Two is the limit
“I never asked for this.”
--Adam Jensen, ‘Deus Ex: Human Revolution’
Chapter Seventy Five – Two is the limit
While Madam Li and her two daughters-in-law greeted the cross-dressing Qiong Ying without concern, everyone else was surprised. Liu Yuchun and Cao Tianyun smiled openly at her, as if they were already acquaintances. None were more taken aback than Qiong Ying and Huang Ming themselves, they were bewildered by the friendly acceptance.
“Why do I feel that we’re expected?” Huang Ming asked suspiciously.
Madam Li looked at Qiong Ying kindly. “I’m am may be getting on my age, but I’m not senile. Did you think I would be so easily taken in by your fiction, o’ Sir ‘Quan Lu’?”
The men around the table were astounded while Cao Tianyun and Liu Yuchun giggled. Madam Li had already shared the secret with her daughters-in-law and they had kept it from their respective husbands. They thoroughly enjoyed the lost looks on Huang Lang and Huang Ke who were staring at Qiong Ying with their eyes wide open.
“Remember girls, you must always keep your husbands on their toes, or they will take you for granted,” she had told them in private, and the eyes of her daughters-in-law shone as they engraved the lesson into their hearts. After all, Madam Li was legendary for keeping the Great General honest. Seeing their esteemed father-in-law personally pouring tea for her this morning was further proof of that.
Qiong Ying hastily made as if to kneel, but Madam Li took hold of her hands and prevented her abject apology.
“Dear child, don’t be absurd. Come sit with us,” the matriarch said and fussed over her.
Huang Zheng had yet to recover from his initial shock. He saw that the woman was indeed a beauty whose male clothing could not diminish. “This is Quan Lu? Who is she?” he asked.
Madam Li rolled her eyes. “Who else would this be but the Lady Qiong Ying?”
“Qiong Ying? From the Lichun? Quan Lu’s cousin?” her husband asked in astonishment. Huang Zheng looked around and saw that his two older sons were shocked as well. He then glared at Huang Ming who could only shrug sheepishly.
“Are your eyes mere holes? Men!” Madam Li said in a huff, causing her daughters-in-law to laugh and Huang Zheng to redden.
“Was it really that simple to see through my disguise?” Qiong Ying asked wistfully.
“I did the same thing myself in my youth,” Madam Li revealed with a sly smile, and Huang Zheng coughed in embarrassment at a shared, distant memory.
Madam Li continued, “I made certain inquiries, but I was suspicious from the moment you mentioned the Quans. They really are old friends of mine.”
Qiong Ying eyes widened. “I picked them because of their obscurity, what were the odds that it would become the clue for you to unravel my disguise?”
“You must tell me of them, I have not heard from them in a long while,” Madam Li said and Qiong Ying nodded.
Huang Zheng raised a hand to interrupt the genial atmosphere. “Hold it! What’s going on here?” he demanded.
“Haven’t you get it yet? She’s to marry Ah Ming,” Madam Li said exasperatedly. Qiong Ying blushed in gratification, it was the first outright acknowledgement of her relationship with Huang Ming. It was as if a boulder had been lifted from her heart.
“What!” Huang Zheng shouted.
“Oh, so you agree?” Huang Ming asked his mother conversationally.
“You said to let me decide,” she reminded him, “And I have decided.”
Huang Zheng was speechless, while Huang Ming’s brothers were more impressed.
“I have no idea how you did it,” Huang Lang said in faint praise, while Huang Ke gave a thumbs up. Their wives fawned over Qiong Ying whose emerald eyes were glistening.
“Don’t I get a say in this?” Huang Zheng said plaintively.
“Why, do you object?” Madam Li asked sharply, arching an eyebrow at him.
The general managed to gulp his immediate retort. “I mean, I did just got him an engagement with old Zhao’s daughter…” he said instead.
“So he’ll marry the two of them, what’s the problem?” Madam Li said impatiently.
“Oh, then it’s fine,” Huang Zheng nodded, pleased to have the solution.
“Wait, don’t I get a say in this?” Huang Ming spoke up, repeating his father’s earlier plea.
“You be quiet, you left everything in my hands,” Madam Li rebuked. Then she turned to look at Qiong Ying balefully. “Or do you have an objection?”
Qiong Ying shook her head. “Of course not, I had suggested the same thing,” she said honestly with amusement in her eyes.
“But… but it isn’t fair!” Huang Ming said. The entire situation was surreal to him to say the least.
“Life isn’t fair. Two is the limit, no more!” Madam Li said.
“What? No, I meant I only need one wife!” Huang Ming said in irritation. He said that it wasn’t fair for Sunli, not for himself.
None of his family believed him.
Madam Li squinted at him incredulously. “Do you take me for a fool? You played around too much in past. You need strong women to rein you in, and I can’t think of any women more capable than the Lady of the Lichun and old Zhao’s Amazon daughter!”
Huang Ming’s mouth fell open. Once again, the original may have died but he still had a long reach from beyond the grave.
“Besides, when Zhao Hongqi came, you said you prefer Sunli anyway,” Madam Li added.
“You got this all wrong,” Huang Ming exclaimed, cursing his loose tongue for the flippant remarks he had made.
“Nonsense. We’re indebted to the two of them, you should be grateful,” his mother said.
“That’s right, little brother. You should honour the engagement,” Huang Ke smirked, pouring oil into the fire.
“Indeed. Think how hurt General Zhao would be if you break the engagement,” Huang Lang said sagely.
Huang Ming glared at them, it was obvious that the two brothers did not want a second wife themselves and were eager to push the problem to him.
“But she doesn’t want to marry me! General Zhao made the engagement without consulting her!” Huang Ming said, stalling for time.
“Well, have you asked her?” Madam Li demanded.
Huang Ming sputtered. “Well no, but-”
“Then ask her,” Madam Li said curtly and moved as if to call for Zhao Sunli.
Huang Ming stood up, his face white with horror. “Wait! What am I supposed to say? ‘Hey, let’s get married. By the way, I have another wife’?” he yelled, throwing his hands up vexedly.
Everyone on the table looked at him smugly, some could barely contain their mirth.
Huang Ming sighed. “She’s behind me, isn’t she?” he asked in resignation.
Huang Ming turned around and true enough, Sunli was behind him. She stood proudly in her grey armour with her feet apart, hands clasped behind her back and her chin slightly tilted so that she was looking down on him.
“Hi,” Huang Ming said lamely.
“Let’s fight,” Sunli said.
She stood proud and gallant,
And tossed him a challenge.