My father's heart procedure went well... or as well as it could be. What was thought to be a 60% blockage on one artery turned out to be 90%, and he had two other minor blockages on the smaller arteries. The doctor recommended a bypass surgery, but my father decided with just the angioplasty. He was more annoyed by the tests and bureaucratic paperwork than the actual procedure itself which only took barely 30 minutes. One day after the procedure he's back at home and taking it easy. If not for the long weekend (Monday is a public holiday), he would probably jump back to work.

The shadow of a possible heart attack still looms over him, but I think he has accepted that it is something that he will try to manage with exercise and diet. Actual heart surgery is just too daunting for him.

---

“After lengthy femputations, I, Femputer, have decided the fate of the men. Femputer sentences them to death... By snu-snu!”
--Femputer, ‘Futurama’


Chapter 112 – The royal banquet (3)

The echo from the shattering of the jade seemed to ring agonizingly forever before dissipating. As it faded away, the shock felt by the attendees gave way to horror. The atmosphere in the royal banquet hall became ghastly as the enormity of Huang Ming’s violent action slowly took hold.


“How dare you!” Lord Aidi shouted. The Jin ambassador’s handsome face was a twisted visage of fury, his voice reverberating through the stunned hall.


“They are just toys. Why so serious?” Huang Ming replied smilingly as if enjoying a private joke.


“They are gifts from the Princess of Jin!” Lord Aidi howled as the veins on his neck bulging.


“Since they have already been gifted to us, it is no longer your concern what we do with them,” Huang Ming said nonchalantly. Then he took a slow, exaggerated look at the broken remains of the jade rings. “Well, they didn’t seem particularly well made,” he added blandly.


“You impudent scoundrel!” Lord Aidi sputtered.


Huang Ming sighed and shook his head, giving the impression that he was treating Lord Aidi like a child throwing a tantrum.


“Well, if it matters so much to you, I’ll fix it,” Huang Ming said.


Those who heard this ridiculous statement stared at him, their mouths slack-jawed like startled fish.


“Can you really?” Princess Wu Liying asked, her eyes as wide as saucers. Her earlier icy demeanour towards Huang Ming disappeared, it was as if a mask had fallen off her face to reveal her true self: a young woman who was forced to be calm and regal due to her station.


“Of course,” Huang Ming said easily. “For a fee,” he added with a devilish smile.


Princess Wu Liying stared at him in disbelief. Having grown up in the palace, she was not accustomed to such casualness. If she were ever to meet his father General Huang Zheng, then she would know that he too shared the same unease of dealing with Huang Ming’s flippant attitude.


“You are mad,” Lord Aidi sneered. “You broke it, and now expect to be paid to restore it?”


“If you’re good at something, never do it for free,” Huang Ming quoted, and his grin grew wider as he recalled a memorable fictional villain from Earth. A few in the hall tittered when they heard his quip, some already mentally noting it down for reference.


“Very well. We shall let you try,” Princess Wu Liying said, as she was too curious about his methods. “If you can surprise us, you shall be forgiven for your transgression.”


Huang Ming inwardly praised her shrewdness: the princess was only offering clemency and not an actual payment.


Lord Aidi’s face changed colour. “I shall not be part of this farce. Our goodwill has been repaid with ill intentions, and it is obvious you do not respect our Princess of Jin,” he snorted and made as if to depart.


Seeing his abrupt attempt to leave only reinforced Huang Ming’s suspicions.


“You can go, but leave the box behind,” he said, pointing to the small case that had held the jade rings.


Lord Aidi’s face became ashen, an interesting contrast from the furious outrage only seconds before.


“Are you adding insult to injury? Do not push us too far!” Lord Aidi said in a bluster. It was forceful, but Huang Ming knew that he had struck a raw nerve.


“The box is part of the gift, it is fitting that it should remain. Or are you suffering from a case of a bad elbow?” Huang Ming asked snidely and made a gesture of pulling something back with one hand. It took the surrounding guests a few moments to register what he had meant, and then they realized it was a literal phrase meaning to ask for something back after having given it away as a gift.


A few guests hid their smiles and laughed quietly, and were more than happy to explain to those who were still bewildered. As for the king of Wu, he merely leaned back on his throne and stroked his beard, watching the proceedings with a detached manner.


“Does the box really matter?” Princess Wu Liying asked. She was honestly puzzled by Huang Ming’s insistence. But one look at her quivering phoenix brows made it known that she too was amused at Lord Aidi’s discomfort as she sensed that there was something wrong about the entire matter.


“For my next trick, I’m going to need it,” Huang Ming said dryly.


“I have heard that you Wu people are fond of trickery, but I did not expect such treachery!” Lord Aidi said indignantly. He turned away in a huff to leave, only to have Huang Ming stand in his path.


“You keep insulting us as if there’s no such thing as a sword in our country,” Huang Ming said coldly.


There was a collective gasp at his barely veiled threat. Lord Aidi drew a deep breath, puffing up threateningly like some cornered lizard.


“Are you picking a fight?” he growled, and the hall became tense once more. The guests in the banquet hall held their breath as they were witnessing a so-called ‘diplomatic incident’ that could very well lead to war.


“Historically, it is the Jins that love to start a fight,” Huang Ming said mildly, evoking the precedents of Jin incursions into Wu. Huang Ming knew he was treading on dangerous waters, but the die was already cast when the Jin ambassador attempted to humiliate Wu with the jade rings.


It was then that the King of Wu broke out in laughter, clapping his hands as he did so.


“Ha ha ha! Why so serious about a mere box?” the King of Wu said merrily, defusing the situation.


“It is not about the box! It is him insulting our country with his childish demands!” Lord Aidi said gloomily.


“But he says he needs it to restore the rings,” Princess Wu Liying pointed out.


“Which he himself destroyed in the first place!” Lord Aidi reminded her loudly, making sure that everyone in the hall could hear his aggrieved voice.


Huang Ming shrugged. “You wanted someone to unlock them,” he said.


“Not by smashing them into pieces!” Lord Aidi shouted back at him.


“And I said I can fix it. With the box,” Huang Ming said, bringing the conversation back to full circle.


“You are nonsensical!” Lord Aidi exclaimed, flicking his sleeves in frustration.


By now it was obvious to the banquet guests that the ambassador was extremely reluctant to hand over the box that had contained the jade rings. Even the most dull among them realized that was something fishy going on. Huang Ming smirked, for he knew the reason why Lord Aidi was dragging the issue.


“Impossible or not, you will find out once you give me the box,” he said.


“Sir Huang Ming, you must not harry our esteemed guest from Jin like this,” Prime Minister Tong Xuan interrupted with a grave expression.


‘Crap, I forgot about this old fart,’ Huang Ming thought with annoyance.


“Prime Minister, you must do us justice! Is there no sense of decency in your kingdom?” Lord Aidi demanded passionately.


Of course, the entire affair only came about due to the ambassador’s attempt to humiliate Princess Wu Liying, but the upper crust guests of the banquet hall knew better than to accuse him directly. They had already seen how precarious the situation was and had no wish to expose themselves to unnecessary attention.


Tong Xuan bowed his head as he stroked his long beard, as if deep in thought. After a brief moment, he raised his head once more.


“This is just a misunderstanding between young men,” he said slowly, giving Lord Aidi and Huang Ming meaningful looks. “Though our countries have been enemies in the past, we still admire your fighting skills and martial spirit. Surely there is a way to resolve this quarrel,” Tong Xuan continued.


Lord Aidi’s nodded, having an inkling on the prime minister’s path of discourse. It was the perfect segue for the Jins to salvage the day.


“That is right,” Lord Aidi said, giving Huang Ming a sidelong glance full of resentment. Then he launched into a passionate speech: “We know that the southern countries think of us as simple nomadic people that only know how to hunt. But times have changed! We Jins are no less inferior when it comes to matters involving careful thought, and our Princess of Jin decided on this gift of rings to demonstrate that we are not the roving barbarian tribes of the past! Who could have imagined that this simple gesture would be so ruthlessly stomped by malicious intent?”


Huang Ming had to give the ambassador 6 points out of 10 for his attempt to change the matter from black to white.


Lord Aidi glared accusingly at Huang Ming. “We tried to act ‘civilized’ and you smeared mud on our faces. Did you think we have forgotten our roots as a warlike people?”


He signalled with his eyes, and his giant female military officer stepped forward. In an eye-catching move, she stuffed the box deep into her bodice. After adjusting her clothes accordingly, she cracked her knuckles and flexed her fingers menacingly.


“You want the box so much, go get it yourself!” Lord Aidi challenged.


Huang Ming smiled wryly as he looked up to the towering, muscular woman from the north. She could easily give his brother Huang Ke a pause, such was her intimidating presence. He wondered if she would make a better match for Huang Ke if he was still single. The image of two gorillas hugging each other flashed across his mind, causing him to chuckle.


“What’s so funny?” the gigantic woman scowled as she finally spoke, her voice a deep timbre.


Huang Ming looked her squarely in the eyes.


“I don’t hurt women,” he said with a roguish grin.

 

 

Hidden by a giantess,
In a valley so perilous.​