“Bah-weep-Graaaaagnah wheep ni ni bong.”
--The universal greeting, ‘The Transformers’
Chapter 102 – Red ears
The Huang family went to receive the royal messenger, a young and fresh-faced eunuch who was quietly drinking some tea. When he saw Madam Li arriving, he hastened to put down his cup to salute her.
“The royal court sends its regards,” the eunuch said respectfully.
Madam Li nodded in return. “How can we serve the royal court?”
The eunuch bowed and reverently presented a scroll of yellow, tied with a red silk string. Upon seeing the document, the Huangs hastened to kneel. Satisfied at their obeisance, the eunuch unfurled the scroll and began to read:
“We have known the names of the Huangs. We appreciate the loyalty of Zheng and his valiant son Ke. Lately, we have heard of Ming, clever and resourceful in the campaign against Wei. We are pleased at his deeds, and hereby decree that he is to present himself to Court, so that we might see his talents ourselves.”
The eunuch then rolled up the decree and handed it to Madam Li. She received it passively, her face a mask. The air was still, the Huangs were still digesting the enormity of the royal summons.
“What? But I just got home!” Huang Ming complained, breaking the moment.
Madam Li sighed in exasperation and pulled on her son’s ear. “Have you taken leave of your senses?” she demanded as Huang Ming yelped in pain, while the other women looked on with smiles.
The eunuch couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight. “Seeing the situation is so, I believe the court would understand if you were only to depart in another few days. The decree did not give a timetable, after all,” he said.
The Huangs thanked him for the leeway and rewarded him, thus the eunuch departed in good humour.
“Luckily for you that the king only heard the good parts about you,” Madam Li said in a teasing tone, but her eyes could not conceal the pride that she felt.
“Maybe it’s because he’s ill?” Huang Ming asked, remembering the rumour that Muge Jian had shared to him and Huang Lang before.
“Watch your tongue! You can afford to be casual with us, but please be mindful of others when you’re in the capital. You never know who might be listening,” Madam Li admonished.
“Mother is most wise and cautious,” Huang Ming mumbled, suitably chastened.
“You must be careful. Though Gao Fang is gone, there is still Tong Xuan. You will inevitably cross paths with him in court.”
“Understood,” Huang Ming nodded solemnly.
Usually, this would be the point where the discussion would stop; but because this was about Huang Ming, his family was unconvinced by his subdued answer.
“Little brother, it’s not that I do not believe you, but you did offend a lot of people in this city,” Cao Tianyun doubted. “Including my brother Ah Shuang,” she added with a smirk.
Huang Ming affected a hurt countenance. “I have made amends with your brother long ago. And I’m not who I used to be,” he said.
“I’m not sure if that’s an improvement,” Liu Yuchun muttered absent-mindedly. She of course remembered her own circumstances. Though Huang Ming had changed considerably since that ill-intentioned meeting, she couldn’t resist making a dig at him.
“We’ve already settled that,” Huang Ming said with a cramped smile as he felt his stomach churning.
“It is fortunate that Ah Lang is already in the capital. Once you get there, you must find him,” Madam Li said.
“What exactly is he doing there anyway?” Huang Ming demanded, eager to change the course of conversation.
Madam Li’s brows knitted, showing her worry. “You have heard of the fire at the residence of Minister Jun. Your brother is looking for evidence that would incriminate Tong Xuan.”
“Why? Who is this Minister Jun?” Huang Ming asked.
Cao Tianyun sighed. “He’s one of the few upright officials that had dared to oppose Prime Minister Tong openly in front of the king. I heard from my father that Minister Jun had sent a memorial reprimanding him, but then he died in a fire at his own residence. His family survived, though they are now in the ‘care’ of the Prime Minister.”
Huang Ming nodded, it was as Muge Jian had said so long ago. “And then elder brother decided to play the detective?” he grumbled.
“Perhaps it was a mistake to allow him to go. I feel as if Ah Lang is stirring up the hornet’s nest. Fortunately that Muge Jian went along with him, so I’m somewhat assured of his safety,” Madam Li said with a sigh.
Cao Tianyun put on a brave smile. “Yes, and there are relatives in the capital to support him as well. I’m sure he knows what to do.”
Madam Li gave Huang Ming a serious look. “You would do well if you could return home with your elder brother safe and sound.”
“I will, do not worry. I will depart in a day or two,” Huang Ming replied.
“Fine. Call Qiong Ying over, we’ll have a nice family dinner tonight,” Madam Li said.
“I, uh, planned to see her tomorrow,” Huang Ming admitted.
His mother narrowed her eyes. “You mean you didn’t tell her that you’re coming back either?”
“There was no need to,” Huang Ming replied with a faint smile.
As if on cue, a servant entered to announce, “Sir Quan has arrived.”
Huang Ming gave his family a self-satisfied look. “Show him in,” he said smugly, though the triumphant look disappeared when he saw Quan Lu’s face.
“Haha, Brother Huang Ming! Luckily my friends saw you, otherwise I would be kept in the dark about your return,” Qiong Ying said with a smile that did not quite reach her eyes.
“Ah, but I planned to surprise you tomorrow. Come sit down, I’ll serve you personally!” Huang Ming said smoothly.
Once Qiong Ying saw that there were no one else save the Huang family members, her eyes tightened. She reached out with her nimble fingers to twist Huang Ming’s ear. Fortunately, not the same one that his mother had pulled earlier.
“So difficult to write a letter in advance?” she scowled, much to the delight of the other women in attendance. Madam Li was especially pleased, she had wanted to pose the same exact question when he came home. The entire affair was made all the more comical due to the fact that Qiong Ying came in her male disguise, so anyone not in her secret would see a handsome young man pulling the ear of the kingdom’s newest hero Huang Ming.
“Mercy, please! I knew that you would find out on your own,” Huang Ming said, grimacing at the humiliation.
“Of course, but that’s not the point,” Qiong Ying huffed as she released him. Madam Li, Cao Tianyun and Liu Yuchun all nodded sagely in agreement, and Huang Ming had the sneaky suspicion that he was being ganged up upon by the women.
“How did you find out?” he groused as he gingerly rubbed his ear.
“I have eyes everywhere. First, a royal messenger arrives in the city. Then a servant of the Hall of Treasures and Antiquities randomly stopping a ‘tourist’, that was interesting enough to be made known to me,” Qiong Ying said. “Why are they looking for you anyway?”
“He owes Ms. Lin Hua a favour,” Liu Yuchun said helpfully, earning a glare from Huang Ming. She blithely returned his incinerating stare, daring him to say otherwise.
“What?” Qiong Ying and Madam Li chimed. Simultaneously their eyes narrowed. “Explain yourself,” they chorused.
Huang Ming’s eyes darted from one woman to the other.
‘So much for a quiet, relaxing day…’ he grumbled.
He is surrounded,
His problems compounded.