There is a future to this life.

--Joe Walsh feat. Lita Ford

 

Chapter 294 – Far-off plans

 

Huang Ming wrote back to capital to inform the king and queen about the sudden development. Meeting a long lost friend was a personal affair, but when Ran Wei was also in the picture, it suddenly became a matter of national importance.

 

Still, Huang Ming was a little stunned when King Chu Xiong came to Tianxin City incognito with his imperial bodyguards.

 

“What is your majesty doing here?” Huang Ming asked with astonishment.

 

“Such an important thing, how could we not be at hand?” the young monarch replied flippantly and sipped at his cup of cooling tea.

 

“You were just bored, weren’t you?” Huang Ming asked blandly.

 

“Nonsense. This is a matter of grave import. We are only here so that we can discuss quickly instead of writing back and forth, wasting precious ink and paper and tiring out our royal dispatches,” Chu Xiong said righteously. “What are your plans? Your letter only stated the meeting, but have you actually decided to go?”

 

“Go, of course I would go,” Huang Ming said.

 

“Why? Is this Min Guang a girl?” the king asked.

 

“What? No, this is about Ran Wei.”

 

The king frowned. “We are doubtful. Yes, we know you would be cautious. It is not wise for you to take this risk.”

 

“You are not going. Ran Wei asked for me specifically,” Huang Ming pointed out, and the king sighed.

 

“We know,” the king muttered despondently.

 

“What is your worry?” Huang Ming asked seeing the king’s moodiness.

 

“We are just concerned about your safety. You are like the unshakeable mountain, the pillar that holds up the heaves…” the king launched into a spiel.

 

Huang Ming raised an eyebrow. He had planned for the future, but because he was still relatively young, he was in no hurry to raise the issue. But since the king himself had brought it up…

 

“I am not even a highly ranked official, your majesty. There are many who are able to assist you and the queen,” he said modestly.

 

The king’s face was a look of exaggerated annoyance. “You know full well what we mean. Suppose anything was to happen to you…”

 

“For military matters, consult Meng Jian and Bai Mu. For internal affairs, turn to Lu Wei and Zhou Zhong,” Huang Ming interrupted, naming the four officials that had stepped up over the past years. Two were from Wu, the other two were Chu to balance out the interests of former kingdoms. The newly merged nation was still a new entity, but in the future such divisions would be slowly erased.

 

The king blinked at him in silence.

 

“What, not enough? I can’t possibly see that far in the future. You have to find your own helpers later. Everything is in place for a new society of educated people and a new breed of intellectuals for you to pick from. Politicians are like diapers, they needed to be changed regularly for the same reason,” Huang Ming quoted.

 

King Chu Xiong shook his head. “No, we understand that. Certainly, our consort has emphasized the importance of education. We are just surprised that you did not mention any of your friends.”

 

“I would not wish the dreariness of officialdom on my friends,” Huang Ming answered with a grin. “If they wish to participate, then appoint them as you see fit; but purely on their merits and not because of their personal friendship to me.”

 

“Why do you speak as if you are preparing for the worst?” the king asked warily.

 

Huang Ming laughed dryly. “Don’t worry; I am quite invested in my personal well-being.”

 

“You must come back. There is much left for you to do,” the king insisted.

 

Huang Ming pulled a face. “That is not the sort of encouragement that would motivate me.”

 

“Then do it for your wives,” the king snapped irritably. “I have no idea how you even managed to convince them that you are going to this dangerous rendezvous.”

 

Then Chu Xiong narrowed his eyes. “They gave you hell, didn’t they?” he gloated when he saw the look on his mentor’s face.

 

Still, the king could not shake off the feeling of unease…

 

***

 

When told of Huang Ming’s decision to meet Min Guang and Ran Wei, his wives were decidedly discontented.

 

“So you’ve decided to jump into the pit. Again,” Sunli said coldly.

 

“What is the worst that can happen?” Huang Ming asked facetiously.

 

His wives were not amused.

 

“What was that you said during our wedding night?” Qiong Ying said frostily. “Something something about taking steps slowly and making decisions together, heart and soul?  You were so smug when you saw us squirm and blush at your cheesy words that night. When did it occur to you to inform us that you had already decided?”

 

“Sorry,” Huang Ming apologized sincerely. “But don’t worry, Ke and Liu Xiang would be with me.”

 

“I am going with you.”

 

The tone from Zhao Sunli left no room for argument, and so Huang Ming found himself riding with her to the appointed place to meet Min Guang. With them were Huang Ke and Liu Xiang leading a small body of men as protective escort.

 

The two military men rode ahead, citing the need to scout for possible ambushes or traps and clear the way for Huang Ming. But in truth, Huang Ke could feel the bristling aura leaking from the Amazon and decided it would be better to stay away.

 

“Let them sort it out as all married couples need to,” Huang Ke told his brother-in-law.

 

Liu Xiang chuckled. “How is my sister? She was as excitable as a rabbit. Has she mellowed out?”

 

“Well, she is still like a rabbit. A carnivorous one,” Huang Ke sighed.

 

At the back, Huang Ming tried to soothe Sunli. Already taciturn in the first place, she was giving him the silent treatment and stonily looking straight ahead, ignoring his attempts at a conversation as they rode side by side.

 

“I am sorry,” Huang Ming said sincerely.

 

Zhao Sunli gave her husband a sidelong stare. “You promised us many things.”

 

“I should have consulted the two of you,” Huang Ming agreed.

 

“That is not what I referring to,” she disputed. “There will be times when you want to make decisions on the spot, and I can understand that.”

 

Sunli turned her helmeted head so that she could give him her full attention.

 

“What I don’t understand is your eagerness in taking this risk.”

 

“Well, it’s about Ran Wei-”

 

“Before that, it was Yin Yanzhao,” she cut him off. “But Ran Wei is different. He is far across the border and not our problem. We could have stayed put, behind Tigertrap Fort. You could have easily returned to the capital and the days would have passed as before.”

 

Her voice grew quieter. “We could have more years of peace and quiet. There is no hurry nor need for you to personally shoulder the task.”

 

Huang Ming smiled. How was he going to explain that he had no choice in the matter? Confronting the enemy Avatar was inevitable, especially now he and the Princess of Jin knew each other. This meeting with Ran Wei could be the opportunity to settle the matter.

 

Even without the other-worldly motivation, Huang Ming too wanted the conflict to be over with. He was now entering the prime of his life and married to two wonderful women. His family were healthy and his friends successful, he had the ear of the monarchs, fame and fortune.

 

The jealousy he and his family had faced was not without basis.

 

Once the matter with the Princess of Jin was done, he would want to retire and live out the rest of his life in this world in leisure. That was the reason he wanted to finish the confrontation quickly, and the meeting with the king only reinforced this want. A lifetime of toil and work was not very appealing.

 

Especially since his own father was still a vigilant military man in his seventies.

 

“Were your promises made so lightly?” Sunli asked softly.

 

Huang Ming reached out and seized her hand. She did not pull away, and he was encouraged to ham it up. He knew she liked hearing such things, cheesy and cringe-worthy as they were.

 

“Of course not. My love for you is like the unending river, ever flowing and endless. It is my greatest wish to spend the rest of my life with you, till the hairs on our head grow white. Just like… just like that old couple there,” he pointed out to a pair of peasants. They were sticking to the side of the road to allow Huang Ming’s contingent to ride past.

 

“Don’t they look great together?” he asked, and Sunli nodded in agreement.

 

“It is wonderful for you two to be together after all this time. How long have you two been married?” Huang Ming asked them.

 

“I’ve only met her yesterday,” the elderly man corrected him.

 

“We are only heading the same direction,” the elderly woman added.

 

Huang Ming was chagrined.

 

“Er, alright. Sorry, carry on,” Huang Ming said stiffly and quickly rode off in embarrassment.

 

Keeping pace with him, Sunli chuckled.

 

It was nice to see that he could still make a silly, harmless mistake.

 

 

After putting out fires,

He wants to retire.