Chapter 169: Do You Dare?
The day passed by in the blink of an eye.
In the afternoon when Chen Rong woke up, she heard footsteps and Yinggu’s voice outside her doors: “Priestess, His Majesty summons you to the palace.”
The imperial messenger was already waiting outside for her. She washed and changed as fast as she could, then mounted the horse-drawn carriage and followed him to the palace.
Before long, they were dashing through the palace gates and heading directly to the garden where the emperor was.
When the vehicle came to a stop, she heard a eunuch say to her: “Your Excellency, His Majesty is inside. Please go in to see him.” Because she was now the Grand Chamberlain appointed by the emperor, despite his misgivings, the eunuch uttered ‘Your Excellency’ with surprising ease.
Chen Rong gave him an acknowledgement, stepped down from the carriage and went in.
It was the start of summer. The garden was filled with verdant trees, weeping willows, and all kinds of blooming flowers that Chen Rong hadn’t seen before.
It looked exactly like the one she had visited last time, and startlingly quiet. She took a dozen steps to where the emperor had played with the ants and, when she saw no one there, walked around the lake.
Sure enough, a black robed figure came into view beyond the willow trees while the eunuchs and palace maids were standing as far as some hundred paces away. At this moment, his back was turned to her while he absently gazed into the lake. As she stared at him, she couldn’t help but mused: His Majesty is surprisingly handsome from behind.
In fact, not only was he tall in stature, his features were also elegant, his eyes were agile, and he looked every part a highborn man.
Chen Rong came within ten steps behind him, bowed and said, “Greetings, Your Majesty.”
The emperor didn’t turn around, only saying: “Come here.” He sounded sullen, apparently not in the happiest of moods.
Chen Rong’s heart made a leap. At their first meeting, he had beheaded a large woman who did not please his eyes. The young emperor might be extremely nice to her, but he was also a moody man.
She quietly composed herself at these thoughts and then walked to him.
She gazed at the silvery lake like he was doing, then turned to look at him.
The emperor had his lips pressed together, creating two long and deep lines that made his displeasure apparent.
Chen Rong lamented her luck. She withdrew her gaze as her thoughts were in turmoil.
“Why aren’t you saying anything?” she abruptly heard him ask.
She kept her eyes down, swiftly replying: “I was thinking about an interesting person I saw yesterday.”
“Oh? Tell me about him,” he still sounded just as sullen as he had been moments ago.
“His name is Sun Lin’gong, of the Sun family in Jiangdong,” Chen Rong began in her crystal clear voice. “In order to taste a new wine he went to live with a merchant family for three years.” With animated gestures, she excitedly continued: “And guess what, Your Majesty? Someone exposed his identity yesterday. The merchant was so shocked, haha. It was my first time seeing someone’s face turning from blue to white, from white to purple, then from purple to red.”
As she narrated, she quietly observed the emperor’s expression and only hazarded to go on after she saw that he was listening with interest.
“Not minding status, freely abandoning his responsibility, doing whatever he pleases… Sun Lin’gong lives up to his free-spirited fame after all.”
The emperor nodded.
Despite not saying anything in reply, the expression on his face did not worsen.
After staring at the lake for a while, he murmured: “Not minding status, not minding his responsibility? He’s indeed a lucky man.”
He waved his sleeve. “Walk with me.”
Chen Rong hurried after him and quietly heaved in relief. It seemed that she was doing the right thing, and now the emperor’s mood was more stable.
In front of her, he stared ahead and sneered, “Do you know why the palace is so quiet today?”
Chen Rong shook her head. “I do not.”
The emperor snorted, hoarsely telling her: “It’s because the crown prince is ill. He’s very ill, in fact.”
After not hearing an answer for a long time, he couldn’t help from frowning and issuing a low bark: “What are you thinking about?”
Chen Rong shuddered. She turned to him and said, “I was thinking that Zhuangzi seemed to have said that everyone has his own happiness. Like a sparrow and an eagle each having its own happiness.” She paused, and then added, “The crown prince may be sick, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he is suffering.”
The emperor stopped.
He seemed to be in a trance, for he stood still for a long time.
At length he forced himself to turn back at her.
Staring at the dutiful-looking Chen Rong, whose face was a little ashen, he suddenly burst into laughter.
His laughter and hoarseness spread through the air. “Aye, he might not be suffering after all.” He laughed again.
This time he sang as he laughed: “How do I know that loving life is not a delusion? How do I know that the dead do not wonder why they ever longed for life?” (1)
(1) lines from Zhuangzi.
Hi laughter gradually turned into a long howl.
As Chen Rong listened, she saw a tear well in the corner of his eye. She lowered her head and continued looking down.
His howl eventually stopped.
The emperor turned to look at Chen Rong, waved his sleeve, and lightly said, “Come, I’ll take you over there to admire the flowers.”
Holding her hand, he continued to say: “It has been many years since anyone discussed Zhuangzi with me. Back then…” He paused and then laughed, “How did I forget? I’ve caused troubles for decades; there is no ‘back then’. Back then the scholars talked and I could only play outside the door to eavesdrop on them.”
He walked very fast, pulling Chen Rong along. By the time they reached a field of flowers, he turned and went to the other side. “There’s nothing to see about these flowers. Let’s go to look at the fish. Did you know that I recently acquired some precious species? Their colors are absolutely stunning.”
He led Chen Rong to the other side of the lake where there is a small fish pond. He squatted down, picked up a stick and gave the water a stir. “Why are you sleeping? This won’t do, come out so Ah Rong can see you.”
Chen Rong squatted next to him and quietly watched the fish swimming in the pond.
As he stirred the water, the emperor suddenly asked, “Were you frightened?”
Chen Rong shuddered.
She glanced at his happy profile, thought about it and softly answered, “A little bit, aye.”
After a brief pause she added, “I’m of humble position so when someone disagrees with me, I always get berated.” She laughed at herself, “I’m used to being a scaredy-cat.”
“You, a scaredy-cat?!” The emperor laughed. “If you were really a scaredy-cat, why would you look for death in the battlefield after spending a night with Wang Hong? If you were really a scaredy-cat, how could you befriend anti-Hu men like Ran Min and Sun Yan?”
His resonating laughter made it seem as though he was saying these words in harmless banter. He was even all smiles afterwards.
Chen Rong, however, still felt the chills. Her hands and feet were cold.
She sighed at the white clouds in the sky: “I am lowly, but I have high ambitions. Before I met Wang Qilang, I just wanted to find myself a poor scholar.”
“To be his main wife, of course.” She gave him the side-eye and then harrumphed, “I have vowed to never call any woman my mistress in this lifetime.”
The emperor widened his eyes. He suddenly clapped and shouted, “Good for you, I like your ambitions.”
Chen Rong appeared to be startled by his sudden cry. Answering his eager stare, she continued, “Ran Min had asked for my hand in marriage when he was in Nan’yang. My origin may be humble, but I was still worthy of him.”
She winked at the emperor, giggling: “I haven’t told you this – his concubine from the Chen House of Nan’yang was the clan’s promised bride to him. Unfortunately she lost to my cat and mouse game (2).”
(2) 欲擒故纵 – she is referring to her playing hard to get so that Ran Min would be interested in her.
The emperor happily clapped. “Good for you Ah Rong, you’re so…” he paused to search for the right word, “so shameless… but I like that about you.”
Of course you do.
She threw him a disdainful look. The emperor returned the favor with a funny face.
Chen Rong laughed, continuing: “I met Sun Yan on the road. At the time his family had been killed by the barbarians, and he himself was saved by a loyal servant. I gave him a bowl of rice and some encouragement, and thereafter he sees me as his family.”
In just a few words she had clearly explained her relationship to each of these three men.
After she finished, she took the branch from the emperor’s hand and played with the fish.
But she was all ears at the moment. It was obvious that the emperor had heard some gossip if he suddenly said what he said. If her answer wasn’t satisfactory then it was hard to say what the consequences would be.
The emperor stared skyward for a while before slowly standing up.
He narrowed his eyes at the northern sky. Whatever he was thinking about, he only clasped his hands behind his back and began to walk.
Chen Rong listened to his footsteps while she played with the fish in the pond.
The emperor paced back and forth, muttering something under his breath that was too soft for Chen Rong to hear.
He stopped, waved his hand, then started walking again.
After some time, he went to Chen Rong.
Staring at her squatting position, he suddenly asked, “Then do you want Wang Hong?”
Does she want Wang Hong?
Chen Rong was appalled. She turned her head at the emperor and cried, “Your Majesty, I’m a woman.” She widened her eyes and stressed, “And a poor one at that!”
She was reminding the emperor that his words weren’t properly used.
The emperor laughed to see her impish display. “The fact of the matter is that people have been reminding me of Wang Qilang’s marriage for the past few days.” He happily watched Chen Rong turn white, sneakily saying: “Should I go ahead and betroth him to you? Hmm, all I have to do is whirl my brush to write an edict,” he made a circle in the air, eyes lighting up, “and you’ll be Missus Wang henceforth.”
Marriage by royal decree? Chen Rong smiled, “Your Majesty, that’s no fun.”
She smoothed her outfit, rose to her feet and casually said, “Even if the marriage is bestowed by you, I won’t be able to sit long on that throne.” She bent her fingers one by one to show him: “Miss Xie, your ninth sister, as well as the eldest Miss Chen of Jiankang.” She looked up at the emperor and said in all seriousness, “If I have to give an estimation, it’s not going to be my turn before he took 1800 wives.”
The emperor again laughed, flashing his pearly white teeth.
He patted Chen Rong’s shoulder, grinned to see her wince and said, “You’re right, it’s probably harder to become his wife than to become my empress.”
He leaned into her and only stopped when he almost reached her nose, unknowingly becoming crossed-eyed because he was so close. Chen Rong almost laughed out loud to see this.
Unaware, the emperor regarded her and continued, “I said last time that I can marry you. Have you given more thought about being my empress?”
Chen Rong shook her head.
The emperor straightened himself and skeptically stared at her. Chen Rong tilted her head, insouciantly replying: “You don’t really think that being your empress would be happier than being a nun, do you?”
The emperor scratched his head and seriously weighed the options.
Chen Rong was amused to see this. She tilted her head and upturned her lips, only for the smile in her eyes to gradually freeze.
She withdrew her gaze and moved behind the emperor.
While he was glancing in puzzlement, a group of women was coming over.
Leading the way was an aristocratic lady in her twenties, who was clearly the empress by the look of her court outfit. Several princesses accompanied her, one of them being the Ninth Princess whom Chen Rong was already familiar with.
Chen Rong’s heart jumped at the sight of these people.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
The empress smiled as she approached them. She looked at Sima Zhang, dropped to a curtsy and softly said, “It gives me joy to hear Your Majesty’s laughter.”
She smiled at Chen Rong who was bowing behind Sima Zhang, asking: “Who might this young lady be?”
“I am Grand Chamberlain Hong Yunzi,” Chen Rong respectfully answered, uttering the two names that were bestowed by the emperor.
The empress slowly knitted her brow.
She looked back to the the emperor, sternly saying: “How can you keep such villains by your side?”
“Your Majesty, I recently learned that Hong Yunzi not only has an unusual relationship with the barbarian Shi Min, she is moreover a vile woman who forces her brother to divorce his wife.”
The empress’s voice softened when she next tried to add with sincerity: “Malicious people are always good at giving lip service, you must not be fooled by them.”
At this moment, a dozen pairs of eyes turned to stare at Chen Rong.
She took half a step backward but she did not plead guilty or try to defend herself.
She was waiting for the emperor to speak.
Chen Rong was feeling fortunate. How glad she was to have honestly confessed about Ran Min and her once insidious thoughts when the emperor asked. In the midst of this silence, the emperor tossed his sleeve to say: “Did you come here just to say these things? Alright, I got it. Leave. I still have to play.”
His words reduced the empress to muteness.
The emperor no longer looked at her. He led Chen Rong by the hand to the wooden bridge, saying as they walked: “Listen here Ah Rong, you still need to tell me everything you’ve done so that I can have a good laugh.” He was smiling with an intimacy in his tone of voice no one had ever seen.
The empress drew her lips into a tight line.
She stared after their shadows, only waving her hand after they became distant.
A young eunuch hurried to her.
She stared in the direction of the two figures and quietly demanded, “What else did His Majesty say to Hong Yunzi?”
The young eunuch with exceptional hearing repeated the conversation between the emperor and Chen Rong.
The empress’s face sank. “He even made the foolish remark that he wanted her to be his empress?”
“Aye, Your Highness.”
The empress nodded and dismissed him.
At this time, the Ninth Princess sneered from the side, “This Hong Yunzi is skilled at seducing men, it’s a waste for her to be a nun.”
“How can an unwed princess say such words?” chided the empress. The Ninth Princess admitted her wrong, but when she bowed her head, her lips were slightly upturned. She could see that although the empress scolded her, she herself was in a black mood.
At this point, a palace maid of about 30 years old who served the empress came forward. She supported the empress’s hand and kindly comforted her: “Say what you like, when His Majesty ordained Hong Yunzi as priestess, he is letting Lang’ya Wang Qi overstep his boundaries at the same time. He had scarcely asked Hong Yunzi if she wanted to be the empress before he let Wang Hong take her away. Moreover, Wang Hong told the messenger point-blank that Hong Yunzi is his woman. Think about it Your Majesty, men aren’t like this. If His Majesty really likes this woman, wouldn’t he be jealous to always see her and Lang’ya Wang Qi together? In my humble opinion, Hong Yunzi is only His Majesty’s new toy that piques his curiosity.”
The empress couldn’t help but ponder these words. Seeing her deep in thought, the palace maid smilingly said, “My lady, stop overthinking everything. Why not just wait and see? You can worry if and when she joins the palace.”
These words banished the clouds on the empress’s face. She straightened her back and gracefully smiled, “Aye, there’s no need to worry.”
She looked back at the unhappy ninth princess and softly advised her, “Ah Jiu, it is useless to trouble yourself over this woman if you really want to marry Wang Qi. A man like Lang’ya Wang Qi has too many admirers to chase away. Why don’t you instead think of how to become his wife? As for Hong Yunzi or Chen Yunzi, you should wait like Xiugu says until she actually threatens your position.”
At this juncture the empress waved her sleeve and, with the help of Xiugu, unhurriedly left.
As soon as the emperor entered the tree-lined path, he snorted in disgust, “They all judge and criticize me, so now they really start to think they’re special?”
Chen Rong could barely hear his faint voice. She quickly looked around and pretended she didn’t hear anything.
At this time, the emperor held her hand and loudly called, “Ah Rong.”
Chen Rong looked at him and blinked.
The emperor glanced at the surrounding eyes looking at them from time to time, continuing to say aloud: “Ah Rong, I like this personality of yours. If anyone bullies you, say unkind things or tries to harm you in the future, just let me know. I promise to kill each and every one you name.”
Only now did Chen Rong realize the emperor was protecting her.
She gratefully bowed and said, “Aye, Your Majesty.” Her voice also loud.
The emperor smiled in satisfaction.
As they walked, he suddenly asked, “Right, I heard you said something yesterday that rendered the ministers speechless?” He was so gleeful that he danced for joy: “Quick, tell me about it, what did you say?”
Chen Rong smiled and told him yesterday’s happenings. She had been so eloquent and undisputed in front of the ministers that it was a thing to be proud of. She thus narrated with great excitement.
After she finished speaking, the emperor heartily clapped his hands: “That’s incredible.”
He turned around, leaned closer to her and quietly said, “You’re obviously a crafty woman but you love to pretend otherwise. You remind me a little of those damn scholars.”
Having said this, he burst into laughter.
Then he searched his robe awhile before asking Chen Rong: “That’s right, have I given you a death-free token?”
Was that the ‘Like His Majesty Himself’ jade piece? Chen Rong hurriedly replied, “Aye, you have.”
“So I have. I completely forgot.”
The emperor stared sideways at Chen Rong and said, “I am pleased no matter how I look at you. How else should I reward you?”
After much pondering, he slapped his thigh and cried, “How about giving you a hamlet? Along with a hundred guards. Those aristocrats are full of bullshit. I want them to have to watch a rotten and promiscuous woman like you and have no way of doing anything about it.”
He leaned into Chen Rong with a toothy grin and cheerfully asked, “Well what do you say? Do you dare to accept my rewards?”
Chen Rong smiled to see the humor in his eyes.
Raising her chin, she said, “What’s not to dare when it’s receiving blessings from the Son of Heaven?”
Pleased, the emperor put on a straight face and emphatically said, “Very good. Lord Chamberlain, listen to my rewards.”
“At your service.” Chen Rong dropped to her knees.
“The Grand Chamberlain’s intelligence has greatly helped to shoulder my burdens. I hereby reward her the Qing’yun estate.” After some thought, he added, “And a thousand acres of farmland along with a hundred guards.”
After thinking about it further, he beamed with squinted eyes and continued, “While the Grand Chamberlain is a woman, her character is no different from men’s. I hereby allow her to have bedroom guests.” While Chen Rong looked up at him in bewilderment, he added with a grin, “That is, she may keep pretty boys.”
Having said this, he proudly looked at Chen Rong who had turned into stone as he yelled: “Dammit, did everyone go off and die? Get a move on it and issue my decree.”
Answering his scream, a dozen people scurried to them from all directions. They lifted the table, took the decree, and held out the jade seal. In a flash they had encircled Chen Rong who was still frozen on the spot.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone! 2018 kinda just flew didn’t it? I’m sorry the updates aren’t coming as fast as we all would like. Thanks to those who are still sticking around. I read all your comments even though I don’t reply 😅