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It doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.

--Deng Xiaoping

 

Chapter 276 – Declined

 

Huang Ming blinked, looking down at the dainty fingers that had seized his sleeve.

 

“Your highness, this is highly improper,” he said with an arched eyebrow.

 

“Are you still playing dumb?” the princess asked again, her seductive smile turning colder with impatience.

 

“I really have no idea what your highness is on about,” Huang Ming said. He had no intentions of giving any information to Jin Hua, who knows how much she had already discerned from her ten-year headstart? The woman had an entire kingdom behind her and a Wu general twisted around her little finger after all. Knowing that she actually had a headstart was his only advantage.

 

As if sensing his mood, Jin Hua released her tantalizing hold on his sleeve.

 

“Do not be coy any longer. You know as well I do what the truth is,” she said as she ran a finger down the length of the nearby table.

 

“What is the truth?” Huang Ming asked blandly.

 

“You have truly been entangled by my sister to be so stubborn,” the princess stated.

 

“Your sister?” Huang Ming blinked, having not expecting this change in direction.

 

The princess pinched the edge of a bolt of thick fabric that was displayed with the other Jin goods. It was plain but seemingly made for toughness, some sort of thin leather that Huang Ming couldn’t recognize.

 

“Gifts,” she answered his unasked question. “Though after seeing your abundance in silks, we hope your princess would not look down on such common material,” she said with false modesty.

 

Huang Ming remained silent.

 

“Do you think I am completely in the dark? I have known my dear sister Qiong Ying had fled south to Wu,” the princess said, going back the topic.

 

“Why didn’t you send assassins after her?” Huang Ming asked out of curiosity.

 

It was the princess’s turn to blink. Then she laughed.

 

“My dear sir, what makes you think I did not?”

 

Whatever good will Huang Ming vanished and his eyes turned hard.

 

“I see, my dear sister did not tell you everything. They were foiled, one way or another. My sister is quite resourceful. Too resourceful,” Jin Hua continued, speaking casually as if she was discussing the weather.

 

“Why go so far?” Huang Ming asked coldly.

 

“Why shouldn’t I? You have no idea what goes on between us, so I would tell you not to stick your nose in where it does not belong.”

 

She looked up into his eyes challengingly. “But I think it is a little too late for that, hmm? From what I know, she must have been useful to you. So useful that I know it would be impossible to sway you to my side.”

 

Huang Ming smiled faintly. “You are right about that.”

 

Jin Hua smiled. “You were a well known wastrel, but once you met her everything changed. Your sudden climb in Wu, while she faded into the background. In exchange for those strange ideas that gained you your fame, you and your family must have given her shelter, yes?”

 

Huang Ming kept a straight face, realizing that the princess had the completely wrong idea. She must have believed that Qiong Ying was the enemy that she had to eliminate, that her sister was the hidden hand behind the progress in Wu.

 

Ah… the irony. Huang Ming knew the truth and could not kill her at the moment; while Jin Hua was willing to resort to murder but had the wrong idea.

 

How lucky!

 

…was it luck? Huang Ming had a strange inkling that something else was at play, but he filed it away mentally to ponder later.

 

“She has given me much, that is true,” he said vaguely.

 

“She has,” Huang Ming’s smile grew more apparent.

 

“What if I offer you more?”

 

Huang Ming arched an eyebrow. “You are already married,” he said facetiously.

 

“As expected from a former wastrel. She must have thoroughly bewitched you,” Jin Hua mocked. “Have you not wondered about her true self? Does she not seem strange to you?”

 

“Well, women are mysterious creatures,” Huang Ming said affably.

 

“More than you ever think possible,” Jin Hua said waspishly. “Have you not asked where all those outlandish ideas come from?

 

“She does come up with the weirdest things at times,” Huang Ming said, but he was referring to Qiong Ying’s secret tapping code and her mastery of disguise.

 

Of course, Jin Hua did not know this. She still thought Huang Ming was admitting that Qiong Ying was behind his meteoric rise, that he was even revelling in the fact.

 

There was a sense of envy, for despite the close relationship Jin Hua had with her spouse the Prince of Jin; there was always the feeling of of a gap in their ideals. Prince Jin Bao was handsome and loved her and indulged her, yet the prince always felt a little overshadowed by Jin Hua’s vast knowledge. He liked her mystery but it was no secret that he preferred her to be an obedient wife. His panic when she disappeared without word was evidence enough.

 

If Jin Hua had expressed her heart to Huang Ming right there, the later would have understood her. There were so many fantastical and romanticized stories of men being intrigued by independent women who defied the norms.

 

Alas, most depictions were exactly that: stories. Too often in reality that once the relationship had been confirmed, the man would assume he had ‘tamed’ the powerful woman and thought she would be content being his partner, that she would no longer seeking out the challenges and ventures that made her attractive to him in the first place.

 

Jin Hua had not rested on her laurels once she had married the Prince. She did not settle in the palace, or become the hands-off royalty that was supposed to be heard and not seen.

 

On the contrary, she had used her new status to invest in even more projects, determined to change the kingdom of Jin completely. She had silenced her critics and detractors, ruthlessly and subtly removing all opposition to her reforms and proposals. All this were done with the approval and backing of Prince Jin Bao. Still… he would have preferred to spend the rest of their lives together in idyllic bliss. Have they not gone through twists and turns and overcome many challenges to be finally together? Why is it they seem to be even busier and spend more and more time apart after their marriage?

 

The royal couple were still deeply in love. But there was a shadow looming over their lives that would eventually crack and cause a rift in the future. It was inevitable: a feudal man who wanted a satisfied wife and a progressive woman who desired more in life, both who had never truly open their hearts and reveal their wishes to each other.

 

A natural observer from the world at that time would say Jin Hua was someone who had too much ‘yang’ energy: a woman who had the ambition and drive of a man.

 

“You do not feel ashamed that your achievements come from a woman?” she demanded.

 

“Behind many successful men is a woman,” Huang Ming smirked. He did not complete the quote: ‘…behind the many failures of man is a woman too,’ referencing to the long list of Chinese dynasties and kingdoms toppled by the ruler’s infatuation with a woman.

 

“Is there no changing your mind?” Princess Jin Hua prompted.

 

“Why ask the obvious?” Huang Ming replied.

 

The princess snorted. “Then we are done here. Tell my sister that I look forward to our reunion. I will be sure to give her my well wishes in person at your wedding.”

 

She then narrowed her eyes. “This place displeases me. Since it is permitted, I will make adjustments as I see fit,” she said and waved a hand in dismissal.

 

Huang Ming bowed and left in good humour, finding solace that he still had some room to maneuver despite his opponent’s ten-year headstart.

 

Of course, it evaporated once he ran into General Yin outside.

 

 

A short first meeting,

For them to get the feeling.