Chapter 153: The Imperial Family
Chen Rong knitted her brow and instinctively looked up at Wang Hong.
When she faced eyes that were as clear as water, very gently looking back at her, she looked away and quietly asked, “What do you think I should do Qilang?”
Wang Hong smiled. “Ask the bearer to wait so that Ah Rong can take a bath and change her clothes.”
“Aye,” Ying’gu replied upon hearing Wang Hong’s voice.
Once Ying’gu left, Wang Hong gazed down at Chen Rong. His long slender fingers caressed her face as his comforting voice sounded: “Don’t be afraid, you have me.”
“Aye.” She gently pushed him aside and walked to the front.
Wang Hong tilted his head and wordlessly watched her leave. He couldn’t help but notice her stiff and straight back… The stubborn woman.
After Chen Rong was finished with her bath and had changed into new clothes, she went to the main entrance of the temple.
A carriage sent by the emperor was waiting outside for her. When he saw her come out, the eunuch announced: “Depart.”
Chen Rong gave the eunuch a bow and stepped onto the carriage. By the time it drove away she was still looking back.
Wang Hong did not follow her.
She withdrew her gaze.
The vehicle pulled out of the Daoist temple and entered the streets.
Chen Rong didn’t remember how long it had been since she last took to the streets… she knew her looks easily intrigued people, so in order to avoid unnecessary complications, she had always suppressed her desire to go out.
The pedestrians, horsemen and other carriages gave way wherever the royal carriage went. Through a small slit in the curtain, she observed the passersby as they came and went.
The carriage was now driving through Willow Lane; it was where the Wu slaves and Yue girls received their guests. Colorful banners fluttered from the lofts, where all types of beautiful women imaginable abounded.
They leaned on the balconies, pointing at the people below and laughing gaily. By the time Chen Rong’s carriage approached, one of them retrieved a green flute and blew a tune; her eyes sadly gazed somewhere in front of her.
Shortly after the music was played, a beautiful girl who looked exactly like her leaned in to the other and asked, “Which family is he from, the jade-like man leaning against his horse by the south bridge?” There was a sing-song rhythm in her melodious voice.
Unconsciously everyone including Chen Rong followed the beauty’s gaze.
To their left, water ran under a small bridge, draped by willows and poplars.
Under the willow trees, there was indeed a handsome lad by his horse. He had fair skin, clear eyes, rosy lips, and a willowy figure.
Chen Rong couldn’t help but lean out and lift the curtain.
This boy with his thin waist and exquisite beauty, was he not Sun Yan?
Why is he here? When did he come to Jiankang? Right, he must have come with Ran Min. He is an aristocrat, so it will be much easier for Ran Min to operate in Jiankang with him here.
At this thought, Chen Rong could not help biting her lip: That is to say Ran Min won’t leave Jiankang in the foreseeable future? She reached for the curtain as these thoughts ran through her mind.
As she was about to reveal her face to Sun Yan, she saw someone coming up behind him. He was a guard often seen with Ran Min. He stood behind Sun Yan and talked to him in a low voice. Only two lines had been said before Sun Yan’s beautiful face stiffened, his eyebrows drawing together sternly.
Chen Rong’s carriage had driven away in the meanwhile.
She dropped the curtain and smiled to herself: I’m now famous in Jiankang, if he means to find me he can come whenever he wants.
She turned her head to look back at Sun Yan, who was still greeted by the twittering women upstairs in the red building. Her lips upturned; a warmth filled her heart.
The carriage went on towards the Imperial City.
The closer they were to the hustle and bustle of the city, the more carriages were seen on the street. Each that dashed by left a whiff of incense.
The palace gate was already in sight.
Chen Rong took a deep breath and smoothed her hair and clothes.
Just then, a song was heard behind her, along with rhythmic footsteps on the bluestone. “She waves her sleeves, the Red Chamber beauty; food aplenty to waste in houses of wealthy.”
The verse was one of praise, but the hoarse singing voice gave it a feeling of helpless desolation.
Chen Rong turned around.
She was looking at the back of a disheveled head. He suddenly gave a howl after having repeated his verse. It was a tragic cry; it was a sorrowful song.
As Chen Rong watched, the eunuch outside shrilled in scorn: “It’s the madman from the Huan House again! Now dare he sing these provocative things right outside the Imperial City… We’ll see how much longer he can live.”
When she heard the disgust in his voice, Chen Rong thought in surprise: But there is nothing wrong with this verse.
And then, she saw the palace door opening to a surge of riding smoke. A rider was galloping fast, his mount dashing away.
In a prosperous land like Jiankang, the young aristocrats had their servants’ help even on the road. When did one ever hear such pressing horseshoes?
Involuntarily, a dozen carriages lifted their curtains to look at the rider.
He was heading for the singer.
At an inadvertent glance, Chen Rong rounded her eyes in the midst of the billowing dust.
She saw the horseman ride forth and, as he neared the singing man, suddenly pull his bow string to direct his aim at the man’s back.
Subconsciously compelled to scream, she quickly clasped her mouth.
Just as she was doing so, the rider had drawn back his bowstring.
“Whiz.” The sharp whistling sound shot through the air at the same moment the arrow was released. It drilled into the singer’s back as blood slowly trickled down…
He hollered like a madman and slowly turned his head.
The wind blew his robe and lifted his hair to reveal a young handsome face no more than twenty-five years old.
His eyes were remarkably bright. He stared at the man who had shot him. Slowly, he reached back and pulled the arrow out.
Blood splattered. There came horrified crying from the surrounding carriages. A nobleman huddled up in his vehicle, held his head and wailed, “Blood! There’s so much blood…Boohoohoo I’m terrified of blood.” Two half-undressed servant girls quickly moved forward. One held his head while the other comforted him from behind.
This translation belongs to h@mster428.
After the young man had removed the arrow, he stared at the rider and slowly put the bloody arrow into his mouth.
The surrounding noblemen’s sobs and cries grew louder. A stench caused Chen Rong to turn around. The eunuch who accompanied her was trembling in fear. His pants were wet and there was a puddle on the ground.
The young singer gave the arrow a lick. After tasting the blood, he slowly removed the arrow from his mouth.
He looked at the rider and the Imperial City, and all of a sudden burst into laughter.
Blood seeped from his back wound and instantly soaked his robe.
He laughed hysterically; tears were seen in his eyes.
“I can only blame Cao Ah Man!” cried the laughing man. “If it weren’t for his war against the Wu-Shu alliance that depleted the Central Plains of our fervor. If it weren’t for his lack of virtue and competence which resulted in his having no talented descendant who could defend the Wei empire. Would this filthy world exist today? Would these halfwits be here? Would the stupid and incompetent Sima family rule the empire and lose our land? Hahaha!”
If there had been subtlety in his song, every word coming out of his mouth now was directed straight at the government.
The rider was red with anger. He tightened his grip to bring his mount to a rear and aimed his bow again.
The young man’s laugh grew louder at this sight. His hair flew in the wind, his tall body staggering, like a jade mountain on the verge of collapse.
He scornfully turned to the knight and declared, “I, Shuzi, am Zhangsu of the Huan House. You are not worthy to take my life!”
Amid the arrogant and disdainful laughter, the young man’s right hand reversed and like lightning, thrust the arrow into his own chest.
The bloody arrow stabbed his flesh with a ripping sound. At the same time, the arrow in the rider’s hand had left his bow and shot into the man’s shoulder. He was still laughing, but he was vomiting blood every time he opened his mouth.
Chen Rong wasn’t sure how much time had passed before his laughter eventually ceased. His tall body slowly slumped on the ground and did not move again.
Blood pooled where he fell.
Looking to the spot where the young man fell, Chen Rong slowly stood up from the carriage and bowed to him. She lowered her head and closed her eyes, solemnly whispering: “I know you are a Han hero.”
Outside were screams, cries and commands. “Go, quickly!”
“What are you still doing here? Come along.”
“Boohoohoo, I want my mother.”
“That’s really disgusting, the ground is dirtied with that much blood.”
Amid the clamor, Chen Rong heard a murky voice: “Did they really kill a nobleman on the street? I thought public execution wasn’t allowed? Alas, it’s becoming more and more maddening.”
In the midst of this commotion, Chen Rong’s carriage started to move again.
It soon drove through the palace gate and went inside.
As the carriage moved farther and farther away, it gradually left the noises and bloodshed behind. It drove through the spacious bluestone path before entering a shaded lane.
Here, more maids and eunuchs were seen going about. These palace ladies were outfitted in colorful and decorative garments, albeit very thin for spring weather. Chen Rong could even see their undergarments’ color and texture underneath the sheer fabric.
She smelled their strong perfume and looked at the overflowing spring scene.
The carriage was still moving forward.
Through a verdant peach woods yet to bloom, a sharp voice asked from the pavilion on the right: “Which family does this young lady belong to?”
This question was of course directed at Chen Rong.
Since the eunuch leading the way for Chen Rong had wet his pants, once they entered the palace, he handed Chen Rong to a younger eunuch and left with the help of his fellow eunuchs.
The young eunuch immediately shuddered at the sharp voice. He gave a bow and prepared to reply.
Without waiting for him to speak, the sharp voice curtly ordered, “Bring the carriage over.”
As soon as the order was given, the driver wordlessly drove to the pavilion.
Half a dozen eunuchs and maidservants attended the structure, which currently housed a pasty fat man in his thirties.
At this moment, he was clutching the arms of the eunuchs on either side of him, his face glowing with perspiration.
There was something moving between his legs and underneath his wide robe. She could make out the slim figure of a woman. Faintly, she could also see that her head was bobbing up and down.
Chen Rong’s face immediately grew red. She pressed her lips and quickly averted her eyes.
Meanwhile, the man’s legs gradually stretched. He suddenly pulled the woman off of him, lifted his hips and stuffed that thing into her mouth.
Chen Rong pressed her lips together. The song of the young man who was killed still rang in her ears. She, too, had an impulse to sing and scream… it was an impulse resulting from hopelessness and despair.
As the eunuch was struggling for a reply, the fat man tiredly gave a wave. “Wang Hong’s beauty? No, no, I don’t want to see her right now.”
With a wave of his hand, Chen Rong’s carriage made a turn and continued to where the emperor was.
Chapter 154: A Joyous Place
The rows upon rows of exquisite buildings at the palace were mostly built from wood. The trees lining the way were adorned with white, pink or red ribbons and lanterns, as well as sachets. Some even had gourd wine bottles hanging from them, giving off a remarkable fragrance.
The carriage pulled to a stop. Chen Rong heard the young eunuch reverently say: “Hong Yunzi is here on the order of His Majesty.”
It took a while before a high voice replied, “His Majesty is not here. You may go to the Orchid Pavilion.”
The young eunuch replied with an aye, and so the carriage drove forward again.
Shortly after, he called in, “Priestess, the Orchid Pavilion is just ahead.”
Chen Rong hummed a reply and stepped off the carriage with his help.
She was in a flower garden whose perimeter was planted with pear and peach trees. Between the two were also lush eucalyptus, banyan, and pine trees.
She noticed a pavilion hidden behind the foliage.
“Priestess, His Majesty says for you to go ahead,” the young eunuch reminded her when he saw Chen Rong standing around.
She nodded and apologized to him, then took her first steps.
Even though it was only early spring, she noted that the plants in this garden were surprisingly lush as she walked the serpentine road.
It was very quiet here, and no eunuchs or palace ladies were in sight.
She hesitated for a while before going again.
After a quarter of an hour, the pavilion appeared before her eyes. Under the left pillar sat a man.
Chen Rong softly went to him.
He was very well dressed in his light blue robe and a white jade hat.
He was squatting on the ground, his hand holding a twig, intently tugging at something.
Chen Rong quietly craned her neck to look and at once recognized him to be His Majesty.
What was he playing with that he was so preoccupied?
Chen Rong took two more steps, bowed her head and stood to the side.
She was very still while the birds chirped all around her. The occupied man remained unaware of her after a long time.
She hesitated for a moment and tilted her head thinking about her last encounter with the emperor. A moment later she lightly walked to him.
Chen Rong looked over his shou.
Eh? The emperor was playing with the ants on the ground!
He kept trying to stop them from leaving the stone pillar with a twig in his left hand. His right hand was placing pieces of rice from an antique jade bowl around the ant mound.
He was very focused and his eyes didn’t blink once.
Chen Rong couldn’t help wanting to laugh. She squatted down beside him to watch the ants with him.
The ants went around and around, and then simply moved the grains out of their way. The emperor got anxious when he saw that they weren’t moving back to the mound. He took more pieces of rice from the bowl and plugged the mound.
When he felt warmth next to him, he finally turned his head.
This time, he saw Chen Rong also attentively watching the ants like him. Her fair fingers were drawing a circle on the dirt ground to trap the ants within.
The emperor looked at the ants who were going around and around and said, “That won’t stop them.” He grabbed more mud and made a mud wall around the perimeter, grinning: “But this will.”
Chen Rong thought for a moment and said, “It’s not high enough.” Two ants had climbed onto the mud wall and were about to climb over it.
The emperor quickly piled more mud and asked, “Have you eaten?”
Chen Rong also grabbed a handful of mud and carefully repaired the mud wall. She shook her head, saying: “I was about to when your people came for me. I’m starving.”
The emperor laughed to hear this. He clapped and said, “Eat with me.”
Chen Rong smiled. “Aye.”
He stood up and took Chen Rong’s hand.
She looked at his shining eyes and perspiring face and thought to herself: His Majesty is such a child right now. She was convinced that he had no romantic thoughts even as he was holding her hand.
This translation belongs to h@mster428.
The emperor led Chen Rong by the hand and went a dozen steps to a lake.
Dozens of eunuchs, imperial guards, and palace maids stood lakeside. When the emperor and Chen Rong arrived, they lowered their heads and stood as still as wood statues.
“Aye, Your Majesty.”
Amid their orderly responses, the palace maids brought towels and water basins for the emperor and Chen Rong to wash their hands. Afterwards there was a steady stream of people who brought tables and food containers.
Chen Rong was seemingly unaware that she was still holding hands with the emperor, or that the maids and guards from time to time stole glances at their joined hands. She excitedly looked at the rippling lake, sparkling from the sunlight, and smilingly said, “Your Majesty, this place must be gorgeous in another month. There will be peach blossoms, pear blossoms, weeping willows and white poplars to complement each other.”
She turned her head and mischievously winked at the emperor. “Think about how beautiful it will be to be on the lake when the colors of the sunset are diffused across the sky.”
The emperor’s eyes followed her gaze to the lake. He leaned back and picked up a leaf to put over his eyes, muttering: “Beautiful but boring.”
Chen Rong tilted her head and unhurriedly replied, “How can it be boring? There are fish jumping in the water, colonies of ants under the tree, and birds singing in the forest. What a scene!”
The courtly and pale emperor smiled, showing his white teeth under the leaf.
He did not answer Chen Rong’s words, merely shouting: “Go, all of you, leave us.”
Footsteps signaled their retreat. Even the palace maids who were serving food and drinks stopped their movements.
Chen Rong’s eyes lingered on the table as she muttered, “But I’m still hungry.”
“Haha, then I guess you’ll have to stay hungry,” said the emperor with a huge grin on his face.
He removed the leaf from his eyes to glance at a speechless Chen Rong and laughed again. After replacing the leaf back on his eyes he said, “I have never spoken to anyone of your rank until now. I did not expect a poor gentlewoman to be so lively and charming. Wang Qi sure knows how to pick them.”
Chen Rong smiled, saying: “Did Zhuangzi not say that an eagle has an eagle’s freedom while a sparrow has a sparrow’s happiness?”
The emperor laughed again.
He suddenly sat up.
The leaf fell to the ground when he moved.
He turned back at Chen Rong. After glancing around, he approached her and quietly said, “That’s true.” He paused, his voice dipping even lower: “Even before you arrived in Jiankang I had already heard about you. I had wanted to meet you very much… They said there is a young lady of humble background; she looks like Daji, but possesses commendable bravery.”
He suddenly paused, winked and asked Chen Rong, “Do you like that assessment of you?”
Chen Rong blinked and looked into his eyes. She blinked again. Perhaps good fortunes made her smarter, Chen Rong pursed her lips and sullenly said, “Your Majesty clearly wants to say there is a humble woman who periled her life to be with Wang Qi in besieged Mo’yang. This woman looks like a flirt, and Wang Qi is really lucky.”
The emperor stilled and stared at Chen Rong.
He suddenly broke out laughing.
He had been laughing all along but it had been done heedlessly. Only now was he really laughing.
The eunuchs and maids all looked this way.
He slapped his thigh and pleasantly remarked, “This nun, haha, haha, you’re very smart!”
He laughed again to see Chen Rong’s dour face.
After playing around for a while, the emperor grinned and asked, “Aren’t you quite pleased? You are but a humble woman yet your every move shocks the emperor. Doesn’t this make you happy?”
Chen Rong sighed.
She raised her head to sadly stare at the blue sky and said in a regretful voice, “Had I known I already caught your attention, when I first met you I wouldn’t have asked you to let me become a nun. Instead, I would have asked you to decree a marriage for me with Wang Qi. Alas.”
The emperor first blanked and then laughed.
But it was only a single laughter this time.
He lay back on the ground and picked up a leaf to place on his eyes. He pursed his lips: “You don’t have to remind me!”
He sounded irritable.
Chen Rong was surprised by his sudden vexation.
She saw him angrily picking up leaves and hurling them away. “I already know you are Wang Qi’s! Hmph!”
He swung his back against her, sulking like a child.
Chen Rong was alarmed at first, but then wanted to laugh at his demeanor.
She also pursed her lips and unhappily said, “I had thought Your Majesty would be pleased.” With his back facing her, the emperor straightened himself and had his ears perked up.
Chen Rong continued to say, now with a smile: “Imagine the kind of shock you would have dealt Wang Qi if you had granted our marriage in front of everyone that day. I bet he would look at me, and then at you, and back at me, then back at you…”
The emperor couldn’t help but laugh at her vivid description of the imaginary scenario. He quietly chuckled at first, but when he thought of that scene, of Lang’ya Wang Qi unable to believe his own ears, of the courtiers and aristocrats looking at each other, of those rotten Confucians inwardly cursing him for being absurd, he immediately felt intrigued.
He laughed and repeatedly said, “You’re right, you’re right, that would be very shocking!”
The emperor was now in a good mood. He turned to Chen Rong to study her in seriousness. He leaned in to her and whispered, “When there is no one around, call me Sima Chang. I like hearing my name.”
Chen Rong nodded.
He stepped back, cleared his throat and bade, “Set the table.”
As soon as his order was given, the eunuchs and palace maids standing fifty paces away started to move.
Meat and wine filled the table.
Chen Rong sat opposite the emperor. After he had reached out with his chopsticks and brought a meatball to his mouth, he personally took the dish and placed it in front of Chen Rong. “It’s very good, have a taste.”
Chen Rong had a bite or two and nodded her head in approval.
The emperor drank some wine and vaguely asked her, “How is the food in the palace?”
“It’s delicious,” Chen Rong replied with her mouth full. “Better than at the temple,” she added with a nod.
The emperor laughed again to hear this.
A moment later, he handed her a jade cup which contained some yellow liquid and said, “Try it.”
“How is it?” he asked when she took a sip.
Chen Rong was struggling to swallow. She winced, “It’s too bitter,” and further commented, “like it’s made from wine residue.”
The emperor clapped his hands. He smiled so widely that his eyes stretched into lines. He hurriedly swallowed the food in his mouth and leaned in to Chen Rong, whispering: “It is made from wine residue.”
While Chen Rong rounded her eyes, he slowly said, “Every time there is a banquet, I would pretend to drink and savor it… Guess what happened after?”
She thought for a moment and then asked, “Did all of the consorts love it, too?”
The emperor vigorously nodded. “After doing this a few times, they and the flatterers always have to drink it whenever there is a banquet… Well, you tasted it, so you know this liquid is very bitter. They lost all of their appetite. I don’t know how many beautiful women have lost weight in the last couple of years.”
Chen Rong blinked. Then, she raised her sleeve over her face and couldn’t help but break into laughter which attracted countless looks their way.
The meal took about one and a half hour to finish. When the dishes got cold they got reheated, after they were reheated, they became cold again.
Unknowingly the two had moved closer together. Chen Rong was clutching her stomach from all the embarrassing stories the supreme Emperor had to tell her since his childhood days.
On the shaded road.
The young eunuch respectfully said, “My lord, they are over there.” He retreated half a step to let the white robed man waltz by.
As the young man was approaching, he heard a string of laughter. It was the emperor, he was sure of it.
However, a woman’s voice was also heard amid the emperor’s laughter. She was cheerfully laughing herself.
The man slowed down.
After crossing the willow trees, he was less than twenty steps from them and was about to announce himself when he heard the emperor calling: “Ah Rong.”
Chen Rong smiled and turned her head. The tears in her eyes made her face ever so beautiful.
As the emperor looked at Chen Rong, his eyes lingered and he unconsciously leaned closer to her to say, gently yet seriously: “Ah Rong, I had not met any young lady like you in all my life… Say, why don’t you marry me?”
In the sunlight, he flashed his white teeth in a beatific smile. “Lang’ya Wang Qi cannot marry you, but I have no such problem. Wait a few years and I will crown you my empress. What do you say?”
The emperor’s voice was clear and bright. His smile was as vivid as a flowering field in the summer sunlight. It was brilliant, direct, and blinding.
Under the verdant willow trees, the handsome lad came to a still.