Chapter 114: Confrontation
Chen Rong herself almost laughed out loud upon hearing the young scholar’s laughter.
But she couldn’t laugh, of course. Not only could she not laugh, she also had to bow her head docilely and take a step back.
Ran Min’s countenance maintained its composure.
Slowly, his mouth curved into a smile. “Good for you Wang Qilang! You have my respect!”
He clasped his hands, stared past the scholar and shouted, “If that is your master’s prediction, why has he not come out to meet me?”
The young scholar looked up at him and began to explain when another voice spoke to them: “Why don’t you come inside, general? The wine has been warmed, the roast is fragrant. All we are waiting for is our hero to arrive.”
He spoke with an easy and cordial voice. Ran Min softened despite himself.
He turned around and cast the girl hiding behind him a glance.
Chen Rong understood from his expression that he wanted her to come along… while she bit her lips, Ran Min had grabbed her wrist and gone on in.
Two young boys were waiting by the door of the bamboo house. They bowed to the approaching Ran Min and gestured them in.
Ran Min strode in.
Held by his grip, Chen Rong couldn’t help but follow.
Once they were inside, the scent of wafting sandalwood laced with an unknown floral scent helped to calmed Chen Rong’s tense nerves.
She slowly lifted her head.
At the center of the bamboo room sat a handsome young man. The difference tonight was that he was sumptuously attired. He wore a lavender robe with embroidered blue phoenixes while his dark hair scattered on his shoulders. There was a zither on the low table, his slender fingers resting on its strings.
Whenever she saw him, this young man always appeared so leisurely and noble. At this moment, basked in the candlelight behind him, in his nobility was also a majestic and resplendent air.
He was merely sitting there, but she quite thought his bearing and grace overshadowed the rest of the world. Why do I feel that even the Sima royalty would feel ashamed of themselves if they were to see Wang Hong like this? Chen Rong distractedly thought.
With his eyes fixed on Wang Hong, Ran Min approached and resoundingly laughed: “Wang Qilang, you sure look relaxed!”
Wang Hong smiled and slowly lifted his head.
In that short moment, Chen Rong instinctively shrank back, almost hiding behind Ran Min.
Wang Hong did not look at her.
He was quietly looking at Ran Min instead.
Ran Min knitted his brow, asking: “Is this how Qilang welcome his special guests?”
The zither was plucked to a series of beautiful notes. Wang Hong then raised a brow and casually replied, “General, you’ve come in the middle of the night to negotiate with me, am I right? In that case, I wonder if I can really call you a special guest.”
His voice was resonating though it remained pleasant.
Chen Rong’s head whipped up to look at Wang Hong.
In the candlelight, she saw a faint smile on his face. But a closer look revealed waves at the bottom of his clear eyes.
Ran Min was also taken aback.
He intently stared at Wang Hong before bursting into laughter.
He strode to the table opposite Wang Hong and took his seat. Then, he gave Chen Rong a brief glance and ordered, “Pour me wine!”
Chen Rong gave a start upon hearing his command. She kept her head bowed, walked to his table and knelt down.
From the moment Ran Min sat down, maids waiting tableside had gracefully walked over to serve him. Now seeing Ran Min ordering Chen Rong about even though she was also supposed to be a guest, they looked at each other in confusion before dropping to a curtsy and retreating behind Chen Rong.
At this time, Wang Hong was still faintly smiling. He did not raise his eyes to look at her. It was as though in his eyes, Chen Rong was just a concubine Ran Min had conveniently brought along, as though she was only an inconsequential stranger he had never met before…
Chen Rong steadied herself, held her sleeve, and began to pour wine for Ran Min.
The sound of flowing liquid occupied the quiet bamboo house.
In an instant, the glass of wine had been filled.
Ran Min gave Chen Rong a glance, lifted his wine, and slowly said, “Fill Qilang’s cup as well.”
It was an order.
“Aye.” She made a turn and carried the flagon toward Wang Hong.
With her head lowered, she got before Wang Hong and accorded him ceremony. She next slightly bent down, lifted the flagon, and filled his cup.
The wine gurgled into the vessel.
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Wang Hong’s faint smile remained on his handsome face. His eyes were so peaceful, and his smile so leisurely, that she couldn’t detect any difference from him.
Ran Min glanced at the lofty and indifferent Wang Hong, suddenly feeling disgusted with himself. “Step down!” he ordered.
With her head bowed, Chen Rong slowly retreated.
In moments, she had retreated to stand behind Ran Min, her sylphlike figure gradually dissolving among the shadows.
Ran Min withdrew his attention from Chen Rong. Staring at Wang Hong, he suddenly smiled with a question. “I must ask, how did you know I would come tonight, Qilang? And how did you know I want to negotiate with you?”
Wang Hong’s slender hand reached out.
Slowly lifting the wine Chen Rong had just poured, he took a sip and casually answered, “General, you’re a man of extraordinary ambitions and great plans to match. You’ll not easily let go of such a good opportunity to make a deal with the Wang House of Lang’ya.”
As Wang Hong said these words, Ran Min’s eyes darkened chillingly.
He was a Heavenly Prince who saw little value in human lives. When he wanted to display his might, his aura could be quite the frightening thing to behold.
Unwittingly, the maids on either side began to tremble.
Yet Wang Hong was still smiling, his every manner the definition of elegance.
Ran Min slowly leaned forward, his hawk-like eyes locked on Wang Hong, but his voice was humored: “How do you know I have great ambitions and plans?”
Wang Hong raised his head.
He looked at Ran Min, smiled, and shook the wine in his hand. “Cheers!” After throwing his head back for a swig, he turned the cup upside-down and shook it at Ran Min, clearly suggesting that they drink first before talking.
Like a preying wolf, Ran Min’s inscrutable eyes did not move from him. Until now, no one had been able to defy his aura. Even the masters of the Shi House would silently quake in their boots.
Having said that, Wang Hong would be nothing more than his facade were he to blunder now.
Ran Min regarded Wang Hong for a while before slowly sitting up.
The deadly air instantaneously cleared. The maidservants exhaled in relief. Chen Rong lifted her head to see that Ran Min was also raising his wine to drink. With this, she knew Wang Hong was already ahead in this round.
The maidservants waited for Ran Min to finish his wine before they stepped forward again to fill the two men’s drinks.
Wang Hong did not take his cup. He placed his right hand over the zither and carelessly plucked twice, giving sound to sweet light notes that swept away the heavy atmosphere in the bamboo house. He then quietly looked up at Ran Min and asked, “Have you thought of how you’ll be helping me in this battle, general?”
She couldn’t believe he actually asked this question!
And with such an offhand yet assured tone!
Chen Rong looked up…
Ran Min also lifted his head. He stared straight at Wang Hong before suddenly booming in laughter. “Why should I help you, Wang Hong?”
Wang Hong faintly smiled at his question.
Ran Min slowly furrowed his brow. He pounded the wine vessel down and quietly growled, “It’s maddening talking to you people. Fine, Wang Qilang, let us be frank with each other. I’ll help you drive Murong Ke away this time. In exchange, if I have a request in the future, then do help me out with the Jin court.”
After he threw his own request out there, his wolf-like eyes stared at Wang Hong to await his answer.
Wang Hong smiled.
He slowly rose from his seat, casting a shadow onto the wall behind him.
Wang Hong regarded Ran Min. Slowly, he broke into a smile, his snow-white teeth flashing coldly.
His voice was gentle as always, but it was also indifferent: “Dealing with Murong Ke is but a trivial matter for you, general. Compared to your grand scheme, I’m receiving the short end of the stick.”
Ran Min impatiently shot to his feet.
He pounded on the table, glared at Wang Hong, and angrily spat, “Wang Qilang, don’t you forget that your life is in danger without me! Even the Wang House in Lang’ya stands to lose its prestige over this matter. Given the circumstances, how dare you say that you’re getting the short end of the stick!”
Thus raged, he flapped his sleeves and turned to go.
Chen Rong gave a start. She glanced at Wang Hong to see that he was calmly watching Ran Min leave. She paused, and then hurried out of the bamboo house.
When they saw Ran Min walking out, his awaiting guards quickly went up to him.
They wanted to ask him how the meeting had gone, but did not dare to utter a sound when they saw his ill-humored face.
They all turned around to leave.
Under a surly Ran Min’s leadership, they wordlessly kept their heads down and walked on.
“Where’s the fire coming from?” suddenly cried a guard when they reached the street.
Everyone looked up.
Flames and billowing smoke were rising from the west sky. Nan’yang civilians could be heard shouting.
As they were watching, the guard yelled, “Crap! General, look over there!”
His voice was full of panic.
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