“I had the strangest dream. I dreamed that some psychopath was trying to break the two of you up.”
--Julienne Potter


Chapter Thirty - Outing

Seeing Sunli’s rage threatening to explode, Huang Ming hastened to tell his maid, “Send the guest in, quickly!”


The guest was soon revealed to be his friend Zhang Ping, the masonry business owner.


“Brother Zhang Ping! What brings you here?” Huang Ming greeted. According to his memory, the Stone General very rarely visited by himself. Zhang Ping was a very frank and direct person, and they had only been acquainted via their circle of friends.


“You have guests?” His eyes flickered over the two women. Zhao Hongqi and her red armour immediate caught his eye. In return, she ogled at the muscular man with interest.


“It’s fine, speak your mind. Is there something you need?” Huang Ming asked.


“I heard you were on an outing with Cao Shuang,” Zhang Ping stated bluntly.


“Yes, I was,” Huang Ming answered.


“I am speaking for our group. As you know, we have our differences with him regarding our respective family businesses. Now that your families are engaged, can I ask you to mediate on our behalf?”


“Of course. I had planned to ask all of you to air your grievances so that everyone could all get along,” Huang Ming said in relief, glad that his friend had taken the initiative to ask for his help instead of waiting for an awkward approach regarding the matter.


Zhang Ping nodded in satisfaction. Then he turned to look at the armour-clad women.


“Is this some sort of costume play? Are they gifts from Cao Shuang?” he asked tactlessly.


Huang Ming went white. “They are friends of my family!” Huang Ming exclaimed.


“I apologize. I made a reckless assumption after hearing that you went to the Lichun with Cao Shuang,” Zhang Ping said plainly. He did not notice the look on Sunli’s face, it twitched in growing anger.


“What’s costume play?” Zhao Hongqi asked curiously.


“It is when people dress up unusually for special occasions,” Zhang Ping answered very factually before Huang Ming could stop him.


“Oh. Am I unusual? Is this strange?” Zhao Hongqi asked, looking down at her red armour.


“Not at all, I find it very charming,” Zhang Ping replied honestly.


Zhao Hongqi was pleased. “Wahaha, I like you! I am Zhao Hongqi!” she announced proudly.


“My name is Zhang Ping.”


“What do you do to get so big?” Zhao Hongqi asked.


“I was born this way.”


“Do you do martial arts?”


“My family practices the Stone Breaking Fist.”


Huang Ming saw that the wahaha girl was fast developing a rapport with his friend. The two of them looked mismatched; Zhao Hongqi was tiny in comparison when compared to the beefy man. The little girl was vocal and excited while Zhang Ping was dry and guileless. Yet, she was talking up to him fearlessly and he answered her questions with simple but truthful statements earnestly as if they were equals.


Huang Ming quietly approached Sunli who was watching the same.


“They look nice together,” Huang Ming whispered to her conspiratorially.


“What?”


“Zhang Ping is a good man with an honest business and his family has some reputation in this city. He can be the one to marry Little Hongqi,” Huang Ming said.


“You are fobbing her off like so much cabbage,” Sunli seethed underneath her breath.


“Well, those hair buns do remind me of cabbages…” Huang Ming mused, much to her anger.


“How dare you!” she hissed.


“You should help me to get them to know each other better,” Huang Ming insisted.


“You poor jester! Why should I?”


“Would you rather see her be stuck with a wastrel like me? I have no interest in her, and this all came about from General Zhao’s drunken meddling. She should be the one making the decisions regarding her own life partner,” Huang Ming replied.


Despite her anger, Sunli nodded in agreement. She gave him a sidelong glance.


“What exactly is your complaint with her? Is she lacking in anyway?” she asked.


Huang Ming rolled his eyes. “Who says I disapprove of her? I just think she’s too young for me.”


“Don’t act so saintly. I have heard of you, people in the streets call you a lewd beast. And don’t think I never heard of the Lichun either,” Sunli scoffed. “It’s because she’s wearing the garb of a soldier, isn’t it? You scholarly, young master types look down on female soldiers like us.”


“But I did say that I prefer you,” Huang Ming reminded her and grinned.


Once again, heat bloomed on the cheeks of the stoic beauty.


“You talk as if your tongue cannot be separated from your mouth,” she said icily.


“And you talk as if I’m making fun of you,” Huang Ming replied, spreading his palms open in a show of good faith. “You must remember that my father and my second brother are soldiers too. I can imagine the amount of trust General Zhao has placed in you by having you to be his daughter’s personal guard. For a woman to do a man’s job she has to do it twice as well to be thought as half as good,” he said, quoting a politician from Earth.


“For a woman to do a man’s job she has to do it twice as well to be thought as half as good…” Sunli repeated softly and sighed, reluctantly agreeing with him. Then she shook her head angrily, saying, “You nearly have me fooled. Do you expect me to believe the rhetoric of a womanizer?”


“I don’t care whether you believe me or not. You are against her marrying me, and I don’t want to get married in the first place. So help me to prevent this marriage from happening.”


Sunli pursed her lips in thought.


Huang Ming did not want to wait passively for deliverance. He plunged ahead by calling out to friend.


“Zhang Ping, do we have an outing planned? Soon it will be the wedding of my brothers and then I will be too busy to join you lot.”


His friend nodded. “Actually, we do have something planned. He Ding and Lei Yan said they want to buy some cheap trinkets for a project of theirs.”


“Trinkets?” Huang Ming’s brows crinkled.


“I have no idea either. I’m supposed to bring you along, we are to meet at the market square.”


Madam Li reappeared. “Go, bring them along,” Madam Li suggested. Huang Ming noticed that her hands were empty.


“I was told there would be cake. The cake is a lie,” Huang Ming said blandly, knowing that his mother was seizing the chance to avoid sharing her favourite snack.


“What nonsense are you saying now? Take our guests with you to the market square, let them enjoy our city’s lively streets,” Madam Li replied.


“Oh! I want to go!” Zhao Hongqi said excitedly. She looked up to Sunli with her large round eyes.


Her guardswoman could only sigh and nod in defeat.


 

For them there was no cake,
Now they have to follow this rake.​