Daughter and father
“What does love have to do with marriage?”
--Londo Mollari, ‘Babylon 5’
Chapter 202 – Daughter and father
“Royal father, you called for me? Is something wrong?” a female voice called out before the doors were fully open. There was more than a hint of impatience in her voice, and accompanying the feminine voice were not-so-feminine sounds of quick booted feet thumping on the marble flooring.
“Can’t I see my daughter without particular reason?” the King of Wu sighed. The furrows on his brow deepened when he saw his daughter’s attire.
Princess Wu Liying returned a frown of her own when she saw the judgemental eyes of her father.
“What is it? I am very busy,” she said testily.
Ever since the restoration of his sovereign power and the rebuilding of his kingdom, his only daughter had adopted manly mannerisms.
‘No, that’s not right,’ the king thought wryly. ‘She had always been a tomboy, but only now does she have the freedom to act as she wish.’
The silk dresses were replaced with wool and cotton clothing for ease of movement and utility. They were not even the scholarly robes with long, voluminous sleeves so favoured by the intelligentsia; but cut in the manner of the common folk who actually work with their hands.
Perhaps she was inspired by Zhao Sunli the War Goddess and the Princess of Jin. One was a terror on the battlefield, the other was said to have single-handedly welded the previously nomadic tribes of the north into a powerful, feudal kingdom. They too were women, but their deeds rang far and wide.
In emulating their exploits, she spent her energies overseeing the education ministry, diving feet first into reforming a centralized and standardized system to train the new recruits of the growing bureaucracy. Later, she terrorized the young noblemen of the kingdom by challenging them to contests of archery and horse riding.
The king had tried to admonish her, but she ignored his remonstrations. She scoffed at his suggestions to return to the gentle arts like flower arranging and poetry.
‘You should have been born as a prince,’ the King thought as he gazed at his daughter.
“Father?” Wu Liying asked, concerned at his absent-minded look.
“I was wondering how many people you have fired today,” the king said instead.
“Only two, but they deserved it!” she said defensively.
“I’m sure they do,” the king replied dryly and smiled.
Under the previous patronage of Gao Fang and Tong Xuan, much of the existing machineries of the state government had been corrupted. Princess Wu Liying was more than eager to remove the sycophants and low caliber personnel.
No longer would the new officials be recruited and introduced at the whims and patronage of established ministers, but for them to be tested to ensure that they were actually qualified and not taken in due to the influence of someone of authority.
At first the king thought that his daughter was simply enjoying her new-found authority, but she demonstrated considerable acumen to reform the bureaucracy. For a while, the government was crippled because the sheer scale of her purge. But on her advice and suggestions, a few key people were promoted. Combined with Huang Ming’s suggestion of a ‘cabinet-style’ system, the kingdom of Wu quickly regained its vigour.
Princess Wu Liying who currently did not look very princessly at the moment rolled her eyes.
“Come, sit with me,” the king said genially.
She stared at him warily. “If you’re trying to get me to attend a flower-viewing picnic…”
“Nothing like that,” King Wu said, mentally making a note to cancel the event that was scheduled for the next week.
“Or a poetry exhibition,” she added.
“No, not that too,” the King said as he added another mental note.
“What then?” she asked as she trudged to sit beside him.
“Well, it’s about your marriage…” he began.
He had to react quickly and grab hold of her wrist as she shot to her feet to escape.
“I don’t want to talk about this!”
“Sit down,” he growled, “We need to have a serious talk about the future of our kingdom.”
“I don’t want to get married yet!” the princess said emphatically.
“Who said anything about getting married now?” the king demanded.
“Like it or not, you will have to get married one day. One day,” he repeated. “And since you are my sole heir, your consort would be sitting on my throne once I am gone. So obviously I am going to be very, very careful and thorough when it comes to your marriage,” the king said slowly.
“Oh,” his daughter mumbled.
“Of course, unless you already have someone in mind?” the king asked.
Wu Liying flushed. “No!”
“Really?” the king was intrigued by her reaction. “What about that Huang Ming? Do you fancy him?”
Her head jerked up, her face the colour of ash. “No! Stop talking about this!”
“Mmm, just as well. He had refused the honour multiple times, damned brat,” the king muttered.
“He is too… nonsensical, frivolous,” she said unhappily.
“Don’t worry, daddy has punished him for you,” the king said in a pampering tone.
“Is that why you have sent him to Chu? But I didn’t ask for that! I am not even offended, he already has his hands full with women,” Wu Liying exclaimed.
“I was joking, of course. The situation in Chu is quite tense, and he seems to be the best man for the job.”
“He doesn’t have a good track record regarding contact with foreign countries,” the princess pointed out.
“True. But he had defeated Wei and Jin in the field of battle, and that should give him enough prestige to deal with Chu.”
“Are you not afraid that you would drive him away? He might feel aggrieved by such treatment, especially considering what he had accomplished at Beihai,” Wu Liying said.
“Oh, I will be sure to reward him when he finishes his mission. Gold and jewels, that sort of thing.”
“Is that all?”
“Since he did not refuse the last time, I assume he prefers the material. Remember, he did not want to marry you and take the throne himself. When I made him a Royal Inspector, he was more surprised than anybody else.”
“He doesn’t strike me as someone who is greedy for wealth,” the princess remarked. “But what if he fails?”
The king turned up his palms and shook his head. “Then we’re doomed anyway, surrounded by three hostile kingdoms. But I am confident he is clever enough to pull through.”
“I hope so,” the princess mumbled.
“Are you really sure he is not someone you want?”
She rolled her eyes once more. “For the last time: No.”
“Then what sort of man do you want?” her father asked bluntly.
“I… honestly never given it any thought,” Princess Wu Liying admitted, unmindful on how her father had guided the course of conversation back to marriage.
“Hmm. Maybe you should meet some prospects.”
The princess was horrified by the suggestion. “Matchmaking meetings? No! I have too many things to do!”
“Like what? Archery with those foppish kids?” he asked.
“It is not my fault that I am surrounded by the spoiled children from the nobility. You should have seen them, acting as if they are Gods of War now that they aren’t spending their time trying to flatter the likes of Tong and Gao. Now they are toadying up to me.”
“So you’re trying to frighten them off by being manly?”
She took umbrage at his question. “I am not playing around,” she said stiffly.
“If you want to be serious in the art of war, maybe you should get a real teacher. There is only so much you can learn from books and your bodyguards.”
“Is this a trick?” the princess asked suspiciously.
“If you are going to do something, you should learn to do it properly. Heaven knows that I can’t stop you from trying,” the king sighed.
Then he brightened: “How do you feel having General Yin giving you lessons personally? He is already in the capital, I am sure he can spare some time for you.”
“Really? The North Star himself? But… he is a real war hero, surely he will be offended to be asked to train me…” Wu Liying said hesitantly.
The king noted the lack of a refusal. “We will order it,” he said with all seriousness.
“Don’t!” she interrupted. “Let me... let me write a letter instead. You know, to show my sincerity. Yes, that’s it,” she trailed off as her mind began to draft the text.
The king hid his smile.
‘I’m not rushing you into marriage, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have candidates for you of my own’.
The daughter, passionate and idealistic,
The father, harsh and realistic.