“In my experience, there's no such thing as luck.”
Chapter 135 – Questions, questions
In various parts of the capital city, secret meetings were held and plans discussed clandestinely. One such meeting had just ended, with a fateful decision that would shake the fate of the entire Kingdom of Wu. Once the course of action was determined, the participants were sworn to secrecy and dismissed to wait for the right timing.
Such was the situation that Huang Ming and Huang Lang found themselves in, hours after their audience with the King of Wu. While her father was delighted at the willingness of the brothers to eliminate Prime Minister Tong Xuan, the Princess of Wu was too exhausted to detain the brothers for an inquisition regarding the chain of events leading to that point. She resignedly allowed the brothers to retire, promising to exact a thorough explanation from Huang Lang on a later date.
The two brothers were covertly led out of the royal palace by a trusted eunuch via a confusing maze of secret doors and tunnels. It wasn’t until they were finally out in a quiet alley that the brothers breath a sigh of relief.
“Well, that was interesting,” Huang Lang said mildly after the earth-shaking meeting.
Huang Ming shot his elder brother a dirty look. His annoyance increased when he saw his brother somehow remained immaculate and unperturbed from the ordeal of moving in dank tunnels and dusty hallways. In comparison, Huang Ming felt dampness at the soles of his shoes and cobwebs on his shoulders.
“How did you…” Huang Ming muttered discontentedly as he brushed off the dust and muck off his clothes.
“Mmm?” Huang Lang said absent-mindedly as he scanned the surroundings cautiously.
“I demand an explanation,” Huang Ming said firmly.
“About what?” Huang Lang asked, still distracted.
Huang Ming smacked his brother’s shoulder to get his attention. “What do you think you’re doing? Who is this ‘Hui Tian’ you’re pretending to be? When are you going to write to your wife? Why did you keep her and Uncle Li Hong in the dark? And how are we going to get rid of Tong Xuan?” he demanded in rapid-fire succession.
At the end of the tirade, Huang Ming glared at him. It cannot be understated just how relieved he was when he first saw Huang Lang in the palace, but now the anger came flooding back. Seeing his brother all well and every inch still the impeccable gentleman stoked the ire that rose from what seemed to be needless worries that had been inflicted on him. That ridiculous moustache made him all the more dandy.
“Calm down,” Huang Lang advised, and Huang Ming actually took it. The younger man breathed deeply several times, and even the Celestial Qilin admired the way his brother shifted gears so quickly.
“Alright, I’m calm,” Huang Ming said.
Huang Lang smiled faintly, in his mind recalling the vast difference between the Huang Ming before him and the dissolute wastrel that he had knew. From that day when he had led his younger brother to his favourite tea-house, it was like a lifetime ago. Since the day Huang Ming had infuriated his brother-in-law Cao Shuang, there were tales of love and war, and Huang Lang had been constantly astounded by the way his younger brother had turned his life around.
“Hui Tian is a disguise I made up. I am going to write to my wife today, in fact I was planning to return to the Li Clan residence,” he said slowly.
“Why not sooner? The first thing Uncle Li Hong said to me was that you had gone missing. You’re lucky that I didn’t write a letter back yet,” Huang Ming grumbled.
“This is a plot that involves the end of the Prime Minister of our country, of course secrecy is paramount,” Huang Lang said gravely. Then he added, “Besides, I did inform someone.”
“Cao Shuang is here too,” Huang Lang replied, and he enjoyed the look on his younger brother’s face.
“What? Why?” Huang Ming sputtered.
Huang Lang shrugged. “Happy coincidence. He was on private business.”
“There is no such thing as coincidence,” Huang Ming said automatically. “How did you even meet the princess?”
“Actually, you can blame this subterfuge on Muge Jian, it was his idea,” Huang Lang answered as an afterthought, his eyes looking far away.
“And where is our intrepid master swordsman?” Huang Ming asked suspiciously, not entirely convinced by his brother’s response.
“It’s a story for another time. Do you know that you too have an acquaintance here in the capital?” Huang Lang asked.
Huang Ming waved a hand in dismissal. “If you meant Qiong Ying or Sunli, they came here with me.”
His brother arched an eyebrow. “Both of them? You’re braver than I thought,” he said appreciatively.
“It was not my idea,” Huang Ming muttered. Then he blinked. “You mean it’s not them? So you haven’t come across Qiong Ying, er, Quan Lu yet?”
“Should I have?”
Huang Ming sighed. “I was called to the palace before I could start looking for you proper. She volunteered to do so in my stead.”
His elder brother shook his head. “I did not see her.”
Huang Ming threw up his hands in exasperation. “This entirely thing is such a mess! It’s like we’re all blindfolded and we’re groping in the dark looking for each other.”
His elder brother could not help but chuckle at the imagery, irritating him even more.
“Don’t laugh! This is all your fault to begin with. Why are you taking such risks anyway?” Huang Ming demanded.
Huang Lang said nothing, his face a calm mask. But in his heart, that same question had cropped up before.
Huang Ming’s accomplishments have overshadowed him. Even Huang Ke had risked life and limb in Wei. Both younger brothers had followed their father into war, yet Huang Lang had remained at Tianxin City to be the man of the house. When word came of Huang Ming’s great deeds in the Wei campaign, Huang Lang felt overawed by the sheer scale of his merits.
He could do no less.
Huang Lang was still a young man after all. Despite his reputation for calmness and wisdom, he could not help but be inspired to serve the country in some fashion. Thus he had gone to the capital to investigate matters surrounding Prime Minister Tong Xuan. Who knew that his younger brother would follow him here, and for them to have met in the king’s very own private chamber was an unimaginable coincidence.
His younger brother, the former wastrel; was now celebrated as a hero of the country.
It filled Huang Lang with pride.
“So who did you mean?” his brother interrupted his thoughts.
“Nangong Xie is with the Prime Minister,” Huang Lang answered.
Huang Ming’s mouth fell open. “I was wondering where he went,” he mumbled with disbelief.
“The princess told me about it. She said he’s trying to seduce her,” Huang Lang continued.
Huang Ming merely said, “Oh.”
“You seem to know her quite well,” Huang Lang commented.
“Nonsense, we only met briefly. She thinks I’m some war-loving killer,” Huang Ming scoffed. “The King said it’s part of her disguise to fool the Prime Minister, but I think she really hates my guts.”
“I wonder how your fiancées would feel if they are to learn of the princess,” Huang Lang added.
“Wipe that smile off your face. And that disgusting hair on your lip. You lied to the princess, you deal with her,” Huang Ming growled.
“Why do you think I have this moustache?” Huang Lang asked.
“Oh, is that what it is supposed to be? I thought a silkworm crawled up there and died,” Huang Ming shot back sarcastically.
“Yes, it’s actually quite uncomfortable,” Huang Lang said with a frown, touching it distractedly.
Huang Ming looked heavenward in annoyance. “You’re not going to tell me that you only grew it to make yourself less attractive to the princess, are you?”
There was an awkward silence as Huang Ming stared at his brother who did not respond.
“Wow, you’re awesome,” Huang Ming said at last, his words dripping with sarcasm.
“Mm, I am awesome,” Huang Lang agreed, giving him a mysterious smile.
Huang Ming rolled his eyes and started to say something, but his brother was not paying attention.
‘But not as awesome as you,’ Huang Lang thought proudly.
Two brothers reunited,
Their futures shining bright.