Mother and son
“It appears that you are not the better man.”
--Colonel William Tavington, 'The Patriot' (2000)
Chapter 206 - Mother and son
Prince Chu Feng’s handsome face was twisted in a visage of fury as he stomped towards his palace. His servants kept their eyes low and their backs bowed, wishing that they could turn invisible as he walked past.
The ordinary folk of Chu knew that their prince was formidable and inspiring from the tales of his martial exploits, but those who serve him knew that he was impetuous and cruel. Neither his palace servants nor military subordinates would dare to give contrary opinion to the prince. They can only keep their complaints to themselves, who are they when compared to the Prince of Chu? After all, he might even be their next monarch.
Yet, there was a strange wind in the air. Rumours were abuzz about how the wastrel Prince Chu Xiong was actually rising in the mornings and going to bed early. And shockingly, unaccompanied and whilst sober! The so-called ‘Deflowering Prince’, notorious for his fondness of women, flashy clothes and copious amounts of alcohol; was so moved by the King of Chu’s illness that he had repented and turned a new leaf!
In contrast, stories begin surfacing about the methods Chu Feng had won his military merits. He had ignored the cautious advice of his officers and berated them for perceived cowardice. He was generous after a victory by rewarding them with feasts and gifts, but did not give awards or promotions because he wanted the glory to be attributed to himself only.
Or so the stories go.
Chu Feng knew it was all a big pile of steaming horse manure, but simple stories like these spread like wildfire and the common folk delight in such tales. It was the equivalent of modern celebrity gossip and tabloid news. Ordinary people loved stories of filial piety and penitence, and so Chu Xiong was elevated. Vicious tongues enjoyed knocking down lofty characters, thus Chu Feng who was the exalted man of the Chu kingdom became the target of their maliciousness.
This was why Chu Feng currently had all the emotions of a smouldering volcano. The way the people looked at him had changed. There were more fear than respect. Ordinarily it would not have bothered him much, perhaps Chu Feng might have even enjoyed it.
It was the fact that he knew it was brought around by his brother’s machinations that annoyed him. No, that was not accurate. He was truly irked, because he knew for sure that his sissy brother could not have possibly orchestrated such character assassination by himself.
No, it must be his fault. That damnable Huang Ming, the smooth-talker from Wu.
Prince Chu Feng did not believe in ‘stories’. How could that dandy looking scholar possibly defeat the fearsome Ran Wei on the battlefield? It was surely the work of Wu propaganda so salvage some face after that disastrous war.
The prince was such in a funk that he failed to notice that there was someone else in his residence.
“Wipe that scowl off your face, my son. You are scaring the help,” a woman drawled.
“Mother!” the prince exclaimed and hastily made his obeisance.
Concubine Yang was in her thirties, but her flawless skin, willow waist and bountiful chest made her appear to be still in her mid-twenties. Her sensual beauty was the reason for the King of Chu’s favour. She was the first of his concubines, just one step below the Queen of Chu.
Just one step, but to Concubine Yang it was like the difference between heaven in hell. She risked her life numerous times to get where she was, and managed to raise her son safely. Now the only thing left to do is to secure her son on the throne.
“What is befouling your thoughts so? Is it about your brother?” she asked.
“The lies are getting intolerable, mother! He has done nothing in his entire life, and just because he is drinking and whoring less, he is now suddenly the paragon of virtue!” Chu Feng vented.
Concubine Yang slammed the table. “Mind your tongue!” she said angrily. “You are a prince, act like one! How many times have I told you that you need to cultivate a calm, civilized image? I let you indulge in your military adventures to gain fame, but you continue to neglect the domestic side of things!”
“A man should know riding, shooting and swords. I want to lead tens of thousands of men into battle, not to spend my youth buried in dusty scrolls,” the prince scoffed.
“If you continue to behave like this, you would be lucky to have your guards to follow you, let alone your dream of leading ten thousand men!” Concubine Yang berated, her beauteous face now red with fury.
Stunned by her anger, the prince could only hang his head contritely.
Concubine Yang deliberately let the uncomfortable silence stew for a few minutes.
“Pour me some tea,” she sniffed.
Chu Feng all but leapt to do so. The sight of her son’s thick and powerful fingers gently lifting the exquisite teapot to fill her cup pleased her: it was akin to seeing a powerful animal like a leopard being domesticated to obey one’s orders.
The tea was already cold by this point, but Concubine Yang smiled faintly in bliss. The effect was immediate, the slumped shoulders of Chu Feng rose slightly with relief.
“I do not begrudge you of your manly dreams, but you must be able to rule before you can command,” Concubine Yang sighed. “You neglected my advice, and thereby allowed your waste of a brother to crept in.”
“What? Has royal father said anything?” Chu Feng asked in alarm.
Concubine Yang’s luscious lips curled in a sneer. “You spend your days in the barracks, drilling and duelling to show off your martial skills for god knows what reason. You do not even know that lately the queen have been visiting him more often lately, and I find my own opportunities becoming fewer.”
“Has things devolved so? Should I seek an audience with my royal father?”
Concubine Yang brushed off his concerns with a flick of her wrist.
“It is too late for that now. Your brother was quicker than you in this step, to do so now is to invite cynicism.”
“Then… what should we do?” Chu Feng asked, his brows knitted with worry.
“Get in touch with your Wei friends. We may need their help sooner than expected,” Concubine Yang said grimly.
Chu Feng’s eyes widened, half in trepidation, half in anticipation.
She held up a hand to forestall him. “The queen and Chu Xiong are making up lies to get their way, that does not mean we cannot do the same.”
“I see,” Chu Feng replied, his initial exhilaration now deflated. ‘More tricks… why not just take what we want?’ he thought miserably.
As if reading her son’s mind, Concubine Yang then said, “Make sure your friends come absolutely prepared to do what is necessary if needed.”
She continued in a grim tone:
“You will be king, even if we have to take the throne by force.”
Filled with ambition,
Willing to risk perdition.