Chapter 107: Chen Rong’s Reques
Chapter 107: Chen Rong’s Request
Looking at the knights whose faces were obscured behind their helmets, Li Cheng strode out, raised his clasped hands, and began to speak.
Before he could offer his greetings, however, one of the knights had spoken to him in the tongue of the Jins: “Do you belong to the Chen House in Nan’yang?”
They recognize who we are.
Li Cheng and his guards erupted in cheers. Only Han people would be able to recognize their many complicated family crests.
“Aye,” Li Cheng quickly answered. He placed his hands together and respectfully asked, “And you are…?”
“We work under General Ran,” the armored knight replied, motioning his subordinates to remove their masks and reveal their faces.
Li Cheng and his men laughed like loonies when they heard their answer and saw their faces. Some of them were even making their horses run in circles while they laugh.
Li Cheng likewise beamed from ear to ear. “I beg your pardon, our guys are beyond thrilled to hear that you are General Ran’s men.”
The dozen or so knights hadn’t bothered lifting their eyes amid the guards’ guffaw. Only until Li Cheng spoke did the Jin voice sound again: “It’s getting late, ask your mistress to go see General Ran.”
Li Cheng did not question how they knew a young lady was with them. He just joyously replied: “Aye, aye, aye.” He waved his right hand and shouted, “Stop horsing around and get ready. We’ll go and meet General Ran tonight.”
“Aye,” the guards replied and started to get busy.
Thic translation belongs to hamster428.wordpress.com
Soon after, they had tidied up and followed the knights forward.
Chen Rong quietly lifted her curtain to look around, beckoning Li Cheng closer as she did so.
He rode over and broke into a pleasant laugh: “Miss, how may I be of service?”
His booming voice caused the knights to turn their heads.
Chen Rong shyly bowed her head and waited until the knights impatiently turn away before motioning Li Cheng near again. “Li Cheng, are these men truly General Ran’s subordinates?” she whispered.
Li Cheng chuckled, but seeing Chen Rong’s unimpressed face, he quickly dropped his voice and replied, “Rest assured, miss. They are General Ran’s personal guards. We’ve met them before.”
Only then did Chen Rong relax.
Li Cheng laughed again and then caught up to the knights.
After nearly an hour, the torch-lit cavalcade arrived at a mountain cleft lined with tents.
Chen Rong peered outside and saw numerous flying banners in the distance with the character “Min” on them.
The camp site was packed with tents. Besides the flapping flags, all was quiet.
Having arrived at such a solemn place, Li Cheng and his men ceased their noises and followed the armored knights to the centermost tent.
Chen Rong’s carriage stopped outside while Li Cheng and several guards followed the knights inside.
Nurse Ping eyed them as she whispered from Chen Rong’s side: “It’s already so late, General Ran won’t summon you, will he?” Unease was heard in her voice.
At length, footsteps sounded.
Chen Rong looked up only to find her gaze suspended.
A handsome yet severe man in a black outfit appeared at the entrance. He apparently had just bathed, water dripping from his dark hair. A few droplets rolled down his chiseled face and onto the strong chest hidden behind his black undergarment.
His appearance caused the guards and knights to bow their heads, not daring to breathe a breath too loud.
Chen Rong was no exception. She lowered her head the moment his inky eyes set upon her.
Ran Min strode to her carriage and then stopped.
He stared at her and, all of a sudden, huskily laughed. “Little lady, we meet again.”
In the carriage, Chen Rong bowed to him and respectfully replied, “Aye, good greetings, general.”
Her voice was cool and calm.
“Lift your head,” he abruptly commanded.
Chen Rong stiffened, but still obediently looked up.
They faced each other in the moonlight.
As he carefully studied her, Ran Min’s eyebrows ever slightly furrowed.
A second later, he moved his thin lips, waved and barked, “Be sure to make arrangements for Miss Chen!”
“Aye.” Several soldiers stepped out, surrounded Chen Rong’s carriage, and steered it in a different direction.
At this point, Nurse Ping exhaled and said in a hopeful tone: “Miss, had a man of his station actually come to see you? It seems General Ran has great respect for you.”
Chen Rong softly hummed a reply. She knew Ran Min hated the nobles’ bureaucratic rules and had obviously come out just to see her. He had taken into account that it was too late to summon her into his tent. It was indeed rare of him to do something like that.
The soldiers had vacated a tent in the west for Chen Rong and Nurse Ping to stay.
As Chen Rong went inside with her nurse’s help, she suddenly stopped and asked one of the soldiers, “What about the Chens’ family guards?”
The soldier bowed to her and loudly replied, “I do not know, miss.”
Chen Rong pressed her lips together and then bent down to enter the tent.
On the other side, Li Cheng and the guards were also led away by the soldiers.
Looking at Li Cheng and his group leave, a middle-aged scholar approached Ran Min from behind and smilingly said, “That knave Chen Yuan hasn’t come to his senses. He’s still sending people here.”
Ran Min faintly smiled. His smile was both unconcerned as it was sarcastic.
“But I must say,” the middle-aged scholar added, ”that was an enormous amount of food. Not even Chen Gongrang would be able to bear losing so much food, let alone Chen Yuan.”
Ran Min smirked and lightly said, “Those food cargos were entrusted to Chen Yuan by the Prince of Nan’yang to transport.”
Another scholar, tall and thin, walked up behind them and chuckled to Ran Min: “You had posed as the barbarians to rob his food. How funny that Chen Yuan still places hope on receiving your help. He even sends two young ladies here, one after another.”
Five or six men laughed out loud.
Ran Min did not join them. He looked in the direction Chen Rong had left and unhurriedly said, “But I want this young lady to come.”
He smiled and walked back to his tent, leaving the remaining advisors to look at one another.
The military camp was surrounded by neighing, heavy breathing, and insect chirping. Even the wind sounded dreary and bleak. Nurse Ping tossed and turned throughout the night. She looked at Chen Rong’s bed several times, wanting to talk to her. But no matter how many times she looked, she only saw Chen Rong in a deep sleep.
Early next morning, with dark circles under her eyes, Nurse Ping yawningly combed Chen Rong’s hair and said, “You slept so well last night. I was so scared, but you didn’t even turn once.”
Chen Rong’s mouth made a twitch but she did not answer.
Just then, a loud voice called in: “Is the young miss ready? The general wants to see her.”
Nurse Ping was startled by his voice. Her hand jerked and almost dropped all the combs to the floor. She quickly picked them up, winced twice, and hollered back: “Almost finished, just a second.”
She soon finished dressing Chen Rong, at which time she tilted her head to take a look, nodded with satisfaction, and urged her mistress: “Miss, let’s go.”
Chen Rong hummed and stepped out of the tent.
Nurse Ping followed behind. After a few steps, she began to worry and thus leaned in to say: “Miss, when you’re with General Ran, do try to make a good impression. If he expresses his wish to marry you, then you mustn’t reject him.” She stared at Chen Rong and sincerely added, “Please agree. Don’t change your mind then!”
Chen Rong paid little attention to her. She just kept her head down, wove her hands in front of her abdomen, and slowly walked ahead.
The soldiers had all left their tents by now. A few paces later, they heard footsteps pounding from the other side of the cleft, along with rumbling hooves and billowing smoke.
By the time Chen Rong arrived at the centermost tent, a line of soldiers were already standing there, holding polearms and staring expressionlessly at her.
Nurse Ping’s legs gave out upon seeing these people.
Chen Rong hastened to hold her. She kept her head down and soon passed the heavily guarded area into the tent.
Inside, Ran Min was sitting on the divan using a red cloth to wipe his spear. He slowly raised his head when he heard the arriving footsteps.
His inky eyes patiently fixed upon Chen Rong before they glanced over at Nurse Ping. By the time he turned back to Chen Rong, his thin lips were smiling.
“Sit,” he motioned.
Chen Rong let go of Nurse Ping and scurried to the seat he had pointed to.
Ran Min poured her a cup of wine, then pointed and ordered: “Drink.”
Chen Rong received it from him and threw her head back for a swig.
“How straightforward,” Ran Min laughed.
He put the flagon down and then turned to stare at her.
Eventually, his thin lips curved into a smile. “You seem calmer this time.”
Chen Rong demurely smiled back. “It’s not as if you will eat me.”
Ran Min’s brow slowly furrowed.
He leaned down in front of Chen Rong, stiffening her when his breathing fluttered across her face.
Then, he reached out and lifted her chin.
Carefully watching her, Ran Min cocked a brow and quizzically asked, “Why aren’t you affronted by me anymore?”
Chen Rong also raised a brow upon hearing him ask. “Do you want me to be afraid of you?”
Ran Min did not answer.
He just held her chin and continued to stare at her. There was a sense of loss in those habitually fiery eye… it was extremely hard to detect, and was gone in a flash. If Chen Rong didn’t know him better, she wouldn’t have noticed it.
Just then, footfalls sounded outside.
They swiftly arrived at the tent, yet Ran Min still wouldn’t let go of Chen Rong’s chin.
Chen Rong didn’t panic when he didn’t let go. She merely looked back at him with unruffled eyes.
Sure enough, he slowly let go by the time the footsteps reached just outside the tent.
Several advisors came in. They gave Chen Rong a glance before indifferently turning to Ran Min.
She did not wait to be reminded. She stood up from the divan, quietly retreated to a corner behind Ran Min, and sat down on a bench.
Ran Min glanced at her action and wanted to laugh, but whatever he may be thinking, he stopped himself before his smile could bloom.
Several advisors stood before Ran Min. One of them stepped forward, placed his hands together and said, “General, Xianbei scouts are showing up in the Mo’yang area.”
After he finished, another advisor stepped forward, placed his hands together and said, “General, His Majesty boiled the Chancellor’s family a month ago. He then gave each minister a piece of meat and forced them to eat it.”
After they had finished reporting to him, they began withdrawing from the tent.
Chen Rong quietly stepped out and sat down on the same divan again.
Ran Min slowly turned to regard her.
The appreciation she saw in his eyes threw her off for a moment. She vaguely remembered the sense of loss she had felt each time she saw him look at others this way, and how she had wished she could trade her life for such a look. During those years, she would collect everything that had anything to do with him, always wanting to know him better. She had longed to be alone with him, if only for a short second, so that he would glance at her with this regard… but even so simple a wish was a luxury she couldn’t afford.
Funniest of all was that she finally got what she wanted, but she couldn’t feel a thing.
“You flatter me, general,” Chen Rong softly said.
Ran Min furrowed his brow and again looked at her, suddenly asking: “Little miss, for what ha an unwed girl like you traveled the distance to see me?”
His voice was slightly humored, asking as though he didn’t already know.
Chen Rong looked up at him, her eyes flashing a light so extraordinary that they made Ran Min lean back in anticipation.
Sure enough, she slowly dropped her gaze and, after contemplating her wording, quietly said, “I’ve come at the request of Chen Yuan to ask for your help in taking back our food supply from the Hu.”
Without waiting for Ran Min to reply, she mustered her courage to look up at him and said, “However, I knew as soon as I received his order that Chen Yuan is foolish.”
Ran Min cocked an eyebrow, and leaned closer. “Oh? Tell me, then.”
Chen Rong looked at him and lightly said, “I think with you here, the bandits are too terrified to rob the food and flex their muscles with that kind of fanfare. I’m fairly sure the grains had been retrieved by you.” What an elegant word she had used – retrieved.
Ran Min burst out laughing.
He shook with laughter and slapped his hand on the table, prompting a few turning heads.
He waved to a middle-aged scholar and laughingly said, “Sir Zhang, do you know what this young lady had just said? She said that with me here, the bandits are too terrified to come close. And then she said the food supply was retrieved by me.”
Upon hearing his words, several advisors widened their eyes looking at Chen Rong in surprise. The middle-aged scholar strode in and repeatedly exclaimed, “Impressive, young lady. I thought I was smart, but it turns out I’m not even as good as a little girl!”
Ran Min was still booming with laughter.
He stopped to catch his breath, then waved hid men away. “Leave, I still want to talk to the little miss.”
His advisors chuckled and took their leave.
Ran Min swiched his gaze to Chen Rong. He raised an eyebrow and laughed, “Since you know Chen Yuan is foolish, why had you come at his behest?” He leaned in, his deep magnetic voice breathing into her ear: “Or do you miss me so much, Ah Rong, that you want to take this opportunity to see me?”
Chen Rong looked back at him and then solemnly shook her head.
His handsome features appeared to be chiseled under the sunlight. For the first time in her life, her voice was calm and cold when she looked at him: “Nay, I have come to ask a favor of you.”
Ran Min’s interest was piqued. He folded his hands across his chest and laughed. “A favor? Let me hear it, then.”
Chen Rong pressed her lips together and lowered her eyes. After a while, she decisively looked up at him and said, “General, I know that you are on a battlefield year round and thus provisions are your lifeline.”
Her hands entwined under her wide sleeves. Her eyes had a quiet ruthlessly when they looked to Ran Min. “As luck would have it, I know of a secret route that Lady Ruan and Chen Yuan are using to trade food and transport money.”
Chen Rong had followed Ran Min away from Nan’yang after she had gotten married to him in her previous life. Not knowing she was unloved, Lady Ruan had sent people to seek her after they had been robbed by the Hu, and asked her to find Ran Min so he could send troops to guard the route. This was how Chen Rong had such information.
The smile on Ran Min’s face faded upon hearing her words.
His eyes bored into her.
Anyone would tremble and sweat under the gaze of his eyes – ones as dark as the night sky and as intense as fire.
But not Chen Rong. In her previous life, she had seen this appearance of his too many times. Besides, when she prepared herself to say these words, she had thought of all the possible consequences that could come of them.
Chen Rong’s eyes remained a state of calm.
“Since it’s a secret route,” Ran Min said, “at a time when the Hu can attack at any moment, Lady Ruan and Chen Yuan will certainly increase their transport. Little miss, do you know the weight of your words?”
Chen Rong looked at him.
Her eyes were still bright and calm, having no trace of shame or fluster.
She nodded, coldly smiling a tight-lip smile: “I want him to suffer the worst of losses!”
Ran Min leaned back to quietly stare at Chen Rong and asked, “Aren’t you afraid that your clan will be wiped out due to food shortage when the Hu lay seige to the city?”
“Nay,” Chen Rong resolutely replied.
“Chen Yuan is a very selfish man. What he owns would likely be given to help the Ruan family or to curry favor with the Prince of Nan’yang. But he will never give them to our clan no matter what happens.”
She knew what Ran Min must be wondering. She wryly smiled, dropped her gaze, blinked back tears, and whispered, “If I hadn’t been pushed into a corner, why would a woman of gentry descent think of scheming against her own elders?”
Her lips quivered. “In the eyes of Chen Yuan and his wives, I am someone they can freely trample and insult.” Colors drained from her face when she thought of the night she had been locked in the small cabin and of the guards’ conversation… She couldn’t stop herself from shuddering. Due to her pain, her hatred, and her helplessness, her beautiful face perceptibly contorted.
At this point, Ran Min’s deep and powerful voice sounded: “Deal!”
Chen Rong whipped her head up looking at him.
Ran Min was still staring at her. His eyes were without disgust, faintly displaying tenderness and approval, even. He nodded his head, laughed and said, “You’re right, Ah Rong. I’m in great need of provisions.”
Chen Rong happily got up and curtsied to him. “I thank you, general.”
She knew Ran Min held too much stake to reject the proposal. Even so, she kept her rain-beaten flower appearance and used a pitiful voice to thank him.
Chen Rong maintained her curtsy, lowered her eyes, and said after a while, “I have another favor to ask.”
“The Prince of Nan’yang has a share in the food supply you are robbing from Chen Yuan,” she softly articulated.
Her words caused a nonchalantly sitting Ran Min to lower to her, asking, “How do you know?”
A smile displayed on Chen Rong’s pale face. “I overheard it, of course.”
Seeing that Ran Min seemed to have believed her, she continued: “I would like to ask you to announce that the supply route had been disclosed by an aid named Li Mu and an aid named Xu Qian from the Nan’yang Prince’s estate.” She paused and then eagerly explained to Ran Min: “Li Mu is the older brother of Chen Yuan’s lesser madam, Lady Li. She depends on him the most. As for Xu Qian, he deserves to die for his odious appearance and vileness!”
After she finished, she kept her bowing head and ceremony posture. She did not rise or dare to look up at Ran Min.
Silence, great silence.
Some time later, Ran Min still didn’t answer.
As she waited, Chen Rong’s graceful posture couldn’t keep from shaking. Two drops of tears gradually hung on her long lashes.
It had been some length of time but Chen Rong had not received Ran Min’s answer nor had she the courage to look up at him. She grew white as she bitterly smiled. The words from her mouth were ruthless and bleak: “I beg your pardon, general. Since they are unkind they cannot blame me for being unrighteous! I admit I’m just a petty, vengeful woman. Anyone who wants to trample on me best look out for his own two feet!”
Although she was trembling, her voice was as calm as her eyes.
Chen Rong maintained her posture of ceremony and dutiful look. In the stifling atmosphere, her heart quietly hardened: If he doesn’t agree, I will remind him of the time I had risked my life to leave the city and help him get rid of the moles and recoup major losses for him. That’s right, I had also donated ten carriages of grains to him.
However long it had been, so long that Chen Rong started to lose her confidence, so long that her mouth hesitated to speak. As she was about to collect her debt of gratitude, a burst of mad laughter abruptly erupted.