My apologies to everyone whom I kept waiting in my two week hiatus. Long story short, I had a fainting spell and had to stay at the hospital for tests. Results are... not particularly good, but not threatening. Anyways, I am back.



For the first time in his long search, he has heard her voice again — if only in writing.

--King’s Quest VI

 

Chapter 252 – Mighty pen

 

There was a dreadful silence as General Yin Yanzhao glared at the sealed envelope in Huang Ming’s hands. The atmosphere was thick and heavy and Huang Ming could feel the general’s oppressive aura leaking out from the older man’s tense muscles.

 

“From the north?” the general asked slowly.

 

“Mmm. It just arrived today, and I have yet to read it as it had been a busy day,” Huang Ming sighed.

 

The general became even more gloomy.

 

“Impossible,” he stated like it was a fact. He had left behind a network of eyes and ears all around, how could such an enterprise possibly escape his attention? The king may have appointed the new defender of Beihai after Huang Ming had left, but General Yin had made some subtle changes and every layer of the city’s administration had his people.

 

“One hand cannot cover the sky,” Huang Ming replied with a smile. To the general’s eyes though, the smile was more like a sneer.

 

Yin Yanzhao felt a tingling sensation up his neck: ‘Did he find a weakness in my net?’

 

His eyes narrowed. “That letter looks too informal to be an official response.”

 

“But this isn’t an official response. After all, I only sent a private letter,” Huang Ming said.

 

“A private letter?” the general repeated disbelievingly.

 

“Of course. Sending a royal envoy would take too long,” Huang Ming said breezily. “Far better to send a simple letter to ask if they would like to attend. It is more… discreet.”

 

“You would be so casual with something as important as a royal wedding?” Yin Yanzhao demanded.

 

“Come now, general. Why waste time saying such things? Just admit that you are curious about the contents as I am,” Huang Ming said airily as he waved the envelope about.

 

“I am curious,” the general conceded through gritted teeth. A storm was rumbling in his mind, he can feel the veins on his neck began to pulse.

 

“Alright. You can witness me reading this letter for the first time,” Huang Ming said. Then a strange look surfaced on his face, and he chuckled.

 

“What is so funny?”

 

“Ah, nothing. I never thought that I would be doing a live unboxing,” the younger man said cryptically.

 

“It is a letter, not a box,” the general stated the obvious.

 

Huang Ming shrugged apologetically. “Sorry, my mind was wandering.”

 

He then slowly ripped open the envelope.

 

Very, very slowly.

 

The sound of paper tearing was especially loud in the silence, and the general found himself clenching his fists in irritation. Infuriatingly, Huang Ming did not even rip the top completely; he stopped just short of tearing away the top entirely so that there was annoying ribbon flapping around at every movement.

 

The general’s eyebrow twitched as Huang Ming slowly and painfully tried to fish out the letter like an finicky old man. Just when Yin Yanzhao was about to roar in exasperation, Huang Ming finally pulled the letter out.

 

“Pardon if you think I am being too careful, but this is a letter from the Jins after all,” Huang Ming said pre-emptively.

 

General Yin Yanzhao ignored him.

 

For several long minutes, he could only watch helplessly as Huang Ming’s eyes scanned the letter. Much to his annoyance, the young man then folded the letter and slid it back into the envelope.

 

The torn part of the envelope flopped tauntingly as he did so.

 

The general’s patience ran out: his fists loosened as he prepared to swipe the envelope right from Huang Ming’s hands.

 

“They have accepted,” Huang Ming interrupted.

 

The general froze. “What?”

 

“I said, they have accepted the invitation. In principal. We still need to send an official envoy, but they would not reject us.”

 

The atmosphere became gloomy once more as the enormity of Huang Ming’s words sank in.

 

“Impossible,” the general declared. “You have just humiliated Jin in Beihai, there is no way the prince would agree.”

 

“But I didn’t write to the prince,” Huang Ming informed him.

 

“You-”

 

“I wrote to the princess, and she wrote back,” Huang Ming announced. “You can say we are pen-pals now,” he added with a laugh.

 

The storm that was in the general’s mind was now a whirlwind.

 

‘No!’

 

Huang Ming scratched the back of his head apologetically. “You are right, of course. Indeed it would be embarrassing to write to the prince after defeating his army in battle. So I could only write to the princess and hope she would be more… receptive.”

 

The general stared at him wordlessly.

 

“I have long heard of the Princess of Jin. Well, everyone has heard of her,” Huang Ming said sheepishly.

 

Apparently oblivious to the general’s disquiet, Huang Ming continued: “But of course you would know this, having been in the north for almost your entire life. You of all people would know how deserved her fame is. The things that she had done, the way she had propelled the Jins forward…”

 

Huang Ming sighed wryly. “Much to our detriment,” he said as he shook his head.

 

“But it is understandable. She is doing all she can for her people, as I am. As you are,” Huang Ming said pointedly.

 

The general remained quiet. The initial storm in his head had blown out by now, and now he seemed almost numb to Huang Ming’s rambling.

 

“Beihai was not a happy time for me, but at least we captured quite a few prisoners from the battle. I was very interested in those new weapons they had brought to besiege us, even though they did not actually have the opportunity to use them,” Huang Ming said, referring to the cannons that he had destroyed in the daring night raid in that battle.

 

He knew perfectly well what they were, but since the Jins were caught unprepared he had to feign his ignorance.

 

“Prisoners?” the general finally reacted. “I was not aware that you have taken prisoners.”

 

“Just a few soldiers, and some spies that had infiltrated the city beforehand,” Huang Ming said, waving a hand dismissively. “They did not give up anything important, thus I saw no need to report about them.”

 

He paused, and lowered his head slightly; as if embarrassed.

 

“Actually, no… I didn’t want to report about them because they actually knew of my name personally.”

 

 General Yin narrowed his eyes. “Oh?”

 

Huang Ming blushed like some young innocent scholar. “They said the Princess of Jin had heard of my name, that she was personally interested about me. Ever since the, ah, debacle with the Jin ambassador. It seems that she was amused by the way I had solved the jade puzzle rings.”

 

“I guess since she wrote back to me personally, there is some truth to those stories,” he added sheepishly.

 

If looks could kill, the general would have vaporized Huang Ming there and then.

 

“Our king will be delighted. And those officials who reject this union with Chu will finally shut up. The marriage has yet to happen and already Jin is looking at us differently,” Huang Ming said, allowing a tinge of gloating to creep into his tone.

 

Then he added: “Well… at least the Princess of Jin is. She seems friendly enough. I am sure I can convince her to start peace talks when we meet.”

 

The general finally had enough and rose to his feet.

 

“Leaving?” Huang Ming asked in surprise. “Don’t you want to read this for yourself?”

 

‘Yes!’

 

But General Yin quashed the curiosity in his heart: there was no immediate way for him to discern the truth anyway.

 

“No,” he said instead. “You said it is a personal letter, it would be unseemly.”

 

“If you say so,” Huang Ming nodded graciously. “I will be presenting it to the king tomorrow anyway.”

 

It took all of General Yin’s self control not to snap Huang Ming’s slender neck. He snorted and turned to leave.

 

“She is indeed a clever person, but you would be sorely mistaken if you think you can charm her like any woman,” he said coldly.

 

He knew it was an impotent warning, and Huang Ming confirmed it by chuckling.

 

“Well… it wouldn’t hurt to try,” Huang Ming said with a grin.

 

A simple letter,

A turn for the better.