“Though it isn't sure whether there is something that he did to betray the dynasty, maybe there is.”
--Qin Hui, Song Dynasty Chancellor on framing the Patriot Yue Fei
Chapter 119 – Defame
Huang Ming struggled to maintain a poker face, resisting the urge to glare at Grand Tutor Yuan who had so ‘graciously’ volunteered him to be Princess Wu Liying’s new tutor. Was it a good thing? It did seem to offer a shortcut to reform the country as he could personally influence the heir-apparent of the kingdom. But the princess obviously had preconceived notions about him.
He was still formulating a response when a deep voice interrupted the clamour of discussion.
“Huang Ming is much too young. Though he has achieved some merits, I fear that he is not too experienced to mentor the princess,” said Prime Minister Tong Xuan as he shook his head slowly. The way he had delivered his objection was like a skeptical grandfather, one could almost see that he was more concerned for the sake of the princess, rather than any selfish reasons.
Huang Ming would have commented, but in this instance he was relieved that there was a dissenting opinion. As he himself had yet to make up his mind, it would be interesting to hear the arguments from both sides before deciding one way or the other. Besides, it seemed that there were others who were more than willing to fight it out on his behalf.
“Experience? The young man has shamed our enemies with skillful strategies in battle and forceful action in diplomacy! He has accomplished much more than even the likes of us old dotards, what more do you wish for?” Old Man Yuan said sarcastically, subtly age-grouping the prime minister with himself. It was a needling reminder of their ages when compared to the youthful Huang Ming.
Prime Minister Tong Xuan’s eyes flashed with annoyance, but it quickly disappeared. Instead, he chose to laugh.
“There is still life in us old men yet, Grand Tutor Yuan! It is too soon for you to talk of retirement when the princess can still benefit from your guidance. Besides, Huang Ming’s talents would be wasted if he was to be confined to the royal palace. He would have more opportunities to distinguish himself if he continues to serve with his father and fight our enemies at our borders,” he expounded in stirring fashion.
Even Huang Ming was slightly swayed by the line of argument. He had been a politician before, but what he enjoyed was being an actual battlefield commander. Putting aside the adrenaline rush of actual physical combat, there was a certain allure and majesty when it came to directing armies of men in the field of battle. There were those who relished playing politics, but Huang Ming was not one of them. On his Earth, he had grown up reading and admiring the great captains of history: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte and he had to admit, coming to this world and directing great blocks of men in battle was exhilarating. The few dabbles of strategy and tactics he was able to orchestrate in the Wei campaign only served to reacquaint himself with a familiar preference.
Old Man Yuan narrowed his eyes. “Do you want this youth to spend the rest of his life in slaughter? He has so much more to offer than just ways to kill our enemies! Did you not see how he had turned away the overbearing Jin ambassador? I shudder to think what would happen if Huang Ming was not around to uphold our honor!” he rattled, thumping his walking stick on the floor for emphasis.
Hidden in the assembled officials, Tong Xuan’s nephew Lord Fang La discreetly nudged the person next to him. Obeying the signal, the fat official stepped forward, and all shifted their attention to him.
“Official Shen He has something to say!” the fat man announced his own name, and Huang Ming was startled. This was the toady that had followed Lord Fang La in Tianxin City, and they had crossed in Lin Hua’s auction hall with Nangong Xie. Ah, speaking of Nangong Xie, where had that fellow gone…?
“Speak,” the king said wearily, dust in his voice.
Shen He bowed in acknowledgment. “Though Huang Ming has been meritorious, this lowly official feels that he is wholly unsuitable to be the Grand Tutor. Putting his youth aside, I must report honestly. I have been to Tianxin City and there are very disturbing rumours surrounding him, as told by the locals.”
“Oh?” the king mouthed as he leaned forward with interest.
Meanwhile, Huang Ming was doing his best impression of an emotionless rock, though his mind was railing against Shen He, the hidden ones who were obviously behind this sudden revelation and of course, the original Huang Ming. How could he have foreseen that his past would be revealed in front of the king? Curses! Was there no end to the original’s reach from beyond the grave? How many times will he hobbled by that dissolute man’s deeds?
“What sort of stories have you heard, Official Shen He?” Prime Minister Tong Xuan prodded.
Shen He drew to his full height and gave Huang Ming a disdainful look as he rattled: “They said he allied with notorious robbers, smuggled weapons and contraband, pushed a grandmother into the sea and even consorted with a pig while drunk!”
The august throne hall erupted into boisterous commotion. Of course, not everyone believed the ludicrous charges, but the sheer gall of Shen He in spouting off the absurd in the very presence of the king was enough to set off a firestorm.
Indeed, Shen He sported a smug look as he felt his job was done: it was enough for him to publicly slander Huang Ming and cast doubt on his character. He was proud at the last item, it was a personal touch. If he was going to frame someone, he might as well use the most heinous of crimes!
As for Huang Ming himself, the laundry list of misconduct spouted by Shen He was eerily familiar. It was ridiculous and he felt insulted, couldn’t they come out with more believable lies?
The king’s eyes were widened in disbelief as he rapped his knuckles on his throne’s armrest. Immediately the noise died down, but everyone still had their eyes on the young man from Tianxin City.
“I absolutely did not consort with a pig,” Huang Ming said in a deadpan. The first two crimes were treasonous, the third was despicable but the last one was something he definitely cannot tolerate.
The way he had calmly and deliberately only responded to the most absurd of charges had a comedic effect. A few of the assembled officials could not help but chuckle at his straight-faced denial which highlighted the laughable nature of the slander.
Even Fang La who was blending in the crowd groaned at Shen He’s unauthorized ad-lib. Just one addition, and it changed the defamation attempt completely. That fat incompetent had ruined everything!
The king exhaled heavily and slumped back into his throne in exasperation. “These are serious charges. What is your evidence?” the king intoned, his eyes boring a hole into Shen He.
Shen He finally realized that he had made a mistake. A mistake which he compounded when he instinctively glanced at Prime Minister Tong Xuan. It was just for a brief second, but that one look told Huang Ming that the prime minister was the hidden hand behind Shen He’s brazen hatchet job.
Tong Xuan cursed inwardly, he was sure that quite a few in the throne room saw how Shen He had looked at him for help and thus implicating him. He narrowed his eyes, and Shen He gulped in fear. Copious beads of sweat began to line the obese official’s brows. There was no way to describe the immensity of regret for putting his own flourish in such a sensitive undertaking.
“Speak, even if it’s the thinnest strand of truth,” Tong Xuan coaxed, invoking his deep voice to inject a semblance of gravity into the farce. “This concerns the future of the princess, we must investigate even the most unreasonable of doubts,” he added, and somehow that was enough to placate the disbelieving crowd.
The officials who were quick to ridicule Shen He’s accusation began to quiet down. What the Prime Minister said was reasonable, they should leave no stone unturned.
In a way, Huang Ming admired Tong Xuan’s eloquence. With a few short words he diffused the comedy and made it all seem sensible.
‘He’s definitely someone who prefers playing politics,’ Huang Ming thought darkly.
It was a dastardly fix,
From a bag of dirty tricks.