“Well, I didn't vote for you.”
--Peasant Woman, ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’
Chapter 234 – Changing history
The moment Bian Qing arrived, her huge dominated the little gathering. The King of Chu and Duke He who were sitting could only tilt their heads up and up with their mouths dropping open to gawk at the well built woman.
The two most powerful men of Chu hardly bat an eye when they initially saw the powerful Amazon Zhao Sunli or the bewitching Qiong Ying, yet their astonishment was plain on their faces when they laid their eyes on Bian Qing.
“This is no time to be feasting!” Bian Qing said angrily.
“You are hardly convincing with that drool on your lips,” Huang Ming said with a smile.
Bian Qing guiltily wiped her lips with the back of her hand, yet she was unable to prevent herself from gulping. The roasting hog was very enticing with its glistening fat and smoky aroma…
“I thought we’re supposed to rescue the king,” she growled to cover her embarrassment.
Huang Ming gestured at the King of Chu.
“And here he is,” Huang Ming said with a flourish.
Bian Qing squinted her eyes at the stunned king.
“This puny guy is the king?” she asked dubiously. “As a child I have heard stories of how he had strangled a tiger and hunted a bear with his bare hands!”
Bian Qing’s temerity snapped the king back to awareness.
“We are your king,” he said gruffly, inwardly glad that the alcohol was already giving him a red face. Those stories from his youth had been exaggerated with every retelling…
“The king is said to be eight feet tall, with shoulders of an ox and hands that could crush skulls!” Bian Qing insisted.
The King of Chu turned to look at Huang Ming in annoyance. “Where did you dig up this… girl?” he demanded.
“Girl?” Bian Qing drew a deep breath full of indignation. She began rolling up her sleeves, exposing some impressively powerful biceps.
“What are you doing!” Chu Feng exclaimed and rushed to pull the sleeves back down.
“He started it!” Bian Qing said, pointing directly at the king.
Chu Feng was horrified. “Stop that!” he said as he tried to drag the arm down. It was almost comical, seeing how she towered over him.
The sharp-eyed and experience King of Chu was not completely oblivious to what he was seeing.
“Her?” he asked Huang Ming incredulously as Bian Qing and his son continued to wrangle.
Huang Ming smirked.
“Is this your doing?” the king scowled as anger rose within him.
“Not at all,” Huang Ming said truthfully.
The king stared at tussling couple in disbelief. At the moment, Bian Qing had Chu Feng in a headlock.
“Then, how did it happen?” the king muttered. His tall, strapping son was being manhandled by a woman nearly twice his size.
“He challenged her and lost, and they grew close thereafter. A love story for the ages,” Huang Ming helpfully replied.
The king glared at him. Then the king belated noticed that there were two other women present.
“Do not tell us that one of these women have entrapped our other son as well,” the king said as he eyed Chu Xiong.
Huang Ming chuckled. “No, Your Majesty, they are both mine,” he said, causing both Qiong Ying and Sunli to flush.
“You are braver than we thought,” the king muttered appreciatively.
“Your Majesty have two wonderful women too,” Huang Ming said dryly.
“Do not try to flatter us,” the king grumbled.
“You could just appoint an heir and be done with it,” Huang Ming suggested.
“We are only pretending to be ill,” the king said. “There is no reason to rush at all, except for their impatience.”
“Who said they are impatient?”
The king snorted. “Who does not want to be the king?”
Huang Ming shrugged. “Not everyone desire for the weight of the crown on their heads. Have you actually asked them?”
The king’s eyes brightened. “And you have?”
“You should talk to them and find out what they really want.”
The king chuckled. “We thought you preferred someone who would be favourable to your country. For such a grave task, you are remarkably cavalier about it.”
“Empires wax and wane, states cleave asunder and coalesce. In the end, one should care the most about family and loved ones,” Huang Ming intoned.
The king smiled cynically. “Great General Huang does not seem to share your opinion. Even in the darkest times of Gao Fang and Tong Xuan, your father did not shirk his responsibilities.”
“Well, what can he do? There are so many people eyeing our kingdom.”
The king narrowed his eyes. “Including us.”
“Including Your Majesty, yes. As I recall, you had personally led a force to raid our southern banks in the past.”
“Your should know it well. Your father drove us back,” the king grunted.
“What I don’t know is why.”
The king was mystified. “What do you mean, ‘why’?”
“As I said, there are many who eye our lands, possibly as part of the dream to unite the world as in the ancient past. Is that it?”
“Of course,” the king growled.
“But why?” Huang Ming persisted.
The king shook his head. “Are you try to use more sophistry? To expand one’s territory is natural.”
“Then why be obsessed with going northwards into the central plains?”
“Where else would we go?” the king fired back.
“This is a continent, not an island. There is no reason for the four kingdoms to continue wrangling over central plains, causing untold hardships to everyone involved. Wei could have expanded westwards, you could have gone southwards while Wu should venture to the seas and beyond.”
“Hah! Easy for you to say,” the king barked. “We do not know about what lies beyond the western steppes or across the deep blue seas, but south of our Chu are dense, steaming jungles filled with terrors. Mosquitoes as big as your fist! Diseases that would expel all the liquid from a man’s body in days and savage tribes that dine on human flesh!”
“So you would rather spend thousands of gold, tens of thousands of lives and who knows how many years trying to invade the central plains, rather than using all that effort to clear the jungles?” Huang Ming asked.
The king rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“Your forefathers surely saw Chu as a wild, untamed land during their time. Yet they persisted and it is thanks to their efforts that your kingdom is what it is today. Why do you not do the same? Expand your southern borders, cut down the jungle, subjugate the wild men and assimilate them into your kingdom. Do not treat them as second class citizens so that their descendants would eventually be part of your people by virtue of natural progression,” Huang Ming expounded.
The king stared at him balefully. “You seek to waste our resources and efforts on such an enterprise?”
Huang Ming spread his hands and said, “What I suggest may divert your attention away from attacking Wu for a few years. But the world is not a square board. You may find vast, unexplored lands in every direction beyond those jungles. Do you remember what I said about moments of change? You could very well be deciding on such a moment. People might not remember when the change occurred, but if you are successful, people will remember your name as the person who spread the culture and influence of Chu everywhere.”
Huang Ming paused. This was a scenario that he had thought of even during his ‘normal’ days on Earth. The great historical figures such as Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great greatly expanded their influence across vast geographical distances, affecting the native cultures of those they had conquered.
Yet, Huang Ming felt that they had gone too fast and did not ensure their proper assimilation, resulting in chaos and misery once the great conqueror had passed. Millions of lives were wasted as all those painstaking effort in subjugating foreign peoples only resulted in later insurrections; for they never truly felt as ‘one people’.
It was as if all those emperors, kings and warlords were only interested in the size of their colours on the maps, not in the peoples living in them. In the end, what was their legacy? The briefest of summary would mention their scale of their conquests, while a deeper research would suggest that they did stamp their way of life over those they had conquered; but only briefly when considered in the grand history of things.
In China, it took centuries before a dominant identity of ‘Chinese people’ took hold enforcing a single language and writing system across the 55 recognized ethnic minorities. It was similar other many other countries where a national identity had taken hold over tribal interests. A modern day country on Earth could invade another country but that would only earn the resentment of those being invaded, because their national identities were so different. The days of Alexander, Genghis and Julius could no longer be replicated in an era where various identities have been strongly established.
Take for instance the tiny area of Gibraltar. Despite its geographical proximity to Spain, its inhabitants aligned with the British. By the time Spain wanted it back, it was too late. The people of Gibraltar had their own identity, their own culture, their own politics; they do not see themselves as Spanish.
What Huang Ming was proposing to the king was for Chu to do it before it was too late like what happened to Gibraltar: to ensure that the Chu way of life would take hold in foreign lands and thus expand the ‘political borders’ of Chu naturally as history wore on.
The king took a few moments to digest, evidently moved by the idea.
Then king reminded him, “By the way, you left out the Jins.”
“It is already cold enough where they are, it is natural that they are covetous of our warmer climate. That is why I am here to seek Chu’s help,” Huang Ming replied brightly.
The king laughed.
“But you still have not yet made an offer,” the king said. “Chu Feng might be taken with this, uh, girl; but there is no reason that he could not marry the princesses from Wei.”
“You dare!” Bian Qing roared at Chu Feng.
“No!” Chu Feng replied instantly.
“Well, that’s one reason,” Huang Ming said.
The king glowered at him, and Huang Ming had the distinct impression that the monarch was directing his ire towards him to avoid Bian Qing’s own furious glare.
“We do have another prince,” the king said.
Chu Xiong shuddered. He looked at Huang Ming for help: he did not relish the idea of being forced to marry.
“And my country has a princess,” Huang Ming smiled.
“The sole heir to the Kingdom of Wu,” the king whispered.
“Don’t I have a say in this?” Chu Xiong said, echoing words from Huang Ming’s past.
“Don’t flatter yourself, the princess might not like you,” Huang Ming said with an arched brow.
“Really?” Chu Xiong was relieved, and yet, intrigued.
“She is not someone you can handle, not one of those ladies that you can cause to swoon just because you have some looks and a honeyed tongue,” Huang Ming continued.
Chu Xiong narrowed his eyes. “I see what you are doing. You are trying to trick me into challenging myself, aren’t you? Well, it will not work!”
“Of course it won’t, seeing how you prefer to laze around in the comforts of your bed. Don’t worry, once I am gone, you can go back to your days of drinking and sleeping,” Huang Ming scoffed.
“Hold it,” the king said with real concern. “We do not want his old habits to return.”
Huang Ming shrugged. “He is your son, not mine.”
“Take him with you.”
“What?” Chu Xiong exclaimed.
“Your brother Chu Feng already has some merit, it is time that you earn some. It is fine if you do not find their princess to be agreeable, but go out and see the world!” the king commanded.
“You’re sending me away to Wu? What if they detain me and keep me as a hostage?” Chu Xiong complained.
The king gave Huang Ming a grim smile. “Then we will have the excuse we need to invade Wu once again. We might even join with Wei to do so.”
“Of course, I will ensure his safety,” Huang Ming said solemnly and bowed.
Chu Xiong tried to protest further but eventually the order was decreed: The prince would travel to Wu for an official state visit in order to foster diplomatic relations. A great embassy filled with gifts of luxury goods and exotic animals would follow to proclaim the power and wealth of Chu.
“Well done,” Qiong Ying praised. “You were sent to get an alliance, and instead of a paper treaty, you somehow managed to invite a prince to come to Wu.”
“Did you plan all this in advance? How did you know things would turn out this way?” Sunli asked.
Huang Ming smiled.
“I guess I just got lucky.”
After the cold north,
To the south he set forth.
Found a prodigal prince,
Gave him words without mince.
The prince had a feud,
With his brother trouble brewed,
Yet with some happy circumstance,
Their relations was enhanced.
He went with shadows of doubt,
But he had help from all about,
To this young man did they bless,
So that he might receive success.
With his silver tongue he advised,
And the King of Chu was surprised,
At the man who made history,
And changed his prince’s story.
He crossed the river while concerned,
But who was to know,
That when he returned,
He had a foreign prince in tow.
END PART V: A PRINCE ERRANT