“More than meets the eye.”
--Transformers


Chapter Twenty Eight - The Grey and The Red

In the room next to the dining hall where the previous comedy drama unfolded, someone was giggling like a girl. He clamped a hand over his mouth to prevent the sound from leaking even as his shoulders trembled.


It was Quan Lu and he had arrived in this separate room a few moments after Huang Ming had entered the dining room. He had witnessed everything via a hidden spyhole drilled in the wall. He saw how the mischievous Huang Ming had diverted attention to the basket of fish and in the end, even convinced his brother Huang Ke to join him in trout slapping the unconscious duo.


After the Huangs had left, Quan Lu calmed down. The same serving girl that had sought Huang Ming in the garden earlier now came into the room with a towel and a washbasin filled with water.


Quan Lu removed the shawl from his neck, and one could see there was no Adam’s apple of a man. Quan Lu continued to smile, replaying the scene of the trout slapping in his mind as he began to clean himself with the water.


The cleansing process revealed that Quan Lu’s pale and sickly features were the clever work of cosmetics, a mixture of deceptive colouring and highlights.


As the cosmetics were removed, the sickly Quan Lu transformed into a woman in her early twenties, in the very bloom of health and beauty. She had sharp, elegant features with sultry eyes and thin lips. Her hair which was previously folded and tied cleverly inwards to give an impression of being just shoulder length was released; and it flowed past the small of her back. She gave off the aura of a dignified and confident young woman which was in stark contrast to her sickly and giggling male disguise earlier.


Then she undid her plain, large-sleeved robes, revealing her bosom which was constricted by cotton wrappings. The serving girl hastened to assist her in removing the male clothing and then the binding, unmasking a woman’s undergarment underneath, a taut stomach and a thin waist. The person known as Quan Lu sighed in relief as the last of the bindings was taken off and allowing her full figure to be relaxed.


With help from the servant, she changed into a magnificent, flowing green robe and wore it loosely so that her shoulders and neck were exposed enticingly. In the privacy of the room, there was no need to be overly modest or formal.


As the servant girl proceeded to brush her long hair, the doors opened and Madam Xu came in. Seeing the female Quan Lu’s state, she quickly shut the doors behind her.


“Miss! You saw everything?” Madam Xu asked good-naturedly and quickly went to bring over a cup of tea.


The female Quan Lu nodded and smiled as she sipped the drink.


If Huang Ming could see her now, he would not know it was Quan Lu. Huang Ming actually knew of this person, he had seen her portrait many times. The man known as Quan Lu was actually the famous Lady Qiong Ying, the mysterious beauty of the Lichun.


“He is very interesting,” Qiong Ying chuckled softly.


“Despite his vaunted business skills, the governor’s son is still naïve,” Madam Xu scoffed.


“I meant Young Master Huang.”


Madam Xu blinked in surprise. “But he was away almost the entire time, except for that thing with the fish at the very end.”


“We met in the garden. He did not recognize me,” Qiong Ying said. Then Madam Xu noticed the discarded male clothes of Quan Lu at the side.


“Miss! You were supposed to stay in this room to spy on Cao Shuang,” Madam Xu exclaimed.


“I do not like him,” Qiong Ying said plainly and wrinkled her nose.


“Miss, you mustn’t lose sight of your goal,” Madam Xu warned.


Qiong Ying’s green eyes narrowed. “I will never forget,” she said with a faint touch of frost.


Madam Xu bowed her head, suitably chastened by Qiong Ying’s tone.


“I saw enough of Cao Shuang to know that he is indeed pliable and easily manipulated by a woman’s wiles. His business acumen can be useful, but it’s not enough,” Qiong Ying continued.


“Miss is right,” Madam Xu conceded. “He was easily played around by our girls. That Officer Liu Xiang too, he got caught in the moment very quickly,” she added, remembering how she and her girls had entertained the two men and made them willingly drink beyond their capacity.


“Boys will be boys,” Qiong Ying mused.


For a moment there was a lull in the conversation as the servant girl finished brushing Qiong Ying’s luxuriously long hair. Qiong Ying glanced at a polished bronze mirror and nodded in satisfaction.


Madam Xu sighed. “Miss, you can’t be too picky.”


“Do not worry, I am not distracted by romantic nonsense,” the green-eyed woman replied calmly.


“Miss...” Madam Xu cried out piteously, her eyes reddening.


“This is the path I chose and I am resolved to see it to the end,” Qiong Ying said.


Madam Xu wiped away her tears and said, “Since Huang Lang is engaged and Cao Shuang is not to your liking, I fear there are none that are capable enough to assist you.”


“I want you keep the young master Huang Ming under observation. Find out all you can, he has piqued my interest,” Qiong Ying ordered.


“Miss!” Madam Xu was horrified. “You can’t! That man is a known wastrel, he is not worthy!”


“He is still the son of a great general,” Qiong Ying pointed out.


“The youngest son,” Madam Xu stressed. “He has no career and he will just end up being an average person in the future. How could he ever be a help to you in your designs?”


Qiong Ying said, “If I wanted someone of standing, I would have went to the capital and seduced someone old and influential. Someone like Prime Minister Tong Xuan or Marshal Gao Fang, what do you think?”


Madam Xu shuddered.


“I thought so. Don’t ask so many questions, I know what I am doing. I feel young master Huang is more than what he seems,” Qiong Ying said.


“I understand, I will have people keep an eye on him,” Madam Xu said and bowed.


“One more thing. Send someone to get the recipe for ‘Golden-Scaled Fish Wrapped in Lotus’ from him. I’m pretty sure he just made it up. Try to pressure him in various ways and see how he reacts,” Qiong Ying grinned mischievously.


Unfortunately for Huang Ming, he was already in a lot of pressure. After sending the dazed and confused Cao Shuang and Liu Xiang back to their respective homes, Huang Ke dragged his younger brother home to see their mother.


“Mother, I found him at the Lichun,” Huang Ke announced, not bothering to pad the truth.


“It was for lunch and it was Cao Shuang’s idea,” Huang Ming said hurriedly when he saw the darkening expression on Madam Li.


Madam Li sighed. “We’ll talk later. Come with me, you have guests.”


“Guests?” Huang Ming mumbled as he followed his mother to the main hall.


There were two women waiting, both were dressed in military armour. Huang Ming knew the existence of women soldiers in this world, but according to his memories, the original had never seen them before.


One was very tall, almost as tall as Huang Ke. She had a stern, feminine face as if carved from stone. Her hair was short for this world and boyish in style, reminding Huang Ming of Earth. She had broad shoulders and a toned figure, her skin was tanned and her full lips were lightly coloured. She wore a purple gemmed earring on one ear. Her armour was simple and grey.


The other woman was shorter and much younger, her armour dominated by a red scheme that contrasted against her creamy white skin. She had large, playful-looking eyes, her black hair tied in buns and adorned with a golden headdress with long tassels. She wore a lion’s head buckle on her tiny waist.


The former looked serious-minded and powerful, the later was lithe and sprightly.


“Mother, they are...?” Huang Ming asked.


“They are from Wuxin City,” Madam Li said.


“Wuxin City?”


“Your uncle Zhao Tong sent them.”
 

Grey and red,
Now they have met.​