Discussion in 'Community Fictions' started by rdawv, Apr 20, 2016.
I'm kinda mad the NUF updates that there was a post keep stopping. Anyway, thanks for the chapter.
“You're gonna have to give him a moment, son. Dewey Cox has to think about his entire life before he plays.”
--Sam McPherson, ‘Walk Hard’
Chapter 83 – Rocky contemplation
Vicinity of Tigertrap Fort,
Huang Ming sighed with relief as he stretched his aching muscles, breathing in deeply the dew-laden morning air. Unceremoniously he sat on the rocky outcropping, taking in the view of Tigertrap Pass from his lofty, precarious position. He had made it a habit to climb the rocky walls of the pass, to familiarize himself with its features, making note of important features to be added later to a map. At first everyone were aghast at his barehanded rock-climbing, saying things like ‘the idiot was too free after a meal’, but the fruits of his surveys were useful. Not to mention, the exercise he was getting out of it.
The pass was a deep gorge, a large cleft between two sheer cliffs of stone with jagged, weather-worn features. In between them was flat ground where a large river used to run; leaving a desolate land of loose soil and small stones that were the curse of merchant wagons. In the dry months, the stony paths could wreak havoc on their wooden wheels, while during the rainy season the soil became muddy; ensnaring those who would travel on it.
There was little vegetation, the tallest of green, leafy plants were barely knee-high shrubs. They never grew dense enough to stand out, from a distance the view was blended into blotches of brown and grey.
Huang Ming looked down at the single sign of human activity: Tigertrap Fort. The rival country of Wei had expended tremendous resources and manpower to transport the material necessary to build it, but it was still merely a wooden structure of fencing and tents when Huang Ming led a small troop of Wu soldiers to capture it.
That was a few weeks ago, and a lot had changed since. The wooden fencing was replaced by brick and rammed earth, rising much higher than the palisades the Wei soldiers had built before. Wei had only meant for it to be used as a temporary fortification, an encampment used to house soldiers and supplies to stage an invasion of Wu.
But Wu saw the wisdom of a permanent fixture. Huang Ming's father General Huang Zheng ordered for an ambitious project to upgrade the fort, effectively turning the tent encampment into a full fledged stone complex that stretched from one wall of the gorge to the other, effectively turning into a wall-and-gate structure; sealing the entire pass beneficially to Wu. Now no invader could go through the pass without first surmounting Tigertrap Fort.
It was a logical idea to build the wall and fort, but it was never done due to the lack of materials in the immediate area. But once Wei laid the foundations, it was easy enough for Wu to arrange for expedited construction. After all, it would be a waste to simply destroy what Wei had built. And how humiliating it would be for Wei to see the labour of their hard work be in the hands of Wu?
Indeed, Huang Ming heard that General Ran of Wei was furious at the loss of Tigertrap Pass. The hapless commander that had surrendered it to Huang Ming was executed, his head stuck on a pike. Far from deterring Wei from launching their invasion of Wu as he had hoped, it seemed that General Ran was stepping up preparations instead.
Nobody was sure where the first blow would land, but Tigertrap Pass would surely be a prime target to wipe away Wei’s humiliation.
That explained the near constant stream of caravans and transports from various cities of Wu to the fort: carrying construction material, supplies, workers and soldiers to upgrade Tigertrap Fort. Now it was a bustling, burgeoning complex that housed twenty thousand souls, the first line of Wu’s defence against Wei. Once word got out that Wei was up to its old tricks again, the spirit of patriotism was ignited in Wu’s population and everyone chipped in. Young men were inspired to sign up for the army, while merchants vied with each other in their deliveries to help out the fort.
He smiled as he recalled the looks on faces of his friends when he drafted them into service. Zhang Ping the Stone General took charge of the stone work, using his skills and connections as a quarry merchant and rock artisan. Lei Yan who was a mathematical genius nicknamed the Dancing Abacus became the quartermaster, settling accounts and logistics. He Ding the Odd Brush became General Huang Zheng’s personal secretary, writing and recording with deft strokes. It was their prodigious talents that hastened the smooth construction of the fort, a true case of men rising to the challenge.
Only Min Guang the White Jade was left out; he simply disappeared without so much as a goodbye once word got out about Huang Ming’s double engagement. The Min family was unhelpful, and Huang Ming wondered at the fate of his young friend. Perhaps they were more than happy to have Min Guang away from the so-called ‘corrupting influences’ of Huang Ming, even though bulk of the blame was due to the insidious nature of Nangong Xie.
Ah, Nangong Xie. The Handsome Scholar soon found himself ostracised. He had thrown in his lot with Lord Fang La in the latter’s attempt to seize military authority from General Huang Zheng. Only the coincidental raid by ‘Wei’ prevented such a move, giving sudden enlightenment to Lord Fang La that he was perhaps not ready to take command in an actual military situation. Lord Fang La returned to Gusu City, and Nangong Xie had no choice but to follow suit.
A slight breeze blew past Huang Ming, whipping his hair slightly and cooling his sweat. The sun was rising rapidly, but he sat on the rocky outcropping and enjoyed the solitude. And he wondered who he truly was.
He was not rewarded for his capture of Tigertrap Pass. He wasn’t a soldier when it officially happened, he was merely ‘tagging along’ for experience. Instead, he got an earful from his irate parents when they learnt what he had done. In retrospect, he agreed with their views that he was reckless. After all, in their minds; he was just a dissolute young man without any formal military training nor qualifications.
Then he suggested joining the army officially under his father’s command, and they were somewhat assuaged. They had been worried about his future, his literary career was just starting but to their minds it was also the reason he was so lackadaisical. The original Huang Ming was a prodigal son: wasteful and lazy and unmotivated, sick and drunk most of the time.
General Huang Zheng approved of his youngest son joining the army as an advisor and administrator so that he could keep an eye on him. The general thought his wife had been too lenient on Huang Ming, and wanted to take him to Tigertrap Fort to put some steel into his back.
“If it doesn’t work out, I’ll just send him home,” the aged general had said to his wife.
Huang Ming looked into the distance, there was a merchant caravan approaching the fort from the direction of home, Tianxin City.
Maybe one of his friends were in the caravans today.
Wu trumped Wei,
Stole their wall and kept them away.
-Adjusting my writing style, hope it works out.
Thanks for the chapter.
No blurb at the end this time?
Thanks for the chapter.
I'm making a rule that blurbs are for scenes with multiple people around, and poems when the general public is aware and therefore exaggerate the incident they had witnessed/heard.
That's cool. I was sorta getting that impression, just every chapter had one so far so I was a little dissapointed. Could have been something about Wei being pushed back or the fort being built.
You're right, it does look awkward to leave the chapter hanging like that. Added a short blurb and immediately I felt a little better.
Those who enjoy 'opposites attract' type of romance and cutesy scenes between a mismatched couple could try reading this Legend of Zelda fan-comic. Great art style and good twist on the game lore.
"A Tale of Two Rulers" by Figment Forms
“Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.”
--Alfred, Lord Tennyson, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’
Chapter 84 – Opening move
Much to Huang Ming’s consternation, the latest merchant caravan to Tigertrap Fort also brought along a very cheery Qiong Ying. More accurately, ‘Quan Lu’, for the woman was in her male guise. The cosmetics and male clothing helped to conceal her gender; but the soldiers in the fort who haven’t touched a woman in weeks could not help but stare at the ‘beautiful man’ whose flawless complexion and gentle features were causing them to question their own sexual orientation.
Huang Ming tried to maintain a stony face as he dragged her away from their stares. He knew that the friends and colleagues that he had been made in the fort would no doubt be teasing him later.
“Nice to see you too,” Qiong Ying said dryly, secretly pleased at the urgency in which he had grasped her hand and pulled her away.
Huang Ming sighed. He had encountered all sorts of people before, but Qiong Ying was… unique. Perhaps it was because of her modern-like, confident nature that resonated with him in this feudal world. When she took out a foldable fan and snapped it open to fan herself, all the while with a smug-looking smile; Huang Ming could not help but feel as if he had found a kindred soul right from his original time period.
He shook his head wryly.
Qiong Ying frowned when she saw the gesture, interpreting as a slight to herself. “This is not the welcome I was expecting,” she huffed, snapping the fan shut like a quietly irate gentleman.
“What are you doing here?” Huang Ming asked instead, tempering the question with the beginnings of a smile.
“That is a question I should be asking you. You didn’t seek me out when you came back, you don’t write… It’s almost as if you’re avoiding me,” she said, arching an eyebrow upwards in accusation.
Huang Ming shrugged apologetically. Truth be told, it had somewhat slipped his mind. After the capture of the fort, he did return home for a hectic few days to pick up his things and join his father’s staff officially.
“I was busy,” he said truthfully, recalling the way his father had thrown him feet first into the ways and means of military logistics and administration, also known as ‘paperwork’. Coordinating the construction of the fort with his friends and supervising the movement of twenty thousand lives was an eye-opener to the way the military operated in this world.
“Busy with what? To the extent of not even sending a message with so many merchants coming to and fro?” Qiong Ying groused.
“I was busy searching myself for a sense of purpose,” Huang Ming replied facetiously.
Qiong Ying gave him a look, her green eyes dulling just enough to tell him that she was not impressed.
“That is one of the most clichéd things I have ever heard,” she said icily.
Huang Ming laughed. “I’m sorry,” he said sincerely. “I was just swamped with learning the ropes under my father.”
Qiong Ying crinkled her nose cutely. “Are you sure you’re not keeping a woman here somewhere?” she sniffed.
Huang Ming did not deign to dignify her question with a response, he merely continued to look at her with quiet amusement.
Flustered by his frank gaze, Qiong Ying coughed. “Ahem. Where is Sunli?”
“Out on patrol. She will return soon.”
“Aha!” Qiong Ying said triumphantly. “You’re so intimate with her that you keep track of her movements!”
“No, I keep track of her movements because I’m the one who draws up the training and patrolling schedules,” Huang Ming informed her.
“Oh. Ah, I see…” Qiong Ying said, suitably deflated. “How are things with her?” she then asked in a quieter tone.
“She’s doing well. There were a few questions about her leadership, but she broke the noses of a few men and now they are calling her Big Sis.”
Qiong Ying rolled her eyes in exasperation. “You know what I mean. How are things between you two?”
“Awkward,” Huang Ming replied, and left it at that. It was an all-encompassing answer. Part of him thought that General Zhao Tong’s daughter would stay at Tianxin City at the Huang residence to continue to train the servants and maids there, but little Zhao Hongqi had taken up that task with gusto instead, freeing Sunli to return to Tigertrap Fort. Hongqi herself wanted to stay at Tianxin City; not that the fact that Zhang Ping was nearby to coordinate deliveries of stone and construction materials had anything to do with it.
The first taste of true military command had motivated Sunli. Having only played a bit-part role in the actual capture of Tigertrap Fort and feeling overshadowed by Huang Ming’s exploits, she frightened Huang Ke into appointing her as one of his lieutenants. The men were sceptical at first, but a few broken bones and hours of harsh but fair treatment later; they became fiercely loyal to the dusky war maiden.
She took her responsibilities seriously, impressing Huang Ke and his veterans with her dedication and hard work. It also meant that there were little contact with Huang Ming besides the occasional briefings and reports as she would be out in the field most of the time while he was mostly cooped up in the fort itself. The few times they had met in private were distilled to short and business-like greetings.
“You need to work on it,” Qiong Ying advised, being unhelpfully vague.
“You still haven’t told me what you’re doing here,” Huang Ming said to change the subject.
“Since you’re being distant, I’m trying out the ‘commuting wife’ lifestyle,” she said. Then she frowned, adding, “I don’t think I like it. The roads are awful.”
Huang Ming flicked her nose gently. “No, really; what are you doing here?”
“I bring news,” Qiong Ying said as she rubbed her nose.
“What’s so important that you couldn’t just send a message?”
“The army is mobilizing.”
“So, Wei is finally on the move?” Huang Ming said. “I guess our gambit to nip their invasion in the bud by capturing this place failed…”
Qiong Ying shook her head. “No, it worked out well. Too well,” she said ruefully. “It is Marshal Gao Fang who is mobilizing. He and Prime Minister Tong Xuan have convinced the court that your success here meant that Wei is ripe for the taking.”
Huang Ming stared at her in aghast. Part of him knew that such an outcome was a possibility, but he had thought the marshal and prime minister would be busy consolidating their grasp of the capital. Then his father and General Zhao Tong and their conspirators could form a plan to oppose them. The capture and fortification of Tigertrap Pass was meant to deter Wei from robbing the house while they away putting out the fire.
“Something about taking a few cities, force Wei to give up some land that was historically Wu’s,” Qiong Ying said airily, waving her hand in the air.
“Is this for real?” Huang Ming demanded.
“Real enough that your brother Huang Lang and Muge Jian are heading to the capital,” she said.
“They are going to meet with some loyalists to make some plans. Your father will be too busy, after all.”
“What do you mean?” Huang Ming asked.
“Marshal Gao Fang is commanding the attack on Wei personally. He’s bringing a hundred thousand men here, and your father will be appointed as the vanguards to lead the charge.”
Huang Ming could imagine what the good marshal had planned for his father, and he did not like it.
A plot against his father,
To be used as mere fodder.
Thanks for the chapter!
NUF I HATE YOU!!!!! Thanks for the chapter!
I feel you. Missed so many notices >.>.
That aside, thank you for the new chapter! Enjoying the build up to the many fractions in a war.
That aside, thank you for the new chapter!
TYhis made me laugh
“Am I not merciful?”
Chapter 85 – The feud
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,
“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.”
“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.
Afraid of no vermin.
Women are.... Fearful beasts... *Shivers*
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