“Help me, Mr. Spade. I need help so badly.”
--Brigid O'Shaughnessy, ‘The Maltese Falcon’
Chapter 209 - Typical
On what was decided to be a auspicious day, the two royal princes Chu Feng and Chu Xiong set out together to the Bright Filial Piety Temple. The two brothers were coldly civil to each other during the journey, only exchanging the barest of words during meal times when they were in the public eye. At all other times, the two rode separately, each surrounded by their respective retinue of guards and attendants.
Chu Feng wanted nothing more than to wrap his thick fingers around the scrawny neck of his brother and snap it off like a twig, but he was mindful of the warnings given by his mother. Besides, he was still recovering from his recent exertions.
“Do not take any outward action against Chu Xiong,” Concubine Yang had told him.
“Why not? Is this not the reason you had him come along in this trip?”
“All eyes will be on you. Should anything untoward happen to him, the world will blame you for it,” Concubine Yang explained. Her eyes then narrowed. “If that strategist of his, whatisname…”
“Huang Ming,” her son supplied.
“Yes, if that Huang Ming is as they say, he could very well engineer an incident and pin it on you.”
“So why should we be passive? We should act! If Chu Xiong is dead, all the better. I will be the only choice for a heir and father would not have a choice,” the prince scoffed.
Concubine Yang resisted the urge to slap her son. “The very point of this trip is for you to build a pious reputation. Who would dare to serve you if you have murdered your own brother? You will drive away talented people from helping you in the future.”
Chu Feng sneered. “They are just shabby scholars who bury their noses in books all day. Throw enough rewards at them and they will come running.”
“Do you want to surround yourself with sycophants and flatterers who would destroy your inheritance thereafter?” Concubine Yang asked exasperatedly. “You disdain the scholars and sages, but they will be the ones helping you govern the country after you have taken the throne. Just look at your father: he is ill but the country is still going strong because of the good officials and bureaucrats that he had amassed. The very same sort of people that you will need!”
“I understand,” Prince Chu Feng grumbled. “But then what do you expect me to do? Is this really going to be just a trip to pray?”
“Of course not. This is our chance to harm your brother.”
“But you just said-”
“I do not mean to harm him physically,” Concubine Yang sighed, wishing that her son had spent more time training his brain instead of his biceps. “You two are heading to a sanctuary filled with nuns, and your brother is a renowned womanizer before his sudden change of disposition.”
Chu Feng’s thick brows knitted together. “You want me to cause a scandal for him?” he asked slowly.
Concubine Yang smiled faintly. ‘You’re not entirely helpless after all,’ she thought without malice.
“I have already made the arrangements,” she said.
“You have?” Chu Feng asked. It did not occur to him to even ask how his mother who was a royal concubine confined to the palace could have done so.
“Yes, I have hired a cunning seductress to work a honey trap. That Huang Ming may have reined in your brother’s lasciviousness, but he cannot watch over him all the time.”
“Would we not still be blamed anyway?”
“One would be damned for falling for such a trap, not the ones who have engineered it.”
“What should I do?” the prince asked his mother.
“Find some ways to split them apart. You only need to occupy one of them, the agent I hired will work her wiles on the other,” she said.
Her son frowned. “Either one? What is the point of seducing Huang Ming when the one we want to harm is Chu Xiong?”
“The best scenario is for your brother to disgrace himself while in the temple. But should that prove impossible, then the agent will try to put a wedge between Chu Xiong and Huang Ming. She will cause them to be fight over her and cause a rift between them.”
“Who is this agent?” Chu Feng asked, his own interest piqued.
“You will know when you see her. She is from the far north and thus have little obvious ties that can lead back to us.”
Concubine Yang then gave her son a warning glare. “This honey trap is meant to ensnare your brother, so don’t you let your lust get the better of you. For all we know, they might be planning to do the same to you! Do not let yourself be in any situation where you are without your guards. Be patient and do not give them any excuse!”
To be on the safer side, Concubine Yang even arranged for some of her maids to thoroughly wrung out her son before the trip. That was the source of Chu Feng’s haggardness during the trip.
“What do you think is wrong with him?” Chu Xiong asked, his chin jutting towards his brother who was riding unsteadily on his horse ahead of them.
“Looks like a severe drain of protein to me,” Huang Ming remarked with a grin.
“What does that even mean…” Chu Xiong complained, again peeved by the strange words that Huang Ming used every now and then.
“Don’t let his current weak self fool you, assuredly there is mischief afoot,” Huang Ming said pedantically.
“Oh, really?” the prince said sarcastically.
“Don’t be so dense,” Huang Ming said, deliberately treating the prince’s sarcastic remark to be a truthful question to annoy him. “We are only heading to a famous temple full of beautiful nuns. If I know my typical tv drama plots, we’re going to encounter a city-toppling beauty hoping to lure you into a trap and drag your reputation into the mud; causing people to say that you couldn’t control your lust while in a holy place.”
“There’s that word again! What the hell is a ‘teevee’?” the prince demanded.
Before Huang Ming could say anything, the procession column came to a shuddering halt.
Prince Chu Xiong frowned. He bade for one of the guards in the front to report back.
“What is happening? Why are we stopping?”
The guard visibly swallowed his saliva.
“Your highness, there is a lady ahead seeking our protection.”
“And here it comes,” Huang Ming murmured.
A damsel distressed,
Beauty she possessed,
And a plan to deceive,
Their friendship to cleave.