"I love you, Dad, but you can be a real jerk sometimes.”
Chapter Twenty - Revealed
The person who had shouted was none other than Governor Cao Yuan. He rushed into the hall, sweaty and dishevelled. He was aided by his son Cao Shuang who had went to search for him while the ladies were having their discussion.
The harried governor saw Cao Tianyun standing beside Huang Lang and his worst fears were confirmed, his daughter had fallen for the son of his enemy.
“Tianyun, Tianyun! How could you do this!” he cried at his daughter, both hands clutching his head in despair.
Huang Lang and Cao Tianyun immediately knelt on the floor; their demeanour suitably chastened as befit the situation. Huang Ming was not fooled; these two had craftily made a big show with him and all the other suitor candidates as unwitting actors. They surely had anticipated Governor Cao Yuan’s rage.
Then the governor glared at Wang Hao, who was standing at a distance quietly.
“You, this is your fault!” the governor howled.
“Sir, I only gave the suggestion. It was you who decided,” Wang Hao reminded him.
Lady Cao went over to placate her husband. “Calm yourself, we have guests,” she murmured.
Only then did the governor notice Madam Li sitting calmly with his mother the matriarch.
“Do not blame Wang Hao, I endorsed it,” Matriarch Cao said defiantly.
“I was locked up in the study like a child, was that your idea too?” Cao Yuan asked in anger.
“Why so angry when you were only inconvenienced for a short moment? You were prepared to sacrifice a lifetime of your daughter’s happiness,” the old matriarch reminded him.
“I was trying to save our lives!” the governor exclaimed.
“Even if you owe your current lofty position due to him, ultimately your loyalty lays rightfully with the king! Our country is in danger because of that wolfish marshal is in office, and useless flatterers bend their knees to him. I did not raise you to be one of them! Do not try to cloud the issue with our family’s survival, if defying a corrupt tyrant meant our deaths, so be it!” Matriarch Cao said in righteous ire.
Cao Yuan became speechless at this tirade, and his face burned with shame. He hung his head and wondered where he had gone astray. In his younger days his mother painstakingly worked hard so that he could have the time to study for the civil examinations. Countless hours were spent learning the classics and reading about historical personages, each famous for their virtues and upheld as examples for all.
Cao Yuan remembered the joy he had felt when he had passed the examinations, only to spend decades doing mind-numbing bureaucratic work with little or no prospects of future advancement. Perhaps that was why he felt so indebted to Marshal Gao Fang and Prime Minister Tong Xuan for elevating him from obscurity. He could not forget the feeling he had felt when his mother cried during his governorship’s investiture, he had thought to himself that he had finally made his mother proud.
His rage spent, Cao Yuan collapsed tiredly into a chair. His wife and daughter rushed to his side, and this brief example of their concern made him forget his troubles momentarily. He gazed at their worried faces and said, “I do not wish to lose you, but who can defy the Marshal?”
Their eyes became damp with emotion.
“My father will stand against him,” Huang Lang spoke up.
“Your father? The great general, still out there chasing the tail of those bandits,” Cao Yuan scoffed.
“The governor need not be worried about the bandits, all will be explained when my father returns,” Huang Lang said mildly. He had no wish to antagonize his future father-in-law.
“Fine, we’ll talk later when he returns,” Cao Yuan replied listlessly and waved a limp hand in dismissal.
Madam Li nodded. “Then we will discuss matters on another day,” she said and Lady Cao agreed.
Cao Yuan did not bother to object, having resigned to the circumstances.
Despite the ambiguous outcome, Huang Lang remained calm as befitting of his moniker. The governor couldn’t help but feel a twinge of admiration towards the young man, even if he had ‘stolen’ his daughter.
The two lovebirds bowed deeply to each other, their eyes speaking volumes. Cao Yuan forcefully turned his attentions elsewhere, he could not bear to see his daughter’s troubled visage.
The Huangs left the governor’s residence in a dignified manner, escorted by Muge Jian. A large crowd had gathered by the entrance, they cheered when they saw Huang Lang. Their exultations were loud enough that Cao Yuan could hear it from within the residence, it was yet another reminder that the matter had spun beyond his control.
Indeed, within the hour there were already a stream of congratulatory gifts from all quarters of the city begin to arrive at the governor’s residence.
Once the Huangs returned to the privacy of their home, the pasted smile on Huang Ming’s face disappeared.
“You swindler,” he said to his elder brother.
Huang Lang smirked. “The task of explaining to Ah Ke, I’m giving it back to you,” he said.
Huang Ming grimaced but decided to change the subject. “You talked so easily regarding the bandits. Do you know something?”
“You will know in a few days,” Huang Lang said mysteriously and ended the discussion.
Before the city could recover from Huang Lang’s magnificent proposal, its citizens were soon buzzing again in an uproar.
The Great General Huang had returned triumphantly after defeating the mysterious band of marauding bandits. The city was enveloped in feelings of joy. Many citizens rushed to thank the aged general as he led his troops back into the city.
“Congratulations, general! You have given us this relief, and truly the heavens have seen it fit to bless you with double happiness!” one merchant gushed.
“Double happiness?” the general asked. He glanced over to Huang Ke who shrugged.
The merchant did not see their bafflement. He continued, “Why, the betrothals of your sons, of course! Such great matches for your sons, you must be over the moon!”
Seeing the look on Huang Ke, the general knew that his son was also ignorant of the matter. He hastily thanked the well-wishers and made arrangements for his subordinates to take care of the minutia of military matters as he and Huang Ke departed for home. They were forced to slow down as every street they passed had congregations of well-wishers. As they only heard bits and pieces of what had happened, they became truly confused.
“How did this happen?” Huang Zheng asked his son.
“Let’s go home and ask Ah Lang. This must be another one of his schemes,” Huang Ke replied.
It was customary for the general to report firstly to the governor of his return, but Huang Zheng was in no mood to do so. The father and son duo rode for home and immediately called for a family meeting. All the Huangs were gathered while the maids and servants were sent away to maintain privacy.
“How is it that I went away for a campaign and return home to news of two daughter-in-laws?” Huang Zheng asked his wife.
Madam Li saw her husband was displeased, but she was not worried.
“Obviously it’s because you were away that I am able to find brides for our sons. Otherwise when will they ever get married? They have already passed their mid-twenties, they are far overdue for marriage,” she said, jutting out her chin challengingly.
Huang Ming was not surprised by his mother’s statement. He had been in technologically-backward worlds before, even on Earth it was common historically for people to be married at a young age due to the lower life expectancy. He wasn’t worried about his own marriage, according to his memories he was still a few years away.
Instead, Huang Ming was more worried about his own life expectancy. Seeing Huang Ke up close reminded him just how imposing he was.
Huang Zheng saw the defiant look on his wife’s face and knew it was an argument he could not win.
“Well, who are the brides?” he asked in a disgruntled manner.
Both Huang Lang and Huang Ming started to inch further away.
“Ah Lang won the hand of Cao Tianyun, the governor’s daughter; while Ah Ming secured Smithy Liu’s daughter Yuchun for Ah Ke,” Madam Li answered in a straightforward manner.
“What!” Huang Ke and his father thundered simultaneously. They immediately turned to look at the people in question; Huang Zheng stared at Huang Lang while Huang Ke whirled to grab Huang Ming.
“What did you do?” Huang Ke sputtered, his boulder-like fists grabbing handfuls of Huang Ming’s shirt.
“Stop shouting in my face, it’s getting wet,” Huang Ming said mildly and wiped off the spittle that had landed on his face. His nonchalance only enraged his older brother; Huang Ke shook him like a rag doll.
“What. Did. You. Do?” Huang Ke repeated, growling each word.
“First, let go of me. Take a seat, drink some tea and calm down,” Huang Ming replied with a pale face.
Madam Li looked at her eldest son Huang Lang and nodded for him to intervene.
“Ah Ke, stop it. Let’s all sit down, we’ll explain,” Huang Lang said.
Huang Ke glared at Huang Lang; he had the sneaky suspicion that his elder brother had a hand in the matter too. He reluctantly complied.
The entire saga was retold, from Nangong Xie’s botched plot to Huang Ming’s confrontation with Liu Xiang. Then Huang Lang talked about the matter of the poetry event and how he had publicly proposed to Cao Tianyun. Finally Madam Li added about how she had worked together with Matriarch Cao and Lady Cao and had all but finalized the matter before the event even took place.
Huang Ke was secretly overjoyed; he was quite intrigued by Liu Yuchun when they had first met. Being a military man all his life and immersed in the martial arts meant he was all but ignorant in the ways of courting. Still, seeing the look on his father face deterred him from saying anything of the sort.
Huang Zheng was trembling. “You sure acted fast, don’t I or Cao Yuan have any say in the matter?” he asked through gritted teeth.
“Of course not,” Madam Li said. “It took Ah Lang and Tianyun months to get this far, I’m not going to wait several months more for you men to figure things out. It is time for you two to bury the hatchet.”
“Do I need to remind you what that governor had done to me and my troops? Now you’re sending our son over to them?” Huang Zheng demanded.
“Father, the truth of the matter is that Governor Cao Yuan is facing resistance to Marshal Gao from within his own family. He only acted the way he did because he had no alternatives. If our families are united, it is natural for Governor Cao to stand with us, since the acceptance of my proposal have been witnessed so publicly,” Huang Lang said.
“You! You must have been bewitched! To jeopardize our great enterprise for a woman, what were you thinking?” Huang Zheng scolded.
Huang Lang remained calm. “Father, I did not do this lightly. I love Cao Tianyun, but I have never compromised anything that could endanger us.”
“What great enterprise are you guys talking about?” Huang Ming broke in. He was glad that most of the attention was on Huang Lang; even Huang Ke had remained silent when the matter with Liu Yuchun was explained. But curiosity got the better of him; Huang Ming had the feeling that the family was embroiled in a very dangerous thing.
Huang Zheng paused, not sure whether if he should proceed. He was still unclear about his youngest son’s disposition, even if he had redeemed himself quite cleverly according to what they had told him.
Huang Lang saw that he was hesitant and decided to put forth a test so that Huang Ming could prove himself to their father there and then.
“What do you think it is?” Huang Lang asked.
Huang Ming drummed his fingers on the table as he gathered his thoughts. “Our father was first ordered to go on another patrol, leaving Huang Ke in the city. But right before the governor could transfer military authority away from Huang Ke, we suddenly get a ‘tip’ about the mysterious bandits. Thus Huang Ke had to go take his troops to help father destroy them.”
Huang Zheng and Huang Ke exchanged looks.
Huang Ming continued, “Ah Lang, you knew this was a critical juncture in time, yet you had arranged matters so that Liu Xiang would confront me in the restaurant. You provoked him so that a face-to-face meeting could be done without too much suspicion. I think that even if I had failed to convince him, you would have rescued the situation and recruited Liu Xiang without too much trouble anyway.”
Huang Lang gestured with an open palm, encouraging his youngest brother on his train of thought.
“I think the person described by Liu Xiang, the one who had spread the rumours of his sister to him; it was Wang Hao, was it not? The same Wang Hao who is an indentured servant in the governor’s residence. You obviously needed a way to communicate with Cao Tianyun while you courted her. Madam Cao mentioned about her daughter receiving letters, was Wang Hao your intermediary?”
Huang Lang remained quiet and did not interrupt.
“In fact, I think Wang Hao is one of your spies that you had planted in the governor’s residence. Seeing how the governor had reacted, this Wang Hao is probably part of his inner circle. At the very least, he probably had access to the governor’s correspondence. That is how you know you could pull this proposal event off. You knew Marshal Gao was sending letters to the governor, you knew the marshal haven’t decided to move directly against our father. You also learned from this spy about the true feelings of the Caos, how Matriarch Cao is dead set against her son the governor from being a lackey of the marshal.”
Huang Lang smiled. “Fine deduction, little brother. So what is your conclusion?”
Huang Ming looked at Huang Lang, Huang Ke and finally at his father, Huang Zheng.
“I don’t think those mysterious bandits ever existed!” Huang Ming said decisively.
The curtain rises,
Revealing the lies.