This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun.

--Clark Griswolf, ‘The Vacation’ (1983)

 

Chapter 287 – Leave application

 

“We heard you are going on a vacation?” Queen Wu Liying asked bemusedly.

 

“I am sure the kingdom will be in safe hands while I am away,” Huang Ming said confidently.

 

“If there were other people around, they would be clamouring for your head for that,” King Chu Xiong grinned.

 

Fortunately, the audience hall was empty save for the three of them.

 

It was customary for Huang Ming to remain behind after every morning court session. He would be standing at a discreet distance at one corner of the hall as the various officers presented their memorials or be summoned by the monarchs for this or that appointment.

 

Though Chu Xiong and Wu Liying were slightly younger than Huang Ming, they carried a regal bearing that was suited to their status. The phrase “heavy is the crown” seemed appropriate, having truly grown into their roles as sovereigns of an entire half of the continent.

 

In comparison, Huang Ming appeared to be an ordinary, unimportant official, a faceless cog in the bureaucratic machine. Nobody was fooled, even if the monarchs made their rulings and issued orders without referring to him.

 

In a way, Huang Ming had encouraged this. An organization must be strong enough to grow without depending on a single person, and this was the same for nations. Governments that rely on a strongman figure usually do not last long.

 

In the past, a few nervous officials had approached him in private before making their presentations to the king and queen. The majority of them were newly recruited personnel and not from traditional noble families, thus their trepidation was understandable.

 

Huang Ming refused to even look at their memorials.

 

“Do you wish death upon me and my family?” he had scolded angrily, much to the fear of the officials.

 

“We only wish to seek your opinions, why would you accuse us of thus?”

 

“Have you lot forgotten what had happened to Tong Xuan? He placed himself as the gatekeeper between the officials and the previous king, and thereby amassed power onto himself. Are you not trying to put me on the same pedestal as him?” Huang Ming demanded.

 

“We dare not!”

 

“Then, do you think so little of our monarchs?” Huang Ming sneered. “Do you think they are the sort who would listen to ill advice and make decisions hastily?”

 

The officials shook their heads vigorously.

 

Huang Ming softened his countenance and told the officials: “You were all carefully selected by the two majesties for your talents and strength of character. Place trust in their judgement and speak your mind, and you will be all the more appreciated by them.”

 

Enlightened and emboldened, the various officials no longer called upon Huang Ming. They spoke honestly and earnestly to the king and queen, and the daily court sessions were often lively with constructive debates and exchange of ideas. It gelled well with the cabinet style of governance introduced by Huang Ming to the King of Wu in the past, and the competition and cooperation between the various departments and ministries fuelled the kingdom’s development.

 

That was why Huang Ming was confident in taking the vacation.

 

“Where would you be going?” King Chu Xiong showed some interest.

 

Huang Ming shrugged. “Well, for starters, I would return to my hometown of Tianxin City with my brothers together. We’re due for one big family reunion, with my father being stationed at Tigertrap Fort all this while.”

 

“Why this sudden urge?” Queen Wu Liying asked. Then she leaned forward with great interest: “Is one of your wives finally pregnant?”

 

“Why is everyone concerned about this?” Huang Ming grumbled.

 

The queen smirked. “You need to get to work on that aspect. Our heir would want more playmates soon.”

 

“Oh? But I believe I can do that for you, my dear,” the king offered, and the married couple chuckled.

 

“Should I excuse myself?” Huang Ming suggested as he rolled his eyes. It made him more determined to take the vacation and spread the dogfood to others.

 

Huang Ming pulled a face at the sweet display of marital bliss. Even the royals had accomplished the difficult task of having a child. The next in the agenda was of course to ensure smooth transition of power later, but that was a question for the far-off future.

 

“Perhaps later, my dear,” the queen demurred.

 

“Yes, him being here does prevent me from continuing,” the king smirked.

 

“Indeed. We must not degenerate ourselves to his past,” Wu Liying said as she patted her spouse’s hand.

 

“True, true. Stories about him reached all the way to Chu, after all,” Chu Xiong nodded sagely. Then he gave Huang Ming a proud look: “Though, how much of those stories were true, I wonder? Someone who could inspire such tales would have sired a litter of children by now.”

 

“I am taking this vacation to do just that,” Huang Ming reminded them.

 

“Be sure to keep to your word. We expect fruits of your labour soon,” Chu Xiong said, unable to resist teasing his one-time mentor.

 

“Let me go for a long time then,” Huang Ming growled. “I will make productive use of this vacation.”

 

“How long will you be away?” Wu Liying asked.

 

Huang Ming noted the sudden change of in their demeanour. “A month or two? Maybe more?” he ventured.

 

Their anxiety only increased. “You certainly deserve such a rest, but will you be able to return quickly if needed?”

 

“My wives will be jealous if you show that much love for me,” Huang Ming said dryly.

 

It worked, for the royal couple smiled briefly at the joke.

 

Wu Liying leaned back on her throne. “Do you suppose the Jin Empire is up to something?”

 

“Of course. As are we,” Huang Ming reminded him. Espionage was an ongoing business after all, and the Jin Empire was the only one left to challenge the Chuwu kingdom for all under heaven.

 

“Is that why you’re going back to Tianxin? Up to your old tricks again, eh?” Chu Xiong’s eyes glinted.

 

‘No, I’m not,’ Huang Ming admitted to himself, but the look on Chu Xiong was so eager that he did not want to disappoint the king.

 

“I’m also checking up on our various research,” he said instead. Tianxin City was where his closest friends were anyway, he could make a detour on the various facilities while he was there. He could make use of it, for the prospect of being with his wives the entire duration of the vacation was daunting.

 

“I know you are worried, but the government is now strong enough that you don’t need to depend entirely on me,” Huang Ming continued. “Our stores are plentiful, our soldiers vigilant and our people are joyous under your rule.”

 

“But who should we call on while you are away?” Wu Liying asked seriously.

 

“For military matters, you can call on the likes of Meng Jian and Fan He. For domestic questions, there are Ji Xiang and Lu Wei,” Huang Ming said. The four men named were also present to help quell Yin Yanzhao’s insurrection and could be trusted.

 

“You are the one whom we still rely on,” Wu Liying said as she gave him a look. “So don’t do anything rash. This time, try not to start trouble without giving us advance warning.”

 

“I’ll try,” Huang Ming grinned.

 

It was time to rest,

Back to the nest.