“The human animal differs from the lesser primates in his passion for lists.”
--H. Allen Smith
Chapter Fifty Two - Sausage fest
“Then, I will need to prepare some suitable gifts,” the nobleman man said.
Huang Ming felt hemmed in by Lord Fang La’s words. He had tried to be vague, but that one simple sentence from the nobleman had forced him into a corner. ‘No point in talking about that now,’ Huang Ming thought, deciding to push back the problem for later discussion with his family.
“Let’s not talk about my brothers any further. As their unworthy junior, it makes me quite ill to constantly be compared to them,” Huang Ming said aloud with a disarming smile.
“What other heroes have you heard of, Lady Qiong Ying?” Nangong Xie asked; eager to get away from any mentions of the Huangs.
Thereupon Qiong Ying mentioned a few names from various parts of the continent, all men of fame; either by way of martial prowess or experts in their respective fields. It did not matter whether their deeds were big or small when compared to each other, it was how famous (or infamous) they were among the common people.
Among them, the ruthless General Ran of the state of Wei, unrivalled in strength and terror… Lord Aidi, a mysterious man who had emerged to become the King of Jin’s advisor… Jiang Gai the Drunken Poet, a famous figure among the literati… Du Yan the Grand Builder of Chu, the foremost architect of the land… Song Chao the Generous Lord, host of a thousand hanger-on talents… Yang Song the Suave Butcher… Wu Zhi the Mad Monk…
Later on, it was said that this small list of famous names would be the basis of the Honour Roll, the list of heroes that would be famous throughout the ages. Of course, there would be future historians who would be outraged at the suggestion of such a epic work having its origins in a brothel.
Each of these names were vaguely known to Huang Ming from the memories of the original, but Qiong Ying was able to sketch a few more details about them. He listened attentively, any one of these leading figures could be the enemy Avatar evolving his own schemes, making his mark on this world.
Nangong Xie could not resist the opportunity to mock the serious-looking Huang Ming. He could not shake away the image of the wastrel that he had known.
“What is it that Little Ming is thinking about? Could it be that you wish to be someone like them?” he asked.
Huang Ming smirked. “I was only wondering at the lack of women in the news. It’s all a sausage festival,” Huang Ming said.
“Sausage festival?” Qiong Ying asked with a frown, unfamiliar with the term. The others were puzzled as well, until Huang Ming lowered his eyes, and they were quick to catch on.
“I get it,” she said, her pale skin flushed and shaking with laughter. Seeing such a beautiful woman engulfed in the throes of mirth evoked the passions of the men present.
“If there could be one woman in such a list, then it should be you, Lady Qiong Ying,” Huang Ming said with a lazy smile.
Qiong Ying laughed. “Ah, but you are famous as well,” she said coyly.
The men in the room were genuinely surprised by her statement.
“You must be joking,” Huang Ming interjected before Nangong Xie or Shen He could put in a biting remark.
“Not at all,” Qiong Ying assured him.
“Please elaborate,” Lord Fang La said with a frown, the first expression of doubt and displeasure that Huang Ming had seen. Huang Ming guessed that the nobleman had half-expected to hear his own name being mentioned as a worthy personage.
“You might not know it, but your poetry during Lady Cao Tianyun’s competition has spread far and wide across the continent. It has been very well received in the palatial courts of the various kingdoms,” Qiong Ying said. “Incidentally, your brother’s proposal in that same competition set the standard for women everywhere,” she added mischievously.
Huang Ming gaped. “But I did not circulate the poetry. I have never repeated it ever since that day,” he said, his mind somewhat frazzled at the thought of his shameless plagiarism being thought of as something profound and great.
“That doesn’t mean someone wouldn’t do so. You have no idea just how popular the romance of Lady Cao Tianyun and your brother Huang Lang is. There are many unofficial accounts and stories being told about it everywhere, and you’re an important supporting actor in them,” Qiong Ying said, her green eyes glinting with humour.
“Hold. What poetry are you talking about?” Lord Fang La interrupted.
“Why, Young Master Huang Ming’s ‘One Lifetime, One Dream’, of course,” Qiong Ying answered.
Lord Fang La was greatly astonished. His eyes grew wide as he stared at Huang Ming. “That was you?” he asked.
Huang Ming rubbed the back of his head shyly. “Eh…”
Lord Fang La’s expression turned reverent. He gave a deep bow towards Huang Ming, shocking Nangong Xie and Shen He beside him.
“I am truly honoured. To think that I would meet the author of such a profound piece of poetry!” Lord Fang La said respectfully.
“You’re too flattering, too flattering,” Huang Ming muttered depreciatingly. Inwardly he was stricken with embarrassment. He had used Earth literature before in other worlds, but this was the first time he was told that it had such widespread effect. While he had little qualms about using what advantages he had amassed through his multiple lifetimes, it did not mean he was immune from the cringe-worthy results. To think that he had become some sort of minor celebrity in this world!
“I must exchange a toast with you,” Lord Fang La said. He raised his cup and Huang Ming hurriedly did the same.
Nangong Xie felt he could vomit blood right there and then. He had spent quite a huge sum just to buy this audience with Qiong Ying, hoping that it would curry favour with Lord Fang La. Yet, Huang Ming had swooped in and reaped the benefits effortlessly. From the look of things, Huang Ming had simply stumbled into great luck which made it all the more galling.
“Isn’t this too much?” Nangong Xie couldn’t help but mutter in discontent.
Lord Fang La gave him a sharp look.
“I mean, since Lord Fang La have honoured Little Ming in such fashion, perhaps he can compose a piece for you as a gift in return,” Nangong Xie said hurriedly.
Huang Ming smiled at him. “You should contribute too!” he said blithely, to which Nangong Xie blanched.
“Of course, he is called the Handsome Scholar after all,” Qiong Ying added, pouring more oil into the fire. Nangong Xie felt uncomfortable when she mentioned his epithet, was he imagining it or was she mocking him?
Huang Ming gave her an appreciative nod, feeling some sort of strange affinity with her despite their first meeting. ‘Maybe it’s because of her green eyes,’ he thought.
“Lord Fang La should set the theme,” he suggested before Nangong Xie could wriggle his way out.
“Fine!” Lord Fang La agreed. The nobleman had a pensive look on his face as he pondered. The other men in the room did not know, but Lord Fang La had circumstances of his own and was heartened by this unexpected opportunity to obtain something that could be useful for his personal matter.
“Something about unfulfilled love,” he said at last, his eyes took a faraway look, as if longing for something beyond his reach.
Qiong Ying kept a straight face, but inwardly she was somewhat elated. Others might think Lord Fang La was referring to her, but Qiong Ying knew better after seeing the distant look on the nobleman’s face. She had dug up information on Lord Fang La once she had caught wind of his presence in the city, and there were many delicious rumours about him and his aunt… a young concubine of his own uncle, the Prime Minister Tong Xuan.
Throughout this entire encounter, Lord Fang La did not seem overly excited about meeting Qiong Ying; indeed she felt that the nobleman was somewhat irritated at Nangong Xie for bringing him here. Now she was all but certain about her information, and she was heartened by the future possibilities.
Yet, she had no way of communicating this to Huang Ming to give him any sort of advantage. She could only hope that he could surprise her once again.
“I fear this is beyond me,” Nangong Xie spoke up quickly. He decided it was better to suffer a quick loss than being ridiculed later, and he thought it would be easier to pull Huang Ming down rather than to try to elevate himself. He glanced at Huang Ming, hoping to see a troubled face. To his irritation, Huang Ming was still relaxed and unworried.
“But I see Little Ming already have something in mind. Please, share us your skill,” Nangong Xie said, unhappy at Huang Ming’s apparent ease.
“Let me try,” Huang Ming said, and Lord Fang La leaned forward eagerly. Huang Ming coughed to clear his voice, and slowly sang.
“I think because I’m not gentle enough to see,
Not being able to share in your worries.
If you cannot find the words to tell me,
Then in your heart let it be buried.
I keep my sorrows in my soul,
You take your beauty with you,
From now on I will be cold,
And no happiness is due.”
It was an excerpt from a sombre Chinese song, one of his favourites from Earth. The people in the room were greatly moved. Much to their astonishment, a single tear rolled down Lord Fang La’s face.
“Thank you,” he said, his voice quaking with emotion.
“I have offended you, please forgive me,” Huang Ming said.
Lord Fang La shook his head. “No, you have done very well. If you could, please put pen to paper so that I can keep it as a token of remembrance.”
Then Huang Ming wrote down the lyrics, secretly hoping that he could delay Lord Fang La’s mission with these few words. ‘Maybe he will be distracted from that business with the medallion,’ he thought.
“Your reputation is indeed well deserved,” Lord Fang La said, admiring the paper in his hands. “This is priceless, and be the envy of my peers at the capital.”
Huang Ming merely shrugged, almost apologetically.
Then Lord Fang La leaned in and whispered so that only Huang Ming could hear.
“You are a clever man, you know what my medallion means. When the time comes, I promise to ask leniency for your family,” he promised.
Huang Ming smiled as he realized Lord Fang La had not softened at all. He closed his eyes and nodded, and Lord Fang La thought that this young scholar was perhaps frightened.
He did not know that Huang Ming closed his eyes to prevent a murderous look from surfacing. Already, Huang Ming was thinking of ways to get rid of this Lord Fang La before he could harm his family.
Sometimes words are not enough,
Sometimes you need to get tough.
Song Title: Taking Sorrow And Keeping It Within Self (把悲傷留給自己)
Music & Lyrics: Bobby Chen (陳昇)