Chapter 155: Sincerity or Pretense
Wang Hong slowly formed a smile.
“Greetings from Wang Hong, Your Majesty,” he called as he stepped out and bent over in a deep bow.
His voice roused the other two, who turned to look back at him with their laughter still on their faces. The emperor’s annoyance was abundantly clear.
Wang Hong ambled to them with a polite yet nonchalant smile.
He cast Chen Rong a brief glance before his mouth curved to address the emperor: “Hong Yunzi is a Daoist name Your Majesty had bestowed, and so you must not make light of it.”
His voice was kept soft and airy, and his smile very easy.
But both the emperor and Chen Rong could hear the threat in his words.
The emperor snorted. He tapped his forehead in comprehension while exclaiming: “Is that right, now? Ah yes, I had ordained Ah Rong into the monastic orders.”
He turned around to regard Chen Rong for a while, and then slapped his thigh with a cry: “Oh I know!”
“Ah Rong,” he began, leaning to her, “Are you aware that I’m called a foolish and absurd ruler around here?” There were twinkles in his eyes when he cocked his head and gleefully added, “Say, if my empress were to be a Daoist nun, would it be unprecedented? Would it be very shocking?”
He glanced back at Wang Hong. “Don’t you know me, Qilang? I embrace all things that are scorned. How else can I live up to my absurdity?”
And then as if he had thought of something, he turned his head to fully look at Wang Hong, suddenly asking: “Or have you come here for Ah Rong?”
He gave Wang Hong a glare, pulled Chen Rong behind him and then scowled, “I thought you hold her in disdain because of her humble origins? Since you look down on her, you should give her to me.”
He reached for the nearby antique jade bowl and graciously negotiated, “Here, I’ll trade this with you!”
Wang Hong froze on the spot.
He instinctively looked to Chen Rong, his glassy eyes willing her to speak.
He looked as though he was certain she would open her mouth to tell the emperor she was his and only his in this lifetime… Except for him, she would not have any other man.
Chen Rong stilled, unable to help herself from wondering: Does he by chance know about my meeting with Ran Min and our exchanges?
She dropped her gaze and avoided his eyes.
The emperor leaned over. He looked at Chen Rong, then at Wang Hong, back at Chen Rong, and again at Wang Hong.
His eyes slowly curved into a mirthful smile.
He continued to push the jade bowl into Wang Hong’s arms and said in earnest, “Come now Qilang, take it.” When he saw that Wang Hong was still looking at Chen Rong, he made a face and impishly goaded him: “Qilang, Qilang, take it, take it.”
This translation belongs to hamster428.
As he said this he took the bowl still with leftover crumbs in it and shoved it into Wang Hong’s arms.
Wang Hong took a step back.
He withdrew his pointed gaze from Chen Rong, deeply bowed to the emperor, and wryly smiled. “You jest, Your Majesty.”
As he spoke, he cast a glance at the woods.
Just as the emperor relentlessly stepped forth and tried to put the bowl into his arms, an elderly eunuch ran out from the woods and called, “Your Majesty, Grand Tutor Zhao is coming.”
The emperor unhappily stopped what he was doing. He tossed the jade bowl aside, scowling: “Already?”
Intentionally or otherwise, he glanced at Wang Hong and groused, “No fun! Why did he get here so fast?”
He left with a wave of his sleeves. In a flash, his long strides had carried him to the distance.
Seeing that he had gone away, Wang Hong turned and approached Chen Rong. By the time he reached her, the emperor had thought of something and hurriedly stopped to look back.
“Qilang of the Wang House,” he yelled when he saw how close Wang Hong was standing to Chen Rong, “Hong Yunzi is a nun. What are you doing so close to her?”
He narrowed his eyes at Wang Hong, muttering under his breath: “I know I’m a fool but nobody told me Wang Qi is also one.”
“Hong Yunzi is a nun ordained by me,” he solemnly said. “I was very touched to hear that you were looking after her as a friend.” Pausing, he warily broached, “Hey, don’t tell me you want to take advantage of your charge? Are you thinking of having a clandestine affair with a nun?”
The emperor were firing his words rapidly and bluntly.
Though Wang Hong was clever, he could only stand there like a block.
The emperor did not wait for Wang Hong to respond. He suspiciously stared at him before turning to Chen Rong with a warm smile: “Don’t worry Ah Rong, I’m here for you. I’ll keep you safe.”
He then jovially turned around and went his way.
This time, he turned again after only two steps and smilingly called to Chen Rong, “Ah Rong, think about what I said. I want an answer the next time I see you.”
After earnestly speaking to her and receiving her bow, he flung his wide sleeves and happily left, soon disappearing into the woods.
Once he confirmed the emperor had left, Wang Hong quietly said, “Let’s go.”
He turned and led the way.
When Chen Rong failed to follow, he stopped to turn around. “Ah Rong, this isn’t a place to linger.”
There was a coldness in his voice that was contrary to his smile.
They walked one after another.
Wang Hong’s pace was growing faster and faster.
Gradually, Chen Rong fell behind. Since she couldn’t keep up she simply slowed down and leisurely strolled along.
Wang Hong turned around when he heard no sound behind him.
Chen Rong was trailing more than a hundred paces.
She ambled along, appearing every bit the picture of peace. Her yellow Daoist robe did not lessen any of her charm.
Wang Hong quietly looked at her.
At long last she caught up to him. She lifted her eyes to meet his gaze, grinning pleasantly.
She was apparently in a good mood.
Wang Hong withdrew his gaze and wordlessly walked on.
They soon came to their respective rides.
She pulled the curtain down once she got onto her carriage. Leaning back, she thought to herself: Sima Zhang is an interesting person. But I wonder how much of what he told me was the truth?
She shook her head. Why should I care whether he’s being truthful or not? It can’t be bad for me to have the emperor’s backing.
She smiled, reposed and continued her thought: It should be easier for me to leave Jiankang and keep my land if I have the emperor’s help, should it not? Hmm, I’ll just have to wait, then. Wait until Wang Hong gets married and I will leave this place… I certainly would have made my move before this face of mine made any more trouble.
At this juncture in her thought Chen Rong closed her eyes to rest.
“Ah Rong,” she heard Wang Hong call.
She carelessly hummed a reply.
By and by, he whispered to her, “Don’t believe what His Majesty says.”
Chen Rong did not, but she opened her eyes and curiously looked at the silhouette on the other side of the curtain. She knew there was more to be interpreted from his words.
“Sima Zhang’s harem is full of women from the major clans; none of his consorts are simple,” continued Wang Hong. “The Empress herself hails from an extraordinary heritage… Ah Rong, you mustn’t believe him.”
Chen Rong dropped her gaze and gave a light “Aye.”
Her answer had been too careless, as if it was only perfunctory.
As a result, the curtain lifted and Wang Hong’s handsome face appeared before her eyes.
He was looking at her fixedly.
Once again, he saw quietude on her face.
Wang Hong let out a slow sigh.
“What is wrong?” asked Chen Rong when she heard his sigh.
“Nothing.” His answer came as light as a feather.
Chen Rong accepted his answer and didn’t continue to ask. She lowered her gaze and, while Wang Hong was deciding whether to pull the curtain down, quietly called, “Qilang.”
He turned around to look at her with eyes that were both gentle and encouraging.
She did not return his gaze. Her eyes remained downcast when she said to him, “When you get married, can you let me know a few days ahead of time?”
She now looked up at him with neither grief nor joy in her eyes, lightly joking: “Before you tell everyone else, can you tell me first?”
She may have been smiling but her voice was supple.
She was asking for a favor.
Wang Hong turned away for whatever reason. He looked at the faint hills in the distance and, with slender fingers, pulled down the curtain to block her face.
He did not answer her.
Chapter 156: Declaration
Looking at Wang Hong’s vague shadow from across the curtain, Chen Rong wanted to laugh: I guess not…
At this time, a clamor of laughter and voices interrupted them from outside.
Chen Rong peered through her curtain.
Their carriages hadn’t yet left the imperial palace; these sounds of laughter were coming from inside the palace walls, and they were getting closer and closer to Wang Hong and Chen Rong.
Before they knew it, a young girl had cried in joy, “It’s Qilang’s carriage!”
“Qilang? Qilang of which house?” asked another.
“Is there any Qilang who deserves this name other than Qilang of the Lang’ya Wang House?”
While the second girl was still unclear, a young boy pleasantly said, “Ah Yi, there are seven famous men in Jiankang. Among them are the handsome Yu Jiazi, the amorous Xie Heting, and the fairylike Wang Qilang. Wang Qilang is the one sitting in the carriage ahead.”
As soon as he finished, several young girls simultaneously cheered.
At this moment, a girl unhappily raised her voice: “Why are you causing a ruckus inside the palace?” It was the Ninth Princess.
The clamor simultaneously stopped, replaced by the sound of turning wheels.
Shortly, Chen Rong heard the princess’s gentle voice: “Greetings from Ah Huang, Qilang… I have not seen you for days, I hope you are well.” Her voice was soft and measured.
Wang Hong’s silky voice leisurely rang out in reply: “Thank you for asking, Your Highness. I am well.”
She had called herself ‘Ah Huang’ but he had called her ‘Your Highness’. Though he was soft spoken, his words revealed an alienation.
The princess slightly parted her mouth, her small face betraying unhappiness.
She looked around and noticed Chen Rong’s carriage. “Who’s inside?” she asked the Wang House’s driver.
The young aristocrats had circled them by this time. Faced with their curious eyes, the driver respectfully answered, “Your Highness, it is Priestess Hong Yunzi.”
The commotion started again. “That peasant?” exclaimed one girl, “I heard her looks are incredibly seductive. Quick, raise the curtain so I can see her.”
Her companion pulled on her arm in the midst of her remarks. The girl paused to steal a glance at Wang Hong and quickly closed her mouth.
The princess seemed to have been stunned.
She stared at Chen Rong’s carriage for some time before haughtily smirking with a raised chin: “Priestess, are you so supreme that you do not see the need to greet me?”
Chen Rong made no movement.
She reclined to the side and again closed her eyes. I am Wang Hong’s in name. Wang Hong himself is here so let him take care of it. I don’t need to show myself and bear people’s disdain just because some like to make jabs…
… Having seen the murdered man from the Huan House, having seen the deplorable depravity in the palace, having talked to the emperor, Chen Rong now thought: Perhaps it’s time to change my strategy.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
The princess couldn’t help but turn red with anger when she saw no movement from the carriage, not even a fluttering curtain.
She suppressed her irritation and indignantly said to Wang Hong, “Qilang, do you see?”
Wang Hong’s voice still rang soft and light: “Princess, the priestess does not belong to our world. Hence our customs have nothing to do with her.”
“Go,” he beckoned to the driver.
The driver responded and drove the horse forth.
They had barely went by the time the young aristocrats spread out and deliberately blocked their way.
As Wang Hong’s carriage pulled to a halt, a girl smiled at him: “The heavenly Wang Qilang? Please do not leave yet and let me admire you for a moment.”
She unblinkingly stared at him, sending flirtatious looks his way.
Likewise, the rest of the female congregation surrounded him and shouted affectionate teasing.
Each of these young girls wore an extravagant dress and carried an arrogant air. Seeing that they could freely come and go at the palace, yet weren’t very familiar with the people and things in Jiankang, they were most likely princesses from far-flung prefectures.
Wang Hong played along. He let them surround and stare at him. After some time, he smiled and asked, “Have you seen enough?”
A girl coyly smiled in reply. “My lord’s grace and beauty is unparalleled, how can a few short moments be enough?”
An older girl behind her, who seemed to be more daring, laughed out loud as she interjected, “How I wish to take this man home and admire him from dawn to dusk.”
Laughter rose around them in response to her words.
In the meanwhile, the ninth princess had been staring at Chen Rong’s carriage. She stepped forth and lifted her curtain.
Chen Rong in her Daoist robe instantly appeared to the crowd.
The young aristocrats had been sneaking glances her way from time to time, seemingly very curious about her. Now that her face appeared, they all surrounded Chen Rong.
Wang Hong also moved closer to Chen Rong when this happened.
Different from their gawking at Wang Hong, their gawking at Chen Rong was unrestrained. The daring girl gave Wang Hong a final glance and then suddenly called: “You’re beautiful, come home with me.”
She was talking to Chen Rong.
Chen Rong merely bowed her head and woodenly replied, “Hong Yunzi is a nun.”
“I know you’re a nun,” the girl interrupted her, “And? You don’t want to?”
Those were contentious words.
Chen Rong looked up at her.
When she did, the young aristocrats lit up at the sight of her. They could not peel their eyes away.
Chen Rong quietly met her stare, smiled and turned back at Wang Hong.
She looked at Wang Hong and said nothing, but waves undulated in her eyes and that was more than words could say.
Wang Hong had been leaning against the carriage wall, lazily watching the scene. His lips was always curved into a faint, detached smile.
However, he couldn’t help but be startled by the look she had now sent him.
Almost automatically, he lifted his eyes to meet her gaze.
Whether they had heard anything or not, the young audience had to understand by now when they saw them locking eyes like this.
The bold girl watched the two of them and said to Chen Rong, “Priestess, you think you are above us!”
Chen Rong ignored her.
The Ninth Princess was the next to speak. She stared at Chen Rong with fire in her eyes and gave a laugh. “It is said that Daoists are the most uninhibited. Seeing your figure and appearance, you must be proficient in couple cultivation, am I right?”
Her word were not only hostile, but they were also crude.
Chen Rong looked up.
She glanced at the princess’s pretty and haughty face, and then back at Wang Hong. Her eyes were again filled with grievances .
Then, with everyone watching, she reached for the curtain and pulled it down.
Disregarded yet again, the princess was black with ire.
As she was huffing and puffing, the youngsters laughed while Wang Hong spoke up. “Princess, please watch your words!”
When he did not smile, there was an arrogance that exuded from within him. It was the arrogance that had been linked to his bloodline over the centuries, one that even overshadowed the Sima House’s.
Moreover, Wang Hong was being uncommonly cold and alienating.
The princess shuddered despite herself, and so did the other youngsters. They traded glances and involuntarily retreated to give way.
The princess had admired Wang Hong for many years. She had seen him laugh, she had seen him smile, and the Wang Qilang in her impression had always been gentle, calm, and kind.
… She had said worse things in the past but he had never rebuked her.
She momentarily sat stock still.
By the time her eyes were brimming with tears, Wang Hong and Chen Rong’s carriages had driven past.
Only until they had gone far away did the princess raise her sleeves over her face and burst into tears. “Q-Qilang hates me,” she cried, fearful and in panic.
Chen Rong glanced back when she heard these cries. The Sima princess’s conduct is even poorer than that of maidservants from the Wang House.
She had thought that she did not possess the elegance and temperament of an aristocrat due to her lowly background. But now it seemed that a Sima princess was no better.
“Those were some pointed gazes you sent my way right in front of everyone, darling,” Wang Hong’s amused voice sounded.
He lifted the curtain. His glassy eyes were quietly watching her. “You’re getting bold.”
Chen Rong knew why he was looking at her that way… it could be said that she had made a declaration and forced him to speak up for her. She would not have done this in the past out of consideration for him.
She lifted her gaze and smiled charmingly, “Qilang, you’ve been nice for too long… That won’t do, you can’t protect me if this goes on.” It was more of a statement than an accusation.
Wang Hong again froze at her words.
He gradually smiled. “I guess you’re right.” Without turning his head, he said, “Let it be known that the Ninth Princess is vulgar in her speech, and has been scorned by Wang Qi.”
“Aye,” a man behind him answered.
When the man left, Wang Hong turned to Chen Rong again.
Chapter 157: You’re Mine Again
His gaze remained on her. He eventually held out his hand and ever so gently said, “Ah Rong, come over to my carriage.”
Though the smile on his face was light, it was openly happy and joyful… Chen Rong had made her appearance in order to thwart the aristocratic girls. At the same time, she was being different from her usual distant self. She wasn’t being biting or sarcastic, but cunning, confident, and even capricious like when they had first met.
Faced with Wang Hong’s outstretched hand, it was now Chen Rong’s turn to be flustered… She cast her eyes down and then at length stretched her fair slender hand and placed it onto his.
When their hands joined, Wang Hong’s fingers trembled despite himself. Joy glinted in his eyes… Has she finally stopped being stubborn?
Their carriages pulled to a simultaneous stop.
He held her hand and drew her to his carriage.
He pulled her into his arms as soon as she got in. Chen Rong could hardly breathe from his hug. She did not struggle, however. She quietly lay in his arms and let his strong hug surround her.
Wang Hong bowed his head and nudged his face against her neck, his voice slightly flustered: “Ah Rong, today I’m really…” He swallowed the rest of his unspoken words, simply kissed her nape and happily said, “Ah Rong, I’m really happy right now.”
Because Wang Hong was a reserved and reticent person, the word “happy” almost sounded as if it uncontrollably escaped from his mouth.
Her gaze remained downcast. Seemingly unaware of his excitement and happiness, she merely asked, “I’m a nun. Is it all right for me to sit in your carriage like this?”
Wang Hong stilled.
She slowly pulled open his arms wanting to leave his hold.
Wang Hong did not loosen his arms. He softly pleaded, “Ah Rong, let me hold you a while longer.”
He hugged her, closed his eyes and softly pressed his lips on her neck murmuring: “Ah Rong, give me some time to think… there has to be a way to make His Majesty forget you, so that you can free yourself from this Daoist identity.”
Chen Rong turned around to look at him and softly shook her head.
“You don’t have to, I’m doing fine. Life and death is not up to the individual to decide. Why must you dwell on this, Qilang? Why must you insist I be with you?”
She glanced sideways at him and smiled. “Aren’t things good now? I’ll keep on being a nun my whole life, and just the same you go marry your wife and take in your concubines… is that still not good enough?” He’ll have everything he wants, is that still not good enough?
Wang Hong watched Chen Rong.
His embrace stiffened. His mouth suddenly felt bitter and he could not bring himself to laugh.
They heard horse hooves at this time.
Soon after, a high-pitched voice sounded outside: “Is Priestess Hong Yunzi here?”
This was the voice belonging to the young eunuch who had welcomed her into the palace. “Aye,” Chen Rong hurriedly replied.
The eunuch dabbed his sweat and smilingly said, “How fortunate, His Majesty says he had discovered an interesting game and would like you to come back to the palace to play with him.” He paused before adding, “His Majesty also said that if Wang Qi won’t stop clinging onto the priestess then he may also come along. His Majesty said that though Wang Qi is foolish, he promises not to tell anyone.”
His shrill voice resonated such that passersby stopped and strangely looked at them… And yet he said the Emperor promises not to tell?
Once again, Wang Hong fell quiet.
Bitterness spread in his mouth.
By this time, more and more passersby had gathered. They whispered among themselves and eagerly looked in Wang Hong’s direction.
From time to time a voice or two was heard: “This is Lang’ya Wang Qi’s carriage.”
“His Majesty says that he’s foolish, I wonder in what way?”
“There’s a secret in the carriage. Wait and see.”
“Qilang Qilang, let us see you.”
Throughout the commotion, Wang Hong’s hand was kept firmly on Chen Rong’s waist.
He looked down at her.
She had an amused look on her face. She was nestled in his arms like a baby chick, in her eyes was the tender longing he had always wished to see from her…The problem was that the timing was very wrong.
They had only left the palace, yet he was holding a nun in his carriage, whispering sweet nothings in the eyes of the public…
As he looked at her, it suddenly dawned on him that only a few hours had passed since Chen Rong was called to the palace, yet things had changed too quickly for him to react… More importantly, the emperor’s wiles and Chen Rong’s words, together, were looking more like two pranksters who were shamming him.
Wang Hong quietly looked down at Chen Rong.
In his arms was the purest of softness and warmth.
His hug suddenly tightened around her.
He rested his chin on her hair, closed his eyes and asked, “Is this another one of your tricks, Ah Rong?”
His lips brushed across her earlobe, tickling her with a warm breath: “You thought that Lang’ya Wang Qi as the heir of the Wang House would care about his reputation… so that the world does not prove his foolishness, Lang’ya Wang Qi will restrain himself from approaching Ah Rong. Did His Majesty or someone from my family promise you that as long as you did this, even if Wang Qi leaves you, even if Wang Qi no longer protects you, they would, in Wang Qi’s place, guarantee your well-being?”
Even if the contemporary scholars did view the unconventional as beauty and the contrary as fashionable, to liaise with a woman he had once forsaken and a nun no less was ultimately not brilliant but absurd.
Such an affair would be detrimental to his reputation.
He quietly watched Chen Rong, his fingers combing through her hair.
He was waiting for an answer.
Chen Rong softly shook her head. “It’s not entirely like that.”
“I…” She was afraid. She was afraid of his kindness. She was afraid she would not be able to conceal her feelings. It was fear.
She feared she would be moved one day, that time would soften her resolve and erase the painful lesson she had learned… If one simple method could alienate him and give her the protection and peace she wanted, then she felt it was worthwhile to try.
She didn’t expect him to detect her trick before the show even began.
At this time the shouts and laughter outside had grown much rowdier. Young girls were crowding around the carriage and reaching for its curtain.
Wang Hong impatiently frowned to hear the noises. He raised his voice and coldly bade, “Get rid of them.”
Taken aback, it took a few moments for the guards to respond. They rode to the front and began shouting at the crowd.
When had the gentlemanly Wang Qilang ever treated them this way? The young girls couldn’t believe their ears. While the guards drove them away, one hurriedly called out, “Qilang, Qilang, is it you? Did you really say that?”
Amid her cries, several others broke into tears.
Wang Hong simply did not care. He bowed his head and paid only Chen Rong his attention.
His elegant hand swept across her hair, giving a tug when his fingers reached her bun.
Her Daoist headdress fell off and allowed her dark hair to cascade down her shoulders.
He gently captured her chin and lifted it.
As they were looking into each other’s eyes, Wang Hong lowered his head to Chen Rong’s lips and murmured, “You’re wrong Ah Rong.”
Chen Rong blinked quizzically.
His lips moved back to her eyes, kissing her long lashes as he whispered, “Do you think I care about this reputation?”
He chuckled, exhaling warmth onto her face. “I do a little if I were to be completely honest… But I’d rather be ridiculed by the world if it means having you in my arms.”
As soon as he said this, he raised his right hand and pulled on the curtain.
The people outside turned to look.
They were stunned to see Wang Hong passionately kissing a nun.
The eunuch who came on the order of the emperor was also in for a shock.
All sounds were sucked into a deafening silence.
Wang Hong was still clasping Chen Rong in this silence. He held her face and, ignoring the crowd’s scrutiny, bit the tip of her nose while capriciously saying: “Look, darling, you’re mine again.”
Having said this, he wrapped his arms around Chen Rong in front of everyone and then looked up at the eunuch. He slightly cocked his head, flashed a smile and politely said, “Please report back to His Majesty that my lady doesn’t have time to play with him right now. Perhaps another day.”
He then knitted his brow and graciously asked, “What is delaying you?”
The young eunuch was at a complete loss for words. He wanted to retort but Wang Hong had said that Priestess Hong Yunzi was his. If Wang Hong said she was his in front of everyone, how would a eunuch like him possibly force them to go?
He gave Wang Hong a bow and then rode away.
The people from the palace had left in the midst of clopping hooves, but the aristocrats and commoners alike were still standing around to watch…