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Chapter 237 – Interlude bubble
As promised by General Yin, Prince Chu Xiong's arrival was greeted enthusiastically by the capital of Wu. The train of exotic animals awed the citizens, their eyes blinded by the riches on show and their mouths gaped at the sight of acrobats and performers leading the way for the great prince with colourful confetti and flower petals.
Recent years of hardship meant that the Wu capital had not seen such a dazzling demonstration of wealth and luxury, especially since the kingdom had embarked on ambitious rebuilding and reconstruction programs.
At first Chu Xiong had balked at such a pretentious display; he wanted to make a quick entrance so that he could present himself to the King of Wu and be done with the ceremonies. But then he remembered how Huang Ming had told him to act as a prince, and according to the books he was reading; he was supposed to be pretentious and domineering like those black-bellied male leading characters.
“Go out there and show the public that you're actually a prince,” Huang Ming had said.
“Why?” Chu Xiong had protested.
“Don't let others seize the narration or make up reasons for your arrival. You are here to woo their beloved princess, you need to show them that you can actually match her.”
“Fine. What should I do then?”
Huang Ming laughed. “Dress up a little, squint your eyes a little and only hint at a smile so that you appear cold and calculating.”
And so he dressed himself in a majestic robe that was cut to emphasize his figure, did his best to look cool and rode out in the open instead of sheltering himself in his royal carriage.
The sight of a royal foreign prince obviously drove the crowds wild, and despite his initial doubts; Chu Xiong found himself enjoying the attention even though he was outside of the comforts of his grand carriage.
Inside the very same carriage were Huang Ming and Qiong Ying, lazily partaking in the prince’s luxuries of chilled fruits and airy pillows. The multiple silk curtains were thick enough to hide their presence and yet thin enough for them to see outside.
“Nice job convincing the price to give up this carriage for us,” Qiong Ying yawned languidly as she stretched like a cat.
“Well, we needed the space to work,” Huang Ming said wryly.
Strewn about the carriage were documents and scrolls meant for their eyes. The moment that they had disembarked from the ships, they had begun receiving secret letters and the amount only increased the closer they got to the capital.
Huang Ming did not bother asking Qiong Ying how the letters actually reach her hands despite the vigilance and prowess of Prince Chu Xiong’s elite guards all around the procession. Obviously the spying network that she had promised the Huangs in the past were very skillful and extensive.
Such was the backlog of documents that Huang Ming felt the need to read them even in the few hours of the parade from the city gates to the royal palace.
“You know, we could be doing more than just reading these,” Qiong Ying drawled as Huang Ming began gathering the documents for safekeeping.
“Madam, this is inappropriate,” Huang Ming pretended to be scandalized.
“Don’t worry, this lady won’t be too rough…” Qiong Ying arched a charming eyebrow and ran a finger down the length of his cheek.
When the finger reached his lips, he suddenly flicked out his tongue. The sensation caused Qiong Ying to shiver and she drew back in surprise.
“Stop playing around, we’re nearly at the palace,” Huang Ming grinned.
Qiong Ying narrowed her green eyes, promising future payback. But she complied and helped him to pick up the documents. They worked quickly in silence, as if they were in a bubble completely isolated from the commotion outside.
“I still don’t know what is your end goal,” she said as Huang Ming handed her the last scroll.
Qiong Ying tapped his chest with the edge of the scroll.
“You plan to marry off the princess to this prince and then unite the kingdoms of Chu and Wu, correct?”
“That should be obvious,” Huang Ming replied.
“Maybe we should just… leave. Let my sister fulfil her ambitions as quickly as possible and not cause more casualties,” Qiong Ying murmured.
Huang Ming chuckled. “A little too late for that, don’t you think?”
“Be serious. We are now back in Wu, we could easily slip to one of the coastal cities and find a ship. Leave all this and forget my sister’s obsession.”
“I am already in a pirate ship,” Huang Ming grinned. ‘Just not the one you are thinking,’ Huang Ming mentally added waspishly as the image of his Patron surfaced.
“Be serious. At first, I thought of vengeance. But after spending time with your family, I realize that my previous understanding of ‘family’ is too shallow,” Qiong Ying said wistfully.
Then she brightened. “Your mother’s here in the capital,” she said.
Huang Ming grimaced. “Yes, I’ve seen that report.”
“Do you know that in the short time I have known your mother, I have spent more time talking about intimate things with her than I have with my own mother?”
“What intimate things?” Huang Ming asked warily.
Qiong Ying ignored him. “My quest for vengeance seems so hollow when there is nothing beyond blood ties. I don’t even know what are the favourite foods of my parents.”
She turned to look at him in the eyes.
“What do you think?” she asked. “We could all board a ship, sail to some exotic island and live in obscurity, far far away.”
“It is too late,” Huang Ming repeated. “Your sister will never give up.”
How was he to explain to her about the great game?
What else could he do but to smile roguishly and be a black-belly? And so he said:
“Because your man is very outstanding and she wants him for herself.”
Qiong Ying sighed and rolled her eyes.
“I see you have been reading those novels yourself,” she grumbled. “Fine, I understand that it is not time to talk about such things. But tell me, how are you going to convince the King of Wu to give away his daughter and his kingdom to an old enemy?”
“He has no sons, they will be given away in any event,” Huang Ming pointed out. Even in Earth’s history, there were many instances where a monarch without a male heir had allowed their realm be united with another.
“You forget that there is still the general,” Qiong Ying reminded him.
“I definitely have not forgotten.”
“Then you should not discount the possibility that the king might want the kingdom to remain, even if it meant changing the name of the royal family from Wu to Yin,” Qiong Ying said. She tapped him with the scroll again. “And from these reports, it doesn’t seem the princess is much against the idea.”
“Really. Somehow I think not,” Huang Ming smirked.
“You know something that I don’t?” she asked half-accusingly, half disbelievingly. “Something in those lessons that you have been writing to her?”
Huang Ming shrugged. “Who knows if she actually learned anything? Distance learning isn’t all what it is said to be.”
They could feel the carriage slowing down and that the celebratory sounds outside was beginning to quiet down. A glance through the silk curtains was enough to tell them that they were approaching the royal palace.
“Well, time to convince the king to give his daughter and kingdom away,” Huang Ming said.
A whimsical suggestion,
But for him, it was out of the question.