My RMA was replaced with a newer model monitor, hurray!


--Olivia Colomar aka Sombra, ‘Overwatch’


Chapter 263 – Mirrored darkly


Huang Ming would not know it but a similar scene was playing out in Jin.


The Princess of Jin had reappeared after weeks of disappearing without word. As news filtered back to the royal palace, the servants and eunuchs collectively breathed a sigh of relief. When the princess had disappeared, Prince Jin Bao had a bellyful of anger and they had suffered for it.


He took out his impotent rage on all those who were supposed to serve the princess. As the days passed, the storm subsided and it was replaced by distress, and then melancholy. Prince Jin Bao drowned himself in the drink and indulged himself recklessly, unable to bear the loneliness.


Indeed, when a close eunuch dared to risk his wrath by shaking him awake, the prince’s handsome and noble visage had deformed into darkened eyes and hollow cheeks. It was only when he was told that the princess had sent word that joy and life seemed to spark again in him.


“Where is she?” he had asked eagerly, only to be stunned when he was told that Princess Jin Hua had been in a city nearby the border with Wei and was now making her way back to the capital.


Wei? But why?


The prince had all along thought that she had somehow went southwards. The possibility of his wife abandoning him to seek out that Huang Ming in Wu had filled him with dread and hopelessness. And so he fell, and fell hard.


Now… now he was able to draw a deep breath and smell the fragrances in the air. There was a spring in his step as he leapt out from bed. “Clean this up,” he ordered as the fog in his mind lifted. He hurriedly went to cleanse himself, eager to restore himself to his best condition before reuniting with his beloved.


He mobilized his trusted guards and immediately rode out of the capital, eager to meet up with his princess. By the time he had rendezvoused with Princess Jin Hua’s entourage, his horse was frothing in the mouth, pushed beyond its limits by his boundless urgency.


Caked in dust and sweat, he was greeted by a puzzled look from his surprised wife. The servants and guards tactfully withdrew to give the royal couple privacy.


“I was only gone for a few weeks,” Princess Jin Hua said.


Indignation threatened to explode from the prince. But one smile from her and his thoughts vanished. She stretched out her arms for a hug and the prince nearly rushed into it.


“I am dirty,” the prince said hesitantly, in more ways than one.


The princess laughed and stepped forward to embrace him without a care.


“I missed you,” the prince blurted. “What have you been doing? Why did you leave no word?”


Jin Hua shushed him with a finger on his lips.


“A woman is allowed to have her secrets,” she whispered.


In the past, Jin Bao would have laughed and dropped the matter, but this time she had gone too far. His fears were very real and the depths that he had plumbed in her absence hammered home his dependency on her. Instead of brushing the matter off, he strengthened his grip around her.


“No, you can’t talk your way out of this,” he admonished. “Do you know how worried I was? I had always accepted that you have your own interests and ‘projects’ to do, but you are still my wife. What am I to think when you just disappear? Fortunately we managed to keep the news from leaking out, but please, try to remember that you’re the princess and future queen of this kingdom.”


“You are right, of course,” Jin Hua soothed, and the prince was mollified.


“You still haven’t told me what you have been up to,” the prince reminded her.


“I heard that there were possible… opportunities… in Wei,” Jin Hua said. “As one of my projects nearby was due for an inspection, I decided to check it out.”


The prince was aghast. “You went into Wei?”


“Of course not,” the princess laughed. “Even I know better than to slip into another country secretly.”


“It is good that you know,” Jin Bao said, slightly tweaked by her words. After all, that was what he thought she had done…


“There many who are dissatisfied with the King of Wei,” Jin Hua continued. “It seems some of the more powerful tribe and clans there have been quite belligerent and their great pillar General Ran Wei has ambitions of his own.”


Jin Bao arched an eyebrow. “I did not realize you were that interested in Wei.”


“It is not as if I have a choice, since you had bungled things with Wu,” his wife responded tartly. She could feel her husband stiffen at the mild rebuke and she laughed, gently hugging him closer.


He slowly relaxed.


“I am sorry,” the prince said in clipped tones.


Jin Hua, still in his embrace, leaned back so that she could reach with a dainty finger to tap on his nose.


“That wasn’t your day,” she said gently.


“I… I just wanted to please you,” the prince mumbled.


“You are forgiven,” Jin Hua said lightly. Then she sighed: “Still, shame about all those lost weapons. They didn’t even get to be used, so I have no idea how effective they were.”


Prince Jin Bao reddened. “My men were incompetent. And those Wu devils used all sorts of tricks and treachery.”


“Where is the fun in playing fair?” Jin Hua chuckled. “They were fighting for their lives, after all…”


“You still haven’t told me what you were doing being so near to Wei. Those horse-lovers are not above the occasional raids across the border,” the prince said to switch the topic. Not only weapons were lost in the debacle in Beihai, but he knew his wife had lost her best agents as well.


“You remember that scholar from Wu that we had taken in? Nangong-whatisname…”


The prince’s lips curled with distaste. “How could I not? Lame in one leg and yet still proud as a peacock just because you had shown him some favour.”


“Are you jealous?” Jin Hua asked.


“Of him?” Jin Bao snorted derisively. If there was a scholar of Wu that he was on guard against, it wasn’t this Nangong.


“He has exhausted the knowledge of what he can give us. He thought he could pull wool over my eyes by padding out his reports. Still, his mind is sharp enough. Certainly he was daring enough.”


“So what did you do with him?”


“I had him sent into Wei as an agent. To assist General Ran Wei as ably as he can, in whatever venture the general would be doing.”


The prince was astonished. “My dear wife, did you send a Wu defector into Wei just to stir up trouble?”


“Wu and Wei have scores of their own to settle. Like us, Wei would be alarmed by this new Chu-Wu union. Yet, Wei is going to be too busy embroiled in civil strife. It would be in our interest for a strong presence in Wei to assist us in unbalancing this new Chu-Wu dynamic,” Jin Hua said.


“Why should we need Wei at all?” the prince scoffed.


“We don’t,” the princess agreed. “No matter who prevails in Wei, we will eventually step in and conquer it ourselves. The only problem is Ran Wei himself…”


“Yet you sent someone to assist him.”


“Do you know what Ran Wei and this Nangong-whatisname have in common?” Jin Hua asked.


“One is a feared general of Wei and the other is just an unimportant scholar from Wu. What could they possibly have in common?”


Jin Hua smiled. “They both hate Huang Ming.”


            “You mean… if they succeed in taking power, they will then plot against him?” the prince asked with delight.


            Jin Hua nodded with a smile and leaned on his chest.


            But as the prince laughed, the smile on her face faded and her eyes turned cold.


            Why all the men around her were so easily moved?


                        Slightly dissimilar,

                        The prince was insecure,

                        The princess had schemes,

                        Giving them beautiful dreams.