The royal banquet (2)
“Inanimate objects can be classified scientifically into three major categories: those that don't work, those that break down and those that get lost. The goal of all inanimate objects is to resist man and ultimately to defeat him.”
Chapter 111 – The royal banquet (2)
Lord Aidi smirked when he saw the curiosity that he had stoked in the hall. In his mind, the people of Wu were indulgent and easily distracted by luxuries. Decadent softies spoiled by riches that they did not fully appreciate. How weak willed these people were, compared to his country of Jin?
Then he chastised himself, remembering that he had a mission from the Princess of Jin to fulfil. “Do not underestimate them,” she had warned. But it was still hard for him take the Kingdom of Wu seriously, seeing how its king had spent so lavishly on his own palace.
“I have heard that the peoples of the southern kingdoms are fond of puzzles and tricks,” Lord Aidi said slowly as he walked over to his giant female assistant, ignoring the hardening looks on a few of his audience. He knew he had annoyed them by calling them southerners and insinuated that they were treacherous.
He slowly opened the box resting on the woman’s hands and fished out with his delicate fingers two interlocked jade rings. The deep green colour immediately caught the eyes of those who saw it; the large size and vividness of the material made it clear that the rings were extremely costly. Well, to call them rings would be inaccurate, each ring a little larger than a wrist bangle. They were exquisitely carved out from a single block of jade and were nearly identical, but they were linked one over into the other and thus were inseparable.
Or so it would seem.
“What I have here is a little plaything, which I hope will be a source of amusement for the Princess of Wu,” Lord Aidi said, raising the rings so that everyone could see their interlocked nature.
“Of course, you might think these rings are not very useful in their current state,” Lord Aidi said with a chuckle. He gently tugged the two rings, and they came together with sharp clink that caused some to wince at the rough handling.
“We call these magic rings, and it will take someone magical to unlock them,” the young lord said dramatically. In a display of showmanship, he spun the two rings this way and that before pulling them apart violently. The interlocked rings became two separate rings, unbroken and intact.
The attendees in the banquet hall gasped. Before they could truly register what had happened, Lord Aidi moved the rings together with a flourish, the two rings became interlocked once more. Lord Aidi then held up one ring and allowed the other to dangle freely, to show that they were truly interlocked.
“I’m sure the people of Wu will find a way to open it cleverly,” he continued, his eyes sweeping around the room before finally resting on Princess Wu Liying. In a sweeping movement, he lowered the interlocked rings back into the box, closed the lid and spun it around before presenting it to the princess.
Those who saw the spectacle immediately realized it was a test designed to humiliate Wu. The loyalists of the royal court that still exist despite Prime Minister Tong Xuan’s machinations were indignant, the fires of anger burned in their chests. Yet they could not speak out, for they too were helpless. The Prime Minister himself was silent, his eyes a frozen mask.
The princess who was so imperious towards Huang Ming earlier was now pale-faced and struggled to maintain her composure. The banquet hall’s atmosphere turned heavy as the officials did not know what to do, while the foreign dignitaries who were invited could barely contain their malicious glee at Wu’s quandary.
“This gift is too precious,” the princess finally said, hinting at refusal.
The smile on Lord Aidi became wider. He opened the box once more and tilted it slightly so that the princess could see the rings resting within.
“But it a gift from our Princess of Jin; from one princess to another. I do hope your highness would not disappoint her,” Lord Aidi said, his brows wrinkling in mock despair.
Huang Ming was watching the entire play with boredom, barely resisting the urge to roll his eyes at the drama. In the banquet hall, there was no one more disinterested, no one more disappointed by the reveal of the rings than he. All that dramatic build up, and it turned out to be an expensive version of the linking rings magic trick that he had known from Earth. Sure, they were made of jade instead of metallic hoops, but to Huang Ming’s eyes they were the same thing.
He did however appreciate Lord Aidi’s slick performance. The young ambassador had pulled the wool over the eyes of everyone in the banquet hall when he placed the rings back into the box, and the way he had pressured Princess Wu Liying by opening it a second time. Huang Ming wondered if anyone else had caught the tricks.
‘He’s only missing a pair of white gloves and a top hat,’ Huang Ming grinned to himself with one hand propping up his chin and his eyes half-lidded lazily.
Then, a voice near him broke his train of thought.
“Sir Huang Ming is smiling so leisurely, surely you have a solution?” the Prime Minister asked loudly, drawing attention to him.
Of course, it meant everyone turned to stare at Huang Ming who grimaced. He cussed himself for lapsing into the moment and forgetting the presence of Tong Xuan.
Lord Aidi frowned, he too had turned to stare. “You are…?”
“This is Sir Huang Ming, the Hero of Tigertrap Pass,” Princess Wu Liying said grandly, eager to direct the ambassador away from herself. She deliberately emphasized the latter title to that effect. Indeed, Lord Aidi’s brows shot up in recognition.
“Ah, the young strategist! Your fame has even reached our kingdom of Jin,” Lord Aidi said smilingly. Much to the relief of the princess, the ambassador turned away completely from her so as to face Huang Ming.
“Surely the stories exaggerate,” Huang Ming said humbly.
“On the contrary, even the Princess of Jin believe in your genius,” Lord Aidi said. “She said that you are someone worth watching over, a person with unlimited potential.”
Huang Ming smiled, but his heart was cold. Coming from another person, it might be very high praise indeed. But seeing how Lord Aidi was paraphrasing someone who could very well be the enemy Avatar, Huang Ming was less than thrilled. Apparently his few exploits had already gained her attention.
Lord Aidi then noticed the presence of Sunli beside him. “And this must be Zhao Sunli, the warrior woman who had struck so much terror in Wei,” he breathed, marvelling at the short-haired woman.
Hearing that, his own female military officer became very interested. The gigantic woman turned her blazing eyes up and down Sunli, and a smirk slowly etched on her face. It was a smile of self-belief in her own superiority over the smaller woman. Sunli did not back down from her condescending look, she coolly glared right back at her.
“Well, I look forward to see how the Hero of Tigertrap Pass fare with these rings,” Lord Aidi said with delight. He looked back at the Princess of Wu in askance. “That is, if your highness permits it?”
“Of course,” Princess Wu Liying said immediately, pleased to have passed the problem to someone else.
“Sir Huang Ming, if you please,” Lord Aidi said, his smile all too fake as he presented the rings to him.
“If I must,” Huang Ming sighed and affected a tiresome breath, unimpressed by the entire affair. It was a direct and rude gesture, and it made Lord Aidi’s smile freeze as he did not expect Huang Ming to be so blatantly ill-mannered. The ambassador narrowed his eyes in anticipation as Huang Ming reached for the rings.
The entire hall held its breath as Huang Ming took the rings, one in each hand. They were still interlocked, and Huang Ming’s expression remained flat and his eyes half-lidded as he turned and pulled and twisted the rings in an obvious demonstration of their predicament.
The seconds felt like hours as Huang Ming’s hands manipulated the rings, the clinking and scraping of the jade rings on each other only heightening the tension and grating on their nerves.
Even though Huang Ming’s face remained calm and blasé, Lord Aidi’s smile grew.
“Well, can the Hero of Tigertrap Pass unlock it?” he asked smugly.
Huang Ming paused to give him a impassive look. It was a poker face, unemotional. And yet, Lord Aidi felt nothing but utter contempt from his eyes.
Then, without warning; Huang Ming raised the rings high and flung them down with full force onto the floor. A thunderous crash filled the hall as the jade rings shattered into a several large pieces, the fragments scattering over the polished flooring of the banquet hall. A shrapnel even touched Lord Aidi’s feet.
“There, it’s unlocked,” Huang Ming said calmly.
There were some rings,
Destroyed with a fling.