Late, late...

“My dear... I give you the Capellan Confederation.”
--The marriage gift of Hanse Davion to Melissa Steiner, marking the start of the Fourth Succession War, ‘Battletech’

Chapter 194 – Fault

The winter season was in full force in Jin. If the combatants at Beihai had complained about the chill there, they would have been rendered speechless by the conditions in Jin. The capital of Zhongdu was blanketed by snow and icicles hung from every roof.

But the growing wealth and development inspired by the Princess of Jin had made the city more than bearable. Perhaps even desirable.

More braziers were placed and allowed to burn indefinitely, diligently refueled and kept alive by patrolling guards wearing lush furs and servants in thick padded clothing. Such things were limited in the past, yet they had become a common sight in recent years. The nomadic Jins did not see the need for such luxuries previously, but once encouraged to venture beyond foraging and herding; the intrepid Jins easily found ways to afford them.

Husbandry, farming, trading, crafting… all initiatives proposed and managed by the Princess of Jin. Zhongdu even have the rudimentary beginnings of a sewage system. The ignominy of having one’s rear frozen while going about doing the natural business was now a very distant, quaint memory.

It was now not uncommon to see wintertime being a time of merriment rather than the possibility of frostbites or worse, being frozen to death while asleep. Feasts and banquets were aplenty to pass the winter day, the Jins revelling in their new-found appreciation for the finer things in life.

Yet for all the warmth now easily found in the city, the people that lived and worked in the palace currently all have ghastly appearances. Despite the braziers, furs and silks; the eunuchs, servants, maids and all sorts of bureaucrats were either sweating or feeling ice in their blood.

The Princess of Jin’s fury was not like thunder and lighting, but like a winter chill. When displeased, her green eyes would narrow imperceptibly and her lips pursed into a thin line. They were very slight gestures, but the palace officials had soon learned that their princess was not who easily displayed her emotions, and that they have to pick up on those minute changes in her expression if they were to continue in her service.

Needless to say, those who had disappointed her soon found themselves demoted or even dismissed. Needless to say, the people that surrounded the princess were the best of the best by simple and ruthless means of elimination. They were clever, humble and alert; eager to please and afraid of failing the object of their adoration.

Now they were walking on pins and needles and their eyes downcast, afraid of being the focus of her icy glare. Someone had indeed disappointed her. To make matters worse, they all know who was responsible… and yet they were powerless to act on their grudge, unable to even gossip or heckle at the person who had caused displeasure in their princess.

The day started innocently enough.

Even though it was wintertime, the Prince and Princess of Jin still maintained their routines of waking up early and going about their royal duties normally. The only difference was sometimes Prince Jin Long would already be gone when the Princess woke up. Being the head of the military and the heir apparent to the empire meant he had to shoulder many responsibilities, hold many meetings and travel extensively.

Princess Jin Hua did not mind this: the royal couple lived and worked harmoniously together. She did not mind his absence as it allowed her much personal freedom to pursue her own agendas. One might even say that she was at times relieved to be away from a clingy, passionate husband. The plots that arose after they had become a couple could very well fill a book on its own, it was the stuff of dramatic novels with jealous and scheming rivals. Ultimately the two stood tall and weathered the storm together, achieving what was a fairy tale ending; a golden couple for the ages.

Yet, the person responsible for the Princess’s terrible mood this morning was from her spouse. Oh, they have their share of misunderstandings and disagreements, but this was different.

They were having breakfast that morning, exchanging pleasantries and light jokes as they dined when the Prince of Jin conversationally confessed:

“My dear, I have messed up.”

Jin Hua smirked. “So you finally admit to have taken my share of the sweetened meat?” she asked, referring to an earlier struggle about a particularly dish that she enjoyed.

The Prince shook his head, a wry smile on his lips. The shadow of embarrassment was entirely out of place on his handsome features, and Jin Hua realized it was very serious indeed.

She put down her pair of chopsticks and placed her one palm on top of the other on her lap, assuming the air of an imperious authoritarian figure calmly waiting to hear the rest of the confession.

“I am listening,” she said primly.

Those were very polite words, yet Jin Long could not help feel lashed by the implied reprimand. She might as well have said “What have you done this time?”

He scratched his cheek, abashed like a child caught with his hand in the jar. Only, this jar was on a national disaster level.

“I planned something grandiose for our wedding anniversary, but, uh; things haven’t gone as planned…” he said.

“Oh?” Jin Hua added the pressure by raising an eyebrow.

Prince Jin Long, heir of the Jin empire; coughed sheepishly.

“Ah, someone from the army took your prototype fire barrels…”

Jin Hua frowned. “You mean the cannons,” she said in an even tone. At this point she was not yet angered, after all she understood how the warlike men of Jin were enamoured with the weapons that she was beginning to produce.

“Yes, the cannons,” Jin Long said quickly. Too quickly.

“How many did he take?” she asked with growing unease.

“All of them…” her husband replied.

All of them?” her voice tightened. “But I wasn’t done testing them, they are not ready!”

She paused when she saw the ashen look on Jin Long’s face.

“What have you done with them?” she asked bluntly, brushing aside his pretense that someone else was responsible.

“There was an… opportunity that presented itself. A desirable target city was weakened by troop transfers and I thought it was an irresistible chance to capture it,” Prince Jin Long said.

Jin Hua stared at him in disbelief. “You launched a military campaign, in winter?” she gasped.

“The information was credible,” he defensively. “I thought it was also a chance to field test your fire barrels-”

“Cannons,” Jin Hua interrupted. “They are in no condition to be used in real combat,” she sighed in exasperation.

“That is why they were taken. I wanted them to be used against an immobile target,” Jin Long replied. “The target was so weakened by transfers that the cannons could be brought to bear on the static defences.”

Jin Hua was about to complain, but a sudden thought sparked through her mind. “Troop transfers? Static defences…” she repeated. Then she put two and two together and pieced the reports from her own operatives.

“You… attacked Beihai?” she mumbled.

This time Prince Jin Long scratched the back of his head as he nodded.

Jin Hua slapped the table angrily, causing the delicate tea cups and ivory chopsticks to jump.

“What happened?” she demanded.

Prince Jin Long then proceeded to explain the recently concluded siege of Beihai. By the time the negative outcome of the battle was told, Jin Hua’s brows were frowning deeply, her eyes cold.

“There were… unexpected complications,” the prince admitted.

“You mean to tell me that you have started a war of surprise, sent thirty thousand men, took my prototype weapons against a weakened opponent… and yet still lost them all?” she said icily.

He waved a hand in dismissal. “I am sorry. But you can build more.”

“Such waste… and for what?” Jin Hua muttered.

Her husband did not hear her bleak remark. “General Yin Yanzhao was absent and his replacement is but a young bureaucrat. I underestimated him… this Huang Ming,” he grumbled.

“Had you consulted me before you embarked on the enterprise, I would have told you that. Then you would not have lost all those men,” Jin Hua said cuttingly.

The prince stiffened. “You already know of him?” he asked, slightly displeased.

“My agents were in the city,” Jin Hua said angrily.

“And what they were doing there?” Jin Long asked, his voice rising in response.

“Gathering detailed information, which you failed to do before you pulled this foolhardy stunt,” Jin Hua said waspishly.

“Is that all? Tell me, were you not interested in this Huang Ming yourself?” the prince growled. His eyes narrowed dangerously. “Don’t think I am completely ignorant, I have my own agents,” he said impetuously.

Jin Hua shot to her feet in indignation, and the prince’s foul mood evaporated; replaced by immediate regret of his rash words.

Jin Hua gave him a glare before she gathered her robes and swept out of the room, leaving a trail of fearful servants in her wake.

Jin Long’s hand was half-raised to call her back, but she retreated too quickly before he could formulate an apology. He looked on, waiting in vain for her to turn back and give him a look.

When she had gone from his eyes, his fingers clenched. The fist trembled in the air before he forcefully slammed it down on the table.

“This is his fault,” he seethed through gritted teeth.

Though distant, still blamed,
Through resistance, enmity gained.​