Chapter 167: By My Side
Chen Rong looked down. After some time she smiled and said, “Let’s not talk about this anymore. Didn’t you want to go for a drive?”
Sun Yan scowled. “You’re changing the subject again.” He poked his head outside and yelled to the driver, “Let’s go, to the West Lane.”
Lying back, he rested his head on his hands and said, “Have you been to the West Lane? It’s very scenic, with bridges and running water everywhere you go. At night the courtesans sing and play music on a painted barge on the lake. It’s quite a sight.”
His voice gradually lowered as he spoke.
Chen Rong cast him a glance, understood and sighed. “Don’t think too much. Now that you found out about your uncle, go home and let them know.”
Sun Yan wrinkled his brows in thought. He then made a turn and sat up to say: “All right, let’s go home then.”
The carriage turned around.
Sun Yan sent Chen Rong back to the temple before driving away. After watching him leave, Chen Rong also turned to go.
Standing on the hillside with the gate behind her and thick woods ahead, she hummed a song and began her walk.
After several steps, she paused and stopped her humming to see a white figure.
This person unhurriedly approached her. When he reached her, he looked down and breathed hotly on her forehead and nose.
“You’re here,” Chen Rong remarked. After receiving no response, she smiled and asked, “How long have you been here?”
She raised her head as she spoke, now seeing his ruddy face. He was quietly looking at her with soft but hazy eyes. Startled, Chen Rong couldn’t help but reach out towards his face.
“You’re feverish! Are you sick?” she cried in alarm.
The man in front of her was still smiling. She held him up and scolded, “Why did you come here when you’re sick? Did you ask the doctor to check on you?”
He looked up at her in a daze. The man who had always been strong and composed seemed to have abandoned all facades and become a vulnerable child. The daze in his eyes and his temporary frailty tugged at her heartstrings.
“What happened?” she asked.
The man bowed his head.
He rested on her shoulder and feebly replied, “Nothing.”
She reached for his forehead again. It was still burning, which worried her, so she tried to feel his chest.
At this time, the man leaning on her shoulder quietly said, “Go to the boat.”
He was apparently out of strength, for most of his body weighed on her. “Why don’t we go back to the temple?” she quietly asked.
“No.” He took her wrist, his palm searing her. “I like having just you and me.”
I like having just you and me.
For some reason, this line soothed her heart.
She couldn’t help but to agree and help him walk down the hill. Luckily she had trained in martial arts and was physically capable of helping a grown man like this. Despite laboring for breath, she could manage for a few hundred steps.
After she brought him to the lake and helped him steady himself, Chen Rong moved a hidden table over and then guided him to sit in a place away from the wind.
As soon as he sat down, he gave a light tug and pulled her to the ground. She hadn’t sat up by the time he lay down on her lap.
He closed his eyes.
Chen Rong touched his forehead and said, “You’re feverish, we have to call the doctor.”
“Don’t,” he tugged his lips saying, “typhoid fever recently appeared in Su.” As Chen Rong trembled, he rasped, “I just arrived from there. News came from the palace this morning that the crown prince is sick.”
He drew his lips into a line and opened his eyes. Looking at a worried Chen Rong, his lips slightly upturned to say: “You know how proud your Qilang is, how can I let those scoundrels get what they want? I came to you as soon as I knew I was unwell. It would be good if it’s not typhoid fever, but if it is, I’m glad to be here with you.”
Typhoid fever had been a terminal illness from the days of the Han Dynasty. Nine houses out of ten were abandoned during its pandemic. Although the medical sage Zhang Zhongjing had written a treatise on typhoid fever, it was regarded as a treasure by some and hidden away. Due to the Hu’s invasion after the end of the Han Dynasty, no one now knew where it was.
Without the book, people were terrified of typhoid fever. Because of its contagiousness, communities had no choice but to abandon their patients. Even if they didn’t give up on an heir like Wang Hong, it would be necessary to guard him in secret in order to prevent infecting others.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Chen Rong’s mouth quivered. “It may not be that illness at all.”
“Possibly…,” Wang Hong quietly said. “I never had the best of health. Before the age of ten my life had been threatened twice.” When he spoke, his long eyelashes cast a crescent shadow under his eyes. Coupled with his flushed face, they made him remarkably beautiful and fragile.
Chen Rong unconsciously held him closer.
Wang Hong smiled. Speaking seemed to tire him, and he closed his eyes again. Only after some time did he continue: “When I was little, someone once said I’m not meant to live long. These words are no secret to others. I’ve scarcely offended a few people before I caught this epidemic-like illness. I fear if I don’t die from typhoid fever, I will still die in the hands of villains.”
Chen Rong put her face to his, softly asking: “What can I do?”
“I feel hot. I would like a cold compress.”
Chen Rong quickly picked up a white gown she kept in case she needed to change. Its fabric was fairly tough. She kept pulling with her hands until blue veins popped on her forehead, but the cloth showed no sign of tear.
She bent her head and used her teeth to rip it apart. When a ripping sounded, an exuberant and satisfied smile appeared on her flushed face.
After tearing several strips, she turned and ran to the lake, not noticing that Wang Hong had been tilting his head to quietly watch her.
She applied a damp cloth to his forehead, thought about it and wrapped his hands and feet as well.
By the time she finished her ministrations, she was profusely sweating. She looked up at Wang Hong to see that he was dazedly watching her. She gave him a big smile and happily told him, “There’s nothing to fear, you’ll get well again.”
Her smile was unusually radiant, for only she knew that this man had really had an ill-fated life. He had died young in Mo’yang last time. His present life was borrowed just like hers, and no one knew when Heaven would remember to take it back.
Wang Hong quietly watched her, feebly asking: “Ah Rong.”
He looked at her and then dropped his gaze, letting long lashes block the complicated looks in his eyes. “I thought you hate me? Why are you scared?”
Chen Rong paused. She looked at him and slowly shook her head. “I do hate you, but I don’t want you to get sick, I don’t want you to be in pain, or I do I want you to die.”
She bowed her head and placed her face on his, softly saying against his dry lips: “I just want you to live well.”
Wang Hong smiled. His gaze turned to the sky. “Is that so. You’re much kinder than me, Ah Rong.” His lips upturned into a smile. “Two hours ago I discovered something was wrong with me. The more I observed the symptoms the more it appeared to be that terrible typhoid disease. Do you know what I thought then, Ah Rong?”
He turned to look at her. “My first thought was that nobody must know about it, be it typhoid fever or not. Then I thought of you. See Ah Rong? I clearly have a terrible contagious disease but I still thought of you first, wanting to take you to the netherworld with me.”
His voice was very low and hoarse when he next asked her: “Ah Rong, am I not a very bad person?”
Chen Rong smiled and shook her head. She reached out to feel his forehead again, scolding, “Shush, you’re not going to die.”
Wang Hong didn’t listen. He childishly stared at her, sulked and asked, “You still haven’t answered me, am I very bad?”
She looked down at him and couldn’t help but bite the tip of his nose.
She held him in her arms and, while turning the compress, lightly said, “I don’t know.” By the time she changed the compress she added, “I wouldn’t mind going to the netherworld with you if I contracted the same illness.” She smiled at him. “Not only won’t I mind it, I think I’ll rather like it… Dying with my lover is such a wonderful thing that I dare not even pray for it.”
As soon as she finished, the man pulled himself up, held her chin and kissed her.
Only until his fiery tongue pushed into her mouth and sought her tongue did Chen Rong react. “You’re still sick,” she protested.
Her vague sentence was, however, completely swallowed into his mouth.
He cupped her face to urgently and searingly kiss her. She briefly tried to avoid his fervor before giving in.
The kiss left both of them breathless. Lying on his body, Chen Rong felt his skin and joyfully said, “Qilang, you sweated.”
Market rumors had it that if the patient could sweat and avoid the cold, then it was possible to recover.
“Mmm,” Wang Hong faintly hummed. Chen Rong sat up from his chest to look around, happily saying: “Luckily this mountain ridge is closed off so cold wind does not enter.”
She bent down and touched his back. “You’re really sweating!” she cried to feel the dampness on his skin.
At this time, the man underneath her softly asked, “Ah Rong, can you lie down on me again?”
Chen Rong stilled. Her lips parted with a refusal readied, but in the end she docilely lay on top of him.
With their warm bodies on each other, she could perceive his hardened tip against her lower abdomen.
Although she had experienced it once, she still felt somewhat flustered. She hid her face in his neck and mumbled: “I’m too heavy that I’ll crush you. Should I get up?”
The person beneath didn’t answer.
“Can you breathe?” she added after a wait.
Still no response.
Chen Rong looked up at him.
He was looking at her with eyes that seemed bewitching because of their redness. He looked to be so absorbed that Chen Rong couldn’t help herself from laughing: “Why are you looking at me like this?”
Wang Hong extended his right hand and gently stroked the small of her back.
His left hand ran from her chin to her eyebrows.
Caressing her, he faintly said, “I feel a little strained,” while lifting his hips as he did.
Startled, Chen Rong’s blush spread to her neck. She clucked at him and paid no further attention to him.
Wang Hong laughed. “Are you embarrassed?”
Chen Rong did not answer him.
He looked up and smiled into her lips: “Don’t be.”
Blushing, she propped herself up to roll off of him. Wang Hong locked her in his arms, buried his face in her neck and whispered, “Don’t move.” While Chen Rong was still having palpitations, he pleaded, “I’m cold, Ah Rong, don’t move.”
Perhaps he wasn’t pleading. But his voice was strengthless and soft, and he sounded breakable to Chen Rong.
She hugged him and murmured, “Aye, I won’t move.”
At this time, his lips mumbled against her mouth: “I’m thirsty.” As he said this his tongue sought for her sweetness. Chen Rong was both amused and vexed. “What kind of an excuse is this?” she protested.
He clung to her lips, his hand running through her sash. Chen Rong hurriedly cried, “No, you’re unwell!”
Her words were followed only by moans.
Wang Hong stopped nonetheless. He held her waist and delicately traced her lips and tongue. In the midst of their entwined breaths, Chen Rong saw beads of sweat develop on his temples.
She quickly dabbed his forehead and placed her lips on it.
“Your fever receded!” she joyfully cried.
She held his face and beamed. “Qilang, if you don’t believe me then feel it yourself. Really, you’re not burning anymore.”
Before Wang Hong could respond, scattered footfalls were heard.
Chen Rong stilled and perked her ears.
The footsteps belonged to five individuals. As Chen Rong widened her eyes, Wang Hong covered his hand over her mouth.
Of course she wasn’t going to make a sound. She glanced at him and motioned him to let go, then listened carefully.
Old Shang’s pleasant voice soon sounded: “It seems my mistress, the priestess, isn’t here.” Next to him, Yinggu chimed in: “Aye, young master, as you can see, there is no one here.” After a pause, she quizzically asked, “You seem to be in a hurry. Is it very important? If it is, we can call everyone from the temple to come out and look for her.”
“No need,” replied a young voice. “We just thought we’d take a quick look. Let’s go.”
At these words, the group turned and left.
Only until their footsteps could no longer be heard did Chen Rong quietly sigh in relief and look to Wang Hong.
His expression was grave. “They came all this way to look for me?” he frowned. “Ah yes, it’s those clothes. They touched those outfits. No wonder. I’ve only visited Su once, how could I have gotten sick so suddenly? It was those clothes.”
Seeing him staring at the sky and knitting his brow in contemplation, Chen Rong was afraid to move and kept still on his body.
Wang Hong hoarsely laughed. “They dared to come all the way here? They are rather confident about my illness.”
His voice was deep and chilly.
Chen Rong comforted his hand. Now wasn’t the time for her to express her opinion so she did not speak.
At this time, Wang Hong slightly shifted.
Understanding his meaning, Chen Rong turned over.
Wang Hong sat up. He placed Chen Rong in his arms and then rested his chin on her hair. He stared ahead for a length before saying: “If they could touch my clothes, then the perpetrator is someone next to me.” He drew his lips into a line. “Perhaps someone who knew about the grudge between Murong Ke and me had also exposed my whereabouts in Mo’yang.”
He tightened his hug around her at this thought.
Chen Rong enveloped him in her warmth when she felt him shaking.
He did not speak again for a length of time.
She kept still and maintained their hug, for she felt that the air was cold.
At this time, his light chuckle sounded above her: “Look darling, I’ve traveled all over the world and everyone claims they admire me and love me… but when I’m really unwell, the only one I can lean on is you.”
Amid their heartbeats, he lifted Chen Rong’s chin and tenderly and sincerely looked at her to say: “Ah Rong, I did not mean to treat you in contempt or did I mean to be cruel when I asked you to be my honored concubine that day. The truth is… you can only be my honored concubine.”
Ignoring Chen Rong’s pressed lips and colorless face, he held her chin and so very gently said, “Silly child, you make everything out to be so simple. Do you think it’s easy to be Wang Hong’s wife? Not only will you have to deal with the servants, but also the sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles in my sprawling clan, the management of my assets, it is all very cumbersome… Most importantly, the head of our clan is intent on promoting me. The wife of the future leader of the Wang House in Lang’ya cannot be without her own powerful family. If we encounter something similar to today, you won’t be able to leverage your family’s influence to help me. If we get into troublesome contention, you’ll have no way of enlisting help. As my wife, you’ll have to frequent the palace and socialize with the imperial consorts. Without a strong clan behind you, they will taunt you as a way to deride the Wang House of Lang’ya.”
He looked at her with eyes that were soft and clear. “I don’t care about these things, but the head of clan does, as do the clan elders.” He bowed his head and pressed his lips to hers. “Ah Rong,” he murmured, “I dare say that as long as I have the thought of marrying you today, tomorrow you’ll only be a corpse.”
He looked up and held her hand to his chest, softly pleading: “Ah Rong, an honored concubine is only below the wife… as long as I don’t die, I will do everything in my power to protect and love you, isn’t that good enough?”
His eyes were so clear and gentle.
She could see her reflection in them.
Chen Rong smiled, shaking her head. “Qilang, don’t you think I know all of this? That day when you said I can be your honored concubine, the reason I resented you was because…” She didn’t finish her sentence, only shaking her head.
She turned her gaze outside when she next said, “Qilang, I never thought I could marry you. Or have I ever wished to be your wife.”
She looked back, smiled and hoarsely told him, “What I wanted is to stay away from you. I knew loving you is beyond my reach.”
Wang Hong dropped his gaze in reply. “But I don’t want you to stay away from me. Ah Rong, I want you to be by my side, to have children with me, to grow old together.”
Grow old together?
Chen Rong’s eyes reddened.
She blankly stared outside. At long last, she looked up at him and slowly but firmly said, “It’s already good enough as it is, Qilang.”
She looked at him and said with a smile, “I’m your mistress, aren’t I? You can come to me whenever you want, while also getting married and still living the life you have always lived.”
She caressed his dry lips. “We can be together when we want to, and separate when we don’t.”
She said everything so lightly and prettily.
Wang Hong reached out to hold her wrist.
His eyes bore into her. Slowly, he smiled a faint smile and said in a paralyzed voice: “You don’t have to lie to me, Ah Rong. To be my mistress is to say that you don’t even care if our children would have legitimacy. Since you are so strong-willed, would you tolerate my union with other women? I fear when the day comes, you’ll have quietly left.”
He closed his eyes and fell back onto the seat. “Ah Rong, how hardened your heart is.”
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