“Who won? Who’s next? You decide!”
--Epic Rap Battles of History
Chapter Eighteen - The Promise
Huang Ming sensed that he had gained the attention of the hall, and now the momentum had shifted to his side. He decided to act quickly; to dally further would invite more questions from the Caos and sarcastic remarks from those hostile to him, such as Nangong Xie.
“I am but a selfish person, thus my words are selfish in nature. Compared to my brother, I am nothing. I do not have his temperament or wisdom. You can easily see the difference when you read what he had wrote,” Huang Ming said.
Huang Ming conspiratorially nudged his older brother with his foot under the table. Huang Lang stood, but turned to brush some imaginary dust off Huang Ming’s shoulder. To observers, it looked like a display of brotherly love, the elder dropping all sense of urgency to take care of his brash younger brother.
However, Huang Lang only did it so that his face was hidden from the Caos. He smiled with gritted teeth.
“You little punk, how am I suppose to top what you just did?” he hissed as he patted Huang Ming’s shoulder and made some minor adjustments to his clothing.
“It is not just what you wrote; presentation is important too. Be bold as you never been before!” Huang Ming whispered back.
Huang Lang nodded, and when he turned back to face the Caos his face was calm and composed once more. He bowed to them and said, “Huang Lang apologizes for his brother’s rash request.”
Cao Tianyun blinked, as if disoriented. She retrieved the paper submitted by Huang Lang and slowly read,
“To be a virtuous man,
Is the mark of greatness.
To have a virtuous wife,
Is to have a life of sweetness.
I promise an unchanging love,
Witnessed by the heavens above,
I will honour my lifelong companion,
Forever I will be her champion.
Her loved ones I will cherish,
She will never feel anguish.
I am a man not without fault,
I swear no woman will be her equal,
For her, I will not halt.
For her, I will brave all evil.”
To the envy of the young men present, Cao Tianyun actually reddened as she read Huang Lang’s submission. The men were inflamed as this desirous and intelligent girl blushed. She kept her watery eyes on the piece of paper even as the author in question stood in acknowledgement. The Cao matrons glanced at her and smiled, exchanging knowing looks.
The two brothers were now standing together. Huang Ming resisted the temptation to cringe and swatted aside sarcastic thoughts about diabetic sweetness.
‘My brother is such a romantic,’ Huang Ming thought. He was close enough to see Huang Lang’s ears were burning red, and it probably took the entirety of his will to stand there without trembling. He could not remember his brother ever being so open with his feelings before.
Huang Lang’s words were very bold in this world’s society. It was almost a love letter, akin to someone serenading in public. If someone else had written it, they would be looked down as being frivolous or flirty. But since it was from the hand of the Celestial Qilin who was famous for his calm and steady nature, it came across as admirable and pure. Look at him, standing there so majestically with his hands behind his back, his face serene and his eyes clear, so straightforward and unashamed!
Judging by the sighs and longing looks from the maids and servant girls of the Cao household, it seemed women of this era were not immune to direct proclamations like this. Huang Ming wondered if they would spontaneously combust if he had written lyrics of love songs from Earth instead.
The previous suitors had tried to appeal to the Caos by making bombastic statements about their dreams or lauding the virtues of Cao Tianyun. In short, it was either praising themselves or the lady in question, viewed as simple man and woman. None of them addressed what they would do together once they were husband and wife.
Earlier on, Huang Ming had tugged on Cao Tianyun’s ideals. Now Huang Lang played to her sentiments. One was like a great friend, but the other would make a great husband. It was a two-hit combo and it worked to throw the Caos off-balance.
“This is not poetry,” Huang Lang said suddenly.
“Oh?” Lady Cao asked, recovering her imposing aura somewhat.
“This is my marriage vow,” Huang Lang said.
A stunned silence.
Under the astonished gaze of the entire hall, Huang Lang slowly made his way forward and stood before the three Cao ladies.
He bowed deeply to them and solemnly said, “Huang Lang, son of General Huang Zheng, hereby asks for the hand of your virtuous daughter, Cao Tianyun.”
Some of the maids of the Cao household swooned while others had starry eyes; they have never seen such a dramatic occasion. Usually such things were done using matchmakers so that some measure of face could be saved in the event of rejection. Such a direct proposal was nearly unheard of.
The other young men in the hall could only watch on with a mixture of admiration and anticipation. Even Cao Shuang was gobsmacked; he stood there in shock, his attention alternating between his sister and Huang Lang.
“You say you will cherish her loved ones, does that include her father Cao Yuan and her brother Cao Shuang?” Matriarch Cao asked gravely.
“When we are married, our families will be as one,” Huang Lang answered.
“What do you mean by an unchanging love?” Lady Cao challenged.
“She will be my one and only wife, I will not take mistresses or lovers,” Huang Lang replied immediately.
“Good, good!” Matriarch Cao exclaimed.
Cao Tianyun blushed a deeper shade of crimson as the matrons nodded. Huang Ming blinked when he saw that they were smiling in a satisfied manner. Flashes of his brother’s recent words and behaviour streaked through his mind, and he began to smell a set-up.
Everyone in the hall knew by now that the Cao matrons had approved of Huang Lang. The only thing left was for Cao Tianyun to give her own agreement, but one look at the young woman’s shyness was answer enough to silence the doubters.
On the other hand, Cao Shuang was not entirely convinced. There were many who aspired to obtain the fabled ‘three wives and four concubines’. Cao Shuang did not consider himself a particularly promiscuous person, but he too did not see any reason to limit himself to just one wife. It was a man’s right to have many loves, if one is capable of it. It was a way of thought shared by many men of the era.
“I find it hard to believe you,” Cao Shuang said.
“Your father has one wife; my father too has one wife. Both our houses have no concubines, why would you find it difficult to believe me?” Huang Lang said with a smile.
Cao Shuang was taken aback. Then he pointed at Huang Ming and said, “Your brother is no paragon of virtue!”
Huang Lang laughed. “We are two different people, you should already know this. His song has already demonstrated how differently we brothers view the world.”
“I never said I’m a paragon of virtue,” Huang Ming muttered.
“But there’s enmity between our houses!” Cao Shuang objected.
“Thus it is fitting that we should end our feud amicably with ties of marriage,” Huang Lang said smoothly.
“You think this can be settled so easily with mere promises?” Cao Shuang asked disbelievingly.
Huang Lang spread his hands open and gestured to the rest of the hall. “In front of so many esteemed witnesses, how could I go back on my words?”
Huang Ming was surprised by his elder brother once again. Recently he had been accused of having a glib tongue, but now Huang Lang was proving that he too was no less fluent and persuasive.
“Ah Shuang, enough,” Lady Cao said sternly. “Since when do you have a say in your sister’s marriage? Have you forgotten that your father had promised for her to choose her own husband?”
Cao Shuang was stumped. He looked urgently for a trusted person to call for his father, but his servant Wang Hao was nowhere to be seen. The other servants in the hall answered directly to the Cao ladies, and Cao Shuang had little chance of commanding their loyalty. Besides, they were all staring and gasping in veneration of Huang Lang’s public declaration.
Just as he was in the depths of despair, the main doors of the hall opened. Everyone turned to look. It was Wang Hao who came in, guiding a dignified person.
Could the situation worsen,
Who was this person?