“Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives.”
--Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Chapter 228 – Common Foe
Despite his enormous curiosity, Huang Ming really left the two brothers alone. There was little danger to Chu Xiong, the rest of the courtyard was waking up and surely the curious nuns would not resist the opportunity to spy on the picturesque scene of two princes chatting amicably amidst the beautiful temple backdrop.
Still, the two brothers reconciling may force a change in their planning. He have to wring out the truth of the matter from Prince Chu Xiong later: the last thing he wanted was for the princes to come to some sort of agreement that would place Chu Feng on the throne. Such an outcome while pleasant would render all his efforts to naught and would cause potential problems to his kingdom of Wu in the future…
But Huang Ming did not have too much time to dwell on the matter. As he rounded the corner, he came across yet another strange sight.
He saw Qiong Ying and Sunli deep in discussion. Qiong Ying was still wearing the black clothes of a widow in mourning, contrasting against her pale, white skin. On the other hand, Sunli wore the martial white robes of the temple, with her bronzed and tanned skin was the direct polar opposite. The two women, one delicate and feminine, the other strong and martial; had their heads bowed towards each other as they exchanged words.
For a brief moment Huang Ming was mesmerized by the sight. The two women were so close and so rapt in their discussion that their foreheads were almost touching. Their gentle demeanour, framed by rays of the morning sun formed a harmonious and beautiful image.
As if on cue, the two women noticed his presence. Much to his consternation, they each gave him a knowing smirk and continued their discussion.
Huang Ming was horrified: what were they discussing? Their smiles were evil portents and for some reason, his hackles raised in fear.
Unused to this sort of treatment, Huang Ming stood there and blinked. Then he mustered his dignity and approached the two women and put on his most oily look as some sort of veneer to hide his apprehension.
“Hello, ladies,” he greeted casually.
Sunli nodded politely in acknowledgement, while Qiong Ying merely smiled.
“So… what are you ladies talking about?” he forged on.
The two women shared another knowing glance before chuckling quietly.
“Oh, we’re just discussing some…close combat tactics,” Qiong Ying answered.
Huang Ming raised an eyebrow. “Really?” he asked dubiously.
His concern deepened when he saw Sunli actually blushed, her tanned skin unable to hide the flush in her cheeks.
“Of course,” Qiong Ying insisted. “Sunli here for example is quite aggressive in her methods. I was giving my ideas on… a softer approach.”
“Enough,” Sunli growled.
“If it’s close combat then I’m an expert. I did defeat you before,” Huang Ming reminded her with a triumphant smile.
He expected the Amazon to explode with anger then, but to his surprise she merely glowered at him. Then her brows curved as she smiled coldly.
“Yes, I remember,” she said with a tone that suggested all sorts of payback later.
“Don’t worry, just do what I say,” Qiong Ying advised her. “It worked for Bian Qing, it will work for you.”
“I am not sure I would go that far,” Sunli replied.
“What did you mean by Bian Qing?” Huang Ming interrupted.
“Let’s just say that she tamed Prince Chu Feng,” Qiong Ying told him.
“Oh, so that’s what happened,” Huang Ming muttered. “I just saw the two princes… chatting. All friendly and brotherly-like.”
Qiong Ying frowned. “Well, maybe it worked out too well,” she conceded. “Does this change our plans? What if the two brothers work out an agreement by themselves?”
“You voiced my very fears,” Huang Ming nodded. “We might need to do something to ensure that Chu Xiong comes out on top. You said Bian Qing had ‘tamed’ Chu Feng? Does that mean she can tell him what to do?”
“She has established her dominance, but I am not sure she can make him give up the throne,” Qiong Ying admitted.
Huang Ming rubbed his chin in thought. “That’s not good enough.”
“Is it so bad for the brothers to reconcile?” Sunli wondered aloud.
“We’re here because we want the next King of Chu to be a friendly power to our kingdom,” he reminded her.
“But if you interfere so blatantly, would not that incur ill-will from whoever becomes the next king? What if they bear a grudge because you have ruined their relationship?”
“What relationship?” Huang Ming insisted. “Before today they were like cats and dogs, and their mothers are scheming to kill each other.”
“That is true, but it is still a pity,” Qiong Ying sighed.
“I have brothers of my own. I do not enjoy this,” Huang Ming continued. “Ideally, a third force that forces the two brothers to work together and compromise would be the best scenario.”
“You mean, for the princes to unite against a common foe?” Sunli asked.
Huang Ming nodded.
“But that does not solve the underlying problem at all. What happens after that enemy is defeated? We would be back to the question of which brother would prevail at the end.”
“Of course, with us on his side, we can ensure Prince Chu Xiong gain the most merit,” Huang Ming said confidently. “As long as Chu Xiong is seen to have acted the quickest and most decisive, he would be named as the crown prince.”
“This line of discussion is pointless. Where are you going to conjure up a third force? You are not that lucky,” Qiong Ying pointed out.
Just then, one of the temple nuns rushed towards them.
“Sir Huang, Sir Huang!” she called out breathlessly.
“What is it?” Huang Ming asked as he handed her a handkerchief to wipe her sweat. The small gesture, innocent as it was; caused Qiong Ying and Sunli to frown.
“Sir, you must advise the princes to flee!”
The trio were stunned. “Flee? From what?” Huang Ming demanded.
“We just received word that Duke He has rebelled! He is marching towards the capital!”
Qiong Ying gazed at Huang Ming in amazement.
“You do have all the luck,” she commented.
The third force,
Adjusted their course.