“You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance.”
--Ryu, ‘Street Fighter II’
Chapter 219 - Visit
Though Chu Feng’s interest in Qiong Ying dwindled after her identity was revealed, It was easy for her to goad Prince Chu Feng into pursuing a rematch.
“Why did you accept that nun’s challenge? Did Concubine Yang not warn you to be restrained and cautious?” she had scolded with a severe tone.
Chu Feng scowled and Qiong Ying knew she had hit the mark.
“I did not see you trying to stop the duel,” he said discontentedly.
“What could I do at that moment?” Qiong Ying replied. “You were so swept up with that Bian Qing that I did not have a chance to get in a word.”
Chu Feng snorted. “What use are you then?”
“You need to worry about yourself more instead of me,” Qiong Ying said. “I can work on Prince Chu Xiong and Huang Ming, but you need to climb out of the hole that you have dug for yourself.”
“What do you mean?”
“How are you going to convince the world that you are going to be the next King of Chu if everyone heard the story of you being defeated by a nun?” Qiong Ying reminded him. “Now that you have made such a commotion, there is no sense in holding back but go all out instead. Are you confident of defeating that Bian Qing?”
The prince thought she was reasonable, and inwardly seethed.
“What should I do then?”
“Of course!” Chu Feng said indignantly. “She only won because I was tired from climbing the stairs.”
“Then you should seek a rematch and wipe away your humiliation,” she said, subtly emphasising the last word.
It worked, for it caused Chu Feng to flare his nostrils in anger.
Over the following days, Chu Feng would smoulder with impatience as he waited for Bian Qing to reappear. He wanted another duel, despite the way he had been easily defeated by her.
Unfortunately for him, Bian Qing was immediately spirited away by Sunli after being lectured by Master Zheng Yen. It was part of the plan to infuriate Chu Feng even further.
“Instructor! Didja hear about what I did?” Bian Qing had bragged excitedly to Sunli.
“I did,” Sunli said solemnly. “You have really poked the hornet’s nest this time. The prince is not a forgiving man.”
“If he dares to show his face again, I’ll just break his nose,” Bian Qing said fearlessly.
Sunli chuckled. “Admirable, but you’re going to bring his wrath on the temple if you do so. You would do well to avoid him.”
Bian Qing’s brow furrowed. “Why should I when he’s the one who lost?”
“Let him cool off for a few days. Come with me to the forest,” Sunli said.
Bian Qing narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Whatever for? You’re not just taking me away to keep me out of trouble, are you?”
“On the contrary, I’m going to teach you ways so that the next time you face the prince, you can beat him up without causing bruises.”
Bian Qing was overjoyed. “Really?”
“Yes, there is something called ‘grappling’, and he would be completely helpless against it,” Sunli said, recalling the time when Huang Ming had easily overturned the giant guardswoman of Jin’s ambassador. Sunli did not think that she would find yet another powerfully built woman, the thought of training Bian Qing intrigued her.
“Remember, he would be eager for a rematch, but you would also need to provoke him so that he would only find satisfaction by defeating you himself without trickery.”
Thus Bian Qing gleefully followed Sunli into the forest to train, leaving Prince Chu Feng waiting in vain for a few days.
When Bian Qing returned, the prince all but leapt at her.
“Whaddaya want? I have already defeated you,” Bian Qing said with feigned disinterest.
“I demand a rematch!”
Bian Qing placed one fist on her hip. “Is that the way you ask for a favour?” she demanded.
Suppressing his rage, the prince growled, “I humbly seek to exchange pointers.”
Bian Qing sighed exaggeratedly. “Since I’ve already beaten you with the staff, let’s do it barehanded this time.”
The prince was so eager that he immediately clenched his fists and dropped into a horse stance. Much to his anger, Bian Qing merely stood there loosely.
“Well, come on! I don’t have all day,” Bian Qing sneered and beckoned with a wave.
The prince’s eyes become bloodshot and he charged at her with his fists flying.
Bian Qing then proceeded to throw the enraged prince to the ground this way and that way, using what Huang Ming would call aikido and judo. By the end of the ‘spar’, the prince was lying flat on the ground, his eyes wide open as he stared at the blue sky.
“Come back when you want another beating,” Bian Qing said, remembering what Sunli had told her.
It worked, for the prince would continuously seek her out for another ‘spar’. And each time, the giant woman would toss the prince around like a ragdoll. Though the prince was not unfamiliar with unarmed combat, he had mostly trained with weapons as befitting someone who wanted to lead soldiers on the battlefield.
As planned, the prince became obsessed with defeating Bian Qing. Each day would begin with Bian Qing disappearing for the entire morning and only returning by late afternoon, causing the prince to stew with impatience. He would warm up and stay limber well in advance, only to end up flat on his back each time. He was driven to such distraction that he completely ignored his brother and Huang Ming.
Huang Ming would have witnessed such ‘sparring’ for himself, but he was suddenly invited by Master Zheng Yen for a discussion.
At first Huang Ming thought he was being called to advise the prince from causing the daily commotion. After all, she could not risk offending the prince by scolding him. But the stern looking matron really proceeded with a solemn tea ceremony that reminded him of the Japanese custom, rather than the more casual Chinese method.
Master Zheng Yen reverently and silently measured tiny spoons of powdered tea into an exquisitely decorated bowl while a kettle of water gently being heated on a small stove. She then poured the hot water into the bowl and stirs it with a bamboo whisk. Each movement was precise and practised.
Huang Ming sat before her and waited patiently. When the bowl of tea was finally presented to him, he partook it in the Japanese fashion by first admiring the artwork on the bowl; causing Master Zheng Yen to raise an eyebrow with surprise.
“Good tea,” Huang Ming remarked truthfully and bowed after taking several sips.
“My apologies for the poor fare,” Master Zheng Yen replied humbly. “Why did you turn the bowl three times before tasting it?”
“You took the effort to present the tea in this specific bowl, it is given that I have to appreciate the craftsmanship,” Huang Ming stated.
Master Zheng Yen nodded, and her severe look softened. “I did not expect that someone would understand me. Many do not truly see the meaning behind each gesture.”
Huang Ming smiled. “That is because they did not know. You should codify a set of etiquette for the tea ceremony and call it the ‘Way of Tea’. The written word would make it all official. Perhaps you could set a standard for all to follow in the future.”
Her eyes widened. “Do you think it is possible?” she asked, but the light in her eyes betrayed her excitement.
“There is no harm in trying to spread more civilized art in this world,” Huang Ming said.
Master Zheng Yen smiled fleetingly. Suddenly Huang Ming felt the small tea room to turn chilly. “And yet here you are, trying to provoke a civil war in my country.”
Huang Ming’s face did not falter at Master Zheng Yen’s sudden change of demeanour.
“I am trying to prevent one,” he said calmly.
“I cannot help but feel concerned by your interference in the succession affairs of my country,” Master Zheng Yen said coldly.
“But I am not,” Huang Ming said.
“Are you not favouring one prince over the other?” Zheng Yen demanded.
“One treats me as a mentor while the other deemed me as an enemy even before he had seen my face, what do you think?” Huang Ming asked lightly.
“You could always return to your country of Wu,” Zheng Yen suggested.
“And yet by coming here, I have changed Prince Chu Xiong for the better. You are religious, not blind. Don’t tell me you haven’t seen the changes in him, changes that are for the better,” Huang Ming returned.
He folded his arms and looked at the nun almost contemptuously.
“You have secluded yourself in this mountain and besides learning how to serve tea, what good have you done for the world? Praying to invisible beings for advice?”
“Blasphemy!” the nun gasped.
“I am not disparaging your beliefs, Master Zheng Yen. But instead of prayers, the world would prefer more tangible help,” Huang Ming said flatly.
Zheng Yen rose up and pointed a finger at him.
Huang Ming merely tilted his head slightly, waiting for her to launch a diatribe.
But then Zheng Yen’s eyes glazed over. She shuddered, her arm fell back down and she swayed on her feet. Startled, Huang Ming stood to catch her.
But Zheng Yen then straightened up. Life returned to her eyes, but there was something different about her. She sat back down and to Huang Ming’s surprise, she actually gave him a smirk.
“More tangible help, eh?” she asked.
Huang Ming frowned. “Who are you?”
‘Zheng Yen’ grinned. “You just talked about invisible beings, and now you pretend to not know when one has really appeared?”
Huang Ming was unperturbed, thinking that she was pretending to be possessed like the numerous charlatans and frauds that he had encountered before.
His lips curved into a sneer. Then it disappeared when ‘Zheng Yen’ suddenly said:
“You have done quite well for me, Avatar. But you will need to step it up a little.”
With an unexpected guest.