Praise and comfort
“Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun.”
--The Baroness, ‘Sound of Music’
Chapter 215 - Praise and comfort
All eyes turned to see a stern-looking middle-aged woman dressed in the black robes of a higher-ranked nun, her hair covered by a white headscarf. She was accompanied by group of giggling younger nuns, some of whom could not help but steal glances at the princes and blush.
“Apologies, we were merely congratulating Prince Chu Feng on his great strength and speed in climbing the stairs,” Huang Ming said with a bow.
“The stairs of this temple are not meant for such trivial, meaningless pursuits,” the stern woman said in the manner of an admonishing matron. To Huang Ming, the only thing missing from her outfit was a pair of glasses and for her to push it up to cause sunlight to glint off it.
“You must be Master Zheng Yen,” Prince Chu Xiong greeted, to which the nun nodded stiffly.
“While you are here, I must ask you to refrain from such spectacle that would displease the harmony of the gods here,” she said, her lips drawn in a severe line.
“Forgive us, we did not know any better,” Huang Ming said with a smile.
There was something about Huang Ming’s expression that caused Master Zheng Yen to hesitate.
“Are you a believer?” she asked.
Huang Ming shook his head.
How was she to know that Huang Ming was indifferent to her beliefs? Religion in this world was a mixture of Earth’s beliefs. There were similar concepts from Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, aboriginal culture and others that were familiar to Huang Ming. A cycle of life, death and repeat meant he was contemptuous of those who thought they knew what gods were.
Master Zheng Yen had seen those who had dismissed the truth and usefulness of prayers, but the cynicism in Huang Ming’s eyes unsettled her.
“It seems that we will have plenty to discuss,” she said to him and turned away before he could reply.
‘What? Why me? But I didn’t do anything!’ Huang Ming gaped. The last thing he wanted was to be bogged down in a philosophical goblygook debate.
Once the luggage had been discharge, the soldiers went back down the mountain. The only males left were the Princes Chu Feng and Chu Xiong as well as Huang Ming. With them were a small number of female attendants to cook and clean. Of course, Qiong Ying was there as well.
The younger nuns led them a hall near the central pagoda where they were given rooms. The furnishings were not luxurious, but still befitting of a temple of such stature and prestige. Naturally the three men were housed separately from their female retinue.
“Beautiful place,” Huang Ming remarked. “What exactly does one do here to pass the time?”
The nuns smiled. “There are plenty of chores to do, but we mostly pray and meditate. And exercises!”
“Do you not have any free time at all?” Chu Xiong asked, genuinely curious.
They giggled. “Of course! Most of us are skilled with our hands.”
“I would very much to see,” he said, his eyes jumping suggestively. The young nuns blushed and giggled in maidenly fashion; evidently they had only recently taken their monastic vows. Their modest robes could not hide their fresh faces and nubile bodies.
Off to the side, his brother Chu Feng snorted at his flirting. Secretly, he was wondering which of the comely lass was Qiong Ying’s confederate. He stole several looks at her, but she made no indication that she saw him.
Chu Feng would not admit it but he was also envious of Chu Xiong’s ease in chatting up women. Being immersed in the military arts his entire life, he had absolutely no idea on how to deal with the opposite sex normally. To see his brother talking freely and causing them to laugh was alien to him: Chu Feng only needed to speak an order and the women carefully selected by his mother would strip and jump into his bed.
“These are your quarters, sirs. It is a little earlier than usual, but we have prepared a light lunch. Please come to the main hall after this,” the nuns said and left.
For some reason, the area assigned to the men were dominated by carven idols of fierce looking and muscular deities that wielded terrifying blunt weapons.
“Is it me or are they trying to send us a message?” Huang Ming murmured as he gazed at their wrathful faces.
“This place gives me the creeps,” Chu Xiong admitted, not daring to look at the statues too closely.
“They are only statues,” Huang Ming scoffed. “There are other things you should be worried about.”
“My brother would be too exhausted to try anything today, no thanks to that prank,” the prince replied smugly.
Huang Ming chuckled. “Are you sure he actually wants the throne? He seems a few cards of a deck to covet it. Maybe it is Concubine Yang’s wishes rather than his own.”
“I didn’t wish for the throne,” Chu Xiong reminded him. “Yet here I am, in a monastery because I needed to make a good impression.”
Then his face twisted in a nasty grin. “Speaking of good impressions,” he said conversationally, “Seems like you made good one for Master Zheng Yen to invite you personally.”
“Maybe she wants to pick on my brain… an organ of yours that you should work on,” Huang Ming said.
Chu Xiong’s eyes narrowed. “It is a wonder that you lived this long. If you were born in Chu, someone would have cut your tongue off for your insolence.”
“Hey, I depend on my tongue for a living. And what makes you think nobody has tried? Enough joking, lets go.”
They rejoined the rest in the main hall where Qiong Ying and Chu Feng were already waiting, sitting at separately tables, both ringed by the nuns. There was a gaggle of younger girls around Prince Chu Feng, while the older nuns were with Qiong Ying.
One group was fawning over the majestic prince, while the other had glistening tears on their cheeks as they consoled the grieving woman.
“Poor lass, you have gone through a lot. Come, eat something,” one older sister placed a warm bowl before Qiong Ying.
‘She must be spinning quite a tale to put them to tears,’ Huang Ming mentally smirked.
“If it wasn’t for the princes, I would not be here,” Qiong Ying murmured with a bowed head, her eyes staring at the bowl of gruel before her.
All turned their admiring eyes towards Prince Chu Feng.
“Did your highness really climb up the stairs within an hour?” a girl asked, her eyes wide and round.
“It is simple matter,” the prince replied gruffly, yet one could see his ears turning red, unused as he was by these women who had abandoned the secular world and thus did not treat him like royalty.
“Bandits!” an older sister hissed. “They surely are bold to be active in this area, we must thank you for dispersing them.”
Prince Chu Feng turned redder for he did nothing of the sort. He only made a show of riding into the forests and spent a few days hunting wild game to provide Qiong Ying some time to work on his brother.
“Bandits? Where!?” a loud female voice bellowed.
Bragged about a deed not done,
There comes a loud-mouthed nun.