Chapter 166: Wang Hong Issues a Warning
Despite her sinking heart, the girl was unable to stop herself from saying: “Seventh brother, aren’t you too incapable?” She continued: “For this woman you willingly carry a reputation of ridiculousness, refused the royal messenger in public, gave His Majesty little consideration, and even killed Eunuch Wu yesterday. You have made the clan very dissatisfied with you, yet you haven’t managed to win this woman over. That’s really too useless of you.”
Wang Hong withdrew his gaze to glance at the girl, lightly replying: “The clan is dissatisfied with me?” He smiled. “They are dissatisfied with me and yet they cannot do anything to me. Isn’t that good, then?”
Thus spoke, he flapped his sleeves, pressed down on his hat and went on his way.
The girl laughed to see her cousin walking away without a backward glance. She formed her hands into a speaking trumpet and shouted at the top of her lungs: “Wang Qilang, even if you put on a blue robe and a wide brim hat, they cannot hide your unrivaled bearing.”
Almost as soon as she shouted his name, the people coming and going on the streets all turned to look. By the time she finished, there were already widespread cheering and screaming.
Among these voices, someone was shouting: “Qilang is not a ridiculous or unreasonable person, let me go ask him.”
In the blink of an eye, the blue figure had been buried behind a swarm of people. Watching her cousin struggling to escape, the girl broke into laughter.
She tilted her head and mumbled: “My goodness, dear cousin. You’re having an affair with a nun, no wonder everyone is upset. Tsk, the fairy has fallen, how pitiful.” At this juncture, an inadvertent glance led her to see a shadow sitting in an ordinary and unmarked carriage. She stared for a moment and then scornfully muttered to herself: “The ninth princess?”
At this moment the princess was quietly parked in a corner. She lifted the curtain and painfully watched Wang Hong encircled by the crowd.
Her face was ashen, and her lips were pressed together.
The curtain swayed behind her.
“How did it go?” she asked without turning around. As she thought about those eyes, her voice slightly trembled.
“I haven’t found out, your royal highness,” the other person’s voice was low and scratchy. “Our people inside and out of the temple are gone. Even those we have just sent to follow her carriage have also disappeared.”
After a pause he whispered, “Could it be the boy from the Sun House in Jiangdong – the one called Sun Yan?”
“Imbecile!” the princess blurted. She clenched her teeth and lowered her voice to say, “Sun Yan only recently arrived in Jiankang. He has yet to find his footing in the Sun family, how could he have had the facility?”
Having said this, she turned to look at Wang Hong, her anger gradually turning into sadness, fear and pain: “This was his doing. I don’t want to believe it, but I know it’s him… He changed the moment he killed the imperial messenger. He’s become frighteningly ruthless; he’s no longer gentle and kind.”
She closed her eyes and murmured, “I know he is warning everyone that she is his, and no one but him can touch her. Never mind, I should calm down and wait to see how long he will be protecting her… This woman sickens me. As soon as he lets go, you should take care of it. I do not want to see her again.” She spoke her words with gnashing teeth and a hint of masked fear… She had woken up this morning to find that a lock of her hair had been inexplicably cut off. So frightened and angry was she that she had ordered the death of her servants in attendance.
While sitting in front of her mirror, she suddenly remembered her royal brother had once said: Lang’ya Wang Qi may look like a fairy, but his temper is that of a wolf. All is fine when he does not act, but when he does it will be with the rage of lightning.
She didn’t want to believe it, but his image kept appearing in her mind. For this reason, she had left the palace so in the morning to speak to him.
However, he didn’t even need to speak now. Just moments ago he was glancing at her from the crowd with eyes that were penetrating but also unsympathetic. It was a look of disdain for her life. Almost suddenly she was convinced that it was his doing all along. He was warning her, and ordering her to stop.
Not long ago, his censure had led to the mockery of her in the palace. Now he had obviously ran out of patience, so she should forbear and bide her time.
Bowing her head and hiding her tears behind her sleeve, the ninth princess whispered, “Go.”
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Chen Rong soon returned to the temple.
After freshening herself, she hurried to the back of the mountain where she spotted a small boat moored in the distant valley. There, Old Shang and a thin man were talking to each other; behind them a few servants stood by.
They bowed to the arrival of Chen Rong.
She nodded to them as she briskly walked to the boat and, after circling it, said to the thin man, “Can we start now?”
The commoner didn’t dare to raise his head at a high-profile character in Jiankang. “Aye,” he replied.
“Then teach me.”
The man jumped onto the boat. Timidity vanished from his face once he was on the water. With his back turned to Chen Rong, he explained, “Priestess, it’s fairly easy to row a boat. The key is knowing how to exert your strength.” He demonstrated with gestures as he spoke.
Chen Rong listened in earnest. From time to time, she made a few strokes according to his instructions.
Her lessons in martial arts afforded her good balance, and since she was eager to learn, she grasped the idea in just a quarter of an hour. By the time she took the boat around the lake, she had started to look the part.
She laughed and called to Old Shang from the distance: “Old Shang, I did it! Give him a bolt of silk and see him home.” The man dropped to his knees to thank her in surprise. A bolt of silk! It’s this simple to earn a bolt of silk? Working for the rich is indeed the best way to make money.
Chen Rong who had just learned how to row was besides herself with joy. She paddled back and forth in the lake and loudly sang:
“That cunning boy,
Won’t talk to me.
Because of him,
I cannot eat.
That cunning boy,
Won’t eat with me.
Because of him,
I cannot sleep.” (1)
(1) 狡童 – “Cunning Boy” from the Book of Songs
Her voice was so bright and high that these lovesick words sounded cheerful and breezy. After she sang the song twice, she frowned: Why did I sing this kind of song? Now I’m upset for no good reason. At this thought, she shook her head and began rowing back.
Before she reached the shore, a young man’s laughter rang to her: “I barely arrived only to hear you singing love songs. Woman, can’t you pretend to be a little holier?”
It was Sun Yan’s voice.
Chen Rong was happy to see him. She gave him a glare, but cheerily smiled: “Who told you to eavesdrop?” She looked him up and down and then curiously asked, “Why are you dressed like this? Are you going somewhere?”
Sun Yan pushed a stray hair aside, replying: “Didn’t you want to tour Jiankang? I’m here to accompany you.”
Chen Rong was overcome with delight. She jumped onto shore and asked, “Really? Do you meant it?”
“Of course,” Sun Yan laughingly replied. “Rest assured, I’ve brought ten masters with me. If you’re still worried, your imperial guards may come along.” The imperial guards looked very imposing, and weren’t used to listening to Chen Rong’s command. For these reasons she didn’t bring them to court this morning, much less thinking of bringing them along on a drive.
“Ah Rong,” Sun Yan patted her shoulders and winked at her.
She turned and eyed him with vigilance.
Sun Yan flashed her an amiable and toothy grin: “Ah Rong, dress like you did this morning.” Answering her wary eyes, he scratched his head and swallowed to say: “Hehe, there’s something you don’t know. Zuihonglou has some very excellent wine, but they only serve men of talents, hehe, and beautiful boys.”
His eyes crinkled into lines as he quite smugly said, “Think about it, out of the two of us, at least one would qualify as a beautiful boy, right?” Seeing Chen Rong raising an eyebrow at him, he hurriedly added, “I mean, shouldn’t we play it safe? You’re a woman, you have no idea how good that wine tastes.” He gulped, and she couldn’t hear the rest of what he said.
She studied his serious appearance. After deciding that he wasn’t joking, she smiled and nodded: “All right.”
“Great, let’s go.”
Because Sun Yan was hurrying her, Chen Rong jumped onto his carriage as soon as she was dressed. They drove into the city with ten guards in tow.
They hadn’t arrived at Zuihonglou by the time fragrances wafted into their nostrils. From the lofts, several beauties were looking down and pointing here and there.
At this moment, Sun Yan suddenly cried, “Wait.” Seeing that the driver wasn’t responding, he hastily cried, “Catch that carriage!”
He was referring to a pink carriage that had just exited from Zuihonglou.
Their driver quickly drove near, at which time Sun Yan poked his head out and stared at the other coachman. After some time he suddenly yelled, “Lord Sun Lin, who is the beauty that has made you abandon your name to run from Wu to Jiankang and be a driver?”
There was anger in his voice and his eyes were burning with flames.
The pink carriage’s curtain lifted to show a woman and her servant girl staring back at Sun Yan. Even on Zuihonglou’s second floor, two beautiful girls were looking down at him.
The pink carriage’s driver sighed and turned his eyes to Sun Yan. He had high cheekbones, sunken eyes and long limbs. At first glance he seemed thin and ordinary, but upon careful observation, he had a rather solitary and classic style.
He looked at Sun Yan and sighingly said, “Chap, you can’t just yell my name like that. How am I going to continue living at my master’s house?”
Sun Yan pointed at his nose and shakily demanded, “Are you not a descendant of Sun Wu from Jiangdong? Why are you behaving like a servant?”
“Who said I am a servant?” the driver rolled his eyes in disdain. “I mostly manage the wine cellar for the Fang family, and sometimes fill in as the driver.” He muttered, “I waited three long years for this wine. I still haven’t tasted it but you’ve ruined it for me. What rotten luck!”
He appeared to be extremely dejected. He jumped down, shook his tattered sleeves, bobbed his head and strode away. Only until he had taken a dozen steps did Sun Yan yell after him: “Uncle, where are you going?!”
Meanwhile, the woman in the pink carriage also called, “Old Xun, Old Xun, where are you going? Y-you can’t leave us here!” She was so anxious that she was stomping her feet.
The more they called after him, the faster he walked. In a flash he had completely vanished from sight.
Seeing that Sun Yan wasn’t moving, Chen Rong quietly said, “Aren’t you going to send someone after him?”
Sun Yan eventually sighed. “What use is it if it’s not what he wants?” Having lost his mood, he then told the driver to turn around and circle the city.
While the carriage jostled, he remained glum and somber. At length he angrily slammed the table and asserted, “He’s being ridiculous! As a famous scholar from Eastern Wu and as a descendant of the Sun family, he abandoned his family and career to go incognito for the sake of alcohol? Does he even think?”
Chen Rong covered her smile to see his furious appearance. “He’s got quite the flare of an elite scholar, though.” Her words earned a glare from Sun Yan. She quickly offered him a smile and gently patted his back.
Sun Yan quietly leaned back with his eyes closed.
The carriage had gone to a quieter street, one that looked oddly familiar. Chen Rong suddenly remembered that it was where her brother lived.
At this moment, a woman was screeching outside: “Go to hell you worthless piece of trash! How hard is it to go and talk to your sister, but you keep dragging it until now. I-I’m really going to kill you.”
Amid her screaming, the large woman rammed into a thin man. She raised her hand and beat him into a corner.
Chen Rong slowly sat up and told the driver to stop.
Hearing something wrong from her tone, Sun Yan turned his head to see her staring at the couple in the alley. “Who are they?”
She was silent for a while before admitting: “My older brother and his wife.”
Chen Rong raised her chin and whispered to Sun Yan, “I’m going down first, observe the situation before you come.”
She dismounted the carriage and walked over.
Within ten steps she was in the dark alleyway, staring at the quarreling couple. “Stop!” Chen Rong demanded.
The two entangled people stopped in their tracks .
Seeing her, the beaten and bruised Mr. Chen happily called, “Ah Rong, is it you? You’re back?!”
At the same time, Mrs. Chen’s shrill voice took over: “Why, isn’t it the young missy? I’m glad you’re finally here!” She patted her husband’s clothes and tidied his lapels, then greeted Chen Rong with a smile and intimately said, “I knew we’d always be family. Look, we just ran into some trouble and here you are!”
Chen Rong quietly looked at them and then asked Mr. Chen, “What’s wrong?”
Her brother looked dejected while her sister-in-law couldn’t wait to cry: “Young missy, it’s like this. You know we have two stores, don’t you? The front one was noticed by a nobleman who wants to forcefully take it from us. I know you have a say among the rich, so I want you to talk to them for us.” As soon as she finished, Mr. Chen angrily disputed, “Don’t use these words to deceive my sister, it’s your brothers who had gambled and lost the store.”
Ignoring his wife’s glare, he dragged his hurt legs and called to Chen Rong, “Ah Rong, stop minding this. If you get involved, you won’t get any peace.”
Almost as soon as he spoke, his wife was already so provoked that she screamed and threw herself at him.
It might have been that Chen Rong’s eyes were frightfully cold, for strength left Mrs. Chen’s legs and she leaned against the wall before she could beat her husband.
Chen Rong inwardly heaved a sigh.
“If she is such a shrew, why haven’t you left her, brother?”
A howl erupted as soon as she said this. Mrs. Chen had dropped to the ground, beating her chest, stomping and screaming. “Heavens above, open your eyes, how can there be such a ill-bred wench in this world? Heavens, open your eyes to see, this little wench is telling her brother to divorce his wife.”
Her wailing and shrieking caused the passersby to stop and turn to look.
Just then, a light footfall sounded.
It passed Chen Rong to arrive in front of Mrs. Chen. While she was crying bloody murder, a glare blinded her eyes and a cold sword sat on her stout neck.
Mrs. Chen had never been in this situation before. Her outcry lodged in her throat. She widened her murky eyes to shakily stare at the sharp blade just inches from her face.
Seeing that she finally closed her mouth, Sun Yan looked back at Chen Rong, asking: “How should we deal with her?”
Chen Rong looked at her brother and solemnly called, “Brother.” She paused, her tone carried anger and disappointment when she next said: “I’m not short on money. If you’re willing to leave this woman, I’ll do my best to set you up with a better life. But if you don’t want to, then we will continue to be strangers. This will also be the last time I call you my brother.”
Mr. Chen looked at her, and then back at Sun Yan.
Despite standing in a dark alley, he was frightened witless by Sun Yan’s blue-blooded temperament. “Ah Rong, t-this this is a big matter. We can’t be rash.”
Chen Rong hummed a reply and turned around. “Then I’ll let you think about it for a few days.” Before she left, she tossed Sun Yan a look.
Because they shared an affinity, Sun Yan immediately understood what Chen Rong meant. He withdrew the sword from Mrs. Chen’s neck, stared at her and coldly warned, “Witch, be careful. If you bear your claws again, you’ll have to watch out for your hands!”
He harrumphed and turned to leave.
Mrs. Chen stared after them before springing up and storming outside.
She rushed to the street, looking at the two of them stepping onto their carriage, at the ten guards who were closely following behind, and at the exquisite ride. Mrs. Chen spat onto the ground: “What a tramp, she changes men one after another!” Despite saying these words her face was a ghastly color of blue.
As soon as he got on the carriage, Sun Yan lazily said, “There’s no need to spend so much time and effort on this kind of people. If you don’t like her, I’ll send someone to kill the witch.”
Chen Rong bowed her head, whispering at length: “I can’t decide his life for him.”
She next turned to him with a smile. “These things are no fun, let’s continue our trip.”
Sun Yan nodded.
He leaned back, staring at Chen Rong.
Sensing his stare, Chen Rong laughed: “What are you staring at me for?”
Sun Yan’s gaze held steady. “Ah Rong,” he sighed, “why did you want to become a nun? You’ll be lonely for the rest of your life. I-I…” He again sighed. “If I hadn’t come to Jiankang I wouldn’t have known how powerful the Wang House is. If you want to leave the monastery, you’ll have ask for Wang Qilang’s help.”
Chen Rong glanced at him and sullenly said, “Who said I want to come back to the secular life? It’s better this way!”
Sun Yan shook his head. “No family, no friends, no one to lean on when you grow old. How can you say that this is better? Moreover, you like festivities, Ah Rong.”
Chen Rong stilled. She pursed her lips and tried to refute him, but in the end she had nothing to say.
There was now silence in the carriage.
“I saw Wang Hong before I found you,” Sun Yan suddenly said. He stroked the sword on his hip and menacingly announced, “I was going to make a mark on his body when people weren’t paying attention, but then I heard him say something that made me spare him.”
Chen Rong turned to him, asking: “What did he say?”
“He said to an elder of the Lang’ya Wang House that whether his woman is unruly or contrary, he will be the one to teach her, and it was best that others keep their noses out of it.”
“To speak that way to his clan elders… Ah Rong, that bastard is trying. He has done a lot for you.” He clenched his fist and spat, “But what makes him think he has the rights to teach you, the unscrupulous bastard! Dammit I’m so peeved.”
Chapter 167: By My Side
Chen Rong looked down. After some time she smiled and said, “Let’s not talk about this anymore. Didn’t you want to go for a drive?”
Sun Yan scowled. “You’re changing the subject again.” He poked his head outside and yelled to the driver, “Let’s go, to the West Lane.”
Lying back, he rested his head on his hands and said, “Have you been to the West Lane? It’s very scenic, with bridges and running water everywhere you go. At night the courtesans sing and play music on a painted barge on the lake. It’s quite a sight.”
His voice gradually lowered as he spoke.
Chen Rong cast him a glance, understood and sighed. “Don’t think too much. Now that you found out about your uncle, go home and let them know.”
Sun Yan wrinkled his brows in thought. He then made a turn and sat up to say: “All right, let’s go home then.”
The carriage turned around.
Sun Yan sent Chen Rong back to the temple before driving away. After watching him leave, Chen Rong also turned to go.
Standing on the hillside with the gate behind her and thick woods ahead, she hummed a song and began her walk.
After several steps, she paused and stopped her humming to see a white figure.
This person unhurriedly approached her. When he reached her, he looked down and breathed hotly on her forehead and nose.
“You’re here,” Chen Rong remarked. After receiving no response, she smiled and asked, “How long have you been here?”
She raised her head as she spoke, now seeing his ruddy face. He was quietly looking at her with soft but hazy eyes. Startled, Chen Rong couldn’t help but reach out towards his face.
“You’re feverish! Are you sick?” she cried in alarm.
The man in front of her was still smiling. She held him up and scolded, “Why did you come here when you’re sick? Did you ask the doctor to check on you?”
He looked up at her in a daze. The man who had always been strong and composed seemed to have abandoned all facades and become a vulnerable child. The daze in his eyes and his temporary frailty tugged at her heartstrings.
“What happened?” she asked.
The man bowed his head.
He rested on her shoulder and feebly replied, “Nothing.”
She reached for his forehead again. It was still burning, which worried her, so she tried to feel his chest.
At this time, the man leaning on her shoulder quietly said, “Go to the boat.”
He was apparently out of strength, for most of his body weighed on her. “Why don’t we go back to the temple?” she quietly asked.
“No.” He took her wrist, his palm searing her. “I like having just you and me.”
I like having just you and me.
For some reason, this line soothed her heart.
She couldn’t help but to agree and help him walk down the hill. Luckily she had trained in martial arts and was physically capable of helping a grown man like this. Despite laboring for breath, she could manage for a few hundred steps.
After she brought him to the lake and helped him steady himself, Chen Rong moved a hidden table over and then guided him to sit in a place away from the wind.
As soon as he sat down, he gave a light tug and pulled her to the ground. She hadn’t sat up by the time he lay down on her lap.
He closed his eyes.
Chen Rong touched his forehead and said, “You’re feverish, we have to call the doctor.”
“Don’t,” he tugged his lips saying, “typhoid fever recently appeared in Su.” As Chen Rong trembled, he rasped, “I just arrived from there. News came from the palace this morning that the crown prince is sick.”
He drew his lips into a line and opened his eyes. Looking at a worried Chen Rong, his lips slightly upturned to say: “You know how proud your Qilang is, how can I let those scoundrels get what they want? I came to you as soon as I knew I was unwell. It would be good if it’s not typhoid fever, but if it is, I’m glad to be here with you.”
Typhoid fever had been a terminal illness from the days of the Han Dynasty. Nine houses out of ten were abandoned during its pandemic. Although the medical sage Zhang Zhongjing had written a treatise on typhoid fever, it was regarded as a treasure by some and hidden away. Due to the Hu’s invasion after the end of the Han Dynasty, no one now knew where it was.
Without the book, people were terrified of typhoid fever. Because of its contagiousness, communities had no choice but to abandon their patients. Even if they didn’t give up on an heir like Wang Hong, it would be necessary to guard him in secret in order to prevent infecting others.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Chen Rong’s mouth quivered. “It may not be that illness at all.”
“Possibly…,” Wang Hong quietly said. “I never had the best of health. Before the age of ten my life had been threatened twice.” When he spoke, his long eyelashes cast a crescent shadow under his eyes. Coupled with his flushed face, they made him remarkably beautiful and fragile.
Chen Rong unconsciously held him closer.
Wang Hong smiled. Speaking seemed to tire him, and he closed his eyes again. Only after some time did he continue: “When I was little, someone once said I’m not meant to live long. These words are no secret to others. I’ve scarcely offended a few people before I caught this epidemic-like illness. I fear if I don’t die from typhoid fever, I will still die in the hands of villains.”
Chen Rong put her face to his, softly asking: “What can I do?”
“I feel hot. I would like a cold compress.”
Chen Rong quickly picked up a white gown she kept in case she needed to change. Its fabric was fairly tough. She kept pulling with her hands until blue veins popped on her forehead, but the cloth showed no sign of tear.
She bent her head and used her teeth to rip it apart. When a ripping sounded, an exuberant and satisfied smile appeared on her flushed face.
After tearing several strips, she turned and ran to the lake, not noticing that Wang Hong had been tilting his head to quietly watch her.
She applied a damp cloth to his forehead, thought about it and wrapped his hands and feet as well.
By the time she finished her ministrations, she was profusely sweating. She looked up at Wang Hong to see that he was dazedly watching her. She gave him a big smile and happily told him, “There’s nothing to fear, you’ll get well again.”
Her smile was unusually radiant, for only she knew that this man had really had an ill-fated life. He had died young in Mo’yang last time. His present life was borrowed just like hers, and no one knew when Heaven would remember to take it back.
Wang Hong quietly watched her, feebly asking: “Ah Rong.”
He looked at her and then dropped his gaze, letting long lashes block the complicated looks in his eyes. “I thought you hate me? Why are you scared?”
Chen Rong paused. She looked at him and slowly shook her head. “I do hate you, but I don’t want you to get sick, I don’t want you to be in pain, or I do I want you to die.”
She bowed her head and placed her face on his, softly saying against his dry lips: “I just want you to live well.”
Wang Hong smiled. His gaze turned to the sky. “Is that so. You’re much kinder than me, Ah Rong.” His lips upturned into a smile. “Two hours ago I discovered something was wrong with me. The more I observed the symptoms the more it appeared to be that terrible typhoid disease. Do you know what I thought then, Ah Rong?”
He turned to look at her. “My first thought was that nobody must know about it, be it typhoid fever or not. Then I thought of you. See Ah Rong? I clearly have a terrible contagious disease but I still thought of you first, wanting to take you to the netherworld with me.”
His voice was very low and hoarse when he next asked her: “Ah Rong, am I not a very bad person?”
Chen Rong smiled and shook her head. She reached out to feel his forehead again, scolding, “Shush, you’re not going to die.”
Wang Hong didn’t listen. He childishly stared at her, sulked and asked, “You still haven’t answered me, am I very bad?”
She looked down at him and couldn’t help but bite the tip of his nose.
She held him in her arms and, while turning the compress, lightly said, “I don’t know.” By the time she changed the compress she added, “I wouldn’t mind going to the netherworld with you if I contracted the same illness.” She smiled at him. “Not only won’t I mind it, I think I’ll rather like it… Dying with my lover is such a wonderful thing that I dare not even pray for it.”
As soon as she finished, the man pulled himself up, held her chin and kissed her.
Only until his fiery tongue pushed into her mouth and sought her tongue did Chen Rong react. “You’re still sick,” she protested.
Her vague sentence was, however, completely swallowed into his mouth.
He cupped her face to urgently and searingly kiss her. She briefly tried to avoid his fervor before giving in.
The kiss left both of them breathless. Lying on his body, Chen Rong felt his skin and joyfully said, “Qilang, you sweated.”
Market rumors had it that if the patient could sweat and avoid the cold, then it was possible to recover.
“Mmm,” Wang Hong faintly hummed. Chen Rong sat up from his chest to look around, happily saying: “Luckily this mountain ridge is closed off so cold wind does not enter.”
She bent down and touched his back. “You’re really sweating!” she cried to feel the dampness on his skin.
At this time, the man underneath her softly asked, “Ah Rong, can you lie down on me again?”
Chen Rong stilled. Her lips parted with a refusal readied, but in the end she docilely lay on top of him.
With their warm bodies on each other, she could perceive his hardened tip against her lower abdomen.
Although she had experienced it once, she still felt somewhat flustered. She hid her face in his neck and mumbled: “I’m too heavy that I’ll crush you. Should I get up?”
The person beneath didn’t answer.
“Can you breathe?” she added after a wait.
Still no response.
Chen Rong looked up at him.
He was looking at her with eyes that seemed bewitching because of their redness. He looked to be so absorbed that Chen Rong couldn’t help herself from laughing: “Why are you looking at me like this?”
Wang Hong extended his right hand and gently stroked the small of her back.
His left hand ran from her chin to her eyebrows.
Caressing her, he faintly said, “I feel a little strained,” while lifting his hips as he did.
Startled, Chen Rong’s blush spread to her neck. She clucked at him and paid no further attention to him.
Wang Hong laughed. “Are you embarrassed?”
Chen Rong did not answer him.
He looked up and smiled into her lips: “Don’t be.”
Blushing, she propped herself up to roll off of him. Wang Hong locked her in his arms, buried his face in her neck and whispered, “Don’t move.” While Chen Rong was still having palpitations, he pleaded, “I’m cold, Ah Rong, don’t move.”
Perhaps he wasn’t pleading. But his voice was strengthless and soft, and he sounded breakable to Chen Rong.
She hugged him and murmured, “Aye, I won’t move.”
At this time, his lips mumbled against her mouth: “I’m thirsty.” As he said this his tongue sought for her sweetness. Chen Rong was both amused and vexed. “What kind of an excuse is this?” she protested.
He clung to her lips, his hand running through her sash. Chen Rong hurriedly cried, “No, you’re unwell!”
Her words were followed only by moans.
Wang Hong stopped nonetheless. He held her waist and delicately traced her lips and tongue. In the midst of their entwined breaths, Chen Rong saw beads of sweat develop on his temples.
She quickly dabbed his forehead and placed her lips on it.
“Your fever receded!” she joyfully cried.
She held his face and beamed. “Qilang, if you don’t believe me then feel it yourself. Really, you’re not burning anymore.”
Before Wang Hong could respond, scattered footfalls were heard.
Chen Rong stilled and perked her ears.
The footsteps belonged to five individuals. As Chen Rong widened her eyes, Wang Hong covered his hand over her mouth.
Of course she wasn’t going to make a sound. She glanced at him and motioned him to let go, then listened carefully.
Old Shang’s pleasant voice soon sounded: “It seems my mistress, the priestess, isn’t here.” Next to him, Yinggu chimed in: “Aye, young master, as you can see, there is no one here.” After a pause, she quizzically asked, “You seem to be in a hurry. Is it very important? If it is, we can call everyone from the temple to come out and look for her.”
“No need,” replied a young voice. “We just thought we’d take a quick look. Let’s go.”
At these words, the group turned and left.
Only until their footsteps could no longer be heard did Chen Rong quietly sigh in relief and look to Wang Hong.
His expression was grave. “They came all this way to look for me?” he frowned. “Ah yes, it’s those clothes. They touched those outfits. No wonder. I’ve only visited Su once, how could I have gotten sick so suddenly? It was those clothes.”
Seeing him staring at the sky and knitting his brow in contemplation, Chen Rong was afraid to move and kept still on his body.
Wang Hong hoarsely laughed. “They dared to come all the way here? They are rather confident about my illness.”
His voice was deep and chilly.
Chen Rong comforted his hand. Now wasn’t the time for her to express her opinion so she did not speak.
At this time, Wang Hong slightly shifted.
Understanding his meaning, Chen Rong turned over.
Wang Hong sat up. He placed Chen Rong in his arms and then rested his chin on her hair. He stared ahead for a length before saying: “If they could touch my clothes, then the perpetrator is someone next to me.” He drew his lips into a line. “Perhaps someone who knew about the grudge between Murong Ke and me had also exposed my whereabouts in Mo’yang.”
He tightened his hug around her at this thought.
Chen Rong enveloped him in her warmth when she felt him shaking.
He did not speak again for a length of time.
She kept still and maintained their hug, for she felt that the air was cold.
At this time, his light chuckle sounded above her: “Look darling, I’ve traveled all over the world and everyone claims they admire me and love me… but when I’m really unwell, the only one I can lean on is you.”
Amid their heartbeats, he lifted Chen Rong’s chin and tenderly and sincerely looked at her to say: “Ah Rong, I did not mean to treat you in contempt or did I mean to be cruel when I asked you to be my honored concubine that day. The truth is… you can only be my honored concubine.”
Ignoring Chen Rong’s pressed lips and colorless face, he held her chin and so very gently said, “Silly child, you make everything out to be so simple. Do you think it’s easy to be Wang Hong’s wife? Not only will you have to deal with the servants, but also the sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles in my sprawling clan, the management of my assets, it is all very cumbersome… Most importantly, the head of our clan is intent on promoting me. The wife of the future leader of the Wang House in Lang’ya cannot be without her own powerful family. If we encounter something similar to today, you won’t be able to leverage your family’s influence to help me. If we get into troublesome contention, you’ll have no way of enlisting help. As my wife, you’ll have to frequent the palace and socialize with the imperial consorts. Without a strong clan behind you, they will taunt you as a way to deride the Wang House of Lang’ya.”
He looked at her with eyes that were soft and clear. “I don’t care about these things, but the head of clan does, as do the clan elders.” He bowed his head and pressed his lips to hers. “Ah Rong,” he murmured, “I dare say that as long as I have the thought of marrying you today, tomorrow you’ll only be a corpse.”
He looked up and held her hand to his chest, softly pleading: “Ah Rong, an honored concubine is only below the wife… as long as I don’t die, I will do everything in my power to protect and love you, isn’t that good enough?”
His eyes were so clear and gentle.
She could see her reflection in them.
Chen Rong smiled, shaking her head. “Qilang, don’t you think I know all of this? That day when you said I can be your honored concubine, the reason I resented you was because…” She didn’t finish her sentence, only shaking her head.
She turned her gaze outside when she next said, “Qilang, I never thought I could marry you. Or have I ever wished to be your wife.”
She looked back, smiled and hoarsely told him, “What I wanted is to stay away from you. I knew loving you is beyond my reach.”
Wang Hong dropped his gaze in reply. “But I don’t want you to stay away from me. Ah Rong, I want you to be by my side, to have children with me, to grow old together.”
Grow old together?
Chen Rong’s eyes reddened.
She blankly stared outside. At long last, she looked up at him and slowly but firmly said, “It’s already good enough as it is, Qilang.”
She looked at him and said with a smile, “I’m your mistress, aren’t I? You can come to me whenever you want, while also getting married and still living the life you have always lived.”
She caressed his dry lips. “We can be together when we want to, and separate when we don’t.”
She said everything so lightly and prettily.
Wang Hong reached out to hold her wrist.
His eyes bore into her. Slowly, he smiled a faint smile and said in a paralyzed voice: “You don’t have to lie to me, Ah Rong. To be my mistress is to say that you don’t even care if our children would have legitimacy. Since you are so strong-willed, would you tolerate my union with other women? I fear when the day comes, you’ll have quietly left.”
He closed his eyes and fell back onto the seat. “Ah Rong, how hardened your heart is.”