hopeful tone: “Miss, had a man of his station actually come to see you? It seems General Ran has great respect for you.”
Chen Rong softly hummed a reply. She knew Ran Min hated the nobles’ bureaucratic rules and had obviously come out just to see her. He had taken into account that it was too late to summon her into his tent. It was indeed rare of him to do something like that.
The soldiers had vacated a tent in the west for Chen Rong and Nurse Ping to stay.
As Chen Rong went inside with her nurse’s help, she suddenly stopped and asked one of the soldiers, “What about the Chens’ family guards?”
The soldier bowed to her and loudly replied, “I do not know, miss.”
Chen Rong pressed her lips together and then bent down to enter the tent.
On the other side, Li Cheng and the guards were also led away by the soldiers.
Looking at Li Cheng and his group leave, a middle-aged scholar approached Ran Min from behind and smilingly said, “That knave Chen Yuan hasn’t come to his senses. He’s still sending people here.”
Ran Min faintly smiled. His smile was both unconcerned as it was sarcastic.
“But I must say,” the middle-aged scholar added, ”that was an enormous amount of food. Not even Chen Gongrang would be able to bear losing so much food, let alone Chen Yuan.”
Ran Min smirked and lightly said, “Those food cargos were entrusted to Chen Yuan by the Prince of Nan’yang to transport.”
Another scholar, tall and thin, walked up behind them and chuckled to Ran Min: “You had posed as the barbarians to rob his food. How funny that Chen Yuan still places hope on receiving your help. He even sends two young ladies here, one after another.”
Five or six men laughed out loud.
Ran Min did not join them. He looked in the direction Chen Rong had left and unhurriedly said, “But I want this young lady to come.”
He smiled and walked back to his tent, leaving the remaining advisors to look at one another.
The military camp was surrounded by neighing, heavy breathing, and insect chirping. Even the wind sounded dreary and bleak. Nurse Ping tossed and turned throughout the night. She looked at Chen Rong’s bed several times, wanting to talk to her. But no matter how many times she looked, she only saw Chen Rong in a deep sleep.
Early next morning, with dark circles under her eyes, Nurse Ping yawningly combed Chen Rong’s hair and said, “You slept so well last night. I was so scared, but you didn’t even turn once.”
Chen Rong’s mouth made a twitch but she did not answer.
Just then, a loud voice called in: “Is the young miss ready? The general wants to see her.”
Nurse Ping was startled by his voice. Her hand jerked and almost dropped all the combs to the floor. She quickly picked them up, winced twice, and hollered back: “Almost finished, just a second.”
She soon finished dressing Chen Rong, at which time she tilted her head to take a look, nodded with satisfaction, and urged her mistress: “Miss, let’s go.”
Chen Rong hummed and stepped out of the tent.
Nurse Ping followed behind. After a few steps, she began to worry and thus leaned in to say: “Miss, when you’re with General Ran, do try to make a good impression. If he expresses his wish to marry you, then you mustn’t reject him.” She stared at Chen Rong and sincerely added, “Please agree. Don’t change your mind then!”
Chen Rong paid little attention to her. She just kept her head down, wove her hands in front of her abdomen, and slowly walked ahead.
The soldiers had all left their tents by now. A few paces later, they heard footsteps pounding from the other side of the cleft, along with rumbling hooves and billowing smoke.
By the time Chen Rong arrived at the centermost tent, a line of soldiers were already standing there, holding polearms and staring expressionlessly at her.
Nurse Ping’s legs gave out upon seeing these people.
Chen Rong hastened to hold her. She kept her head down and soon passed the heavily guarded area into the tent.
Inside, Ran Min was sitting on the divan using a red cloth to wipe his spear. He slowly raised his head when he heard the arriving footsteps.
His inky eyes patiently fixed upon Chen Rong before they glanced over at Nurse Ping. By the time he turned back to Chen Rong, his thin lips were smiling.
“Sit,” he motioned.
Chen Rong let go of Nurse Ping and scurried to the seat he had pointed to.
Ran Min poured her a cup of wine, then pointed and ordered: “Drink.”
Chen Rong received it from him and threw her head back for a swig.
“How straightforward,” Ran Min laughed.
He put the flagon down and then turned to stare at her.
Eventually, his thin lips curved into a smile. “You seem calmer this time.”
Chen Rong demurely smiled back. “It’s not as if you will eat me.”
Ran Min’s brow slowly furrowed.
He leaned down in front of Chen Rong, stiffening her when his breathing fluttered across her face.
Then, he reached out and lifted her chin.
Carefully watching her, Ran Min cocked a brow and quizzically asked, “Why aren’t you affronted by me anymore?”
Chen Rong also raised a brow upon hearing him ask. “Do you want me to be afraid of you?”
Ran Min did not answer.
He just held her chin and continued to stare at her. There was a sense of loss in those habitually fiery eye… it was extremely hard to detect, and was gone in a flash. If Chen Rong didn’t know him better, she wouldn’t have noticed it.
Just then, footfalls sounded outside.
They swiftly arrived at the tent, yet Ran Min still wouldn’t let go of Chen Rong’s chin.
Chen Rong didn’t panic when he didn’t let go. She merely looked back at him with unruffled eyes.
Sure enough, he slowly let go by the time the footsteps reached just outside the tent.
Several advisors came in. They gave Chen Rong a glance before indifferently turning to Ran Min.
She did not wait to be reminded. She stood up from the divan, quietly retreated to a corner behind Ran Min, and sat down on a bench.
Ran Min glanced at her action and wanted to laugh, but whatever he may be thinking, he stopped himself before his smile could bloom.
Several advisors stood before Ran Min. One of them stepped forward, placed his hands together and said, “General, Xianbei scouts are showing up in the Mo’yang area.”
After he finished, another advisor stepped forward, placed his hands together and said, “General, His Majesty boiled the Chancellor’s family a month ago. He then gave each minister a piece of meat and forced them to eat it.”
After they had finished reporting to him, they began withdrawing from the tent.
Chen Rong quietly stepped out and sat down on the same divan again.
Ran Min slowly turned to regard her.
The appreciation she saw in his eyes threw her off for a moment. She vaguely remembered the sense of loss she had felt each time she saw him look at others this way, and how she had wished she could trade her life for such a look. During those years, she would collect everything that had anything to do with him, always wanting to know him better. She had longed to be alone with him, if only for a short second, so that he would glance at her with this regard… but even so simple a wish was a luxury she couldn’t afford.
Funniest of all was that she finally got what she wanted, but she couldn’t feel a thing.
“You flatter me, general,” Chen Rong softly said.
Ran Min furrowed his brow and again looked at her, suddenly asking: “Little miss, for what ha an unwed girl like you traveled the distance to see me?”
His voice was slightly humored, asking as though he didn’t already know.
Chen Rong looked up at him, her eyes flashing a light so extraordinary that they made Ran Min lean back in anticipation.
Sure enough, she slowly dropped her gaze and, after contemplating her wording, quietly said, “I’ve come at the request of Chen Yuan to ask for your help in taking back our food supply from the Hu.”
Without waiting for Ran Min to reply, she mustered her courage to look up at him and said, “However, I knew as soon as I received his order that Chen Yuan is foolish.”
Ran Min cocked an eyebrow, and leaned closer. “Oh? Tell me, then.”
Chen Rong looked at him and lightly said, “I think with you here, the bandits are too terrified to rob the food and flex their muscles with that kind of fanfare. I’m fairly sure the grains had been retrieved by you.” What an elegant word she had used – retrieved.
Ran Min burst out laughing.
He shook with laughter and slapped his hand on the table, prompting a few turning heads.
He waved to a middle-aged scholar and laughingly said, “Sir Zhang, do you know what this young lady had just said? She said that with me here, the bandits are too terrified to come close. And then she said the food supply was retrieved by me.”
Upon hearing his words, several advisors widened their eyes looking at Chen Rong in surprise. The middle-aged scholar strode in and repeatedly exclaimed, “Impressive, young lady. I thought I was smart, but it turns out I’m not even as good as a little girl!”
Ran Min was still booming with laughter.
He stopped to catch his breath, then waved hid men away. “Leave, I still want to talk to the little miss.”
His advisors chuckled and took their leave.
Ran Min swiched his gaze to Chen Rong. He raised an eyebrow and laughed, “Since you know Chen Yuan is foolish, why had you come at his behest?” He leaned in, his deep magnetic voice breathing into her ear: “Or do you miss me so much, Ah Rong, that you want to take this opportunity to see me?”
Chen Rong looked back at him and then solemnly shook her head.
His handsome features appeared to be chiseled under the sunlight. For the first time in her life, her voice was calm and cold when she looked at him: “Nay, I have come to ask a favor of you.”
Ran Min’s interest was piqued. He folded his hands across his chest and laughed. “A favor? Let me hear it, then.”
Chen Rong pressed her lips together and lowered her eyes. After a while, she decisively looked up at him and said, “General, I know that you are on a battlefield year round and thus provisions are your lifeline.”
Her hands entwined under her wide sleeves. Her eyes had a quiet ruthlessly when they looked to Ran Min. “As luck would have it, I know of a secret route that Lady Ruan and Chen Yuan are using to trade food and transport money.”
Chen Rong had followed Ran Min away from Nan’yang after she had gotten married to him in her previous life. Not knowing she was unloved, Lady Ruan had sent people to seek her after they had been robbed by the Hu, and asked her to find Ran Min so he could send troops to guard the route. This was how Chen Rong had such information.
The smile on Ran Min’s face faded upon hearing her words.
His eyes bored into her.
Anyone would tremble and sweat under the gaze of his eyes – ones as dark as the night sky and as intense as fire.
But not Chen Rong. In her previous life, she had seen this appearance of his too many times. Besides, when she prepared herself to say these words, she had thought of all the possible consequences that could come of them.
Chen Rong’s eyes remained a state of calm.
“Since it’s a secret route,” Ran Min said, “at a time when the Hu can attack at any moment, Lady Ruan and Chen Yuan will certainly increase their transport. Little miss, do you know the weight of your words?”
Chen Rong looked at him.
Her eyes were still bright and calm, having no trace of shame or fluster.
She nodded, coldly smiling a tight-lip smile: “I want him to suffer the worst of losses!”
Ran Min leaned back to quietly stare at Chen Rong and asked, “Aren’t you afraid that your clan will be wiped out due to food shortage when the Hu lay seige to the city?”
“Nay,” Chen Rong resolutely replied.
“Chen Yuan is a very selfish man. What he owns would likely be given to help the Ruan family or to curry favor with the Prince of Nan’yang. But he will never give them to our clan no matter what happens.”
She knew what Ran Min must be wondering. She wryly smiled, dropped her gaze, blinked back tears, and whispered, “If I hadn’t been pushed into a corner, why would a woman of gentry descent think of scheming against her own elders?”
Her lips quivered. “In the eyes of Chen Yuan and his wives, I am someone they can freely trample and insult.” Colors drained from her face when she thought of the night she had been locked in the small cabin and of the guards’ conversation… She couldn’t stop herself from shuddering. Due to her pain, her hatred, and her helplessness, her beautiful face perceptibly contorted.
At this point, Ran Min’s deep and powerful voice sounded: “Deal!”
Chen Rong whipped her head up looking at him.
Ran Min was still staring at her. His eyes were without disgust, faintly displaying tenderness and approval, even. He nodded his head, laughed and said, “You’re right, Ah Rong. I’m in great need of provisions.”
Chen Rong happily got up and curtsied to him. “I thank you, general.”
She knew Ran Min held too much stake to reject the proposal. Even so, she kept her rain-beaten flower appearance and used a pitiful voice to thank him.
Chen Rong maintained her curtsy, lowered her eyes, and said after a while, “I have another favor to ask.”
“The Prince of Nan’yang has a share in the food supply you are robbing from Chen Yuan,” she softly articulated.
Her words caused a nonchalantly sitting Ran Min to lower to her, asking, “How do you know?”
A smile displayed on Chen Rong’s pale face. “I overheard it, of course.”
Seeing that Ran Min seemed to have believed her, she continued: “I would like to ask you to announce that the supply route had been disclosed by an aid named Li Mu and an aid named Xu Qian from the Nan’yang Prince’s estate.” She paused and then eagerly explained to Ran Min: “Li Mu is the older brother of Chen Yuan’s lesser madam, Lady Li. She depends on him the most. As for Xu Qian, he deserves to die for his odious appearance and vileness!”
After she finished, she kept her bowing head and ceremony posture. She did not rise or dare to look up at Ran Min.
Silence, great silence.
Some time later, Ran Min still didn’t answer.
As she waited, Chen Rong’s graceful posture couldn’t keep from shaking. Two drops of tears gradually hung on her long lashes.
It had been some length of time but Chen Rong had not received Ran Min’s answer nor had she the courage to look up at him. She grew white as she bitterly smiled. The words from her mouth were ruthless and bleak: “I beg your pardon, general. Since they are unkind they cannot blame me for being unrighteous! I admit I’m just a petty, vengeful woman. Anyone who wants to trample on me best look out for his own two feet!”
Although she was trembling, her voice was as calm as her eyes.
Chen Rong maintained her posture of ceremony and dutiful look. In the stifling atmosphere, her heart quietly hardened: If he doesn’t agree, I will remind him of the time I had risked my life to leave the city and help him get rid of the moles and recoup major losses for him. That’s right, I had also donated ten carriages of grains to him.
However long it had been, so long that Chen Rong started to lose her confidence, so long that her mouth hesitated to speak. As she was about to collect her debt of gratitude, a burst of mad laughter abruptly erupted.
Sorry for the wait. I didn’t want anyone flipping tables after Ch 104 & 105 so I wanted to add 106 & 107 as a batch update. With that said, I am coming up to a pretty busy period so updates from now on will be infrequent, batch or not. Hopefully you guys can distract yourselves with the Olympics or something 😀