“But our most dangerous enemies are the ones we never knew we had.”
Chapter 163 – Busybodies
There was a gentle knock on the door and Zhao Sunli paused from reading the extremely long letter that Huang Ming had wrote her. It was very detailed, worrying at some parts, entertaining at others. The knock on the door was a welcome signal for a break, and Sunli meticulously folded and kept the letter to be finished later.
She raised her head and tilted it from side to side to loosen up. A stranger would be alarmed at seeing and hearing the cricks and pops from her neck as she did so.
Perhaps they might be even more shocked to see the the tanned, athletic woman known as the War Goddess had been deeply immersed in reading. After all, she was more known for her martial prowess rather than literary skill.
Little did they know that she truly enjoyed reading. Only a select few knew of her hobby, and one of them happened to her newly arrived guest.
“I would have thought you have finished reading everything by now, did something in particular caught your fancy?” Lin Hua asked slyly. The young and beautiful heiress of the Hall of Treasures and Antiquities had moved from Tianxin City to settle in the capital. After Huang Ming’s presentation of the music box to the King of Wu, the hall’s fame rose rapidly. Her gamble had paid off handsomely, and it gave her the opportunity and resources to establish her own roots.
She had her own reasons to come to the capital, foremost among them was to be able to freely indulge in her own literary interests. Lin Hua was pleasantly surprised that Sunli had remained in the capital, and the two quickly became reacquainted, often sharing meals and spending time discussing this or that novel pairing.
Sunli was especially glad for her friendship. Sunli’s fame meant she could not easily purchase the special books that she enjoyed. Lin Hua’s arrival meant a steady source of reading material and a companion to discuss and share opinions with.
“I have a lot of free time,” Sunli said brusquely.
Lin Hua arched a pretty eyebrow. “No extra drills at the training ground today?”
“They are getting better. They learn fast,” Sunli admitted.
“Or are you avoiding General Yin?” Lin Hua asked, and Sunli glared back at her in warning.
Lin Hua was referring to the fact that Sunli was now the ‘guest instructor’ for the Imperial Guards. Those who knew the War Goddess personally, Lin Hua included; thought that she would follow Huang Ming to Beihai, but instead Sunli opted to remain in the capital for unknown reasons.
In any event, none was more delighted with her decision to stay in the capital than General Yin Yanzhao, the new commander of the King’s Imperial Guard.
Under the insidious influence of the former Marshal Gao Fang and then Commander Wang Hong, the Imperial Guard had devolved into a shadow of its former illustrious self. General Yin’s first order of business was to clear out the undesirable and lacking among the guardsmen. As a result, their numbers were severely diminished. The rot was deep and entrenched, but the general decisively chopped it off. What few guards remained were bolstered by new and eager men, hand-picked by General Yin himself.
This gave General Yin the excuse to seek out Sunli often, to get her take a formal post within the Imperial Guard. The War Goddess was reluctant as it was unheard of for a woman to be recruited into the guard. A few of the guards chafed at the suggestion, and one of them made the mistake of making a snide remark that entered Sunli’s ears.
“Say that again?” Sunli had demanded.
“I said you’re better off as a bed warmer. I want to see what you’ve got,” the oaf leered. He towered head and shoulders over her, and he was rightfully proud of his physical strength. He behaved as if the very thought of being subordinate to this female turned his stomach.
Unfortunately for him, he then suffered a very real physical reaction, for Sunli had buried her fist into his stomach. The big man keeled over and fell onto his knees as half-digested food came spewing out.
As he coughed and heaved, Sunli bent over to grown in his ear menacingly, “This is what I’ve got.”
Such an incident did not escape the attention of General Yin. The brutish oaf was drummed out of the guard, never to appear again. Sunli herself was cordially ‘invited’ to explain the situation.
“He had it coming,” Sunli said curtly.
“Even so, you assaulted a member of the Imperial Guard,” General Yin said sternly. “It would not do for word of this to get out, just when I am trying to rebuild the guard. It will destroy what little credibility they have left.”
“I know you still have some doubts about joining the guard proper, but I can use your expertise in training them as a guest instructor. They need someone like you, someone with actual combat experience,” General Yin said.
What else could she do but to accept?
For the weeks following the incident, General Yin and Sunli mercilessly drilled the Imperial Guard in true soldiery, putting fear and respect back into the Imperial Guard.
It meant General Yin and Sunli worked closely and even though their relationship was purely professional, rumours were bound to erupt. Even the Imperial Guards were whispering and joking about their unofficial “big sister-in-law”.
It was undeniable that the two looked good together. General Yin was embarrassed and Sunli ruthlessly punished the guards who dared to spread such gossip, yet as the saying goes, what was told to the ear of one man could often be heard a hundred miles away.
Even Lin Hua couldn’t resist teasing Sunli about it. If she knew that Sunli was in fact engaged to Huang Ming, Lin Hua would not have joked about it. But the engagement was never truly publicized, and it was made all the more awkward when Qiong Ying followed Huang Ming to Beihai.
The engagement bore heavily on Sunli. One might say that it was a key reason for her to remain in the capital instead of going to Beihai.
“What don’t you like about General Yin? Are you finding it difficult to talk to him?” Lin Hua asked mischievously, oblivious to the truth about Sunli’s engagement.
“Stop it,” Sunli growled.
Lin Hua smiled broadly. “Well, maybe this can help. I have a present for you,” she said.
Misguided good intention,