“Tonight, we will be partaking of a liquid repast as we wind our way up the Golden Mile.”
“You need to draw Nangong Xie out. Make all effort to let everyone know that you are going back home soon, that this is going to be your last night in the capital,” Cao Shuang had told him earlier.
“No, you can start right here in this brothel. Here, take this money. Splash the cash, indulge in your most hedonistic desires and make as much of a spectacle as you can. You were famous for being the wastrel of Tianxin City, I’m sure you know what to do,” Cao Shuang said sarcastically.
“This is such a heavy responsibility and a most terrifying duty, but I will do my utmost,” Huang Ming deadpanned.
“Maybe I should go with him,” Quan Lu suggested. The disguised Qiong Ying was none too pleased with this particular scheme.
Qiong Ying did not know whether she should laugh or cry, her male disguise had worked all too well. She was about to tell Cao Shuang the truth, after all they were practically distant relatives with their ties to the Huangs.
“Fine,” ‘Quan Lu said distractedly. Huang Ming frowned, he did not think that she would give up her idea so quickly.
“I had thought you would be there to restrain me,” Huang Ming said with a smile of his own.
“Well…” Huang Ming trailed off and affected a wistful look.
“I think the disguise is still useful for the time being,” Qiong Ying said. “You and Cao Shuang are too focused on Nangong Xie, but you have forgotten about Lord Fang La. ”
“I have a plan,” Qiong Ying said and told him.
“You are vicious,” he said in a complimentary tone. “Remind me not to get on your bad side.”
That was several days ago.
To keep the ruse believable, Huang Ming had his bodyguards stand stoically on the first night. On the second night, he had them pretend to reluctantly accompany him to drink after much coaxing, making sure to covertly dump their drinks.
By the fourth night, the entire brothel was filled with singing, turning the pleasure house into a giant party venue. Patrons who were seeking lusty delights of the flesh were instead drawn into drinking and rub shoulders with the Hero of Tigertrap Pass. Huang Ming toasted them all and regaled them with exaggerated war stories.
This epic drunken binge soon became the gossip of the capital city and eventually got the attention of Nangong Xie. At first the Handsome Scholar scoffed and sneered, patiently waiting for the day that Huang Ming would leave the city so as to meet an ‘unfortunate accident’ that he would prepare in advance.
The listeners clapped and cheered at the end and demanded for more.
“Now you might think that someone who is called The Handsome Scholar would be too clever for this,” Huang Ming said, emphasizing the nickname. “But between you and me,” he continued to his audience of dozens, “…he all but allowed himself to be fooled. Rumours has it that he uses one hand to caress it to sleep every night!”
One of the slower-witted serving girls asked naively: “Why just the one hand?”
“The Handsome Scholar? More like The Lewd Scholar!”
“What are you doing?” Lord Fang La had asked when he saw Nangong Xie’s murderous intent.
Lord Fang La swallowed his own anger. Nangong Xie’s lack of reservedness before him was a stark reminder that his own influence in the Prime Minister’s camp had diminished greatly, and Lord Fang La lamented at how the guest that he had brought into his house was now acting like the host instead.
Fang La had studied too much history and the classics to know that his uncle the Prime Minister had all the hallmarks of a civil servant overstepping the boundaries. At the very least, he knew that Tong Xuan’s name was not thought to be righteous.
The group of women were oblivious to his stare, and Fang La eyes bored deeply into the lady, savouring every detail of the sight.
In Tianxin City he was slightly swayed by the courtesan Lady Qiong Ying of the Lichun Brothel, but Huang Ming’s song about unrequited love drove a sharp dagger into his heart. Huang Ming’s song had resonated with him, reminding Fang La that the person of his desires was so close and yet remained so far…
Suddenly his uncle was not the beacon of leadership that Fang La once thought he was. Suddenly Tong Xuan was not the patriarch who was industrious in elevating the clan, but someone who was endlessly grasping and grabbing. Suddenly the Prime Minister was not a leader who worked tirelessly for the clan’s prosperity, but someone who was greedy, selfish and domineering.
The wind blows and fortunes change,
The reeds bend to avoid a bad end.