It's not me, it's you
“Listen, I'm in way over my head here mister. I just want out.”
--Electra, ‘Assassins’ (1995)
Chapter 128 – It’s not me, it’s you
“What did you say?” the King of Wu demanded.
Huang Ming finally had the opportunity to see the otherwise redoubtable Princess Wu Liying in distress. The princess was tongue-tied, her lips quivering as her father’s eyes bored down on her.
Though he slightly relished seeing the usually domineering princess being caught like a startled deer, Huang Ming saw how it was awkward for all concerned.
“Perhaps I should leave,” he murmured and stood up to do so.
“Hold it right there,” the King of Wu growled and unceremoniously pushed Huang Ming back down onto his seat.
“What? No, I wouldn’t dream of interrupting this tender father-daughter moment,” Huang Ming protested and once more attempted to rise.
“This concerns you too,” the king insisted and shoved him back down.
“No, it really doesn’t,” Huang Ming groused. He gave Princess Wu Liying a sidelong glance and hinted for her to speak up.
The princess was of course more than willing to see him leave and not be a witness to her own predicament.
“Father, let him go. I do not want to have anything to do with him,” she pleaded.
“Not until you explain yourself,” the king said curtly.
Princess Wu Liying could only sigh and bow her pretty head in defeat. Huang Ming’s presence was all the more humiliating, but there was nothing she could do.
“I met someone who may be able to help us,” she said with a tiny voice.
“Are you sure that is all?” the king asked, arching an eyebrow.
The princess sneaked a look at Huang Ming, and was both relieved and annoyed at the young man’s exaggerated disregard to the interrogation. Indeed, the irritating man was pointedly looking away from the proceedings and was more preoccupied with drinking tea, as if he was completely unconnected to the affair.
The princess decided that she had already lost enough face and thus decided to roll with it. “He has the audacity and bravery to accomplish our hearts’ desire,” she proclaimed.
The king’s brow raised higher. “You mean…”
She nodded grimly, and even the disinterested Huang Ming understood that they were discussing the assassination of the Prime Minister of Wu. He couldn’t help but turn to look at the father and daughter duo. He saw that their eyes were hopeful… and yet fearful.
Huang Ming did have a similar idea. Simply arrange for an assassin of some skill to get rid of the prime minister would be the most direct way to solve the entire problem. The easiest scenario would have Prime Minister Tong Xuan to ‘unfortunately’ expire in his very own home, but such a powerful man would surely have many security measures in place.
The other direct method would see the Prime Minister to have an unhealthy meeting with something sharp while in the palace, perhaps during a court session. Huang Ming knew that there were many kings and rulers who had been murdered in the sanctity of their own throne rooms in full view of their assembled officials, and often the assassin would go down in history, such as the historical Jing Ke and Zhuan Zhu.
However, Huang Ming did not suggest such a method. For one thing, the king would probably task him to find someone brave and suicidal enough to take up the job. Failing which, Huang Ming might be ordered to do it himself. That was something Huang Ming was actually confident in doing, but not when it could carry repercussions to his family.
The king had already proven himself to be callous enough to use his own daughter as a shield to protect his own reputation, what more need to be said when it was a commoner like Huang Ming?
There was no guarantee of him or his family to survive the ‘righteous’ deed. The king could very well decide to execute his entire family to placate the enraged subordinates and lackeys of the Prime Minister… or more likely, to remove the king’s own lingering fears. There was one Marshal Gao Fang already, and the king could be understood if he wished to remove other powerful military figures from potentially appropriating military authority.
The Great General Huang Zheng was one such figure. Despite his father’s clean reputation, Huang Ming did not think it was not an impossible scenario for the king to purge even the loyal in return for peace of mind. Famous generals like Yue Fei, Yuan Chonghuan, Li Guang, Han Xin and Wu Qi all met tragic ends after a lifetime of service to their respective lords in various parts of Chinese history.
As the aforementioned Han Xin had lamented, ‘the hunting dog becomes food as well after it is used to hunt game; a good bow is discarded when there are no birds left for shooting’.
Therefore, Huang Ming held his tongue and did not make the audacious proposal to assassinate Prime Minister Tong Xuan at the very next court session.
“Who is this brave character that you found?” the king asked his daughter.
Princess Wu Liying took a deep breath to restore her own confidence.
“I have actually brought him here,” she revealed. “He is waiting nearby, which is why I want him-” she gave Huang Ming a glare, “to be gone to keep his identity hidden.”
Huang Ming nodded enthusiastically. “I agree, the fewer who knows this the better,” he said and made to rise from his seat.
Once more the king the held him down. “You are already aware of the plot, you must stay and help us compass the end of the villain Tong Xuan,” he said gravely.
It was Huang Ming’s turn to be tongue-tied, and he could not immediately make an argument to counter the king’s words. The look in the king’s eyes promised some sort of retribution if he was to walk out of the scheme.
The king did not let him time to muster his thoughts. “So the brave warrior is here? Quickly, bring him in!” he said.
Princess Wu Liying nodded and hurriedly went to do so. A few minutes later, she returned with a striking young man in tow.
“This is-” the princess began to introduce, only to be rudely interrupted.
“It’s you!” Huang Ming and the guest exclaimed in surprise.
By a man most fearless.