Chapter 116: One Night
Chen Rong wordlessly dropped her gaze.
Night turned deep in the blink of an eye.
She slept in the room that drifted with ambergris and listened to the night wind blowing through the bamboo grove as she tossed and turned.
After tossing and turning through most of the night, she found herself truly unable to sleep. She put on a robe and slowly walked out.
“Miss?” asked a servant sleeping in the corner, her voice tinged with sleepiness.
“Go back to sleep,” Chen Rong softly replied.
Outside, the stars were still hung across the sky, along with a crescent moon.
Chen Rong held onto the railing and carefully descended the staircase.
She walked through the bamboo grove to the peach forest that was across from a small stream. She gazed to the distance, thinking that when spring came, this place would be a sight to behold.
She then turned to go in the opposite direction, walking aimlessly for a while before coming to a stopping place.
Under the stars, a snow-white figure was quietly standing on the grassy field in front of her as he looked up to the sky.
Chen Rong recognized at a glance that he was Wang Hong.
She dazedly looked at him, held her tongue, and then quietly turned to leave.
Suddenly, his soft and sweet voice called out to her. “Ah Rong?”
Chen Rong froze.
She slowly turned around.
The man beneath the stars was now looking at her. His eyes were incredibly quiet, easy, and serene.
She approached him with her head looking at the ground, dropping to a curtsy when she was five paces from him.
She sat down at the table opposite him. Looking at the meat and wine in front of her, she softly asked, “Where’s General Ran?”
“He had gone to rest.”
Wang Hong took a cup from his table, filled it, and placed it on Chen Rong’s table. When he withdrew his hand, he waved his wide sleeve, after which the cup Ran Min had left behind rolled onto the grass.
Chen Rong looked at it in surprise and turned to Wang Hong. She saw his fluttering white robe and flowing hair in their usual tranquil manner.
She couldn’t tell whether he was intentional or not, and so she withdrew her gaze.
At this time, she heard Wang Hong speak: “Ah Rong, will you play a song for me?”
She rose from her seat, transferred the zither from Wang Hong’s table onto her own, and pressed her fingers to produce a melodic tune.
Chen Rong’s zither playing was typically resplendent and glorious. At this moment, however, perhaps due to her complicated feelings, it carried some bitter vicissitudes and self mockery.
Under the celestial light, they sat facing each other – one played the zither while the other watched the moon. Empty and alone.
Night was cold, its shadows lonely.
At this time, the gossamer curtain from Chen Rong’s loft lifted.
The round faced maid looked at the silhouettes under the starlight as her slender brows knitted together. She held her chest, murmuring: “Ah Zhi, I don’t like this feeling.”
Ah Zhi was a maid in her mid twenties. She simply watched Wang Hong and Chen Rong, but she did not reply.
The round faced maid knitted her brows further. “How extraordinary is our Qilang? Why would he fall in love with this vulgar girl?”
Ah Zhi smiled and lightly replied, “The master says Qilang will be the Wang clan’s pillar. As his maid, I will help him do what he cannot or do not want to do.”
While the round faced maid blinked and waited, Ah Zhi slowly smiled and continued. “Did Buddhist scriptures not say? Among miserable sentient beings, the most miserable are the ones who cannot have what they want. How can this vulgar girl make Qilang taste the misery of not attaining what he wants? Perhaps we might need to lend a hand after all.”
At this juncture, Ah Zhi dropped a mysterious smile at the round faced maid before turning to leave.
A long while later, the song finally concluded.
Chen Rong rested her hands on the strings as she slowly raised her head to look at Wang Hong.
Wang Hong was still looking up at the sky.
At length, he waved his wide sleeve and quietly said, “Go.”
Chen Rong gave him a curtsy and then turned to leave.
Soon, her figure vanished into the bamboo grove behind the pine trees.
When she returned to the loft, the two maids in the corner respectfully asked, “Anything we can do for you, miss?”
Chen Rong shook her head. “Go back to sleep.”
Amid the rustling sound of fabric, she lied back in bed and at long last closed her eyes.
By the time she woke up again, light had risen in the east. She suddenly remembered that today was Nanyang’s fateful day. She at once got out of bed and thought to call Nurse Ping, but remembering that she wasn’t at home, she changed to call out: “Is someone there?”
A handmaid appeared.
As she observed these maids from the Wang House of Lang’ya, whose appearances and temperaments both befitted those serving a scholarly woman, Chen Rong’s voice unconsciously took on a polite note. “Please bring me my outfit.”
“Don’t you like this white gown, miss?”
Chen Rong shook her head, swept her long hair to the back and said, “No need, I’ll wear my own clothes.”
When she was ready to leave, Chen Rong turned around looking at the white dress on the table and softly asked, “Can you let me keep this?”
The maids looked at her in puzzlement, and then Ah Zhi smiled. “It was a gift for you from Qilang. If you don’t want it, it’ll just get burned.”
Chen Rong reached for it and whispered, “It’s such a pity to burn something so pure.”
She left the loft and hurried on. Only now did she realize the hamlet was empty, for she had been walking for a quarter of an hour without seeing anyone.
While Chen Rong was feeling uneasy, a booming voice called to her, “Miss?”
She quickly turned around.
The person who called her was one of Ran Min’s guards. He strode to her, asking: “So you were here? Come along.”
When he finished, he turned to go.
Chen Rong didn’t move. “Give me a few moments, let me change.”
He frowningly stared at Chen Rong, but at the thought that she was cherished by Ran Min, he suppressed his annoyance to say: “We are facing life and death, how can you talk about clothes at this time?”
Chen Rong gave him no heed, and ran to the bamboo room.
She pushed the door to the empty room and hurried in to change her clothes.
In just moments, she got dressed in a common blue robe, with her chest and waist bound. She put on a hat and ran out again.
The guard did not expect her to disguise herself as an ordinary boy. He looked her up and down and frowningly asked, “With General Ran here, who can harm you, miss?”
Chen Rong placed her hands together and replied, “It can’t hurt to be careful.”
The guard shook his head, not wanting to argue with her. “Let’s go.”
Chen Rong followed behind him. The guard mounted his horse and, without looking back, said to her, “Up, quickly.”
Chen Rong made a reply and mounted her horse.
They rode to the north gate.
Nan’yang had turned into a scene of chaos. Commoners and scholars alike frantically poured to the street like headless flies.
Terrified shouts and murmurs filled Nan’yang.
Because there were too many people on the street, carriages would only get stuck if they try to enter the stream of traffic. Riding was the only feasible mode of transportation.
They rode through the sea of people to arrive at the north gate.
Silence had taken over the area. Chen Rong looked at the quiet scene and couldn’t help but ask, “Is the general here?”
“Because we don’t know which way the Hu will arrive from, the Prince of Nan’yang assigned this gate to Wang Qilang while his men guard the west gate.”
Chen Rong nodded. Hearing him mention Wang Hong without resentment, she couldn’t help from asking: “General Ran doesn’t blame Wang Qilang anymore?”
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
The guard glanced at her, indifferently replying: “A man will encounter all kinds of unpredictable situation. How can he really take these things to heart? If the general is truly angry, he would have cut him down on the spot! The deal is presently going well, he’s very pleased.”
Chen Rong gave a hum. “Indeed,” she said. She had seen Wang Hong in action several times, and he was always composed. He never embarrassed or cornered the other party… She was certain he would also do or say something afterwards to dissipate Ran Min’s resentment this time.
At this moment, the guard took out a seal and waved it at the fortress guards which allowed them to pass.
He next took Chen Rong to the fortress wall.
They had barely neared the wall when she heard ceaseless noises from above. The surprising thing was that there was laughter among these sounds.
She hurriedly followed the guard and soon appeared on the wall.
It turned out that the wall had been packed with people. Celebrated scholars who were friends with Wang Hong had all made their appearances: Yu Zhi, Huan Jiulang, as well as Chen Gongrang and others.
Standing in the center of the wall was Wang Hong in his snow-white outfit.
He was smilingly looking down below and answering Yu Zhi from time to time.
At this time, the guard said to her, “The general isn’t here.”
He crossed the crowd to take Chen Rong to the west side of the city wall.
Chen Rong followed behind him looking to the ground.
Almost suddenly, a bundle appeared in front of her.
She looked up.
Chen Rong confusedly received it. She hadn’t spoken by the time the Wang servant had woven into the crowd. At this time, Ran Min’s guard impatiently called back to her, “Why aren’t you coming?”
Chen Rong made a reply and hurried to catch up.
Chapter 117: Murong Ke
Ran Min was at the fortress tower. When Chen Rong got there, he was giving orders to a few of his subordinates. At this time, Ran Min and his commanders were dressed in normal clothes. It appeared their presence in Nan’yang had not been let known.
Chen Rong hid away in the side room when she saw that Ran Min was occupied. She opened the bundle and held up a soft golden armor. Though it was very lightweight, its remarkable toughness provided protection for the vital chest area. In the past, she had heard from Ran Min that there were no more than ten of these in the world.
Chen Rong dropped her gaze and brought the armor to her face, murmuring, “It’s not as if you don’t know that even the royal princes would feel ashamed in your noble presence… Why would someone like you treat me so well? Knowing I’m low and vulgar, yet you are still so good to me. Are you trying to make me remember you all my life?”
The moment her eyes welled with tears, Chen Rong quickly wiped them using her sleeve. She then removed her robe and put the armor on.
“Where’s Ah Rong?” she heard Ran Min’s low bark from the main hall.
Chen Rong put on a smile and replied, “I’m here.” She turned and pushed the door to go in.
Ran Min knitted his brow as he stared at the map on his desk. He heard the sound of her arrival, but did not lift his head. “Where were you last night?” he asked.
Chen Rong paused. Quickly, she made a bow. “General, did you forget? The moment I got here, the maids had made arrangements for me.” Wasn’t this common sense? Typically, the servants would make arrangements for a visitor’s female relatives.
Ran Min raised his head.
He stared at her and impatiently said, “I’m asking how far were your bedchamber from mine? Why did you wake up so late?”
Chen Rong lowered her head. She did get up too late this morning. It was her mistake to stay in bed at a time like this.
Ran Min did not want to pursue the subject when he heard no answer from her. He waved his hand and shouted, “Never mind. Ah Rong.”
He waved his right hand to say something, but at this moment, earth shattering drums gave sound outside, accompanied by gallops and panicking shouts. These noises completely drowned out Ran Min’s voice.
The door banged opened to the entrance of a soldier. “General, Murong Ke is here,” he cried.
Ran Min shot a glare at him and shouted, “So what if Murong Ke is here? Why are you so surprised that you have to be so loud about it?”
Next to him, a commander intervened, “General, it seems Murong Ke has come in haste. Given the circumstances, do you want to meet him?”
“Nay, let’s not,” another said. “Murong Ke knows how to read an opportunity. If he sees our general now, he will take his army away.”
He then turned to Ran Min with a laugh. “In my opinion, you should keep wearing your hat and watch the fun from the sideline, sir.”
Ran Min nodded with a smile. “Let’s do that.” He had forgotten what he was going to say to Chen Rong.
She had by now approached him. She took his robe and hat from the side and helped him put them on.
The beating drums grew louder outside.
After being appropriately dressed, Ran Min moved outside, prompting Chen Rong to hurry after him.
Once they left the tower, she found that the nobles on the wall were leaving in a frenzy. She craned her neck to see people fleeing and crying on the distant streets.
A voice spoke at this time, making the soldiers retreat.
Instantly, only a few dozen people were left on the wall.
Standing in the middle was still Wang Hong in his fluttering white robe. Around him were Nanyang’s famed scholars and heads of clans. When they saw Ran Min walk out, they turned to look at him.
Ran Min stopped after a few steps. He folded his arms in front of his chest, leaned against the wall and glanced below.
Like rising tide, smoke spread below to completely cover the earth. At first, they saw the surging yellow dust and heard the rumbles of horse shoes, but they sighted no men.
When the dust eventually settled, armored knights appeared one by one before their eyes.
It was an endless army that donned helmets and brandished bows and halberds.
The galloping hoofs began to slow down; the drums also softened.
Slowly, the drums ceased.
Slowly, the riders came to a halt.
And just like that, the scattering dust made way for full silence.
The banner turned at this time.
Amid loud rumbles, the knights parted to create a passage in the middle.
At this sight, Chen Rong heard Ran Min laugh: “Murong Ke is clearly a Hu, yet he imitates the Jins. Look at his fashionable style.”
A familiar voice spoke behind Ran Min: “Very true. The Murong clan of the Xianbei tribe is rather interesting. Like the Jin court, their royal family uses outer appearance to evaluate people. Good looks can get you high positions, but no one wants an ugly man even if he is talented. They’re men, yet they have a thing for face powder.” This voice belonged to the driver. He had followed Ran Min to make fun of Chen Rong before, and she remembered him well. She didn’t see him a moment ago; she wondered when had he arrived.
Another commander ridiculed: “If you ask me, Murong Ke wears a mask because he doesn’t want to tan his pretty little face.”
Laughter boomed upon his remark. The scholars and heads of clans looked over with questioning faces.
Chen Rong saw someone leaning into Wang Hong and pointing this way, as if asking a question. But Wang Hong just smiled without giving a reply.
Below, the riders gave way to a tall knight who slowly rode out of ranks.
He wore a ferocious bronze mask, underneath which, his electric eyes were unblinkingly staring at Wang Hong.
This was Murong Ke. Everyone had seen him once on their way south. Chen Rong had also heard of him in her previous life. It was said that this famous Xianbei general was very handsome. Whenever he was on the battlefield, his looks were so unconvincing that the impatient lad had to put on a frightening mask to intimidate his subordinates.
Murong Ke was still riding forth at this point.
The dust behind him had sunk to the ground. The knights kept silent across the plains without a sound.
Before long, he rode to the wall, then slowly came to a stop.
Ran Min narrowed his eyes. The driver looked at Ran Min and lowered his voice to say: “If that ignorant Murong fella knows you are here, he will not dare to stop closer than 200 paces from the fortress.”
Another general cocked his head to observe Murong Ke. He suddenly turned to Ran Min and said, “General, we’ve the crossbow ready, why don’t you give this brat a shot? Hell, one shot and we can all go have lunch.”
Ran Min was still staring eyeing Murong Ke. He slowly shook his head.
At this time, Murong Ke began to speak from below.
He raised his head. His electric eyes stared at Wang Hong. His message was clear and magnetic, and very pleasant sounding: “Wang Hong, it’s been a while.”
He lightly smiled and then suddenly waved his hand toward the back.
A carriage drove up.
It stopped at Murong Ke’s side where several soldiers leaped off their horses and ran to it. They lifted the curtain and brought out a gleaming gold coffin.
The soldiers put the coffin down by Murong Ke’s side, bowed to him and then slowly retreated.
Murong Ke glanced at the coffin and grinned. “I have thought of you ever since we parted last time. I am filled with regrets every time I think of Qilang’s elegance.”
He threw his head back in roaring laughter. “I got delayed by Ran Min last time in Mo’yang. What a shame I could not send Qilang off. I have crossed a thousand miles this time in hope that Wang Qilang will not reject my sincerity.”
Whoosh, all eyes landed on the snow-white Wang Qilang.
Chen Rong also looked at him.
With the crowd’s attention on him, Wang Hong remained smiling nonchalantly in his free and indifferent way.
He cocked his head to the side, causing a strand of hair to playfully fall across his forehead and block his left eye.
In the midst of whistling wind, Wang Hong’s pleasant voice sounded on the battlefield. “I went to Mo’yang, you chased me to Mo’yang. I went to Nan’yang, you chased me to Nan’yang… Lately, every time I meet my friends, they would ask what had happened to make Murong Ke so persistent.”
Murong Ke shouted back: “Wang Hong you motherfucker! What rubbish are you talking about?”
His shout prompted echoes throughout the city.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Wang Hong looked at Murong Ke, who was shaking in anger, with a faint smile. His eyes were bright with concern. “Shh, rest assured young master. Don’t be impatient, everyone’s watching.”
At this time, Ran Min said in vexation, “The Jin literati and their stupid gentility. Talking to these kind of people on the battlefield is fucking infuriating!”
His commanders repeatedly nodded in agreement.
At this point, Murong Ke had quickly gained control over his emotions.
Chapter 118: A Repeat of the Past?
Murong Ke sneered. Behind the mask, his blade-like eyes shot a glare at Wang Hong. “Wang Qilang, I didn’t bring my army here today to trade barbs with you.” He next pointed to the coffin behind him and ordered, “Lift it up.”
Four soldiers came out to raise the golden coffin and bring it toward the fortress.
As he watched them near and haughtily place the coffin at the foot of the city wall, Wang Hong shook his head in reply. “It would be impolite of me to not return your kindness. I, too, have prepared a gift for young master Ke. Send it over for me, will you?”
Ten servants from the Wang family carried out five chests and flung them over the wall.
The chests smashed into pieces from the great height, and revealed heaps of clothes inside.
Indeed they had been filled with clothes. But these clothes were colorful, thin and gaudy – something only courtesans would wear.
No one had thought the elegant and noble Wang Hong could actually throw out such things. Instantaneously, the whisperings stopped to give sound to Wang Hong’s pleasant voice: “You’ve been on my mind ever since we last said goodbye. These are clothes I collected over the years. I now finally have a chance to give them to you in person.”
He smiled, his voice was even gentler compared to when he spoke to Chen Rong. “It has been two years. These garments are now old, and you have also grown. Most of them won’t look good on you anymore. Since they are now ruined, we should also call an end to all of this.”
His words were as ambiguous as one could want them to be, his tone was as gentle as one could wish it to be.
All of a sudden, the scholars on the fortress broke into laughter that only grew louder and louder.
As the laughter spread, the feeble Jins’ instinctive fear of war and the terror brought about by the enemy’s siege were swept away.
Ran Min harrumphed, furrowing his brow as he did. The driver standing behind him laughingly remarked, “It’s truly unheard of to use such a method to encourage morale.”
Be it the Jins or the Xianbei tribe who followed everything the Jins did, ambiguous affairs between men were entirely common during this time. Not only were they common, they were even trending with time…
Anyone may laugh it off in this social environment, but Murong Ke was different. He carried the Murong clan’s madness in his blood, and hated being called a catamite.
Because he hated others talking about his looks, he went as far as wearing masks year after year. He was moreover a commander at this moment. There were countless soldiers behind him who respected him and swore loyalty to him.
The Xianbei soldiers below the fortress wall raged like thunder. Murong Ke gave a howl and charged ahead on horseback.
At this time, two of his commanders reached out to stop him.
Whatever they said to him, Murong Ke huffed and puffed and slowly calmed down.
Meanwhile, on the wall, Huan Jiulang said to Wang Hong, “The boy finally eased up.”
Wang Hong nodded. As he stared at Murong Ke who was stewing at him, his mouth upturned into a smile. He flapped his sleeves and said, “Let’s go.”
“Why are we leaving?”
This question came from more than one person.
Wang Hong smiled to lightly say: “Murong Ke is a cautious and suspicious person. He brought the golden coffin here to gauge our anxiety. Now that his anger is quenched, uneasiness will follow.”
As soon as Wang Hong finished, drums and cheers erupted. They turned to see that Murong Ke had surprisingly rolled up his commander flag. In an instant, the Hu army’s advance ranks reversed into their rear ranks as they began to retreat.
The well-trained riders moved like linking limbs. In the blink of an eye, they had pulled hundred of paces away from Nan’yang. “Qilang, you understand Murong Ke so well, it seems we have a chance to win this battle,” someone laughed at the sight of the distant rolling smoke.
“Just a chance?”
Wang Hong faintly smiled and walked away.
Murong Ke’s soldiers eventually camped at the barren land three miles from Nan’yang.
Ran Min went back to the tower to put on his armor. Before long, he took the armed commanders and went out again.
Chen Rong weighed her choices before running after them.
It only took her a few steps by the time Ran Min glanced at her with a frown and barked, “We are leaving the city. A woman like you don’t need to follow us.”
Chen Rong knew just as much, she just didn’t know what to do on her own. Having heard Ran Min, she curtsied and softly said, “Aye.”
By the time she lifted her head, Ran Min and his generals had left to the far distance.
When Chen Rong left the tower, the setting sun was on the horizon, casting a crimson bright light.
She thought for a moment and then decided to walk to the Chen estate.
Presently she was still dressed in the same outfit when she left: a man’s robe and inner bandage to conceal her figure. Coupled with a wide-rimmed hat, she resembled an ordinary thin boy when she walked on the street.
The city of Nan’yang was still in a state of frenzy. Nevertheless, it was much improved compared to morning.
Every few steps, Chen Rong would see a scholar passionately teach the lesson of the day. But the farther one went, the more absurd the stories became. They said Wang Hong angered Murong Ke to the point of Murong Ke vomitting three liters of blood, falling to the ground and unable to get up… For this reason, every time the lecturer spoke, the crowd roared in approval.
This translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Chen Rong silently waded through the stream of people to arrive at the Chen estate.
Outside the estate, the servants who usually could not leave the house were now crowding by the gates and talking in small groups. It was again all about Murong Ke and Wang Hong.
Chen Rong was overjoyed to see the servants come out. She stood on tiptoe to scan through them.
It did not take her long to find Old Shang’s figure.
She immediately turned and walked toward him.
Within five steps, a familiar voice cried out: “Ouch, you stepped on me.”
Chen Rong quickly retreated and rasped: “My apologies, miss.” She bowed her head when she saw the girl looking up.
That girl stared at Chen Rong, harrumphed, and then walked away.
Only until she had gone three or four paces did Chen Rong lift her head.
She was indeed Chen Wei, but her face was wan and thin. She looked as if she was seriously ailing that Chen Rong almost did not recognize her.
Chen Qi and the other sumptuously dressed girls also came out. Chen Rong only gave them a glance before continuing to Old Shang.
No sooner had she gone to stand behind Old Shang did Chen Qian’s laughter ring. “Ah Wei, why are you still so unhappy? You’re horribly thin for someone who is getting married. This can’t be good.”
Once Chen Qian’s laughter stopped, another Chen lady covered her smile and joined in: “Aye aye, Ah Wei, have you not engraved General Ran to your heart? Shouldn’t you be happy now that he agreed?”
Her husband is Ran Min?
As if she couldn’t believe her own ears, Chen Rong’s head whipped up staring at the girls. Her ears were perked, lest she missed a word they said.
Chen Qian went on laughing. She narrowed her eyes to stare at Chen Wei’s colorless face. “Of course Ah Wei can’t be happy. At first she was going to be General Ran’s wife, but now she can only be his concubine. Moreover, he only agreed because he couldn’t bear to reject her, knowing that she loves him so much.”
While Chen Qian was still laughing, Chen Wei grew increasingly pale. All of a sudden she broke into a sob and rushed back inside with her sleeve over her face.
Chen Rong stared after Chen Wei’s fleeing figure. It was a long while before she lowered her head and curved her lips in silent mockery: Indeed, Heaven’s will is inescapable. Ah Wei and I were entangled with Ran Min in our previous lives. This time we went round and round only to go down the same path again.
While Chen Rong stared in a trance, behind her came a scholar’s long sigh: “The city will soon fall, yet these girls are still trapped by silly romance. Tsk tsk.”
Suddenly, someone pulled on Chen Rong’s sleeve and quietly asked, “Ah Rong of the Chen House?”
This is a strange voice! Does she recognize me?
Chen Rong stiffened.
After the stranger did not receive an answer from her, she again asked, “Ah Rong of the Chen House?” Her voice was raised to be more audible.
Startled, Chen Rong cast a quick glance at the Chen people and dropped her voice to a whisper. “Who are you?”
Behind her, a middle-aged woman appeared. She was elegant looking even though she was simply dressed. Seeing Chen Rong turn around, she smiled and softly said, “Qilang told us to look for you.”
“I reckon there is.”
Chen Rong nodded.
The woman turned to go. Chen Rong followed her.
After a few steps, she turned around to look at Old Shang who was pleasantly talking to a servant. Now that Nan’yang has the cooperation of Ran Min and Wang Hong, it will be safe here. I’ll look for them at a later time, then, she thought to herself.
Chen Rong followed the two servants of the Wang family, got into the carriage, and quietly went to Wang Hong’s hamlet.
After she entered the hamlet, however, and until night descended, she still did not see Wang Hong. When she asked the two maids who had served her the night before, they said they did not know that Wang Hong was looking for her.
Late at night.
A maidservant came in. She looked at a barefoot Chen Rong who had just came out from her bath, took a jade cup from the tray and placed it in front of her. She smiled, “Miss, this is ‘Heaven’s brew’ Qilang had brought back from Jiankang, would you like to have a taste?”