We now return to our irregularly scheduled story.



“We’re going to have to act, if we want to live in a different world.”

--‘Act on Instinct’, Command & Conquer

 

Chapter 286 – Endgame

 

Two years later had passed since the partitioning of the continent.

 

Chu had joined with Wu and formed a new entity that stretched from the south to the northeast, while the Jin Empire had absorbed Wei and extended from the north to the southwest. The militarists and strategists watched with bated breath, wondering when the final conflict would come to settle the matter of ruling all under heaven.

 

Many days passed without incident. Understandably, the two new powers were consolidating their new gains. The young and energetic monarchs of the newly amalgamated kingdom of Chuwu shifted their capital to a more central location, while a vast migration of Jins moved from the cold steppes to the more temperate climates of their new territories. This left precious time for military adventures.

 

This did not mean both sides were idle martially. With new-found wealth came the formation of a standing army. The borders were patrolled more vigilantly than ever, the soldiers were drilled. Forts were built, watch-posts erected. Soldiers were recruited and trained in a professional manner. New and powerful weapons were developed in secret.

 

The final showdown was inevitable…

 

***

 

“Fire!” Huang Ming cheered.

 

The three young children gaped at him. Then they picked up handfuls of unidentified food mush from their bowls and obediently flung them. The food projectiles landed with wet splats on the floor, to be cleaned by a mournful servant later.

 

“Well done,” Huang Ming praised, “Remember to do this when you are at home later.”

 

“Stop teaching them nonsense,” Madam Li chided.

 

“I am only teaching them on how to have fun. What’s nonsensical is that these two boys will have to call this little girl their aunt in the future,” Huang Ming grinned.

 

The three children laughed and clapped their messy hands, spraying even more food residue everywhere much to the dismay of their nursemaids.

 

Two were boys, Huang Cansheng and Huang Zhilie; his nephews from Huang Lang and Huang Ke respectively. The last was a girl, and incongruously, was Huang Ming’s little sister. There would be a gap of twenty years and more between him and Huang Ling. The family tree records would have a footnote for her entry because of it. General Huang Zheng would puff with pride whenever he saw the apple of his eye, proof of his still potent virility.

 

“Don’t deprive me the only solace from this burden, mother,” Huang Ming replied. “My brothers deserve this much for dumping their kids on me while they go sightseeing with their wives.”

 

The very young children gurgled in agreement, as if they understood his words.

 

“You? I’m the one taking care of them,” Madam Li reminded him. “You could have gone with them. We made all the way to the capital, but you couldn’t spare time for a jaunt with them. It has been a while since you three brothers were together.”

 

“I am far too busy,” Huang Ming said very seriously as he refilled the bowls. He gave them a suspicious sniff and regretted it, quickly passing them to the nursemaids.

 

“Don’t give me that look. I’ll have you know I have fed you lot with the same stuff and you three turn out fine,” Madam Li growled.

 

“Maybe I should be the one doing the cooking,” Huang Ming muttered.

 

“You should,” Madam Li brightened. She was pleased by the meals he made for her in the past. Ah, but they were so delicious that she became glutinous.

 

“Besides, it’s not as if you even know what infants can eat,” Madam Li commented. Then she became excited, and grabbed her son’s sleeves. “Are you finally giving me a grandson?”

 

“What? No, I’m not.”

 

Madam Li released his sleeve with disgust. “When will you give me one?”

 

“Why so excited? You already have two,” Huang Ming reminded her dryly.

 

“Yes, from your brothers. Even your father made me pregnant. You’re the only one left,” Madam Li grumbled. She gave him a critical look. “Perhaps the tonics I gave were not sufficient. You should seek some medical advice.”

 

The nursemaids scrupulously turned their complete attention towards the children. Of course, this meant turning their faces away. But Huang Ming could still see their shoulders shaking with suppressed mirth.

 

“I’ll have you know that I’m a fully armed and operational battle station,” Huang Ming bristled.

 

His mother did not bat an eyelid. “What is the point if you are not able to hit the targets?” she scoffed. It is obviously because you aren’t putting in much effort. You have two wives. Two! How can you let them both down?”

 

“I have always judiciously and strenuously pleased them. They have been more than satisfied with my performances. Over the past two years, we have gone through halfway the entire manual,” Huang Ming proclaimed.

 

Madam Li looked at her son, unimpressed.

 

“Twice, for each wife,” Huang Ming added proudly. 

 

This time, his mother raised an eyebrow.

 

There was a sharp pain on the top of his head, for Qiong Ying had arrived to hear him and had proceeded to knock him with her knuckle.

 

“Stop talking nonsense,” she scolded, but her face was not flustered at all by the scandalous talk.

 

Huang Ming grabbed her wrist. “Nonsense, eh? Perhaps I should expand my repertoire later tonight.”

 

“As long as you are up for it,” Qiong Ying smirked alluringly, “If you are not too exhausted.”

 

She was right, for Huang Ming had been constantly by the side of the new and young rulers of Chuwu. Huang Ming had all but indispensable to King Chu Xiong and Queen Wu Liying. Zhao Sunli was made a full-fledged general with an army of her own with the wahaha girl Zhao Hongqi as her adjutant, while Qiong Ying took charge of domestic affairs and continued her information gathering network while maintaining a very profitable business front. It meant Huang Ming and wives often do not see each for days on end, busy as they were.

 

Added to this were Huang Ming’s close friends, ennobled and raised in rank due to their talents and deeds. Each was an expert of their respective fields. Of course, Huang Ming played a hand in their specialization: Ma Jun the winebrewer was ‘inspired’ to be a chemist, for example. Lei Yan the mathematician ‘discovered’ Arabic numerology and double accounting, He Ding the wordsmith ‘invented’ block printing and the concept of newspapers and Zhang Ping evolved into a master builder, constructing aqueducts and roads.

 

These young and talented people were inspiring rapid developments and advancements in all fields within the newly established Chuwu kingdom. With Queen Wu Liying’s emphasis on education and bureaucratic reforms, they in turn would train and raise the next generation of capable officials. In the centre of this reformation was Huang Ming, quietly coordinating and directing energies where appropriate.

 

Many facets of day-to-day living in the kingdom were changing. It had to, now that the kingdom was literally twice the size it was before. In fact, it was still growing. The former King of Chu had heeded Huang Ming’s advice and had taken an expedition southwards to subdue the barbarians of the steaming jungles, bringing the unruly tribes and smaller, exotic kingdoms into the fold.

 

The Kingdom of Chuwu was expanding in all directions. There was even talk about building great ships to finally explore the largely unknown seas...

 

But, such dreams require vast resources. Resources of which had to be directed towards a conclusive contention with Jin.

 

Certainly, the Princess of Jin had not been idle…

 

As if knowing his thoughts, Qiong Ying gave his shoulder a squeeze. None had been more chagrined than her when Princess Jin Hua escaped.

 

Madam Li cast a sad gaze at the three young children who were happily distressing the maids with their messy food fight.

 

“Must there be another war?” she sighed.

 

She had been very fortunate. Compared to other families, her husband and sons all returned from each military endeavor unscathed. That cannot be said for everyone else. Too many had lost too much.

 

“Even if we do not want it, it will come,” Huang Ming said.

 

Madam Li arched a brow. “All the more reason you need to slow down and have a period of respite. Perhaps you two should take a trip, together with Sunli,” she suggested. “And perhaps finish off the rest of the manual,” she added blandly.

 

The nursemaids were still busy with the children, but they tittered.

 

“Mm. Maybe we should. It’s not fair that only my brothers are spreading the dogfood. I must demonstrate my superiority as well,” Huang Ming grinned up at Qiong Ying, “Otherwise, they will think I’m being henpecked at home and hiding like a turtle.”

 

Qiong Ying rolled her eyes. “Who would dare to think so? You have the ears of the king and queen. Your father and father-in-law are great generals. One of your wives is a general…”

 

“And the other is a very rich one,” Huang Ming finished off, and Qiong Ying grinned.

 

“Why did the king and queen not make you the Prime Minister? You have been doing the work and shouldering the responsibilities of one,” Madam Li asked curiously.

 

But Huang Ming shook his head. “There is no need for me to hold a troublesome title. When this matter with Jin is settled, we will retire to the countryside, tend to the farm and raise the children. Surrounded by my loved ones and with my lovely wives beside me, what more would I want?”

 

“I can’t imagine you to be a farmer covered in dirt and baked by the sun,” Qing Ying said bemusedly.

 

“Having regrets?” Huang Ming asked.

 

She shook her head. “It is a nice dream.”

 

“I only hope we all live long enough to see it,” Madam Li murmured.

 

Planting the seeds,

For the time they will be free.