“The finest eloquence is that which gets things done.”
--David Lloyd George
Chapter Sixty – Huddle
The days continued to roll on as the Huangs made their final preparations for the double wedding. The entire Huang estate was decorated gaily in bright colours to reflect the joyous occasion. It was a buzzing hive of activity, with everyone chipping in, reminding Huang Ming of the communal work and sharing of burdens of his own childhood.
But Huang Ming still found time to get to know his relatives. Many were ordinary civilians and merchants, but those of the main branch were soldiers, bodyguards, mercenaries and the like. All had some martial skills to some degree. Every morning, all would gather in the courtyard to practice the basic moves together as callisthenic exercises as a way for the entire clan to bond before dispersing to do whatever they did needed to do. Each day would end with a hearty family dinner. It was like a week-long family reunion. And every night, Huang Ming would retire early to secretly work on his items, refining and tweaking them to his satisfaction.
Huang Ming became the impromptu caretaker of their children, giving the adults much needed relief to go about their business of wedding preparations. It suited him just fine, it was the least taxing of duties he could have picked up compared to the physical errands others of his generation had to do. He would tell stories, play board and card games, perform parlour tricks and sing songs that they had never seen or heard before.
The enthralled children, including Zhao Hongqi, sat on the floor around him as he regaled them with a dramatic story. They hung on his every word, their eyes following his hand movements as he pantomimed the related actions thereto. Even some of the adults were attracted to his story-telling. Sunli was among them, standing far enough to cast a vigilant eye and attentive ears.
“...And then, Lord Black Helmet said: ‘No, I am your father’! Dun dun dun!” Huang Ming exclaimed dramatically.
Those who had listened intently gasped in shock.
“What happened next?” Huang Zhixiao demanded. The little girl was the most engrossed of the lot and had grown out of her shell very quickly. Huang Ming had no doubt that the devastatingly cute girl would grow up to be very gallant in the future.
“To be continued tomorrow!” Huang Ming said and laughed. “We’ll play some animal chess afterwards, and that’s it!” he said, causing the kids to groan in despair. They implored him to continue, but he was firm as it was time for dinner.
A few of his cousins approached him.
“I say, those stories you tell, I don’t suppose you would mind if I write them down? I think you can make a lot of money with this!” one of his cousins suggested.
Huang Ming smirked. “These are all simple things. I have more substantial ideas to sell,” he said and winked conspiratorially. Over the past few days, he had gotten to know his extended family. The eyes of his cousins shone with anticipation, and they huddled closer to discuss…
A few of the elders had looked upon the scene with astonishment.
“Is that really Huang Ming?” one of them asked.
“What did you feed him? Give me the prescription, I got a feeling my kids will need it in the future,” another chortled.
“He has become a much better person. He looks much more handsome too. I bet he has his share of admirers,” an aunt remarked.
“He does,” Madam Li said and smiled mysteriously.
“If it’s that female guardswoman who’s always near him, then I approve! I saw her martial drills in the morning and I like her eyes, she looks like one who can handle him for life!” the aunt said.
“Ah, but what is this about the greatest beauty of the city being interested in him as well? A lady of pleasure to boot!” another gossiped.
“You mean the so-called Lady Qiong Ying? She is indeed famous! How is it your son is acquainted with her?” a long-bearded uncle asked curiously.
“I did not say the name, how did you know of her?”
The bearded uncle coughed in embarrassment, and they shared a laugh together. The reason they weren’t scandalized was because Huang Ming was still just the third son. There would be serious objections if he was the eldest as it was expected that the immediate heir of the family to marry well. The good pairing of Huang Lang with the daughter of a city governor was a great blessing that made even the most conservative of elders turn a blind eye towards the rumours surrounding Huang Ming and his dubious relationships.
Huang Zheng coughed. He signalled the group of elders with his eyes, and they rose as one to retire; ostensibly to share some drinks among themselves before ending the night. In actual fact, they closed the doors and gathered closely to discuss matters of serious import.
Huang Zheng revealed the secret letter written by the Princess Wu to the elders. Their eyes turned red, some gnashed their teeth in anger. He then told them about the looming danger from Lord Fang La and the danger of having his military authority deprived.
“This will not end well. You should have warned us earlier, we could have scattered the younger generation and spare them the troubles that follow,” one of the elders chided.
Huang Zheng shook his head. “It was necessary to show that all is well. To hold a wedding and yet having so many missing would lead to suspicions and tip our enemies into taking pre-emptive action.”
“This Fang La will surely act after the wedding. What do you have planned?”
Huang Zheng said nothing but motioned a blade-like hand over his throat, and they understood. The elders nodded grimly in agreement, and huddled closer to discuss…
Thus the days passed. Soon, it was the last night before the actual wedding day.
Huang Ming took a break from his crafting and stepped out to the courtyard for some fresh air. To his surprise, he saw his two elder brothers quietly sharing a drink underneath the moonlight.
“Are you two having second thoughts?” Huang Ming laughed as he joined them.
“On the contrary, I can’t wait for the day to come,” Huang Lang said, and Huang Ke nodded in agreement.
“Then why are you two out here drinking as if lamenting the end of your bachelor lives?” Huang Ming asked mischievously.
Huang Ke sighed. “It’s not that. Consider the danger we are in, yet we are involving our women and endangering them simply by being married to them. I am not sure if I should be this happy.”
“We just have to win,” Huang Lang said simply.
“Speaking of winning, do you two have any ideas as to what Cao Shuang and Liu Xiang are up to?” Huang Ming asked, recalling the self-appointed ‘door generals’.
Huang Ke rolled his eyes. “Knowing Liu Xiang, he probably means some sort of martial arts contest. He’s a battle-maniac after all.”
“And you aren’t?” Huang Lang asked.
“I’m not the one obsessed to the point of interfering in a wedding!”
“Well, you had beaten him before, I’m sure you can do it again,” Huang Ming soothed.
“I’m not going to fight the man who would be my brother-in-law! You’ll be the one going up against him,” Huang Ke said.
Huang Ming was horrified. “You must be joking! How am I a match for him?”
“You’re not. He’s probably just looking to blow off steam, just let him beat you up. You can just cry surrender and pay a bigger fine,” Huang Ke smirked.
“I believe that would be the case for Cao Shuang as well,” Huang Lang added without much sympathy for the youngest brother.
The door games were humorous rituals and games organized by the bride’s female friends (‘sisters’) to bar the way of the groom and his male friends (‘brothers’). The sisters were there to ensure that the groom would be obedient and faithful to the bride, while the brothers were there to soak up whatever that was demanded by them in a symbolic show of solidarity and brotherhood with the groom.
The games were done to invigorate the otherwise solemn and restrictive atmosphere of a traditional wedding. Over time, the games became more as a way to extort pocket money from the brothers. The games became more demanding so as to persuade the brothers to part with their money more easily. Of course, the men would do their best not to be humiliated, causing them to exert the utmost in otherwise trivial activities.
“Why am I the one suffering on your wedding day?” Huang Ming demanded.
“How else are you going to be useful?” Huang Ke shot back.
Huang Ming sighed, not really able to refute him.
“Don’t worry too much, I doubt Cao Shuang or Liu Xiang are that vengeful,” Huang Lang said.
“Easy for you to say, you’re not one who’s in the line of fire,” Huang Ming muttered.
“I’m more worried about Lord Fang La,” Huang Lang said. “With his status, he could be present during the door games itself with the excuse of wanting to witness a ‘normal’ wedding ceremony.”
“If that’s so, we can call for him to come up to the stage and arrange an ‘accident’ for him,” Huang Ke suggested.
“He could simply order one of his powerful bodyguards to take his place,” his elder brother disagreed.
Huang Ming smiled. “Do you know what this is?” he asked. He opened his mouth and pointed within.
“Your tongue?” Huang Ke hazarded a guess.
Huang Ming nodded. “As long as it’s there, there’s no one I can’t provoke,” he said with a grin.
A three-inch tongue so glib,
Able to make anyone trip.