Chapter 25: Purchasing Food
Surprised, Chen Wei managed to put on a smile as she asked, “Ah Rong, don’t tell me you want to play a song?”
Chen Rong smiled and nodded.
The three girls simultaneously laughed – in addition to several renowned scholars, no one touched music along the way, for everyone knew that with the numerous masters in this large cavalcade, one ought not to show off lest he revealed his own incompetence.
Chen Rong was only a little girl. If she dared to play in front of the masses, might her playing be that good?
“How bold of Miss Chen,” a man’s voice sounded at this time.
Without lifting her head, Chen Rong lightly replied: “When our hearts are not at ease, music will bring us peace. When our hearts are already at peace, music will bring us leisure. Just what about music and poetry is bold, may I ask?”
A few girls wanted to say something but quickly thought better of it. They naturally heard the sublimity in Chen Rong’s words. No matter what they say now, their words would only be made to sound vulgar when juxtaposed with her brilliance.
Nurse Ping had brought a zither to Chen Rong by this time.
Chen Rong placed the instrument down and lifted her fingers. Suddenly, another series of zither notes flowed from the distant wilderness. Leisurely and pleased, they painted a picture of tall mountains and winding streams – the culmination of all things ethereal.
The crowd immediately moved that way. Chen Wei and the other girls rose to follow the sound – such music could only be played by Wang Qilang.
Before she knew it, surrounding Chen Rong was but empty space.
She bowed her head, stroking the strings with her alabaster fingers as she smiled before resting her hands on the strings.
Seeing her not playing, the man who questioned her earlier chuckled and asked, “Miss, why are you hesitating?”
Chen Rong handed the zither back to Nurse Ping and thought to herself: Though my music is notable, I would only be highlighting my deficiencies in front of Lang’ya Wang Qi’s music. What good is it to interrupt his playing? Even so, she softly replied, “A heavenly song is already amongst us. ‘Tis enough to banish sorrow.”
Tongue-tied, the man had nothing to return. moc.824retsmah
In an era that worshiped debates, uttering words where others had no answer to was a talent all nobles esteemed.
In her previous life, Chen Rong’s temper had been fierce, her speech had been clumsy, and she had always fallen prey to others’ verbal traps. After suffering time after time, she found that in this troubled world, if you did not want to become someone else’s laughing stock, you must practice the art of the tongue. If she could use sophisticated and humorous words to render others speechless, it would be good for her social advancement.
After she handed the zither to Nurse Ping, while no one paid attention, she quietly rose and retreated to the dark.
Stepping on the round moon, she wandered to the mound. Standing there, Chen Rong gazed down to the corner where Ran Min and Wang Hong resided.
That corner was forever lively and restless. moc.824retsmah
Chen Rong stared for a while before she dropped her gaze and looked at the ground where her shadow drew long.
The night soon passed.
The team left again the next day. moc.824retsmah
Whatever it was Ran Min had said, the team began to gain speed that morning.
They progressed in that way for days on out. On moonlit nights, they would charge on until the rat hour (11 pm) before stopping to rest.
Due to the previous encounters with Hu armies, the noble children did not dare to complain even though they felt incredibly miserable.
After ten days of traveling, a city fortress appeared ahead.
Looking at the tall walls, Chen Rong summoned her servants and bade, “I have some gold leaves. After we arrive in the city, the first thing you are to do is buy food. The more, the better.”
Having pressed on the entire way, the grains she brought from Ping had almost depleted. “Pawn all the fabric and silk to buy food with the money,” she added after some thinking.
“Old Shang, borrow from the Wangs, the Yus, and the direct line of Chen ten carriages each. Tell them that I’m worried there would be a food shortage in Nan’yang, so I would like to buy food here.”
Nurse Ping, Old Shang and everyone else looked at her in surprise. Nurse Ping cried: “Miss, we’ll have clansmen in Nan’yang. Why do we have to do this?”
Old Shang also cried: “Miss, thirty carriages can all be borrowed from the Chen house. Why borrow from outsiders?”
“Although Nan’yang is a great city,” Chen Rong frowningly began, “so many nobles and refugees flooding it in such a short time will surely create a food shortage. My father and brother aren’t here, so no matter where I go, I would have to depend on other people. If I don’t want people to give me a hard time, I’ll need adequate food and money. I’ll think of some other way to obtain money, but food will need to be stocked up before we enter the city.”
She then explained to Old Shang: “I want to borrow carriages from the Wangs and Yus only because I want to let them know of my speculation, lest they resent me by the time we’re in Nan’yang should there really be a shortage of food, saying I knew but did not tell them.”
“Miss, how wise and farsighted you are.”
Listening to Nurse Ping and Old Shang’s praises, Chen Rong wryly smiled: If I hadn’t experienced it once, would I have possessed this wisdom?
It was eventide by the time the cavalcade arrived in the city. After traveling nonstop for the past few days, the nobles were all exhausted. To finally arrive in a city that was still bustling and peaceful, albeit somewhat shabby, all wished they could stop and not go another step.
As the fleet entered the city, the tiny town became awash in ebullition.
Soon after, Nurse Ping said to Chen Rong outside her carriage: “Miss, food is very expensive here. A bolt of fabric can only be exchanged for nine pecks of rice. In Ping, a bolt of fabric was worth twenty pecks, you know.”
Chen Rong’s decisive voice returned to her: “Exchange everything into food based on that price.”
She took out a bag and handed it to the older woman: “Nurse, here are thirty pieces of gold leaves. Use them all to buy food.” The city was full of nobles at this time; nobody would dare to design for these gold leaves.
“But miss, we’ll need money for everything after we reach Nan’yang. We only have a dozen people, why are we buying so much food?”
Chen Rong’s displeased voice came from inside: “Just do as I say.”
Because of Chen Rong’s adamant attitude, the servants started moving. That night, they filled all thirty-three carriages with food.
This was a very small town. After Chen Rong’s food had filled the carriages, she heard Old Shang muttering that food had gone up in price again, from a bolt of fabric for nine pecks of rice to one bolt of fabric for five pecks of rice – leaving them with no money left over.
The Wang house and those who also came from the City of Ping did not question Chen Rong’s ability to buy grains though she had dispersed her family wealth. Any noble family would accumulate wealth for decades, and no one would really squander his own emergency funds. Those who dispersed their family wealth for the peasants and then reduced themselves to beggars were fools, not wise men.
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