Chapter 114: Confrontation
Chen Rong herself almost laughed out loud upon hearing the young scholar’s laughter.
But she couldn’t laugh, of course. Not only could she not laugh, she also had to bow her head docilely and take a step back.
Ran Min’s countenance maintained its composure.
Slowly, his mouth curved into a smile. “Good for you Wang Qilang! You have my respect!”
He clasped his hands, stared past the scholar and shouted, “If that is your master’s prediction, why has he not come out to meet me?”
The young scholar looked up at him and began to explain when another voice spoke to them: “Why don’t you come inside, general? The wine has been warmed, the roast is fragrant. All we are waiting for is our hero to arrive.”
He spoke with an easy and cordial voice. Ran Min softened despite himself.
He turned around and cast the girl hiding behind him a glance.
Chen Rong understood from his expression that he wanted her to come along… while she bit her lips, Ran Min had grabbed her wrist and gone on in.
Two young boys were waiting by the door of the bamboo house. They bowed to the approaching Ran Min and gestured them in.
Ran Min strode in.
Held by his grip, Chen Rong couldn’t help but follow.
Once they were inside, the scent of wafting sandalwood laced with an unknown floral scent helped to calmed Chen Rong’s tense nerves.
She slowly lifted her head.
At the center of the bamboo room sat a handsome young man. The difference tonight was that he was sumptuously attired. He wore a lavender robe with embroidered blue phoenixes while his dark hair scattered on his shoulders. There was a zither on the low table, his slender fingers resting on its strings.
Whenever she saw him, this young man always appeared so leisurely and noble. At this moment, basked in the candlelight behind him, in his nobility was also a majestic and resplendent air.
He was merely sitting there, but she quite thought his bearing and grace overshadowed the rest of the world. Why do I feel that even the Sima royalty would feel ashamed of themselves if they were to see Wang Hong like this? Chen Rong distractedly thought.
With his eyes fixed on Wang Hong, Ran Min approached and resoundingly laughed: “Wang Qilang, you sure look relaxed!”
Wang Hong smiled and slowly lifted his head.
In that short moment, Chen Rong instinctively shrank back, almost hiding behind Ran Min.
Wang Hong did not look at her.
He was quietly looking at Ran Min instead.
Ran Min knitted his brow, asking: “Is this how Qilang welcome his special guests?”
The zither was plucked to a series of beautiful notes. Wang Hong then raised a brow and casually replied, “General, you’ve come in the middle of the night to negotiate with me, am I right? In that case, I wonder if I can really call you a special guest.”
His voice was resonating though it remained pleasant.
Chen Rong’s head whipped up to look at Wang Hong.
In the candlelight, she saw a faint smile on his face. But a closer look revealed waves at the bottom of his clear eyes.
Ran Min was also taken aback.
He intently stared at Wang Hong before bursting into laughter.
He strode to the table opposite Wang Hong and took his seat. Then, he gave Chen Rong a brief glance and ordered, “Pour me wine!”
Chen Rong gave a start upon hearing his command. She kept her head bowed, walked to his table and knelt down.
From the moment Ran Min sat down, maids waiting tableside had gracefully walked over to serve him. Now seeing Ran Min ordering Chen Rong about even though she was also supposed to be a guest, they looked at each other in confusion before dropping to a curtsy and retreating behind Chen Rong.
At this time, Wang Hong was still faintly smiling. He did not raise his eyes to look at her. It was as though in his eyes, Chen Rong was just a concubine Ran Min had conveniently brought along, as though she was only an inconsequential stranger he had never met before…
Chen Rong steadied herself, held her sleeve, and began to pour wine for Ran Min.
The sound of flowing liquid occupied the quiet bamboo house.
In an instant, the glass of wine had been filled.
Ran Min gave Chen Rong a glance, lifted his wine, and slowly said, “Fill Qilang’s cup as well.”
It was an order.
“Aye.” She made a turn and carried the flagon toward Wang Hong.
With her head lowered, she got before Wang Hong and accorded him ceremony. She next slightly bent down, lifted the flagon, and filled his cup.
The wine gurgled into the vessel.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Wang Hong’s faint smile remained on his handsome face. His eyes were so peaceful, and his smile so leisurely, that she couldn’t detect any difference from him.
Ran Min glanced at the lofty and indifferent Wang Hong, suddenly feeling disgusted with himself. “Step down!” he ordered.
With her head bowed, Chen Rong slowly retreated.
In moments, she had retreated to stand behind Ran Min, her sylphlike figure gradually dissolving among the shadows.
Ran Min withdrew his attention from Chen Rong. Staring at Wang Hong, he suddenly smiled with a question. “I must ask, how did you know I would come tonight, Qilang? And how did you know I want to negotiate with you?”
Wang Hong’s slender hand reached out.
Slowly lifting the wine Chen Rong had just poured, he took a sip and casually answered, “General, you’re a man of extraordinary ambitions and great plans to match. You’ll not easily let go of such a good opportunity to make a deal with the Wang House of Lang’ya.”
As Wang Hong said these words, Ran Min’s eyes darkened chillingly.
He was a Heavenly Prince who saw little value in human lives. When he wanted to display his might, his aura could be quite the frightening thing to behold.
Unwittingly, the maids on either side began to tremble.
Yet Wang Hong was still smiling, his every manner the definition of elegance.
Ran Min slowly leaned forward, his hawk-like eyes locked on Wang Hong, but his voice was humored: “How do you know I have great ambitions and plans?”
Wang Hong raised his head.
He looked at Ran Min, smiled, and shook the wine in his hand. “Cheers!” After throwing his head back for a swig, he turned the cup upside-down and shook it at Ran Min, clearly suggesting that they drink first before talking.
Like a preying wolf, Ran Min’s inscrutable eyes did not move from him. Until now, no one had been able to defy his aura. Even the masters of the Shi House would silently quake in their boots.
Having said that, Wang Hong would be nothing more than his facade were he to blunder now.
Ran Min regarded Wang Hong for a while before slowly sitting up.
The deadly air instantaneously cleared. The maidservants exhaled in relief. Chen Rong lifted her head to see that Ran Min was also raising his wine to drink. With this, she knew Wang Hong was already ahead in this round.
The maidservants waited for Ran Min to finish his wine before they stepped forward again to fill the two men’s drinks.
Wang Hong did not take his cup. He placed his right hand over the zither and carelessly plucked twice, giving sound to sweet light notes that swept away the heavy atmosphere in the bamboo house. He then quietly looked up at Ran Min and asked, “Have you thought of how you’ll be helping me in this battle, general?”
She couldn’t believe he actually asked this question!
And with such an offhand yet assured tone!
Chen Rong looked up…
Ran Min also lifted his head. He stared straight at Wang Hong before suddenly booming in laughter. “Why should I help you, Wang Hong?”
Wang Hong faintly smiled at his question.
Ran Min slowly furrowed his brow. He pounded the wine vessel down and quietly growled, “It’s maddening talking to you people. Fine, Wang Qilang, let us be frank with each other. I’ll help you drive Murong Ke away this time. In exchange, if I have a request in the future, then do help me out with the Jin court.”
After he threw his own request out there, his wolf-like eyes stared at Wang Hong to await his answer.
Wang Hong smiled.
He slowly rose from his seat, casting a shadow onto the wall behind him.
Wang Hong regarded Ran Min. Slowly, he broke into a smile, his snow-white teeth flashing coldly.
His voice was gentle as always, but it was also indifferent: “Dealing with Murong Ke is but a trivial matter for you, general. Compared to your grand scheme, I’m receiving the short end of the stick.”
Ran Min impatiently shot to his feet.
He pounded on the table, glared at Wang Hong, and angrily spat, “Wang Qilang, don’t you forget that your life is in danger without me! Even the Wang House in Lang’ya stands to lose its prestige over this matter. Given the circumstances, how dare you say that you’re getting the short end of the stick!”
Thus raged, he flapped his sleeves and turned to go.
Chen Rong gave a start. She glanced at Wang Hong to see that he was calmly watching Ran Min leave. She paused, and then hurried out of the bamboo house.
When they saw Ran Min walking out, his awaiting guards quickly went up to him.
They wanted to ask him how the meeting had gone, but did not dare to utter a sound when they saw his ill-humored face.
They all turned around to leave.
Under a surly Ran Min’s leadership, they wordlessly kept their heads down and walked on.
“Where’s the fire coming from?” suddenly cried a guard when they reached the street.
Everyone looked up.
Flames and billowing smoke were rising from the west sky. Nan’yang civilians could be heard shouting.
As they were watching, the guard yelled, “Crap! General, look over there!”
Chapter 115: Machinations
Ran Min’s face darkened. He waved his hand and shouted, “Faster.”
His guards didn’t need to be told; they had already rushed off.
Soon, they arrived at the scene of the fire.
As they watched the blazing flames and billowing smoke, and the neighbors flitting in and out, shouting as they tried to put out the fire, a guard heatedly cried, “General, what will we do?!”
At the same time, exclamations were heard in the distance from Nan’yang: “This courtyard has been abandoned for years, how strange that it suddenly catches on fire!”
“It looks like it could burn for a few more days.”
Ran Min’s face was as still as water while the commotion went on around them.
Likewise, Chen Rong blankly stared at the sky-high flames as she murmured, “We can’t leave now.”
She was right; they could not leave.
The tunnel entrance was inside the burning courtyard. Looking at the fire, however, everything would be incinerated within three days, and by then the tunnel wouldn’t be usable anymore.
Slowly, Ran Min’s face iced up, his eyes razor sharp.
“General?” whispered a guard.
He did not bother to turn around. He stared at the rolling smoke for a while before sneering: “Good for Wang Hong, good for Wang Qilang!”
He may not have had the evidence that it was Wang Hong’s doing, but he was quite certain he had been maneuvered by him!
Ran Min at once strode back to Wang Hong’s courtyard.
His guards kept closely behind him. Each and every one of them readied his grip on his scabbard in preparation for war.
Terrified by the forbidding atmosphere, Chen Rong blindly followed Ran Min and dared not lift her head.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Ran Min suddenly halted.
His lips drew into a line as he stared ahead.
Chen Rong sensed the change in the air and thus raised her head.
She recognized that they had unknowingly marched to the side door of the hamlet where Wang Hong resided. But this time, the door was wide open. Under a single torch light, Wang Hong stood in the wind with the lavender coat draped around him. His hands were clasped together as he quietly watched them.
There was no one behind him.
The torch flickered in the night wind. The stars in the sky faintly scattered their light over his head and body.
His entire being was elegance itself.
Wang Hong quietly remained by the doorway. When he saw a murderous Ran Min halt, he raised his clasped hands and greeted him: “It is my great honor to receive you again, general!” He then looked up, revealing eyes that twinkled under the stars. “I beg your understanding. Where home and country are concerned, I cannot help but resort to a little scheming.”
Like a wolf, Ran Min glared at him and returned: “What makes you think an insignificant city like Nan’yang can trap me? What I don’t want to do, no schemes can force me!”
Wang Hong smiled.
His smile couldn’t be more brilliant.
He quietly watched Ran Min and then unhurriedly replied, “How can you say that, general? Murong Ke is every bit my enemy as he is yours.”
He continued: “You must have been planning to wait for the city of Nan’yang and Murong Ke to shed each other’s blood before you would join the fray.” As soon as he finished, Chen Rong saw Ran Min’s wolflike eyes narrowing – an expression that showed Wang Hong had hit the nail on the head.
Clasping his hands behind his back, Wang Hong continued a little resignedly: “You’re an ambitious man, general. Even if you find compassion in your heart, when necessary, you will see human lives no different from the animals. But I cannot do the same.”
Ran Min scoffed, coldly saying: “You would want to gamble, naturally.”
Nevertheless, his ire seemed to have diminished by the time he uttered this sentence.
At this time, Wang Hong inclined and gracefully gestured toward the courtyard. “Come in, general.”
Ran Min did not move.
He stared at Wang Hong and coldly said, “I do not like to be manipulated.”
Wang Hong did not return his stare though he was still smiling. “Nor do I like to be threatened.”
Ran Min had made the night journey both to negotiate with him but also to use the situation to threaten him, or rather to threaten the Wang House of Lang’ya into submission. This was why Wang Hong had such words to say.
Ran Min glowered.
At this time, Wang Hong tossed his sleeves and nonchalantly went inside. As he walked, his clear voice rang: “Emperor Gaozu of Han repeatedly took defeats after he slayed the white snake and began his campaign. The war is not won from one battle, you know.”
Ran Min raised his head in horror: Is he actually comparing himself to the founding emperor of Han? What is he trying to say?
He stood staring after Wang Hong. At length, he suddenly smiled. “Good for Wang Hong!” His smile was rather grim.
As he was stepping inside, his guards slowly withdrew their weapons and followed him in.
Chen Rong similarly followed with a bowed head.
She had only reached the bamboo house by the time two maidservants intercepted her. They dropped to a curtsy and softly said, “We’ve prepared a bath and a change of clothes for you. Please come this way with us, miss.”
Chen Rong stopped.
She looked up at Ran Min.
But it was Wang Hong’s lucid eyes that she came to face with. She wondered since when had he turned to wordlessly look at her like this. Under the starry sky, his eyes were like water…
This one glance made Chen Rong so very ashamed. She hastily bowed her head and, without seeking Ran Min’s answer any longer, went away with the maidservants.
All the same, Ran Min was completely preoccupied by tomorrow’s battle. His attention was not on her coming and going. Thus by the time she disappeared, he hadn’t even turned to look.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Chen Rong followed the maidservants to a bamboo pavilion. She gazed up at the fine structure and the swaying cypresses in the wind only to quietly remark: “What a charming place.”
“You wouldn’t guess it miss,” a maid smilingly replied, “but each plant and tree here is cared for by our Qilang.” The other covered her giggles: “Aye, it’s true! If the ladies in Nan’yang knew this place existed, I’m certain the walls would be torn down by now.”
There were smiles and sincerity when the maids interacted with Chen Rong. They were overall very amiable.
She was able to let go of her worries. She smiled, looked around and murmured, “Aye, Qilang’s grace surpasses us mere mortals.” But her? She had to rack her brains just to think of those superlatives.
At this time, the maidservants had stepped onto the creaking stairs.
Within a short while, they pushed the bamboo door to the loft.
Chen Rong followed them upstairs.
A burst of scented breeze entered her nose when she entered. This bamboo loft had looked elegant and simple from the outside, so she hadn’t expected to see the extravagance that was inside. Beaded draperies hung in the fragrant air, and even the floor was covered with a thick rug.
She went to the windowsill.
From here, she could see the lush courtyard where evergreens like bamboo and pines stood rooted. Despite being in winter, the landscape was as verdant as if it were spring.
She looked out through a tall pine to see the eaves of a bamboo house. It was Wang Qilang’s residence. She wondered what he and Ran Min were saying at this moment.
The maids went to work while Chen Rong was looking around. Before long, one pleasantly said to her, “The water’s ready, miss. Please come in.”
Chen Rong hummed and turned around.
White vapor rose behind the curtains.
When she reached the tub, she looked askance and reached for the gossamer gown that was as cool as ice, gently stroking it.
One of the maids let her dark hair down to comb it, meanwhile glancing at the gown in Chen Rong’s hands and cheerfully said, “Qilang personally sent this silk gown over. Take a look, miss, and see whether it fits you.”
He sent it for me?
Chen Rong was stunned.
She lowered her eyes, her voice slightly trembling: “It’s white.”
By the tub, the other maid was sprinkling plum petals as she answered, “Aye, Qilang’s favorite color is white. He once said that this gown’s the only thing that’s still white and clean in this rotten world.”
Chen Rong murmured, “Still white and clean…” She gently caressed the white gown. “Aye, only this gown can be so white and clean.”
“Come into the tub, miss.”
Chen Rong hummed a reply. She removed her undergarments and stepped into the water.
The water temperature was just right. Lately, Chen Rong had been staying with Ran Min and his troops at the campsite, and hadn’t had any chance to take a clean bath.
She sank deep underwater, leaving only her face above the surface. After letting out a satisfied sigh, Chen Rong smilingly said, “This feels so good.”
The servants happily smiled to see her pleased.
Before long, Chen Rong had put on the silk gown.
It was now very late at night. The maidservants withdrew from her room one after the other. She took off her shoes and climbed into bed.
The quilt was soft and comfortable, and had a subtle fragrance. Even the pillow was made of fine Yangzhi jade. Now that it was winter, it was also covered by a white fox pelt. Chen Rong placed her face against the fluffy warm fur and appraised it for a while as she thought: Right, I think Lady Ruan’s fox fur was of the same color and texture.
The difference is that Lady Ruan had treasured her fox fur and was always reluctant to wear it. Even when she put it on, any servant girl who carelessly touched it would get a good beating. Yet here, they used such precious pelts as pillow covers…
At this thought, Chen Rong couldn’t help herself from surveying the room. Everything she laid eyes on was splendid and rare. If they had owned such things, the ordinary gentry would hide them in their vaults as if they were priceless treasures.
While Chen Rong was looking around, the bamboo door squeaked open to let a maidservant in.
She had her back toward Chen Rong as she lit the incense burner. Upon taking a whiff, Chen Rong couldn’t help but ask: “What scent is this? It’s so pleasant!” It truly was a distinguishing scent.
“It’s ambergris, miss,” the maid smilingly replied.
Ambergris? A royal item, then.
The girl turned to leave after she completed her task. As she was about to open the door, she looked back at Chen Rong and covered her smile to say: “Even on the 9th Princess’s last visit to the estate, Qilang did not receive her quite as well as he is now receiving you.”