Price to pay
“No king rules forever.”
--King Terenas Menethil II, ‘World of Warcraft’
Chapter 239 – Price to pay
Though the King of Wu had mumbled the comment, Huang Ming still picked up on it.
“You say that, but it is natural for parents to care and worry for their children. Like yourself, sire,” he said conversationally as he refilled the tea cups.
“I am a king as well as a parent,” the monarch replied.
“Ah, but you are going to say that you’re placing the country above your own daughter, aren’t you?” Huang Ming asked with a smile.
“The lives of the entire kingdom are our responsibility; we do not take light of it. The heavens know that we had neglected our duty long enough.”
Then he frowned mightily, and Huang Ming could see the new lines of worry on the king’s brows. The first time they met, the king was pretending to be sickly; on their next meeting the king was showing off his health and vigour. This time, he had all the worries of the world on his shoulders.
“If it is any consolation, you can be assured that the princess feel the same way as your majesty,” Huang Ming said lightly.
The king drained his tea cup, and Huang Ming duly refilled it.
“What exactly are you scheming?” the King of Wu asked after a moment of silence.
“What do you mean, your majesty?”
“We are not completely oblivious. We asked you to form an alliance to secure our southern borders, but you managed to bring home their prince instead. It just so happens that this prince is young and handsome to boot. It is obvious that you plan to tie Chu and Wu together by marriage.”
“Your majesty, you were moaning about the princess and the fate of the kingdom just a few moments earlier,” Huang Ming reminded him.
“So you think you are doing us a favour?” the king said frostily. “You realize of course that this is why you are being viewed with suspicion by my vassals. They think you are selling out the entire country to Chu.”
“Would it be wrong to do so?” Huang Ming asked, looking squarely into his eyes.
The king took a deep breath as he did not expect such blatant confirmation.
“Your majesty, you do not strike me as a person who would value such a thing as ‘keeping it in the family’,” Huang Ming added.
The king exhaled. “And what makes you think that?”
“Because if you are, you would have spent most of your time in the harem to produce a male heir.”
“Heavens know that we have tried,” the king grimaced.
“The princess is more than capable of ruling after you. Is that not why you have allowed the princess to take the lead to deal with Tong Xuan and Gao Fang in the past?” Huang Ming asked.
“She was already wilful to begin with, and now these new ideas of governance that you have placed in her mind only made her even more bold,” the king sighed.
“Then, you should not be worried about ‘gifting’ the kingdom to Chu,” Huang Ming pointed out.
“Though I have reformed Prince Chu Xiong, he remains quite inexperienced and unambitious as he had only recently left his wasteful ways. In fact, he is only in the race to obtain the throne to secure his own desires of a leisurely future,” Huang Ming supplied, showing no hesitation to throw the prince under the bus.
“So you are saying he is malleable,” the king arched an eyebrow.
“The princess would have no problems handling him,” Huang Ming confirmed.
The king chuckled. “We wonder… what did you tell the prince to have enticed him to come? Did you say the same thing to him about our princess?”
“Nothing of the sort,” Huang Ming assured him. “I went out of my way to tell him that he has nothing in common with the princess and they couldn’t be more different from each other.”
“We rest slightly easier after hearing that, though we cannot imagine our rival the King of Chu to be oblivious to such a possibility.”
“Perhaps he was looking forward to the far future. We had an interesting discussion about leaving a legacy and such,” Huang Ming replied vaguely.
Maybe the talk about making key decisions to change history had affected the King of Chu, and the monarch was no longer concerned about making sure the ruling family of whatever future kingdom to be of surnamed Chu, but was instead lured by Huang Ming’s premise of a world where the dominant culture and traditions were from the Chu people instead. Then he would be revered as a great ancestor of the people, would not that be an everlasting legacy?
“Sire, though we have gotten rid of the twin scourges of Gao Fang and Tong Xuan, it was done too late. We have wasted the better parts of our military forces and exhausted the treasury. The reforms being done by yourself and the princess-”
“As suggested by you,” the king interrupted.
“...I only flapped my gums, the decision was yours and all the effort was by your able subordinates,” Huang Ming said.
“Still as reluctant as ever to take official credit, eh?” the king chided.
Huang Ming ignored him and continued, “Despite the setback we have dealt Jin, it is obvious that they are preparing to sweep southwards. We are too weak to stand alone against them. To unite with Chu is a logical solution… in fact, it is the only solution that I have to ensure the survival of our people.”
“And the price we have to pay is our sovereignty, is that it?” the king asked sarcastically.
“Sire, you have to look beyond the importance of blood and surnames. You currently do not have a male heir, and your line would need to pass to some obscure branch family; which I imagine would not be palatable as it would mean passing over your own daughter chance to be a queen.”
“A female ruler?” the king asked dubiously.
Huang Ming pressed on: “That could be your legacy. To be the father of the first queen of a kingdom.”
“And should the burden be too great for her?”
“Then her husband from Chu would have to support her.”
The King of Wu scowled. “You just told us that the prince is a pliable sort, what kind of support can he give?”
“Both him and the princess are still young, there is enough time to surround themselves with talented people to assist them.”
“Like General Yin? Why shouldn’t we just gift the kingdom and our daughter to a loyal general instead of a foreign prince?” the king asked cynically.
Huang Ming returned an equally cynical smile. “The general is not suitable.”
The king blinked at his blunt words.
“We have heard that you had disagreements leading up to the troubles in Beihai, but the general and his family had served the kingdom for generations.”
“I do not find him trustworthy.”
“As untrustworthy as you?” a female voice asked.
Both men turned, and who else could it be but the Princess of Wu, Wu Liying?
“This is all his idea,” the king said immediately.
The princess in question,
Joins the session.