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Chapter 204 - Blunt truths
Despite their rocky first meeting, Prince Chu Xiong reluctantly accepted his fate and allied himself with Huang Ming and the Wu delegations.
However, it did not begin the way Chu Xiong had imagined. Sure, he had invited Huang Ming for a private discussion. Tea was drank and pleasantries were exchanged, but when Chu Xiong finally broached the subject, it took a wholly unexpected turn.
“So, how can Wu help me secure the throne?” Chu Xiong had asked directly.
Huang Ming folded his arms across his chest and gave him a frank stare.
“First, you will need to help yourself,” he said.
Huang Ming sighed as his eyes travelled up and down at the prince. Now that they are in private audience, Huang Ming finally had a good, close look at Prince Chu Xiong. Chu Xiong looked almost delicate to the point of being effeminate.
Chu Xiong was thoroughly mystified by Huang Ming’s frank stare, having never been treated in this manner. He stood up and spread his arms, looking this way and that to check if he had disgraced himself in some way.
Satisfied that there was no obvious defect on his clothes, Chu Xiong gave Huang Ming a questioning look.
“I do not see anything wrong?”
“It’s not your clothes, garish as they are,” Huang Ming replied.
“Garish? These are the latest in fashion!” Chu Xiong said indignantly.
“When was the last time you actually stepped out of your palace?” Huang Ming asked instead.
“I do not remember, there was never any need. I can get whatever I want just by asking someone to bring it to me,” the prince replied promptly. “Why? Is this already out of fashion?”
“What’s the point of keeping up with fashion if you stay in the palace all the time? They make you look like woman,” Huang Ming said as he stood up.
“Look at you. Hmm? Eh? Neh?” he punctuated as he gestured at the prince from head to toe.
For a few seconds, Prince Chu Xiong, a contender to the throne of the mighty state of Chu; stood still, his mind in disbelief at the vast insult that was thrown directly to his face.
“Do you not value your life?” he asked icily.
“I enjoy my life, thank you very much,” Huang Ming said flippantly. “On the contrary, you don’t seem to value yours at all.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean? I was living perfectly well in my lazy luxury before you came along,” the prince snarled.
“We have only just met, but bear with me here. You live all day in the palace?”
“Of course I do. Where else do you expect a member of the royal family to be?”
“Do you know how to ride a horse?”
“No. We have carriages for a reason.”
“Do you know how to handle a sword? Pull a bow?”
“We have guards,” the prince answered, his annoyance growing. “Why are you asking all these trivial questions? Are you just here to waste my time?”
“No, what I mean is, what exactly do you do? Besides eating, drinking, sleeping.”
“Nothing!” the prince exploded, his pale face now flushed with anger. “I did nothing all day, and I enjoyed living that way!”
“So you have never worked a day in your life? Is your royal father the same way?”
Chu Xiong clutched his forehead, unable to comprehend the wild tangents Huang Ming was taking in their conversation. He sat back down heavily and exhaled to calm himself down.
“We are royalty, what need is there for us to use our hands? Isn’t your own king the same?”
“Not by choice.”
“That’s right, there was that little matter with Tong Xuan and Gao Fang, wasn’t there?” Chu Xiong said with a cold smile. “Your own sovereign had troubles of his own, who are you to insult me?”
“Calm down, have some tea. I do have a point,” Huang Ming said unperturbedly.
“I suggest you get to it quickly, before your head flies off your shoulders,” the prince hissed.
“I am just trying to discern if you have any good reasons to warrant your claim to the throne. Besides your birthright, I mean.”
Chu Xiong chuckled humourlessly. “You should have thought of that before throwing in your lot with me. My brother is far more meritorious than me.”
“Your brother is enamoured with befriending Wei, otherwise we would have approached him,” Huang Ming said bluntly.
“Are you trying to offend me?”
“I’m just being honest,” Huang Ming replied in modest fashion as he refilled their cups with tea.
The prince stared at him suspiciously.
“Can I speak frankly?” Huang Ming asked.
“You already have,” Chu Xiong reminded him.
“Alright. You have no military support beyond your personal guards. You have no support among the bureaucrats. You have no popular support among the people-”
“How do you know that?” the prince interrupted.
“You eat, drink and sleep all day, how popular are you going to be?”
“...” the prince said, because he was speechless.
“Other than the fact you’re the issue of the Queen of Chu, you have absolutely no standing whatsoever. Am I right?”
“...Yes,” the prince admitted.
“You say you enjoy living day-to-day without a care, but have you consider what would happen to your mother the queen if Chu Feng is to replace you as the crown prince?”
“She would probably be deposed, forced to abdicate in favour of Chu Feng’s mother, the Concubine Yang.”
“Do they get along?”
“What do you think?” the prince returned sarcastically.
“I think you and your mother the queen would have very short retirement lives if your brother goes on to be the next king.”
“No thanks to you.”
“Your mothers don’t get along in the first place, and if I know my palace tv dramas, it is pretty much inevitable.”
“What is ‘teevee’?”
Huang Ming waved it off. “I mean, previous precedents. I’m sure you have been taught some historical lessons. This sort of thing happens all the time”
The prince nodded reluctantly.
“You can claim to have no interest in the throne at all, but I doubt Chu Feng or Concubine Yang would ever believe you.”
“I was planning for exile. All I wanted was a sizable stipend for a comfortable life,” the prince muttered.
Huang Ming shook his head. “You will never get it. As long as you and the queen remain alive, you will always be a threat to their ambitions. Even if you are crippled or made mute, there is always a chance someone somewhere who would take you in as a figurehead to advance their own cause.”
Chu Xiong sighed.
“Yep, you’re pretty much doomed,” Huang Ming confirmed.
The prince glared at him. “I see you are taking delight in this. Perhaps brother is right. The people of Wu are a glib and treacherous lot.”
“Why? Because I simply stated the truth?”
“Because you wanted this to happen. Nothing would please Wu more than to see Chu descend into civil war!” Chu Xiong seethed.
But Huang Ming wagged a finger. “No such thing. As you know, Wu have already crossed swords with Jin and Wei. We’re not going to make an enemy out of Chu as well. Civil war? Far from it! We want a smooth transition of power, someone who would be friendly to Wu. Or, at the very least, not join with the others against us. This is of course in our own best interests, so how is it treacherous?”
“How else are we going to avoid a conflict with Chu Feng?” the prince demanded. Then his face turned ashen. “You don’t mean… assassination?”
“What? No, not yet. Why are you so hasty?”
“But… but you just outlined my weaknesses. How else am I going to take the throne?”
“Your father is ill, not dead,” Huang Ming said wryly. “People can scheme and plot as they like, but the final decision lies with the King of Chu. So don’t worry about your brother, at least not at this moment. Rather, take the time to get closer to your father.”
“Get closer?” the prince repeated, as if the concept was totally alien to him.
“What exactly is his illness anyway?”
The prince shrugged.
“You don’t know?” Huang Ming demanded.
“I’m not a doctor, there wasn’t any need for me to know about the specifics!” the prince responded defensively.
“See? This is what I mean that you don’t value your own life. How are you going to survive palace politics and rule the country if you don’t even have any interest in the well-being of your own father?”
“You sure are taking the roundabout way to get to the point,” the prince complained.
“Find out what you can. Stop overindulging yourself, and don’t drink so much.”
The prince snorted. “You’re the last one that should be saying that. The stories I’ve heard of you…”
“Trust me, I’m the one who can say this. Have you experienced near-death by choking on your own vomit from too much drinking? I have. So grow up, it’s time for you to be a man and take charge of your life.”
The prince stared at him in stunned silence.
“I’m not asking you turn into a monk. Just rein in your excesses. When this is all said and done, you will need to live long enough to enjoy your life. Go look up history: most of the tyrants and fatuous monarchs who are infamous for their debauchery did not live very long.”
Then he added: “And lose the clothes. They make you look like a woman.”
Huang Ming made his goodbyes, leaving the prince to wallow in his thoughts.
“That young man is sharper than he had revealed,” a voice interrupted his thoughts.
The prince turned around to see his mother, the Queen of Chu. She was a regal woman with slanted brows, giving her a severe and stern outlook despite her beautiful face.
“Mother, he is very rude,” Chu Xiong said, still slightly peeved.
“But honest. There were many truths in his casual speech,” the queen said.
“Then you agree?” Chu Xiong asked.
“He is correct. We cannot avoid a conflict with Chu Feng and Concubine Yang. They will never let us off. And I plan to do the same.”
“You would do well to take his advice and change your lifestyle. As to be closer to your father, I will make the necessary arrangements,” the queen said.
Chu Xiong sighed resignedly. “I understand,” he said, and bowed reverently to his mother.