The surrender (3)
“A man tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories.”
--Will Bloom, ‘Big Fish’ (2003)
Chapter 186 – The surrender (3)
Shadowy figures crept in Huang Ming’s residence. There were only a few guards as the rest of his men were already deployed as part of Beihai’s makeshift defence force.
As expected, Huang Ming’s study was still lit by candlelight. The intruder easily bypassed the gaps in the security to head directly to his quarry.
The intruder poked a hole in the paper window, and after making sure that their target was alone; confidently strode into the room.
Huang Ming was bent over his desk, pouring over the documents and reports. The candlelight seemed to highlight the dark rings around his eyes and frayed hair-do.
“Put the tea over there, Miss Xilei. You can go turn in for the night,” he mumbled.
“I’m not Xilei,” a menacing voice replied.
Huang Ming looked up from his documents in surprise.
“You are…?” he asked slowly.
“Your nightmare,” the intruder chuckled hoarsely.
Songdan emerged from the shadows, a gleaming dagger in his hand. The long hair covering half of his face fluttered in the night breeze, occasionally revealing glimpses of the scarred visage beneath.
Contrary to expectations, Huang Ming merely leaned back in his seat and steepled his fingers in a relaxed gesture.
“Well, about time you showed up. Is there only one of you? I must say that I’m a little disappointed,” he said calmly.
Songdan was astonished, then furious. “Don’t try to play the cool customer,” the gloomy man said, his dagger gleaming in the candlelight.
“I’m not, I am actually very frightened,” Huang Ming said, shaking his head.
“You do not look like it,” Songdan said. Already suspicious of Huang Ming’s nonchalance, his eyes darted around to room to spot an ambush.
Huang Ming waved a hand lazily. “Stop that, you’re embarrassing yourself. Surely you realized the lack of guards on your way here? It was on purpose.”
Songdan gripped his dagger tighter. “So, it’s a trap!” he hissed. He made as if he was readying to attack Huang Ming.
“What? No, I did it to make it easier for you!” Huang Ming said hastily.
It was so unexpected that Songdan nearly stumbled.
“I had thought you Jins would have approached me earlier,” Huang Ming continued.
Songdan’s visible eye glared at the relaxed young man. He had never been agreeable to idea of kidnapping Huang Ming, only his loyalty to the Princess of Jin made him grudgingly acquiesce.
“What do you mean?” he demanded.
It was Huang Ming’s turn to look around warily. In a lowered voice, he said:
“I wish to defect!”
For a few pregnant seconds, Songdan stared at him incredulously. Then the visible part of his face twisted in fury.
“Do you take me for a fool!” he growled.
“I assure you, this is no trick,” Huang Ming said. “I am very serious. I can’t take it any longer.”
“Take what?” Songdan asked suspiciously.
“Do you think it was a coincidence that Beihai’s defences are stripped bare? It was a concentrated ploy to kill me!” Huang Ming replied.
“You seem to be doing well enough,” Songdan sneered.
“Have you taken a good look at my face? It’s not as handsome as usual! I’m aging faster than I like it to be!” Huang Ming said indignantly, seemingly unaware that the Jin spy before him was especially sensitive to matters about facial appearance due to his own disfigured looks.
Songdan’s temper threatened to explode, but Huang Ming continued to rant.
“All I wanted was to stay home and enjoy a leisurely life, but people keep pushing me into doing things that I do not want! Do you really think I want to be up here in this forsaken cold?”
He threw up his hands in exasperation.
“Then why are you here? With your prestige, you could have done anything you wish,” Songdan snarled.
“Have you tried offending your king?” Huang Ming asked.
“What do you mean?”
“He wanted to marry off his daughter to me, I refused. Why else do you think I was ‘rewarded’ with a promotion to this place?”
“You were offered the hand of Princess Wu Liying? Why did you refuse?” Songdan asked.
Huang Ming paused for dramatic effect.
“She’s ugly,” he said.
Songdan glared at him. “Liar! The Princess Wu Liying is said to be a fair maiden, full of life and spirit.”
“I bet that is from your spy reports. Have you actually seen her?” Huang Ming sneered. “Besides, I did not mean her appearance. It is her personality that is ugly.”
“What the hell do you mean?”
Huang Ming’s voice dropped lower and he cupped a hand over his mouth.
“She likes women!”
“What?” Songdan was so shocked that he nearly dropped his dagger.
“She was far more interested in the War Goddess Zhao Sunli than she was with me,” Huang Ming said in a gossiping tone.
Songdan’s good eye narrowed at the mention of the Amazon.
“You say you want to defect, but our intelligence indicate that you have far too many ties in Wu. Your entire family, for instance,” he said.
Huang Ming sighed. “And that is why I have to go. Do you think it is coincidence that Beihai is stripped bare of defences right when I am transferred here?”
“Do you mean to tell me that the king sent you out here to die, and is sacrificing an entire city to do so?” Songdan scoffed disbelievingly.
“Of course not,” Huang Ming fired back. “I had offended your Jin ambassador, he was dangling me out here with no protection to tempt sabotage in retaliation. He never expected for an outright military invasion.”
“Then why did he move so many troops away?” Songdan demanded.
“The king didn’t. It was General Yin’s idea,” Huang Ming said bitterly.
Once again Huang Ming leaned in conspiratorially with the same cupping motion.
“He’s obsessed with the War Goddess!” he whispered.
Songdan stabbed his dagger angrily into Huang Ming’s desk. With his other hand he grabbed a handful of Huang Ming’s shirt.
“Is this some sort of third-rate drama you’re spinning?” he hissed in his face.
Huang Ming held up his hands. “No, I’m telling the truth! You spies are so preoccupied about me that you have completely neglected about General Yin and Zhao Sunli. He personally requested her to be his aide in the capital, and then deliberately brought her here to rub it in my face.”
Songdan released his hold on Huang Ming’s clothes. “But why?”
Huang Ming spread his hands smugly. “The general likes her, but she likes me!”
Something in Songdan snapped, and he jerked the dagger up from the desk to thrust it at Huang Ming.
The truths he cloaked,
The dagger he provoked.