“At my age, you see death everywhere. DEATH!”
--Akama, ‘Warcraft III’
Chapter 195 – Reduced to a footnote
The historians and story-tellers wrote thus:
Beset by the joint threats of Jin, Wei and Chu, The King of Wu was alarmed and his citizens were distressed. The palace was swamped by numerous memorials and petitions seeking relief. The King of Wu who had recently stamped out the treacherous Tong Xuan and Gao Fang found himself at a wits end. His daughter Princess Wu Liying then suggested that he consult the famed military leader who have yet to present himself at the palace.
Faced with this unprecedented crisis, the King of Wu did not wait any longer and personally went with his daughter to visit General Yin Yanzhao. The general’s housekeeper was shocked but the king forbade him to announce their arrival.
“Where is the general?” the king asked.
He was then led to the gardens, where Yin Yanzhao was sitting by himself. For a time, the King of Wu and the princess stood behind him and saw that the general was leisurely idling the time away drinking tea.
After several cups, Princess Wu Liying said slowly, “Is the tea really that delicious?”
Yin Yanzhao was surprised and turned around. When he saw the king and the princess, he fell to his knees in abject apology. The King of Wu accepted his gesture.
“You seem to be enjoying yourself while the country is in crisis,” the king remarked.
“What crisis?” Yin Yanzhao asked.
“We are being attacked on three fronts, have you not heard?” Princess Wu Liying replied in shock.
Yin Yanzhao laughed. “Three? I see that Your Majesty is ill-served by slow couriers. I have already settled two of them, there is only the one threat remaining.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“In Tigertrap Fort, General Huang is more than up to the task of checking Wei’s advances. They have no chance of breaking through after the damaged we had inflicted on them in the past. As a precaution I have moved several legions nearby, ready to react should the unlikely happen. In the north, General Li Jing is still holding on in Beihai. Though the Jins are roaming around the border and have pillaged several small towns, they will not march further south as long as Beihai still stands to threaten their rear. In a few days I will march north to reinforce the city and stop the Jin raids.”
The father and daughter duo were relieved to hear his explanation, but they remained concerned.
“But what of Chu? The reports indicate that they are readying to cross the river and threaten our cities,” the king said.
“That is why I was sitting here. I was thinking about how to deal with Chu. Had the attacks in Beihai and Tigertrap Fort succeeded, Chu would surely take advantage of the situation. We need someone with a ready tongue to convince Chu that all is well in our country,” Yin Yanzhao said.
“Do you mean Huang Ming?” Princess Wu Liying asked.
“He would be the best choice. Only I fear that he would refuse. After all, he was sent north for a routine inspection and ended up being besieged in Beihai,” Yin Yanzhao said.
“Our country is in peril, he cannot stand idly by. We will issue the royal decree immediately,” the King of Wu decided.
A few days later General Yin Yanzhao marched north with several legions of veterans and lifted the siege of Beihai. The Jins were frightened and combined with the peak of winter were forced to withdraw.
The citizens of Beihai were overjoyed, but unfortunately Yin Yanzhao arrived too late to save General Li Jing who was mortally wounded in the final days of the siege. He consoled the citizens and appointed a new commander of Beihai.
That was how the later sagas and stories would describe the aftermath of the siege of Beihai.
Historians later wrote that General Li Jing later died from his wounds while defending the city, not knowing that he was nowhere near the city as the siege unfolded; that it was Huang Ming who had conducted the defence of Beihai. There were some minor and incomplete records of Huang Ming, but they were vague and
Most wrote that the praise and credit fell to General Yin Yanzhao. Of course, the finer details would be lost to the passing of time.
Those historians would be abashed to learn that he who had deprived Beihai in the first place was lauded as its saviour when he returned with the very legions that he had taken away.
Needless to say, history also did not record the details of the meeting between Huang Ming and Yin Yanzhao as the decree was handed over.
“It seems that you are enjoying yourself,” Huang Ming said to him, unknowingly paraphrasing the King of Wu’s words as he accepted the decree.
“You have done well yourself,” Yin Yanzhao returned, seemingly oblivious to the barbed comment.
“Not as well as you. Now you have the king’s ear, while I’m being sent here and there like a fireman,” Huang Ming grumbled.
“The king’s fireman, that is a nice phrase,” Yin Yanzhao remarked. “But you cannot blame the king for this, you are simply too outstanding...”
Suddenly, Huang Ming felt irritated. He tuned out the rest of the general’s pleasant but empty praise. For a brief moment, Huang Ming thought of maintaining the façade, but on an impulse he just got tired by it all. Perhaps it was due to the fake air of civility, the fake smile on Yin Yanzhao’s face, the idea that someone had spread rumours about his father and brother being trapped in Tigertrap Fort…
He toyed with the idea of murdering the general right there and then, images of the various methods to snap Yin Yanzhao’s neck to end the drama. But the general was armed and armoured, lessening the chances of success. And the resulting fallout from such a drastic action would be enormous.
Huang Ming sighed ruefully as the flash of red passed. It was replaced by weariness. Ever since he had arrived, there were one crisis after another.
There were many worries on his mind: his family, Qiong Ying, Zhao Sunli, his friends, the kingdom of Wu’s future, the Jins and of course, the enemy Avatar.
Maybe he could use a change of scenery.
It might seem lackadaisical, or even careless abandonment of his goal.
‘My goal,’ he thought humourlessly. Was it really his, when he was thrown into this quantum leaping of different lives against his will?
Yin Yanzhao was the older man, but when Huang Ming turned his eyes on him; the general weight the weight of a colossal mountain behind them. It was as if he was being gazed back by the portrait of a venerable saint or mythical figure.
“What is your goal, General Yin?” Huang Ming asked in a moment of brashness.
“I beg your pardon?” Yin Yanzhao replied as he snapped out his reverie. ‘What was that, what happened to me? And what did he say just now?’ he thought, shocked at his lapse. Huang Ming did not notice it, but for the remainder of their meeting the general kept his eyes half-lidded and avoided looking directly at him.
“I was making a facetious remark, you did me a favour by not hearing it,” Huang Ming said.
Yin Yanzhao was puzzled.
“Are you reluctant?” he asked. ‘What is he hiding?’ he wondered, annoyed at what he had missed.
“I need a break,” Huang Ming muttered.
The general laughed. “Do not worry, the faster you finish this diplomatic mission, the sooner you will return to Wu.”
‘If you return,’ he left unsaid.
‘If there is a place for me to return to,’ Huang Ming thought. Then he mentally grimaced, wondering what the two women in his life would think at his seemingly meek acceptance. It was just as well that he had sent them away on an errand when General Yin arrived, though he did not relish explaining to them afterwards.
‘Maybe I should have gone with breaking his neck,” he winced.
Indeed, the historians later wrote:
Then General Yin Yanzhao presented the royal decree to Huang Ming, who received it and obediently made his way to Chu.
Proved his worth,
But sent to the north.
Through the winter he toiled,
While at home danger uncoiled.
The city bereft of soldiers,
Akin to naked exposure.
Yet he held his composure,
Even as the Jins got bolder.
His efforts bore revival,
Capped with a festival.
The Jins came loaded to bear,
Hoping to catch him unaware.
But he was prepared,
And morale was not impaired.
A stubborn resistance,
And waited for assistance.
Outnumbered ten to one,
In the end he still won.
But what was his reward?
Moved around on the chessboard.
END PART IV: A WINTER IN THE NORTH
This entire arc was a disappointment to me as its author. Too many times I have finished the chapter, re-read, posted... only to regret it mere hours later. "Why did I write that", or "why didn't I change this" were two frequent questions that clouded my mind as I slogged past the writing process. The said process was frequently interrupted by real life. Ever since my father's heart problems, I have tried to take on more responsibilities to lighten his burden, and this had caused changes to my previously predictable work schedule.
Readers would no doubt note that my postings have been tardy, and I am finding it increasingly difficult to be inspired to write. But I am still scribbling notes (on paper!), and I can only ask for the kind understanding of my readers as I try to get used to my new circumstances.
Thank you, and I apologize if it all sounds like a downer.