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“So you see, my son, there is a very fine line between love and nausea.”

--King Jaffe Joffer, 'Coming to America'

 

Chapter 255 – Away

 

Zhongdu City,

Capital of Jin

 

The north was a cold place, but recently the palace officials and made felt something else was causing them to shiver.

 

It had started innocently enough. The princess was a workaholic, taking personal charge of her pet projects throughout the kingdom. Even after marriage, she never gave up her passions in the sciences and wonders that were improving the lives of the Jins.

 

Still, the prince had expected for her to settle down or at least, pay more attention to him than her works; as useful as those were for the benefit of the kingdom. Yet it seemed that she was far more busy than the crown prince was, often taking working tours throughout the country while he himself had to divide his time between military responsibilities and palace politics.

 

It meant that they actually spent less time together as a married couple when compared to the time when he was courting her. They were like ships passing in the night, often missing each other due to scheduling conflicts. Oh, of course there were times when he would up and abandon his dreary duties to visit her. Such impulses were often rewarded, but they were few and far in between.

 

He had heard how kings and queens would grow distant over time due to the weight of their crowns but he had thought they would be different. After all, they were truly in love.

 

At least, he thought they were.

 

The gaps in their intimacy grew and grew, and over time the prince realized that it was always him who sought his wife out, never the other way round. Imperious, independent… and most of all, indomitable. He had thought he had melted her heart, but lately the prince felt she had never lowered her guard at all. The prince knew full well about her strong personality, it was why he had fallen for her in the first place.

 

What the prince feared the most was that his beloved would be bored with him. Then he heard whispers about how Jin Hua was taking inordinate interest in the Kingdom of Wu and the meteoric rise of a certain Huang Ming.

 

Jealousy.

 

He was already annoyed at her inner circle of close subordinates, there was no need for another addition.

 

Thus when the letter from the saboteur General Yin arrived about the weakened defences of Beihai and that Huang Ming was stationed there to boot, he made a quick decision and approved of a winter assault on the city fortress.

 

The prince did not like the traitor general who had convalesced in their city after his personal tragedy. Oh, he was potentially very useful; but the prince did not like how the general looked at Jin Hua, and prince was happy to see the general return to Wu as a planted agent far away from his wife. To the general’s credit, he sent back secret letters to the prince, not to the princess.

 

The information he provided was very tempting. In one fell swoop Prince Jin Bao would remove the main geographic obstacle to invading the kingdom of Wu proper, as well as getting rid of Huang Ming. His spies had already told him how the young man was instrumental in the recent revival of Wu; there was no need for such a person to exist.

 

Then, disaster.

 

His army was unexpectedly defeated by Huang Ming, the wonder weapons that he had appropriated from Jin Hua’s testing grounds were lost and worse; her own agents who were in the city unknown to him had been captured and presumably killed.

 

The rift between their Prince Jin Bao and Princess Jin Hua had now grown into a chasm.

 

This was not what the prince had expected after marrying his beloved. Weren’t they suppose to live happily ever after? They had fought off countless challenges that had stood in their way, why were there still problems? There should have been a smooth procession to the end of their days, that they would die with silver hair and wrinkled skin but still very much in love.

 

Wasn’t that the way how such stories go?

 

He sought to make amends, but she remained as busy as ever. There were still the romantic escapades now and then, but there was always a distracted look on her face.

 

Were the rumours true?

 

Who was this Huang Ming? Was he really that interesting to her?

 

Then another letter from General Yin arrived.

 

After the previous debacle, Prince Jin Bao disdained to read it. He knew it was no fault of the general that the scheme was defeated, yet the prince felt the general was still partly responsible. Then he remembered how the general had told him about Huang Ming, and he opened the letter.

 

As usual there were some interesting information about the kingdom of Wu, but not very actionable at the moment. It was not until towards the end that the most important thing was revealed: there was to be a marriage alliance between Wu and Chu. Such a thing would completely change their plans to invade southwards.

 

‘...the marriage has already been decided. Your servant is ashamed to report that he is unable to change the minds of the king or the princess of Wu. Furthermore, I was informed too late that a date has already been picked and official invitations had already been sent out. Huang Ming himself had personally written to the Princess of Jin inviting her to attend…’

 

What!

 

The prince crumpled the letter and shot to his feet. He marched to his wife’s private study in the palace, ignoring the scurrying maids and eunuchs that knew better than to slow him down by paying obeisance.

 

He flung the doors open without asking for her permission, only to be greeted by a slack-jawed eunuch who was tidying the room.

 

“Where is she?” Prince Jin Bao demanded.

 

The eunuch fell to his knees. “The princess has been away on one of her tours, your highness,” he reported.

 

“How long has she been away?” the prince asked in a cold voice.

 

“It has been nearly a week, sire.”

 

The prince clenched his fist, and the letter within crinkled to remind him of its presence. He looked down at the crumpled letter, and a feeling of dread began to rise.

 

‘Calm down, maybe she is in one of her testing grounds. Surely she would not have gone south without so much as a word…’

 

No.

 

She was just the sort that would do such a thing. Wasn’t that the reason he fell for her?

 

“Find my wife!” Prince Jin Bao bellowed.

 

He loved her spirit,

But now, he feared it.