The more the merrier
“Tell everyone that when the day is out we shall have a wedding. Or a hanging. Either way, we're gonna have a lot of fun, huh?”
--Prince John, “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”
Chapter Fifty Nine – The more the merrier
Huang Ming saw the one who called him was a young man, pale-faced and without any distinguishing features. Yet there was something vaguely familiar about him.
“You are as popular as ever,” the man said, seeing how Huang Ming was surrounded by Lin Hua, Cao Tianyun and Sunli.
“You are…” Huang Ming murmured.
The man smiled faintly. “You don’t recognize me?”
Huang Ming shook his head apologetically.
“I am Lu Minzhong,” the man introduced himself, and suddenly Huang Ming remembered. When Huang Ming had transmigrated into this body, he was immediately assailed with fragments of the original’s memories. This Lu Minzhong was one of the first that he remembered. He was the poor scholar who had been bullied by the original and forced to crawl between his legs.
“I… I…” Huang Ming stuttered helplessly. Sunli, Lin Hua and Cao Tianyun who were familiar with Huang Ming confident self stared at him in surprise, they have not seen him in such disarray before.
Seeing how Huang Ming’s face was ashen, Lu Minzhong laughed. “Do not worry, it is all water under the bridge,” he said with a gentle smile.
Huang Ming was in disbelief as the humiliation that Lu Minzhong had suffered was not trivial. Crawling between the legs of another person was demeaning and it all but guaranteed the end of someone’s career in the government and in the literary world, for who would take such a person seriously thereafter? Looking at Lu Minzhong now, Huang Ming concluded that he was forced to choose another path in life.
“What I did that day…” Huang Ming began.
Lu Minzhong brushed his worry aside. “What you did that day helped to shape what I am today. Before, I was content with just reading the classical books and inflating my own ego, dreaming of the impossible. My family was helpless, and I was clueless on the harsh realities of life. I brought your scorn upon myself.”
Huang Ming trembled, what he remembered was slightly different. The original had simply bullied Lu Minzhong out of spite, for he was poor but had a slight reputation for being studious and scholarly. The original Huang Ming overheard such words of praises and decided to tease Lu Minzhong, only to earn a sharp-tongued reply. Enraged, Huang Ming had Lu Minzhong beaten up and humiliated.
“I have changed my outlook, now I strive to be dutiful. I am sure my family is much happier these days,” Lu Minzhong said, his eyes taking a faraway look.
“I am sorry,” Huang Ming said at last. “What I did was unforgivable. You dress it up nicely and say it all turned out well, but I now know that what I did was wrong.”
Lu Minzhong looked searchingly at Huang Ming. “You have changed,” he stated.
“I have,” Huang Ming said. I was foolish and self-indulgent, but now I hope to make amends. I should have gone to seek you earlier,” Huang Ming replied regretfully.
“I can see your sincerity. But it’s all in the past, and your brother did help me get back on my feet,” Lu Minzhong said.
Huang Ming nodded, silently thanking Huang Lang. The original did not suffer retaliations from his profligate, debauched ways because Huang Lang often worked to placate those he had offended. Otherwise, the original Huang Ming would have been beaten up long before Nangong Xie had caused his death by alcohol poisoning.
“I did not approach you to seek your apology nor to prick upon your conscience,” Lu Minzhong said. “It was happenstance that I saw you today and I just wanted to pass on my message of congratulations to your brothers for their impending marriages.”
Huang Ming brightened. “Let me make it up to you. Please come to the wedding dinner and meet my brothers personally.”
“I am but just a lowly person, I dare not...” Lu Minzhong started to refuse.
“This is the least I could do,” Huang Ming insisted.
Lu Minzhong saw that he was ardent, and thus promised to come. They parted ways amicably, leaving Huang Ming lingering there, lost in his thoughts.
The eyes of Sunli, Lin Hua and Qiong Ying bored into Huang Ming’s back. They had heard of Huang Ming’s less than stellar reputation before, and each had seen his frivolous behaviour first hand. Seeing him so repentant was at odds with what they knew of him.
“How are you?” Cao Tianyun asked her future brother-in-law gently.
“As fine as one can be when confronted with the sins of the past,” Huang Ming said.
“At least you did not shirk your mistake,” Sunli said.
Lin Hua nodded in approval. “It is not easy to admit one’s fault like you did,” she added.
Huang Ming grimaced. They had no idea just how difficult it was for him to apologize for the misdeeds of the original. Yet he was compelled to do it, because he was now Huang Ming. Despite Huang Ming’s experience as a multi-dimensional traveller, the brief encounter with Lu Minzhong reminded him that the original had left traces of his unpleasant existence, and situations like this could crop up in the future.
“Well, enough of that. Time to go home,” he announced. Then he saw his friend in a pensive mood. “Brother Quan Lu, what’s wrong?” he asked.
Qiong Ying had been distracted by the talk about faults and mistakes, as she was wondering how her own future would be like. How would Huang Ming react once it was known that she was Quan Lu?
“I was… just thinking about how easily you invited that person to the wedding. You had ruined his reputation before and now you’re inviting him to mingle with your upper society family? Wouldn’t it cause awkwardness?” Qiong Ying asked instead.
“It may. But so what? Let the world know that I have changed, that I am more broad-minded now,” Huang Ming said and shrugged.
“Broad-minded? Then, is my cousin invited too?” Qiong Ying said in half-jest.
“Of course,” Huang Ming answered immediately.
It was as if a bombshell had exploded in their midst. Cao Tianyun and Lin Hua stared at him, for they knew it was unheard of for a courtesan to be brought out in public; let alone to be displayed at a wedding ceremony that did not involve the courtesan directly. Lady Qiong Ying had a good reputation, but she was still the mistress of a brothel.
“This is no joking matter, your family might protest,” Lin Hua advised. She did not want to pour water on the matter, but she decided to be the voice of caution seeing how the others did not immediately oppose it.
Qiong Ying recovered her wits somewhat and nodded in agreement. “I was only being facetious, please do not take it seriously!”
Huang Ming chuckled. “But I am serious. I had thought on how to repay you for saving my life, not to mention the lives of my friends and my own cousin Zhao Hongqi. I do not know the circumstances surrounding you and your cousin, but I think this is the least I could do.”
Qiong Ying was rendered speechless. Perhaps Huang Ming had no idea about the implications of what he had said, but allowing a stranger to attend something as intimate as a wedding dinner was akin to a recommendation and approval of that person. It was priceless, a monumental sort of favour that would bring honour to the those belonging to a lower class.
Cao Tianyun knew this, didn’t her father ingratiate himself to Marshal Gao and Prime Minister Tong for lifting him up from obscurity?
Lin Hua and Qiong Ying saw different examples in separate incidents, both involving Nangong Xie. Lin Hua saw how Nangong Xie being a rich scholar trying to curry favour with the powerful government official Shen He, while Qiong Ying was party to his efforts to get close to Lord Fang La.
“Your family and relatives would not be happy,” Qiong Ying said quietly.
“On the contrary, I think many would be curious to see the face that is worth five hundred thousand pieces of gold,” Huang Ming said.
“Five hundred thousand!” Lin Hua exclaimed, and Qiong Ying reddened.
“That was what I was told by the Lady Qiong Ying herself. Be honest, you two are quite curious yourselves, right?” Huang Ming smirked.
The two ladies nodded.
Qiong Ying felt as if she could dug a hole to bury herself. She had mouthed off that number as a shock value, and now it had returned to haunt her.
Then Huang Ming turned to Qiong Ying. “Brother Quan Lu, your cousin said something about being a caged bird. Surely there’s some way for her to attend the dinner,” he said.
“I, uh… I’ll see what I can do,” Qiong Ying said hesitantly.
“Good, then you can escort your cousin. You’re invited as well, of course,” Huang Ming said.
Underneath her mask, Qiong Ying grimaced. Already she began to feel a headache coming, how was she going to appear as two persons at once?
Given simple invitations,
Bringing forth intentions.