“Peace is Our Profession.”
--Motto of the US Strategic Air Command
Chapter 137 – Scripting
Despite the reservations of Uncle Li Hong, the rest of the clandestine meeting proceeded smoothly. The two Huang brothers took charge of the briefing. Having decided on the goal of assassinating Prime Minister Tong Xuan, ideas were bandied freely about on the method to be used.
In Huang Ming’s opinion, the easiest way was to install an explosive device on the Prime Minister’s carriage. However there were difficulties in producing the explosive elements in this world, let alone a way to remotely detonate it from a safe distance. Besides, Huang Lang had insisted on several criteria.
“The Prime Minister must be arrested or killed openly and in full view of witnesses,” he said.
“Firstly, it is to cow his lackeys and subordinates. They must be frightened into surrendering without resistance, lest they rise up and cause a disturbance in the capital,” Huang Lang answered.
Huang Ming understood this point, he had seen first hand what had happened when Marshal Gao Fang had ‘disappeared’ after the defeat in Wei. His subordinates simply did not believe he was gone and had refused to allow the defeated army to return home, citing the marshal’s standing orders.
“Secondly, there must be a smooth transition of power. After Tong Xuan is removed, the king must quickly appoint a new prime minister to regain public confidence and prevent a power grab,” Huang Lang continued.
Again, Huang Ming agreed with his brother. After the end of Gao Fang, the position of Marshal of the Armies became empty. There were many rumoured to be covetous of the job, and the king had been reluctant to appoint a new marshal for fear of another Gao Fang. It meant even loyal figures like his own father General Huang Zheng were eyed by suspicion.
“Who do you have in mind?” he asked.
“Muge Jian is looking into it,” Huang Lang replied succinctly. It was a tone that meant ‘do not ask further’, and so Huang Ming changed tack.
“You said Nangong Xie is here and in league with the Prime Minister. All this talk would be for nothing if he recognizes you,” Huang Ming said to his brother. “Or you,” he added, pointing at Cao Shuang.
“Leave him to me,” Cao Shuang grunted. “If his habits remained the same, it would be easy for my people to lure him away.”
Huang Ming arched a brow. “And if he has changed his ways?”
“I will just use force,” Cao Shuang replied bluntly.
Huang Lang rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “The princess did say he was trying to seduce her. Maybe she could work together with Cao Shuang,” he said, giving his brother a meaningful look.
“Good idea,” Huang Ming agreed immediately. The two brothers were of course glad to hook up the princess with someone other than themselves. Cao Shuang was a good nominee: the son of a governor, single, young and successful.
Cao Shuang was not oblivious, he had the suspicions that he was being set up for something. But before he could voice his objection, Huang Lang ignored him and ploughed on.
“Another concern is the imperial guard,” he said. “After the fall of Marshal Gao, Tong Xuan appointed his own subordinate to take charge of the guards. We must take care lest the king be harmed.”
Huang Ming’s mind drifted to the Praetorian Guard of Ancient Rome: the elite bodyguards of the emperor had demonstrated their willingness to depose and even kill their charge in times of chaos.
“But the current leader is Wang Hong, he is very powerful,” Uncle Li Hong said. “He will have to be removed permanently, he is not the sort to take kindly to be demoted.”
“I suppose you have a plan to deal with him too?” Huang Ming asked sarcastically.
“We need someone to defeat him in combat. It may be necessary in order to seize direct command of the guards,” Huang Lang murmured.
Huang Ming immediately thought of his brother Huang Ke the Mountain-Splitter and Liu Xiang the Iron Tiger, but the two military men had responsibilities in Tigertrap Fortress and Tianxin City.
Here ‘Quan Lu’ snapped his fan open and smiled. “Well, what about Ms. Zhao Sunli? She has the martial skills and military reputation,” the disguised Qiong Ying suggested.
“Where is she anyway? Why isn’t she here?” Huang Ming asked.
“Oh, she went out with General Yin Yanzhao the White Star,” Uncle Li Hong answered.
“Eh?” Huang Ming and Quan Lu chimed together.
“He came to call on her to discuss military matters,” Li Hong said. “Speaking of whom, wouldn’t he be a good choice?”
“If we are able to convince him to join our cause, it would be ideal,” Cao Shuang enthused.
“We will have to tread carefully. Ah Ming, perhaps you could handle this?” Huang Lang asked.
It was a question, but Huang Ming knew it was more like an order. He had direct ties to Sunli, and it would be logical for him to ask her about the general. Besides, he was curious about the general himself.
The meeting ended soon thereafter. As it dispersed, Uncle Li Hong drew his nephews aside.
“You two are reckless,” he admonished in a stern voice.
“Me? But I-” Huang Ming started to protest, wanting to point out that his involvement was not his choice.
“We apologize, uncle,” Huang Lang interrupted.
“I look away for a moment and now you two are risking the lives of our entire clans in this plot,” Li Hong sighed.
Huang Ming grimaced. “It is not my-”
“The fate of our country is at stake, and we cannot stand idly by,” Huang Lang interrupted again.
“I suppose it is the right thing to do,” Li Hong said resignedly.
Then he narrowed his eyes at Huang Ming. “You better keep an eye on him lest he steals Miss Sunli away,” he warned.
“But-” Huang Ming started to say.
“Uncle, do not fear. They are engaged,” Huang Lang said.
Uncle Li Hong was of course delighted, having thought of that particular idea after being leery of Huang Ming’s closeness with ‘Quan Lu’.
“Really?” he beamed. “Well, that is reassuring. Still, you must not let down your guard and be complacent. The man is a widower after all, and he is still fit and healthy. And good looking.”
“I-” Huang Ming grumbled.
“No, that would not do at all,” Uncle Li Hong ignored him. “Yes, yes, we all admire General Yin, but this is your love life we are talking about. You will need to buck up, your flaws are far too many when compared to the general.”
“You are absolutely right, uncle,” Huang Lang said solemnly. He turned to give his younger brother a serious look. “You must be careful so as not to offend either the general or Miss Zhao, we need either one to accomplish our goals. It would be best to have them both, but without their military skills to handle the imperial guards, our plans would be in peril.”
Uncle Li Hong rubbed his hands together. “We still have some spare time, I shall arrange for you to be alone with Miss Zhao. Mmm, good, good,” he mumbled to himself and nodded in satisfaction.
Without even waiting for Huang Ming to respond, Huang Lang and Li Hong walked away to discuss other matters.
Huang Ming stared at them, his mouth half-open.
“Looks like you have your work cut out for you,” Qiong Ying said she fanned herself with a smile.
A few more hurdles,
Before the reversal.