Chapter 177: Replies
Only long after Murong Ke left did the zither come to a leisurely stop. Chen Rong pushed the instrument away, stood up and unhurriedly headed to her tent.
After waving the maidservants away, she lay in bed in careful thoughts.
If Murong Ke had promised not to humiliate her, then she should be safe in the coming days.
However, a lone woman imprisoned and patrolled in an army would need to think harder about her escape…
Bouts of laughter and hollers buzzed outside.
Seven days had passed in her tossing and turning.
Then came a day when the sound of hooves pounded beyond the commander’s tent.
“I have urgent news to report, my lord.”
Murong Ke stepped outside to retrieve the silk scroll from his soldier.
When they saw him wordlessly staring at the scroll, two advisers came forward and quietly asked, “Sire?”
Murong Ke placed the silk scroll in front of them: “Have a read.”
They hurried to pick it up.
“Sire, this is excellent news!” They were overjoyed after taking a glance.
Another adviser happily added, “Aye. Luck is on our side.”
The three of them were practically beaming. Murong Ke’s leading an army here was risky business to begin with. Due to Shi Hu’s deteriorating health, Ran Min’s control over Nan’yang had greatly strengthened. The Murong House of Xianbei, moreover, wasn’t very united. After a thorough debate, the Murongs finally agreed to cede the area in favor of guarding Ji City.
Murong Ke was secretly leading his light cavalry south behind his clan’s back. He was unwilling to admit his last defeat at the hands of Wang Hong and terribly needed to erase that bad taste from his mouth.
His subordinates had been none too happy with his impulsive behaviors.
There was no more need for distress. If they could come back with Moyang’s loot, even the king wouldn’t have anything to say. And the clansmen would only shower their master, the Prince of Taiyuan, with praises and congratulations.
The three advisers laughed for a while and then turned to Murong Ke, one of the merrily saying: “Your luck is boundless, sire.”
He smiled but saw that Murong Ke was shaking his head looking to be displeased.
“What makes my lord unhappy?” they asked in surprise.
“I’m not unhappy.” Murong Ke clasped his hands behind his back and started to pace around his tent. “I have known this for a long time.”
He raised his head and thought: Major cities like Nan’yang, Mo’yang, and Qi’yang are of great importance to the Jins. Anyone who wants to break into Jiankang will first need to take down these cities and cross the river, then the Jins will be without critical locations to defend.
Surely, the Jins must have thought of this even if they weren’t united. He had anticipated them to send a new mayor to station in Mo’yang and Qi’yang once the situation in Jiankang stabilized.
Things were indeed going according to his expectations.
Yet, he did not think that the Jins would act so stealthily. His men had been probing for a long time without any news… But then, not only was there a definitive message today, he also got his enemy’s exact route.
Good news had arrived too fast, too suddenly, and too precisely.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Murong Ke paced two rounds, stopped, and reached for the silk scroll.
Looking at the scroll in his hand, he shook his head and suddenly smirked. “Yes, it’s Wang Hong.”
He turned to his three advisers, saying with gravity: “This news has to have come from Wang Hong.”
The three men frowned in rumination as Murong Ke next sneered: “According to this itinerary, the new mayor will enter Mo’yang within two days. And we can’t do anything to him once he is behind the fortress walls.” The three advisers nodded. It was true — this place was now completely controlled by Ran Min. Murong Ke had no time or manpower to attack the city while also battling with Ran Min’s forces.
His only opportunity to act was on the road.
“We don’t have time. I can no longer send people to investigate the situation, but I can’t let go of this opportunity either… Wang Hong is forcing me to divide my army.”
He laughed. “This brat Wang Hong is putting in a lot of effort just for a woman.”
“Ask my captains to come here at once.”
As the messengers dispatched, an adviser frowningly came to him and worriedly asked, “Sire, if we know this is a trap by Wang Hong…”
Murong Ke waved his hand without a response.
Before long, the captains had entered the tent.
Murong Ke was still staring at the map. “Murong Yu,” he called without looking up.
“Take three thousand men to the south mountain road. Loot the Jins if you encounter them, but spare their lives.”
“Take three thousand men on the route to Yunnan. If you encounter the Jins, do your best to take their goods and force them to retreat.”
After giving two orders, Murong Ke’s hands were still pressed on his desk. He remained staring at the map, his brow knitting tighter.
At this time, an adviser walked to stand behind him and asked, “Sire, if the news is leaked by Wang Hong, then is it true or false?”
Murong Ke’s lips curved into an easy smile. “It won’t be false.”
“Why is that?”
“False news can’t fool my scouts.” Afterward, he stared at Chen Rong’s tent and smiled. “Moreover, he is reluctant to give up a woman like that.”
The latter sentence was too light for anyone to hear, but the previous sentence was weighty enough to make everyone emphatically nod his head.
Murong Ke studied the map, his slender fingers slowly tracing the ink lines. Soon, he pointed to a place and determinedly called, “Murong Xiu.”
A handsome and intelligent-looking youth came forward with a resounding answer: “Aye.”
“Take two thousand men to set up an ambush here.”
When Murong Xiu left, Murong Ke straightened his back and mumbled to himself: “Even with two thousand men left, you can’t save your woman from my hands.” There was animosity in his icy voice.
Several advisers traded glances. They weren’t sure how Wang Hong and their Prince of Taiyuan came to be enemies; all they knew was that the Prince of Taiyuan hated Wang Hong to death.
At this juncture, Murong Ke ordered, “Bring that woman here.”
Before long, Chen Rong’s figure appeared outside the tent.
Since receiving Murong Ke’s promise, she had pulled her hair up like a man, put on a male robe, and never stepped foot outside her tent. Days went by to the eventual lost interest of the Hu men.
She was still that way at this moment — wearing a male robe with her hair pulled into a meticulous top knot.
Murong Ke looked up and fixedly stared at Chen Rong for a moment. He eventually chuckled, “Is this needed? Does my promise not put you at ease?”
Chen Rong entered the tent and replied upon hearing his question: “The Prince of Taiyuan’s words are naturally priceless. Nevertheless, I don’t want to add oil to the fire.”
The soldiers were ogling her whether it was day or night, and she had chills just thinking about it.
Murong Ke curved his lips and returned to staring down at the map.
Seeing that he was ignoring her, Chen Rong quietly walked to the corner and sat down on the divan.
She bowed her head, held up a pot of liquor and poured herself a cup.
After Murong Ke had stared at the map for some time, he looked up to see a leisurely Chen Rong.
He regarded her glowing face and suddenly asked, “What would they think if the people your man sent here see you like this?”
“He won’t send anyone here,” Chen Rong answered without turning around.
“Is that so?”
“Without a doubt.”
She poured herself another cup, sipping as she said, “He’s not stupid enough to do something so useless.”
Murong Ke laughed.
He pushed the map away and strode to Chen Rong.
Seated opposite her, he pushed his vessel towards her and ordered, “Fill my cup.”
Chen Rong would fill it even without his prompt.
After taking a swig, he put his cup down and asked, “What do you think Wang Hong will do, Ah Rong?”
Chen Rong looked up at the seemingly unconcerned Murong Ke. “He won’t come to save me,” she said, shaking her head.
Murong Ke laughed. “He’s already on the move.”
As soon as he said this, Chen Rong’s head whipped up to look at him.
Perplexity was in her eyes. Her lips moved without forming words, then she lowered her head again.
“He shouldn’t have,” she said, looking at the shaking liquor in her hands.
What strange words. Murong Ke looked at her curiously.
Chen Rong raised her wine for another sip. “There are many people watching his every move… while my life does not amount to one of his hair. If he takes such risk, it will be difficult for him to prove himself from now on.” She took a pause and smiled. “I can’t escape anyway — I really don’t want him to resent me even after I’m gone.”
She spoke with calm, and when she said, ‘My life does not amount to one of his hair,’ it hadn’t been out of self-deprecation but rather a belief in the unshakable truth.
Nonetheless, such calmness was unexpected. Murong Ke stared at her for a long while before he remarked, “Woman, you’re too blind with infatuation.”
“He will never resent you.”
Once again, Chen Rong startlingly looked up.
Murong Ke swirled his cup and said to her, “This man of yours doesn’t want to debut in court. He’s not going to care how the world thinks.”
Chen Rong shook her head: “That’s impossible.”
Murong Ke did not argue with her. He stood up and replied, “Even if he did want to become a scholar-bureaucrat, he’s not the type to blame you for implicating him. That’s just the kind of person he is. He thinks of all the consequences before he does something, and won’t second guess himself, or blame himself or anyone else once he has made his choice.”
Murong Ke maintained a casual tone as he talked about Wang Hong to Chen Rong. The more he spoke, however, the more tightly his brows wrinkled.
Suddenly, he turned around and rushed to the map to take a good look. “Drats,” Murong Ke muttered.
“Men!” he barked.
A rush of footsteps arrived. “Sire.”
“Inform Murong Qian to take fifteen hundred men to catch up with Murong Xiu and set up an ambush at the Jinyuan passage.”
He had barely turned away when Murong Ke shouted: “Hold on.”
Murong Ke furrowed his brows and contemplated the map.
After staring for a while, he paced around and talked to himself: “Doesn’t this mean I’ll only have five hundred men with me? This is bad… Wang Hong does everything carefully. I need to think more about this.”
After thinking for some time, he waved his hand. “You’re dismissed.”
“Aye.” The soldier went away with his order.
This thought of his took an entire day.
Another night descended in the blink of an eye.
Chen Rong was forced to stay in Murong Ke’s tent, unable to go outside. Not that she dared to. The only thing she could do was to play with Murong Ke’s zither.
Gazing at the burning flame outside, Chen Rong played ‘The Song of Wind’ again and again. It was a tranquil song that could bring peace to its listeners. Chen Rong was playing it too resplendently, however, and it was inevitable to think of the rolling landscapes in one’s hometown.
Unconsciously, more and more people listened, and more and more soldiers began to sing folk songs from home.
The sound of footsteps.
Murong Ke leaned against the tent, his eyes bright and smiling under the mask. He swirled his liquor saying: “Are you trying to make my soldiers homesick and lose their will to fight?” He seemed to be very amused. “In the past Xiang Yu was surrounded by songs of Chu, but Ah Rong you are all alone tonight. Why don’t I call the entertainers (1) here to accompany you?”
Entertainers to accompany her? Chen Rong shuddered. Hearing the word ‘entertainers’ made her think of those beastly pairs of eyes.
He’s talking about 乐伎 musicians but she’s hinging on the 伎 character which overall means entertainers and can include prostitutes
After a wry smile, Chen Rong gently pressed on the strings and looked up at him.
She tried to smile at those eyes behind the mask. “You needn’t worry.” She sighed and stood up. “I wouldn’t do something so useless.”
Murong Ke stared at her and said no more, then turned to leave.
Looking at his back, Chen Rong dropped her gaze and sat down again. The song under her fingers had changed to a cheerful and light hearted tune.
She took advices well.
Murong Ke turned to toss her a look.
Chen Rong’s music was still playing after his footsteps had gone a long way. Perhaps Wang Hong’s men were nearby; she just wanted to let him know her whereabouts.
Maybe it was useless, maybe not. Who knows?
Horse hooves broke the night’s silence. When the rider saw Murong Ke, he alighted and hurried to him. “Sire, after assigning our positions at noon today, since an hour ago, there have been no traces of Captains Murong Yu and Hu Yancheng, and no news has come back.”
Murong Ke looked up to regard the man. Soon, he rose and strode to the military camp with his captains chasing after him.
Chen Rong abruptly stopped her zither playing and left the tent without a sound. She did not go far, only standing quietly and unblinkingly staring at her own shadow as she listened to the whispers wafting from inside.