You're just too good to be true

I can't take my eyes off you

--Frankie Valli

 

Chapter 240 – A turn

 

“This is all his idea,” the king said immediately.

 

Huang Ming frowned but he shrugged.

 

“Yes, it is all my idea,” he agreed blithely.

 

Princess Wu Liying’s eyes flashed as she stared at him. They had only met a few times, but she had grown considerably more mature in a short time. Gone were the tempestuous attitude of a rash, young woman; replaced by a chiller, measured demeanour of a woman who was aware of her situation.

 

Still, that did not mean her fire was gone completely.

 

“Stop lying to our royal father,” she said waspishly.

 

“I wasn’t lying, I was trying to steal the credit,” Huang Ming replied seriously, earning an exasperated roll of the eyes from the princess.

 

“Eh?” the king mumbled.

 

Both the princess and Huang Ming looked impassively at the king, who took a few seconds to completely register what they had said. His brows went up and then came together as he became stunned and then filled with sorrow.

 

“You… allowed the general to approach you on purpose?” he said slowly.

 

The princess averted her eyes and bit her lower lip.

 

It told the king all that he needed to know… and he took it out on Huang Ming. He whirled around to grab him by the lapels.

 

“You did this?” the king whispered menacingly.

 

“Sire, she said she it was her idea,” Huang Ming reminded him. He tilted to look past the king at the princess in askance, only to see her sticking out her tongue at him.

 

The unhappy king who was oblivious to his daughter’s antics continued to glower at Huang Ming.

 

“What was that you had told me earlier? You merely flapped your gums, but it was me who decided? Is this the same case?” he demanded.

 

“No, I really didn’t suggest anything,” Huang Ming said honestly.

 

By now Princess Wu Liying restored her prim and proper expression.

 

“Father…” she called out, causing the king to release his hold on Huang Ming’s shirt and to turn around.

 

“My daughter…”

 

“Do not blame the grand tutor. It was my own selfish intent to investigate the general ever since he decided to leave Beihai and transfer to the capital,” Princess Wu Liying said.

 

“But why? Yes, his decision to leave his ancestral source of pride seems out of the ordinary, but he is the last of his line and we thought it would be proper reward to remove him from a position of danger.”

 

“The general appears loyal and humble, but there have been… disquieting rumours about him,” the princess said vaguely. She would not be elaborating on the details, for much of the information came from Huang Ming’s own sources from his time in the north that she was murky about.

 

“And you did not share your concerns with me?”

 

“Father, thy daughter was provoked by Tong Xuan in the past. I only listened to his side of the story, not realizing too late that he too was a villain. Because I was eager to get rid of Gao Fang, I was very nearly tricked into inciting Great General Huang to march upon the capital,” the princess admitted pitifully.

 

The king remained quiet. How could he say anything, when he had all but abdicated his responsibility by pretending to be ill the entire time?

 

“Thus when Sir Huang shared the rumours to me, I decided to investigate the general myself and allowed myself to be familiar with his character.”

 

The king’s shoulders slumped, and the princess hastened to support him.

 

“We have given you too much to bear,” the king grieved.

 

“This is all my doing,” the princess insisted.

 

The king ignored Huang Ming who was nodding in agreement.

 

“My daughter…” the king said emotionally with watery eyes and surprised the princess by giving her a hug.

 

The princess was startled as it was the most intimate gesture by her father that she had ever known. A flood of emotion washed over her and she found herself reciprocating the hug, wrapping her jade-skinned arms around the back of her father. Tears of her own threatened to spill…

 

“Are you proud of me now, father?” she whispered, and the king responded by hugging her even more fiercely.

 

Princess Wu Liying would have basked in the warmth of the embrace more had she not saw how Huang Ming was standing at the side looking at them with frank cynicism.

 

It was his turn to stick his tongue out at her, and he upped the ante by waggling his hands beside his ears mockingly.

 

The princess squeezed away her tears and glared at Huang Ming. With her arms still around the king’s back, her hands pointed and gesticulated at Huang Ming threateningly. She wagged a finger and then wrapped a fist, promising all sorts of vengeance later.

 

The king felt the slight movements behind his back and stepped back from the hug in puzzlement.

 

“Thy unfilial daughter have made royal father worried,” the princess said pre-emptively and distracted the king by dabbing away her tears with her sleeves.

 

“None of the sort! It is we who are incompetent,” the king declared as he wiped away his own tears.

 

Huang Ming coughed discreetly to put an end to the emotional moment.

 

“Have you discovered anything then, princess?” he asked politely.

 

Princess Wu Liying took a deep breath and exhaled heavily as she gathered her thoughts.

 

“On surface, General Yin Yanzhao appears to be the perfect gentleman. He is both learned in the arts and powerful in the martial arts. He is soft-spoken but stern, mindful of the proprieties and has kept an appropriate distance from me. Heavens know that my servants and ladies-in-waiting sing praises of him often enough,” she grumbled.

 

“In the past, I would have been convinced by his behaviour. Perhaps I would have been moved by his stoic displays of masculinity and composure…” the princess trailed off, ending with a cynical smile.

 

The king frowned. “But…?”

 

“Being forewarned, I could not help but feel that everything he did was deliberate, that there is intent behind his actions. If I was not already suspicious of him, it would be perfectly normal to fall for such a flawless man. But I am no longer the naive princess who fell for Tong Xuan’s tricks,” the princess continued with steel in her voice.

 

“The general is too perfect in his dealings with me, and that is the flaw in his disguise.”

 

 

His perfection,

Raises suspicion.