“You’re a wizard, Harry.”
--Hagrid, The Harry Potter series
Chapter 114 – Prevention
“Wonderful! Wonderful skill!” the King of Wu praised as he clapped slowly. The sound echoed loudly in the still banquet hall, stirring the stunned guests out of their stupor. Very quickly the guests added their hands to the applause, and Huang Ming could only bow deeply in acknowledgement.
When he rose, he turned to the ashen-faced Lord Aidi.
“Let it be finished,” Huang Ming said simply.
Utterly defeated with no avenue of retreat, Lord Aidi could only lifelessly motion to his female officer. The giant woman then retrieved the box from within her bodice and presented it to Huang Ming.
Huang Ming approached to take it, and in his path he brushed past Lord Aidi.
“Don’t worry, I know what to do,” Huang Ming whispered, causing the young ambassador to look up in surprise.
Huang Ming picked up the box from the giant woman, handling it gingerly as it was slightly warm… and damp from her body heat. He crinkled his nose in distaste.
‘The things I do for my country,’ he thought wryly.
“How are you going to repair the rings?” Princess Wu Liying asked from her throne, vocalizing the thought of everyone present.
Huang Ming gave the banquet guests a lopsided grin. “Well, let’s gather the remains first,” he said.
Princess Wu Liying quickly bade the servants to gather the fragments of the jade rings, but it was obvious to all that there would be minute pieces missing. Nobody believed in Huang Ming’s claim, but their eyes remained glued to him as the remains were dropped into the box like so much trash.
A few noted the shrinking posture of Lord Aidi, his unease was as plain as the day.
Once all the debris was placed into the box, Huang Ming made a huge production of slowly closing the box and slowly caressed the sides, his brows knitted and his eyes focused. Seconds tick pass and the spectators inched forward to have a better look.
“Reparo!” he exclaimed at last, quoting a fictional magician from Earth. Then with a flourish, he opened the box and fished out two intricately carved and interlocked jade rings.
They were identical to the ones which he had smashed earlier.
The crowd gasped, their mouths hanging open and lost for words. In a discreet move, Huang Ming slipped the box into his sleeve and held the two rings above his head so that all attention were on them. As he slowly lowered the rings once more, there was a gentle pulling motion and… the interlocked rings were separated!
With a grave expression, Huang Ming slowly spun the two rings on his arms to demonstrate that they were indeed apart from each other. The spinning rings travelled up and down his arms. When they reached his hands once more, he stopped them from spinning and violently collided the two rings together. But instead of the expected loud collision, the two rings effortlessly slipped through each other, becoming interlocked once more. He demonstrated this by holding up one ring and allowing the other to dangle, that yes, the two rings were locked within each other again.
In the continued silence, he reverently returned the rings into the box, closed the lid and presented it towards Princess Wu Liying. The fresh-faced eunuch that had led Huang Ming and Sunli into the banquet hall earlier hastened forward to receive it and gently placed the box before the princess. There it sat quietly, the centre of attention of everyone present.
Then someone exhaled, and almost immediately the banquet hall erupted into shocked applause.
Once more Huang Ming bowed deeply to acknowledge their acclamation.
“How… how did you…” Princess Wu Liying stuttered, her own eyes still as wide as saucers. The box was on her table and yet she did not dare to touch it.
“They are magic rings after all,” Huang Ming said dryly. He nodded in a friendly manner towards Lord Aidi who was staring at him in a mixture of incredulity and relief. “They are very well made,” he added.
Lord Aidi managed to muster a sickly smile and nodded, still unsure why Huang Ming did not ridicule him. Was this an olive branch?
“That does not explain anything. How did you do it?” Princess Wu Liying demanded.
“Ah, but to answer is to tear away the mystique,” Huang Ming chastised in good humour. “Some things are better left to to the imagination, where it can spark imagination and discussion,” he continued, gesturing to the whispering and gossiping banquet guests.
The princess was not satisfied with his answer, and was about to mount another query when her father the king decided to intervene. He bade the eunuch to take the box away.
“Well, that is enough excitement today. Let the banquet begin,” the King of Wu ordered.
Whereupon the guests settled down on their respective seats, including Lord Aidi and his giantess. Servants and maids began the banquet service, doling out dishes of rare delicacies and expensive drinks. Led by Prime Minister Tong Xuan, the ceremonial toasts to heaven, the gods and then to the king were made before the consumption of the food.
“How did you do it?” Sunli whispered to Huang Ming as they began to eat.
“Magic,” Huang Ming deadpanned and slowly waved the fingers on one hand downwards.
The facetious gesture only served to annoy the warrior woman. She swore to wrangle the answer of him later.
Another person with a similar quest was Princess Wu Liying. She stared daggers at Huang Ming who was eating and drinking normally.
The banquet itself proceeded normally, quiet to the point of solemnity. It was almost a letdown after Huang Ming’s magic performance. Huang Ming himself was glad that this was an oriental type of banquet where the guests were expected to remain at their seats, and not the sort where the guests were allowed to move about to mingle. Otherwise he would be inundated and pestered by people who want to know how he had accomplished the ‘repair’ of the rings. Still, there was little he could do to prevent stories of his feat from being spread beyond the palace walls.
A treacherous gift from Jin,
Designed to cause chagrin.
The young hero did not let them win,
He was the lord of the rings.
The King of Wu and his daughter quietly withdrew halfway through the banquet, as was the norm in this world. The royalty were seen as descendants of divine beings, and thus it wouldn’t do for them to be seen eating and behaving as ordinary people for long periods.
Eventually the last dish of assorted fruits were served, and Huang Ming found out that this was the accepted signal for the end of the banquet. The guests did not actually touch the offered fruits and instead solemnly bowed towards the empty thrones as a sign of gratitude. There was no commotion, no fuss as the guest were quietly led away by the palace eunuchs in succession.
By luck or by design, Huang Ming and Sunli found themselves escorted out at the same time as Lord Aidi and his giant Amazon. The two pairs quietly followed the eunuchs down the long corridors, but Huang Ming could almost feel the prickly hostility from the young Jin ambassador. The eunuchs who were trained to be alert and discreet hastened their steps ahead so as to give them some privacy.
“Well done,” Lord Aidi said venomously.
“You asked for it,” Huang Ming replied with a smirk.
“Why did you not expose me?” Lord Aidi asked as he kept his temper in check.
Huang Ming chuckled softly. “What good would that do? Do you want to go down into history as being responsible for causing a war?”
“If anyone was to be responsible, it would be you!” Lord Aidi snorted.
Huang Ming narrowed his eyes. “You came bearing a gift. But you don’t give respect. You don’t offer friendship. You come into our house and insult us. Do you really expect anything but unkindness in return? Go back to Jin! Tell your Princess of Jin that the people of Wu are not so easily bullied!”
Lord Aidi’s giant henchwoman had murder in her eyes when the Princess of Jin was mentioned so irreverently. The giantess made as if to attack Huang Ming there and then, and Sunli raised her fists and lowered her stance as if to meet her.
Ahead, the two eunuchs that led the way stopped but did not turn around, their hearts pounding with worry.
“Enough!” Lord Aidi snarled. “I will pass your words to our Princess of Jin. Rest assured, you will receive a answer soon enough.”
One of the eunuch exhaled with relief and quickly moved forwards. With a swish of his sleeves, Lord Aidi followed him, his giantess close behind.
The other eunuch beckoned Huang Ming and Sunli towards another direction.
A few moments later, Huang Ming frowned. “This isn’t the way we came from,” he said.
“Princess Wu Liying requests your presence,” the eunuch answered.
Huang Ming groaned inwardly.
Called to a private audience,
Reaching the end of tolerance.