Wednesday,
Caught the sniffles,
Blocked airway,
And the mucus trickles.

 



"Oh darling, when you smile, that's what I live for. When you smile.”
--Eleanor Prentiss Shaw, ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ (2004)


Chapter 168 – The basis of treachery

Beads of sweat rolled off Nangong Xie’s face as he struggled to climb out of his wooden wheelchair. He hissed at the sharp pain that shot up his crippled leg. Eventually he managed to stand upright, gingerly balancing himself on his other leg to alleviate the pressure.


It was just a whim, an impulse that he decided to stand up there and then. He could have easily just rolled on his wheelchair to get the jug of water from his table, but he suddenly decided to stand and use his own two legs instead.


Well, one leg at least.


He limped his way to the table, putting as little weight on his crippled leg as possible. After what seemed to be an eternity, Nangong Xie reached his goal. A slight smile floated on his face as he slowly poured himself a cup of water. He relished the cool drink slowly. He exhaled in satisfaction, and moved to refill his cup.


His sense of triumph vanished when he saw that his hand was shaking.


Being a scholar who was fed with a silver-spoon from his birth, Nangong Xie was not one to exert himself physically. The most strenuous activities he had ever done was usually limited to the bedroom.


He looked down and saw that his crippled leg was twitching intermittently. Even his good leg, the one he was standing on, was trembling as it was supporting his entire weight on its own, causing that foot to be on pins on needles.


The signs of weakness gnawed on him. To think that the playboy, wealthy scholar of Tianxin City who had risen to be the Prime Minister of Wu’s chief advisor was now hopping around on one leg, because he was afraid of the pain!


Nangong Xie the Handsome Scholar, reduced to a cripple!


Fire roared in his soul, and he angrily threw the empty cup at the wall. It shattered into smithereens.


Then, silence.


It was yet another reminder of his current situation. In his opulent homes in Wu, countless servants would have rushed into the room in alarm. He had beautiful maids and powerful guards waiting on him hand and foot.


But now… the minutes passed in silence. It seemed no one heard the sound of shattering ceramic.


Or nobody cared.


He was, after all, a foreigner in Jin. Though his minders were polite, he could not help but see ridicule and scorn in their eyes. Though the Jins have advanced quickly in recent years, their nomadic traditions of horse-riding and martial prowess were still important. A scholar with a crippled leg like himself would be looked on as an oddity, a freak.


Nangong Xie was about to throw the jug of water to join the broken cup, but his hand brushed against a sheaf of documents. And just like that, his fury vanished.


They were papers sent to him by his benefactors in Jin. Nangong Xie was no fool, he knew he was saved by the mysterious masked man because he could still serve a purpose.


Purpose.


Those documents were collated by various agents and spies of the Jin in various parts of the continent, including his home kingdom of Wu. He was given the duty of filtering the information and formulate strategies to the benefit of Jin and the detriment of Wu.


In essence, betray his home country.


In the past, even a frivolous playboy such as himself would quail at the thought of becoming a traitor. He was a lusty man, but he was still a scholar of some repute. A wealthy gentleman of leisure, aloof from politics and the troubles that plague the poor and ordinary. He spent his life pursuing pleasure and satisfying his hedonistic urges: seducing women and corrupting others around him, urging them to fall into depravity with him.


But… to commit treason against the land of his birth. It was unimaginable.


Until he arrived at the capital. Having gotten a taste of political power when he first dabbled with Lord Fang La, Nangong Xie soon climbed over the nobleman’s head and latched himself to Tong Xuan, the powerful Prime Minister of Wu. He saw for himself the games the politicians and official play, while the king was helpless. All the concepts of loyalty and national allegiance, things which he never really paid attention to; were completely wiped away.


Why should he be one of those jingoistic patriots who would willingly shed blood for a country that was ruled by the self-serving and greedy officials? They ate and drank well, their beds were warm at night and they spend money like water because they could exploit the country as they wished. Serve the country? Sacrifice and endure hardship? What nonsense! The Prime Minister himself was a traitor!


It seemed the kingdom would soon fall into the hands of the Prime Minister himself, and Nangong Xie would ride on his coattails.


He was given the task of seducing the Princess of Wu over to their side. It seemed simple enough, and if he played his cards right he could ensure that he would be on the winning side. Perhaps he could even marry the princess and take the throne himself after backstabbing Tong Xuan at some opportune time…


Alas, such lofty aspirations were not to be. It all went terribly wrong, and it was all because of Huang Ming.


Nangong Xie seethed as he clutched at his crippled leg which was broken by that man. He had taken Huang Ming for granted, and he had paid the price for underestimating him.


Nangong Xie can still remember the nonchalant expression, the smirk on Huang Ming’s face. What would he give to wipe that smile off Huang Ming’s face for good!


Purpose…


Becoming a traitor? So what? From what he had read in these documents, it was just a matter of time before Jin will rule the world. The other kingdoms were rotten structures, just waiting for a good kick to come crashing down…


The Handsome Scholar sat himself down to study the documents. He picked up a brush, and began to write, a cold smile on his lips.


***


To say that Qiong Ying was displeased when Huang Ming brought back a woman was an understatement. Despite the woman’s worn and tired appearance, Qiong Ying could see that she was a beauty once properly clothed and cleansed.


The woman became the new maid, serving Huang Ming personally. She soon regained her health, and it seemed that she bloomed like a flower and grew more beautiful from day to day.


Of course, Qiong Ying knew that Huang Ming had his reasons, but she couldn’t resist teasing him and showing her displeasure.


“You were only gone for one morning and you’ve come back with a replacement for me?” she had asked him, acting suitably distraught.


“Don’t be silly, it’s too soon to get a new model,” Huang Ming smirked. He leaned in to her ear and whispered, “I’ve yet to break this one, even though I have tried my hardest…”


Qiong Ying flushed and punched him in the shoulder.


“Well, what’s her story?” she asked.


“She’s the former maid of General Yin,” Huang Ming told her.


Qiong Ying’s eyes widened. “Where did you find her?”


“She was living by herself, keeping vigil over the graves of the Yin family. Apparently she offended the general in the past, and though she was pardoned later, she never forgave herself and stayed on as penance,” Huang Ming said.


Qiong Ying gave him an incredulous look. “That sounds like something out of a tragedy opera. Don’t tell me that you believe in such a story?”


Huang Ming shrugged. “According to the locals, everything she said really did happen. General Yin really did banish a maid for theft not long after his wife’s passing.”


“You sound like you already believe her,” Qiong Ying said accusingly, raising an eyebrow. “Is it because you think you found a rough diamond to be polished?”


“But she’s so piteous, I can’t help myself,” Huang Ming quipped.


Then he laughed. Qiong Ying’s face was of someone who had just swallowed vinegar, and he found it amusing that the renowned Lady of the Lichun could display such an expression.


“Stop joking, this is no laughing matter,” Qiong Ying said, peeved. “You are not one to fall for the damsel in distress trick, so why start now?”


Huang Ming’s smile turned cold.


“Because she’s a spy.”
 

Hidden intent,
Yet he caught the scent.​