Chapter 24: Men of Honor
Chen Rong suddenly halted after scampering for fifty paces.
She turned around and then smiled, slowly walking back.
As she saw her approaching, Chen Wei harrumphed and pulled down her curtain.
Unexpectedly, Chen Rong did not go to her to apologize but instead unhurriedly went on toward Wang Hong, which was also toward Ran Min.
She soon arrived at Wang Hong’s side, and then after dismissing Nurse Ping and the others, sat down on his damask mat.
She was doing what all the ladies there wanted to do but did not actually dare to. All at once, their eyes were affixed to her.
Wang Hong’s attention was held by the tuning of his zither. When he suddenly felt another presence next to him, he couldn’t help but frown.
Turning his head, he saw that Chen Rong was hugging her knees and looking to the skyline pensively.
At a loss for words, he finally spoke in a low voice: “My dear (1), it’s seldom you come to sit with me. Are you here to watch the idle clouds at the end of the sky?” There was an implied affection in his gentle voice.
He is using the word 卿 which, though a term of endearment, can also lean a little patronizing depending on context as it is one-directional from the “higher” to the “lower” person, like parents who call their child “sweetie” but not the other way around. Here, he means to be ambiguous, as “dear” is something he often uses to address scholars of lower ranks as well, but obviously, when he talks to Chen Rong there is always playful flirtation involved.
For this reason, the moment he said what he said, all the girls glared sharply at Chen Rong. Even Wang Wulang snapped his head up, looking unblinkingly at her, a conflicting struggle once again emerging on his face.
Chen Rong casually turned to look at him, her eyes remaining lucid when she was faced with that overwhelming gaze of his.
Her lips drew into a line. moc.824retsmah
Thereupon, she turned back to Wang Hong, and in a thoughtful yet artless manner, she gently said to him, “Qilang, look how free that white cloud is. If there are no storms, it can go on forever freely like that. But once a storm arrives, it would be filled with anger and grief, turning to rain that washes the Earth anew. Or, it could choose to stay in a place where, whether the wind scatters it or swirls it into darkness and rain, as long as it remembers it was once an idle cloud, then it can continue to be free.”
Regarding Wang Hong, and then Ran Min who was turning around to look, her dark, bottomless eyes slowly curved into crescent moons. Then she smiled and said, “In my mind, Qilang and Lord Ran are both men of honor.”
She stood up, adding: “And there are not very many men of honor in this world.” When she finished, she waltzed away, leaving behind an amused Wang Hong and an astounded Ran Min.
Chen Rong’s voice wasn’t high, enough for only the two men to hear.
Several girls encircled her as soon as she left. A beautiful one who had a pointy chin asked her, “What did you say to them?”
“Tell us, what did you say?” another twittered. “Qilang doesn’t like others to near him in his quiet times. Why were you able to join him, even making him laugh so merrily? Ah Rong of the Chen house, you are not worthy of those two dashing men. It’s best you stay away from them.”
She was immediately met with Chen Rong’s eyes.
Ones that were vaguely murderous. moc.824retsmah
Aghast, she quickly shut up.
Chen Rong withdrew her gaze and dismissively said, “What does it matter whether I’m worthy or not?” Then she flapped her sleeves and left.
People of this era loved to say cryptic things and loved to ponder a sentence over and over again. Despite being quite simple, Chen Rong’s line still made those who heard it begin to ponder over the hidden meanings of its words.
Before long, Chen Rong had mounted her carriage. She drew her curtain down, seeming as though she did not see Chen Wei repeatedly looking her way.
Inside, Chen Rong’s lips upturned and exposed a slight sneer. moc.824retsmah
As darkness descended, torches steadily lit up to illuminate the vast wilderness.
As usual, the youngsters spread damask mats on the lawn and gathered to talk and jest.
Wang Hong reclined against his seat and gazed up to the moon in the sky while saying: “‘Filled with anger and grief, turning to rain that cleanses Earth anew.’ Ran Min, Miss Chen has great respect for you.”
Ran Min was different from him. Belonging to the Wang house of Lang’ya, it could be said that Wang Hong’s surname alone gave him immeasurable glory. With this surname, whatever he did would be interpreted as courtly. If he went on to do a few things that were worth mentioning, he would even board the seats of the sages.
On the other hand, Ran Min was nicknamed Tumbleweed (2). Though he came from an exemplary lineage, his own father was adopted by a barbarian. As a man whose surname had even changed, no matter what he did, it was difficult to obtain the respect of Central Plains nobles.
Rootless, outsider, etc.
Chen Rong’s praise was certainly meant for the both of them, but though such praise was superfluous for Wang Hong, it was rather rare for Ran Min.
Ran Min was holding a blade of grass on his lips with his arms folded across his chest. Upon hearing Wang Hong’s remark, he turned his head and beheld the crowd under his deep eyes.
In the moonlight, scented garments flittered in throngs. They did not seem to be fleeing but sightseeing, more like. His eyes swept across the crowd briefly before returning to the sky again.
He did not answer his companion. Wang Hong also closed his eyes, raising his head to feel the cool autumn breeze and saying nothing more.
The two of them sat that way in silence beside each other, appearing to be very comfortable and unmindful of the other person.
In the meantime, Chen Rong merely kept her head down as she quietly ate her pastries. Opposite her, her cousin Chen Wei was laughing and joking with the other girls.
It was evident to Chen Wei that Chen Rong was sullen tonight and did not appear at all to be in a good mood.
Nonetheless, Chen Rong still hadn’t apologized to Chen Wei for her rudeness. Chen Wei’s status was much higher than Chen Rong’s to begin with. She was already condescending herself to be putting on a smiling face for Chen Rong. At the very least, other girls of Chen house wouldn’t be able to do the same.
Chen Wei finally lost her patience. She leaned back to ask: “What did you say when you went to Wang Qilang just now? Why did he look at you that way?”
What Chen Wei asked was what everyone else wanted to ask. The moment she spoke, the two girls sitting beside her turned around and watched Chen Rong as they waited for her answer.
Chen Rong slowly swallowed her pastry before answering: “Nothing much. I was only asking for Wang Qilang’s advice on zither playing. As for General Ran, perhaps he might think I’m a bold girl.”
A young lady to Chen Wei’s left laughed and replied: “You are a bold girl.”
Chen Rong ignored her.
“Since you were daring enough to discuss zither playing with Qilang, your music must be excellent, then?” the same lady asked.
Chen Rong again did not reply. She only placed the pastry in her hand down and said to Nurse Ping, who was standing behind her: “Bring me my zither.”
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