Chapter 76: Chen Rong’s Good Name
Chapter 76: Chen Rong’s Good Name
“Come down,” Wang Hong faintly smiled, looking at Chen Rong’s carriage.
She drew her curtain and revealed her beautiful face to him. She was slightly wan at the moment, apparently affrighted by the earlier events.
Wang Hong looked at her but did not ask. He then turned around, waved his sleeve and said, “Let’s go in.”
The servants followed him inside, and so did Chen Rong.
Sitting in a corner of the study and with her head bowed, Chen Rong was now dazedly watching a ray of sunlight that had beamed through the door and into the space in front of her. The dust floating in the light column was rather effervescent.
She sat there for some time until a figure came to stand in front of her and blocked the light.
She looked up and was met with Wang Hong’s gentle eyes.
He held her gaze, then slowly leaned forward as he reached out to cup her delicate face – his fingers yet to touch her, but his warmth already palpable.
Chen Rong lowered her eyes and forced herself to remain still despite instinctively wanting to pull away. Because she had held her breath for too long, however, a faint and dull pain pricked her chest.
Like a spring breeze, his hand brushed across her face as he laughed and softly said, “You’re so careless. Look, your hair is plastered all over your face.” His voice flowed like the wind at night, gently sweeping by.
He pulled away.
Chen Rong quietly exhaled. She couldn’t tell whether her heart had sighed in disappointment or relief.
Wang Hong sat down across from her. Without looking up, he bade, “Prepare meat and wine! I want to drink these last hours away with the young lady!”
The last hours? Chen Rong whipped her head up and quietly studied him, her lips quivering.
Wang Hong didn’t look at her. He lifted the wine jug and gracefully filled their cups. At this time, a beam of sunlight was shining on his fair, handsome face, bringing to light his fine hair and gentle smile.
Chen Rong dropped her gaze.
The last hours. That would have been true. Previously, he had been killed when the city fell on the morrow! At the time, the Xianbei army had feasted in celebration of his death. And such had been her last impression of the man called Wang Qilang.
In unprecedented fashion, the Hu had given him a gold coffin and a jade burial gown, and ceremoniously escorted his corpse back to Jiankang. The whole world had been stunned. One ought to know that to the Hans, the cannibal Hu weren’t human. It was unimaginable that such beasts would treat a Central Plains scholar with so much respect, that they would send his corpse home though he was only a boy yet to have his capping ceremony (1). In the ten years that had followed, the people of Jin had all been befuddled whenever they spoke of Wang Hong, and everything about him had likewise become a complete mystery.
及冠 – ancient coming-of-age ritual for a boy when he turns 20
It was now another lifetime and she was sitting across from him. Whether for herself or for him, because of the promise she had made the day he saved her from the prince’s estate, she would not let him die. No, she wouldn’t allow it!
While Chen Rong was preoccupied, her hand grew warm by a wine cup Wang Hong had placed into her palm.
His hand did not move away; its slender fingers wound around her middle finger and gently stroking it. He lowered his gaze, shadowing his eyes with fluttering long lashes. He continued caressing her finger as he whispered to her: “Why have you come?” His voice was very soft and airy, like a night breeze passing by.
Chen Rong pressed her lips together, not knowing how to answer him.
He looked up and beheld her face, waiting for an answer.
After a long time, Chen Rong swallowed and hoarsely replied, “Without you there, I was afraid the Prince of Nan’yang would harass me.” There was a dozen answers rushing from her mind, but she herself hadn’t thought through them, and in the end, she gave him the most indifferent and unpleasant reason of them all.
Wang Hong lightly chuckled and, ever so softly, stroked her finger. “You’d rather come here to rid yourself of the Nan’yang Prince, even though you’ll end up dead?”
His caressing gave her fingertips a tremble that coursed all the way to her heart.
Chen Rong bit her lip and suppressed the strange feeling gushing from deep inside. “We don’t have to end up dead!” She quietly lifted her eyes to look at him.
Wang Hong’s handsome and lofty face remained as it was. He did not seem to hear the certainty in Chen Rong’s voice. He just smiled. Slowly, he let go of her hand and stood up.
As he rose, Chen Rong found that the man in front of her had suddenly become distant and foggy. It was only moments ago that he had made her feel as though they were very close. But in just a blink of an eye, Chen Rong discovered with fright that he was still the cloud in the sky and she was still that piece of drifting leaf!
Wang Hong stood tall and looked down at Chen Rong, his smiling face both tranquil and distant: “You must be tired from the long trip, Ah Rong. Get some rest.” When he finished, he waved his wide sleeves, turned and went away.
Chen Rong sat in place for a long, long time to watch him drift farther away until he gradually disappeared in the sunlight. Facing the empty study, she answered, “Aye.” Even now, her legs were soft and her heart was beating erratically from seeing him again. She needed some quiet and peace to herself.
Half an hour later, Chen Rong left the study.
At this time, the Hu’s shouts and horses’ neighs beyond the city walls were mixed with the clamoring from inside, growing into a riotous din.
In addition to several frenzied maids in the courtyard, only Old Shang was around.
Chen Rong beckoned a maidservant over. “Bring me a set of your master’s clothes.”
The maid wasn’t in the frame of mind to ask her why; she bowed her head and ran to the bedchamber.
Soon, a light blue robe and a white robe were presented to Chen Rong. “These are both Qilang’s old clothes. Which one would you like, miss?”
“The blue one.”
Ever since she was a young girl, Chen Rong had never liked to wear white clothes. Firstly, she couldn’t wear something so pure and clean, and secondly, they were in the commoner’s style that she didn’t like.
After taking the outfit, Chen Rong said to the maid when she saw her turning to leave: “Help me with my hair.” When she finished, she sat down in front of the mirror.
The maid absentmindedly complied and came to stand behind her, asking: “What hairstyle would you like, miss?”
“The men’s, of course, since I’m wearing men’s clothes. By the way, speak to the servants and tell them that only a young man had come here, never a young lady.”
Puzzled, the maid asked, “Why, miss?” But she immediately thought of the reason and quickly complied, “Aye.”
Before long, Chen Rong had been disguised as a young, dashing man. In reality, her male disguise was ineffectual. Her features were too exquisite and her body was too well-endowed. No matter how large the robe, there was inevitably some degree of femineity. The battle was soon to come, nevertheless, and she couldn’t afford to care about these details.
Chen Rong glanced at herself in the mirror once more before striding out.
When she left, she did not see too many people on the streets. She occasionally saw a few servants who were also dashing about, both hurried and tumultuous. It appeared that the calmest place in the entire mayor’s estate was still Wang Qilang’s courtyard.
After walking for a while, Chen Rong saw a servant from the Wang house and quickly asked, “Where’s Qilang?”
The servant was in a hurry and didn’t look to see who was asking him. He waved his hand: “On the watchtower.”
Chen Rong strode to the tower.
Before long, she saw Wang Qilang standing on the tall tower in his snowy robe that was always spotless and pure.
It was the strangest thing. There were obviously people in front of and behind him; there was obviously an uproar outside the city. But when he stood there, the sky seemed cloudless, and Chen Rong thought she only saw him stand alone.
She walked to stand behind him. But instead of looking to the horizon as he was, Chen Rong looked down at the Hu below the city walls.
This was the south gate where the Hu numbered tens of thousands. Tens of thousands of Hu were crouching below the city walls, cooking or laughing in small groups. They appeared to be disorderly at first glance, but at a closer look, Chen Rong immediately found that these tribesmen had organized into disciplined formations. They were armored and their weapons never left their side.
She stared below for a while and then suddenly said, “Qilang, I think we can leave from this gate!”
Wang Hong roused at her words. He turned around and lit up when he saw Chen Rong, a faint smile playing on his lips. He tilted his head and quietly stared at her, then suddenly outstretched a hand: “I’ll gladly hold your hand!” He had said this with a strange tone and an unusual expression, as if he was making her a promise.
Of course Chen Rong didn’t give him her hand. She smiled instead, looking into his eyes and saying in seriousness: “Qilang, let’s break our way out from the south gate.” She turned to look at the gate below. “Look Qilang,” she pointed and said, “isn’t there something different about the left and right sides, as well as the middle and rear of the Hu force?”
When she didn’t hear a reply, she turned around.
Wang Hong was tilting his head staring at her.
Under the sunset, Chen Rong’s beautiful face was blanketed by a layer of golden light. Her eyes were so bright and her youthful skin was so vibrant that even though her figure was hidden behind the large robe, she maintained a sense of passion and vivacity all the same.
Wang Hong withdrew his gaze to also look below. “It is odd. What do you think, Ah Rong?”
She was about to answer him when a series of footsteps approached them. A bright laughter accompanied these footsteps. “Is Qilang here? Eh? And who might this young master be?” He sounded somewhat suspicious of her.
Chen Rong turned around and came to face with the charismatic and nonchalant mayor of Mo’yang.
Even when war was imminent, when the city was awaiting its fall and people would be dying, his smile was ever present and it seemed as though he wasn’t facing life and death, but a banquet or poetry meet.
Chen Rong stepped forward with the intention of offering an answer.
Before she could speak, Wang Hong walked behind her, held out his hand and so very naturally placed it onto her shoulder, smilingly saying: “This is my love, who has come to die with me.”
Chen Rong’s smile froze on her face. The greeting she wanted to say was lodged in her throat. She didn’t expect Wang Hong to give that kind of an answer!
The mayor’s eyes lit up. He gave Chen Rong an appraising look, stroked his long beard, nodded and lamented: “What a virginal, beautiful face. With a sweetheart like you, it’s no wonder the famous Wang Qilang is willing to love men.”
He looked to the barbarians below and murmured, “You’re doing better than me, Qilang. I haven’t anyone to join me in the afterlife.”
He proceeded to sigh, not noticing that Chen Rong had been stunned speechless, that her legs had gone soft and her entire body was threatening to keel on the spot.
Just as Chen Rong fell backward, Wang Hong came to catch her. He lovingly held her in his arms, pressed his thin lips against her cheek, and softly breathed: “Darling, are you not feeling well?”
Chen Rong hadn’t the strength to answer him. All she could do at this moment was to close her eyes in woe.
The truth was that she had come to Mo’yang to firstly avoid misfortune, but secondly because she also knew how this battle would be played out. She believed that as long as they had a good grasp of the situation, as long as things still followed the same tracks of the past, she could take both Wang Hong and Sun Yan out alive. That was why she had stayed inside the carriage, why she had worn men’s attire, and why she still made an effort to protect her reputation.
But right now, Wang Hong’s arm was around her waist, his chest was pressed against her back, and his lips were attached to her cheek. The poor girl had been a maiden, still, when she burned herself to death in her previous life. She had never been in such proximity to a man before. But damn it, he stole her first kiss in this life, then he hugged her and called her darling left and right. Why was this man so thoroughly insufferable?
Chen Rong quietly gritted her teeth. Once she opened her eyes, she saw the mayor of Mo’yang looking at her and Wang Hong enviously. She stopped gnashing her teeth and immediately broke into a bashful smile.
After cropping out a smile, Chen Rong bowed her head and tried to remove his hand away from her waist. It refused to move. She bit her lower lip and pulled harder, but he held on. She knitted her brow and gave him a hard pinch.
“Ouch!” Wang Hong cried in pain.
The mayor turned to look at him in surprise and asked, “What’s the matter?”
Wang Hong curved his lips and put on a charming smile. “Nothing, I was just bitten by an ant.”
“You aren’t afraid of death, but you’re afraid of ants?” the mayor laughingly asked.
Wang Hong raised a brow and lightly replied, “This ant always chooses the fleshy part when it bites, and it bites very hard. It just won’t let go no matter what, of course I’m scared of it.” He said he was scared, but one certainly couldn’t tell from his expression or tone.
The mayor laughed out loud.
Wang Hong lowered his head. Softly smiling, he gently nipped at Chen Rong’s earlobe. “Are you afraid of death or of an ant bite, darling?”