“The greatest freedom is the freedom not to get involved.”
--Yang Wen-li, ‘Legend of Galactic Heroes’
Chapter 173 – Rock and a hard place
General Yin was amused by the look of apprehension on Huang Ming’s face.
“Do not worry, it is nothing terrible,” the general said soothingly as he unfurled the golden scroll.
Huang Ming was not convinced, but he swallowed his doubts and knelt ceremoniously to receive the decree.
The general made a show of glancing around and coughed. The two men were alone in what was the office of the governor. Since there was no longer a Governor of Beihai, it had been appropriated for Huang Ming’s use.
“Since it’s just us, shall we skip the formalities? Nobody else would know,” the general offered.
‘Why only ask after I have already knelt?’ Huang Ming thought sourly, feeling his kneecaps pressing on the cold hard floor. Instead, Huang Ming cupped his hands and remained on the ground.
“But we would know,” he said instead, putting on a solemn face to belie the annoyance he felt.
General Yin nodded in approval and began to read the decree.
“By decree of His Majesty, the Sovereign of the Kingdom of Wu, the Chosen Son of Heaven…”
Huang Ming immediately regretted his decision to reject the offer, for the text was indeed lengthy; unlike the brief royal summons that had called him to the capital previously.
General Yin seemed oblivious to Huang Ming’s growing discomfort as he read in a slow and clear manner. The minutes dragged on as the pain on Huang Ming’s knees began to creak, and he began to tune out the sonorous recitation.
Just as he shifted slightly to ease the soreness, Huang Ming heard something of interest.
“… and it pleases Us to hereby appoint Our humble servant as the Marquis of Dawning Light, with all the rights and privileges prescribed thereto. May he continue to display his martial might and illuminating wisdom in Our service…”
“Eh? What was it that you said?” Huang Ming inadvertently blurted.
General Yin helped him up. “Congratulations, Marquis,” he intoned as he passed the royal decree to Huang Ming’s shaking hands.
One might think that Huang Ming was ecstatic with boundless joy. After all it was almost unheard of, that a young man of his age to be conferred a nobility rank. Though the Huangs were a famous military family, none of their members were actually nobles. Based on Huang Ming’s knowledge, it meant that his elevation would have a direct impact on his family as well.
“I don’t suppose I have a say in this?” Huang Ming muttered warily.
General Yin arched an eyebrow. “The king himself made the suggestion, you have no idea how much resistance he faced. This ‘cabinet of ministers’ system that you have proposed have breathed new life into our kingdom, but it also encourages them to speak their minds.”
“That is a good thing,” Huang Ming stated.
“Even if they are speaking against the one who had given them the opportunity in the first place?” General Yin asked. “Many of the new ministers in the king’s cabinet were obscure officials. Only your suggestion allowed them to rise into prominence.”
Huang Ming shrugged. “If they were outstanding in anyway, they would rise regardless. The king is one who appreciates talent, and he would have unearthed them even if he had not adopted the cabinet style.”
General Yin Yanzhao eyed him critically. “You are quite magnanimous,” he said. “A man in your position… someone else who had placed the kingdom in his debt would no doubt seize the chance to elevate himself. Are you really not interested in power?”
“All the power in the world means nothing if you are trapped by it,” Huang Ming replied with a shrug.
“Yet, here you are. You could have refused the king when he made you the Royal Inspector,” General Yin pointed out.
“Well, I always wanted to see the north. And being the person who had aggravated our kingdom’s relations with Jin, it seems proper for me to make sure that we are prepared for retaliation,” Huang Ming lied.
In truth, he went north because his potential opposing Avatar was in that direction. Huang Ming had hoped that once things were suitably settled in Beihai, he could send out feelers into Jin itself and find out more about the revered Princess of Jin.
“And then?” General Yin prodded.
“And then… then I will retire to the countryside and spend the rest of my days in pleasant idleness, living off the rewards that the king would grant me,” Huang Ming said with a broad smile.
It was not a far-fetched reason, for the original Huang Ming really was a ne’er-do-well. Besides, once the enemy Avatar was disposed off, Huang Ming could only wait for the end of his days on this world before having his consciousness returned to the Waiting Area. This was why he did not immediately reject the peerage, as it was basically his retirement benefit on this world after his celestial roleplaying was done and over with.
For a few minutes, General Yin studied him quietly. Then he laughed.
“Exactly as what I had said in the cabinet meeting,” he disclosed. “I told them that you are not one to cling greedily to authority, that you would sooner forego all of it in return for peace and quiet.”
“Peace and comfort,” Huang Ming corrected good-naturedly.
The general nodded. “Which is why I supported the king’s proposal to make you a noble, despite the objections of some of the members of the cabinet.”
“It really doesn’t matter to me,” Huang Ming said truthfully. “If it would help end the argument and remove one more thing for the king to worry about, I am more than happy to reject this grant.”
General Yin shook his head. “No, it won’t help matters. In fact, your rejection would only serve to increase their objections even more. Do you know that despite your merits, you are now being looked on with suspicion in the capital?”
“Really now, what have I done to deserve that?” Huang Ming asked casually.
The general shook his head. He began to recite and ticked off each point with a finger:
“Your father is the bulwark against Wei and has firmly established his base in Tigertrap Fort. Your family have blood ties to the Governor of Tianxin City, a man of considerable political influence.
“Your elder brothers are famous men in their own right, the eldest being a renowned literary figure and if the rumours are to be believed, also a master swordsman of high standing in the martial underworld. Your second elder brother is a powerful military officer with an admirable record and following your father’s footsteps.”
The general closed his hand and pointed one finger at Huang Ming.
“And you, the youngest hero of the kingdom. A strategist that compassed the defeat of The Onslaught Ran Wei and the capture of Tigertrap Fort. Then you overturned the overbearing Jin diplomats and rescued our honour from their petty scheme. Later, your three-inch tongue drove Tong Xuan into distraction, thereby giving the king the opportunity to remove him cleanly and thereby saved our kingdom.”
“You are exaggerating,” Huang Ming said humbly.
“If you call that exaggerating, then what do you say to the storytellers and folk songs being sung about your family?” General Yin Yanzhao returned. “You have made a lot of people jealous with your rapid prominence, and they are not very comfortable with the common people lauding your entire family as the saviours of the kingdom.”
“And yet you say that if I was to reject this peerage, it would make the problem worse?” Huang Ming wondered aloud.
“Of course. They will take your rejection as a sign of your arrogance. They will twist your words and seize the chance to paint you as someone who is discontented at being raised as a mere marquis instead of a count or even a duke. Your father is in command of three legions in the west, and now you’re in command of three more here in the north. Surely you can understand their misguided fears of your family’s influence.”
Huang Ming had to admire General Yin’s bleak explanation. ‘He has offered nothing but ifs and possibles, all the while painting everyone else in a bad light,’ he noted. He wondered if the general had used the same eloquence to the members of the king’s inner circle to play them off against the Huangs.
“But if I am to take the peerage, wouldn’t that mean that I am greedy?” Huang Ming frowned.
“Of course,” General Yin repeated.
Huang Ming hid his smile. “I can’t accept nor reject, so what am I supposed to do?” he asked casually.
“Accept it,” the older man told him. “And then give up something in return.”
‘Here it comes…’
Huang Ming raised his eyebrows. “What do I need to give up?” he asked, fully knowing the answer.
“Very simple. They are afraid of your military power. The easiest way to allay such fears would is to simply give it away.”
Huang Ming remained calm. “I see. That is why you are here personally.”
General Yin nodded with satisfaction at Huang Ming’s understanding.
“Indeed. I am here to take Beihai’s veterans to the capital.”
The general used his charm,
To carefully remove the hero’s arms.