“I thought everybody liked me. I am such a nice guy. ”
--John Smith, ‘Last Man Standing’
Chapter 247 – Business
The two royals were understandably doubtful and pressed Huang Ming to explain, but he airily refused to give details. Unable to drag a straight answer out of him, they could only grudgingly dismiss him. They smiled through gritted teeth as he cheekily waved goodbye.
“I see that he is equally infuriating to you as he is to me,” Chu Xiong said dryly.
“You have no idea,” Wu Liying replied. “I offended him once and he always brings it up as an edge against me.”
“I am not about to tell you about it.”
“Not married yet and you are already keeping secrets from me,” the prince chuckled.
She rolled her eyes and proceeded to occupy herself with dinner.
He found it quite charming.
“What are you looking at?” she demanded waspishly.
“Do you think he is right?”
She blinked. “About what?”
“About us. He said we ‘moved fast’. Is it too fast?” Chu Xiong asked.
Wu Liying set down her chopsticks and daintily wiped her lips. She then sat straight and placed one palm on the other on her lap.
“Yes, it is indeed too fast,” the princess said as she held her gaze on him.
Chu Xiong exhaled the breath that he did not know he was holding. He had half expected her answer, but it still caused his ears to roar and his head to pulse with rushing blood.
“You have someone else in your heart?” he asked, hoping that his voice was as steady as hers.
She shook her head. “No. Where would I find the time to indulge in romance? It has been one crisis after another.”
Chu Xiong’s smile froze.
“You are the best I’ve got,” she said.
“Shouldn’t you sugar-coat it a little?” Chu Xiong asked wryly.
“I suppose I am glad that I am getting the better part of the bargain,” the princess replied wistfully.
Chu Xiong leaned back and mentally counted a few breath to calm himself down.
“A bargain,” he repeated a moment later. “So you think this is just business?”
“This is politics.”
Chu Xiong’s heart ached. “It can be more than just politics,” he said.
“I certainly do hope so,” the princess remarked brightly. “Otherwise I would feel very short-changed.”
Chu Xiong chuckled. Of course, it’s never going to be easy.
“Having second thoughts? Not the swooning damsel in distress that that you had expected?” Wu Liying asked lightly.
“You certainly are not. Maybe that is why I am here, right now,” Chu Xiong admitted.
Chu Xiong shrugged. “One day, I will introduce you to my brother.”
Wu Liying tilted her head in askance, but Chu Xiong looked away into the distance, wondering if Chu Feng was having better luck with his own love life.
We have strange tastes in women.
“It is not strange at all,” General Yin Yanzhao said with a faint smile.
“Nonsense, the princess must have been bedeviled!” the official huffed.
The small group of bureaucrats shuffled uneasily behind him. They were in inside the general’s command tent, and the genteel bureaucrats with their scholarly robes felt out of place amongst the implements of war.
They had covertly ventured out of the capital city to travel to the general’s encampment, bravely forgoing the use of luxurious carriages and rode uncomfortably on horseback. Then they were quietly escorted into the encampment at night, surrounded by the apathetic eyes of General Yin’s handpicked men.
In some other time and place, the officials would have flown into a rage at the lack of respect shown to them. But times have changed. Princess Wu Liying had reformed the ministries and departments by placing her own picks in charge. The old officials woke up to a brand new day and found themselves promoted out of the way. On paper, they were given prestigious titles, yet many of the older officials felt slighted and cast aside with their once powerful influence diluted and diminished. They did not even have a say on who should replace them which was an age-old tradition!
They were not alone: in their group were their junior officials and scholars who were passed over. They had been groomed to replace their mentors; only for the princess’s own appointments and upstarts swooping in to take what was rightfully theirs. And now they languished in obscurity; years of fawning over their seniors and now had nothing to show for it.
Only the general had shown them any thoughtfulness, sometimes even assigning his own soldiers to serve as guards and escorts for their many jaunts to fill their new-found leisure time.
At first they had been wary of the general, after all; was he not the closest to the princess? Perhaps she had tasked him to keep a watchful eye over him. But the general had been polite and even listened to their drunken tirades patiently. How often do civil officers be accorded military courtesies? He had flattered them and they were readily eager to be flattered. Heaven knows there were not enough such platitudes dripped into their ears lately. Besides, there was no harm in making a friend in the general, did he not have the ear of the princess?
And so when the princess announced her decision to merge, nay; give away the kingdom to Chu, they finally had enough. Where was their confidant, where was General Yin? Why had he stayed away even as the Prince of Chu sauntered into the capital?
“The princess is certainly out of her mind to even welcome the prince personally!” one of them reiterated.
The general leaned back on his tiger-pelt chair. “You underestimate the princess’s resolve. It is, in essence, a business transaction.”
“You mean, the princess is sacrificing herself?” the scholars gaped.
The general sighed. “What choice does she have? We have made enemies of Wei in the west and Jin in the north. Chu is our only hope. Huang Ming has done well to have secured an ally.”
The officials gnash their teeth. “Huang Ming! He is the cause of this. I still remember that it was his fault that the Jins attacked us in the first place!”
“And didn’t his father helped Gao Fang in that ill-fated adventure deep into Wei? We could have withdrawn after the fiasco but Huang Ming just had to antagonize Ran Wei and end any possibility of reconciliation!”
Soon the command tent were filled with angry voices.
General Yin Yanzhao hid his cynical smile as he watched the spectacle. Several of the civil officers were already working on his behalf as they incited each other to anger. However, he had kept them in the dark of each other, thus their enthusiasm in trying to sway each other was very convincing. Who knows, maybe some of them truly believed in the words they are spewing…
The general leaned back, occasionally nodding his head or grunt in non-committal acknowledgement as they whipped themselves into a fervor.
‘Time to send a letter to Jin and stir the pot more,’ he thought darkly to himself.
Stoking the dissatisfaction.