I’m skipping chapters 129 and 130, which is just the continuation of the journey to Jiankang. Of course Wang Hong won’t take no for an answer and insists that Chen Rong join his team for the rest of the trip. Somewhere along the way, Yu Zhi and Huan Jiulang play third wheels, resulting in Qilang’s order to have their horses killed out of vexation, with the pretext that their horses are ill and would infect the rest of the caravan, hah.
They are the first to arrive and I’ll now take you to their arrival in Jiankang.
Chapter 131: Seeing Jiankang’s Scenery and Her Family
At the same time, Wang Hong’s curtain lifted which revealed his handsome face to the crowd.
Almost at that very moment, the female congregation grabbed for the things they were carrying with them: sachets, twigs, handkerchiefs, and all of a sudden, hundreds of things came flying at Wang Hong.
The guards stepped forward and raised their heads to the sky. Instantaneously, those twigs, handkerchiefs, and sachets poured down on them like rain… They remained orderly whether they got hit in the back or the front. Their faces looked very calm, and it became apparent that they had experienced this many times before.
Chen Rong laughed again at this scene. She turned to Old Shang and raised her voice: “Let’s go.”
“Aye.” Old Shang replied and urged their horses ahead.
At this time, a guard next to Wang Hong’s carriage rode over. He handed her a sachet and said, “Ah Rong of the Chen House, this is a gift from my master.”
This sachet was very familiar. Ah yes, he had sent the same one to her last time. Chen Rong slowly smiled looking at it. “It’s not necessary,” she rasped.
The guard was also softly chuckling. “Good miss, it’s best to accept what my master sends… Please consider before making your decision.”
Chen Rong knitted her brow. A moment later, she reached out and accepted the sachet into her sleeve.
Satisfied, the guard took his leave. Soon, he came next to Wang Hong’s carriage and whispered, “She accepted it.”
“Did she?” Wang Hong sounded pleased. “You may go.”
After Chen Rong’s people made inquiry, they found that Chen Gongrang and the others would not arrive for another month.
Without Chen Gongrang, Chen Rong would have to find a place to stay. After some deliberation, her carriages drove to the Chen House of Jiankang, which had originally been the Chen House of Yingchuan.
The Chens were a century-old aristocratic family and remained one the wealthiest even during this time. And all this glory had begun with the Chens in Yingchuan.
Nurse Ping looked slightly intimidated when the carriages arrived at their gates. She looked at the estate’s facade and then blurted to her mistress, “Miss, would it be prudent to pay a visit without Chen Gongrang here?”
Chen Rong looked down. A while later, she softly said, “Go to Luo Lane.”
“Luo Lane?” Nurse Ping looked at Chen Rong in surprise. “Why there?”
“Qilang said my father and brother live there.” Qilang didn’t tell her this. It was something she had always known as someone who lived twice…
She didn’t want to join the Chens of Yingchuan but she didn’t want to go to Luo Lane either. She just wanted to stay at an inn. However, if she really stayed at an inn, people would certainly say she was being imprudent when she clearly had a home but did not seek refuge… They didn’t have to accept her, but if she didn’t go to begin with, it would be difficult to avoid criticism in this home-before-country era.
“Miss, you mean you know the master’s whereabouts?” Nurse Ping happily cried. “Aiya, that is such good news. Why didn’t you tell us sooner?” She poked her head out and cried to the people outside, “Hurry to Luo Lane. Our young lady says the master and young master are there.”
Cheers erupted. The servants and Old Shang all at once burst into laughter. Their laughter was particularly loud. At this moment, their distress and anxiety since moving south, as well as their fear and caution seemed to have vanished.
The carriages changed direction and went toward Luo Lane.
Chen Rong lifted her curtain and pondered as she looked at the scenery. Rivers and lakes were abundant in Jiankang. There is a saying that purports people near water are honest (1). Chen Rong didn’t know how honest these Jiankang people were, but she could see that the girls in the city, although not as tall as those in Ping and Nan’yang, were exceptionally beautiful and fair. Men and women here wore very complicated outfits, with their sachets being the most prominent accessory. As she looked around, her sight was filled with smartly dressed people and her nose was filled with their perfumes.
The saying should actually be 近山者仁，近水者智 (people on the mountains are honest, people near water are clever). This saying implies geographical environments can influence character traits. Mountainous people have little contact with the outside world and are therefore thought to be honest while coastal people have more trade activities and are thought to be more cunning.
Moreover, Jiankang people especially loved music. Instruments could be heard playing wherever they went. Commoners were seen outside the wealthy homes humming to the playing music, yet the guards merely ignored these commoners and let them be.
The servants from the north had never seen this kind of comfort and pleasure. They watched in rapture, from time to time even letting escape an exclamation which made the smartly dressed aristocrats roll their eyes in disdain.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Nurse Ping watched a young lady who wore a purple silk robe with peacock and flower patterns until she went far in the distance, and murmured to Chen Rong, “Miss, what a beautiful dress. If you wear that, none of the girls in Jiankang can compare to you.”
She turned to Chen Rong and cheerfully squinted her small eyes in a smile. “Miss, after we settle down I will help you make one.”
Chen Rong smiled, she lowered her eyes. “The young ladies here are different from other places. They come from extraordinary families so they are very proud and like to be unique. Nurse, unless the same outfit comes into fashion in the city, we can’t imitate it.”
The nurse gaped in surprise. At length she murmured, “Is that so? Good thing you know.”
At this time, Old Shang’s laughter was heard outside. “Elder, which way is Luo Lane?”
Old Shang was asking a portly steward in his forties or fifties. These people often came into contact with the folks on the streets so they had seen more broadly compared to the others.
Hearing Old Shang’s question, the man turned around and cast a glance at the carriages. After a contemptuous look, he pointed toward the east. “Go that way, Luo Lane is at the very end.” His tone and expression were rather disdainful and dismissive.
Old shang was still staring at the man swaggering away when an unhappy servant remarked, “Golly, we were only asking for directions. Did he have to act like that?”
“Never mind him, let’s go,” Chen Rong said.
She was well aware, even if her servants were not, that the alleys in Jiankang were typically named. Aristocrats and commoners alike lived in clusters among their own. In other words, when one had been in Jiankang long enough, one would know others’ identity by the street they lived on. And, apparently, those who lived on Luo Lane were not at the ranks the fat man found necessary to befriend.
The team continued on. Nurse Ping suddenly cried, “Hey, what are those people discarding?”
The servants followed her gaze.
From the side door of a large mansion, a servant had driven out in a carriage before stopping at a small slope. He next took five bamboo baskets from the carriage and threw them down.
What had elicited Nurse Ping’s exclamation was that he had poured out something aromatic and white. There were also meat and vegetables inside, and it turned out to be white rice.
The servants all gasped.
Their cries made the other servant turn around. He lifted his hat to glance at Chen Rong’s carriages as his eyes grew menacingly large. He threw the baskets into his vehicle as he swore, “Country hicks!”
He was loud on purpose, and they heard him crystal clear. But at this moment, they were still feeling bewildered. They couldn’t believe the food that could save lives in Nan’yang was mere garbage here.
Chen Rong gave a glance and said, “Stop looking, you have to remember that this is Jiankang.”
Nurse Ping immediately turned her head and loudly praised her mistress: “You’re so smart, miss. Food in Jiankang is really worthless.”
“Aye aye, luckily we listened to our young lady,” Old Shang added.
When they had been preparing to leave, Chen Rong still had had nearly three carriages of grains. The servants had wanted to bring those with them on the journey. Chen Rong, however, insisted that Old Shang get rid of them. Those three carriages had therefore been replaced by the worthless gold and gems in Nan’yang.
Her servants had been nervous that there was suddenly no food. Every time they looked at their carriages, they would inwardly mutter at Chen Rong. They took a total of six carriages with them to Jiankang. Chen Rong sat in one and her things were stored in another, one was for the servants to take turn resting, and the remaining three, originally filled with food, were now empty.
At this time, a servant cried, “There’s Luo Lane.”
Everyone looked and sure enough, there was a stone three hundred paces away with large cursive script that read ‘Luo Lane’. Next to it was the entrance.
Overjoyed, they steered the carriages into the alley.
Soon enough, their cheers and laughter died down. They stared at the simple wooden houses on either side of the alley, the filth that was visible everywhere, and the beggars squatting in the corners. Now they knew why the fat man had made a face to hear them ask about Luo Lane.
This place did not look like somewhere the nobles would live.
“Miss, how do we go from here?” asked Old Shang.
Chen Rong’s voice was still clear and calm: “It’s said to be the third alley. Ask someone when we get there.”
The group went on.
By now, children inside the wooden homes along the street had discovered the carriages. They pointed at them and yelled, “Rich people are coming, rich people are coming.”
Their cries alerted the adults in the houses. Men and women in mended clothes came out. They glanced at Chen Rong’s carriages and shook their heads, giving her no more attention. But the urchins had already followed behind them laughing and curiously looking at Chen Rong.
They arrived at the third alley before long.
The servants sighted an estate compound upon entering the alley. It was built entirely of wood like the other houses. There were bout fifteen buildings that made a square. Next to the gate were two small huts. The servants were now looking above the door where a plaque hung with the engraved words ‘The Chen Estate’.
The Chen Estate? The servants all looked at Chen Rong.
Chen Rong had lifted the curtain and hopped down. “We’ve arrived, it’s this place,” she said, walking up to the entrance.
Creak. The wooden gate opened. A scholar in his mid twenties with a thin long face came out.
Chen Rong’s lips quivered. “Brother,” she softly called.
The scholar paused and looked up. He first saw Nurse Ping and Old Shang, and then Chen Rong. He stared at her and at length cautiously asked, “Ah Rong?”
Chen Rong eagerly nodded and ran to him.
The scholar was still staring at her, not daring to believe his eyes. After glancing at Nurse Ping and Old Shang and confirming that he wasn’t wrong, he stepped up and suddenly clung to Chen Rong. He clasped her and tremulously called, “Ah Rong. It’s my Ah Rong.” He turned around and yelled, “Quick, go and let them know my Ah Rong is back.”
His eyes were red. He turned back to take a good look at before smilingly saying: “I knew my Ah Rong would grow up to be a beauty but I was still wrong. You’re more than just a beauty. You’re obviously a great beauty.”
Chen Rong was tearful to hear his familiar warm voice. “Brother, brother, brother,” she happily called. Only until she saw him again did she realize how much she missed her older brother.
“Aye, aye, aye,” he answered.
And then they looked at each other, wreathed in smiles.
Back then in Ping, this brother, like her father, had lavished his love on Chen Rong. Their love for her had been so abundant that she never learned to accept defeat, and developed a pride unfitting for her humble origin.
While the siblings were all smiles and tears, five people appeared at the door.
Her brother turned around. He led Chen Rong by the hand to them and softly choked, “Ah Rong, our father is no longer with us.”
Despite already knowing, Chen Rong still got teary.
He held her hand and led her to a woman in her early twenties. She was full figured and fair, with a square face that was somewhat shrewd. “She is your new sister-in-law, Ah Rong. Your former sister-in-law and our father were killed by the refugees.”
Chen Rong’s voice was lodged. She gave a curtsy. “How do you do, sister?”
The woman cast a glance at Chen Rong, then turned to her husband and cried in displeasure, “She’s only a concubine-born sister, must we be so excited? You called all of us out here for nothing.”
Having said this, she sashayed back to her room. As she walked, a chubby little boy squirmed his butts and made a face at Chen Rong. “Mother, mother,” he called, and then ran after her.
Her brother was red with anger. He was about to open his mouth when Chen Rong pulled on his sleeve and quietly said, “Brother, it’s all right.”
Her brother turned around. Watching his sister’s clear and peaceful eyes, he guiltily said, “Ah Rong, I’m useless aren’t I.”
“Brother, it’s really all right,” replied Chen Rong with a smile.
She had met this sister-in-law before. At the time however, she had come to ask her to return home for the funeral after knowing she was married to a general… Her brother would die the next summer from an illness. It was then that she saw her indecency. After she was unable to get any money from her, and after she discovered that Chen Rong was not favored or respected, she had spewed such vicious insults at her in front of other people that Chen Rong could not help remembering and wanting to keep her distance in her second life.
At this moment, a small woman about seventeen or eighteen years old came forward. She timidly smiled at Chen Rong and called, “Ah Rong.”
Chen Rong turned to her brother.
He laughed jovially and pointed to the woman. “Sister, this is my lesser madam, Ah Gu. She’s very nice. If there’s anything you don’t understand, you can ask her.”
Chen Rong said hello to her with a smile, and then turned to her brother. “Brother, give me a moment.”
She walked to Old Shang and whispered to him, “Old Shang, look around and see whether there is any small courtyard for rent nearby.”
Old Shang looked at her in puzzlement. He looked to her brother, who was affectionately watching her from the steps, and whispered a persuasion: “But why should you, miss? Your brother loves you.”
Chen Rong smiled. She shook her head and softly said, “Search within 500 paces nearby. Old Shang, you don’t know my sister-in-law. If I lived with her, I’m afraid even Chen Gongrang would not want to let me see His Majesty.”
In this self-proclaimed sophisticated era which was full of contempt for vulgar things, those scholars would shun her entire family if they only met her shrewish sister-in-law once.
She could no longer rely on a good man to lead a happy life. Since she could only rely on herself, she would have to pave her own road for the future.
Seeing that Old Shang was still hesitant, Chen Rong quietly said, “I’ll tell my brother later about His Majesty’s request to see me. I reckon he will let me move out if he hears this.”
She added after a pause, “I’ll stay with Chen Gongrang when he arrives. When you look for a house, take note that we can’t rent it for too long.”
Old Shang gave some thought before he nodded and said, “Aye.”
Meanwhile, Chen Rong’s brother was striding towards her.
Chapter 132: Chen Rong Decisively Cuts Ties
“Come inside, Ah Rong” her brother called.
Chen Rong made a reply and turned around. Behind her, the servants made a bow. “Good greetings, m’lord.”
Her brother laughed. He kindly looked at the servants from his hometown as his eyes reddened and his voice became hoarse.
He used his sleeve to wipe his tears before rasping: “Everyone come in. What distance it must have been all the way from Ping. I’m sure my poor Ah Rong wouldn’t have made it here safely without your protection. Come in come in!”
The servants made a reply and followed Chen Rong into the house.
Ah Gu, her brother’s lesser madam, also hurried after them.
Watching the dozen or so servants and their six carriages, her brother’s wife, who had put on a calm front, waved at a servant girl and quietly said, “Go take a look, see what’s inside their carriages.”
“Be sure to take a good look.”
When the maid had left, she moved the table to the wall on the east and perked her ears to listen.
After some sobbing, the younger Mr. Chen’s concerned voice sounded from the eastern room: “Ah Rong, how did you get here? I heard the barbarians had burned down Luo’yang. What about Ping? Is Ping alright?”
Chen Rong’s answering voice had an inborn clarity and softness: “We left Ping with the Wang clan. We then spent a few months in Nan’yang and this time came to Jiankang with the Wang House of Lang’ya.”
“The Wang House of Lang’ya?” murmured Mrs. Chen. Envy was noticeable in her voice. She waved to call for another maid. “Go and befriend those northern barbarians. See if they and the Wang House of Lang’ya are acquainted or not.” Despite her humble background, her concubine-born sister-in-law had a very bewitching beauty. A solitary girl making this long journey… who knows if anything had happened along the way.
At this thought, she suddenly felt a little regretful. When the girl came in just now, she should’ve been warmer and, no matter what, should’ve verified things before menacing the girl.
As she was muttering to herself, her maid returned and unhappily reported, “Nothing’s there, ma’am. Truly, three entirely empty carriages.”
Mrs. Chen’s expression darkened.
Soon after, the other maid also came back. She leaned in and whispered, “I asked her servants but they were all being very vague… In my humble opinion, how can people of their ranks be acquainted with the aristocrats?”
Mrs. Chen’s face completely darkened.
She got up and sashayed out the door.
She went to the steps, pointed at a toiling old servant and began to scold. “You freeloading old fogy, you good-for-nothing. All you’re good at is getting into trouble. Why do you have to mess with a pack of stray dogs? Do you want to kill me from exhaustion?”
Her berating was very shrill and harsh, and very unpleasant to listen to.
Chen Rong was nestling by her brother’s side to tell him her stories. She stilled while her brother’s thin face turned livid.
He stood up and rushed out the door yelling, “Stop your scolding.”
His wife whirled around. With one hand on her hip, she pointed the other straight at his nose and began chewing him out. “You jerk, how dare you yell at me? Huh? How dare you yell at me?” She took a step forward for every word she spoke, and soon pushed her husband back into the room where Chen Rong was sitting.
Standing at the doorstep, she waved her finger seemingly at Chen Rong and growled, “Do you think it’s so easy for me to hold this house up? All the good-for-nothings end up here… Have you seen your temptress looks in the mirror? Go seduce a man to marry you. Why should I feed a bunch of peasants and stray dogs?”
This had been a very dreadful abuse. Chen Rong looked to her older brother and was greeted with his ashen face. His whole being angrily trembled, but he could not utter a single word while his wife was still spitting saliva everywhere.
Chen Rong slowly stood up.
She ignored her sister-in-law and walked to her brother. “Ah Rong,” he stammered, “don’t take offense…” He hadn’t finished but his wife had sat herself on the floor wailing: “Go to hell, you useless jerk. It was so difficult to find an office but you still managed to lose it. If I haven’t been here to hold this house up, your bones would’ve long been fed to the dogs. Go to hell! Who gives you the rights to make me keep these tramps? Boohoohoo…”
The younger Mr. Chen’s voice was completely drown out by her wailing. He had to close his mouth and look guiltily at Chen Rong.
She dropped her gaze at the sight of her brother’s gaunt and tired face, and his wretched oppressed appearance.
When her sister-in-law finally stopped crying, Chen Rong suddenly called, “Nurse Ping, bring a silk scroll and some ink here.”
Her sister-in-law widened her yellow murky eyes at Chen Rong.
Nurse Ping soon came back with brush and ink.
Chen Rong placed the silk scroll onto the table, wrote a few lines, then went to her sister-in-law and flung it at her. “Make it official with your signature.”
Surprised, her sister-in-law looked down at the silk scroll and read, “I now break off all ties with my older brother Chen Qi. Henceforth, for richer or poorer, we shall be unrelated in life and death, and such as strangers.” Chen Rong’s name was already signed below.
Everybody was stunned this time.
They looked at Chen Rong in disbelief, even her sister-in-law was flabbergasted. She came from the marketplace and had met all sorts of people, but there was none who would so ruthlessly burn her bridges like this.
Her brother’s face turned green. He took a step and cried, “Ah Rong!” He was shaking with anger. “Ah Rong, you…!”
Chen Rong turned around to look at him.
She slowly went to her brother. Her eyes were mischievous and peculiar. Momentarily, her brother thought he was returning to seven years ago. At that time in Ping, this sister of his had had the same twinkles in her eyes whenever she got into trouble and came home wanting him to shoulder the burden. And he had never once refused her.
He swallowed his criticism. At this time, Chen Rong turned around, lowered her head and wept, “Father only left so little property behind and on top of that we were met with bandits and barbarians on the way south. If not for the Wang House’s protection, where would we be now? After everything we went through to find you, I never thought that you wouldn’t want to take us in. Fine, don’t take us in. We have hands and feet. I refuse to believe that we can’t survive in Jiankang.”
Chen Rong’s sister-in-law had felt suspicious to see her so blithely cut ties with her brother, so she hadn’t been resolved to sign. Now hearing this from Chen Rong, she quickly scribbled a few strokes and pressed her finger onto the parchment. She next hurriedly gave her husband the silk scroll and yelled, “Quick, sign it,” pulling his thumb and pressing it down for him.
He was still in a trance by the time Chen Rong put away the scroll.
Chen Rong went out the door and called Nurse Ping and Old Shang, “Let’s go.”
Only until she got on the carriage did her brother break from his stupor. He hurriedly threw off his wife and ran to Chen Rong, calling: “Ah Rong, Ah Rong.” Sorrow, self-loathing and helplessness were all detected from his voice.
When he ran to her carriage, Chen Rong lifted the curtain, leaned into him and whispered, “Brother, I have it all planned out, don’t be alarmed. I’ll find an opportunity to let you know my thoughts.”
With that said, she lifted her sleeve and pretended to dab her tears as she choked, “Let’s go.”
Her stunned brother was still rooted on the spot by the time they left. Behind him, his wife suddenly sighed while staring after the six carriages. “Her carriages are fancy and so are her horses. How did I forget about that just now?” She suddenly raised her hand to give herself a slap in the face.
While the carriages ran along, Chen Rong told Old Shang: “First find an inn to stay. Then in the next few days, find a house around here to rent for me. Remember, find somewhere safe and not too close to my brother.”
A good long while later, Old Shang replied: “Aye.”
He and the servants were still overwhelmed by this baffling turn of events.
This translation belongs to h@mster428.
Old Shang found a courtyard on the third day. After a discussion with Chen Rong, he ended up buying it. The compound was located behind two wealthy homes. It was very small, consisting of only ten wooden houses. But because it was near those wealthy families, it was in a very safe location. Furthermore, the courtyard had been quite beautifully renovated.
Whether they looked at it from the outside or inside, it was still more luxurious than the one her brother owned.
Late at night.
Nurse Ping followed behind Chen Rong as she murmured, “Even this small courtyard is so expensive. It only costs one tenth in Nan’yang.”
Almost immediately, she said in chagrin, “Why did the young master marry such a vulgar shrew? Tsk tsk.” Having said this, she then gave Chen Rong a look of frustration.
Chen Rong did not make a sound.
“Close the door,” she ordered a few moments later.
Old Shang and Nurse Ping, who was still muttering complaints, went to close the doors and windows, and then returned to Chen Rong.
Chen Rong quietly stood in the fire light. She looked at Old Shang and smilingly said, “Old Shang, bring those things out.”
He carried an ax and climbed onto an empty carriage.
“Bring what out?” Nurse Ping quizzically asked.
She only managed this much by the time a dull crack sounded from the carriage. Then came the sound of broken wall.
Nurse Ping quickly stepped forward and was about to ask when Old Shang lifted the curtain and jumped down.
He carried a wooden box to Chen Rong and then jumped back onto the carriage.
One after another, small wooden boxes and bamboo tubes were placed in front of Chen Rong and Nurse Ping.
And Old Shang was just moving from one empty carriage to another.
Half an hour later, the three empty carriages as well as the one Chen Rong rode and the one with her belongings were all broken. Seventy to eighty small wooden boxes were moved down in front of the two women.
Old Shang jumped off and said, “No more, miss.”
Chen Rong nodded.
By this time, Nurse Ping had been pointing to a broken box and grinning ear to ear for quite some time. The sheen of pearls and gold radiated from the box. It was apparently loaded with gold and gems.
The nurse gasped for breath as she stroked her chest. “Where did these come from?” she asked, not daring to believe her eyes.
Old Shang laughed. “Of course they were exchanged with the three carriages of grains.” Only the few aristocratic families that the Prince of Nan’yang feared were able to return to Jiankang this time. Those who were forced to stay were still in desperate need of food. When Old Shang sold their supply, half a pail of rice was worth one gold leaf, and this wasn’t even market price. Within a few short hours, Old Shang was thus able to gain this much gold and silver for three carriages of grains.
Hearing his explanation, Nurse Ping’s eyes crinkled into lines. She knelt down towards the east and murmured her gratitude to the gods. Then she got up and happily said to Chen Rong, “We can buy thirty carriages of grains with this much jewels!”
Old Shang laughed, “Nay, thirty carriages is the price in Nan’yang. Jiankang is rich in products, so food prices are very low. I estimate that this money can buy three hundred carriages of grains here.”
No sooner than he said this did he mutter in dissatisfaction, “But only food is cheap. We can buy this tiny courtyard for a tenth of the price in Nan’yang.”
“Three hundred carriages of grains?” Nurse Ping marveled. “Heaven, miss, we wouldn’t finish three hundred carriages in this life, the next, or even the one after that.”
Chen Rong smiled. “Nay, everything is costlier here compared to Nan’yang. These jewels are only enough for this one lifetime.”
Nurse Ping quickly interjected, “That’s still more than enough.”
“It’s getting late. Nurse Ping, Old Shang, pay attention. Remember to only keep ten boxes: five boxes for us to use, five to save. The rest should be well buried.”
Chen Rong took the silk scroll from her sleeve and handed it to Nurse Ping. “Safekeep this as well.”
Nurse Ping put it away and then suddenly sighed, “What you did was too heartless, too hasty.”
Hasty? She had known her for two lifetimes, how could that be hasty? As for heartless? Chen Rong smiled and quietly said, “I don’t have much to begin with. Nurse, at this point, I’m not going to let anyone destroy what I have.”
Nurse Ping did not understand, neither did Old Shang.
Chen Rong didn’t feel like explaining herself. She turned and quietly walked toward her room.