Chapter 193: Xie Heting and the Pretty Boy Ah Jing
The doctor came an hour later. After taking her brother’s pulse, and to Chen Rong’s surprise, he said that the eldest brother of the Chen family had no illness other than some liver stagnation, spleen deficiency, and emotional distress caused by the loss of his son. After Chen Rong’s repeated questioning, the doctor still maintained that her brother had no illness that would lead to an early demise.
Chen Rong was stunned. If there was no illness, could her brother’s death in his previous life have had another cause?
At this thought, she immediately arranged two guards to secretly protect him before seeing everyone out the door.
Chen Rong stayed in Wang Hong’s residence and did not take a step outside for two days.
On the afternoon of the third day, an eunuch arrived by royal order, relaying that His Majesty had requested her attendance at the royal banquet. Chen Rong readily agreed since Wang Hong had informed her about it.
After her bath, she put on a resplendent red dress and then rode the carriage to the palace.
By the time her carriage arrived, countless other carriages were also streaming in. The carriage owners greeted each other and made merry talks as they all headed to the palace.
Chen Rong’s carriage drove to the side so as to not attract attention. Gradually however, more and more people were paying attention and casting their gazes her way.
In the midst of these curious, keen, and disdainful eyes, a carriage drove up from behind and she heard Huan Jiulang’s voice calling: “Your Excellency, Madam Grand Chamberlain!”
Chen Rong hummed a reply and slowly raised the curtain to show herself.
As soon as she appeared, dozens of eyes turned to her. Almost instantly, all the voices died down, and it was only after a half-breath that they picked up again.
A hint of surprise also crept to Huan Jiulang’s gaunt and pale face. “I didn’t know that you could be so stunning in red,” he exclaimed with a smile.
He approached Chen Rong as he admired her. Tilting his head, he took a deep breath, closed his eyes in intoxication and murmured, “Beautiful. How is it that a mere red dress makes you as brilliant as the sunset on the western hills?” There was no shortage of beauties in Jiankang, but it was fashionable to be elegant and light and women’s clothing tended to emphasize simplicity. Even if someone were to wear a red dress, it would be mixed with many other colors. Few swaggered through the streets in pure red like Chen Rong.
In fact, even if someone were to wear a dress like this, they would not have her dazzling halo, her exquisite face or bewitching air.
For all of these reasons, she was able to thrill the scholars and young ladies upon first sight.
Huan Jiulang offered his criticism and praises unscrupulously as a member of the literati. But at this moment, the others were also displaying the same look on their faces. Many members of the Sima House stared at Chen Rong with a blaze in their eyes, secretly thinking of asking their wives to don a red dress when they returned home.
Chen Rong smiled at Huan Jiulang. After offering a bow from her carriage, she said, “I haven’t seen you in many months, are you well sir?”
“Very well, can’t be better,” Huan Jiulang replied and neared her again until their carriages were almost touching each other. He leaned over and whispered, “All the aristocrats in the city are attending this banquet, only Qilang is missing.”
Wang Hong didn’t tell her about this. Chen Rong shuddered and lowered her voice to ask: “What shall I do?”
“Protect Qilang’s prestige no matter what.”
Chen Rong nodded.
At this time, the carriage behind them was pulling up, and Huan Jiulang’s carriage had to continue moving forward.
Looking at Chen Rong who was still in the corner, Huan Jiulang grinned and said, “Your Excellency’s beauty is indeed breath-taking.” He laughed and drove away.
Chen Rong stared after him, smiled sweetly, and asked the driver to follow.
The banquet was held in a hall outside the palace. Chen Rong took a careful look, and found that those who came and went were young nobles, the older generation was not present.
The carriage soon stopped in the square, and Chen Rong unhurriedly dismounted with the help of her maidservants.
Once again, numerous eyes looked her way as soon as she got down.
She walked forward with a smile at the corner of her lips. The banquet had just begun at this moment and the high-ranking aristocrats were swarming in. Her identity not being illustrious, Chen Rong walked to the side of the road and waited under a tree.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
It was twilight, and she was wearing a brilliant red dress. As she stood under the tree, filtered golden lights dotted her flawless face and figure. When the wind blew, her long sleeves fluttered like the evening’s glow, all the while blinding those around her.
Dozens of eyes looked at her from several hundred steps away. A group of young aristocratic ladies were circling seven or eight handsome young men, each with a different appearance.
The youths couldn’t help but gawk at Chen Rong. The young ladies were full of disdain: this amorous nun really deserves her amorous reputation, she looks exactly like a flirt… Though they were disdainful, they discovered for the first time that they could be titillated by such a flirtatious and carnal beauty.
Just as she was internally grumbling, a young lady called, “Xie Lang, where are you going?”
Woosh, all eyes turned back at the same time.
With the young ladies’ befuddlement and attention on him, Xie Heting, handsome and tall, with a healthy sun-kissed complexion and long billowing sleeves, gracefully walked out like a crane.
His bearing was as upright as jade, and he gave off the aura that everyone else was lowly while only he had the poise to soar to the skies. As soon as he walked, he attracted the attention of everyone who was present.
Striding over to Chen Rong, Xie Heting gave her an appraising look and coldly greeted, “Madam Grand Chamberlain.” He had a nice voice, the kind that was cold and clear like the clinking of ice.
Chen Rong likewise offered no bow, she just smiled and responded, “Aye.”
Looking directly at her, Xie Heting said, “A good friend of mine is in your residence. Can you let me have him?”
Chen Rong had guessed that this was the case as soon as he appeared. She had asked Wang Hong to give some of the ordinary boys to the Ninth Princess while making other arrangements for the more excellent ones. However, it had not yet been three days, and she didn’t know whether the festivity had begun at the Ninth Princess’s estate or not.
Facing Xie Heting’s indifferent gaze and cold request, Chen Rong smiled and tilted her head, seemingly in thought.
Xie Heting frowned. He waved to the back and called, “Ah Jing, come here.”
A pretty boy led several others who were not inferior to him to the two of them. As soon as these pretty boys made to move, everyone’s eyes lit up and their voices quieted down.
Shortly, four beautiful young men walked up to stand behind Xie Heting. Chen Rong tilted her head and looked at them. They were different in appearance, but they were all handsome. She did not know whether she should laugh or cry: looking at this group, I have really become the debauched former Empress Dowager.
As Chen Rong looked at them, several also stared back. After a while, the lanky and fair boy with electric eyes closest to Xie Heting, the one named Ah Jing, tugged his sleeves.
Xie Heting turned around, and at the signal of the boy, stepped aside with him.
By and by, a deliberately lowered voice which couldn’t be heard by frail Jiankang scholars but was introduced into Chen Rong’s ears who had practiced martial arts: “Heting, is she the Grand Chamberlain?”
“Aye.” After a pause, Xie Heting coldly asked, “Do you regret it?”
“Aye,” the boy replied after some time. He glanced at Chen Rong, lowered his voice, and softly said, “Her brows are dark but candid; her gaze is sweet but not wanton; her lips are soft yet full. It shows that she is kind and devoted. Her tall nose is also without a hook, that means she is not cruel…”
“Do you like her?” Xie Heting interrupted his babble.
The pretty boy lowered his head.
At length, he decisively confirmed, “Aye, her charm is deceptive. She’s exactly the woman of my dreams.”
As he said this, he raised his head to look at Xie Heting and added, “Since she is a kindhearted person, she will be easy to control. Even if she can’t be controlled, she won’t make things difficult for me should I want to leave. Heting, a sweetheart is hard to come by. I want to give it a try.”
Seeing Xie Heting in thought, he spoke again, “Heting, my aspiration isn’t at odds with winning her.”
Xie Heting stared at him, then turned and walked to Chen Rong.
When he got to her, he took a long look at her and lightly said, “It’s alright, you may go in.”
Chen Rong couldn’t help but smile.
“Aye,” she replied as she withdrew her smile and stepped inside.
She was so amiable. She was not angered by the insult, nor was she seduced by a handsome man, nor was she ill at ease in the presence of an aristocrat.
Xie Heting was dazed as he watched the fiery red figure leave. He apparently did not expect Chen Rong to be so good-tempered. She did not offer any sarcastic remark or rebuttal. When he heard footsteps coming from behind, Xie Heting faintly said, “This woman is not bad, but Wang Qi is crazy about her. It won’t be easy for you to have her.”
The pretty boy behind him smiled and leisurely replied, “I deem it a pleasure just to stay in her hamlet and enjoy her music.”
“It’s up to you, then,” Xie Heting left him with this sentence, flapped his sleeves, and walked into the hall. The pretty boy named Ah Jing did not follow; he was not qualified to attend such a banquet.
Ah Jing stood in the shade of the trees as he watched Chen Rong’s figure drifting into the hall. He murmured, “There is a beauty, with the sweetest smile, and longing eyes (1).” His voice withered and, for some reason, gave way to a sigh by the time he finished.
- 《卫风·硕人》from Book of Songs
Chapter 194: A Red Skirt Can Also Be Dignified
Chen Rong strode into the great hall.
It was brightly lit despite there still being sunlight outside, and fragrant garments and scented hair flitted to and fro.
As she followed the aristocrats in, just as when they were outside, the hall fell quiet and eyes turned to look at her.
Chen Rong had come here prepared. With confidence in her heart and a smile at the corners of her mouth, her long and straight neck arched in a beautiful line.
Amidst the stares and rising whispers, a burst of applause suddenly sounded from the middle of the hall. Someone was clapping while laughingly saying: “Good for the Grand Chamberlain. Everyone else likes white clouds while you’re the only one who likes the sunset. Look at you attired in red! How sensational, how very sensational.”
The man’s laughter boomed as he pushed aside his table and strode to Chen Rong.
Fair-skinned and handsome, who else could he be but His Majesty?
Chen Rong smiled at the sight of him and responded with a curtsy: “Greetings, Your Majesty.”
“You may rise.”
The emperor walked up to Chen Rong and gave her several appraising looks. He suddenly grinned and said, “You’re quite daring, Ah Rong. Hehe, this is my first time seeing a woman bold enough to wear a red dress. Bravo, bravo.”
While he was laughing, a strange voice asserted from the corner: “Your Majesty, did you know that it’s Murong Ke who prepared this red dress for the Grand Chamberlain? To think that Her Excellency had been dressed in red that day, sitting by the pyre and making armies retreat with their heads bowed.”
He happily quacked at this juncture.
Before the emperor could speak, Chen Rong had already turned around.
Under the light, she looked at the thin and powder-faced nobleman. The corner of her mouth raised, speaking in a slow and deliberate manner: “Your eyesight is quite something, my lord, to clearly know matters within the Hu quarters as they relate to Murong Ke, when you are all the way here in Jiankang… You even know that my clothes are from Murong Ke.”
Her smile was sweet, her eyes were glistening with warmth, and her tone was soft and mild like Wang Hong’s. But the words she spoke using such a soft and mild tone weren’t only aggressive, the message contained therein was even more point-blank.
The nobleman opened his mouth for a momentary stumped second. Someone behind him laughingly said, “Aye exactly so. Chiyan, your tall tales are getting better and better. Hahaha.”
Along with this man’s laughter, a string of mirth sounded from all directions.
Chen Rong maintained a look of easy indifference when the others looked at her. “Perhaps there is internal strife within the Wang House of Lang’ya afterall,” she heard someone whisper from the back corner.
“Aye. It’s obvious looking at the expressions on Wang Chiyan’s and this woman’s face.”
After hearing these two sentences, Chen Rong turned her head to look at the emperor. He cast her a wink, then grinning and ignoring the gazes from all around, approached Chen Rong like a child up to mischief. “Have you seen those pretty boys? Are they to your liking?” he asked.
Chen Rong didn’t expect him to open with this. After a moment of surprise, she bowed her head and feebly replied, “I can’t enjoy them with Wang Qi around.”
The emperor sulked: “I’m disappointed. I helped you out of my kindness, but you don’t even have the spine to meet them?”
Chen Rong snorted slightly, and said in dissatisfaction: “Did you think that Wang Qi would allow me to see them, Your Majesty?”
The emperor thought for a while, nodded and said, “I guess I can’t really blame you.” He looked a little down, after thinking for a while, he asked, “Then how did he react?”
“Irritated with outrage.”
The emperor laughed aloud to hear these words. Ignoring the widening eyes of the nobles around them, he smiled with satisfaction and gratification, then flung his sleeves and walked to the host seat.
As he walked, he commanded without looking back: “Grand Chamberlain, sit beside me.”
Chen Rong gave him a reply and stepped up to keep pace.
Forthwith, the maidservants placed a table behind the emperor for Chen Rong.
As soon as she sat down, Chen Rong perceived that some of the eyes cast around her were greatly disappointed.
The emperor took two sips of wine before an eunuch walked to stand behind him and said in a low voice, “Your Majesty, it’s time to go.”
Hearing these words, the emperor set his wine down and muttered: “Ruining the fun.” He stood up and shook his sleeves, then walked outside.
As soon as the emperor made to move, people simultaneously bade him goodbye: “Your Majesty.” Amid their resounding send-offs, the emperor went farther and farther away.
Chen Rong knew His Majesty only needed to make an appearance at these banquets… No matter how casual he may be, his authority always made his courtiers ill at ease. For this reason, emperors had a custom for how long they would stay at any banquet.
And yet, His Majesty had used his brief time to privately chat with her. They talked so merrily and he even let her sit by his side… The attitude he showed was the most powerful protection and affirmation for her.
Chen Rong was inwardly grateful, and continued to sit in the hosting position for the remainder of the time.
At this moment, Xie Heting’s group walked in, causing another clamor.
Amid the commotion, a Sima prince whom Chen Rong had seen from afar raised his wine and called out to Chen Rong: “Your Excellency, even the romantic Xie Lang makes an appearance on this occasion, yet why don’t we see your companion Wang Qi?”
Laughter pursued at his words.
The term ‘companion’ was used by eunuchs and palace maids to call one another. His usage of it here was extremely frivolous.
Chen Rong looked up.
With the crowd’s laughing and mocking, or sympathetic and uneasy eyes on her, Chen Rong good naturedly looked at the man and very earnestly said, “You’re wrong, my lord. Companion is what the palace servants use to call one another.” She blinked, her expression innocent and sweet: “I think that His Majesty is rather good humored, perhaps I can ask him to allow you a stay in the palace to observe palace life?”
She was soft spoken while markedly sarcastic, asking this man to be a eunuch.
And thus many were made to laugh.
After Chen Rong finished speaking, she put down the wine in her hand and muttered to herself, “So tiring, it’s time to go home.” She wasn’t good at these verbal confrontations, and she could only make a fool of herself if she continued to sit here. It was better to exit on time. At any rate, her purpose for coming here had been achieved.
Seeing Chen Rong’s cup set down, her sleeves flicked and ready to leave, a girl covered her smile and spoke, “The Grand Chamberlain is veritably unrestrained (1). You come and go as you please. Even after being bedded by the Hu, you’re still as radiant and beautiful as ever.”
- 风流 lit. to flow with the wind. It can mean anything from free-spirited, to amorous and promiscuous depending on the context.
As soon as these words were said, another young man laughed and added, “Exactly so. Poor Wang Qilang, he can kill the Prince of Jiankang but can he kill the entire Hu army?”
These words were even more venomous, pointing out that Wang Hong had killed the Prince of Jiankang for the sake of Chen Rong’s reputation, and that Chen Rong had been bedded by tens of thousands of Hu soldiers. It was a malicious insult.
Chen Rong’s body shook.
She slowly stopped from leaving and turned around.
Her dress burned brighter than the flame, dark eyes staring back at the man. Her beauty was startling.
She was the picture of poise and grace, so that even her posture of quietly looking at him was also majestic.
Many pityingly thought to themselves: Why should someone so beautiful be embarrassed in public like this?
Chen Rong quietly stared at the man. At length, she said, “Considering his prestige and pride, do you think that Wang Qilang would welcome a woman who has been bedded by thousands of other men?”
She raised her head and swept her eyes across the crowd to the sky outside, saying composedly: “Although I was captured by the Hu, Murong Ke was persuaded to let me keep my dignity.”
As the man opened his mouth and was about to sneer, Chen Rong interrupted him, her voice was as free and proud as the wind: “I don’t care if the world believes it or not. As long as he believes in me, that is enough.”
Having said this, she flapped her sleeves and walked out the door. Her fiery red dress was like the brilliant sunset glow in the sky, and it burned everyone’s eyes sorely.
After a while, Huan Jiulang’s ridicule sounded: “Don’t be an asshole. If she wasn’t innocent, would she dare to be so confident? She would be in tears by now. If she wasn’t innocent, would Wang Qilang accept her? He would have left her long ago and let her return to her Daoist temple.”
A few wanted to retort but their rebuttals were shaky at best. Everyone had seen how flamboyant and effortless she was. She wore a red dress so brilliant that the other girls in the hall all faded away… If she had really been bedded by the Hu, would she act so sure?
In an era that paid importance to appearances and conduct, Chen Rong’s red dress and leisurely bright smile made everyone unconsciously believe that she was indeed innocent.
Chen Rong was supposed to be an amorous nun in any case, so her repute was of little importance… the only important thing was that she had fallen into the hands of the Hu. A woman bedded by the Hu was considered soiled, regardless of her beauty or her class. And if she had really slept with the Hu, it would then be a mockery that Wang Hong had fallen in love with such a contemptible woman. This alone could make him the laughing stock among the upper class.
Chen Rong stepped out of the hall.
She softly sighed as soon as she exited through the door. Smiling, she walked to her carriage with the help of her maid.
She had barely gone a few steps when a voice called after her: “Ah Rong of the Chen House.”
Chen Rong turned around to see the pretty boy named Ah Jing. As she was about to speak, he raised his head and offered an enigmatic smile: “My name is Su Jing, do you perhaps remember me?”
Chen Rong furrowed her brows and replied, “I’m very tired, sir. Whatever it is, let’s talk about it another day.” Having said this, she turned away and got in her carriage without once looking at Su Jing again.