Health update: Better. According to foot drop diagnosis, I'm still at level 2 (of 5), though my big toe still stubbornly refuses to move. The stitches on the leg have been removed, so now I have a huge vertical scar with twelve horizontal ones across it. There are times where I feel knives stabbing into the leg, part and parcel of the leg muscle inside regrowing and retraining. Thank you all for continuing to read my story and I appreciate all your well wishes.



Simon's going to tell Lt. McClane what to do, and Lt. McClane is going to do it. Noncompliance will result in a penalty.

--Simon Gruber, Die Hard With A Vengeance

 

Chapter 269 – The other side

 

“Well? You two were always so glib, now the cat’s got your tongue?” Madam Li asked, looking at Huang Ming and Qiong Ying meaningfully as she tapped the table rhythmically.

 

The duo were startled. They exchanged a glance before nodding in agreement.

 

“Fine, I’ll just marry them both at the same time!” Huang Ming said in exasperation.

 

“When?” Madam Li demanded.

 

“On the same bloody day as the royal wedding, are you happy now?” Huang Ming retorted.

 

“Very,” Madam Li smirked. “That girl will be relieved to get this over with,” she added, referring to Sunli.

 

“Don’t I get a say in this?” Qiong Ying managed to quip from behind her fan to hide her delight.

 

Huang Ming gave her a sidelong look. “Oh, are you having cold feet now?”

 

“Well…” Qiong Ying drawled mischievously.

 

“You’re not going to get away from me,” Huang Ming said in his best black-belly impression, “I’ll have you take responsibility for what you did to me that night.”

 

“But I haven’t done everything I wanted,” Qiong Ying protested.

 

By this point Madam Li had enough of their shenanigans and allowed them go scurry off, secure that  she had already extracted a conclusion.

 

“No backsies. Don’t even think of reneging,” she warned, “I’ll be sending the wedding invitations soon. Give me a list of names that you want as guests.”

 

They were still stumped when Madam Li had posed a final question before letting them go: “Have you even decided who would be the main wife?”

 

They fled without giving her an answer.

 

Huang Zheng gave his wife a quizzical look. “Is that a good idea? To have their wedding on the same day as Princess Wu Liying and Prince Chu Xiong?”

 

“You have an opinion on the matter?” Madam Li asked as her fingers erratically drummed the table.

 

“You decide,” Huang Zheng took one look at the fingers and wisely demurred, busying himself by pouring his wife a fresh cup of tea.

 

“Mmm,” Madam Li nodded. “You will have plenty of time to get back to Tigertrap Fort and arrange things so that both Ah Lang and Ah Ke can come attend the wedding.”

 

The aged general frowned. “I am not sure that is a good idea. Ah Lang is fine, but Ah Ke would need to take charge of the fort while I am gone.”

 

“Then you can stay there, let Ah Ke and his wife come visit,” Madam Li said mercilessly.

 

“You can’t do this,” Huang Zheng gasped with horror. “I need to be present for the tea ceremony!”

 

“You are away with your precious military most of the time anyway, they won’t be missing much.”

 

“Fine, I’ll do my best to make the arrangements so that we will all be there,” Huang Zheng relented.

 

Madam Li was pleased, and the general too was happy that he had mollified his wife.

 

All this was observed secretly by unknown eyes…

 

Elsewhere, far in the north the Princess of Jin too was about to have a headache similar to Huang Ming’s. Unlike him, Jin Hua was already married, but that did not stop her husband Prince Jin Bao to remain suspicious, always afraid of those who would covet his wife.

 

Like that defected Wu scholar Nangong Xie, who was busy infiltrating the kingdom of Wei to stir up trouble there.

 

Such as traitorous Wu General Yin Yanzhao, who had wrote to warn him about the princess’s acceptance to visit the south for the royal union between Wu and Chu.

 

Were all the men of Wu so devious and treasonous?

 

The worst of the lot was that Wu strategist, Huang Ming. He was the one who actually wrote the invitation. How dare he!

 

The Princess of Jin had sensed her husband’s dark mood.

 

“And what ails you this day?” she asked bemusedly.

 

“Are you really going to attend that wedding in the south?” Jin Bao asked discontentedly.

 

“Why shouldn’t I go?”

 

“Out of the question,” Jin Bao exclaimed.

 

“Why?” Jin Hua blinked innocently.

 

Jin Bao was not amused by her play. “Why else? You are my wife! The future Queen! My queen! They could hold you hostage!”

 

Jin Hua laughed. “My dear, it’s called diplomatic immunity. They are going to host the event of the age, they will not dare to mar it with underhanded methods.”

 

“I have never heard such a thing as ‘diplomatic immunity’. We usually capture their emissaries and sacrifice them to the flag,” the prince grumbled.

 

Jin Hua resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

 

“Yes, in times of war,” she said instead. “But since they deigned to be polite, it is only proper for us to be courteous as well.”

 

The prince stared at his wife, his heart full of doubt. Not for her, but for the man who had wrote the invitation. What if Huang Ming fell in love with his wife? That was a reasonable possibility. Who wouldn’t fall in love with his wife?

 

“It will be perfectly safe, with the elite guards that you will hand-pick for me. I will be publicly visible, and they could not risk a war they cannot win if I was harmed,” Jin Hua smiled.

 

“It is a risk I cannot afford to take,” the prince shook his head.

 

Jin Hua sighed. “You know by now that I can take care of myself. Besides, I am not going empty-handed. I have already prepared gifts for Wu and Chu.”

 

This did not make the prince any happier. “Gifts? It’s been a long time since you had given me gifts,” he said sulkily.

 

“I did prepare gifts for you,” Jin Hua stated.

 

“Oh?”

 

“You squandered them in Beihai,” she continued dryly, referring to the prototype cannons that were lost.

 

Prince Jin Bao’s face fell as he was again reminded of his failure. The galling part was that the reverse at Beihai was orchestrated by none other than Huang Ming.

 

Jin Hua laughed when she saw her husband’s ashen face.

 

“I was only teasing,” she said, but the prince was not convinced that she could so easily forget the loss of months of work.

 

“Come here,” Jin Hua said imperiously as she spread her arms open.

 

The prince stepped into her arms, stiffly at first, but then relaxed and allowed himself to be lulled by her embrace.

 

“I love you so much,” he said honestly.

 

“I know,” Jin Hua replied. Not exactly the words he had wanted to hear, but he knew she was always mysterious and aloof.

 

“I know,” she repeated. “But let me do this, it will only benefit us.”

 

He pulled back so that he could look at her.

 

“How so?”

 

She smiled, and he was reminded of the first time he had laid his eyes on her. Still the impish nature, still that knowing glint in her eyes.

 

“Let me put to rest your worries. Train up your men, feed your horses. There will be a good show soon.”

 

 

In different locations,

Still tied by relations.