“Yeah, everything that guy just said is bullshit... Thank you.”
--Vinny Gambini, ‘My Cousin Vinny’
Chapter 120 – Treason
Official Shen He was emboldened by Prime Minister Tong Xuan’s words. He bowed deeply with reverence before straightening up and glaring accusingly at Huang Ming.
“This lowly official had visited Tianxin City, before the campaign in Wei. I was sent to investigate reports of banditry in the surrounding countryside. Even before I had entered the city proper, I had heard stories about the Huangs. Their father as we all know is a Great General and a hero of the country. He has three sons: Lang, Ke and Ming. Huang Lang is a noted scholar and gentleman, Huang Ke is a valiant warrior and serves in the military together with his father. But this official have only terrible stories about the youngest son Huang Ming.”
The prime minister made a show of arching his eyebrow in an exaggerated display of scepticism. It was the height of hypocrisy as he was the one who all but encouraged Shen He to continue the slandering.
“You mean, the stuff about allying with robbers and smuggling?” he asked gravely, conveniently leaving out the more preposterous of Shen He’s claims.
“Yes,” Shen He said. “As everyone here knows, there were reports of a bandit menace in Tianxin City. For many months, merchant caravans and government supply transports were raided. Even the Great General Huang Zheng’s efforts to destroy the bandits came to naught. The bandits eluded every attempt to eradicate them.”
“They sound too skilful to be ordinary bandits,” Prime Minister Tong Xuan voiced his doubts.
Shen He nodded vigorously in agreement. “Indeed! When I heard about General Huang Zheng’s difficulties, I was suspicious as well. And as it was proven later, it was Wei’s military who were behind the raids. Eventually the bandits were destroyed, and the enemy commander even dared to assault Tianxin City itself. It was only through personal combat by General Huang that drove them away.”
Huang Ming hid his grin. How were they suppose to know that the bandit menace was of their own making, and that the ‘enemy commander’ was actually Zhao Tong in disguise?
Grand Tutor Yuan was unimpressed by Shen He’s preamble. “We all know what happened next. Marshal Gao decided to invade Wei in retaliation of those raids, and only ended up humiliating our country! These things are not unknown to us, why are you bringing this up again?” he complained.
“I, I only wish to clarify…” Shen He stuttered.
“Get on with it!” Grand Tutor Yuan said impatiently.
Shen He quailed at the rebuke. He gulped visibly but when he saw Prime Minister Tong Xuan narrowing his eyes, the obese official found his voice once more.
“Well, it is a tragedy about the Wei campaign, but I am suspicious about the raids themselves. Specifically, how they mysteriously evaded detection every time. I came to the conclusion that there was a traitor helping the Wei raiders,” Shen He said, giving Huang Ming a sidelong glance. It all but accused the young man of the crime.
Shen He forged ahead: “When I arrived in Tianxin City, I heard of Huang Ming’s extravagant ways. He used wealth recklessly, purchasing works of art and spending his hours drinking and philandering.”
The royal court was scandalized. Seeing Huang Ming’s stony face only increased the hubbub.
“Quiet!” Prime Minister Tong Xuan thundered using his deep basso voice, and the throne hall fell silent once more. “Continue,” he urged Shen He.
“I personally witnessed Huang Ming in Tianxin City’s leading auction hall. He behaved very familiarly with the young lady of the auction hall and I later learned that Huang Ming had many boxes of valuables delivered to his home. Yet when I asked around, Huang Ming had no income of his own. His family is wealthy, but just before that there was a story that he was so strapped for cash that he had to sell one of his statues to raise some money,” Shen He said.
Huang Ming had to admire the story that Shen He was telling. It had all the elements of a spin: some hints of truth, a measure of exaggeration, vague details and negative connotations. He did interacted with Miss Lin Hua to save her from Shen He’s unwanted advances, he did purchases boxes of simple materials the same day and he really did sell a lewd statuette to Nangong Xie. All these were the truth, but subtly obscured by the official to paint a darker picture.
“Coincidentally, all this happened while the raiding menace was at its height. Yet, during this time of crisis, Huang Ming was able to purchase these things with little thought as to their cost. It was as if he had struck it rich!” Shen He exclaimed.
Huang Ming did not know whether he should laugh in outright derision. The implications were clear: the official was basically accusing him of being a traitor by selling his father’s military movements to Wei. Not only was he being suspect of betraying his father, he was also being labelled as a traitor!
“This is all circumstantial…” Grand Tutor Yuan grumbled, a hint of uncertainty in his tone. Huang Ming gave him a withering look as the doubt from someone who was supposedly favourable to him only damaged his standing even further.
‘I can’t depend on other people here,’ Huang Ming thought resolutely and decided to take charge personally.
Thus in the accusatory atmosphere, Huang Ming laughed and clapped slowly. It was a dramatic gesture; sarcastic and derisory.
“This is a serious matter, Huang Ming. Please behave yourself,” Prime Minister Tong Xuan said with a hint of a sneer.
“Well, it’s not everyday one stands accused of being a traitor and an unfilial son,” Huang Ming replied lightly.
“So you do know the weight of your crimes,” Shen He said loudly as he pointed at him. “Do you have anything to say?”
Huang Ming smiled faintly at him. He opened his mouth, and all who was present in the throne hall including the King of Wu, the Prime Minister and the Grand Tutor leaned in to hear him say in a cold manner:
“Why don’t you eat shit?”
Told to put in a defense,
For crimes without evidence,
He was not petulant,
And told them to consume excrement.