“Look, planning a wedding isn't for men. We stick together and do the manly bonding.”
--Massimo


Chapter Twenty One - The Letter

The table fell silent at Huang Ming’s bold statement. He looked at the faces of his family members and found various degrees of shock.


“Most likely, you have engineered this bandit threat yourself. Of course, the threat might have really existed, but you deliberately enlarged the problem so that the governor had no choice but rely on you to destroy them,” Huang Ming said.


Seeing no immediate objection, Huang Ming plunged on. He stood up and began to pace, his fingers counting off his points.


“Firstly, these bandits mainly attacked government transportation of raw material, such as ores and grains. Attacks on private merchants were rare, but enough to cause alarm among the citizens.


“Secondly, these attacks were done with surgical precision and efficiency with minimal bloodshed. They were content to take the goods and leave.


“Thirdly, they bandits seemingly come and go at will, leaving no clues as to their identity. Yet you fortuitously able to get a clue to their hideout and destroyed them with in one fell swoop. However, you returned to little fanfare, not even sending a letter in advance to report your good news. Given your bad terms with the governor, how could you resist the chance to rub it in his face? Furthermore, mother and Ah Lang made arrangements and promises confidently, as if they knew you were scheduled to return by a certain time.”


Huang Ming looked accusingly at them. “All in all, this reeks of a carefully planned conspiracy. I have thought of all these coincidences for some time, but father’s return today was the flaw that made up my mind.”


“Oh? What is this flaw?” Huang Zheng asked in an even voice.


Huang Ming faced his father. “You marched back in haste, but then you put the private matter of your sons’ marriages as more important than to make your military report firstly to the governor. This is called ‘putting private matters before public duties’, a serious case of dereliction of duty. For a man whose entire life is in the army, this is unforgivable.”


Huang Zheng nodded gravely, but his eyes twinkled with delight. For years he had lamented about his young prodigal son. Today this son had revealed a keen perception and deep intelligence. Was this son a veritable hidden dragon? Yet he dared not to hope too much as he was afraid of disappointment.


“Father, I think Ah Ming has proved himself,” Huang Lang said.


As if coming to a conclusion, Huang Zheng stood up and loosened his belt.


“Father, what are you doing?” Huang Ming asked with alarm, not really wanting to see his aged father dropping his pants.


Huang Zheng ignored him. He retrieved a secret letter hidden in the linings of his belt. He carefully spread the worn letter on the table. Huang Ming saw at first glance that the words within were written in blood. It read:


“Great General, you are the bulwark of the country. In the years past you have loyally served my father the king, defending our country from foreign invaders. Alas, now our country is beset by internal troubles. The palace is in the hands of Tong Xuan, the guards in the hands of Gao Fang. They have colluded in the absence of my father to thoroughly confuse the affairs of government and reduced the royal family to simple figureheads. As but a mere daughter of the king, I can only grieve at this state of affairs.


“O General, now my royal father the king lies ill and unable to conduct affairs of the state. I only beseech you to remember your oaths to serve the country. You must seek those like-minded as you, gather your forces and destroy those two wicked tyrants and thereby rescue the state.


“This letter written in blood by my own hand, is proof of my sincerity and the dire circumstances the royal family is in. Signed, Princess Wu Liying.”


Huang Ming blinked, his mind was in a whirl. His first thought was to destroy the letter, he remembered similar incidents in Earth history. They usually ended badly for the conspirators, such letters would eventually be discovered prematurely and thus caused doom for all who came in contact with it.


“Is this for real?” he asked instead.


“It is beyond question, do not worry. I have made all the necessary checks and precautions. There is no doubt as to the origin of the letter, and I know the messenger personally,” Huang Zheng said.


Huang Ming realized that he was the last to know of the letter, the rest of his family were not the least surprised.


“I feel left out,” he mumbled.


“This is no joking matter. One mistake and entire generations of our family can be obliterated,” Huang Zheng warned.


Huang Ming grimaced. ‘Then you should have destroyed the letter and killed the messenger!’ he thought waspishly. He was beginning to feel that his father was one of those patriotic figures sung and storied about in Earth stories, where their loyalty and ideals blinded them to everything else. Inspiring for sure, but a cynic such as himself would view such devotion as being naive and foolish.


“How old is this princess?” Huang Ming asked as he went over the blood-stained letter.


“The princess would be eighteen this year. Why do you ask?” his father replied as he folded the letter and kept it back on his belt.


“The amount of blood used isn’t little, I’m just wondering if she hasn’t passed away due to blood loss,” Huang Ming joked. It earned him a smack upside the back of his head from his mother.


“Be serious!” Madam Li admonished.


Huang Ming rubbed the spot where his mother had hit him. “The princess wrote to ask for help, so what? Based on father’s history with Marshal Gao, we would have a confrontation anyway,” he grumbled.


“How can you be so cavalier about such an important mission? The very survival of our country is at stake!” Huang Zheng barked, wondering if he had made a mistake in revealing the letter to his youngest son.


“I understand, please go on,” Huang Ming said, shrugging apologetically.


“Well, now you know the basis of our actions,” Huang Lang broke in. “You are right, there really was a bandit threat, but it was minor. Ah Ke suppressed them long ago,” he said, motioning to the middle brother who nodded in acknowledgement.


“Let me guess, you then pretended to be the bandits yourselves and raided the transports to gather supplies and resources for a campaign against Marshal Gao,” Huang Ming said.


Huang Ke stared at him. “How did you know?”


“I’m a genius,” Huang Ming responded sarcastically. Seeing the ire on Huang Ke’s face, he hastily added, “It’s the obvious conclusion after all you have told me.”


Huang Zheng began to feel a headache forming, his youngest son may have changed but he wasn’t sure if this new version was to his liking. Previously he was silly and foolish, now he seemed flippant and unpredictable.


“Still, after all said and done, you only have two legions at the moment. Ah Ke getting married to Liu Xiang’s sister would secure us the third legion, but after all said and done it’s still only thirty thousand men,” Huang Ming pointed out, carefully avoiding Huang Ke’s gaze when his name was mentioned.


“We are not entirely idle all this time. Other than securing the supplies, we have also been making contacts with friends and allies to prepare,” Huang Zheng said.


“Then what? Do you plan to march on the capital? You’ll cause a civil war and break the country apart,” Huang Ming countered.


“We’re still working on the details,” Huang Ke grunted. “You really have a talent in pointing out the negatives.”


“Somebody has to be the devil’s advocate,” Huang Ming said diffidently as he nonchalantly poured himself a cup of tea. “What I’m unclear about is father’s huge reaction to Ah Lang marrying the governor’s daughter. Yes, you have a feud with the governor but surely you’d welcome the chance to bring him over to our side. It’s not as if you had betrothed brother to someone else as a promise, right?” Huang Ming smiled as he raised his cup to drink.


The cup was halfway to his lips when he saw the sheepish look on his father’s face. He froze and stared at his father. Huang Lang and Madam Li saw the stunned look on Huang Ming and turned to look at Huang Zheng whose complexion was turning pale.


“Father?” Huang Lang asked with a feeling of dread.


“Husband dearest, tell me it isn’t true,” Madam Li said, her voice deceptively sweet.


General Huang Zheng the Great Sword could only avoid their gaze, sweat lining his brows as he twiddled with his fingers.

 

He found himself in troubles deep,
A promise he is unable to keep.​