Apologies. Father's birthday weekend, and I have to dash somewhere for work.



“You didn’t say UNO!”

--Uno Kensho, ‘Game of Darkness’

 

Chapter 291 – The men and women of the Huang

 

            General Huang Zheng felt more than a little annoyed as he gently handed Huang Ling to the one of the nursemaids. He only had the cute little baby in his arms for a few moments, but the nursemaids had hovered around him the entire time and he could feel their eyes boring into his back. He gave them a look of dissatisfaction as they took his sweet daughter back into the house, but the nursemaids were handpicked by his wife for their character and so his surliness was casually ignored.

 

             Peeved at having his authority disregarded, he turned his attention back to the courtyard where his sons were. Huang Lang, Huang Ke and Huang Ming were preoccupied with a card game. Off to the side were a few servants roasting and basting a variety of game meat according to Huang Ming’s instructions. The sound and smell of roasting venison, boar and pheasant meat contrasted against the leisurely, scholarly activity the boys were doing.

 

            Boys, but they were all grown men and wives of their own. Two of them even have children.

 

            The general cast a gloomy eye at Huang Ming. How was it that the most lecherous of the lot was still childless?

 

            It was not as if the general was in urgent need of more grandchildren. More is welcome, certainly. He was mostly worried for Huang Ming’s sake. The youngest of his sons had been a wastrel most of his life. Then he suddenly changed for the better, and even outshone his elders. But what if this good fortune was exhausted when it came to his seed? Maybe he should ask his wife to quietly get a prescription for Huang Ming…

 

            He was shaken out the train of thought as the card game became noticeably louder. What sort of leisurely, scholarly game could have affected them so? Surely they were not gambling with money, something he completely abhorred. Curious, he walked over to their table. They were playing with a deck of cards with strange and arcane symbols completely alien to him. There were four colorful as well. After seeing them in action for a few moments, Huang Zheng realized that it was a game centered on matching the colors or symbols.

 

            “Draw four,” Huang Ming cackled as he placed down a card that had all four colors.

 

            Huang Ke grunted resentfully as he pulled four cards from the leftover deck.

 

            It was Huang Lang’s turn. “What color?” he prompted his youngest brother.

 

            “Red.”

 

            Huang Lang grinned and pulled three cards from his hand. Red, yellow and green. The cards had different colors, but had the same symbol on it.

 

            “Green eh. Well, jokes on you, I’m into that.” Huang Ming replied and slapped down a green card of his own, followed by a red card with the same symbol.

 

            “Red again? And I don’t have a six either!” Huang Ke complained.

 

            Huang Zheng’s eyebrows rose. It was obvious that even Huang Ke was able to understand the symbols at first glance. He thrust a hand over the pile of cards to interrupt their playing. His sons looked up at him in askance.

 

            “What is this?” the patriarch demanded.

 

            “It’s called the Game of Darkness,” Huang Ming replied with a grin.

 

            “I still say it’s too colorful to be called that,” Huang Lang objected.

 

            “I made it, I can call it whatever I want,” Huang Ming insisted shamelessly, inwardly apologizing to the true inventor of ‘Uno’, Merle Robbins.

 

            “I don’t care about that. I mean, I hear you call out numbers, but I don’t see any numbers here,” Huang Zheng said.

 

            “These symbols represent the digits,” Huang Ming explained.

 

Huang Zheng stared at the cards as he stroked his wintry beard. His two other sons shared a knowing look, for they too were a little dazed before coming to terms of the concept.

 

“I understand,” Huang Zheng nodded. “But why use these symbols instead of the character?”

 

            Huang Ming smiled. “Lei Yan who is doing the logistics of your army was suffering from cramps every day writing down the huge numbers he needed to record. He wanted to minimize the strokes needed and this was the result. I just put it into a card game form so that anyone could learn it easily.”

 

Huang Zheng reached out a hand to pick up a card, only for Huang Ke to stop him: “Don’t ruin the game!”

 

His father snorted in annoyance and withdrew his offending hand.

 

“But this would be useful everywhere, beyond this card game. Have you considered teaching it to more people?” the general asked.

 

“We have using this system among ourselves and it has proved useful. Lei Yan is preparing to submit it to the royal court,” Huang Ming said, wording it carefully so that it was ambiguous as to whom had invented the numeral system. “If approved, it will be included in the education syllabus.”

 

“And you lot have been playing this game all this time?” his father asked disenchantedly.

 

“It’s harmless fun,” Huang Ming shrugged.

 

“That is not what I meant. Why am I always the last to know such things?” Huang Zheng grumbled.

 

“I thought you would prefer hunting and riding in your free time, father,” Huang Lang said diplomatically.

 

“Yes, but I want to be part of something with everyone,” Huang Zheng said sourly.

 

“Then you should have gone hunting with them,” Huang Ming pointed out.

 

He was referring to the fact that Madam Li had taken all the married women with her on a hunting trip to bond among themselves. In fact, the various game being roasted were the fruits of their sport the previous day. It was so enjoyable that the women decided to go again.

 

Huang Zheng gave his sons a stern look. “I still have a bone to pick with you. What are you thinking, letting them learn to use those infernal firearms?”

 

The general knew the terrifying power of the weapons and acknowledged the changing of the times because of them, but that does not mean he completely trusted the strange alchemy of smoke and fire.

 

“Mother is using it too,” Huang Ke pointed out, only to be silenced by an incinerating glare from his father.

 

“I disapprove. And it’s unseemly for you to get your friends to make these weapons for our family when they should be focusing on the army,” Huang Zheng grunted.

 

“Hey, they are my designs. Don’t worry. It’s harmless fun,” Huang Ming repeated. He glanced back at the roasting meat. “Well, not so harmless for some…”

 

“Mmm. Our wives are quite talented,” Huang Lang said as he too looked appreciatively at the cooking food.

 

“That deer was my wife’s kill,” Huang Ke said proudly.

 

“One of you should have gone with them to supervise,” their father insisted.

 

“Supervise our mother?” his sons chorused incongruously. “Why don’t you do it?”

 

***

 

The report of a gun firing cracked. The echo startled the forest. Various small creatures fled as the sound of a dying pheasant filled the air.

 

 “Got him!” Cao Tianyun grinned. Her shoulder was a little sore from the recoil, but she was too excited to mind the pain. Sunli inspected the bird to make sure it was really dead and gave her a thumbs up. Qiong Ying and Liu Yuchun cheered and congratulated her.

 

Madam Li nodded approvingly as she watched her daughters-in-law.

 

It was hard to imagine the delicate looking wife of Huang Lang to be so engrossed in the hunt, but Cao Tianyun had eagerly embraced the sport. Lacking the strength to draw a bow and arrow and being sheltered her entire life; the eldest daughter-in-law thoroughly enjoyed this empowering experience.

 

They all did.

 

The matriarch glanced down on her own hunting rifle and couldn’t resist a smile of her own.

 

It was strange to think that this thin metal tube could output such deadly force. Huang Ming and Sunli had not been joking when they said anyone could learn to use it. For the past two days, the women of the Huang family have reveling in the ease they had been hunting the game animals that otherwise would be the bane of farmers and travelers.

 

For Madam Li, it brought back memories when she used to hunt with a bow and arrow. Now she was older, and she had lost most of her martial skill. The easy-to-use rifle brought back the thrill of the hunt, and she was more than happy to have something unexpected in common with all her daughter-in-laws.

 

But so far, all they have been doing was hunting the animals and then sending it off back home. The girls depended on Sunli to actually verify their kills, still leery of approaching their handiwork at this time.

 

Hmm. Perhaps she should take the opportunity to teach the girls about cleaning their kills themselves. After all, it might be a useful survival skill.

 

Madam Li grinned as she unsheathed her dagger.

 

Soon, the forest was again startled, this time with the sounds shrieking girls…

 

 

            Father and sons,

            Daughters and guns.

 

Note:

The most epic of Uno games: https://youtu.be/OHe3JMd_XCg