“Tall men come down to my height when I hit 'em in the body.”
-- Jack Dempsey


Chapter Three - She’s no wallflower


“What woman?” Huang Ming asked.


Huang Ke’s smile got broader as he revelled in his younger brother’s discomfort.


Indeed, Huang Ming was annoyed. The alcohol-fueled haze the previous night made it harder to recall short-term memories.


‘Ah… the one I dragged away,’ Huang Ming then remembered. His heart blanched as details of the deed came flooding back. He had taken a few guards and went to collect on a loan after being warned about the debtor’s flight.


“She’s the daughter of Smithy Liu, isn’t she?” Huang Ke asked, referring to the indebted man in Huang Ming’s memory.


“Yes, but it’s not what you think,” the younger brother replied.


“Oh?”


“Smithy Liu owed me money. Nangong Xie said they might flee without paying, he suggested that I hold her here until he could pay up,” Huang Ming explained, mentioning the name of one of his ‘friends’.


“What nonsense. His son Liu Xiang is a military officer, how could Smithy Liu just leave and sully his son’s future prospects?” Huang Ke said. His lips curled in distaste as he continued, “If you truly want to change, you need to rid yourself of people like that Xie fellow.”


“I understand, I know what to do,” Huang Ming nodded. He then started his way to the rear courtyard guest residence, where he knew the woman was being held. Then he stopped to look at his brother.


“Why are you following me?”


“I heard Liu Yuchun is no wallflower. How I can miss this show?” Huang Ke grinned.


Huang Ming grimaced but continued with his brother in tow. He recalled that he needed his guards to subdue her.


Those two guards were guarding the area. At first they smiled knowingly when they saw Huang Ming, but stiffened when they saw the towering Huang Ke behind him.


“How is she?” Huang Ming asked.


“She was unruly at first, but she quieted down and went to sleep early last night,” one guard replied.


“Open up.”


The guards nodded and opened the doors to the house.


Immediately a pillow made of silk and cotton flew out and struck Huang Ming on the face.


His neck jerked back from the force, but he said nothing as the pillow slid off and landed softly at his feet. The guards were horrified and were about to rush in to apprehend the pillow thrower when Huang Ke erupted in roaring laughter.


“Bwahahaha!”


“Huang Ming, you good-for-nothing! Let met go at once!” a female voice yelled.


They stepped into the residence to see the source of the voice.


“Hello, Ms. Liu,” Huang Ming greeted insipidly.


The said Liu Yuchun was a young woman, her lovely face flushed with anger. Her hair was styled short, her eyes flashed with defiance.


Huang Ming stood before her and bowed deeply. “I apologize for my transgressions, Ms. Liu. I hope you find it within yourself to forgive me.”


“Are you ill?” she asked, shocked.


Huang Ming frowned, while his brother’s face twitched as the same question had been asked thrice in the same morning.


“No, I have reflected on my actions yesterday and I am sincere in my apology,” he said with a straight face.


“Is this a joke?” she asked, still suspicious.


“No, it is not a joke. You can leave now, Ms. Liu,” he replied.


Liu Yuchun pursed her red lips into a thin line as her anger came rushing back.


“You expect me to leave just like that? After you had dragged me off in broad daylight? My reputation’s ruined!”


Huang Ming nodded as he understood her predicament. Nobody would believe that she was still pure, due to his own ill repute. He turned to his brother.


“Hit me.”


“What?” Huang Ke and Ms. Liu asked in one voice.


“I said hit me. So that people can see a bruise.”


“What?” they repeated.


“This is a rescue. You’re rescuing her. From me,” Huang Ming clarified.


Comprehension dawned on their faces.


“There’s no need for actually hitting you, is there?” his second brother asked hesitantly.


“Consider it my repentance. Just do it.”


“Let me do it!” Ms. Liu said suddenly. Before anyone else could react, she had winded up and buried a fist into Huang Ming’s stomach.


The blow was sudden and her fist was heavy as befitting a blacksmith’s daughter. Huang Ming felt bile rise up his throat and had to hold on to his brother to stop himself from falling. Huang Ke on his part looked at Ms. Liu appreciatively.


“I said people needed to see! Do you expect me to walk around shirtless?” The younger Huang gasped, glaring at the woman.


“I am sorry,” Liu Yuchun grinned, “let me do it again.”


“Wait-”


This time she swung at his face.


Huang Ming jumped back in time; the sound of her fist cutting the air gave him a fright. A bruise? She was going to break his jaw!


“Stop moving!” she complained.


“I changed my mind!” Huang Ming said hurriedly. “There’s no need! My Second Brother will escort you home!”


“I will?” Huang Ke asked bemusedly.


“Yes, yes you will,” Huang Ming sputtered and glared at him. “You’ll look like the hero who managed to save her just in time. Then you’ll get popular with the ladies.”


“Alright, I’ll do it,” the older brother smirked.


“Good.”


“Not good,” Ms. Liu interjected.


“Your father’s debt?” Huang Ming asked.


Ms. Liu nodded.


“That’s a separate matter. This is your reputation I’m saving here, not mine,” he reminded her.


“Do you know how difficult it is to get materials these days? What you’re charging us is usury!” she said indignantly.


Huang Ming pondered for a moment before turning to look at his brother again. “I don’t suppose you need a new weapon?”


“As a matter of fact, I do need a new axe,” Huang Ke said.


Huang Ming elbowed him.


“I mean an axe and a suit of armour.”


Huang Ming nodded and spoke to Liu Yuchun: “Have your father make some things to my brother’s liking and I’ll give a discount on the debt as well as an extension.”


“You two are scoundrels,” the smithy’s daughter sighed. Despite saying that, she cannot help but smile at them, her heart was tickled by their act.


“You have a nice smile,” Huang Ke commented, and she blushed maidenly.


‘Oh ho...’ Huang Ming thought.