“Our journey starts here... And any mystery around the corner, we can discover together.”
--Grace Hendricks, ‘Person of Interest’
Chapter 242 – Fault
Obviously the princess was none too pleased with his lackadaisical answer.
“This is the rest of my life you are gambling with,” she fumed.
Huang Ming raised his palms placatingly. “Sorry for being facetious. I do have certain measures in mind. But give me some time; I have not even gone to see my mother yet.”
“Fine,” the princess allowed begrudgingly. “But you should expect stiff opposition from the old stick-in-the-muds in the royal court. They will be sure to oppose this union with Chu. They will prefer to flog me off to marry General Yin… or worse, one of their unworthy sons.”
Huang Ming gave her a look. “The only relevant opposition should come from you. If you dislike this match, there is no way I would force the issue.”
“Can you guarantee our kingdom’s survival without this?” she demanded.
Huang Ming remained silent.
“I thought so. And thus, I will do what it needs to be done,” the princess said with a determined look on her face.
Princess Wu Liying was indeed pretty, but only now did Huang Ming thought she was beautiful.
“…Even if it means marrying a pair of silk pants,” she added.
Huang Ming chuckled and thought of uttering some soothing words, but changed his mind when he noticed a shadow. He bowed and bid the princess farewell, leaving her lost in her thoughts.
She had voiced her vow, but internally she was still full of doubts. The young princess sighed and leaned against a gorgeously decorated pillar, allowing her eyes to be distracted by the carven images of dragons and phoenixes on it.
There was a cough, and she snapped back to reality. Inwardly she groaned at herself, being caught off-guard in such a cliché moment that she had fleetingly read about in novels.
At such, she managed to control her facial expression even as she whirled around to see a smiling Prince Chu Xiong.
The princess glared at him like a cat whose tail was stepped on, furious at herself for her momentary lapse. It did not help that the prince was a handsome young man with flawless complexion.
“Aren’t you supposed to be resting? Or is eavesdropping a particular hobby of yours?” she asked waspishly.
“Nice to meet you too, princess,” Chu Xiong said dryly. “I was merely taking a walk when I saw the two of you. Naturally I was curious.”
“And how much did you hear?” the princess demanded.
Chu Xiong smiled as he planted a hand on the pillar and leaned in to trap her.
“...enough to hear you call me ‘a pair of silk pants’,” he murmured into her ear.
She felt a heat rising as his breath tickled her, but she refused to to be overcome. The princess resolutely shoved Chu Xiong away with both hands.
“Control yourself, Prince of Chu,” she said coldly.
Chu Xiong took a few steps back and shrugged with insincere apology.
Princess Wu Liying finally had her first real look at the young prince. Those smiling eyes and half-curved lips showed that he was amused.
‘So what if he’s good looking?’
She chastised herself for even entertaining such a superfluous thought. The princess only hoped that she did not look like a besotted maiden in the brief second that she had lost composure…
Prince Chu Xiong was also annoyed, but not at himself. Rather, he was annoyed with Huang Ming who only painted a vague description of the princess. He had considerably downplayed Princess Wu Liying’s personality, meaning Chu Xiong was taken off guard by what he had seen.
He could not remember what he was thinking when he decided to corner her against the pillar earlier. Oh, it was a clichéd move for sure, but something within him was intrigued when he saw how the princess and Huang Ming had conversed with casual ease. The glare on her face now only increased his interest.
‘So she’s got a temper along with her looks…’
Then he heard her say:
“We are not that familiar, we would appreciate if you would maintain a polite distance.”
Chu Xiong smirked. “All the more that we should… interact more. We were invited here to form an alliance, after all.”
There was something the way he had smiled that irked the princess. It reminded her of another young man that had so recently messed around with her father.
“We will find time to know one another, surely,” she said. “For now, you should retire and rest, we will meet again at the banquet later.”
He rolled his eyes. “What sort of talk can we have when we will be surrounded by… what did you call them? Old sticks in the mud?”
Princess Wu Liying’s face flushed. Even if she did not hold those old sticks to be in much esteem, they were hers to denigrate. She had been caught complaining about her own officials, by a foreign prince nonetheless.
Then she remembered how a certain official by the name of Huang Ming had so conveniently made himself scarce earlier.
“This is all his fault,” she grumbled.
Chu Xiong sighed, knowing full well whom she meant.
“Yes, I do feel he gives us royals no respect at all.”
“Was he as flippant to your father the King of Chu as he was to mine, the King of Wu?” the princess asked.
“If only you knew,” the prince laughed. “He only spent a few minutes with my father before I found myself being ordered to come here.”
“That does sound like him,” the princess allowed herself a knowing smile.
Chu Xiong gazed at her in silence for a few second. Then he nodded, as if he came to a silent decision.
“I have long heard of you, princess. Though it is only a national predicament that Huang Ming had proposed this union between us, I’d prefer it if this is not just an alliance between kingdoms, but also to find a great partner in you.”
“Oh?” she tried to keep her tone neutral. “Then you should not be surprised that I too had such thoughts. Even if he had assured me that I could keep you under my thumb.”
“He said that, did he?” Chu Xiong narrowed his eyes. “He also mentioned to me that I should try my best to charm you.”
“Really?” Wu Liying asked flatly.
Chu Xiong wordlessly retrieved a book from his sleeve and handed it over to her. She took one look at the title and instantly knew that it was one of those romantic novels aimed at women.
“Really?” she repeated, this time with a dubious tone.
“He said something about being widely read to know a lot of things,” he admitted.
“Well, he is not wrong there. Still, this is ridiculous,” she complained.
However, Chu Xiong noticed that she did not return to book to him.
“That’s not the end of it either. Let me tell you…”
He saw a chance and vanished,
But his good deed was still punished.