“Enough is enough and it’s time for a change!”
--the late, great Owen Hart
Chapter 126 – Impetus
“Are you refusing us?”
Huang Ming looked back at the darkening face of the king and said with a faint smile, “Yes, I must decline this honour.”
Obviously, the King of Wu was displeased by this blunt refusal.
“Why?” he demanded, his voice lowering with displeasure.
“To marry the princess and place her above my other fiancées would shame them,” Huang Ming replied. “Besides, I already have my hands full, and I’m scared of them,” he added self-depreciatingly.
“What sort of women are they to have put such fear in you?” the king said, his eyes boring into Huang Ming.
“You have no idea. My mother encourages them to break me,” Huang Ming sighed. “The first one is clever and graceful beyond measure, she easily seduced me.”
The king was not entirely convinced by Huang Ming’s description. “You mean, she is like a fox spirit?” he asked snidely. To his surprise, Huang Ming snapped his fingers and nodded in agreement.
Qiong Ying who was roaming the streets of the capital whilst in her male disguise, sneezed. She wrinkled her nose in annoyance, but it was quickly forgotten.
“And the second?” the king prodded, nonplussed by the reaction.
“The second one tried to beat me up,” Huang Ming said blandly. “She’s tough and powerful, and more than the equal of any man.”
“Sounds like a tigress,” the king said disbelievingly.
“More like a panther,” Huang Ming muttered, recalling Sunli’s lithe body and bronzed skin.
Back at the Li Clan residence, Zhao Sunli was polishing her armaments out of boredom while waiting for Huang Ming’s return. She suddenly felt an irritating twinge in her heart. She looked up from her menial task, wondering what had triggered the feeling.
The king’s eyes narrowed into slits. “You sound like you are being hard-pressed. Do you wish for us to rescue you? A royal edict to annul your engagements is but a simple matter.”
“Absolutely not,” Huang Ming shot back immediately. “I am willing to charge into any battlefield you wish, but I would very much prefer to be on my mother’s good side for the remainder of my life.”
Then he added, almost like an afterthought: “Besides, I like them.”
“Do they dare to disobey a royal edict?” the king persisted.
Huang Ming shrugged. “Your Majesty, let me assure you that you do not need to offer the princess to secure my family’s loyalty. On the contrary, if I am to agree to marry the princess, shouldn’t you be even more suspicious? It would mean that I harbour hidden ambitions and climb up the golden branch to be a jade leaf.”
“Oh? But you understand our dilemma, don’t you?” the king asked rhetorically.
“Your Majesty, by showing your true self and revealing your real feelings, you have already decided to gamble on me. Why don’t we skip the dreary stuff and get to what you actually want?” Huang Ming suggested brightly.
For a few seconds, the air was still as king and vassal stared at each other. In the end, the king broke first and barked in laughter.
“You truly do not disappoint us,” he said. “You are right, we have indeed decided to gamble on you. We gave Tong Xuan and Gao Fang one final chance with the campaign in Wei, but by all accounts the entire operation was done selfishly. You… you are my last resort.”
The king stood up to pace around the room, his hands behind his back.
“For far too long, we have been misled, blinded and blatantly lied to. Earlier on you brought up the banditry infesting our country, and that was the first we have heard of it. Well, we have had enough!”
At this point, the king angrily slashed the air with chopping hand. He then turned his blazing eyes to Huang Ming.
“You asked what we wanted. Well, we want to rid ourselves of these pests! Sycophants, flatterers and the scarecrows that merely watched on without doing anything… all of them must be rooted out!”
Huang Ming thought that the king seemed decisive, and someone traditionalist like his father would be positively frothing at the mouth by now after being whipped into a frenzy by the call to arms. But Huang Ming was made of sterner stuff, having given similar fiery speeches himself several times.
“Your Majesty, I hope you’re not repeating the suggestion to bring armies into the capital,” he said dryly. “The city will be burned, and the winner would be mere coals while the loser become ashes.”
The King of Wu was deflated. “What other choice do we have? The villain Tong Xuan is too deeply entwined in the capital. Without Gao Fang here to check him, he has filled the palace guards with his creatures,” he growled.
Then he threw up his hands in exasperation, irritated by the mere mention of the former Marshal of Wu.
“For that matter, we do not even know the true fate of Gao Fang!” he complained, revealing the lingering unease in his heart.
Huang Ming chuckled. “You do not need to worry about him,” he said with an enigmatic grin as he poured himself a cup of tea.
Despite the light-hearted tone Huang Ming had used, the King of Wu felt a tremor running up his spine. It was a chilling reminder that he should not underestimate the young man before him. The scholarly-looking youth who was now calmly drinking tea had orchestrated the death of tens of thousands of Wei soldiers and outwitted the infamous General Ran Wei on several occasions.
For a moment the king debated if he should ask for the truth about Marshal Gao’s fate, but ultimately he thought better of it. It was one less worry for him, and there was no need for him to find out the gruesome details as long as it was taken care off.
It was at this moment that Princess Wu Liying walked into the room.
“Father-” she began excitedly, only to halt in shock when she saw Huang Ming was present. Furthermore, the annoying man was sitting down drinking tea, while her royal father the king was standing!
The king, tired of all the mocking faces,
Enraged, shouted for drastic changes.