Crying and Laughing
--Brick Tamland, ‘Anchorman’
Chapter Sixty Four – Crying and Laughing
The Huangs went to greet Lord Fang La who had a self-assured look on his face. Huang Ming had only known the man briefly, but the slight smile on his face was enough to telegraph his ill-intentions. Despite the occasion, Lord Fang La’s group were all armed. The sight of the armed guards elicited whispers among the guests.
“Huang Zheng greets Lord Fang La,” the patriarch said, saluting with a hand over a fist.
Lord Fang La waved lazily in a show of dispensing the ceremony. “This is a happy day, there is no need for such courtesies,” he said.
“I dare not, I dare not,” Huang Zheng replied.
“You are a great general of our country, this is the least I could do for your sons on their happy day,” Lord Fang La said and motioned for his followers to bring forth the wedding gifts.
There were those who did not know of Lord Fang La, but once the introductions were made, the faces of the guests were suitably shocked. What was a noble from the capital doing here? General Huang Zheng’s reputation must be great indeed! They were alarmed by the presence of his armed guards, but after hearing that he was a noble they nodded in understanding.
There were the loud cheers when the newly wedded pair came out together. The brides were still lightly veiled as they sat on the together with the handsome grooms. Friends and family offer their congratulatory toasts. Soon the dishes were served and the banquet proceeded normally enough.
After sampling a few dishes, Lord Fang La stood from his seat. His movement attracted the attention of those in attendance and a quiet descended. Lord Fang La turned towards Huang Zheng and bowed deeply, much more than what was required from a noble towards a military officer.
“O Great General Huang Zheng, the bulwark of our country, allow me to offer my heartiest of congratulations!” he said.
Huang Zheng stroked his long white beard and nodded, unsure of what was to come. Those who were warned about Lord Fang La stiffened.
“The royal court has received word of your recent success against the marauding bandit menace. The court is grateful for your service!” Lord Fang La continued. He clapped once and one of his followers stepped forth to pass him a golden scroll.
“General Huang Zheng, receive the royal edict!” he announced as he unfurled the scroll, causing the entire hall to gasp. Huang Zheng quickly got up from his seat and knelt before Lord Fang La.
“General Huang Zheng, the king takes note of your grand service. A lifetime of slaughtering our enemies and shedding your blood in defence of the nation, your loyalty serves as a example for all to emulate. The king hereby decrees that you return immediately to the capital to receive your just rewards!” Lord Fang La read aloud and rolled the scroll back up and offered it to the aged general.
Huang Zheng calmly saluted and received the scroll in a humble manner. Huang Zheng had thought of arranging an accident for Lord Fang La after the banquet, now his simple and brutal plan was thrown into disarray.
It was obvious to the Huangs that the ‘reward’ was just an excuse to draw Huang Zheng away from his troops. They had expected something like this, but not so directly and quickly on the actual wedding banquet in front of so many guests. They had thought that such a matter would be done formally and privately at the governor’s residence which was the custom. After all, there was the adage of keeping official and private matters separate.
By announcing such a matter in a wedding banquet, Lord Fang La’s action was akin to ignoring common propriety. Usually it would be a cause for celebration, but many noted the keyword “immediately” in the proclamation. It would mean that Huang Zheng would be forced away before he could know his new daughters-in-law. Even the most clueless of the guests felt something was wrong, if it was a reward why not just send it to Huang Zheng as was usually done, why specifically call for the general to the capital?
The guests were disquieted, the festive atmosphere turned gloomy.
“Lord Fang La, surely such a thing could wait a few days until the appropriate timing,” Huang Lang ventured to say.
Lord Fang La shook his head but retained his smile, he had anticipated the criticism. “It’s a royal command, I dare not tarry. This is beyond my control,” he said.
Huang Zheng stood up straight. “Huang Ke! Send word for Liu Xiang. You two are to take charge while I am away,” he barked.
“Hold!” Lord Fang La shouted. He retrieved his tiger medallion from his sleeves and raised it for all to see. “I have the king’s tiger command to take control of your troops,” he said.
The faces of those in attendance were aghast. Who was this Lord Fang La? What abilities did he have to take command of the legions? There were a few of Huang Zheng’s veteran subordinates in attendance, they glared at the young noble. Whatever doubt they had regarding the royal decree became solidified, it was an obvious move to harm their great general! They stood up, ready to rally around their commander.
The air became thick as hostile intent surged. Lord Fang La’s followers dropped their shoulders, their hands on the pommels of their sheathed swords in a chilling reminder of their readiness.
“You lose!” a child’s voice suddenly exclaimed, her voice cutting through the tense atmosphere.
“Little girl, what nonsense are you saying?” Lord Fang La demanded with a frown.
All eyes turned to see the triumphant looking Huang Zhixiao. The little girl stood proudly on her chair, holding up a medallion of her own.
“Yours is only the tiger, mine is the dragon!” the little girl said fearlessly. True enough, on her wooden medallion was a roughly cut figure of a dragon. Huang Ming smirked, it was a medallion that he had carved out of wood and gifted to his little nephews and nieces earlier. They had played animal chess using simple cards he had made but children being children, they suffered wear and tear quickly. Thus he decided to carve individual medallions out of wood, depicting the twelve zodiac animals and gave them as gifts.
“Silence! Be quiet while adults are speaking!” Lord Fang La growled, irate that his moment was interrupted by a mere child.
Huang Zhixiao eyes became watery. “But, but, dragon beats tiger…” she stammered before bursting into tears. Her little cousins followed suit, they surrounded her and joined her in crying loudly. Someone more observant would notice that a few of them didn’t actually have any tears, that some of the children were simply wailing with their eyes open…
“Stop that infernal racket!” Lord Fang La shouted angrily. He felt tremendously annoyed, how was he supposed to deal with a bunch of crying children?
The sight of Lord Fang La ferociously berating the crying children was enough to turn all the guests against him. Their faces became cold, and Lord Fang La felt besieged under their gaze.
“There there, don’t cry,” Huang Ming said soothingly as he scooped Huang Zhixiao. The entire hall became quiet as they watched him gently rocked the back of the crying child in his arms.
“He’s a bully!” Huang Zhixiao sobbed.
“Yes, yes he is. Don’t listen to that mean man, alright?” Huang Ming said. Then, to Lord Fang La’s immense anger, Huang Ming proceeded to recite:
“Don’t be worried,
Don’t be scared,
Just a small blast,
Of his own fart! ”
Whereupon Huang Zhixiao broke into laughter. It set off a chain reaction, and the other children joined suit. Thus Lord Fang La found himself being laughed at by a crowd of little children. His face turned red, the calm and collected person that Huang Ming had met that day at the Lichun had vanished completely.
Just as Lord Fang La’s temper threatened to explode, a haggard looking soldier charged into the hall, shocking those present.
Turned him into a villain.