Mei Gongqing -
Chapter 2: The Knave
Chapter 2: The Knave
A cold and clear sky hung high beyond the silk screens. A few stars sparsely dotted its vastness, looking exceedingly lonely.
Chen Rong looked away from the bronze mirror and turned her gaze to the night sky. She watched it unblinkingly for a time before leaning back and closing her eyes as she quietly waited for time to pass.
For the past several days, she would sit until dawn each time she awakened from her nightmarish past. It wasn’t because she was reminiscing nor was it because her hatred was too strong. Rather, she simply liked to sit there in quietude to watch the sky and to relish in the wonder of being reborn again.
Slowly, a mist emerged across the landscape. And slowly, a voice or two rang out in the fresh morning air.
This voice began as one or two and eventually turned rowdy when more and more gradually joined in.
Footsteps sounded. The gentle and concerned voice of the middle-aged woman from last night came to her: “Ah Rong, are you awake?”
“I am,” Rong Chen replied, rising from bed.
The woman swiftly ordered: “Go in and help Ah Rong with her morning wash.” 𝘪𝗻n𝑟e𝑎𝒅. 𝘤𝒐ｍ
The door made a squeak and in came a maid holding a basin. The older woman went behind Chen Rong to help her comb her hair.
This woman had a round face and a pair of small eyes. Her smiling features showed kindness. She carefully regarded Chen Rong before saying: “The servants have made preparations. We can set out at any time.”
Chen Rong throated a reply. Seeing her calm expression, the woman relaxed a little, continuing: “Ah Rong, this place isn’t good anymore, we must move south. Compared to other major clans, the House of Chen is still much better. At least, we have clansmen in the south.”
Chen Rong throated another reply.
Because she agreed so blithely, and her expression also did not seem to be absentminded as was two days ago, the woman rejoiced and added, “Do you understand now, Ah Rong? You won’t have nightmares tonight?”
Chen Rong nodded.
At this time, a man’s voice called to her from outside: “Ah Rong, our luggage has been prepared. When will we leave?”
Listening to this familiar voice, Chen Rong suddenly asked, “What day is today?”
Taken aback, the man then replied, “It’s the day of the ox (1).”
They are using a 60-day cycle made up of stems and branches similar to the 60-year cycle. This day is called the 辛丑xin chou day, xin being the stem and chou (ox) being the branch.
The day of the ox? Chen Rong stood up. The day of the ox! That’s right, on midnight three days later, she would be confronting her first calamity.
While the older woman was caught in bewilderment, she slowly sat down. “Are you Uncle Wu?”
The middle-aged man standing outside grew more surprised. He gave a loud reply: “Yes, I’m Uncle Wu. Ah Rong, what’s wrong?” At his last word, he went straight toward the door and pushed it open. A thin and pale face with a few sparse whiskers on the chin appeared before Chen Rong’s eyes.
Chen Rong was washing her mouth at this time. It was rather ill-mannered for a man as old as he to open her door.
She looked up at the man. Living for the second time, she could only now see the wickedness hidden behind his seemingly gentle and benevolent face.
The man in front of her was a scholar her father had saved while he was traveling. All along, her father had treated him as a friend. He respectfully kept him at the estate and even asked her and all the servants to call him ‘uncle’.
But it was this very man who colluded with thieves. The night before they left for the south, the house was broken into and robbed of all its wealth.
If her father hadn’t secretly hid some gold in his study, she wouldn’t have been able to go to the south. She would long have begged on the street!
Chen Rong stared at Uncle Wu and unhurriedly stated, “We’ll depart this afternoon!”
“What? Departing this afternoon? Ah Rong, why not wait a few more days?”
Chen Rong quietly sneered before hardening her face. “I said we’re leaving this afternoon,” she repeated loudly.
She was nevertheless a young girl who had yet to establish her influence. The man looked to the older woman behind her and demanded: “Nurse Ping, have you said something to Ah Rong? Traveling south is a serious matter, how can we just leave on a whim?” At this, he remembered something and raised his voice to say: “Besides, Ah Rong has been having nightmares for many nights. Since she is feeling unwell, why not rest for two more days?”
The kind looking woman quickly stepped forward and faced Chen Rong while saying: “Miss, there is validity in Uncle Wu’s words...” Chen Rong interrupted her, shouting, “I said we’re leaving this afternoon!”
Uncle Wu wanted to oppose her order, but when he met her fathomless dark eyes, for some reason he shuddered and swallowed back the words he had wanted to blurt out.
“Close the door,” Chen Rong ordered after withdrawing her gaze.
For a second, Uncle Wu was slightly taken aback. At length, he realized she was talking to him. He closed the door in bewilderment, his heart feeling ill at ease: What happened to Ah Rong? How did she change so much?
As soon as Uncle Wu left, Chen Rong went to the study that housed thick bamboo slips and silk manuscripts. In the past, after Uncle Wu had conspired with thieves to rob their family wealth, she had recalled her father’s reminder in desperation: If anything unexpected were to happen, go to the study. After a good cry in the study, she accidentally discovered numerous gold leaves in these bamboo and silk books. She had survived thanks to these gold leaves.
Loud clanging clashed outside. It was the servants busy at packing. At the moment, the entire courtyard was almost ready; soon they would be moving to the study.
These noisy voices, these rough clamoring, they were all so pleasant to the ears. How did she not realize this before?
Chen Rong slowly sat down and opened a roll of silk manuscript, her ears raptly listening to the bustling sounds.
She wasn’t sure how much time had passed when a loud call came to her from outside the door: “Ah Rong, are you in the study? Elder Sun is here.”
It was Uncle Wu’s voice.
This translation belongs to hamster428.
Chen Rong’s face sank: He didn’t know when to give up. He even invited Elder Sun over!
“Nurse Ping, is Ah Rong in the study?” Uncle Wu’s shout sounded again. “He has come to visit because he heard she isn’t feeling well. Let Ah Rong know so she can come to receive her guest.”
Chen Rong rose. Before Nurse Ping could answer, she had replied with a crystal clear voice: “I’m coming.” Then she pushed open the study door.
At the gate stood an elderly man with gray beard and hair. He was Elder Sun. Before her father left, he had entrusted her welfare and education to this elderly man. In front of him, she did not have much right to speak.
Chen Rong cast a glance at Uncle Wu, who was looking quite smug before offering the other man a curtsy. “Good greetings, Elder Sun.”
Elder Sun nodded his head. He walked over to face Chen Rong and gave her an appraising look. “I heard you’re having nightmares at night. Have you seen the doctor?”
“Nay, sir.” Chen Rong shook her head.
Elder Sun frowned. Seeing this, Uncle Wu said on the side, “Sir, please persuade Ah Rong. She is saying that she wants to leave this afternoon in her condition. What distance are we talking about going south? If anything were to happen along the way, wouldn’t it be too late for regrets by then?”
Elder Sun nodded his head. He glanced over to Nurse Ping, who was standing behind Chen Rong and told her, “Nurse Ping, ask your lady to go back to her room. You’ll leave three days from now.”
Then he turned and told the servants in the vicinity: “This is not a trifling matter. Keep an eye on Ah Rong. If she is capricious and stubborn, lock her in!”
“Why haven’t you invited the doctor?”
Elder Sun gave orders one after another. When he finished, he flapped his sleeve and turned to leave.
Uncle Wu gave a glance toward Chen Rong and smirked when no one was paying attention, then left to catch up to Elder Sun.
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