Chapter 100: He Is the Culprit; He Is the Savior
The middle-aged scholar laughed as he prattled on.
Chen Rong held the sachet in her hand feeling tumultuous inside. Why, this was a love token. Before, she could say that her being close to Wang Qilang was for self-preservation. But she had accepted his jade ornament last time, if she were to take his sachet this time, wouldn’t she be saying that she had accepted this man?
Both of her hands shook. One hand wanted to hug the sachet to her bosom. He was Lang’ya Wang Qi; even as his concubine, splendor and wealth would never be far from her. The other hand wanted to refuse the gift. So what if it was the Wang House in Lang’ya? Was she even good enough? Not being good enough would only bring heartbreak. Had she not tasted the consequences of this in her previous life?
At the thought of her past life, the beautiful dream along with all of her longings went away as fast as they had come.
Seeing the scholar turn away, Chen Rong hopped down from the carriage and ran up to him. She put the sachet back into his hand and gave him a hasty curtsy. “Ah Rong of the Chen House is but a humble girl,” she tremulously began. “I am unworthy of Qilang’s personal item. Please take it back.” Then without looking up, she turned and ran back to her carriage, fleeing in panic even though she had been the one to dole out the rejection.
The scholar raised an eyebrow, stared after her back in surprise, and at length looked down at the sachet. “There’s a girl in this world who is indifferent to Qilang? Now that’s interesting.” He then turned around, hummed a song and returned inside.
The carriage began moving.
Outside the carriage, Old Shang, who did not know that Wang Yi had mentioned matrimonial ties to Chen Gongrang, began to mutter: “What is Lang’ya Wang Qi thinking? He isn’t willing to take my mistress yet he gives her his sachet. Does he just want to play around with her?”
His muttering made its way to Chen Rong’s ears. She was leaning absently on her seat, hands in a knot. Her beautiful face glowed one moment, then fell dejectedly the next, apparently conflicted…
The wheels clopped on the snow. Silvery moonlight filtered onto Chen Rong through the curtain slit.
After some time, she raised the curtain to let the chilly wind sober her troubled heart. By the time her cheeks grew red, tranquility had gradually been restored to her eyes.
When the carriage headed for the side entrance, she looked to the front gate and suddenly said, “Let’s go to the main entrance.”
“Aye.” Old Shang drove the vehicle around a bend and to the front gate.
As he drove, he curiously looked back at Chen Rong. Against the moonlight and snowy background, her lips were drawn into a stubborn line. He suppressed his curiosity and did not open his mouth to ask.
It took about half an hour to get to the front gate from the side gate.
Once this half hour had passed, abashment and joy had both disappeared from Chen Rong’s face, replaced by a clarity in her eyes.
When the carriage got closer to the front gate, Chen Rong poked her head out and gazed to where the gatemen stood. It didn’t take her long to see the upright and temperate Zhang Xiang, humbly dressed, among the strapping guards.
The carriage slowly approached them.
Everyone turned to look when they heard the rolling carriage, some lighting up at the sight of Chen Rong.
This had included Zhang Xiang. He fixedly stared at her with a smile of admiration in his eyes.
Chen Rong returned his gaze.
While Zhang Xiang was taken by surprise, she slowly smiled a sweet smile at him, one that was all at once charming and luminous.
In the past, she had practiced this smile countless times in front of her mirror, believing that it could change Ran Min’s ill feeling toward her. This was a smile a woman used to seduce a man.
Zhang Xiang was obviously taken by surprise for he dumbly looked at Chen Rong. As her carriage got closer and closer to him, he suddenly looked to the ground and retreated behind a tall guard, thereby cutting off Chen Rong’s view of him.
Chen Rong paused. She slowly dropped her gaze and retracted her head inside.
The horse-drawn carriage drove out the front gate.
When she turned to look back a dozen paces later, all she could see were still a group of tall guards and a corner of Zhang Xiang’s robe. She wryly smiled and thought to herself: I was too hasty. My smile had not only failed to make a good impression, I fear, but it had also made him suspicious and disdainful of me. She sighed, having suddenly lost her mood.
Hearing her sigh, Old Shang tilted his head and asked, “Miss, are you alright?”
Chen Rong did not care whether he had seen her; she shook her head.
The carriage’s rolling became a lonely tune in the night.
At this time, Old Shang whispered, “Miss, you should marry Qilang if he is serious. I believe that he will protect you. He won’t let his future wife harass you.” Though he said this, there was an uncertainty in his voice that sounded as though he didn’t believe himself.
He hadn’t expected Chen Rong to answer, but after a while, she hoarsely replied, “I might as well be General Ran’s wife if I have to be his concubine.”
“Please think about it carefully, miss,” Old Shang hurriedly said. “General Ran is the match the clan has prepared for Ah Wei, you’ll anger the clan if you snatch him away. We won’t have their protection if something were to happen in the future.”
Once again, he didn’t think Chen Rong would answer, but her hoarse voice sounded: “I won’t, Old Shang, I won’t.” There was something like sadness in her voice.
And then the carriage arrived at the Chen estate.
As expected, the next day was bright and clear. The sun in the sky helped to speed the melting of the snow along. The next several days were also sunny.
Chen Rong stayed in her courtyard during this time and didn’t once step outside.
Today, a maid hurried over, curtsied and pleasantly said, “Miss, someone brought an invitation for you.”
Invitation? Chen Rong received an invitation every day. She reached for it and gave a glance, then paused.
An elegant script read thus: “This afternoon. By the lake we previously met. I hope you’ll come again!”
Wang Qilang. It must be Wang Qilang! Chen Rong had never seen his handwriting, but he was the only one to have called her out to the lake.
Chen Rong’s heart again gave a thump.
Despite staying inside for the past few days, once she had composed herself, she would think of his handsome face and smiling eyes.
She felt as if she could float in the air, but chose to suppress the feeling. The sadness she had felt from thinking she would never see him again when she had rejected his sachet was now swept away.
She sprang to her feet and loudly called, “Old Shang, prepare the carriage for me.”
“Do you want to go out, miss?” Nurse Ping asked, poking in the door.
Chen Rong hesitated. She looked at the invitation on the table, caressing the words written on it, as her face altered from ruddy to white. She was apparently struggling with herself.
At long last she slowly looked up and replied, “Aye, I want to go out.” She placed her hand on her chest and murmured, “What’s the point of living if I’m always minding myself?”
Nurse Ping was surprised to see Chen Rong talking to herself. Curious, she cast a glance at the note on the table. Despite being a servant, she was Chen Rong’s personal maid and therefore the face of her mistress. Under Chen Rong’s father’s request, she had also learned a word or two.
When Chen Rong saw her nurse looking at the invitation, she blushed and put it away in her sleeve.
She hurried outside.
It was already noon and would soon be time.
Old Shang answered back at the same time she walked out. “Old Shang, prepare the carriage,” she said to him.
It was a fine day.
Snow had melted into slush on the streets of Nan’yang. Only the deep ditches still had some remaining white traces.
Chen Rong clasped the invitation under her sleeves. Even though she had repeatedly rejected him, a telling blush spread on her cheeks.
Slowly, the carriage drove out of the city gate and headed to the lake.
As time went by, their surrounding grew quiet and people’s voices receded to the distance.
At long last, Old Shang informed her: “We’re here, miss!”
Chen Rong poked her head out from the carriage.
She frowned – nobody was around. Well that’s strange, she had met Wang Hong and Huan Jiulang here last time.
Chen Rong gave the scene a sweep and gestured ahead where a few shadows were seen: “Go over there.”
Once they got near, Chen Rong’s frown worsened. She looked at those people and said, “Still not him.”
Old Shang also frowned. “The snow had only melted and it’s so windy out here. I told you, Wang Hong wouldn’t be strolling on the lake right now.”
Chen Rong shuddered as soon as she heard him. She immediately said, “Turn around, Old Shang. Let’s go home.”
She had barely spoken when a gruff laughter rang from the hillside behind the woods: “Ain’t you in a hurry, sweetheart? You arrived so early. Damnit, I would’ve gotten here too late!”
“Old Shang, turn around,” cried Chen Rong in alarm.
She leaned forward and grabbed the whip she had taken with her out of habit.
“It’s too late.”
The one to laugh this time was a thin, sallow man. He widened his rat eyes to gawk at Chen Rong while cackling: “That man was right, you’re quite a stunner.”
Eyes glued to her full chest, he quite salivated when he said, “I’d be damned, I don’t think I’ve ever played with such a pretty woman before, old as I am.”
While he was speaking, six other men darted out from the foothill; the two or three who had been standing nearby were also making their way over.
Old Shang repeatedly flung his whip and shouted, “Yah – yah – ”
The horse sprang forward.
This place was different from the city, however. The unpaved ground had turned muddy from the newly melted snow. How could they run with the carriage rocking back and forth?
The wheels got stuck in the mud. While they were unable to extract themselves, the six men had closed in on them and blocked the carriage’s path.
Old Shang was so fretful that he was sweating buckets. “Yah, yah –” His right hand continued to fling the whip, but the more anxious he was, the worse the carriage shook. It leaned to the side several times, almost throwing Chen Rong outside.
At this point, the men had encircled the carriage. They did not move, merely smiling at the scene. The first to speak was the stick-thin one in his forties. He leered at Chen Rong, gleefully saying: “Don’t be alarmed, sweetie. You aristocratic girls can only taste the flavor of one man your entire life. Now ya get to have a full feast with us today. Why would ya be afraid of such a good thing?”
His cohorts roared in bawdy laughter.
Chen Rong’s heart was in knots; she hopelessly thought: It seems Heaven wants to take me away. He knows I’m not supposed to exist in the world, so he wants to take me back.
Her heart stilled at this thought.
Ever since she escaped from Mo’yang, Chen Rong discovered that her heart had truly hardened. Right now for example, once she understood that there was no escape, fear was no longer one of her thoughts.
She drew her lips and issued a low bark: “Old shang, forget it.”
Old Shang broke down and hoarsely cried: “Then what are we going to do?”
Chen Rong ignored him.
Amid the men’s sharp laughter, she searched and removed the hairpin from her hair.
She put it away in her sleeve, raised her whip, and coldly said, “If I’m going to die, I’ll be dragging a few with me.” She paused and then said through her teeth, “Too bad I have no way of dealing with the ones who had stabbed me behind my back.”
Her eyes murderous and her voice ruthless, she stared at the men and shouted: “Who had ordered you to harm me? Why don’t you tell me so I won’t die an ignorant ghost?”
The sallow-faced man laughed out loud. “It’s a waste to be a ghost, pretty as you. Ya better off as our leader’s wife.”
Chen Rong whipped around to look at him. “Who wanted to harm me? I can’t escape anyway, why won’t you tell me?”
He stared at her bottom, saliva frothing over his yellow teeth. “All we know is that he’s a bearded man with a northern accent. He didn’t say who had sent him.”
“So I don’t even know who my enemy is?” Chen Rong said disappointedly.
While she exchanged with them, Old Shang continued to blubber, his hand trembling to hold the whip.
Seeing him and a seething Chen Rong, the men went on laughing. At this time, several other had also joined them, making a total of nine that completely blocked the carriage and its passengers. Now nine pairs of eyes were vulgarly leering at Chen Rong’s face and body, their laughter and obscene language becoming increasingly insufferable.
At this time, Chen Rong whipped around and snapped, “What are you crying for, so we’ll die, big deal!”
Old Shang choked at her outburst.
Still staring at him, she yelled, “Stop quaking. If I’m not afraid to die, then why should you when you’ve lived for so long?”
Old Shang looked at her in tears. His grief had mostly been for her; he could not bear to see her ruined like this. Now seeing that the young girl wasn’t panicking herself, he felt slightly better.
Wiping his snot and tears, Old Shang also raised his whip and tremulously said, “You’re right, we’ll just die at the most.”
Chen Rong softened to see him finally calm down.
She turned around to look at the men.
The criminal at the forefront turned his gaze to the whip in Chen Rong’s hand, grinning. “Missy, this whip ain’t easy to fling, why don’t ya put it down? Careful lest ya hurt ya self.”
Another roar of laughter broke out.
Chen Rong scoffed, thinking: Yes, it’s very hard to fling. But if I fling it well, the impact will be formidable!
The men watched a ravishing Chen Rong and laughed more loudly when they saw her grip tightening around the whip.
A dark and thin man came out from the group, saying as he strode toward Chen Rong: “Fuck, I can’t wait anymore to get intimate with you.”
He got closer to her with each word he spoke. There were five steps between them, then four, then three, then two.
The dark man stretched his right hand toward Chen Rong’s whip and lewdly laugh: “Sweetheart, you’d better give it to me, keke.”
As he spoke, he went for Chen Rong’s pearly wrist.
“Pop” – the whip cracked through the air and like a flash struck down onto the man.
It was precise and hard, how could it have been issued by this frail girl?
Startled, the dark and thin man instinctively dodged to the side.
“Pop.” They abruptly heard another dull sound of contact between the whip and human flesh. Accompanying it was the man’s sharp scream.
His painful scream had barely sounded when the whip continuously cracked down again. Every time it flashed by, another scream was heard.
Whoosh. A stream of blood dyed the sky red. A dying scream pierced through the sky to the shock of everyone.
Forthwith, they heard the weight of the man fall to the ground.
Everyone stood in disbelief.
All sounds were gone.
They widened their eyes, numbly gawking at the twitching body on the ground. His neck had been broken, from which blood was flowing out into a pool of sanguine mud. It was a terrifying scene!
They all raised their heads to look at Chen Rong.
They saw a beautiful girl who was frighteningly indifferent. This aristocratic girl not only did not panic, but she went so far as to spitefully kill someone without any qualms!
Didn’t she feel faint from the sight of blood?
In their befuddlement, some had begun to retreat backward.
At this point, Chen Rong’s piercing voice woke Old Shang up: “What are you freezing there for? Break away!”
Old Shang shuddered at her intimidating voice. “Aye.” He cracked the whip and hollered at the horse.
Perhaps because Old Shang is calmer now, or perhaps of their luck, the horse lurched and pulled the carriage out of the mud pit, running to the solid gravel path ahead.
As soon as Chen Rong’s carriage dashed out, the man in front furiously shouted, “Catch her! Fuck, catch her –”
He was positively roaring by his last word.
The men snapped awake.
They howled in unison and rushed toward Chen Rong’s carriage.
Old Shang sweated buckets, but did not care to wipe himself. He whipped the horse all the while hollering at it.
Chen Rong turned her head to face the men. Whenever someone advanced, she would ruthlessly crack her whip.
Her bloody whip emitted a deathly glare in the sunlight. Whenever she cracked it down, the bandits would rush to escape.
Dodging that way was causing them to slow down.
By the third time, Chen Rong’s carriage had gained five paces.
At this time, one among them yelled out, “We can’t let this girl run away. Chase after her, we must chase her down!”
At his reminder, the leading one shouted, “Horses. We fucking have horses, too!”
His men simultaneously woke up, turned and ran back to their hiding place.
In just minutes, six horses had appeared in Chen Rong’s sight.
Chen Rong looked at them while telling Old Shang: “Pay attention to the ground. We can’t let the carriage overturn.”
She thought that as long as they didn’t overturn, they would have a chance to escape.
Old Shang cried: “Aye.” Chen Rong’s calm was infectious; his answer this time was loud and steady.
The carriage ,madly dashed straight ahead with six horses following behind.
“After her – fuck, y’all can’t even deal with a woman. And we lost one man. I can’t let this go!”
Five other men shouted at the same time.
Their shouts and cries came to Chen Rong with the whistling cold wind.
She pressed her lips together and unblinkingly stared at them. The cold wind tangled her long hair, blowing into her eyes.
Her heart tightened as she faintly thought: Thankfully I had been in Mo’yang, else I would not be so calm today.
The carriage was still bolting away, with the six horses in hot pursuit.
It stood to reason that those horses, because of their lighter loads, should’ve been able to catch up to the carriage by now. Yet they were separated by twenty to thirty paces and had not caught up.
What could they do? They were skin and bones while Chen Rong’s strong horse had been specially culled.
Half an hour went by. Do not steal from ham ster master.
They had pulled fifty paces away.
Even though Chen Rong’s horse was among the finest, it had been pampered all these years and momentarily could not yet gain its top speed. Its endurance, however, was far better than the six horses that had nothing to eat but grass.
Watching Chen Rong’s carriage going farther and farther, the bandit yelled, “After her! Look at her luscious breasts and ass. It’s ecstasy once we chased her down!”
His words roused the men. They hollered, cracked their whips, kicked the horses’ girth, and urged the animals on.
“Think about stripping the pretty little sheep. Doesn’t it give you more strength? Eh? After her!”
Another man cried against the wind: “Boss, we have strength enough but these stupid horses can’t run anymore!”
Another man also shouted, “Fuck, this deal has fallen through. Can’t even chase a carriage, what exactly can we do?”
When their words were carried by the wind to Old Shang’s ears, his spirit lifted as he gladly said, “Do you hear, miss? Do you hear? They can’t run anymore, they can’t run anymore.”
Chen Rong was still turned the other way, staring at those people. Of course she had also heard their dialogues. “Aye aye, Old Shang, keep up a little more and we will be safe,” she shakily replied.
Old Shang laughed. Do not steal from ham ster master.
He raised the riding whip again.
The vehicle sped up.
Eventually, the people behind them grew more distant. Even though their shouts still came to them with the wind, the cracking whip and galloping horses grew increasingly weaker and slower.
Eventually, their faces had begun to blur, their shouts no longer heard.
Chen Rong turned around in jubilation.
“Old Shang, we’re safe.”
Old Shang laughed, “We’re safe, we’re safe,” breaking into a sob by his last syllable.
Chen Rong’s eyes also reddened.
At this point, she looked around and alarmingly cried, “Old shang, where are we?”
Old Shang stopped to take a look, paling as he did. Ahead was an endless dirt trail, to the left a tall mountain, to the right a barren field. What part of this place was still Nan’yang?
Chen Rong looked at the sun and dropped her voice to say: “I think we’re lost.”
Old Shang panicked. “Miss, it’s my fault, it’s all my fault.” Not waiting for him to go on, Chen Rong unceremoniously ordered, “What’s done is done. Let’s not talk about it. Since they aren’t chasing us, lets slow down a little. Once we see where we are, we can speed up again.”
Old Shang complied and brought the horses to a slow.
They jumped down and looked around. They couldn’t see an end to this place. Desolate mountains stood on one side while the fields on the other side were even bleaker.
“Miss, I’m gonna go up that hill for a look and see if anyone is around,” said the older man.
Chen Rong quickly stopped him and said, “It’ll be faster with the horse. Let’s go together.”
Old Shang halted, immediately realizing he couldn’t leave Chen Rong here alone.
He took the driver’s seat and drove the carriage ahead.
Chen Rong raised her curtain to look outside. Looking at the sun, she sighed, “Luckily we had left at noon. There should be half an hour left before it gets dark. Old Shang, we have to return to Nan’yang before then.”
In a time when the Hu army could come south at any time, the city of Nan’yang closed its gates as soon as the sun set. If they didn’t return before dark, they’d have to spend the night outside the city where refugees were gathered at each turn.
Old Shang had also thought of this. He cracked the whip and sent the carriage speeding forward.
The carriage dashed ahead. Read at ham ster 428.
Half an hour must’ve gone by when they reached a peak higher than the last hill. There was nothing they could do about it. The long mountain range had appeared to be very close, but once they set off, they found that it was very far away.
When they arrived, Old Shang jumped down and hurried to the peak.
Chen Rong did not move. She brought the carriage to a grassy area and let the horse graze while anxiously watching Old Shang.
After a quarter of an hour, he came back.
He didn’t look too positive. He looked at Chen Rong, stammering: “It’s still too low. All I could see are the mountains. I couldn’t see Nan’yang at all.” He sounded as if he wanted to cry.
Chen Rong pursed her lips.
“Don’t be afraid, Old Shang,” she quietly said. “Let us take some time to think about it.”
She jumped onto the carriage and looked around.
At this time, Old Shang exclaimed, “Miss, it’s soon to be supper time. We can look around for the sign of smoke.”
Chen Rong contemplated and then said, “Nan’yang is full of refugees right now.” What she meant was that the smoke, if there was any, might just be ignited by the refugees.
An anxious man, Old Shang cried in panic, “Then what should we do, what should we do, miss?”
Chen Rong wasn’t patient herself; she irately snapped: “Why are you asking me? How would I know?”
Startled, Old Shang slowly lowered his head.
At this time, Chen Rong ordered him to use the carriage so that they’d have a way to leave even if the refugees came to them.
“Aye.” Four two eight.
“Right, isn’t Nan’yang situated in the south? Let’s try going south,” Chen Rong said soon after. She thought that there would surely be less barbarians the further south they went, even if there were likely more displaced refugees.
Old Shang hollered, flung the whip, and drove south.
The sun slowly dipped west as they went on, plunging them in more apprehension.
On their left was an endless mountain range; on their right was forever barrenness. Completely deserted, the road ahead seemed to have no end in sight.
At this point, Chen Rong quietly said, “We don’t have to go on.”
Old Shang turned around. Read at ha mster site.
Chen Rong slightly turned her head to the side to look at a cleft. She pointed and said, “We’ve gone for so long without seeing anyone. That must mean that it’s safe here. This place isn’t so bad. Let’s spend the night here and think of something tomorrow.”
“But miss, we’re so deep in the mountains, what if wild beasts are around?”
Chen Rong started to scream at him: “Then tell me what are we supposed to do? It’s gotten dark, Nan’yang had closed all its gates. Even if we knew our way, we wouldn’t be able to get in.”
Old Shang was given a scare. He hung his head, flung the riding whip, and drove the carriage toward the cleft Chen Rong had spoken of.
They went around a small hill to enter the cleft. It was small and narrow. A short hillside blockaded its front while a mountain backed into it. It had just enough space for five carriages to fit.
Chen Rong hopped down. She looked left and right before murmuring: “It’s winter, I reckon there aren’t any beasts around.” So she said, but what did she know about the habits of wildlife? They were nothing but self-comforting words.
Looking at the only entrance to the cleft, Chen Rong whispered: “Old Shang, should we block this place with a boulder?”
Old Shang looked at her and asked, “To block the wind?”
Of course not! As Chen Rong was about to blow up, she suddenly thought to herself: If they discover us here, what use would the boulder be? Anybody could move it, and besides, if someone or a beast were to come down from the hill side, we could escape by carriage. Blocking would only stop our own vehicle.
Thinking so, she closed her mouth.
It got dark frightfully fast. Thievery from ha mster four two eight dot com is a crime.
Chen Rong stayed in the carriage while Old Shang sat on the driving seat. They listened to the rustling grass outside as they whispered to each other.
At a time so quiet, the roars of wild beasts and incessant insect chirping were more pronounced in the night. The rush of cold wind made any light breathing feel like a movement.
The more she listened, the more Chen Rong grew fearful.
Just then, Old Shang spoke in: “Miss, are you afraid?”
His voice was trembling a little.
While Old Shang was old, he was a house servant who had grown up in the estate, and had never gone through adversities.
“I’m alright,” Chen Rong softly replied. She paused, and then ordered, “Stop talking and listen. Is that the sound of hoofs?”
In the silence, Old Shang answered after a while, “I don’t hear anything.”
“Oh.” It was uncertain whether Chen Rong’s answer was filled with disappointment or relief.
She did not know that, at this time, two hundred guards were escorting a carriage toward the city gate.
Outside the carriage, a servant leaned in and whispered to the man inside: “Master, they’re only speculating words of an old servant. It’s not worth using up the prince’s badge for such a trifling matter.” Ever since the Hu army began to push south, once it got dark, the city gates would close from all four sides. No one could come in or out. Only a handful of families such as the Wang could get three badges and have three opportunities to enter or leave after curfew. This was largely thanks to the presence of members of the Lang’ya branch. The Chen estate, for example, only had one such badge.
After a while, a smooth and pleasant voice mildly replied, “They aren’t speculating words. I never sent her an invitation.” The speaker was Wang Hong.
He swiftly lifted the curtain.
As he watched the people on the street and the last glimmer of the setting sun in the west, a faint smirk formed on his ethereal countenance. “Using my name to call her out? I hate this kind of thing.”
The servant nodded. Thievery from ha mster four two eight dot com is a crime.
At this time, the troop had arrived at the gate.
The city gate had been closed. His servant rode forward, raised a badge and loudly stated, “My master Wang Hong of Lang’ya wants to leave on urgent business.”
An officer rode forward. As he was about to deny them exit, the servant held up another badge and then threw it at his feet. “This was given to our master by the Prince of Nan’yang.”
The officer picked the badge up. He at once clasped his hands and replied, “Aye sir, go on!”
The carriage was put in motion.
And soon, their horses disappeared into the night.
The officer watched their distancing figures as he murmured, “Wang Hong of Lang’ya? Could there be another battle? What else can make someone like him leave the city in the middle of the night?”
Two hundred riders rode at a uniform pace. They rode the finest horses and carried weapons with them. At their appearance, the refugees crouching on either side of the road receded back, whether because they heard the clopping or beheld their silhouettes. They hid in the corners and watched them ride away.
They soon arrived at the lake.
Wang Hong took a look at the fifty-acre lake and lightly ordered, “Fifty of you split up and go around the lake. See whether there are any unusual footprints, hoof prints, or wheel tracks. Also, stop and ask anyone you see.”
Fifty riders rode off with their order.
After a quarter of an hour, five riders rode back to him. A young guard clasped his hands as soon as he dismounted his horse, saying: “Master, wheel traces of a carriage and nine people’s footprints were found two hundred paces from here, as well as human blood and a dead body on the ground.”
He paused at this juncture to look at Wang Hong.
In the flickering fire, Wang Hong’s handsome face seemed as though it was hidden behind a layer of mist. What could the guard possibly see?
“The carriage had been stuck in the mud,” the young guard continued. “It later went to the west. Following the traces, we saw footprints of eight people followed by the hooves of six horses. These hoof prints came from the hillside.”
He stopped and looked toward Wang Hong.
In the swaying flames, Wang Hong nodded and said, “It’s unmistakably her. Relay my order to track down the traces.”
Horseshoes kicking, wheels clopping.
The young guard was clearly a tracking expert. He rode at the forefront and jumped down every ten paces to take a look.
By and by, he neared the carriage and said to Wang Hong, “Master, the six horses did not have enough stamina to continue chasing. Only the carriage went on in that direction.”
He pointed ahead. Thievery from ha mster four two eight dot com is a crime.
Wang Hong lowered the curtain and lightly said, “I got it, let’s go.”
The horses again sprinted forward.
The young guard still led the way. He went for about a hundred paces, jumped down to take a look, and then mounted his horse again.
They went that way for an hour before the guard pointed to a wheel track and said, “They had stopped here for some time but had since gone toward that mountain.”
Some time later, the guard stopped and turned to Wang Hong with his hands clasped in ceremony. “Master, the carriage is nearby.”
He paused, then asked, “Should we call their names?” Since they were surrounded by mountains, one call would send echoes ringing and they’d very soon find her.
In the flickering glow of the fire, Wang Hong smiled.
His smile was a little mysterious, a little shrewd, and at the same time a little weary.
He lifted the curtain and hopped down. Walking toward the guard, he lightly chuckled: “What are you calling her name for? I think she’s had enough fright for today.”
The guard did not fully understand what he meant.
Wang Hong jumped onto a horse belonging to another guard and said to the young one: “Let us go and find her.”
“Aye,” replied the young guard while looking quizzically at his master. Some time later, he confirmed his answer and rode off.
This time, he would look around every ten paces or so, Wang Hong following closely behind.
Soon, he got to a place and pointed inside. “Master, she’s probably in here.”
Wang Hong hummed in reply. As he listened, his lips gradually upturned to show a soft smile.
“Go and make some noises,” he said. “But don’t come up to greet when you see someone come out. Just go and find a place to pass your time.”
This time, the young man was quick to understand. He laughed out loud, winked and whispered to Wang Hong: “Do you want her to commit to you out of gratefulness?”
Ethereal and pure, Wang Hong stood with his hands clasped behind his back as he faintly smiled. “Commit herself to me? Adoration, perhaps, but commitment will be difficult given her personality.”
The bodyguard stifled his laugh, stomped on the ground, and headed for the cleft.
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