Unedited. In some respects this was rushed as I am having some unexpected workload.



“When someone tells you it’s your lucky day, something bad is about to happen.”
--Terry Pratchett, ‘Jingo’


Chapter 187 – The surrender (4)

Songdan had pulled the dagger up from the desk and thrust it towards Huang Ming in one swift motion, yet serendipitously his target was unharmed. In an incredible stroke of luck, Huang Ming had rose from his seat and made his way to the window to completely avoid the stab. In fact, it seemed that he was completely unaware that Songdan had attempted to kill him, for he turned his back to the Jin spy to stare out at the moonlight.


“What can I say? I have a pretty face,” Huang Ming sighed dramatically as he gazed at the moon above; completely oblivious to Songdan’s murderous intent.


By now the Jin spy was red in the face. Huang Ming’s nonchalance and constant harping on his appearance had thoroughly tweaked Songdan’s heart. His disfigured face was a sore point which Huang Ming had inadvertently irritated. The gloomy man raised his dagger once again to stab at Huang Ming’s unprotected back.


And again, as if once more by pure coincidence; Huang Ming evaded his attempt entirely. Huang Ming has ghosted away from the window and Songdan’s nearly launched himself out of the resulting space. In his effort to stop himself from an ignominious tumble and because of his grip on his dagger, he slammed his fingers on the windowsill. His mouth opened in a silent scream, and it took all of his willpower not to jump around in pain.


Meanwhile, Huang Ming had strolled elsewhere to run his own fingers wistfully along a shelf full of documents and books, still ignorant of Songdan’s predicament.


“Look at this, I’m surrounded by paperwork when I should be drowning myself in wine and women!” he complained as he wiped off the dust from his hands. He then turned around to see Songdan whose face was in the throes of anguish.


“What’s wrong?” Huang Ming asked in concern.


The abashed Songdan could only grit his teeth to suppress his self-inflicted agony and humiliation.


“You said you want to defect?” he hissed as he tried his best to maintain a threatening presence with his dagger.


Huang Ming beamed. “Yes! Oh, I’ll miss my family, but they are steering me on a path of the straight and narrow. Did you know that they want me to be an official? Can you imagine me crunching numbers and judging cases? How dreary!”


“Then what is it that you want to do?” Songdan asked.


“Eat! Drink! Man! Woman!” Huang Ming intoned.


Songdan drew back a little. “So you are that hedonistic?”


“How is that hedonistic?” Huang Ming countered immediately. “I only want to be true to my nature: to enjoy the best wines and the most delicious of foods with a group of worthy brothers; surrounded by beautiful women! These are basic human desires, no one can avoid or resist them. It’s all that I have ever done.”


Songdan recalled the background of the young man before him. He was inwardly elated: he had been scornful of Huang Ming ever since the Princess of Jin had expressed her interest in the news regarding the young scholar. Perhaps he had been jealous that the princess was again distracted by another talent; perhaps he was already doubtful of the unbelievable stories surrounding Huang Ming. But it was Huang Ming’s ready admission of the superficial that cemented Songdan’s low opinion of him.


“And you think you can get all that in Jin?” Songdan asked, his voice dripping with contempt.


Huang Ming blinked. “Well, why wouldn’t I? Am I not famous?”


Songdan’s lips rose sardonically. “You have a high opinion of yourself,” he said.


“You’re the one who sneaked in here with evil intentions,” Huang Ming pointed out.


The Jin spy paused, reminded of his mission. “What makes you think I’m not here just to kill you to capture this city?” he said.


Huang Ming waved a hand dismissively. “Pshaw. I’m planning to give the city away in a few days anyway, I just haven’t found the right way to approach your army outside.”


Despite his suspicions, Songdan was intrigued. “What do you mean?”


Huang Ming pointed to his desk. “I wrote a letter a few days ago. Look underneath the pile.”


Still keeping a firm grip on his dagger, Songdan warily approached the desk. He knocked over the pile of documents and grabbed the last one to read.


It was Huang Ming’s letter of surrender, offering to throw open the city in exchange for certain rewards.


Songdan’s eye narrowed. “Even children will not be fooled by this trick,” he sneered.


Huang Ming pointed at him in an ‘aha!’ moment. “See? That is what I meant when I said I haven’t found a way to approach your forces. You people simply won’t believe me!”


“How am I suppose to believe you if you did not put a time for your offer to open the gates?” Songdan demanded.


“I’m a scholar, not a mystic,” Huang Ming bristled. “Do you think I can tell the future? General Yin said reinforcements could arrive in thirty days in the event of an emergency, I don’t know if he will rush to save the city or leave my ass in the wind. He may report to everyone that I ‘died defending Beihai’ after taking his own sweet time coming here... one way or another. That is why I can’t specify a time to surrender.”


Songdan pursed his lips, grudgingly accepting the argument.


In other circumstances, Songdan would have ignored Huang Ming’s voice and kidnapped him as planned. But the way Huang Ming had rubbed him off the wrong way made Songdan disdainful of him. Why was the Princess of Jin so interested in this man who is all mouth and luck?


Songdan’s thought process became warped, especially after his stupid failures to attack Huang Ming. Perhaps this was his chance to rise in the eyes of the Princess. How pleased would she be if he could secure both Huang Ming and the city of Beihai?


“Then, what do you propose?” he asked slowly.


“Simple. Warn your army that reinforcements might be coming. They should send some scouts to ensure they don’t get ambushed by General Yin,” Huang Ming said.


“And then?”


“If they are indeed coming, you Jins have plenty of warning to retreat in good order,” Huang Ming continued.


“How convenient. If you’re losing, you’re going to surrender. If help is arriving, you plan to hold out?” Songdan said scornfully.


“I have no way of knowing General Yin is even on his way here or not. I can only hold out for thirty days, of which the end is fast expiring anyway.” Huang Ming reminded him.


“Not fast enough. There is an entire week before the thirty days.”


Huang Ming frowned. “Then, five days,” he offered.


“Three days,” Songdan replied, holding up three fingers. “You will open the gates in three days, regardless whether General Yin is coming or not. Only after you open the gates in three days will we guarantee you asylum in Jin.”


“Why would you still want the city if General Yin is coming with reinforcements?” Huang Ming asked.


“If we cannot have Beihai, neither can Wu!” Songdan growled. “We will raze this city to the ground, and let General Yin find nothing but ruins. Beihai will no longer be an obstacle to our southward march in the future!”


Huang Ming swallowed. “I can give you the city, but spare the people. Give them a way out.”


“It’s either you or them. Choose!” Songdan snarled.


Huang Ming slumped.


“Fine. Three days it is.”
 

Gift of the gab,
Promising a gift to be grabbed.​