Chapter 153: The Imperial Family
Chen Rong knitted her brow and instinctively looked up at Wang Hong.
When she faced eyes that were as clear as water, very gently looking back at her, she looked away and quietly asked, “What do you think I should do Qilang?”
Wang Hong smiled. “Ask the bearer to wait so that Ah Rong can take a bath and change her clothes.”
“Aye,” Ying’gu replied upon hearing Wang Hong’s voice.
Once Ying’gu left, Wang Hong gazed down at Chen Rong. His long slender fingers caressed her face as his comforting voice sounded: “Don’t be afraid, you have me.”
“Aye.” She gently pushed him aside and walked to the front.
Wang Hong tilted his head and wordlessly watched her leave. He couldn’t help but notice her stiff and straight back… The stubborn woman.
After Chen Rong was finished with her bath and had changed into new clothes, she went to the main entrance of the temple.
A carriage sent by the emperor was waiting outside for her. When he saw her come out, the eunuch announced: “Depart.”
Chen Rong gave the eunuch a bow and stepped onto the carriage. By the time it drove away she was still looking back.
Wang Hong did not follow her.
She withdrew her gaze.
The vehicle pulled out of the Daoist temple and entered the streets.
Chen Rong didn’t remember how long it had been since she last took to the streets… she knew her looks easily intrigued people, so in order to avoid unnecessary complications, she had always suppressed her desire to go out.
The pedestrians, horsemen and other carriages gave way wherever the royal carriage went. Through a small slit in the curtain, she observed the passersby as they came and went.
The carriage was now driving through Willow Lane; it was where the Wu slaves and Yue girls received their guests. Colorful banners fluttered from the lofts, where all types of beautiful women imaginable abounded.
They leaned on the balconies, pointing at the people below and laughing gaily. By the time Chen Rong’s carriage approached, one of them retrieved a green flute and blew a tune; her eyes sadly gazed somewhere in front of her.
Shortly after the music was played, a beautiful girl who looked exactly like her leaned in to the other and asked, “Which family is he from, the jade-like man leaning against his horse by the south bridge?” There was a sing-song rhythm in her melodious voice.
Unconsciously everyone including Chen Rong followed the beauty’s gaze.
To their left, water ran under a small bridge, draped by willows and poplars.
Under the willow trees, there was indeed a handsome lad by his horse. He had fair skin, clear eyes, rosy lips, and a willowy figure.
Chen Rong couldn’t help but lean out and lift the curtain.
This boy with his thin waist and exquisite beauty, was he not Sun Yan?
Why is he here? When did he come to Jiankang? Right, he must have come with Ran Min. He is an aristocrat, so it will be much easier for Ran Min to operate in Jiankang with him here.
At this thought, Chen Rong could not help biting her lip: That is to say Ran Min won’t leave Jiankang in the foreseeable future? She reached for the curtain as these thoughts ran through her mind.
As she was about to reveal her face to Sun Yan, she saw someone coming up behind him. He was a guard often seen with Ran Min. He stood behind Sun Yan and talked to him in a low voice. Only two lines had been said before Sun Yan’s beautiful face stiffened, his eyebrows drawing together sternly.
Chen Rong’s carriage had driven away in the meanwhile.
She dropped the curtain and smiled to herself: I’m now famous in Jiankang, if he means to find me he can come whenever he wants.
She turned her head to look back at Sun Yan, who was still greeted by the twittering women upstairs in the red building. Her lips upturned; a warmth filled her heart.
The carriage went on towards the Imperial City.
The closer they were to the hustle and bustle of the city, the more carriages were seen on the street. Each that dashed by left a whiff of incense.
The palace gate was already in sight.
Chen Rong took a deep breath and smoothed her hair and clothes.
Just then, a song was heard behind her, along with rhythmic footsteps on the bluestone. “She waves her sleeves, the Red Chamber beauty; food aplenty to waste in houses of wealthy.”
The verse was one of praise, but the hoarse singing voice gave it a feeling of helpless desolation.
Chen Rong turned around.
She was looking at the back of a disheveled head. He suddenly gave a howl after having repeated his verse. It was a tragic cry; it was a sorrowful song.
As Chen Rong watched, the eunuch outside shrilled in scorn: “It’s the madman from the Huan House again! Now dare he sing these provocative things right outside the Imperial City… We’ll see how much longer he can live.”
When she heard the disgust in his voice, Chen Rong thought in surprise: But there is nothing wrong with this verse.
And then, she saw the palace door opening to a surge of riding smoke. A rider was galloping fast, his mount dashing away.
In a prosperous land like Jiankang, the young aristocrats had their servants’ help even on the road. When did one ever hear such pressing horseshoes?
Involuntarily, a dozen carriages lifted their curtains to look at the rider.
He was heading for the singer.
At an inadvertent glance, Chen Rong rounded her eyes in the midst of the billowing dust.
She saw the horseman ride forth and, as he neared the singing man, suddenly pull his bow string to direct his aim at the man’s back.
Subconsciously compelled to scream, she quickly clasped her mouth.
Just as she was doing so, the rider had drawn back his bowstring.
“Whiz.” The sharp whistling sound shot through the air at the same moment the arrow was released. It drilled into the singer’s back as blood slowly trickled down…
He hollered like a madman and slowly turned his head.
The wind blew his robe and lifted his hair to reveal a young handsome face no more than twenty-five years old.
His eyes were remarkably bright. He stared at the man who had shot him. Slowly, he reached back and pulled the arrow out.
Blood splattered. There came horrified crying from the surrounding carriages. A nobleman huddled up in his vehicle, held his head and wailed, “Blood! There’s so much blood…Boohoohoo I’m terrified of blood.” Two half-undressed servant girls quickly moved forward. One held his head while the other comforted him from behind.
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After the young man had removed the arrow, he stared at the rider and slowly put the bloody arrow into his mouth.
The surrounding noblemen’s sobs and cries grew louder. A stench caused Chen Rong to turn around. The eunuch who accompanied her was trembling in fear. His pants were wet and there was a puddle on the ground.
The young singer gave the arrow a lick. After tasting the blood, he slowly removed the arrow from his mouth.
He looked at the rider and the Imperial City, and all of a sudden burst into laughter.
Blood seeped from his back wound and instantly soaked his robe.
He laughed hysterically; tears were seen in his eyes.
“I can only blame Cao Ah Man!” cried the laughing man. “If it weren’t for his war against the Wu-Shu alliance that depleted the Central Plains of our fervor. If it weren’t for his lack of virtue and competence which resulted in his having no talented descendant who could defend the Wei empire. Would this filthy world exist today? Would these halfwits be here? Would the stupid and incompetent Sima family rule the empire and lose our land? Hahaha!”
If there had been subtlety in his song, every word coming out of his mouth now was directed straight at the government.
The rider was red with anger. He tightened his grip to bring his mount to a rear and aimed his bow again.
The young man’s laugh grew louder at this sight. His hair flew in the wind, his tall body staggering, like a jade mountain on the verge of collapse.
He scornfully turned to the knight and declared, “I, Shuzi, am Zhangsu of the Huan House. You are not worthy to take my life!”
Amid the arrogant and disdainful laughter, the young man’s right hand reversed and like lightning, thrust the arrow into his own chest.
The bloody arrow stabbed his flesh with a ripping sound. At the same time, the arrow in the rider’s hand had left his bow and shot into the man’s shoulder. He was still laughing, but he was vomiting blood every time he opened his mouth.
Chen Rong wasn’t sure how much time had passed before his laughter eventually ceased. His tall body slowly slumped on the ground and did not move again.
Blood pooled where he fell.
Looking to the spot where the young man fell, Chen Rong slowly stood up from the carriage and bowed to him. She lowered her head and closed her eyes, solemnly whispering: “I know you are a Han hero.”
Outside were screams, cries and commands. “Go, quickly!”
“What are you still doing here? Come along.”
“Boohoohoo, I want my mother.”
“That’s really disgusting, the ground is dirtied with that much blood.”
Amid the clamor, Chen Rong heard a murky voice: “Did they really kill a nobleman on the street? I thought public execution wasn’t allowed? Alas, it’s becoming more and more maddening.”
In the midst of this commotion, Chen Rong’s carriage started to move again.
It soon drove through the palace gate and went inside.
As the carriage moved farther and farther away, it gradually left the noises and bloodshed behind. It drove through the spacious bluestone path before entering a shaded lane.
Here, more maids and eunuchs were seen going about. These palace ladies were outfitted in colorful and decorative garments, albeit very thin for spring weather. Chen Rong could even see their undergarments’ color and texture underneath the sheer fabric.
She smelled their strong perfume and looked at the overflowing spring scene.
The carriage was still moving forward.
Through a verdant peach woods yet to bloom, a sharp voice asked from the pavilion on the right: “Which family does this young lady belong to?”
This question was of course directed at Chen Rong.
Since the eunuch leading the way for Chen Rong had wet his pants, once they entered the palace, he handed Chen Rong to a younger eunuch and left with the help of his fellow eunuchs.
The young eunuch immediately shuddered at the sharp voice. He gave a bow and prepared to reply.
Without waiting for him to speak, the sharp voice curtly ordered, “Bring the carriage over.”
As soon as the order was given, the driver wordlessly drove to the pavilion.
Half a dozen eunuchs and maidservants attended the structure, which currently housed a pasty fat man in his thirties.
At this moment, he was clutching the arms of the eunuchs on either side of him, his face glowing with perspiration.
There was something moving between his legs and underneath his wide robe. She could make out the slim figure of a woman. Faintly, she could also see that her head was bobbing up and down.
Chen Rong’s face immediately grew red. She pressed her lips and quickly averted her eyes.
Meanwhile, the man’s legs gradually stretched. He suddenly pulled the woman off of him, lifted his hips and stuffed that thing into her mouth.
Chen Rong pressed her lips together. The song of the young man who was killed still rang in her ears. She, too, had an impulse to sing and scream… it was an impulse resulting from hopelessness and despair.
As the eunuch was struggling for a reply, the fat man tiredly gave a wave. “Wang Hong’s beauty? No, no, I don’t want to see her right now.”
With a wave of his hand, Chen Rong’s carriage made a turn and continued to where the emperor was.
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