“The only thing that exists between Yuktobania and Osea is hatred.”
--Captain of the Umely, ‘Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War’
Chapter 140 – Commit
When General Yin Yanzhao saw how Sunli was glaring daggers at Huang Ming, he could not help but bark with laughter.
“I can see that there is real sentiment between you two,” the general commented merrily.
Sunli flushed, but Huang Ming easily accepted the remark with a grin.
“Of course. There must be some sentiment between us, otherwise this engagement would not last. We have our rough spots here and there but what couple wouldn’t?” he said brightly, ignoring the way Sunli was biting her lower lip.
General Yin nodded sagely. “Indeed, no marriage is completely smooth sailing,” he said with a chuckle. “Seeing you two today reminds me of my own departed wife.”
Huang Ming bowed apologetically. “I was careless with my tongue, please forgive my inconsiderate words.”
The general waved it off. “Do not worry, it was very long ago since I had came to terms with her passing.”
“Has the general not thought of remarrying?” Sunli asked, recalling the stubborn way her own father Zhao Tong had remained single after becoming a widower.
Huang Ming winced at her thoughtless question. The Amazon had asked the question without any ulterior motives, and did not notice a shadow flicker across the general’s face.
“In my life, I have only known two remarkable women,” General Yin said wistfully, his grey eyes gazing levelly at her. Unfortunately for him, Sunli merely nodded and kept her head bowed in thought as she was thinking about the lack of a woman by her father’s side.
“Let us turn to other matters,” Huang Ming put in hurriedly. “I have never been to the north, what is it like?”
General Yin smiled bemusedly as he thought Huang Ming was embarrassed by the line of conversation, whereas Sunli seemed clueless by the faux pax she had committed.
“It is cold and unforgiving. But the wide open steppes with the seas of grass are a sight to behold, and there is nothing like feeling the wind in your hair as you ride through it,” the general said and sighed.
Huang Ming nodded in understanding. “You have often been called the shield of the north, our bulwark of defence against Jin. You saw how belligerent Ambassador Lord Aidi was, do you think they are preparing for war soon?”
“They are a warrior people. They have always eyed the central plains with avarice, but they do so out of necessity. The north can be quite inhospitable, and it is no surprise that they covet our plentiful lands,” the general answered.
“But are we of any danger from them currently?” Huang Ming asked urgently.
“Danger can come from any where,” General Yin said enigmatically. “But I understand your concerns. In recent years they have remained relatively quiet, but I have heard rumours from traders about massive reconstruction and reformation efforts. Though I have seen nothing about gearing for war.”
“What about the Princess of Jin? Lord Aidi seemed very proud of her.”
“A remarkable woman,” General Yin said immediately. “The Prince of Jin is a great man in his own right, but there are many who say that much of his success is the work of the Princess of Jin as well.”
The general paused to rub his chin thoughtfully. “You asked if we’re in any danger from them. My answer is this: yes, there is always the threat of war. They have always been a warlike people. But remember, they stood by and did nothing while we were entangled with Wei. For the time being, they seem more interested in domestic development, rather than war.”
Huang Ming blinked. “You sound as if you admire them,” he said slowly.
“Do you find it strange?”
“Well, your family is known for its many stories of hardships and struggles against the Jins…” Huang Ming trailed off.
“If you had asked me this ten years ago when I was still young and hotheaded, I would have said they were just barbarians. But now their people are strong and their leaders wise. Despite what some of our scholars think, we are hardly in a position to criticize them,” the general said sarcastically.
Huang Ming kept his excitement down. The off-handed comment was the general’s strongest indication yet about the state of affairs in their own country.
“It is kill or be killed,” General Yin continued, almost fatalistically. “We are merely warriors doing our duties. I hold no personal hatred against the Jins, they are only trying to find richer lands of milk and honey for their people. It just so happens that my family is the one standing in their way.”
Huang Ming nodded and filed the general’s information away to be shared with Qiong Ying later. Sunli on the other hand found Huang Ming’s questions to be bewildering. Why was he suddenly interested in the north and the Princess of Jin?
Underneath their table, Sunli pinched Huang Ming’s thigh.
“Perhaps we should discuss more relevant matters,” she growled.
Huang Ming did not let the pain show on his face.
“General, you spoke of duty. I now have a charge for you…”
The general saw the solemn look on their faces and leaned in to listen closely.
Several poignant minutes later, General Yin leaned back and exhaled heavily. Only a few moments had passed, yet the general’s face seemed to have aged.
“General, the king requires your assistance,” Huang Ming said gravely.
“I see now why you were asking about the north, you were worried of an attack by Jin while we are dealing with… with this,” General Yin muttered.
“Can we count on you, sir? The Imperial Guard under Wang Hong is a threat, and you are our best hope to counter it,” Huang Ming said.
“This is for our country, I will of course do my utmost,” the general agreed.
Thus arrangements were made for future meetings. The general promised to attend and then they parted ways satisfactorily.
General Yin stared at the departing backs of Huang Ming and Sunli, unknown questions running through his mind. Already he could see Sunli was disgruntled at Huang Ming, and she was demanding one thing or another that was beyond the general’s hearing.
He smiled cynically.
“We have enlisted the general’s help,” Huang Ming announced to Huang Lang and his brother-in-law Cao Shuang at the latter’s brothel hideout.
“Good, that is one thing done,” Huang Lang said with satisfaction. But he saw that Huang Ming was still uncertain.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
“There is something about the general that is unsettling to me,” Huang Ming said.
“You’re probably just jealous of the way he approached your fiancée,” Cao Shuang said snidely.
Huang Ming pulled a face but said nothing. How was he going to explain that his doubts were just unjustified feelings? There was no evidence to support his suspicions.
“Well, it would not hurt to keep an eye on him,” Huang Lang mused aloud.
Cao Shuang eyed his sister’s husband critically. “Are you accusing the general of something? He is a tried and true patriot whose fame is known to all.”
“We should always have contingencies,” Huang Lang said amicably. “But let us put that aside. Have you managed to track down that Nangong Xie?”
It was Cao Shuang’s turn to grimace. “I am working on it,” he said.
“I had already introduced Princess Wu Liying to you, have you not coordinated with her?” Huang Lang asked with a frown.
“Do you think it is wise to have her be part of this personally?” Cao Shuang grumbled.
“What, are you afraid of her? That’s it, isn’t it? You’re intimidated by her!” Huang Ming laughed.
Cao Shuang glared at him incredulously. “She is the princess! She should not be involved in such matters!”
“I’ll be sure to tell her that you think she’s incapable,” Huang Ming said dryly, and the governor’s son turned pale.
“That is not what I meant,” Cao Shuang said hurriedly.
“This matter shouldn’t be delayed any further,” Huang Lang said.
“That’s right,” Huang Ming agreed, enjoying the look on Cao Shuang’s face.
Then Huang Lang turned to him.
“Perhaps you should act as bait to lure Nangong Xie out,” he suggested.
Huang Ming goggled at his brother. “That is not what I meant-”
“Right!” Cao Shuang interrupted. “The princess should tell Nangong Xie that Huang Ming is leaving the capital soon. Surely he could not bear to miss the chance to kill him. Then when he appears, we will nab him!”
It was Cao Shuang’s turn to smirk at Huang Ming.
“Don’t worry, we’ll keep you safe,” he said with grin.
Subdued emotions and premonition,
Wheels in motion, gaining traction.