Chapter 164: Boating
A glorious life?
Chen Rong laughed. She took a hold of his sleeve and sighed, “Oh you.” It was a sigh, but she was filled with happiness.
She sighed because she knew there was no shortage of aristocrats in Jiankang. Sun Yan had only arrived and yet to find his footing, so it wouldn’t be easy for him to protect her. She was still very happy, nonetheless.
She looked up at Sun Yan. At length, she softly smiled, “Meeting you is the only thing that went right in my life.”
Sun Yan laughed out loud.
They walked back to her room. As they went, Chen Rong told him everything that had happened. While she narrated, Sun Yan’s face altered between shock and disbelief.
When they arrived at her room, looking at Chen Rong push the door to go in, Sun Yan suddenly called, “Ah Rong.”
Chen Rong leaned on the door and looked back.
At this time, Sun Yan’s arms were folded in front of him. He regarded Chen Rong and said, “Ah Rong, dress however you like for tonight’s banquet. From now on, too, you can do whatever you like.” He grinned: “In any case this Daoist name of yours isn’t that authentic.”
Chen Rong thought for a moment and then nodded.
Back in her room, she changed into a light blue dress.
By the time she came out, Sun Yan was already sitting in the carriage. Seeing that the sun had sunk into the horizon and the night fog was shrouding the mountain, they hasted along.
… and here I’ll summarize the rest of the chapter. Sun Yan takes Chen Rong to the banquet on the lake and she trades pointed remarks with scholars as always because they never fail to look down on her. Of course she comes out winning but her victories are small and never quite amount to much. It’s tedious and exhausting to me as a reader and translator, which to the author’s credit, perfectly illustrates the painstaking steps AR undergoes simply to build a reputation that allows her to live. It isn’t fun or easy to translate so I get stuck for a month and never emerge from the chapter.
Chapter 165: Ascension to Glory
The night went by in the blink of an eye.
Chen Rong got up from bed even before the sun had risen, for today was her first court session as Grand Chamberlain.
She hadn’t a court outfit, however, or a horse drawn carriage, shoes, or hat, so on and so forth, that befitted her position. It seemed that the emperor was also aware of it and felt no need to take seriously the position he had appointed her.
Even so, this matter mustn’t be neglected. Facing the bronze mirror after having tried on a few outfits, Chen Rong finally put on a dark gray men’s robe. She didn’t have enough time to order new clothes – they had all been sent by Sun Yan. Besides these, there were many others delivered by his carriages, both men’s and women’s, in various styles and colors. She wondered how the boy knew her size just from looking, because the clothes fit her as if they had been made-to-measure.
Donning the tailored robe, with her hair worn high and a sword at her hip, the pretty girl in the bronze mirror suddenly transformed into a handsome lad. But because there left a trace of beauty she could not erase, she looked just like a virgin boy.
Chen Rong frowned at her reflection.
Staring at her, Nurse Ping stammered at length, “You look quite like one of the aristocrats’ companions.”
The companions she spoke of were the popular catamites in Jiankang, whom only the highest aristocrats had the privilege to enjoy. Besides good looks, they must possess literary talent, excellent calligraphy, poetic ability, creativity, or extraordinary martial arts to intercept assassins on their masters’ travels. Each of their smallest actions must always be elegant, never vulgar.
In an era where ‘no poor scholars hold the highest positions and no noblemen hold the lowest ranks’ it was difficult for poor scholars to make a debut through sheer talents. Since they had no other means, those who were superior in looks would adopt the method of becoming an aristocrat’s companion.
They followed the rich and powerful and joined them in learning the etiquette of the upper class, as well as knowledge that was out of reach for the poor gentry. After a few years, they were highly likely to be recommended by their lovers. In cases where they were not, the money and knowledge gained over the years could still help them find a small title.
Because the requirements were so high, there were not many such companions. What is rare is sought after; for this reason, companions became a fad among the upper class and a fascination to all.
Speaking of which, Wang Hong and Sun Yan were beautiful lads themselves, but no matter how they may dress, no one could ever mistake them for companions. This was primarily due to their background. They were from century-old aristocracies whereby self confidence ran in their bloods and bones. No matter what they did everyone would see excellence in them, unlike Chen Rong who came from a humbler background.
As she stood in front of the bronze mirror at this moment, for example, sharpness and coldness existed in her eyes, but one could not see an aristocrat’s ease and grace reflected.
Perhaps this wasn’t something the commoners could distinguish, but the scholars and clan elders could see it at a glance.
But then again, although Chen Rong did not possess an aristocrat’s grace, her contempt for life and death exuded an aloofness that, along with her coldness and solitude, emerged like a rose in the snow – glaringly cold and beautiful.
A temperament like Chen Rong’s was unique in the world she lived.
Nurse Ping hesitated for a while and at last couldn’t help herself from persuading her mistress: “Miss, why don’t you change into another outfit?”
Chen Rong looked down in contemplation and then smilingly replied, “No.” She looked back at her nurse to say: “People like pretty young men. This will reduce their hostility towards me.” Looks and manners in this period were more noticeable than education and character. At the imperial court, it was common for handsome men to attain high positions while talented men were left at home due to their unattractive looks.
Because the entire country paid attention to outer appearances, there was no shortage of men in Jiankang who applied powder, wore sachets, and dressed in their finest.
This translation belongs to the one and only hamster428.
Having now made all arrangements, Chen Rong left the temple.
The carriage wheels rolled on the morning sunlight and headed for the palace.
It was still early. There were not many people on the street and Chen Rong did not see anyone going in the same direction. Even when they were nearing the palace, very few carriages were seen around.
Slowly, they pulled up to the palace entrance.
The gates weren’t open.
“Priestess, what should we do?” asked the driver who was sent by Wang Hong.
“Let’s wait,” replied Chen Rong as she leaned back.
Their wait took two quarters of an hour, by which time other carriage wheels began to show up.
“Open the gates!” someone called with his head poked out. The guard at once responded with a nod and laughter. “Why are you here so early today, my lord?”
The first man smiled and then glanced at Chen Rong’s carriage.
Detecting his glance, the doorman laughed and volunteered, “That person has been here for a long time but does not call the door. He just waits there.”
The man told his driver to stop, at which time several other courtiers arrived at the scene.
When he saw Chen Rong’s coachman begin driving again, he turned to their vehicle and called, “A moment, sir.” He inspected Chen Rong’s ride and added, “Forgive my poor eyesight, but I really cannot recognize which family you are from.”
His words drew the courtiers’ attention. For the time being, everyone looked at her carriage.
Just then, another carriage caught up, its owner was a young aristocrat. He glanced at Chen Rong’s vehicle and beamed to say: “I know who it is!” He jovially laughed. “It must be the new Grand Chamberlain who was appointed by His Majesty yesterday. It is said that she is a beautiful nun.”
His words caused the others’ attention to turn this way, with some individuals shouting: “That’s absurd!”
Chen Rong was no longer able to go.
She didn’t want to go either. She already knew this would happen.
She reached for the curtain and drew it open, appearing in front of the crowd.
As soon as they saw her cold and beautiful face, the commotion settled down.
Chen Rong dismounted her carriage.
“Greetings, gentlemen.” She didn’t call herself Ah Rong of the Chen House or Hong Yunzi, or did she call them her colleagues, only gracefully offering them an indifferent bow.
Everyone was still assessing her at this time. From the times of the Three Kingdoms, famous scholars had judged a person by his facial features, temperament, gaze, manners and speech. Appearances were so important that they even mattered in the imperial court’s selection. It just so happened that as soon as Chen Rong got off her carriage, those who had had a prejudice against her took a pause: Why do I not see a bewitching fox? Or a promiscuous nun?
Chen Rong did not straighten from her bow. She blankly remarked, “When the Hu besieged Nan’yang in the past, I took the lead and killed countless barbarians with my whip… if only I wasn’t a woman, then I could have served as the Grand Chamberlain.”
The moment she said ‘If I hadn’t been a woman’, sighs escaped around them. The aristocrats suddenly felt as though they had taken a cold drink on a winter day, the word regret wasn’t enough to describe their loss.
Chen Rong paid them no attention. She raised her head to sweep her eyes across the crowd with a smile on her lips. After listening to another round of laments, she lightly added, “It is said that a gentleman would rather die than to be insulted. You may disapprove of me, but please do not humiliate me.”
Having said this, she waved her sleeves and strode to the carriage, calling: “Let’s go.”
Her driver gave a response and drove in.
As soon as her carriage went, the others quickly followed. Even while sitting inside, Chen Rong could hear someone behind her lament: “Why was she born a woman?” He beat his chest and stomped his feet. “How can she be a woman? How do I come to terms with this?”
The man apparently couldn’t help himself. He kept urging his driver to speed up and, when they passed Chen Rong, turned to look back, his eyes lingering on her cold countenance. The more he looked at her the more he liked her face.
Chen Rong and the ministers soon reached the court’s facade.
Scarcely had she stepped off the carriage before a bearded middle-aged minister came to her. He bowed deeply and said, “This bow is to thank you for bolstering our soldiers’ morale.”
He straightened and audibly said with a piercing stare: “Nonetheless, the court is a sacred place. You are a woman, please leave.”
His right hand rose behind him.
Chen Rong looked at him and then behind him.
She knew that these people weren’t angry at her but at the emperor’s decree.
She stopped walking.
She straightened her back to look at the middle-aged minister, her smile was especially radiant. “You think too much, my lord.”
She then clasped her hands together and looked to the highest seat which represented the imperial power. “A woman like me dare not come before the throne of the almighty king.”
She turned to the crowd, prettily, candidly. “It’s just that I can scarcely believe I am finally here after dreaming about this place for so long.”
She knelt down on one knee, looking up at the throne in veneration and awe. Her eyes slowly reddened. She bowed deeply but spoke no more. She knew she could only be wrong the more she spoke, and the less she said the less mistakes there would be.
After her bow, Chen Rong did not look at them again. She slowly retreated and, after five steps, flapped her sleeves to leave.
While the ministers were still staring at her with various expressions, Chen Rong’s carriage was already gone. A stream of music unhurriedly filled the air. Its sounds were sweeping and glorious, as though she was looking up at the emperor in the morning light and no language could describe her awe, admiration and love for this place.
The carriage gradually drove away, taking the stunning music with it.
After a long time, the young nobleman rushed out. He stared after Chen Rong’s carriage and sighed, “What a marvelous individual.” He sounded as though he was either stupefied or intoxicated.
Behind him, the ministers had entered the hall.
They did not say anything, but Chen Rong’s cold and beautiful face had undoubtedly left a deep impression.
To the Confucian scholars, Chen Rong, even with all her flaws, was worthy of praise for her reverence and loyalty to the emperor. And to them, the woman named Chen Rong was ultimately a captivating person, for she unconcernedly left while others were still kneeling, expressing her will through notes of music. She was flexible in her conduct, and carried the air of a learned scholar.
With this mentality, the ministers blamed the young emperor for being scandalous, but had no vicious words for Chen Rong.
Chen Rong’s carriage slowly exited the palace gates.
Once outside, she relaxed her straight posture. A gust of wind passed by, making her realize she had been perspiring cold sweat.
She leaned back and smiled.
Her smile was very relaxed and luminous… Her outing had met her expectations. She was sure the entire city, whether aristocrats or hermits, would know about her now. Moreover, in their evaluation, she should no longer be the profligate villain who was creating scandals with the ridiculous emperor.
At length, her carriage slowed down.
The curtain lifted whereupon a beautiful face entered her carriage amid frenzied voices.
Sure enough it was Sun Yan. His eyes were slightly puffy. When he saw Chen Rong, he heaved a sigh and smiled. “Did things go well?”
Chen Rong nodded. She sat up and quite smugly said to him, “It could be said that I’m recognized by the Jiankang community this time.” With a twinkle in her eyes, she lifted her chin and announced, “I just need a couple more chances. By then I’ll cease to be lowly.”
Even if they did not respect her, people would not dare to belittle her, toy with her, or insult her. As Sun Yan said, she would be able to live with pride due to the scholars’ recognition. Seeing the proud smile on her face, Sun Yan shook his head. “Look how puffed up you are!”
Having said this, he grinned again. “Woman, you hold onto any chance you have, no matter how small. That’s something I’m not nearly as good at.”
Chen Rong smiled in response.
“If I think about it,” Sun Yan muttered, “Wang Hong is actually rather pitiful.”
These words earned him a glare from Chen Rong.
He smiled with an exaggerated sigh: “But he is! He must’ve never thought that he would fall for someone like you. Now he can neither let you go nor hold onto you. No matter what he gains or loses, it will leave him brokenhearted.”
The commotion and screaming were growing louder and louder outside. Before they knew it, wildflowers were even flying through the curtains and landing on Chen Rong’s face.
She rubbed her eyes and cried to Sun Yan: “Out you go, leave. I don’t want these women to tear me into pieces.”
Sun Yan adopted another grin. He gave Chen Rong another once over and then cheerfully remarked, “If they see you like this, you can forget about going home today.”
He broke into laughter and left.
Chen Rong’s carriage continued to drive forth.
It was not long before the vehicle slowed down. “What brings you back?” Chen Rong asked without bothering to look up. Even though she was questioning him, her tone was more or less cheerful and relaxed.
The curtain fluttered. By the time she frowningly looked up, it was a woman’s voice she heard: “Are you perhaps Priestess Hong Yunzi? My mistress requests a meeting.”
After what had happened at the Jiankang Prince’s estate, Chen Rong never failed to shudder at an aristocrat’s request to see her. “No,” she coldly answered.
“Go!” she next shouted to the driver.
He hurriedly responded and then drove away.
The woman returned to a nearby carriage and whispered to the person inside, “She said no.” After a pause she complained in vexation: “Quite rudely, if I may add.”
The one in the carriage was silent for a moment before answering: “My seventh cousin is crazy about her. From what I heard, she’s not ordinary either. I’ll find a way to meet her next time.” Her sweet voice and somewhat childish.
Her nurse continued, “I heard His Excellency had met her before. He even proposed to make her Qilang’s honored concubine only for his offer to be rejected. Why do you care about such an ignorant girl, miss?”
The girl inside the carriage laughingly replied, “Nurse, let me tell you, my seventh cousin deserves at least this much torture.”
Her childlike laughter continued to ring. “Nurse, why aren’t you saying something?” she asked.
It took the woman a few moments before she was heard stammering: “Q-Qilang, you’re here.”
The curtains swiftly drew open to present a pretty face to the crowd. When the girl turned her eyes, she saw that her seventh cousin was clasping his hands behind his back, quietly staring after the departing carriage. His eyes for some reason softened the girl’s heart, and she could no longer laugh aloud.