She’s tryin’ to make a devil out of me.

--Santanna, ‘Black Magic Woman’

 

Chapter 278 – Fog

 

The night before the mass wedding.

 

The entire capital of Wu was gaily decorated in vibrant red. While the event would be held in a large square facing the Imperial Palace, the rest of the city were also swept up in the festive mood.

 

The conservatives crinkled their noses and sniffed, but many others were enamoured by the idea. Who wouldn’t want to share the same marriage date as their Princess of Wu and the Prince of Chu?

 

The fact that only one hundred couples were chosen made it all the more prestige. Nobles, merchants, scholars, craftsmen and simple commoners… a careful selected cross-section representing all strata of Wu society had been approved by Huang Ming to be part of the event. Being chosen brought honour and increased their standing in society.

 

When the naysayers and doubters saw how joyous the chosen families were, they could only lament their decision. Some offered to purchase their slots, but Huang Ming had his reasons for picking these 100 families. They were to be people with upright principles, of good character and commanded respect among their peers, and thus not enticed by material promises nor easily threatened. Thus those who had been sidelined and those who had opposed their son or daughter to join could only gnash their teeth and beat their chest in regret.

 

Among those who had scoffed at the mass wedding was General Yin Yanzhao.

 

The general was in a gloomy mode. Other than that one fleeting meeting with the Princess of Jin before she even set food in the Wu capital, the general little to no opportunities to be with her privately. Instead, he could one try to hide his glances and watched on with envy as the princess was feted to banquets and tours by the nobles and royalty of Wu.

 

What made it all the more galling was as part of the ruling elite, Huang Ming was also present in many such functions, even escorting the Princess of Jin in some of them. The general on the other hand was shunted into security duties, away and in the periphery of these events.

 

The irony of it all. The general climbed the ranks as fast as he could to have the privilege of standing beside the object of his desire, yet because of his high profile status, he could not easily approach her without raising a few eyebrows and conspiratorial gossip.

 

And so the general brooded every night, putting his plans in motion and moving his chess pieces in a dark forbidding mood.

 

But not tonight.

 

A secret letter had arrived, and when he saw the message therein, his eyes lit up and the weight lifted from his soul. All thoughts of maintaining the illusion vanished. After all, it was the night before the grand event and people were more concerned with the last minute preparations.

 

He could have visited the Princess of Jin at any time, but he was not as uncouth as to barge in like some thief.

 

This time was different. This time he was invited.

 

The Jin guards grudgingly allowed him in, still wary of him. But he cared not. He did not even care about the roughly cleared out compound and knocked down walls of the interior.

 

“You have been well since we last met,” Jin Hua said softly as he made his obeisance.

 

“I thank the princess for her concern,” the general answered as he kept his eyes low.

 

The princess laughed and his soul trembled at the dulcet tones of her voice.

 

“Rise. You are not my subject,” she commanded.

 

He raised his head and his eyes met hers.

 

Beautiful…

 

His spine tingled as her emerald green eyes mesmerized him.

 

He wished to reach out a hand and sweep her into his embrace, to nuzzle in her hair, to bask in her warmth and to protect her with all of his being…

 

But in the end, he knew she was a married woman and of a higher station than him. Not to mention the little fact that she was from a country hostile to his.

 

There have been times when he had time to be alone and think about his chosen path. That perhaps his efforts were in vain and that she would be forever be out of reach, that the cost was too much.

 

All such doubts disappeared when he laid his eyes on her once more.

 

Through the entirety of her appearances in Wu, she had worn a translucent veil that covered the lower half of her face, leaving only her eyes to entrance those who were lucky to see her.

 

But not now. For him, she was without that tantalizing veil, that he alone could look at her complete visage.

 

It was as if there was a fog clouding his mind, and she was the soft light hidden in the mists.

 

‘She’s close enough to touch… Seize her!’ the voice in his mind urged.

 

“There. Much better,” he could hear her say. “You should always stand tall and proud, o’ general.”

 

“Thank you,” the general whispered hoarsely.

 

She had given him dignity and she was the only source of affirmation that he needed.

 

“When we rescued you from the lowest point of your life all those years ago, we did it because it was the right thing to do. We do not expect you to be who you are today, and like what we have told you that day, we do not ask for repayment,” the princess said solemnly.

 

In the back of Yin Yanzhao’s mind, the tiny voice warned him.

 

It’s a trap… Don’t fall for it!

 

Surely she knew who he was when she picked him up in the rain all those years ago. Surely she wanted to use him for her own purposes.

 

His heart was jaded and his thinking cynical, but they weren’t enough to shake off the cobwebs from his thoughts.

 

But that was fine. He would go along with the deception, if indeed there was one. Because he willingly went on this path, and wanted to steal her for himself, consequences be damned.

 

Stop it, you fool!

 

“I would do anything for you,” he could hear himself say instead.

 

Anything to get you.

 

Jin Hua raised an eyebrow charmingly. “Anything?”

 

How could she doubt him?

 

“Anything,” he assured.

 

“Even if I ask you to burn this kingdom to the ground? To kill the very people who would idolize you?” she mused.

 

“Yes. And I will tell the world that I did it all for you.”

 

As expected, the Princess of Jin did not drew back in horror. Her brows shot up and her green eyes twinkled with delight as she laughed.

 

“And you will get your just rewards,” she promised.

 

He gave her the highest praises,

And she gave him her promises.