Don’t have a say
“A gah, geh, gah...bweh?”
--Pearson ‘Doc’ Mui, Undocumented Features - Leap Years
Chapter Sixty Eight – Don’t have a say
“Your daughter?” Huang Ming repeated, his mouth agog.
“Ra ha ha! Was I not suppose to reveal that?” General Zhao Tong asked, even as Sunli gave him a death glare.
Huang Ming’s mind was still frazzled. “Wait... who? What? When? Why?” he babbled.
“A bit slow on the uptake, isn’t he? I guess the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree,” Zhao Tong guffawed and took a swig from a wine bottle.
Huang Zheng snorted. “It’s because his brain has been addled by the drink like you.”
“Ah, a drinker eh?” Zhao Tong beamed in delight.
Huang Ming did not appreciate the banter between the two older men. “Will somebody tell me what’s going on?” he demanded.
Sunli sighed. “My name is Sunli. Zhao Sunli. I’m the daughter of General Zhao Tong,” she stated simply.
Huang Ming was nonplussed. “What about little cousin Hongqi then?” he asked.
“She’s my adopted younger sister,” Sunli answered, causing Huang Ming to throw up his hands in exasperation and glare at his father.
“Don’t tell me, you and mother are in this farce?”
“Son, everyone knew except you,” his father told him flatly. “Your mother figured it out the moment she saw Sunli. She is not so addled as to have completely forgotten about Old Zhao’s daughter. Hongqi is simply too young to be reconciled with her memories.”
Huang Ming then recalled the sly looks and snide comments his brothers had given him whenever Sunli was mentioned.
“My family is a pack of liars,” Huang Ming groaned.
“We did not lie, Sunli and Hongqi did. You simply assumed,” Huang Zheng pointed out.
“You’re dead to me, old man,” Huang Ming said discontentedly. He then gave Sunli a baleful look. “What’s with all the deception?”
“Imagine that you are suddenly told that you’re betrothed to the infamous wastrel of Tianxin city,” she said, her eyes looking coldly at General Zhao Tong who was suddenly immensely preoccupied with drinking his wine.
Huang Ming shrugged. “Point taken. But what about Hongqi? That wahaha girl was willing to give herself up to marry me?”
“Of course not,” Sunli scoffed. “She was just as revolted as I was when we heard the rumours about you.”
“How flattering,” Huang Ming winced, inwardly cursing the original’s low reputation. It was yet another reminder of the original Huang Ming’s past that would continually haunt him from beyond the afterlife. “But then why was she so enthusiastic about marriage?” he asked.
“I did not even want to meet you, but she dragged me into listening to her scheme and to see for ourselves. She was trying to push me into agreeing, so that she could get married herself.”
Huang Ming nodded, remembering the custom of having the older child of the family to be married off first.
“Seeing how enthusiastic she was when we first met, I guess I wasn’t that revolting,” Huang Ming said dryly.
“You are not as terrible as they say,” Sunli admitted with a slight smile on her lips.
“Hongqi says you’re quite smitten with him,” Zhao Tong said mischievously.
“What?” Sunli demanded hotly. The dancing light from the campfire made her face redder than it was.
“You didn’t think that you’re the only one who can write a letter, did you?” her father replied as he waved a piece of paper in front of her face.
“That brat! Don’t believe her lies!” Sunli snarled. She reached out to snatch the letter, but the general craftily pulled away.
“Oh? You mean you didn’t lose to him in hand-to-hand combat?” Zhao Tong asked.
“How did she even-” Sunli half-blurted in astonishment and thus inadvertently admitted the truth.
“You promised me that you will marry the man who had defeated you. Well, finally you found one, isn’t that nice?” her father said gleefully.
“But… it was only sparring…” Sunli stuttered.
“That’s good enough for me! What do you think?” Zhao Tong asked Huang Zheng.
“She would make a fine daughter-in-law,” Huang Zheng said, much to Huang Ming’s consternation.
“Don’t I have a say in this?” Huang Ming protested weakly.
“Your mother has already agreed. She said you left everything for her to decide, did you not?”
Huang Ming groaned, remembering the off-the-cuff remark he had made ages ago before Cao Tianyun’s competition.
“Hongqi said you preferred Sunli anyway, isn’t that right?” Zhao Tong asked.
“I did say that, but…”
“Good, it’s settled then! Or do you have any objections?” the general said, leaning his face in menacingly.
“He already has someone else,” Sunli interrupted. All turned to stare at her in surprise.
“I do?” Huang Ming whispered, his confusion just as profound as his father’s.
“Who is it?” Huang Zheng demanded.
“The Lady Qiong Ying,” Sunli said, much to Huang Ming’s horror.
“Now see here-” he began to protest.
“From the brothel!? You misbegotten, wilful child!” Huang Zheng roared. He grabbed his son by the collars and shook him like a ragdoll.
“So what? A man can have three wives and four concubines,” Zhao Tong said dismissively.
“You would see me share a husband with other women?” Sunli asked in disbelief. After all, her father never remarried after the death of her mother.
“I would see you happily married and have children of your own! My daughter, don’t think I don’t know what you’re trying to do. I’m old but not decrepit! There’s no need for you to stay by my side until the day I die and waste the best years of your life,” Zhao Tong said with a sigh.
Sunli bit her lips. “Father…”
“It is what your mother would have wanted. Besides, if he can enchant the mysterious Lady of the Lichun, surely he’s worth something. Stay with them a while longer and find out. You thought yourself to be powerful, yet you were brought low because you underestimated him,” Zhao Tong reminded his daughter, causing her to flush again.
“I… I understand,” Sunli finally relented, knowing that it was pointless to argue.
“Good!” Zhao Tong nodded in satisfaction. Then he turned towards the Huangs. “I say, Old Huang, stop abusing my son-in-law!”
Huang Zheng huffed in disgust and released his dishevelled son angrily.
“I’m sending my daughter to be married to him and I’m not complaining about that lady, why are you so upset? Ra ha ha!” Zhao Tong said and laughed heartily.
Huang Zheng hawked and spat loudly. “This isn’t over, your mother will hear about this Qiong Ying!” he warned the utterly dazed Huang Ming.
“Well, that’s settled then. I have to march back with my men,” Zhao Tong said and Huang Zheng nodded in agreement.
Thus the goodbyes were made. General Zhao Tong gave his daughter a fierce hug before they parted ways. The ride back to the city was filled with awkward silence and only inspired them to hasten their horses.
When they had returned, a distressed soldier appeared by the gates to greet them.
“General, sir!” the soldier saluted.
“At ease. Anything to report?” Huang Zheng asked.
“Sir, you must return home quickly, there had been an incident!”
It was one crisis to another,
Enough problems to tear one asunder.