“No party is any fun unless seasoned with folly.”
Chapter Fifty One - Inviting trouble
“This is Lord Fang La, nephew of Prime Minister Tong Xuan!” Nangong Xie announced proudly.
“Oh, hello,” Huang Ming said blandly. He scoured his memories, the original did not know this nobleman.
Though Lord Fang La showed no reaction to Huang Ming’s muted greeting, Nangong Xie was there to be outraged on his behalf.
“Little Ming, is that all you can say?” he sneered.
“What more do you expect?” Huang Ming asked.
Official Shen He was roiled. “The least you could do is pay your respects! Don’t you know the proprieties?”
But Huang Ming smiled. “Official Shen, I was only being brief so that you can quickly resume whatever it is you were doing before I arrived.”
“How very considerate of you, Young Master Huang,” Qiong Ying said dryly.
But the government official Shen He was not having any of that. “Now that you know of his identity, why haven’t you still made your obeisance?” he demanded.
Huang Ming stared at him critically. “Do you have any proof of your identities?” he asked suddenly.
“I mean, Nangong Xie called you Official Shen He, while you called this honoured sir Lord Fang La. Do you have any proof of what you say?” Huang Ming continued.
“How dare you! How could you even think of such a thing?” Shen He exclaimed, furious that his identity was being doubted.
“I am only asking because you are supposed to be a government official, and yet you’re using your real name in an establishment such as this while thinking everyone else are deaf and dumb. If you’re really a government official, shouldn’t you at least be discreet? What happens if rumours and slander spread about you? I can’t imagine your superiors would be pleased about it,” Huang Ming said.
Shen He turned pale, he had truly never considered such possibility before. It was pretty much a given that government officials were mostly corrupt and would seek bribes in exchange for favours. Shen He and those like him have lived it up with their ill-gotten gains without too much fear, but they were not immune from being scrutiny; especially when it meant sacrificing such officials could appease the anger of the citizens. It had happened before, the occasional scapegoat or small fish being punished to prevent such retribution on those higher up on the totem pole. It was a common tactic used by governments and organizations throughout history.
“Here,” Lord Fang La suddenly spoke. His voice was deep and regal, showing a sense of maturity and gravitas. He retrieved a gold medallion from his sleeve and tossed it casually to Huang Ming.
Huang Ming caught it easily as Shen He and Nangong Xie stared with their mouths wide open. He examined the medallion critically. It was heavy, about the size of one’s palm. On one side was the carving of a majestic tiger, while the reverse had a single large word inscribed on it, the character used for “to lead”. It was similar to the one he had seen in his father’s possession.
‘A military token of authority!’ Huang Ming thought. He stood up and bowed deferentially to Lord Fang La.
“This precious thing cannot be too far from your hands, my lord,” Huang Ming said in a serious tone. He walked over and returned the medallion.
The nobleman nodded slightly, his face still a mask of indifference. Huang Ming returned to his seat and sat back down calmly, mirroring Lord Fang La’s disposition. But within, Huang Ming was shaken.
‘I guess Marshal Gao has run out of patience… He must have sent this Fang La and Shen He here to take the army legions away from father! I need to warn him quickly!’ Huang Ming thought. He was grateful for the traditionally long sleeves of his clothing, it hid the nervous twitching of his fingers.
Qiong Ying was also surprised to see the medallion. She knew enough to know of its implications. But she kept up her cheerful demeanour and clapped once to draw their attention.
“We were having a discussion about the heroes of the day,” she announced.
“That sounds like a very serious subject to be held in a brothel,” Huang Ming said, pushing back his worries for the time being.
“Not at all. I am merely a bird in this cage, so I relish the chance to hear news from all over the continent,” Qiong Ying explained.
“What exactly is holding you back here?” Huang Ming asked bluntly. He knew that the lady was shrouded in mystery, that there were many rumours swirling around her. Yet, seeing her confident self, he found it hard to believe that she was willingly trapped in the brothel as she had claimed.
Qiong Ying sighed and averted her eyes, like a maiden clouded with a painful memory. “I have my own circumstances, it is not convenient to talk about it,” she said. Her act was all the more convincing, because it was based on the truth.
“Is it something like a debt contract?” Huang Ming persisted.
“If that is the case,would the young master be interested in buying me out?” Qiong Ying asked, a coquettish and playful look on her face.
“How much are we talking about here?” Huang Ming asked warily.
“Not too much. Five hundred thousand gold pieces, give or take,” Qiong Ying answered smilingly. The blood of the men in the room froze, five hundred thousand gold pieces was enough to raise an entire army. It was an astronomical price, unthinkable for anyone except for a someone who was in control of a country’s treasury. Even Lord Fang La had his eyes widened.
“Uh…” Huang Ming stammered. The events at the Hall of Treasures and Antiquities made him realise just how poor he was relatively. In the end he was still a foppish third son of a family with no real income of his own.
Nangong Xie knew this very well, he had a sneer on his lips. Unlike Huang Ming, Nangong Xie was the heir of his family. Despite his rakish ways, he did have some business acumen and ability.
“You have to forgive Little Ming, he is still dependent on his family,” Nangong Xie said gently, but his words were condescending.
But Huang Ming merely laughed. “That’s right! I am unworthy. Only a person as successful as Brother Xie here can afford to buy your contract,” he said.
“Oh?” Qiong Ying said as she turned her pretty eyes on to the Handsome Scholar.
“I, uh, I dare not, I dare not…” Nangong Xie stammered. Five hundred thousand gold! Even if he had sold off all his properties and called in all his favours, it would not be enough. Besides, what he enjoyed the most was to coax the fruit to fall willingly into his mouth. He was the type that would scheme and use sweet words to make women willingly give themselves up for him. Actually expending material wealth was somewhat a peeve for him. Huang Ming had witnessed this first hand when the Handsome Scholar had reluctantly parted with a mere 1000 taels of gold in the abortive plan to entice Liu Yuchun.
Qiong Ying chuckled. “It’s all a joke, please sir, I hope you don’t take to mind,” she said to Nangong Xie.
Nangong Xie bowed. “None taken, none taken!” he said, relief on his face.
“Anyway, what was that about heroes?” Huang Ming asked. He was truly interested. Hearing Qiong Ying’s earlier explanation triggered his own lack of knowledge about the continent.
“Ah, we were just talking about the Young Lords of the Continent.”
“I do not know that term,” Huang Ming said, honestly ignorant.
“I am not surprised. It is a relatively new phrase to collectively identify the great noblemen of Wu, Wei, Jin and Chu,” she explained.
“Who, exactly?” Huang Ming asked.
“Among them, there are your brothers of course. Huang Lang the Celestial Qilin, Huang Ke the Mountain-Splitter…
“Oh great, as if they don’t have enough things to rub my face in,” Huang Ming complained. Qiong Ying gave him one of her best smiles, a dazzling visage that would have enchanted any man that would have seen it. The other men were jealous at the attention Huang Ming was given.
“Please, have my congratulations on their respective marriages,” Qiong Ying said, slyly eyeing the face of Nangong Xie. As expected, the Handsome Scholar face turned ashen as he was reminded of his failures.
“When is their wedding?” Lord Fang La suddenly asked.
“Within the month,” Huang Ming replied cautiously.
“Little Ming, you should invite Lord Fang La to their weddings,” Nangong Xie suggested. Only, Huang Ming saw that it wasn’t a suggestion.
“Ah, but it’s not up to me to decide. It is not my own wedding after all. But I will inform them accordingly,” Huang Ming said, not directly accepting or refusing.
“Then, I will need to prepare some suitable gifts,” the nobleman man said.
Huang Ming knew it was a veiled threat.
A noble well-dressed,
A troublesome guest.