“Matchmaking, very smart move son. Much better than marrying for love.”
Dr. Koothrappali, ‘The Big Bang Theory’
Chapter 245 – Decided
One of the plans Huang Ming had his suffering uncle Li Hong implement seemed incongruous: to buy thousands of fresh eggs and dye them in red. Li Hong was skeptical but had his entire clan mobilized discreetly at night to deliver the finished product to the Chu embassy.
By morning the Chu men had dispersed widely through the capital to distribute the eggs freely, loudly and joyfully proclaiming them as traditional wedding gifts. A few hours later the entire capital was abuzz with excitement as their initial rumours were confirmed: the Prince of Chu had indeed come for their peerless princess. How generous was the prince, a mere simple announcement was accompanied with such an interesting gift for the common folk.
“What is the point of this?” Uncle Li Hong had asked dubiously.
“Advertisement, of course. Now that this matter had spread thus, those who disagree with this match would find it difficult to deny it,” Huang Ming answered.
“Good idea. Why didn’t you think of such a marvelous thing for your brothers back then?” Madam Li commented.
“They didn’t need it,” Huang Ming said with a straight face, not wanting to tell her that he simply assumed that such a common tradition from his home Earth would not be a thing in this world.
It was a small but useful reminder that despite the familiar cultures, not everything was ‘carried’ over. Small things, even certain food dishes simply did not exist in this world.
‘That reminds me,’ Huang Ming mused. Long ago he had promised Qiong Ying some beer and fried chicken, but never found the time to do so. He had given some ideas to Ma Jun the Wine Barrel in fleeting, he wondered if his winemaker friend had actually put them into practice…
“What are you thinking now?” Madam Li asked suspiciously.
“Oh, just wondering if I should cook something.”
“Cook? You?” she stared at her son in disbelief.
Huang Ming smiled cheekily. “I probably know more about cooking than you, mother. When was the last time you set your foot into the kitchen except to hide your osmanthus cakes?”
Madam Li’s lips curved, but her eyes were not smiling. “And where did you learn to cook?”
“Oh, I picked it up here and there whenever I went on those travel jaunts with my friends,” Huang Ming said airily.
“I do not believe you,” his mother said firmly.
“Well, I’ll prove it to you someday. But for now I need to prepare, I expect a summons soon.”
In the royal palace, the officials were assembling as they await their king to begin the morning audience. There was an air of unease mixed with excitement as they murmured and whispered among themselves.
“Our princess seemed amicable to the Prince of Chu,” one minister commented.
“Nonsense, her highness was only being polite,” another insisted.
They were gossiping about the banquet the previous night where the Prince of Chu was given a royal welcome. Much to the disappointment of those in opposition to the union, the prince gave no reason to their cause.
The King of Wu and Princess Wu Liying had hosted the banquet which proceeded smoothly without incident. Prince Chu Xiong was very reserved, he did not act like a self-important, overbearing man from a powerful rival kingdom; nor did he lower himself to ingratiate himself with the Wu officials. And he was young and handsome to boot.
In fact, by the end of the royal banquet, most have no concrete idea of what sort of man the prince really was. They have heard rumours of his wasteful ways, but his placid behaviour put rest to such stories; surely they were drummed up by the prince’s jealous rivals in Chu as was so common in royal politics.
Of course, not all were convinced, some were even distressed when they saw how their beloved princess was being so friendly with the foreign prince. The royals spoke in low voices and so they as lowly officials could not hear what was exchanged between them but one could see the smile on her face and the sparkle in her eyes.
Worst of all, the king himself seemed was oblivious to the entire affair. The sovereign did not test the prince too much and was content to see his only daughter to talk freely on his behalf.
How could this be? What about General Yin, was he not the closest to the princess?
“Speaking of the general, I did not see him yesterday.”
“It appears there was an urgent military matter outside of the capital that required his attention.”
“He is just the commander of the Imperial Guard, why should he be concerned with matters beyond the palace?”
“Things are not so simple. We no longer have a Grand Marshal and that military matters should be settled by the king himself. But we all know…”
“How dare you, are you doubting the king’s authority?”
“Do not be distracted, first we must convince the king to put a stop this farce of a proposal.”
“Easy for you to say. Everyone now knows about the purpose of the Prince of Chu’s visit. On my way here, I could hear even the beggars gossiping about how they could look forward to a free meal on the day of the wedding!”
“That is right. Those confounded red eggs… their shells litter the streets everywhere! Look at my precious shoes, they are already stained with the dye!”
“Your shoes are not the only thing dyed red. Your lips are red too. Did you help yourself to the eggs?”
“...I was only checking to see what the fuss was.”
“They really were just boiled eggs.”
“Hmph. Goes to show that the peasants are easily amused by such trifles.”
“Excuse me, I do not presume to interrupt your conversation, but your fingers are red too…”
“This is that brat Huang Ming’s fault!”
The commotion only died down when the gong was rung to signal the king’s arrival. The officers hastily went to their respective places and bowed subserviently as the King of Wu arrived. Much to their chagrin, he was accompanied by Princess Wu Liying.
“We see that a few of you enjoyed the treats from Chu?” the princess asked bemusedly.
One of the older ministers stepped forward. “Princess, this is no laughing matter. The entire capital now knows the true purpose of the Chu prince, he is practically blackmailing your highness to agree!”
The princess arched an eyebrow. “You speak as if such a union between our two kingdoms is a terrible thing. Have not the myriad kingdoms wage countless war on each other for the sake of unifying the continent once more? Only the four kingdoms remain, and it is obvious that we are not as strong as the other three. This clear for all to see.”
The elderly minister opened his mouth, and then closed it.
Princess Wu Liying allowed herself to smile at her small victory.
“We see that many of you have opinions about our marriage. We would think that you are all very experienced in such matters, seeing how most of you have numerous wives and concubines. Some of you have even gone through divorces as well,” she said dryly.
Some of them chuckled, while those who have large and problematic families turned red.
“We are aware that some of you are dismayed by such a turn in events,” the princess said. “But let us abandon the flowery words and rhetoric. Gentlemen, you know very well that I am the last of the royal line of Wu.”
As she spoke, she held the attention of the distinguished ministers and officials. None dared to shift their eyes away to glance at the King of Wu. Indeed, he was content to fade into the background as his daughter held sway of the court.
“We have recently cleared our country of terrible scourges, but the wounds remain deep and we have fatally weakened ourselves,” she continued. She held up a hand to forestall any potential protest. “Yes, you are all working hard to restore our kingdom. But the Jins eye our lands, and Wei continue to lurk beyond Tigertrap Fort. They will not wait for us to recover our strength.”
Princess Wu Liying stared resolutely at them, men of renown; some of them even older than the king himself.
“I am a female, but I am very well aware of my responsibilities,” she said grimly. “If my marriage can ensure the survival of our people and lessen their burden, I will gladly do it.”
The ministers were very much affected, a few even shed tears.
“My loyal officials,” the princess intoned, “There is no mountain I would not climb, no sea I would not cross if it meant serving the interest of the kingdom and the people under our care. We convene this audience after much thought and discussion, not to seek your counsel but to tell you of our decision.”
A few of the ministers steeled themselves, their eyes desperately searching for seeds of doubt in her face.
They found none. They only saw a princess unafraid and steadfast.
“The Prince of Chu had proposed marriage and to unify our two kingdoms. We shall be as equal partners, and I have decided to accept his proposal.”
She took one more look around the audience hall, making sure that they all could see the steel in her eyes.
“I have accepted.”
It was her decision,
She settled after deliberation.