Dumbfounded, Chen Rong accepted the imperial edict and left the palace with the imperial messenger and one hundred knights in tow.
She was presently going to the Qing’yun hamlet. The emperor was so pleased with his decision that he wished he could announce it to the entire city of Jiankang. It had been at his urging that Chen Rong was to receive the hamlet at once.
She sat in the carriage that was led by warriors in the front and escorted by royal guards from behind, looking altogether the definition of impressive.
Chen Rong’s eyes, however, were still wide open.
Along the road, there were people looking at her from time to time. Those who saw this pomp would turn to her carriage and become confused when they saw her insignia.
As they watched, several young scholars stared intently at the fluttering curtain and whispered to one another, “Which princess is this?” (1)
(1) 县主 xianzhu – this is a princess title used in various dynasties for daughters of a prince, similar to the more well-known term 郡主 junzhu.
“If she is sweet-tempered, we can try to make her acquaintance.”
At this juncture, a young female general rode up and took a look at these people. “Sweet-tempered? A princess is inherently born with the best this world has to offer. What a waste of life if she has to be sweet to a stupid man.”
They hastily bowed their heads in respect to the young rider. They didn’t know who were sitting inside the carriage, but this one in front of them was a real daughter of a prince.
After she reprimanded them, she turned to look at Chen Rong’s carriage. She narrowed her eyes for a moment before frowning in surprise.
“Is it Hong Yunzi, the Grand Chamberlain?” she cried. “His Majesty is being absurd. I can’t believe a lowly woman like her can saunter her way into our circle like this.”
The princess’s cry overwhelmed everyone else’s conversation.
They looked up at Chen Rong’s carriage.
Despite the staring and pointing, contrary to Chen Rong’s expectation, no one cursed her and not very many said ugly words. She didn’t know that despite her unpleasant experience during this time, to outsiders she was friends with the emperors and Lang’ya Wang Qi. They say birds of a feather flock together. The people around her were the most powerful in Jiankang, thus in their eyes she was also extremely influential.
Her entourage took its time driving by.
The guards deliberately went very slowly at the order of His Majesty. Like a magnet, Chen Rong’s parade attracted more and more spectators.
A plump woman squeezed into the crowd to watch the scene. She tugged the sleeve of a man in front of her and asked with a smile, “Pardon me.” While the man impatiently side-eyed her, she stammered her question: “Who did they say is in the carriage?”
She vaguely heard them but she didn’t believe her own ears, so she had to ask again.
This man was a commoner. Like most other commoners, he had a natural awe for the nobility. He admiringly and reverently looked at Chen Rong’s carriage, replying: “That’s Hong Yunzi whom the emperor appointed to be the Grand Chamberlain. Tsk tsk tsk, she’s born to be noble. She’s just a woman, yet in the blink of an eye she has obtained a hamlet, farmland and even bodyguards. What grandeur.”
“Priestess Hong Yunzi?!” the plump woman cried.
Her shrill cry made some people scornfully look back at her. She quickly smiled and bowed her head for a while before the others withdrew their gazes.
The woman smacked her lips together as she stared after the carriage, her jiggling cheeks twitching.
Almost suddenly, she slapped herself in the face. “I ought to kill you, you blind fool, I ought to kill you, you stupid wench. Back when she had just arrived in Jiankang, if you hadn’t thought about those few meals and be nicer to her, this relationship wouldn’t have ended. When she finally came by, instead of mentioning the two stores, you should have chatted with her and things wouldn’t have turned out this way.”
The more she cursed herself the angrier she became. The more she muttered the more she suffered. Looking at Chen Rong’s entourage, she wished she could run over and kneel down to beg Chen Rong.
But in the end she did not dare. It was just yesterday when she told other people of Chen Rong’s interference in her marriage.
While the woman wallowed in her misery, a thin scholar ran over. He looked around for a while and squeezed his way to her when he found her. He pulled on her arm.
The woman at first jerked her arm back impatiently. When she saw that her sleeve was still pulled, she turned around.
Seeing that it was her brother, she glared and asked, “What’s got your knickers in a knot?”
The frail man looked miserable. White powder fell from his face with each movement he made. He tugged his older sister’s sleeve and cried in panic, “It’s terrible. That guy left a divorce letter and disappeared.”
“Divorce letter?” the woman screamed, jumping up and down. “What divorce letter?”
Her scream once again attracted looks from the onlookers, but she wasn’t in the mood to mind them and continued firing questions at her brother.
The scholar exclaimed, “What divorce letter? Your divorce letter!” He glared at the enraged woman, yelling: “It’s all your fault that you can’t even keep your man. It isn’t everyday that his sister comes into wealth but now you won’t even get a bowl of soup from them.”
No matter the era, no matter one’s gender, after someone gained independence and acquired land, property, and guards, he was considered a local member of the gentry. This kind of wealth was therefore better than any titles in the eyes of the commoners.
Not waiting for him finish his accusation, the woman bolted into her house like a cat that got stepped on its tail. “The nerves of that bastard!”she screamed in anger and disbelief.
The thin man staggered behind her, sarcastically shouting: “Of course he’s got nerves, he even took your son and his wench with him.”
“What?! Hurry, chase after him.”
“Chase after him? I don’t know where he went. No one saw him.”
“Nobody saw him? I’m going to make a ruckus at the temple.” Despite saying so, the woman shook at the thought of the one hundred royal guards behind Chen Rong.
The frail man hastily said, “You can’t, you’ll die!” The aristocrats had never reasoned with the commoners. They could kill someone just because they didn’t like what they saw, let alone a troublemaker.
Take him for example. If it wasn’t for that useless man, how could he have been fit to wear a scholar’s robe? Even so, his scholar robe was only good for flaunting to other commoners. As for finding jobs, he wasn’t from the gentry class. Over the years, this third brother of Mrs. Chen had been dismissive of commoner jobs, yet he couldn’t do things not belonging to the commoners, so there was nothing left to do but loaf about.
He finally got crafty. He shifted his eyes and said, “Calm down. You’re the birth mother of young Mu. As long as we find him we will get our share.”
Mrs. Chen calmed down at his words. She stopped, grabbed her knees for breath, and continuously nodded in agreement.
The carriage continued driving forward.
Inside, Chen Rong’s mind was still in turmoil. What the emperor said about allowing her to keep pretty boys was still ringing endlessly.
The emperor said it alright, but he was apparently so proud of what he said that he also made people write it into an edict…
At this time, a somewhat familiar voice floated into her ears: “It’s not possible. Why would she?!”
This voice wasn’t very loud, but it was so familiar that even among a thousand other whispers it still floated into Chen Rong’s ears. She lifted her curtain and looked in its direction.
Searching the crowd, Chen Rong quickly found the delicate woman standing in a corner. At this moment she was pale and tearful, glaring in her direction with a hateful, disbelieving and angry look.
Why hasn’t Ran Min left Jiankang even until now? Chen Rong uneasily frowned.
Standing next to Chen Wei were Chen Qi and a few others. At this moment, they were all green with envy, staring in surprise at Chen Rong’s carriage.
Chen Qi couldn’t help herself from blurting: “So proper ladies can’t compare to this ignorant and shameless minx now?”
When she said these words, several people simultaneously tugged her arms. Some even moved away from her, afraid that if someone were to condemn her, they would die by association.
Chen Qian glared at her older sister and whispered, “Are you mad? Chen Rong is now the apple of His Majesty’s and Wang Qi’s eyes. If you want to die don’t drag your family with you.”
The family Chen Qian spoke of wasn’t the Chen House in Yingchuan, but the Chen House in Nan’yang which their parents belonged to. After moving to Jiankang, they discovered that aristocrats and royalty existed in droves in this city. They, as legitimate daughters, may still be distinguished if they had belonged to the Chen House in Yingchuan. Unfortunately subsidiary branches like theirs weren’t worth mentioning. On the street, there were at least eight carriages out of ten that carried someone with a higher status than them, and they would need to accord these people a proper greeting.
More importantly, it was necessary to talk of wealth and capability to determine ranking even within the same clan. They had little wealth and even less land after they moved back to the south. Just to be able to buy some land and stores at high prices, they would have to go quite some distance from Jiankang.
Since their resources couldn’t compare to the local clan’s, and their ability was nothing more than ordinary, their lives were different now compared to when they were in their hometown.
Chen Qian stared at Chen Rong in envy. “Did you hear? His Majesty gave her a thousand acres of farmland. Tsk tsk tsk, a thousand acres! Even if she were to burn her money in frivolity she can’t spend it all in this lifetime.”
Another girl interjected, “Aye, he even allows her to keep young men. Then doesn’t he mean to let her have heirs to these fields? Why is Ah Rong so lucky?”
Chen Qi likewise clucked her tongue, muttering under her breath: “Not only does a lowly person like her have land and property, she’s also allowed by royal decree to keep young men? She’s clearly a defiled nun whom nobody wants anymore, why should she have this splendor and happiness?” She sounded greatly envious.
She turned to look at Chen Wei, who was cowering in fear, and burst into laughter: “Ah Wei, in the past even you could crush the one sitting in that carriage under your feet. But look at her now, she has the emperor and the son of the Wang House of Lang’ya. What about you? You threw away your self-respect to become a concubine. Pft — you’re scorned even as a concubine… completely useless. Listen to me Ah Wei, why didn’t you cry to your husband this time to go away with him?”
Laughter rose around them at these words. Chen Wei endured their taunting with sobs of her own.
She dried her tears as she stared after Chen Rong’s carriage in resentment. Chen Wei really didn’t understand. Ah Rong had lost her virginity; at first Wang Qi clearly hadn’t wanted her anymore and her husband had wanted her even less. She was in dire straits at the time. Hmph, she even ran to a battlefield looking for death, didn’t she?
How happy she was at the time. Is there anything better in the world than seeing one’s enemy falling to her demise?
… And yet how did things change so fast? How did she manage to seduce the emperor with merely those flirty looks? And she even made the emperor and Wang Qi unhesitatingly protect her?
What was wrong with this world? How did a vulgar woman like that climb up so smoothly? She really didn’t get it; she’d lost all faith in humanity.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Chen Rong’s carriage strolled along. By the time she reached Qing’yun hamlet it was already in the afternoon.
Chen Rong brandished the edict and entered Qingyun hamlet with her hundred guards in incomparable glory.
Qing’yun was a vacant hamlet. It once belonged to a major clan and was repossessed by the royal family after the clan fell to decline. There were thirty to forty buildings within the hamlet, every three to four forming a walled courtyard complete with a flower garden.
This hamlet was made up of beautiful wooden lofts and it was landscaped to showcase the delicate beauty of the south.
The entire hamlet wasn’t too big – accommodating about one hundred and fifty people – but ingenuity could be seen in its layout and decorations. Because it had been maintained and repaired, the complex was clean and tidy.
After arranging for the guards and seeing the messenger off, Chen Rong sent someone to call for Nurse Ping and Old Shang. She was about to take a stroll around her new home when she heard a call outside the gate: “Ah Rong.”
Chen Rong stopped and turned around to see Sun Yan’s handsome face. She lit up at the sight of him. “Come in, come in,” she called as she ran to him.
Sun Yan didn’t budge.
His face was red with anger. “What the hell is going on?”
“What do you mean?”
He glared at her and barked, “Listen to what those people are saying!”
Chen Rong quizzically turned to look.
There were several groups of idlers on the street. When they saw Chen Rong, the whispers inevitably grew. A lewd looking man shouted to her, “I admire your amorous lifestyle, priestess. It took no time before a young man had come to seek your patronage.”
Thus said, he enviously looked at Sun Yan. The one standing beside him was quick to chide: “Nonsense. Don’t judge from the lack of insignia on his carriage. His poise and demeanor are those of a nobleman.”
While they traded nonsense, Chen Rong found that wherever she looked, there were several young men who met her gaze with a flattering smile to win her attention.
Startled, she withdrew her gaze and pulled Sun Yan inside.
“Close the gate, hurry, close the gate.”
With her back to the gate, Chen Rong exhaled and began shaking in laughter behind her sleeve.
“How can you still laugh?”
Sun Yan was furious. He shot her a glare, yelling: “What’s going on? It has barely been a day since I last saw you, but the moment I get here, everyone tells me I’m your bedroom guest?”
He waved his fist in front of Chen Rong and ground out: “Are you still laughing? Are you laughing that Sun Yan, a man of honor, in a flash has turned into a boy toy you keep? Do you expect me to take this?”
Chen Rong covered her mouth behind her sleeve and looked up at Sun Yan. “Didn’t you hear from the others on your way here? His Majesty rewarded me.”
She clasped her hands, held her head high, and sauntered back and forth like those imperious princesses. “His Majesty said that I greatly please him, and he therefore bestowed me a hamlet and a thousand acres of farmland that come with it. Right, there are also a hundred guards.” She blushed and couldn’t help a giggle when she added, “His Majesty even said that I’m allowed to keep pretty boys.”
After swaying her hips for a dozen steps, she couldn’t hold back her laughter anymore. Ignoring Sun Yan’s increasingly irate face, she ran to him and grabbed his sleeve, saying: “Sun Yan, now that you’re back, this hamlet of mine won’t have to rely on the Wang House anymore. Can you arrange a few people to take care of this place? Look for tenant farmers and a steward, too, for those thousand acres of farmland.”
Seeing that Sun Yan was doing his best to ignore her, she laughed, shook his sleeve with both hands and pleaded, “Alright alright, don’t be mad. You’re still my brother, really.”
Only after hearing her admit her wrong did Sun Yan look down at Chen Rong.
His heart softened to see her smiling face. They both knew that despite his exceptional background, he was only a visitor in Jiankang with neither parents or elders to lend their support. He didn’t have a band of trusted servants and, within his clan, there were few places where he had a voice.
In Jiankang where an inch of land was worth an inch of gold, he indeed needed help if he wanted to have a firm footing. Chen Rong’s one thousand acres of fertile land was precisely that help.
Chen Rong softly told him, “Ah Yan, it’s equally important during wartime to have support from home… Can’t you stay in Jiankang?” She looked up at him with tenderness and trust. “Stay in Jiankang and do business with me. If we can accumulate wealth and gain the scholars’ recognition, it’d be a great help to General Ran, would it not?”
Chen Rong had some experience in doing business. She could, like the previous two times, transport food and medicine to war zones, and then collect the silver and gold back from the war.
This was also the second major event that would be happening in Jiankang a decade later which she could vividly remember. If she could take advantage of it, the effort wasn’t worth mentioning.
She hadn’t had any relations in the past. Even if she had had any money she wouldn’t have been able to keep it. Now that she had the emperor’s jade pendant and the help of an aristocrat like Sun Yan, the possibilities were many.
Chen Rong’s eyes twinkled more brightly the more she thought about it.
Thus, she gripped Sun Yan’s sleeves very tightly. She was only a small woman; although she hated the Hu and was angry at the court for their impasse, she nevertheless did not want to see her only friend going to the battlefield, again and again, to a place where life and death were separated by but a thin line.
Sun Yan had to know Chen Rong’s thoughts.
He couldn’t help grinning at her hopeful eyes.
“I’m glad you’re sensible enough to know I’m your brother,” he tilted his head with an emphatic nod.
Having said this, he let go of her hand and went forward. After a few steps, he replied, “Can you give me some time to think about it before I give you my answer?”
Chen Rong knew he wasn’t one to give empty promises, and thus agreed.
As they walked side by side, she told him of her conversation with the emperor in the palace today.
Afterward, she turned to look at Sun Yan and seriously told him, “When His Majesty mentioned you and General Ran, he didn’t sound very amicable. Ah Yan, there are many things you can’t rush in Jiankang.”
This was her advice to him.
Sun Yan nodded and coldly said, “I’ve never thought to offend His Majesty.”
He didn’t want to say more on this subject. He waved his sleeve and cried, “Why are we talking about these things? Bring the wine, bring the wine.”
Chen Rong glanced sideways at him and replied, “I don’t have any.”
Sun Yan was reminded that she had just moved here. Except for one hundred guards, she was the only one in the compound. Where would wine come from?
“I’ll arrange for some help around here,” he said, laughingly waving his arm and turning to go.
At this moment the gates opened to let a carriage through.
It pulled up in front of them and stopped. The curtain lifted at which time a missive was handed to Chen Rong. “This is sent to you from Qilang,” a scholar said to her.
Chen Rong unhurriedly opened the letter, which contained one single line: “At Liu’yue Pavilion by the riverside, to row with my darling, catch the breeze, watch the moon, and drink Qing’yun wine.”
Sun Yan sneaked a peek at the letter and at once burst into laughter. “That punk Wang Qi is angry. Haha, drinking Qing’yun wine? Haha, Ah Rong, this is your true bedroom guest.” He clasped his hands behind his back and continued to laugh at her misery. The more he laughed the more mirthful he became, so his laughter resonated loudly, causing the passersby to turn their heads.