“Sure, I could have stayed in the past. I could have even been king. But in my own way, I am king.”
--Ash Williams, ‘Army of Darkness’
Chapter 241 – Cynical
Princess Wu Liying then added: “Royal father, regardless of how great a man Yin Yanzhao is, there is no benefit in me marrying him. In the end, he is still a mere general who is the last of his line. There is no advantage in becoming his partner, save for hoping ties of marriage would ensure his loyalty.”
The King of Wu frowned, and he gave Huang Ming a sidelong glance. The younger man preoccupied himself with refilling the cups with tea, as if the princess’s exposition had nothing to do with him.
“Father, do you disagree?” the princess called to draw his attention back, a hint of hesitation in her eyes.
The King of Wu sighed and gently caressed her hair.
“My child, why do you measure yourself like a piece of meat?” he murmured.
“Do not speak about advantages and disadvantages. What does your heart tell you?” the king asked gently.
“I feel nothing for the general,” his daughter responded immediately.
“What about the prince from Chu?” the king asked.
Princess Wu Liying pursed her lips. “Father, I have yet to even lay my eyes on him,” she deflected.
The king chuckled. “And what of Huang Ming?”
The princess affected a wronged look. “Apparently, I am not not good enough for him.”
“Nonsense, it was the complete opposite,” Huang Ming disagreed righteously.
The King Wu laughed. “You have been a bad influence on her,” he accused Huang Ming, the mischievous glint in his eyes taking the sting out of his words.
“Your majesty, she is your daughter,” Huang Ming reminded him.
There was a sense of déjà vu, did he not use such a phrase when it came to Chu Xiong and the King of Chu? What was up with the monarchs of this world trying to push their responsibilities onto him?
“Yes. Yes, she is,” the king agreed slowly. He sighed deeply as he mentally came to a decision.
“Then, we will drop the matter with the general, and you should do as you wish.”
The king reopened his eyes. “We have been an incompetent king and an even worse father. We have seen how you have matured while we have been idle, and we are satisfied that the people of Wu will be safe in your hands.”
He smiled benignly, as if a heavy load had been lifted from his shoulders.
“The Kingdom of Wu is your inheritance, it is yours to do as you decide.”
“Even if it meant joining with Chu?” Huang Ming interjected.
The king nodded. “Perhaps you are right. Maybe that is the best method to ensure the future of the people of Wu… should my daughter decide it be so. We ask that you assist her in every way that you can.”
“Yes, your majesty,” Huang Ming said solemnly and bowed deeply.
How was he to know that as he bent his back and lowered his head downwards, the king was making conspiratorial eyes at Princess Wu Liying and jutting his pursed lips at him? The king was noiselessly urging his daughter. ‘Are you sure you don’t want to take him for yourself?’
The princess rolled her eyes at the unspoken request and shook her head. ‘Give it a rest already.’
Huang Ming rose back up, completely oblivious to the silent exchange.
“Father, I will not let you down,” the princess promised.
“My dear, you will always be my pride and joy.”
The tears threaten to spill once more, but the king closed his eyes and pinched his glabella.
“Now leave us be, allow us some time to gather our thoughts,” he mumbled as he waved his hand dismissively.
But just as Huang Ming was about to turn away, the king spoke up.
“You stay for a moment, we have one more thing to say.”
He signalled for Princess Wu Liying to leave them alone. The princess frowned and threw a sharp glance at Huang Ming, but withdrew out of the room without protest.
“You cannot hide your intellect behind your boyish good looks and charms forever. If the burden of being a ruler proves too difficult for my daughter, take the throne yourself!”
Needless to say, Huang Ming was surprised. Though he had half-expected such a scenario, he did not thought that the offer would be made so blatantly.
“Kingship sounds incredibly troublesome, I don’t think I would enjoy it,” he replied with a knowing smile.
The King of Wu knew then that Huang Ming understood him, and he could not help but flush with embarrassment.
“Ahem. Now get lost,” the monarch waved a hand quickly to dismiss him.
Huang Ming bowed once more and left the king alone.
Outside, Princess Wu Liying was waiting for him.
“Did my father try to give you the throne?” she asked conversationally.
“Yeah, but I turned him down,” Huang Ming replied honestly.
“Were you truly not tempted at all?”
Huang Ming shrugged. “Hey, if he had offered it three times…”
“Really?” the princess’s eyes widened.
“I was joking.”
The princess tsked in exasperation.
“I am not going to steal what is rightfully yours,” Huang Ming said placatingly.
“Hmph. So you say. You have predicted everything else, who knows if you are going to take the throne anyway down the line?” the princess grumbled.
She was referring to their exchange of letters. Hidden in the seemingly dreary and complex philosophical debates were a series of coded messages designed by Qiong Ying. Suffice to say, the agents of General Yin only bore themselves to sleep reading the letters over and over, never to find the secrets within.
Every step of the way as Huang Ming journeyed southwards, he sent back letters and kept up a dialogue with the princess. He warned her about those who would approach her with a friendly outlook, and subtly nudged her to be wary of General Yin Yanzhao.
Princess Wu Liying had been skeptical yet she had no grounds to argue: Huang Ming had constantly brought up the case of Tong Xuan and how she had very nearly induced his father to march upon the capital.
Thus she did as he had advised and pretended to be the same naive and impressionable young princess who was eager to serve the kingdom. When General Yin stepped up to be part of her life, she was on her guard against a charm offensive.
And it was not just domestic issues that she had to prepare to shed her idolization of the Princess of Jin. Once she had went over the state of the continent with a cynical eye, Princess Wu Liying realized the precarious weakness of her kingdom.
When Huang Ming had suggested an alliance with Chu, she did not refuse it. When he later wrote about the two princes and that marriage with one of them was possibility, she did not balk. When he sent word that he was actually bringing one of the princes back, she did not panic.
Each event proceeded as Huang Ming had laid out… including her father’s behaviour.
“Royal father… is an idler,” she mumbled.
“A slacker. He is a slacker,” Huang Ming corrected.
She shot him a baleful glare, annoyed that he had been right all along.
The King of Wu did not realize it but the princess had paid close attention to his mannerisms. The way he had quickly decided to give up the throne was confirmation enough for her.
Oh, she had been furious when Huang Ming had hinted at her father’s reluctance to rule. How could a monarch be so cavalier with the weight of the crown?
Yet, he had pretended to be ill so as to pass authority to Gao Fang and Tong Xuan, but even after they had gone he continued his previous tendencies. Perhaps that was why he had quickly and enthusiastically adopted Huang Ming’s suggestion of a cabinet system of governance, because after making quick decisions in the brief meetings he was off to go on royal hunts and feasts.
The princess might be shocked, but Huang Ming knew that some people were wired in certain ways. Like the obese person who would rationale their way out of a healthier lifestyle, the King of Wu was a person who loathed his responsibilities. He had voiced his concern for the kingdom… because without a kingdom he would have no way to sustain his interests and carefree life.
“Do not blame him. He was born into a lap of luxury and spent most of his years being waited hand and foot. He is simply… not used to responsibility. Build a luxurious countryside residence for your royal father and surround him with servants and beautiful maids, I am sure he will appreciate it,” Huang Ming said dryly.
“You are getting ahead of yourself,” the princess said. “There is still the matter of the general. And the prince.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Is he really that easy to manage?”
“Of course,” Huang Ming said casually. It did not matter whom she had meant.
“What if you are wrong? This is my future you are talking about.”
Huang Ming smiled. “Don’t worry, I feel lucky.”
The king wanted to quit,
And so someone had to do it.