“Everything you ever want, eh?” the other man laughed. “I was really unfair, then.”
He bowed to Wang Hong from his boat, which had turned the other way.
Wang Hong smiled without saying another word. The other man did not mind that Wang Hong hadn’t asked for his name. He merely laughed and drifted farther away.
At this time, the ships reached a fork in the river where they kept to the right.
Chen Rong sat by Wang Hong and watched the white clouds in the sky with him.
A warm arm caught her thin waist.
She did not push him away and even snuggled closer.
His playful voice sounded above her head: “Why are you getting close to me?”
Chen Rong looked at the clouds in the sky and carelessly replied, “Just because.”
He laughed to hear her say this.
Chen Rong gave him the side-eye and, with a hidden knife in her smile, said, “Did you forget, Qilang? I can keep pretty boys according to His Majesty’s order.”
As gentle as the wind, her words sounded as if they had inadvertently floated out.
In the meanwhile, the smile on Wang Hong’s face had stiffened and coughs broke out all around them. When Wang Hong and Chen Rong looked over, the men who cleared their throats all bowed their heads in avoidance, but their coughing only grew louder and louder.
Chen Rong squinted her eyes in enjoyment of Wang Hong’s stiff smile. “Don’t be upset Qilang, I bet there are many in Jiankang who think the same.” She grinned. “There’s no point in being upset.”
His Majesty allowed her to keep pretty boys, but she was only ever seen with this one. Furthermore, they were still together this late at night… wasn’t this exactly what the emperor had in mind?
Wang Hong looked at the gleeful Chen Rong and harrumphed. He decided to ignore her gloating face, turning to stare at the horizon instead.
Chen Rong relished his fleeing from the fight. She giggled and snuggled closer to him, hugging his arm to murmur: “I’m your mistress and you’re my lover. Qilang, are you and I thus considered adulterers in the eyes of others?”
Her laughter was soft and her voice was gentle. Thus the word ‘adulterers’ did not sound vulgar, but rather coquettish.
Wang Hong pressed his lips in exasperation and continued to ignore Chen Rong.
She laughed even more pleasantly at this sight.
It was the first time she was able to render him speechless.
Amid Chen Rong’s peals of laughter, Wang Hong coldly said, “Darling, too much happiness will lead to sorrow.”
Chen Rong’s laughter rang more resonant.
About half an hour later, the ships made a turn and went to the riverbank.
Chen Rong gazed at the moonlit road where clamoring people and neighing horses were seen. With a sigh, she said, “We’ve really come back.”
While she was talking to herself, the white robed man had gone ahead, prompting her to quickly run after him.
There were some twenty to thirty horse-drawn carriages and countless mule wagons. Chen Rong looked at the endless cavalcade and asked, “Are these used to transport grains?”
She looked at Wang Hong, her eyes gleaming: “There is a temporary shortage of food at the moment. Nan’yang had just weathered a calamity, so its people are sure to be famished. Transporting grains to Nan’yang at this time will yield a ten-fold profit!” At this juncture, she was rather regretful. Had she known sooner that Wang Hong intended to go to Nan’yang, she would have prepared a dozen wagons to take along.
While Wang Hong was furrowing his brow, an applause sounded, ushering in a scholar in his late twenties. He regarded Chen Rong and praised, “A ten-fold profit, what a thing to say!”
Having said this, he turned to Wang Hong and asked, “My lord, she is a talented businesswoman. Won’t you let me have her?”
Despite dressing like a noblewoman, Chen Rong’s attractive face made her look as if she was Wang Hong’s concubine. And no matter how favored a concubine was, she was still nothing more than just that. It was entirely possible for aristocrats to freely play with her in the presence of her master.
Even though this scholar wasn’t of the highest rank, he came with some status and hence said what he said with a sense of entitlement.
This time, however, the stagnant atmosphere was palpable to him.
The scholar looked up at the crowd, at which time the smile on his face began to freeze.
In the silence, Wang Hong lazily opened his mouth: “Her, you say?” His lips upturned to unhurriedly continue: “You can’t afford her.” After a pause, he issued the next line word by word: “No one can, for she is mine.”
Having said this, Wang Hong strode to the carriages in the front.
As soon as he left, everyone quickly followed.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
A Wang servant stalled behind. After Wang Hong had walked away, he went to the scholar and sympathetically said, “Yang Zixiu, I can’t help you this time.”
Yang Zixiu was dismayed. Cold sweat perspired on his forehead as he shakily asked, “Even a royal princess would not force someone to a dead end because of one single sentence, right?”
The Wang servant shook his head. “Every dragon has an inverted scale (1).” He told Yang Zixiu with a sigh: “Go back, and don’t show up in Jiankang from now on.”
(1) 逆鳞 – Legend has it that a dragon has an inverted scale on its neck and will kill anyone who touches it. This term is used to mean someone’s touchy spot that you should not incite.
He then flapped his sleeves and hurried after Wang Hong.
Yang Zixiu slipped to the ground. At this moment his face was drained of color and drenched in cold sweat. He stared after Chen Rong and numbly muttered, “Is she really his inverted scale? If he treasures her so much, then why doesn’t he hide her at home?! Right, right, he must be using me as a warning to others. I just happen to have the worst of lucks.”
Some decades ago, a legitimate son of the Wang House of Lang’ya had stripped down in public in a drunken stupor and harassed his friend’s wife… everyone merely pulled him away and had a good laugh.
Over the centuries, noblemen and scholars alike could visit someone else’s home, see a beautiful woman, and pull her to a quiet place to force himself on her. These kinds of things were as ordinary as they could be.
A slip of mouth had implicated his clan and gotten him declassed by Wang Hong. He could only lament his disastrous luck. Wang Hong wanted to protect everything belonging to this woman, be it her body or her dignity. He was reminding the aristocrats that she was his reverse scale. And with just one sentence, he became the sacrificial lamb.
Chen Rong didn’t know what was happening behind her. She stepped onto Wang Hong’s carriage, properly sat next to him, and peeked outside to watch the streets.
At this time, Wang Hong’s voice sounded behind her: “Ah yes, Ah Rong is familiar with business dealings. When we were in Ping, you dispersed most of your family’s wealth. When we arrived in Nan’yang, you purchased properties. Then in Jiankang you still know how to manage your spending.”
“You’re full of secrets, Ah Rong,” he thoughtfully added.
Chen Rong smiled but did not answer him.
Wang Hong leaned against her and softly said, “Let’s take a nap.”
She gave him a reply and lowered the curtain.
Because they weren’t worried about encountering the Hu this time, they took the nearest route to Nan’yang and, after only twenty days, had reached the vicinity outside the city.
Looking at the city fortress that was gradually coming into sight, Wang Hong leaned back and called, “Ah Rong.”
When Chen Rong looked back, he said to her, “You can start thinking about how to get even.”
Chen Rong quizzically looked at him. “What do you mean?” she asked.
Wang Hong smiled and softly sang, “The rise and fall in this world happen for a reason. Good fortunes and calamities are impermanent.”
Still puzzled, Chen Rong grunted when she didn’t receive an answer and turned away.
She stared at the yellow dust on either side of the road and the soaring city at the far end of sight. Everything that happened last year seemed to be floating before her eyes.
All of a sudden, she turned to look at Wang Hong and asked, “Why did Murong Ke attack you when you were in Mo’yang? Don’t you find it strange that you had only gone there for a few days, yet he got the news so quickly that he was able to come and lay siege to the city?”
Wang Hong glanced at her with a faint smile. “I was also surrounded in Nan’yang… why do you only mention Mo’yang?”
Why? Because you had died there in your previous life.
While Chen Rong dithered, not knowing what to say, Wang Hong gazed outside and said, “I reckon I’ll get the answer to this question here.”
Then one of his purposes for going to Nan’yang was to investigate this matter?
While Chen Rong pondered it through, Wang Hong pressed her hand and quietly looked at her. “You’re quite smart, Ah Rong.”
Chen Rong only smiled.
The cavalcade was nearing closer.
In time, Nanyang’s scarred fortress wall appeared in front of them.
Chen Rong stared at it and then averted her eyes to the crowd at the gate.
These people cheered when the cavalcade got closer.
After the dust settled, each of their faces became clearer to her.
A thin and elegant scholar was walking in the forefront. Next to him stood a young man of about twenty who had a rectangular face, balanced facial features, dark complexion, large spirited eyes, and a straight posture. Wasn’t this Zhang Xiang?
She did not expect him to be promoted so quickly in the six months since they last met. He was now even qualified to attend this event and stand in front of other powerful people.
The cheers were growing louder and louder.
Gradually, cheers calling “Qilang, Qilang – ” broke through the clouds.
The carriages slowed down.
Two servants came forth. They raised the curtain on Wang Hong’s carriage to let his and Chen Rong’s faces appear before the crowd.
Deafening screams erupted.
The thin scholar and Zhang Xiang went up to greet them: “Knowing that Qilang is coming, His Highness has told me to wait here for you.”
After according ceremony, the scholar pleasantly said to Wang Hong, “The food supply you bring is saving Nan’yang in our time of need.”
His gaze then turned to Chen Rong as he asked, “Is this young lady the world-famous Grand Chamberlain?”
Before the carriages entered the city, an outpost had reported to him hence this person knew about Chen Rong’s new identity.
After the greetings, he deeply bowed to her and pleasantly said, “Pardon me, pardon me.” His according her ceremony in front of Wang Hong essentially made her into the single most important person he had ever met.
Such etiquette was rare. Chen Rong was bewildered at first. But soon enough she sneered and thought: Right, he works for the Prince of Nan’yang… The Prince of Nan’yang who lost support from his noblemen and devastated by the Hu cannot avoid kissing up to a woman who is favored by His Majesty.
She finally understood why Wang Hong said she could get even this time.
Zhang Xiang and the others startlingly looked at Chen Rong upon hearing the scholar’s question.
Zhang Xiang’s eyes were as clear as they had been in the past. As he looked on, he suddenly remembered something.
He wasn’t the only one to have remembered Chen Rong. A dozen people whispered in the back: “The Grand Chamberlain looks very familiar.”
“I’ve met her before. She’s a concubine’s daughter from a subsidiary branch of the Chen House. Wasn’t she the one leading the way out when Nan’yang was under siege last time? It must be since then that His Majesty thinks highly of her.”
“So it’s really her!”
“Life is so unpredictable. Just in the blink of an eye, this lowly girl can now sit in the same carriage with Lang’ya Wang Qi.”
Chen Rong lightly smiled amid the surprised and envious whispering. She briefly glanced at the scholar and then withdrew her gaze.
The scholar stalled two paces to glance at Zhang Xiang, telling him: “This woman doesn’t like me, you go and talk to her.”
Zhang Xiang gave Chen Rong a complicated look, taking a while to reply: “Aye.”
He thought to himself: The Grand Chamberlain must have liked me. She even deliberately smiled at me when we last met at the Nan’yang Prince Estate.
As a man, he instinctively believed that her smile wasn’t an ordinary one.
His train of thoughts caused him to fall behind, and he hurried to catch up.
The carriages entered the city at this time. The scholar walked next to them and still wouldn’t stop rambling: “His Highness wanted to come personally. Unfortunately he has come down with a cold. I beg your pardon if there are any shortcomings in our welcoming you.”
He looked at Chen Rong and flashed another smile: “I’ve long heard of the Grand Chamberlain’s fame. You are just as they say. Do enjoy yourself on this visit to Nan’yang.”
Throughout his endless introduction, Chen Rong was momentarily lost in a daze as she looked ahead at the familiar streets and flitting throngs.