Chapter 73: In the Eye of the Storm
Chapter 73: In the Eye of the Storm
As a result, Chen Rong led four carriages of grains and quietly returned to her home under the curious eyes of Chen Wei and her friends.
Once they got inside, she called for Old Shang, pointed to the carriages and said, “When we do not know what tomorrow holds, how can I leave you all, who have been with me for so many years, without any assets? Take the grains to Nurse Ping and let her decide what she wants to do with them.”
And then she gave him a wink.
Catching on, Old Shang clasped his hands and loudly answered: “Aye.”
He turned to the servants who had just returned from seeing Nurse Ping off, and said, “Come, now. Load the grains onto our carriages. It’s getting late. We must be quick in sending them out.”
Once the grains were moved down from Lady Li’s four carriages, the vehicles turned around and went back to their owner.
As soon as they left, Chen Wei and Chen Qian circled behind Chen Rong and curiously asked, “Ah Rong, what mischief are you up to again?”
“Nothing,” Chen Rong simply smiled.
“How can it be nothing?” Chen Qian was greatly dissatisfied. She glared at Chen Rong and raised her voice: “Ah Rong, you’re becoming more and more unruly.”
Chen Rong smiled. She turned around to give them a curtsy and said, “Cousins, there’s really nothing going on.”
Chen Qian stuttered for words. Faced with her displeased expression, Chen Rong kept her faint smile with absolutely no intention to explain.
The night had come by the time everybody left. Nan’yang was again awash in light.
Chen Rong was playing her zither in the courtyard. Old Shang stood behind her as he listened to the melodious music.
After a while, the music came to a stop. Old Shang approached her, remarking: “I can hear solace from your music.” He had been listening to Chen Rong’s music every day for the past few months and could naturally understand some of it. With concern showing on his face, he paused and asked, “Miss, how did you get the madam to return the grains to you?”
“Only Lady Li was there. I threatened her so she gave them back to me.”
Astonished, Old Shang repeatedly reminded her: “Lady Li is your elder in any case. How could you think of threatening her? If she bears grudges, she’ll find ways to harm you… then what will we do?” Chen Rong plucked the strings with her right index finger. After issuing a series of crisp notes, she said, “If I hadn’t gone and asked for the grains, would they have left me alone? Would they have treated me better or would they not harm me?”
Old Shang shook his head and sighed, “Nay.”
“That being the case, why should I have to think about all those things?” she bristled.
Old Shang kept quiet before murmuring at length: “I still don’t feel very good about this.”
Chen Rong did not answer him.
As darkness deepened, waves of laughter filled Chen Wei’s courtyard.
After staring at the lights in her home and listening to the merry voices, Old Shang turned to Chen Rong and sighed. “It’d be great if you were with your father and brother.”
The music took a quick turn in reply.
That night, the main compound was filled with music and light, but none of it had anything to do with Chen Rong.
The next day was very sunny.
Winter had arrived and stayed for some time, but the sweltering weather was quite worrying. If it were to be another warm winter, next year’s harvest might even be worse.
Since early morning, Chen Rong had put on the green dress lined with yellow patterns sent to her the day before. It was her favorite, the reason being it subdued her glamor and gave her a quiet elegance.
With the new dress and a veiled hat, Chen Rong got into her carriage and prepared to visit Nurse Ping.
As her carriage drove on the street, she found that the city dwellers were clustered into small groups while they murmured in worriment.
Old Shang tilted his head and whispered to her: “Miss, something big likely has happened.”
Almost immediately, they heard a young lad’s lament from the carriage in front of them: “Luo’yang has fallen yet we cannot return to Jiankang. What will we do?”
And then a cry.
Sympathy lurked in their eyes as the crowd listened to the suppressed sobbing.
Old Shang stopped the carriage to ask a portly man dressed in servant clothes: “What’s happening, man?”
It was apparent the man was a steward. He glanced toward Chen Rong’s carriage with some disdain but still answered Old Shang: “We’ve just received news that the families who left Nan’yang to return to Jiankang had run into the barbarians and gotten killed along the way!”
Shocked, Old Shang hastily asked, “All of them? Does that mean the barbarians had waited to ambush them on the road?”
The plump steward nodded. “That’s what they all say.” He sighed: “My master had sold his land and properties, thinking of returning to Jiankang. But with these news, tsk, tsk…” He shook his head and limply left the scene.
Old Shang also sighed for a while. He then suddenly thought of something and turned to Chen Rong, whispering: “Miss, did you by chance have some premonitions?” Why else would she ask him to buy all the farmland within a month?
“I’m not a divine being,” Chen Rong’s voice was heard. “How would I know anything? It was only a coincidence.”
Old Shang considered her answer and gave a nod.
The carriage made its way to South Street.
As they drove along, Old Shang pointed to the storefronts and said, “Miss, this one is also yours. They used to sell food here, but by the time we bought it, the warehouse had been empty and the shop had already closed. This one over here was a restaurant; it’s now also closed. That’s right, miss, when I gave the grains to Nurse Ping yesterday, she said she’ll save three carriages for you and use the last to open up three shops. It should be no problem to provide for five people with three shops.”
Chen Rong had no interest in any of the details. She carelessly nodded.
Just then, a burst of noises sounded out in front.
Chen Rong curiously peeked through the curtain.
Into her sight was a team composed of six carriages, with the large and extravagant one leading them painted in gold.
A dozen other carriages surrounded this team. The encircling people kept flattering smiles on their faces as they spoke in a solicitous manner to the golden carriage.
Chen Rong gave the scene a glance and hastily ordered, “Pull over, pull over to the side.”
“Aye.” Old Shang quickly steered the vehicle to the roadside.
Chen Rong looked to her left, saying: “There’s an alley, go there.”
Old Shang’s driving was fortunately excellent. He repeatedly lashed his whip and entered the vehicle into the dark alley.
Chen Rong sighed in relief once they were there.
She quietly lifted the curtain to peer outside.
From her vantage point, she could see that the curtain of the golden carriage had also lifted. The pudgy Prince of Nan’yang was nodding haughtily while saying something. Submissive nobles stood at his side; Chen Rong recognized Chen Shu among them.
Suddenly, Chen Rong’s expression altered as she inwardly thought: Drat, the major clans cannot leave Nan’yang and now have to make every effort to curry favor with him.
Old Shang craned his neck looking at the scene and wondered: “That’s odd, why don’t these people go the the prince’s estate to seek an audience with him instead of making a ruckus out in the streets?”
Chen Rong pursed her lips. “That’s because everyone knows the Prince of Nan’yang likes to tell everyone that he is the mightiest in this city!”
“It seems they won’t leave for the time being, let’s go home,” she lowered her voice.
When the carriage turned around, Chen Rong pulled her curtain down as she sat inside, wringing her hands in contemplation.
When the vehicle drove out of South Street, Chen Rong heard weeping coming from the carriage next to hers: “Why? I’m already betrothed to Mister Liu. Why must I attend the prince’s banquet.”
An older woman whispered, “What else can we do? Your father even sent him Sima Qian’s handwritten records that he had treasured for years, but Advisor Xu said the prince does not like such complicated amusements. There’s nothing else your father can do.”
“Even if we cannot go back to Jiankang for the time being, why must we be so hasty? Isn’t General Ran here to protect us? Why must we go curry favor with the old lecher?”
The older woman’s voice turned pained: “Miss, you must not have heard. With the pretext that we need to bolster Nanyang’s security because the barbarians will soon move south, the prince intends to send some families to station outside the city.”
The young girl stopped crying to exclaim: “Station outside the city?”
“Aye, why else would your father go to this length? Not only your father, but all of the major clans are sending their beautiful daughters to him in order to make him change his mind.”
The conversation was left behind as the wheels rolled on.
At this time, Old Shang spoke to her: “Miss?” He sounded quite unnerved.
Inside, Chen Rong kept wringing her hands. “Stop, Old Shang. Ask to see which estate General Ran is guesting at right now.”
Moments later, he jumped back onto the carriage. “Miss, he’s at the Huan estate.”
“To the Huan estate, then.”
The Huan estate was situated on South Street. To avoid the prince’s fleet, Old Shang had circled the long way and spent nearly an hour to arrive at its side door.
The carriage came to a stop and, as Old Shang went to the gatekeeper, Chen Rong lifted a corner of the curtain. Although she was looking at them, her eyes seemed to be well away.
A while later, Old Shang came back and drove the carriage into the estate from the side door.
A round of distant music streamed to them as soon as they entered.
It was different from the usual reed pipes, however. There was an unusual ringing of zither in this music.
While Chen Rong was listening to it, a sudden burst of applause sounded. Pounding drum beats soon began when the cheers quieted down.
“Miss, the gatekeeper said General Ran is currently drumming at the square. He added that all the major clans who came to look for him had been refused at the door. Young ladies, however, are always exceptions.”
Chen Rong hummed a reply.
Soon, the carriage drove to the square.
They hadn’t approached but the scents of cosmetics and perfume were already assailing Chen Rong’s nostrils. “Why are there so many young ladies?!” Old Shang asked.
Chen Rong quickly lifted her curtain.
She was surprised to find a colorful array of outfits covering the square, all of them being young ladies’. There must have been at least fifty to sixty of them.
They were presently watching the square’s center.
Chen Rong followed their gazes.
After a brief glance, she quickly withdrew her gaze.
Sure enough, it was Ran Min who stood at the center. His arms were bare, his long black hair was tied back with a red ribbon, and his thin lips were tightly drawn into a line.
It must be said that Ran Min had acquired a perfect body through years on the battleground. His sun-kissed skin, broad shoulders, and long legs made him stand out and outshine all other aristocrats. Even Huan Jiulang’s remarkable aura paled in comparison.
He was presently beating the drum. Huan Jiulang sat beside him with a zither (1) placed in front. His left hand lightly pressed on the strings as the right one did the plucking. Do not steal this chapter from hamster428 because karma is a spiteful bitch.
this zither is called the zheng which is different from the qin that Chen Rong plays. The zheng has picks and movable bridges whereas the qin has neither of those characteristics.
The pair harmonized excellently. Whenever the melodious zither drifted on, the drum was faint; whenever the sonorous zither swelled, the drum pounded heavily. Listeners were made to feel as though they’d returned to centuries past, to the time when Zhuge Liang had sat in the wide open and played the zither on a deserted fortress while below him stood Sima Yi’s massive army.
The sounds of zither were melodious and ethereal. They carried neither joy nor sorrow, like outsiders who stood on the clouds looking down at the ashes of time. The anguished drum pattern, on the other hand, was sonorous, like a general who had gone through a hundred battles and who now stood before the corpses as he cried for the civilians.
The aloof and the mournful brought together a most magnificent feeling.
This was a music Chen Rong had never heard before – sounds beyond her recognition.
She was so immersed in the music that it could be said it was speaking to her soul. But all of a sudden she was overcome with a shocking realization! She now felt her complicated zither playing had been too trivial and shallow compared to these melancholic and unspoken sounds.
Chen Rong wasn’t the only shallow one. Along with his drum rhythm, Ran Min’s strong muscles flexed in the sunlight – his masculine beauty comparable to the beauty of Ji Kang when he had played “The Guangling Song” before his execution (1). Do not steal this chapter from hamster428 because karma is a spiteful bitch.
read about Ji Kang here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ji_Kang
Hence each time the drumming came to an end, girls would squeal all at once as they watched him in rapture. As if he didn’t perceive their admiring eyes, however, Ran Min never once looked up.
No one noticed Chen Rong’s arrival.
She lifted her curtain to listen to the extraordinary music. It must be the work of serendipity and good fortune for this wonderful duet to take place. For a very long time, she closed her eyes and tightly clutched her hands.
Uncertain for how long, the zither’s abrupt end was followed by Ran Min’s laughter as he threw his head back, flinging the drumsticks to the far distance and shouting: “Now, that was exhilarating!”
His soaring laughter hadn’t ceased by the time the female congregation squealed and rushed toward him and Huan Jiulang.
Before they knew what was happening, the pair had been submerged under the scents of perfume and powder.
At this time, Chen Rong withdrew her gaze and quietly said, “Let’s go home.” Old Shang nodded and turned the carriage around: It appears General Ran won’t have time to spare my insignificant mistress.