The coming light
“Let's hope this elevates their thinking.”
--Brigadier General Francis Xavier Hummel, ‘The Rock’ (1996)
Chapter 166 – The coming light
Qiong Ying blinked and suddenly realized it was the crack of dawn. The little candle light on her desk flickered, struggling valiantly to remain relevant in spite of the approaching morning.
She snuffed out the candle and sighed as she stood up to stretch and ease the knots in her body, having bent over the desk reading letters and reports the previous night. Fortunately there was no one around to hear her breathy moan as she revelled in the minor exercise.
Unfortunately it also meant that she was alone in the room.
Qiong Ying glanced resentfully at the empty bed, irked that the person who usually share it with her was missing.
She trudged over to the window and opened it to take in the fresh morning air, standing on tiptoes as she did so. Her room was in the pagoda-like official residence and thus there was no danger of her identity being exposed.
Qiong Ying then proceeded to do a set of very modern light workout as taught to her by Huang Ming. Obviously there was no way for her to know it was known as radio exercise on Earth. At first she was skeptical of the comical and repetitive moves, but over time she found herself much more limber and energized throughout the day and thus kept to the regimen religiously.
The dawn had given way to morning when she was done. Qiong Ying exhaled into her hands and rubbed them together, feeling the warmth that was now permeating through her body after the exercise.
Her emerald green eyes scanned the cityscape of Beihai below her. Unlike the stagnate atmosphere that she had discovered when she first arrived, Beihai was now much more lively. Already shops and street merchants were beginning their day of business.
As a result of direct investment and influx of trade, the city was rising out of its stupor. For too long the rest of the Kingdom of Wu had all but taken the fortress city of Beihai for granted. It was simply assumed that the heroic city which had withstood numerous trials and tribulations throughout history was self-sufficient and stood aloof proudly without complaint.
Only the very public efforts and letter campaign instigated by Huang Ming and his friends revealed the truth, that the shining city that was the first line of defence against Wu was actually battered and tired. Just like how Tianxin City inspired a wave of patriotic fervour before the ill-fated campaign in Wei, Beihai now was the focus of aid and the topic of discussion throughout the country.
It also meant a fresh faced young blood flooding into the city, eager to contribute. Not as many were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and serve as soldiers, but the surrounding countryside had men (and women!) more than willing to help out in any way they can.
Including Qiong Ying. As Huang Ming became the public face of city, she in turn worked from the shadows. Using her disguise and charisma, she quickly established a network of information gatherers, linking up with her agents in various cities. Essentially, she had transferred her headquarters from the Lichun Brothel to a new office in Beihai. Madam Xu took charge of Tianxin City while Little Yin was in the capital to keep tabs for her.
Just as she had promised the Huangs, she was gathering information and secrets from the length and breadth of the continent, filtering and feeding them to Huang Ming.
Qiong Ying then cast her eyes outward towards the horizon, where she knew Huang Ming was. Her fiancé informed her of his intentions to patrol outside the city, and despite his assurances she could not help but feel slightly worried.
The growing vibrancy and resurgence of Beihai had sparked rumours of covetous Jin intentions once more. The Jins had always eyed southward and Beihai was like an enormous stumbling block in its way. Surely they will not stand idly by as the city regains its strength. Surely her sister would make a move soon…
The sombre reminder brought a determined frown on Qiong Ying’s face. She took one last look at the horizon before heading back to her desk and the pile of documents. Huang Ming was already hard at work, and she too must do her part.
Huang Ming yawned widely, eliciting a chuckle from his personal guards. They had ridden out of the city for a few hours, but Huang Ming suddenly decided to go on foot for the final leg. They were approaching a small and lonesome hill that stood out in the vast steppes.
“Tired, sir?” one of them asked.
“I was up all night,” Huang Ming said with a straight face.
The guards grinned and elbowed each other knowingly.
“Had fun last night, sir?” the grizzled and scarred leader of the White Wolves asked mischievously. He was now Huang Ming’s chief of security.
“Fun? I was busy with the paperwork generated by you lot,” Huang Ming growled.
The soldiers were not convinced. They had heard whispers of their superior’s lascivious past, and there were rumours about how he was keeping a beautiful creature in his official residence, an enchanting personage that was said to be able to stun the birds into falling from the sky and sink the fishes in the rivers.
The stories were further muddied by the fact that no one knew for sure whether Huang Ming’s paramour was a woman or a man. The group that had escorted Huang Ming to Beihai were extremely tight-lipped and elusive. Huang Ming’s approachability and general friendliness meant the gossip were allowed to circulate, and the guards freely joked and teased him about it.
“Yes, I’m sure you’re practising your penmanship, sir,” the veteran smirked.
“Dipping into the ink well again, eh?”
“I’m sure he has a firm grip.”
And so on.
Huang Ming endured their teasing, it was harmless fun and reminded him of the crude jokes and banter between fellow soldiers across different times and places. It was reassuring to know that some things never change.
The little patrol fell silent on its own as they neared the hill. From afar there was nothing visibly special about the insignificant little outcrop, but when they got close enough they could see obviously man-made mounds dotting the small hill.
It was a small graveyard. The wooden markers had rotted long ago, and the mounds themselves were covered in grass.
“Is this it?” Huang Ming asked softly.
His minders nodded gloomily.
“Yes sir. The graves of General Yin’s family.”
Early morn, the crack of dawn,
Visited the resting place of the gone.