The morning after
“You know, I really have some strong opinions about polygamy and I would love to sit down and talk to you about it one day.”
--Heather Tuttle, ‘Big Love’
Chapter Seventy Four – The morning after
There was a tranquil atmosphere the next morning, as if the dramatic events of the previous night were but a dream.
Huang Ming lay on the bed, his eyes slowly adjusting to the crack of dawn. Qiong Ying was sleeping beside him, nestled on his arm. Her sleep-tousled hair framed her flawless, pale face. The gentle smile on her lips made her all the more beautiful.
‘Ah, what did I do to deserve you?’ Huang Ming thought bittersweetly to himself, immensely content as he savoured her warmth. What’s more, Qiong Ying had gifted him critical information. It was not definite, but it seemed plainly obvious that her sister Qiong Hua was the enemy Avatar.
‘It is easier now that I know that the enemy is the Princess of Jin.’
He wasn’t too perturbed about the ten-year gap between Qiong Hua’s arrival and his own. Perhaps it was fate’s way of balancing the scales; after all he had transmigrated into a relatively well-off person with a loving family.
Huang Ming could easily plot a plan where he would travel to Jin to get close to the princess and attempt to assassinate her. He had done similar schemes before. His fellow Avatars seem to think that it would still count as a victory, even if he was to die immediately after the assassination. But there was little chance of success, surely his opponent would have taken ample precautions against such a possibility. Perhaps Qiong Hua’s intent to sweep the continent was her own ridiculously scaled contingency to get rid of him.
He was annoyed by the ten-year gap between them, yet what good was there to talk of unfairness when there was a beautiful, lovable woman sharing his bed?
Huang Ming mischievously thumbed Qiong Ying’s nose and she reacted by wrinkling it cutely and snuggled closer, still in sleep.
While there had been great loves in his many lives, he rarely pursued them on his initiative due to his unique circumstances. Sometimes he would transmigrate into a person who was already in a relationship, other times love would blossom naturally in the course of adventures and navigating perils. He did not shun romance, but he was also not someone who would actively pursue it; which was why he was pleasantly surprised by Qiong Ying’s assertive approach.
Besides, rather than the distant Princess of Jin, there was a more intermediate problem. Not just the impending war with Wei, but about how he was going to explain to his family about Qiong Ying. For that matter, what was he going to do with Qiong Ying? And Sunli. What was he to do with Sunli? He had teased her on and off thoughtlessly, now she’s actually his official fiancée. What a quandary he found himself in.
He could hear the distant sounds of servants beginning their morning chores. The kitchen fires being started, the doors and windows being opened and brooms sweeping the grounds.
Qiong Ying’s eyes fluttered open drowsily, but when she saw Huang Ming’s face she hastened to avoid his smiling gaze.
“Are you alright?” Huang Ming asked lightly.
“Go away, I want to get dressed,” she said in a tiny voice.
“Who are you going to be today?” he teased.
“Maybe I should stay on as Quan Lu and scandalize your entire clan,” Qiong Ying threatened with a smile.
“I’ll just tell them that you raped me,” Huang Ming replied with a grin of his own.
“You wouldn’t dare!”
“Why not? It’s basically the truth. You’re the one who jumped my bones…” he murmured, his eyes taking a far away look as if recalling the past night.
“Stop trying to remember it!” Qiong Ying said desperately as the crimson spread to the rest of her face.
Huang Ming chuckled, and she reached out as if to tug on his ear. He intercepted her hand and pulled her close.
“Would you marry me?” he asked softly as he nuzzled her hair.
Qiong Ying trembled in his embrace. She looked up at him, her emerald eyes watery.
“You’re doing all this in the wrong order,” she managed to say.
“I’m sorry,” he said sincerely. “By the way, I already have a fiancée,” he added.
“And I have a brothel,” Qiong Ying said with a smile.
“Be serious. I’m trying to think of a way to make all this look respectable and not offend anyone; you included. And least of all the daughter of my father’s best friend.”
“Do you actually like her?”
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t. Not as in ‘love’ or ‘lust’, but like as in someone whom I can admire,” he said honestly. “But there is nothing between us. She finds our engagement an inconvenience that was thrown onto her by her father.”
“Admire, eh?” Qiong Ying asked suspiciously.
“You can ask her yourself,” Huang Ming suggested. “She actually mentioned you to our fathers.”
“Maybe I will. I wouldn’t mind if you married her too, you know,” Qiong Ying said.
“Really,” Huang Ming said flatly in disbelief.
“I am serious. I would rather share my husband with someone who is capable and trustworthy. Not to mention, it would cement the ties with General Zhao, which would be needed in the very near future. If she’s just an ornamental flower, then you and me are going to have a fight.”
Huang Ming arched an eyebrow at her. “You might be agreeable, but she may not. I am not.”
“I swear, you Huang men are obsessed with the idea of monogamy,” Qiong Ying said and rolled her eyes.
Huang Ming was somewhat bemused, her attitude was befuddling to him to say the least. Was it because polygamy was the societal norm? It was disconcerting to say the least. Here he was, proposing to her and yet she was suggesting a third party to be added into the equation.
“I thought you would be flattered with a loyal husband,” he said.
“You are already more than I had dared to hope for,” she told him.
Qiong Ying shrugged. “Realistically, I would never be able to marry for love… I would have to find someone rich and powerful and enter the family as a simple concubine first.”
“‘First’ you say…” Huang Ming repeated dubiously.
“Of course, I wouldn’t be content to remain as one. I would have to plot and scheme my way to win the husband’s favour so that he would be pliant to my plans of fighting my sister,” she said and frowned in distaste.
“Hey, I’ll have you know that your husband is not all that ‘pliant’ as you think he is,” Huang Ming said with mock indignation.
“Oh, I think he shouldn’t be too much of a problem,” Qiong Ying said, her eyes twinkling with mischief.
“Problem number one is to explain this to everybody,” he reminded her dryly.
“That shouldn’t be too difficult,” Qiong Ying said with a confident smile.
“Easy for you to say,” Huang Ming muttered. “You have any ideas?”
“Let’s surprise them at breakfast.”
“You are a very brave, brave woman. I like it,” Huang Ming said.
“Then please go away so I can get dressed.”
They shared a laugh, and quickly got dressed. Qiong Ying wore her male clothes but allowed her long hair to be tied in a simple pony-tail. She applied some light makeup and omitted the stifling chest bindings so that one could not mistake her for a man. In fact, the male clothing did not detract her attractiveness, she looked every inch a valiant cross-dressing woman.
She caught Huang Ming staring at her. “What are you looking at?” she demanded.
“I was wondering how uncomfortable your chest bindings were,” he chuckled, his eyes roaming wolfishly over the obviously shapely outline of her bosom underneath her male clothing.
“Scoundrel!” she said as she blushed.
“Come, let this scoundrel bring you to meet his parents,” Huang Ming said and offered a hand. She shyly accepted and their fingers twined…
General Huang Zheng was in a good mood. Though the wedding banquet was disrupted, everything turned out well in the end. His wife survived an assassination attempt, he had deflected Lord Fang La’s attempt at seizing his legions and had even secured an engagement for his ne’er-do-well youngest son. His two other sons have married well and from the sounds last night, their marriages will be very fruitful very soon.
In fact, their enthusiasm was infectious. Despite his mock duel with Zhao Tong and Madam Li’s brush with danger, Huang Zheng and his wife became fired up as well. Madam Li’s radiant complexion was telling.
Indeed, when Huang Lang and Huang Ke arrived with their glowing wives; the men exchanged knowing, smug looks while the women blushed.
Huang Zheng was pouring his wife a cup of tea when he heard someone approaching. The aged general gawked while still in mid-pour when he saw it was Huang Ming, together with an oddly familiar woman dressed in male clothes. Who was this cross-dressing beauty, when did she arrive? And why is she glowing as well?
“You’re spilling the tea,” Madam Li murmured.
Huang Zheng hastily set the teapot down, but his mouth remained open as Huang Ming came over, hand-in-hand with the mysterious beauty.
“Good morning,” Huang Ming greeted cheerfully.
“Good morning. Have a seat,” Madam Li said, apparently unconcerned with Huang Ming’s companion. In fact, Madam Li smiled and nodded, gesturing for the cross-dressing woman to join them.
Huang Zheng’s face scrunched up. His wife was keeping secrets from him again!
The mother was wise,
But the father was surprised.