Teacher and student
“You two are such a disappointing pair! I prayed so hard for you both.”
--Sister Mary Stigmata, ‘The Blues Brothers’
Chapter 208 - Teacher and student
Uncharacteristically, Prince Chu Xiong was awake long before the crack of the dawn.
“Get the carriage ready!” he commanded after a hastily washing his face with cold water.
“Your highness is not going to wait for the mentor?” one of his maids asked.
“No, we are going to him this morning,” the prince said.
His attendants were surprised but not overly shocked: for many days now their young prince had woken earlier and earlier to eagerly await the arrival of Tutor Huang Ming for his lessons.
At first the prince was as reluctant as any child in his first day of school, but Huang Ming’s straightforward talk and sense of humour soon won him over. He was not like the doddering old men who would drone on and on quoting the ancient sages. Instead he would use funny anecdotes and sharp criticism to emphasize his teachings.
“Shouldn’t you be teaching the classics?” the prince had asked.
“I want you to think for yourself, not to be a paragon of virtue,” Huang Ming said. Then he added sarcastically: “Besides, it’s too late for you, Mr ‘Deflowering Prince’.”
The prince flushed. Since the time he had accepted that he would be struggling for the throne, the prince had indeed reined in his worldly desires. As if stung by the reminder of his sordid past, he willingly accepted Huang Ming’s demands, including the physical exercises he had him do.
One day, Huang Ming had turned up with a sack of rice on his shoulders.
“Here. Lift this every day,” he said as he set the heavy sack on the ground.
The prince stared at it in disbelief. He was already stunned that the seemingly dandy-looking Huang Ming could have carried it with ease, but for the prince who had not lifted anything heavier than a bottle of wine it seemed like a Herculean task.
“And I mean the whole sack at once. Not by scooping out the rice handfuls at a time,” Huang Ming added as an afterthought.
“Whatever for?” the prince balked, peeved that the thought of cheating did not even occur to the him. To the prince, even the cheat sounded tedious. The fact that Huang Ming had thought of such of it only showed how twisted he was.
“You lack the strength to even truss a chicken. Look at you, you look like more like a blooming young maiden of marrying age, instead of a rising prince of the kingdom,” Huang Ming said while gesturing at the prince from head to toe.
“If you have a fetish for muscle, you should have joined with my brother,” Chu Xiong seethed.
Huang Ming waved off the discontent emanating from the prince.
“Give it a try,” he urged.
The scrawny prince first tried to pull up the sack of rice, but he truly lacked the strength to do so. Forget about hauling it up, he could not even push or tug the sack from its spot on the ground.
Frustrated, he gave it a kick but only barely made a dent in the bag.
“I don’t see the point of this,” he complained.
“You sit in the palace, eat, drink and sleep. It is about time you learn the effort needed for others to provide such necessities to you,” Huang Ming intoned gravely. “Have you ever spared a thought where the food on your table comes from? What if you were in a situation where you had to survive on your own, can you even pull a bow and hunt?”
“Then you should teach me the bow and arrow, not to lift this,” the prince said.
“Do you even have the strength to pull a bow?” Huang Ming asked skeptically.
The prince boiled at the veiled insult, but he dared not contradict him in case he was really asked to demonstrate it. Thus he accepted the challenge, and began to train his body as well after the morning lectures.
One might think then that his eagerness today was to show the results of his training. However, the prince was in a rush for a different, more urgent reason.
“What are you doing here so early?” Huang Ming asked when the prince unceremoniously barged into his residence and interrupted his breakfast.
Exasperated, the prince joined him at the table, eyeing at the strange dishes warily.
“My brother has submitted a memorial for a visit to the Bright Filial Piety Temple to pray for our royal father’s health,” he said as he resisted the rumblings of his own stomach. He had rushed over without eating his own breakfast.
Huang Ming picked up a dainty steamed piece of shrimp wrapped in thin paper made of flour with his chopsticks and ate it.
“This is no time to be eating!” the prince exclaimed.
“When else would I eat breakfast if not in the mornings?” Huang Ming asked seriously. “So he is following your lead to act like a son in grief, why so worried?”
“He is not going alone, he wants me to go with him.”
Huang Ming continued to eat, this time a small dumping filled with ground pork and scallions.
“Then go. You two can compete at who can cry louder and pray harder at the temple,” he said as he munched on it.
The prince was so agitated that he did not mind the breach of etiquette.
“What if he tries to harm me there? You must come with me,” he said.
“I don’t want to go to a temple to be preached at,” Huang Ming said half-heartedly,
“Can you please take this seriously? This is obviously a trap set up by my brother!”
Huang Ming’s chopsticks rose to pick up another morsel.
“Stop eating!” Prince Chu Xiong cried out and slapped the table angrily.
“Hey, don’t disrespect my food. I made these with my own hands,” Huang Ming admonished.
Despite himself, Chu Xiong was astonished. “What? You cooked this?” he demanded, staring at the delicate breakfast spread.
“I got sick of your kingdom’s cuisine,” Huang Ming said blandly. I just wanted to do something different for a change of pace. There was something cathartic about cooking familiar food from his childhood.
“Help yourself,” he offered.
The prince was tempted, but then shook himself to avoid being steered away from his concern.
“Do not change the subject! I want you to come with me to the temple,” he repeated with a glare.
“Fine, fine, I’ll protect you from being assaulted by bald-headed monks at the temple.”
Chu Xiong’s eyes goggled. “Haven’t you heard of the famous Bright Filial Piety Temple?” he asked incredulously.
“Should I?” Huang Ming replied, vaguely having an inkling.
“There are no monks there,” the prince informed him. “The temple is famous for its beautiful nuns. They have sworn to a life of asceticism, and have joined the temple to avoid contact with their secular pasts.”
“Ah,” Huang Ming vocalized. No wonder I felt I have heard of it before, must be the original’s perverted dream to visit it.
“Well, that should be interesting.”
A visit to the temple,
But things are not so simple.