“I was just trying to make a good impression.”
--Laird Mayhew, ‘Why Him?’
Chapter 238 – Tigers
“Remember what I told you. Be sure to make your first impressions count,” Huang Ming murmured discreetly to Prince Chu Xiong as they were led to meet the King of Wu.
“Stop nagging, I know what to do,” Chu Xiong complained.
“Let me smooth things out with the king,” Huang Ming said.
“What do you mean?”
“You are here to woo his only daughter, what do you think?” Huang Ming replied.
The grand doors swung open and they were admitted into the audience hall, where the highest ranked bureaucrats and officers were assembled to received them. They stood with their backs straight and their heads held high in an obvious show of pride and strength.
Huang Ming knew they were trying to intimidate the visiting Prince of Chu, but he also felt that some of the unfriendly gazes were also directed at himself.
At the dais overlooking them all was the King of Wu sitting majestically on his throne.
“Your Majesty,” Huang Ming greeted and saluted properly.
“Welcome home,” the king replied with an indulgent smile, knowing that the rude young man was being unusually polite for his benefit.
“We trust that you have good news from your diplomatic duty?” he asked.
“The King of Chu expresses his intentions to establish friendly relations with our kingdom,” Huang Ming answered and retried a sealed scroll from his sleeves. An eunuch duly took it and presented it to the monarch, yet the King of Wu did not open it.
“What was he like?” he asked conversationally.
Huang Ming cupped his chin and pondered before replying with a single word: “Strong.”
“The king stood at over six feet, broad shouldered and with a square jaw,” Huang Ming described, deliberately being obtuse..
The King of Wu smiled. “We did not mean to ask for his physical outlook, but about his personality.”
“Ah. Well, in that aspect, he is very similar to your majesty,” Huang Ming replied with a smile of his own.
The king laughed. “Afterwards, you will have to tell me everything that you have seen in Chu.”
Huang Ming bowed humbly. “As your majesty’s desire.”
Then the king shifted his attention to Chu Xiong, and his good humour vanished.
“And this is…?”
“This is Prince Chu Xiong, potential heir to the Chu throne,” Huang Ming answered.
Unlike Huang Ming who had bowed, the prince merely nodded slightly and saluted with hand over fist.
Without saying a single word, the prince’s perfunctory gesture was enough to cause the atmosphere in the audience hall to turn chilly.
The king arched an eyebrow. “Is he truly a prince of blood and not just someone that was given a title?”
“My kingdom has no need for such deceit,” Chu Xiong replied with cool composure.
“Your Majesty, this is truly one of the King of Chu’s royal sons,” Huang Ming added.
“And what is a true royal son of Chu doing here?” the king asked, his eyes narrowing.
“To see if Wu is indeed worth being friends with,” Chu Xiong answered fearlessly.
Even the assembled officers drew a sharp breath at his reply, their opinion of the prince improved slightly.
“A tiger begets a tiger cub,” the king nodded in approval. “We have arranged for royal residence for you to rest, and there will be a banquet tonight to welcome you to our kingdom.”
Once more Chu Xiong gave a cursory nod, but this time his head tilted slightly deeper than before. A servant then led him away.
The king waved a hand to end the court session and the entire assembly bowed, ready to be dismissed.
“Huang Ming, come with us,” the king gestured for him to follow.
Once more, Huang Ming felt the prickly sensation of unkind eyes on his back he followed the king to the palace interior.
The king led him to his own private residence and then dismissed all his servants.
“Be at ease,” the king said genially and allowed Huang Ming to sit with him as ordinary equals.
With that, the solemn look dropped from Huang Ming’s face. His shoulders loosened and his eyes twinkled as he sat down casually and proceeded to filled their cups with tea.
“That was very tiring,” Huang Ming exhaled. “Please do not have me attend such a official function ever again.”
“You routed Wei while on horseback, fought off Jin from behind walls and you managed to bring back a prince from Chu; and you’re afraid of a little formality?” the king scoffed.
“In all those instances, I knew what I was facing. But singling me out like that is just inviting jealousy from your officers, and I have no idea why you are doing it,” Huang Ming said, allowing a tinge of annoyance creep into his tone.
“Our officials are loyal to a fault,” the king sighed. “Their memories of past troubles are still fresh in the minds.”
“And so they think I would be the next Tong Xuan?” Huang Ming rolled his eyes.
The king grimaced, and it was enough of an answer.
“Is that why my mother is in the capital?” Huang Ming asked frostily.
“We have nothing to do with that,” the king admitted.
“She is now in the Li clan’s residence. Perhaps she was visiting your uncle.”
Huang Ming eyed him suspiciously.
“Do not look at me like that,” the king said. “Once she gotten wind about the foul rumours about you, she decided to stay in the capital on her own volition. Your mother is a formidable woman.”
“I am not sure of what to think about your interest in my mother,” Huang Ming said.
The king was so flustered by the scandalous accusation that he nearly dropped his cup. Then he saw the glint in Huang Ming’s eyes.
“You tend to take your jokes too far,” the king grumbled.
Huang Ming shrugged self-deprecatingly. “But that is why you keep me around.”
The king barked in laughter. “Indeed, there is no one else who would speak so candidly with us. Not even our own princess.”
Huang Ming pursed his lips. ‘What an obvious lead in.’
“Speaking of which, how is she?” he asked.
“Busy. So much so that we meet only fleetingly during meals,” the king groused. “Perhaps you even know more about her than us, seeing how you two exchange missives often.”
“Hardly. They are boring letters and problems of philosophy and theory,” Huang Ming deflected.
“Aye, and she has been putting all those theories into practice. Do you know that she even has a staff of her own reporting directly to her, like the system of cabinet ministers that you had suggested to me?”
“I did not tell her to do such things,” Huang Ming said honestly.
“But you inspired her to do so,” the king snorted. “Are you sure you do not want to marry her?”
“Very sure, thank you very much.”
The king sighed. “Your mother said the same thing. Even after we had threatened her to make it a royal decree, she said that you already have your hands full.”
“My mother is right, and so I have brought back a prince for the princess instead,” Huang Ming replied flippantly.
The king could not help but shake his head at Huang Ming’s grin.
“Tigress parent, tiger cub,” he mumbled.
For the first impression,
Some slight aggression.