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“Hey, you! Get your damn hands off her!”
--George McFly, ‘Back to the Future’
Chapter 139 – Behind her back
The next day, Huang Ming went to the barracks to call on General Yin Yanzhao the White Star. Qiong Ying offered to come along in her Quan Lu disguise, but told her to coordinate planning with Huang Lang and his brother-in-law Cao Shuang instead.
As for Sunli, she had disappeared before he could invite her.
The military barracks of the city was a huge, sprawling complex that housed the Imperial Guards. Logistically it was quite close to the royal palace, and the proximity between the two reminded Huang Ming about the delicate nature of his mission.
Getting someone to send a message to General Yin was a chore in itself. The guard stationed at the entrance brusquely refused his request until Huang Ming slipped some money to appease him. Immediately the guard’s attitude changed, and quickly sent a runner to inform the general.
The entire experience left a bad taste in Huang Ming’s mouth. It was a demonstration of the rot that was engendered by the departed Marshal Gao Fang. Though the marshal was gone, the Imperial Guard continued to languish under the influence of Tong Xuan and his proxies who allowed the rot to fester.
When Huang Ming finally saw the general, he could not help but feel that the older man was everything the stories say. A man in his prime, dignified and composed, strong and yet carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
“I have long heard of your name,” the general greeted when they met.
“The general is the pillar of the country, it is my honour to have this meeting with you,” Huang Ming said, bowing deeply to the famous patriot.
Huang Ming then invited the general for breakfast at an expensive restaurant, and the general readily agreed.
“New waves overcome the old. You are young, but you have already done so much,” General Yin praised after they had seated themselves.
“I merely assisted my father and General Zhao with some administrative matters,” Huang Ming said humbly.
The general’s grey eyes twinkled and a smile tugged at his lips.
“Ah, but that is not what I heard yesterday,” General Yin said affably.
“Miss Zhao Sunli was very clear on your contributions,” the general said.
Huang Ming took out a foldable fan, a gift from Qiong Ying.
“Miss Zhao is very kind. My deeds pale in comparison to hers,” Huang Ming said politely as he fanned himself.
The general smiled as Huang Ming’s motion. From his mouth came humble words, yet his gesture was a non-verbal confirmation.
“Do not be so modest. They say victory and defeat can be determined by a strategist a thousand miles away from the battle. There is no need for you to carve a name in blood with your own hands,” the general said.
“You think too highly of me. It seems that I must thank her for speaking on my behalf,” Huang Ming replied.
General Yin leaned forward. “If you do not mind, would you like to discuss in detail the campaign in Wei? I am interested in your opinion as to the performance of your Wei opponents.”
“Certainly. What is it that you wish to know?” Huang Ming asked.
The smile on the general’s face grew larger. It was the face of a man interested about ‘talking shop’.
The two men then spent some time and copious cups of tea discussing various military topics. It was mostly about the Wei armies and their commander.
Huang Ming understood the interest, for General Ran Wei the Onslaught was close in age and rank with General Yin Yanzhao the White Star.
“General Ran Wei’s reputation is well deserved,” Yin Yanzhao said with a hint of admiration. “It seems he does what is necessary to win, no matter the cost.”
“Indeed. It was by some happy strokes of luck that we managed to retreat with our lives,” Huang Ming said.
General Yin smiled. “Miss Zhao said you were the sole reason that the army managed to return home at all.”
“I was under the impression that Miss Zhao did not speak much yesterday,” Huang Ming said.
General Yin turned sharply at the comment.
“She told you of our meet yesterday?” he asked, a slight frown on his brows.
“Of course. She is my fiancée after all,” Huang Ming informed him and covertly observed his reaction.
The general blinked, but managed to suppress his surprise.
“I had no idea,” he said.
Huang Ming coughed dryly. “Imagine how we felt when we found out. Our fathers made a long time promise and neglected to inform us.”
“Had I known this, I would have not invited her yesterday,” the general said in an apologetic tone.
This time General Yin did not conceal his surprise. “She is your fiancée, it was not proper for me to have done so.”
Huang Ming laughed. “If I can entrust my life to her on the battlefield, surely there is no harm for her to meet a great hero of our country.”
For a moment, General Yin stared at him in bafflement. Then he sighed.
“You are a bigger man than I. She is not like any woman I have ever met. If I were in your shoes, I would not have been as open-minded,” he admitted.
Huang Ming merely fanned himself. It seemed that the older man was genuinely embarrassed, and there was no need for him to make the general feel any worse.
“Still, I would like to apologize for my transgression. Rest assured, I shall not seek Miss Zhao again,” the general said.
Huang Ming snapped his fan shut. “That is not why I had called on you,” he said.
“Is that not the reason for this meeting? Seeing that Miss Zhao is absent, I had thought you were giving me fair notice to back off,” the general said frankly.
“No, I have a much more important matter to discuss,” Huang Ming said with all seriousness.
The general waited for him to continue, but just as Huang Ming was going to do so, a visitor approached.
Who should appear but the woman in their discussion, Zhao Sunli the War Goddess. Her height, tanned skin and toned figure drew looks as she strode purposefully to their table.
Huang Ming waved cheerily at her, but the general was chagrined.
“Gentlemen, I hope I am not interrupting,” Sunli said.
“Not at all,” the general said differentially. He beckoned for her to sit beside Huang Ming.
Sunli frowned but did so.
“We were just discussing military matters, your fiancé and I,” General Yin said with a straight face.
Sunli’s eyes widened. She had spent the part of the previous day with the general and somehow avoided the issue of her engagement with Huang Ming.
She turned to glare at her fiancé. What was he playing at, calling out General Yin to declare their relationship, like some jealous husband? After what he had put her through with his denseness yesterday?
“Come, have a bun and drink some tea,” Huang Ming said with a grin.
Trapped in this wrangle,
His neck, she wanted to strangle.