“Am I not merciful?”
--Commodus, ‘Gladiator’


Chapter 85 – The feud

Tigertrap Fort,
Wu-held territory

Huang Ming immediately brought Qiong Ying to meet his father at his office. The general was displeased when he saw her ‘Quan Lu’ disguise, remembering how he had been duped before.


“What trickery are you up to now?” he asked gruffly.


“Greetings, o’ Great General,” Qiong Ying said respectfully, bowing with clasped hands like a man.


“Don’t call me that,” the aged general said.


Qiong Ying blinked. “Then… General Huang Zheng,” she said hesitantly.


“Don’t call me that either.”


“What about ‘Sir’?”


“No,” the general rejected flatly.


Qiong Ying glanced furtively at Huang Ming for help, but he could only shake his head helplessly.


“But how should I address you?” Qiong Ying asked timidly.


“You can call me ‘father’ once you and Sunli are married to my son,” Huang Zheng said, causing her to blush.


Huang Ming rolled his eyes. “You must have a lot of free time on your hands to think of that punchline,” he said, annoyed at his father’s nonsense.


“Oh, so you lot can play tricks on me, but I can’t even tell a joke in return?” Huang Zheng grumbled.


“This is no time for jokes,” Huang Ming said. He quickly told his father about Marshal Gao’s impending arrival and plans to attack Wei.


Huang Zheng was alarmed, to say the least. “If he’s leading this expedition personally, then he would be stopping by Tianxin City! I must return at once!” he said, jumping to his feet.


“I thought you would be more worried about the attack on Wei,” Huang Ming said wryly. “There’s still some time before he calls for you and formally appoint you as the vanguard.”


“It’s not me that I’m worried about,” his father replied.


Huang Ming frowned. “You think he will make a move on our family while he’s in the city? But we’re so prominent, he wouldn’t dare harm mother.”


Huang Zheng shook his head. “You don’t know the half of it…”


“What, don’t tell me that Marshal Gao Fang lusts after my mother,” Huang Ming chuckled. But when he saw the look on his father’s face, the laughter died.


“Are you serious?” he demanded.


“It’s an old story,” Huang Zheng said grumpily.


Huang Ming stared at him, mouth agape. “And you think he still carries a torch for her?”


“Your mother is a beautiful woman,” his father reminded him. Then his face hardened as he growled, “If he dares to lay a hand on her…”


“Should I go back?” Huang Ming suggested.


“I do not think you should be too worried. The madam is a very resourceful person,” Qiong Ying said. “I did warn her about the marshal, but she is confident enough to approve of Huang Lang going to the capital. As a precaution, I have made arrangements to set up several relay stations with additional horses from Tianxin City to here. If there’s an urgent message, you will receive it very quickly.”


“She should have just taken the family and leave the city,” Huang Zheng muttered.


“That was my suggestion as well, but she refused. She said if she was to leave, it would mean that Governor Cao would be facing Marshal Gao alone,” Qiong Ying told him.


Huang Zheng grimaced, having completely forgotten about the little matter of the in-laws.


“The best thing you could do is to prepare for the Marshal’s very obvious plot against you. He is sure to cast you deep into Wei so that you’ll be surrounded.”


Huang Zheng exhaled heavily. “You’re right,” he said. “Do you have any advice?”


From her sleeves, Qiong Ying retrieved a scroll. “In here is the pertinent information that I have gathered from my sources regarding our situation. I have also directed my spy network to send their messages directly here so that we could act on them promptly.”


Huang Zheng took the scroll and to read it. His brows rose in astonishment as his eyes scanned the document.


Seeing how his father was engrossed in the document, Huang Ming was relieved.


“Thank you,” Huang Ming said sincerely.


“It is the least I could do. I only hope that it’s enough,” Qiong Ying said sombrely.



The Huang Residence,
Tianxin City,
Wu

“Madam, you have a visitor,” a maid reported.


Madam Li rolled her eyes in disdain. “Let me guess, it’s a military man. Fat, out of shape, and walks around with his head tilted up.”


The maid was astounded. “You’re right, Madam! But he did not give his name.”


The corner of Madam Li’s mouth tugged upwards in a sneer. “I know his name. Show him in,” she said, sitting imposingly on her throne draped over with a tiger’s pelt.


A moment later, an obese, elderly and pompous looking military officer arrived. It was indeed Marshal Gao, his fleshy face flush with excitement and puffing out his chest to make himself appear gallant, though in Madam Li’s eyes it was the mere posturing of a man with an overinflated sense of worth.


“Li Shuwen, you look as radiant as I last saw you!” Marshal Gao called out affably.


Madam Li frowned, disliking her personal name to uttered by the obese man.


“Marshal,” she greeted coolly, not bothering to rise from her seat.


The marshal was not deterred by the chilly reception. “Why so unfriendly? It’s been many years since we last met.”


“How friendly can we be, if you’re planning to harm my husband?” Madam Li accused, stressing on the last word.


“Oh? Whatever do you mean?” the marshal feigned ignorance with a plastered smile on his face. Yet, it was obvious that he was nettled by the emphasis.


“Are you not appointing my husband as leader of the van in this foolhardy expedition of yours?” Madam Li asked coldly.


The smile on the marshal’s face vanished. “Where did you hear that?” he asked sharply.


Madam Li’s eyes narrowed. “You just confirmed it,” she said, ignoring his question.


“Public matters come before private affairs,” Marshal Gao said as he spread his hands in a show of helplessness. “Do you think I’m one to abuse my authority? This expedition was approved by the king himself! The general is most experienced and capable, he is simply the best choice to lead the vanguard. Nothing more, nothing less.”


“I see that you tell your lies so well that you’re beginning to believe in them yourself,” Madam Li said with a hint of condescension.


Whatever friendly feeling the marshal was projecting disappeared. His lips curled, and his eyes became hard.


“I see that the general had planted certain ideas in your mind. No matter. Since I will be basing my headquarters in the city while my forces mobilize, we will have plenty of time to rectify those hurtful mistakes,” he said.


“You are most welcome to try. Our doors will be open,” Madam Li said fearlessly.


Marshal Gao gave her one final look that promised all sorts of vile intentions before turning on his heel to leave. Once the marshal had left, the maids and servants of the Huang household breathed a sigh of relief. Then Cao Tianyun, Liu Yuchun and Zhao Hongqi emerged, having seen the entire exchange covertly.


“What a smelly old man,” Zhao Hongqi said, scrunching her face in disgust.


Madam Li snorted. “I know him well. If you give him an inch, he will take a foot and soon you won’t have a leg to stand on. We have to be firm and not give in to his threats.”


“Will he not use force?” Cao Tianyun asked.


“He’s too prideful to do that. I’m sure he has plenty of willing partners to indulge with. What he wants is to humiliate us and break our will.”


Cao Tianyun nodded. “I understand. Then we should do what you said and literally keep our doors open.”


“Oh?”


“There is no point in barring the doors, the marshal could simply make up lies that we’re hiding secrets within. We should be open and live as normally as possible. Hold banquets and meetings with the public, do charitable works. Allow the poor to come to us and seek help, so that we appear busy most of the time,” Cao Tianyun said.


“I see. That way his slanders will be ridiculed. And make it harder for him to carry out his ill intentions in the open,” Madam Li said in approval.


“Well, if he dares to show up again, we’ll have some nasty surprises ready,” Liu Yuchun said, punching her palm ominously.


Madam Li nodded and smiled coldly.

 

Fearsome women,
Afraid of no vermin.​