I’m surrounded by idiots!

--Scar, ‘The Lion King’


Chapter 289 – Similar but different




The one word from his wife startled Prince Jin Bao. He looked up from his end of his table, but fortunately Princess Jin Hua was not referring to him. His consort still had her head bowed over an opened scroll, silently mouthing words to herself.


For a few moments he was distracted from his own paperwork. The prince was mesmerized by the minute twitching on Jin Hua’s red lips.


They were only separated by the long table, yet the prince felt his consort was as distant as the first day he was entranced by her. Oh, they have shared many intimate moments together, even consummated their marriage many times.


He would like to think that she enjoyed those moments.


Yet… she remained slightly aloof and hiding something from him. It was an awful sensation to feel, that she could one day be out of his reach.


The prince remembered how anxious he was two years ago. Jin Hua had orchestrated the conflagration in Wu two years ago, and engineered the feint that allowed the Jins to sweep effortlessly into Wei at the same time.


She never revealed her full plans to him, only giving him assuring words of her safety. And so he waited on pins and needles for the promised date. Only when she had returned in a magical floating basket was he finally able to relax. She returned safe and sound with nary a hair out of place.


Jin Bao glanced at the huge tapestry that hung on the nearest wall. It was the map of the continent. Half of it belonged to Jin. It was achieved due to her plans that came to fruition flawlessly, yet for days later she remained broody and irritated.


The cloud hanging over Jin Hua only dissipated when they marched into Wei’s capital. It took the conquest of an entire kingdom to slightly assuage her wife.


Some time after the conquest of Wei, the princess was finally pregnant. Prince Jin Bao was much happier than his wife. For sometime there were nefarious doubts about her actions while in Wu. After all, she was in contact with both General Yin Yanzhao and Huang Ming. One had undisguised passion for her, while she was interested in the other.


Her pregnancy well after the murky events in Wu brought relief to the prince. The deepest fears of betrayal dispelled, the prince then spent nearly every waking hour doting on her, ignoring her complaints when she was exasperated by his close attention.


Prince Jin Bao had hoped that the pregnancy and the subsequent miracle of childbirth would change her disposition. She could look forward to motherhood, raising their child while fending off the inevitable political maneuverings in the palace. He, of course, would be busy administering their newly enlarged realm, suppressing the remnant Wei loyalists and preparing for the decisive clash against Chuwu for the supremacy of the continent.


Alas, that was not to be.


Princess Jin Hua spent a week with the newborn heir, before losing interest. Or more likely, she lost her patience. For the first few days, she had a tender look on her face as she cradled the infant. Several nights later, the child was unceremoniously handed to the nursemaid to be taken care off.


At first, the prince did not find this to be strange. After all, he himself grew up in an environment where he would rarely see his royal parents.


Yet, Jin Hua took this to the extreme, only deigning to see her own son at meal times. Once she had recovered her health, she threw herself back into work, despite his admonishments. It seemed the prince would be the parent who would spend more time with the son.


There were times the prince had wanted to grab a hold of her wrist and demand to know what was going on in her head.


“They say a child would forget you if he does not see your face for a long time,” he had said.


“There will be plenty for me to see him when he is a little older,” Jin Hua replied. “We need to settle Chuwu as soon as possible, so that he can grow up peacefully.”


A reasonable argument, if not a little sterile.


She treated her own offspring the same way she treated her pet projects.


The prince wondered. Was he one of those projects?


“What is inadequate?” he asked as he ignored the stray thought.


“Everything,” Jin Hua grumbled as she pushed away the scroll in disgust. “Why can’t they just understand what I want?”


‘Not even your husband understands you,’ the prince thought immediately. He angrily banished it out of his mind.


“There is not an ounce of imagination in the people we have. They can’t think for themselves, always relying on me for every single decision. And those with some intelligence will think up the most useless of things. Look at this fool,” Jin Hua said as she tossed the scroll towards her husband.


It was a memorial from a minor official, reporting about a water wheel that he had constructed. But instead of putting it to work immediately, the official was instead asking for her to choose an auspicious date to bless it and to bestow a name upon it. It was bald-faced flattery, trying to curry favor with the princess using the most superficial of methods.


The prince shook his head at the official’s daring. The princess abhorred wastage and inefficiency above all, and this idiocy would doom the official to a lifetime of obscurity.


“He will need to be replaced,” the prince said.


“It’s not just him,” Jin Hua said despairingly. “Everywhere I look, there is incompetence.”


“We just need to look harder for talent,” Jin Bao replied, only to earn a glare from her.


“I used to have them. They were lost in Beihai,” she reminded him.


Because of you’, she left unsaid. She was referring to the agents and advisors that she had dispatched to the northern city to spy on Huang Ming, only for them to be caught up in the siege when Prince Jin Bao impetuously decided to launch a surprise winter attack. Not only did she lose her inner circle, the prince’s expedition also failed spectacularly.


The prince sighed but knew better than to refute it. She had never allowed him to forget that lapse in judgement.


“This is my mistake,” the princess said unexpectedly. “I spent so much time building and making things, instead of educating and raising more people who can help me. Now… now it’s too late.”


The awful sensation came back.


“Nonsense, why would it be too late?” he said harshly. The tone shook Jin Hua out of her melancholy, and she turned to look at the prince.


He stood up to walk over to her and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “My dear, we have just conquered half the continent using your ingenuity and wisdom. We are not even in our thirties. What is the rush?”


Jin Bao squeezed the shoulder and began to start massaging. If all goes well…


“You don’t understand. He is there,” Jin Hua said, and his hands stopped.


“You mean Huang Ming?”


She paid no mind to his tone. She felt it was a little cute, albeit misguided. “He won’t stop. He had only arrived for a few short years and the entire situation had changed.”


“You sound like you admire him,” the prince said coldly. It was the closest to him openly admitting his jealousy.


“I do,” Jin Hua said deliberately, and she could feel the fingers on her shoulder stiffen. She curved her lips as she turned to look up at him.


“Not like what you think, my dear,” she said bemusedly. “He outplayed me, and that is something to be appreciated.”


“Perhaps we should have him assassinated,” the prince suggested.


Jin Hua arched an eyebrow at him, but he did not bat an eye.


He had already tried and failed, but there was no reason for him to admit it. Nor did she find it necessary to expose him.


Such compromises were common in a marriage.


“He is much too clever for that,” she said instead. “We will need to find a way to lure him out in an open confrontation. This stalemate cannot be allowed to last.”


“Once we have finished off the Wei rebels, we will deal with Huang Ming,” the prince promised.


Jin Hua sighed. “We are doing all this for their own benefit. Why can’t they see that?”


“Not everyone can see the world as you do, my dear,” the prince said soothingly.


Not even me.


His wife,

The brilliant woman,

The love of his life,

But she’s almost inhuman.