“His name was ‘Angry Man’.”
--Carter Finley, ‘Key & Peele: Cat Poster’
Chapter 265 – Some tea
When Huang Ming returned home that day, he was greeted by the sight of his father standing outside. The aged general was looking a bit lost, as if he was unsure of going in.
“What are you doing loitering here, old man?” Huang Ming smirked.
“About time you got home,” Great General Huang Zheng grumbled. “I have waited for ages, not sure if you would be returning today at all.”
His son stared back at him. “You could have just gone in. Mom is inside.”
Huang Zheng sighed heavily. “That is why.”
“A veteran of a hundred battlefields and yet afraid of the tigress at home,” Huang Ming chuckled.
Huang Zheng drew to his full height and glared at his son wrathfully. “Son, there is nothing more terrifying than the fury of a woman, let me tell you that.”
“I know, I was just poking fun,” Huang Ming said.
Compared to the rest of the Huang family, Huang Ming felt a little distant with his father. They had only spent a few brief moments together and even then they were confined to official duties.
Father and son then paused awkwardly, not knowing what to say next. Huang Zheng coughed and Huang Ming shuffled his feet as a few silent moments passed.
“Well, I’m going ahead,” Huang Ming announced and turned away.
He was rudely stopped by his father who grabbed his collar.
“What’s your hurry?” Huang Zheng said as he held on tightly.
“Do you need anything else, dear father?” Huang Ming asked blandly. “Why don’t we step inside and talk over some tea and dumplings?”
Huang Zheng glared at him in annoyance. This son of his had become even more flippant than ever. It was quite difficult to believe that this son was the one engineering the fate of the entire kingdom.
“We can have a nice long talk in that teahouse over there,” he said gruffly and dragged his son off by the collar.
“Alright, but it will be your treat,” Huang Ming still managed to quip.
The teahouse’s servant knew to hold his tongue and quietly led the father-and-son duo to a discreet table, hoping that they won’t disturb the other patrons. After putting down the teapot and some fresh dumplings, the servant hurriedly withdrew.
“Thanks for the treat, dad,” Huang Ming said as he dispensed with the ceremony and poured two cups of tea. Annoyingly, he kept both of them to himself. Luckily, there was another unused cup served by the servant earlier and the general poured himself some tea.
“Don’t mention it,” Huang Zheng growled.
“Don’t worry, I won’t,” Huang Ming nodded casually as he reached out for a dumpling.
Huang Zheng’s hand snaked out and smacked the encroaching appendage. Huang Ming frowned and tried to reach for the dumplings again. Once more his hand was slapped away.
Huang Ming looked up and saw his father’s stony face looking back at him. Keeping his eyes on his father, Huang Ming reached out his hand again. Without even breaking eye contact, Huang Zheng easily swatted his hand aside.
“If you’re hungry and want them all to yourself, just say so,” Huang Ming muttered.
Huang Zheng’s stony face cracked and he sighed as he closed his eyes and massaged his temples.
He heard his son ask, “Are you alright?”
Huang Zheng felt a little better after hearing his son’s concern, but when he opened his eyes, Huang Ming was busy stuffing a dumpling into his mouth.
Huang Zheng could feel the veins on his head throb as his son polished off the dumpling and washed it down with tea.
“Relax, old man, I was just teasing you,” Huang Ming laughed after wiping off his lips.
“Can you please be serious?” Huang Zheng sighed. He never knew how to deal with his youngest son, even before he had mended his wastrel ways.
“Alright, alright,” Huang Ming smiled and folded his arms. “You and mom refused to tell me what happened to you two. I came back to the capital after Beihai and lo and behold, mom was waiting for me. And your letters never explained anything either.”
“How is your mother?” Huang Zheng asked. “Is she… alright?”
“Pfaugh,” Huang Ming exhaled dismissively. “She’s healthier than ever. Ever since I’ve started cooking for her, she’s even put on weight.”
“You did what?” Huang Zheng exclaimed.
“You should pay attention when someone intelligent is talking,” Huang Ming remarked.
Huang Zheng was still in disbelief. “Cooking? You?”
“Don’t knock on it. Mom polishes off every single dish I made,” Huang Ming said proudly.
He remembered how his mother Madam Li had been skeptical when he presented his dishes.
“Where’s the rice?” she had asked when she saw the spread of unfamiliar western style food.
One mouthful later, her doubts ended, and lately she especially looked forward to the new and strange pastries and desserts that her son would make for her.
To be honest, Huang Ming had indulged in cooking because he missed certain dishes from the past. The time spent experimenting with the way things work in this world paid off and he had been delighted to find out that there were many similarities in the various substances that he was familiar with. This was why he was able to steer his friend Ma Jun who was a wine brewer into more advanced alchemy, and slowly tune it into actual scientific chemistry.
Now the kingdom was slowly reaping the rewards: enriched fertilizer for the farms, mass production of paper, basic modern medicine… and of course, the saltpetre that was the basis of gunpowder.
Huang Zheng frowned. “You say she has been gaining weight?”
“Mom always had a sweet tooth,” Huang Ming replied defensively. “Putting that aside, what exactly did you do to upset her?”
Huang Ming then drew back in horror. “Don’t tell me you…”
Huang Zheng was so outraged that he slammed a fist on the table, causing the cups to jump and spill the tea.
“Nonsense!” he thundered.
“Whew,” Huang Ming whistled in relief and wiped the non-existent sweat off his brow. He could see how his father was not going to talk about the actual problem.
“Just apologize to her,” Huang Ming suggested.
“What wrong did I do?” his father grumbled.
“What wrong did I do?” Huang Ming echoed back at him, spreading his arms to emphasize their current location. “More than anything, you should take mom back to Tianxin City. The capital is becoming too… spicy.”
“Is it about General Yin?” Huang Zheng asked quietly.
“Daaaaad,” Huang Ming complained like a teenager. “How on earth are we going to keep it on the quiet if you go around saying real names like that?”
“I am not going to call him by the codename you have assigned. It is very childish,” Huang Zheng admonished.
“What is wrong with calling him Mr. Meow?” Huang Ming demanded.
“I met him, you know.”
Huang Ming stared at him. “What?”
“Earlier in the day, after presenting myself to the king.”
“Did you come to the capital on your own?” Huang Ming asked as his eyes looked around warily.
“Yes…” Huang Zheng admitted reluctantly, realizing his mistake.
They were all alone in the teahouse.
Two birds in the bush,
An unexpected ambush.