“...And All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt”
--common t-shirt slogan
Chapter 262 – Contrasting
Huang Ming and Zhao Sunli were on their way back towards the capital when they came across a messenger on his way to find them. The messenger was relieved to have found him, urging him to return as soon as possible.
“You were only gone for three days,” Sunli said.
“Yes, but I left no word and to outsiders it would look like I had been kidnapped by two strange women for some nefarious reason,” Huang Ming smirked. He quickly whipped his horse and rode off as Sunli chased after him furiously.
She was surprised by his horsemanship and it spurred her to ride faster. Soon the fury had given way to exhilaration; the chase had become a race instead. By the time she had caught up, they were laughing merrily.
“That was good,” Huang Ming said as they slowed down. “The open road, a fleet horse, a falcon at your wrist, and the wind in your hair,” he quoted.
“I have never tried falconry,” Sunli replied.
“One day, then,” Huang Ming smiled said. Sunli nodded, and it became a promise.
The guards gave them odd looks as they made their way back to Huang Ming’s office. The various minor officials could not help but stop to stare.
“What are they looking at?” she growled as they walked past the umpteenth ogler.
“Maybe they never seen a woman like you before,” Huang Ming said lightly.
She snorted, but was secretly pleased. Had it been someone else, she might have taken it as a slight.
However, Huang Ming was proven wrong when they entered his office.
Sitting behind his own desk was his doppelgänger, a slender and irritatingly, a more effeminately handsome version of him. The twin was pouring over his documents, one hand cupping his chin in thought and the other hand holding up a brush, as if contemplating before writing something.
Sunli gaped and turned to look at the Huang Ming by her side and the one at the desk several times.
“So that is why everyone was surprised,” Huang Ming realized. Those people had probably seen ‘him’ enter the office earlier, and suddenly he had arrived again.
“Where have you been?” the twin demanded exasperatedly, putting the brush down.
“Just a short ride outside,” Huang Ming replied.
The doppelgänger was non-plussed and instead turned his attention at Sunli. “Now this is a far more interesting subject,” he said as he sauntered over.
Sunli stiffened. Was it her imagination or did his hips sway slightly as he walked?
“What a dark beauty,” the doppelgänger murmured and used a finger to delicately tilt her chin.
“Had enough?” Huang Ming grumbled and the doppelganger laughed.
Sunli blinked, for it was the laughter of a familiar woman.
“It’s you,” she said with belated recognition.
The doppelgänger went to get a basin of water and slowly scrubbed the cosmetics. Sunli watched on with fascination, having zero interest in such things previously.
Sure enough, the impostor’s face was soon revealed to be Qiong Ying’s. Her hair and dress was still like a man’s, so she appeared like one of those heroic female knight errants.
“Surprised? I’ll teach you sometime,” Qiong Ying said gaily.
“And why were you so stunned earlier? Didn’t I ride all the way back with you?” Huang Ming demanded.
“Well, aren’t there superstitions about people suddenly meeting their look-alikes and then dying?” Sunli said sheepishly.
“So you were worried for me,” Huang Ming beamed.
“Did you two have fun without me?” Qiong Ying asked.
“Just a brief meeting with General Zhao Tong,” Huang Ming said and told her about the planned rotation to replace his father at Tigertrap Fort.
“Your father is doing this so that he could come to the capital to fetch your mother?” Qiong Ying asked. “How romantic,” she sighed, not expecting the gruff general with a wintry beard to be so soft-hearted.
“And what are you doing here?” Huang Ming asked.
Qiong Ying scowled. “What do you think? The man shouldering the heaviest responsibilities and making the biggest decisions suddenly up and disappeared for a two whole days and the bureaucracy ground to a halt. I had to step in and pretend that everything was fine.”
“Thank you,” Huang Ming said. He frowned, “I did not expect things to be so bad just because I was away for a moment. It shows the organization changes has yet to mature… I have to make sure that everything continues to run smoothly whenever I am absent.”
“Well, you can hardly blame them. There were rumours about you being accosted by a woman and dragged off to some seedy establishment,” Qiong Ying chuckled, “Did someone finally push the other down?”
“No, I didn’t,” Huang Ming rolled his eyes.
“I wasn’t asking you,” Qiong Ying grinned, causing Sunli to flush.
“Nothing happened,” the Amazon said through gritted teeth.
“Pity,” Qiong Ying sighed. “Come, let big sister teach you a thing or two,” she said as she draped a friendly arm across the other woman’s shoulders.
Normally, Sunli would have shrugged her off. But in such matters, she was truly inexperienced and she felt she needed to hear what Qiong Ying had to say.
“Let’s leave this stinky man to his pile of work, we ladies have some serious talking to do,” Qiong Ying thumbed her nose at Huang Ming roguishly.
“Shoo,” Huang Ming waved, looking at the stack of paperwork awaiting his scrutiny.
“Oh, before I go. You might want to pay more attention to the spy reports,” Qiong Ying said.
“Anything in particular?”
“Seems like there was a commotion at the Jin border some time ago. The prince mustered his personal army and for while, nobody knew where he was marching to,” Qiong Ying said.
“And we only get to know it now?” Huang Ming complained.
“Nothing came out of it. Maybe it has something to do with my sister.”
Qiong Ying had suggested it in jest, but she would not know how near the mark she had been.
A short diversion,
Later, see the distinction.