“If he’s interested in traps…then I could take care of that for him…”
--Kenjiro Hato, ‘Genshiken’


Chapter Fifty Three - Shape of things to come

Lord Fang La leaned back, an amicable smile on his face as he held Huang Ming’s calligraphy in his hands. The others in the room did not hear what he had whispered to Huang Ming, they had no inkling as to what had caused the young master to close his eyes in thought.


“I appreciate your words, Lord Fang La,” Huang Ming said as he opened his eyes. “I will send a wedding invitation to you on behalf of my brothers.”


“I look forward to it,” Lord Fang La replied.


“We will give you a very warm welcome,” Huang Ming said.


It was plainly obvious that there were animosity between them. The atmosphere in the room felt oppressive as the two men stared at each other with smiles that did not quite reach their eyes.


Lord Fang La knew that Huang Ming was not intimidated at all. “This has been an illuminating meeting, and it is time for us to bid farewell,” he announced.


Qiong Ying curtsied in a humble fashion. “This one will count the days when your lordship graces her again,” she said in a suitably docile fashion.


The nobleman gave her a curt nod and imperiously walked out with his head held high. Nangong Xie and Shen He were confused and not a little disappointed at the abrupt ending. They gave Huang Ming the evil eye, blaming him for the unexpected finish. Nangong Xie was especially aggrieved, having spent extravagantly but obtained nothing in the end.


“My lord, why the rush to leave?” the Handsome Scholar ventured to ask once they had climbed into their carriage.


“Because your information is in error,” Lord Fang La answered coldly.


“I beg your pardon, my lord,” Nangong Xie instinctively apologized, yet he was unsure what the nobleman had meant.


Seeing his confusion, Lord Fang La glowered at him. “You told me in your letters that this Huang Ming is a wastrel and a lecher. From what I had seen today, nothing more can be further from the truth,” he said.


“My lord, I share your feelings. I feel that I had been lied to as well. You need only to ask around the city, he truly is known as a prodigal son. But he had changed in recent times and I suspect it was all just a disguise for him to lull others to underestimate him,” Nangong Xie revealed.


“By this basis alone, your profile on the Huangs is already outdated. Do whatever that is necessary and find out all the information you can on them, I do not want any more surprises,” Lord Fang La commanded.


“Yes, my lord!” Nangong Xie said ingratiatingly.


Back at the Lichun, Qiong Ying approached Huang Ming who was still in deep contemplation.


“Something on the young master’s mind?” she asked softly.


Huang Ming turned to see her standing near him. He could smell her faint scent and see the deep emerald pools in her eyes. Yet, because of his vast experience, he was not totally entranced by Qiong Ying. Besides, he needed to return quickly to warn his family about Lord Fang La’s intentions.


“I was just thinking that sending some fruits to your cousin has brought me so much trouble. Please give my regards to your cousin, and thank you for your hospitality,” Huang Ming said quickly.


He turned to leave, but Qiong Ying boldly stepped forward and grasped his sleeve.


“Going so soon? Am I that hateful?” she asked playfully. Qiong Ying had kept a discreet eye on Huang Ming and Lord Fang La ever since she met them. In the case of Lord Fang La, she understood that he already had someone in his heart and he was burdened by his inability to hold the woman he loves. But Qiong Ying had no idea why Huang Ming was immune to her charms. She was a woman who had to disguise herself as a man to avoid being noticed, she was utterly confident about her real looks. She found his aloofness quite disconcerting, it was a blow against her female pride.


“Lady, in case you didn’t notice, I had just made an enemy of out someone who is in a position to harm my family. I need to warn them as soon as possibly,” Huang Ming said bluntly.


Qiong Ying chuckled but did not relinquish her hold on his sleeve. “Worry not, I had already sent word to your guardswoman Sunli. She has already left.”


Huang Ming gave her a squinted eye as he measured the woman before him. ‘How did she know Sunli’s name?’ he thought.


As if understanding his disbelief, she released her fingers and nodded towards the door. “Go check, see for yourself,” Qiong Ying suggested.


Still doubting her, he opened the door. There was only Madam Xu, she stood nearby like a guard.


“Where’s my guardswoman?” he asked her.


“She already went back, young master,” the plump madam informed him. Whereupon Huang Ming went back in to confront Qiong Ying. Madam Xu followed him and closed the door behind her.


“How did you..” Huang Ming began.


“It’s easy for women to get things done when men are preoccupied with each other,” she interrupted. The moment she saw the medallion of authority, Qiong Ying had signalled Madam Xu with a series of finger taps. Madam Xu had quickly written down the message and passed it on to Sunli. It was a method she had devised herself to pass discreet messages without interruption.


“What exactly did your message say?” Huang Ming demanded.


“That Lord Fang La has a medallion of authority and might move against your family very soon, perhaps as soon as the double wedding of your brothers,” Qiong Ying answered.


“Did my guardswoman say anything?” Huang Ming asked warily.


For this, Qiong Ying glanced at Madam Xu. She turned a hand so that her palm faced upwards and tapped with her fingers rapidly in a set pattern.


Madam Xu nodded, even though she was shocked that her mistress was revealing their secret communication method. Wordlessly, she turned her own palm and her plump fingers danced over it.


Huang Ming felt like he was watching two telegraph operators in action, their finger tapping action similar to Morse Code. Needless to say, he was fascinated.


Qiong Ying frowned as she watched the ‘reply’ from Madam Xu. She made a few more taps in askance, and Madam Xu followed suit.


“She said something about… peaches?” Qiong Ying said hesitantly.


Huang Ming nodded as he was reminded of the earlier incident with at the Hall of Treasures and Antiquities.


“I understand,” he said.


“But I don’t. What does that mean?” she asked.


“I don’t know either, but it was something my guardswoman had mentioned earlier in the day. She and Miss Lin Hua were talking about peaches, among other things,” Huang Ming explained.


“You saw Miss Lin Hua?” Qiong Ying asked, a touch of frost in her voice.


“She was my guide at the hall. I wanted to buy a gift for your cousin for saving my life, but I didn’t find anything suitable,” Huang Ming said apologetically.


Qiong Ying smiled, and the clouded expression on her face disappeared. “Then it’s fine,” she said.


“Where is your cousin anyway? When will he return?” Huang Ming asked.


“Who knows?” Qiong Ying answered mischievously.


“Then, please let me leave instead of waiting here aimlessly,” Huang Ming said dryly.


“Why are you so eager to leave quickly?” she asked wistfully.


“I only came here to meet your cousin,” he reminded her. He was beginning to feel annoyed at himself for being in this position. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished and him wanting to sincerely thank Quan Lu had resulting in him being troubled by a clingy woman. Well, a beautiful, clingy woman. In other circumstances he would welcome her advances, but he could not afford to be distracted at the moment.


Qiong Ying did not know whether to laugh or cry, to think that her quarry was more interested in her male persona! She decided to try a different tack.


“My cousin is not into that kind of relationship,” she said, opting to go with humour.


Huang Ming groaned. “Not this again!” he complained. It was yet another unexpected attack he had faced today.


“What do you mean, ‘again’?” Qiong Ying asked curiously.


The young master sighed and told her the ridiculous conversation between Sunli and Lin Hua at the Hall of Treasures and Antiquities. Towards the end, Qiong Ying was quaking with laughter.


“Y-y-you… you and Nangong Xie?” she gasped.


“Stop it. I like women,” Huang Ming muttered.


Qiong Ying pretended as if she didn’t hear him. “Well, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Such behaviour is common among the rich folk,” she said. Then her eyes brightened as she understood something. “Ah, ‘peaches’!” she exclaimed.


“What about it?” Huang Ming asked, somewhat dreading the answer.


“Peaches is an euphemism for relationship between men. I have heard of the term before, it’s widely used by women who fantasize about male pairings of famous men,” Qiong Ying chuckled.


Huang Ming face palmed, he was reminded of a Japanese term on Earth: ‘Fujoshi’, roughly translated as ‘rotten girl’. It had the same meaning as Qiong Ying’s explanation. He wasn’t discriminatory, but being the subject of such fantasy was making him feel ill at ease. Worse still, it would appear that Sunli and Lin Hua were such a person as well.


“Do you know why they use the word ‘peaches’?” Qiong Ying asked, her grin becoming wider.


“No, and I don’t want to know,” Huang Ming said flatly.


“It’s because of the shape of the male buttocks…”


“Enough!” Huang Ming said in horror.


Qiong Ying nodded like an all-knowing sage, she placed her hands behind her back as she slowly walked around Huang Ming. “I see now… you persistently in wanting to leave a beautiful maiden like me, showing more interest in my male cousin… Peaches eh… Hmm hmm hmm…” she intoned like a gossipy uncle.


She stopped in front of him and in a daring gesture, ran a finger over his neck and under his chin. “Such a waste, such a waste. A handsome bloke like you, but preferring men instead…” she sighed mockingly as she gently raised his head.


Huang Ming snatched at the offending finger. In one swift move, he pulled her close and wrapped an arm around her thin waist. She yelped in surprise.


“I said I like women,” Huang Ming growled.
 

Accused of being a fruit,
Forced to act like a brute.​