Princess of Jiaping, Bi, was Yuanting’s eldest daughter. She was taken as the adopted daughter of the Later Ruler of Northern Han, Liu You. She used superb stratagems, far surpassing her brothers. She was highly treasured by Yuanting. The army and civilians in Daizhou all knew her as the “Princess General.”—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of the Princess of Jiaping
Seeing Wang Ji furrow his brows slightly, restlessly sitting on his horse, Lin Tong shouted, “Hey! Don’t get lost in thought! I’m asking you! You haven’t finished speaking about Princess Changle! What happened afterwards?”
Wang Ji’s body shook. Clasping his hands, he replied, “Reporting to the Princess, to speak of Princess Changle, we will have to go back to the time of internal turmoil in Great Yong. At that time, the former Crown Prince colluded with the Fengyi Sect and surrounded the Hunting Palace. The Prince of Yong was able to escape the encirclement, but was unable to rendezvous with the army. At this critical juncture, Princess Changle stepped forward bravely and persuaded the rebels to temporarily postpone their attack on the then Emperor. Just as both sides were locked in a stalemate, the Princess acquired the Emperor’s secret edict and Grand General Qin’s token before thinking of a way to send these items out. Ultimately, an army was mobilized to rescue the Emperor, saving everyone and crushing the rebels. As a result, the then Emperor bestowed the title of Princess of Ning upon her.”
Skeptical, Lin Tong said, “How can this be true? Surely, the rebel army would have completely surrounded the Hunting Palace, not allowing anything to leave it. Princess Changle isn’t my elder sister, able to fight her way out of the encirclement alone. How was she able to send transmit the secret edict? You must be lying!”
By now, Wang Ji had fully calmed down. Regaining his previous calm bearing, he smiled and explained, “Your Royal Highness’s fame has spread throughout the world. This lowly one admires her abilities greatly. That Princess Changle is a weak woman without the strength to even truss a chicken. How could she have slaughtered her way out of the encirclement? With this, we will have to mention another individual. That man is surnamed Jiang and named Zhe, styled Suiyun, and was a trusted strategist under the Prince of Yong. By himself, the man made all of the arrangements, not only sending out the secret edict to mobilize the army and also forced out the foremost of the three grandmasters of the era, the Fengyi Sect Master, Fan Huiyao.”
Lin Tong’s eyes brightened. She exclaimed, “Oh! That’s right! I’ve heard people speak that the Fengyi Sect Master has already died. As a result, the State Mentor has disseminated the order permitting the disciples of his sect to freely come and go from Great Yong. The State Mentor is a formidable and terrifying individual. If the Fengyi Sect Master isn’t as powerful as the State Mentor, still, as the previously foremost of the three grandmasters of the era, did she really die? Is that Jiang Zhe’s martial arts that great to force the Fengyi Sect Master to commit suicide? How is he related to Princess Changle?”
Her successive questions left Wang Ji smiling wryly. He asked, “Princess, what question should this commoner answer first?”
Lin Tong laughed mockingly, retorting, “Can’t you just explain everything?”
“Princess, Jiang Zhe is and was only a weak and feeble scholar,” related Wang Ji, “This lowly one has heard that his health has always been poor, frequently teetering on the boundary between life and death. However, the man’s stratagems, courage, and insight are matchless in this world.”
“This I do not believe,” sneered Lin Tong, “How much courage and insight can a weak and feeble scholar have? This Princess has met many intellectuals and scholars. Once they are faced with weapons, they are either scared half to death or kneeling on the ground to surrender. Further, no matter how formidable that man is, can he be more formidable than my brother-in-law?”
Wang Ji gave an awkward look to Lin Bi. Smiling slightly, Lin Bi declared, “There is no need for you to avoid taboo subjects. This Princess also wishes to hear how an outsider views the situation.”
Clasping his hand together to express his apologies, Wang Ji replied, “Princess, there is no way to compare the two. A scholar has a scholar’s strength of character. A martial man has a martial man’s courage and valor. General Long is the commander-in-chief of Northern Han’s armies and is considered as one of the top two generals of the present age. His stratagems, courage, and insight are naturally outstanding. However, if he is put in another’s shoes, General Long likely cannot achieve the things that Jiang daren did.”
Glaring at Wang Ji, Lin Tong asserted, “If that is the case, then I will listen earnestly to your words. I will punish you if you exaggerate the facts!”
“Jiang daren was formerly a subject of my homeland, Southern Chu,” began Wang Ji, smiling faintly. “In the sixteenth year of Xiande, at the age of twenty, he became famous by passing the imperial examinations as the zhuangyuan. Considering the literary abilities of the world, none can compare to that of Southern Chu. By coming in first in the examinations, that Jiang daren can be said to stand at the pinnacle of the literary world. Moreover, in the present, there is no one who can match his unique talents.”
Curling up her mouth in a sneer, Lin Tong replied, “You’re bullying me for disliking studying! Elder sister, tell me, is he speaking the truth?”
Lin Bi’s eyes gazed off into the distance, as she answered, “He speaks the truth. Considering literary ability, Jiang zhuangyuan is truly second to none.”2 Turning to Wang Ji, she said, “Please continue.”
In a soft voice, Wang Ji remarked, “If you were to ask me how his good is his poetry, this commoner is not educated and cannot explain clearly. However, this commoner is especially fond of a poem that he composed at a young age.”
So speaking, he cleared his throat and recitingly sang:“The row of the oars brings the spring wind, the boat like a leaf on the waters,One single simple fishing rod in hand, one hook dangling from the line.An island covered with flowers, a bowl filled with merry wine,How happy and free I am, floating upon the endless waves.”3
Wang Ji sang passionately, his voice extremely clear and melodious. Everyone could feel as if they were transported to the endless, rippling waves of Southern Chu’s rivers and lakes.
Finished singing, Wang Ji continued, “That Jiang daren served as a Hanlin Academic for several years. After he gained the appreciation of Southern Chu’s Prince of De, he accompanied the army in the joint invasion of the Kingdom of Shu. This commoner does not know what stratagems Jiang daren presented, but there is one deed that is well-known to the masses. After Shu fell, Prince Li Zhi of Yong intended to bring its King back to Great Yong. With this decision, although on the surface, Great Yong and Southern Chu were dividing Shu evenly between them, Great Yong’s control over the King of Shu would give them a significant advantage. At the time, Great Yong was like the sun at high noon.4 Although Southern Chu had tens of thousands of troops, it was impossible for them to reverse the situation. It was Jiang daren, who sang a song during the banquet and forced the King of Shu to commit suicide. From that point on, the entire court praised Jiang Zhe as the most gifted scholar of Southern Chu.”
In disbelief, Lin Tong blurted out, “I don’t believe it! How can a poem hound a king to death? Elder sister, is he speaking the truth?”
Reaching out a hand to gently ruffle her younger sister’s beautiful hair, Lin Bi clarified, “Everyone has a sense of shame. That King of Shu, facing the ruination of his country and the deprivations of his people, was to be imprisoned for the rest of his life. With such public ridicule, no wonder he chose to commit suicide.”
Not really understanding, Lin Tong nodded her head. “If elder sister says it’s true, then it must be true. However, that Jiang Zhe is truly malicious.”
“Maybe so,” remarked Wang Ji, smiling. “After returning from Shu, Jiang daren fell gravely ill. For two years, he did not attend court, staying in his home to recuperate. I do not believe that Jiang daren would have been pleased with himself over what he had done.”
Lin Tong asked, “Oh! I remember! In the nineteenth year of Rongsheng, the Prince of Yong captured Jianye. For Jiang Zhe to become the Prince of Yong’s trusted subordinate, he must have surrendered to the Prince of Yong at that point. He composed a poem to mock the King of Shu for surrendering and yet he himself was willing to bend his knee and surrender. It seems that his moral character is lacking! Is this what you mean by a scholar’s strength of character?”
The expression on Wang Ji’s face darkened, as he disclosed, “For the Princess to speak thusly, this commoner has no way of refuting. However, in this commoner’s eyes, I do not blame Jiang daren. In the twenty-second year of Xiande, the King, unable to clearly see the situation, desired to advance himself to become Emperor. Jiang daren submitted a memorial directly criticizing this action. The King was so infuriated that he desired to execute Jiang daren. But recognizing Jiang daren’s reputation and his meritorious contributions, the King only dismissed Jiang daren from office and made him a commoner. When the Prince of Yong invaded Southern Chu, he personally went to invite Jiang daren. However, Jiang daren refused to surrender and was ultimately forcibly taken back to Great Yong by the Prince of Yong. This commoner has heard that the Prince of Yong valued Jiang daren highly, exhausting all efforts to have him surrender. This commoner believes that Jiang daren’s decision to ultimately pledge his allegiance to Great Yong was because of the Prince of Yong’s sincerity.”
Unwilling to let Wang Ji off so easily, Lin Tong retorted, “Although it could be said that it was a subject seeking a worthy master, I do not feel that it is worthy of being considered as the strength of character of a scholar.”
Shaking his head with a simper, Wang Ji stated, “Princess speaks the truth.” Although he spoke those words, it was clear from the look on his face that he was only half-heartedly agreeing.
Just as Lin Tong was about to continue to interrogate him, Lin Bi spoke up, “Tong’er, do you not want to continue to listen?”
Only then did Lin Tong shut her mouth. The individual she esteemed most was her elder sister and brother-in-law. As a result, she was extremely unhappy that Wang Ji viewed that Jiang Zhe as being superior to her brother-in-law.
Wang Ji continued, “This commoner does not know what ideas and strategies Jiang daren put forward to the Prince of Yong. However, His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, greatly respected and treasured Jiang daren, treating him as a teacher, a friend, and a brother. Not long after arriving in Great Yong, Jiang daren was nearly assassinated by a former personal bodyguard of the Prince of De. Reportedly, on his deathbed, the Prince of De issued a secret order that Jiang daren must be killed if he were to pledge his allegiance to another state. Jiang daren was severely injured, saved from the brink of death. Were it not for the Prince of Yong exhausting all kinds of precious and rare medicines, Jiang daren likely would not have survived until the Medical Sage, Sir Sang, arrived. His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, was greatly infuriated because of this incident. From that point on, it is said that Jiang daren’s guard was tighter than that of the Prince of Yong’s.”
Startled, Lin Tong inquired, “Why was your Prince of De so ruthless? Although Jiang Zhe was disloyal to Southern Chu, his actions were pardonable. Moreover, the Prince of De was already dying. Why was he worrying about these things?”
Sighing, Wang Ji responded, “At the time, many people shared your thoughts. Regardless of Jiang daren’s actions, he had made significant contributions to Southern Chu. Although, he changed his loyalties to Great Yong, it was Southern Chu who first dismissed him from office. That personal bodyguard was unavoidably too obstinate.
“Moreover, Jiang daren is only a scholar. It is a bit ridiculous for the Prince of De to remember him on his deathbed. However, afterwards, during his escape back to Southern Chu, the assassin was killed at the banks of the Yangtze River by a servant of Jiang daren’s. The servant’s name is Li Shun and he was originally a court eunuch in the Southern Chu Royal Palace. No one knows why he willingly became Jiang daren’s servant. At the start, no one paid him much attention. However, that Li Shun surprisingly had the ability to kill that assassin. Only then did everyone realize that he was a rarely seen expert. For such an expert to willingly serve as a servant to Jiang daren, that meant that Jiang daren definitely had some ability. Even then, though, few people paid any attention to Jiang daren, especially after he was nearly assassinated.
“Because of his poor health, Jiang daren spent half the year bedridden. Princess must understand that if a person’s health is poor, no matter how capable he is, he is only able to employ twenty to thirty percent of his abilities.”
Lin Tong was entranced listening to Wang Ji weave the story. She could not help but ask, “If that Jiang daren’s health was so poor, how was he able to advise the Prince of Yong? How was he able to hound the Fengyi Sect Master to death?”
Sighing again, Wang Ji answered, “This commoner does not know how Jiang daren was able to advise the Prince of Yong. I have only heard that, after Jiang daren helped the Prince of Yong subdue the former Crown Prince’s rebellion, he was already an emaciated wreck. Reportedly, his temples were already white and he would frequently vomit blood without end. Some had stated that Jiang daren would not live long.”
Hearing these words, Lin Bi sighed softly. She stated, “With every breath in one’s body, unto one’s dying day5 … it is a pity that the man is not in my Northern Han. Please continue.”
“At the time of the former Crown Prince’s coup d’état, Jiang Zhe was also within the Hunting Palace,” added Wang Ji. “In addition, he was seriously ill. And yet, he was the one who saw through the Crown Prince’s conspiracy, preventing the Prince of Yong from dying tragically at the hands of vile characters. As he was preparing to escape the encirclement, the Prince of Yong vowed to bring him along if he was to bring anyone at all. However, Jiang daren took the initiative to stay behind. The one who hid Jiang daren was Princess Changle.”
After some thought, Lin Tong asked with curiosity, “Why would Princess Changle take him in? Could it be that they had a private love affair?”
After some hesitation, Wang Ji responded, “This commoner cannot confirm the veracity, but Princess Changle was formerly the Queen of Southern Chu, while Jiang daren was an official in the Southern Chu court. For years, Princess Changle resided in seclusion in the depths of the palace, while Jiang daren rarely attended court. Logically speaking, it would have been impossible for the two to carry on a love affair. Later on, there were some who stated that, after arriving in Southern Chu, Princess Changle was fondest of poems and essays. Jiang daren’s poems can be said to be unrivaled under the Heavens. As a result, it is possible that from Princess Changle’s love of Jiang daren’s poetry, she grew to admire him. However, with the separation between their different social statuses, Princess Changle never spoke of her desire to wed Jiang daren to the then Yong Emperor.
“During the coup d’état, Jiang daren went to her to seek her help. Princess Changle would naturally save him by whatever means possible. Afterwards, Jiang daren devised a plan, having Princess Changle acquire the secret edict from the then Yong Emperor. That task completed, Jiang daren had the secret edict delivered, leading to the mobilization of the army to rescue the Emperor.”
With curiosity, Lin Tong inquired, “For Jiang daren to seek help from Princess Changle, could it be that he knew of the Princess’s affection?”
Smiling, Wang Ji spoke, “This commoner is not clear about that. In reality, with the situation he faced, Jiang daren could only seek help from Princess Changle. Before, Princess Changle had been neutral in the succession struggle. If it was simply the Crown Prince and the Prince of Yong struggling, she may have continued to remain uninvolved, but as soon as the situation involved the Emperor, she could only take action. With the deep love between father and daughter, she would naturally not watch idly as the Crown Prince threatened her father.”
“If that is the case, then how was Jiang daren not discovered through a search?” questioned Lin Tong, “How did he manage to send the secret edict out?”
With a look of veneration on his face, Wang Ji expounded, “Jiang daren’s hiding spot was likely quite secretive. In addition, the rebels did not take the weak and feeble scholar into account. As for the individual who went to issue the edict, this was the probably the most unexpected aspect of all of this. Xiahou Yuanfeng was initially a member of the Crown Prince’s faction and had taken part in the coup d’état. Reportedly, he was extremely close with the Crown Prince’s Junior Mentor, Lu Jingzhong. As a result, no one could have expected that he would use to the opportunity of issuing the Crown Prince’s fake edict to bring the secret edict out of the Hunting Palace. Everyone knew that Xiahou Yuanfeng was originally not part of the Prince of Yong’s faction. No one could understand how he was persuaded by Jiang daren. With him renouncing the dark and seeking the light, Xiahou Yuanfeng was able to make an enormous contribution to pacifying the rebellion. At present, he is heavily favored by the Yong Emperor. But it was Jiang daren’s abilities that are truly deserving of admiration. He had actually done the impossible.”
Nodding her head, Lin Tong expressed, “So that is what happened … Now, quickly speak of how Jiang Zhe was able to hound the Fengyi Sect Master to death. I don’t believe that he has such ability.”
Wang Ji’s expression roused, he replied, “To speak of this matter, it is truly enough to cause everyone to be won over by Jiang daren’s abilities. Jiang daren is no more than a weak and feeble scholar. The Fengyi Sect Master would likely have been able to kill him with just a pinky. On that day, with the Fengyi Sect’s treasonous plot failed, all of the rebels had been surrounded. Just as they were about to taken out in one scoop, the Fengyi Sect Master appeared out of the blue.6 With a single person and a single sword, she stood in the middle of the audience chamber. Aside from the then Yong Emperor and the Princes, there were important ministers, ranking generals, and experts from jianghu. However, in the presence of the foremost of the three grandmasters, a mere woman, all bent their heads without exception. No one dared to face her directly and look her in the eyes. However, it was Jiang daren, a weak and feeble scholar, vomiting blood and on the verge of death, who actually stood up and spoke intense words that resounded powerfully within the audience chamber, preferring to die in glory than live in dishonor. The Fengyi Sect Master had no choice but to agree to remain behind as a hostage in exchange for the lives of her disciples. Who can compare with this kind of boldness?”
Lin Tong wished to say something, but she suddenly remembered the formal visit that she had paid to the State Mentor of Northern Han. That day, before his presence, she had not even dared to breath. With this experience, it could be assumed that for Jiang Zhe to scold the Fengyi Sect Master’s misbehavior without fear of death, he truly had upright and unyielding strength of character. As a result, Lin Tong did not speak.
“There are few who know of what happened next,” continued Wang Ji. “However, seven days later, the Fengyi Sect Master was surrounded and killed by Great Master True Compassion of the Shaolin Temple leading his sect’s experts and Demonic Shadow Li Shun. And so, a once-in-a-generation grandmaster died filled with regret and hate.”
Lin Tong asked, puzzled, “If that is the case then why is it said that Jiang Zhe hounded the Fengyi Sect Master to death?”
“This information comes from the Shaolin Temple,” answered Wang Ji, “Reportedly, the Fengyi Sect Master was already injured. Taking a divine pill given her by the Medical Sage, Sir Sang, she was temporarily able to protect her heart arteries. As a disciple of the Medical Sage, Jiang daren was a master of medicine. As such, Jiang daren used some methods to force the Fengyi Sect Master to exhaust her life force over that seven-day period. As a result, the Fengyi Sect Master was ultimately forced to fight with her life on the line. Great Master True Compassion is another grandmaster, while Demonic Shadow Li Shun was a peak-level expert. Combined with the Eighteen Arhats from the Shaolin Temple, how could the Fengyi Sect Master survive? In addition, it is said that it was Demonic Shadow Li Shun, taking advantage of the two grandmasters dueling, who mounted a sneak attack and grievously wounded the Fengyi Sect Master, forcing her to self-immolate herself and die. If the mark of death was not upon the Fengyi Sect Master, she likely would have been able to escape.”
Shocked, it was some time before Lin Tong could bring herself to say, “If that is the case, then this Jiang daren is truly formidable. However, that Great Master True Compassion’s actions were unbefitting of his status as a grandmaster. Working together and attacking from two sides … and even relying upon a sneak attack. How was this information spread? Wouldn’t it be too embarrassing?”
“At the time, when this commoner heard this story, I only took it as a joke,” replied Wang Ji, shaking his head. “I cannot hope to understand Great Master True Compassion’s intentions.”
Turning to gaze at her sister, Lin Tong blurted, acting like a spoiled child, “Elder sister, you must know! Quickly tell me!”
Unable to handle her younger sister’s nagging, Lin Bi could only smile and say, “What’s strange about this? That Jiang daren’s thought processes are simply unfathomable. Great Master True Compassion had this matter spread, naturally causing everyone to become wary of Jiang daren. When the time comes, people would naturally be on guard when facing Jiang daren. It may be assumed that Great Master True Compassion was somewhat afraid that he would be next.”
Half-understanding, Lin Tong nodded her head and inquired, “Oh … then Wang Ji, what happened to Jiang Zhe and Princess Changle?”
Wang Ji responded, “When the Fengyi Sect Master appeared, although the audience chamber was filled with heroic figures, almost everyone without exception bowed their heads, intimidated. Only two individuals, throughout this affair, showed no fear of death, gaining everyone’s admiration. One was Jiang Zhe, Jiang daren. As a weak and feeble scholar, he directly scolded the Fengyi Sect Master for her misdeeds, causing the gathered heroes to blush with shame. The other person was Princess Changle. At the time, Jiang daren had been injured by the Fengyi Sect Master’s profound internal energy, vomiting blood without end. Disregarding and fearless of the Fengyi Sect Master’s sword pointing at her, Princess Changle personally went to check Jiang daren’s injuries. As she revealed her innermost feelings, she completely disregarded life and death, leaving all who witnessed it to sigh in admiration.”
Li Tong cried out in surprise, as she asked, “Could it be that Princess Changle was married to Jiang Zhe? If that is the case, then no wonder everyone compares her with my elder sister, while that Jiang Zhe is comparable to my brother-in-law.”
Smiling slightly, Wang Ji knew that for this little princess to speak in such a fashion, she had admitted that Jiang Zhe was truly formidable. Not baring his thoughts, he mentioned, “Although the Prince of Yong once asked the then Emperor to betroth the two and the entire court was moved by their deep love, ignoring the improprieties from their different statuses, the Yong Emperor refused.”
In surprise, Lin Tong asked, “Why? Jiang Zhe performed such a great meritorious service and the two of them were willing. Why did the Yong Emperor refuse?”
Smiling, Wang Ji answered, “The justification given was that Jiang daren’s health was too poor, and the Yong Emperor was worried that Jiang daren would not be able to live long. Princess Changle had already lived a rough life. If her husband were to die again, wouldn’t it be one disaster after another? With this reason given, even the Prince of Yong did not dare to argue otherwise.”
“So that’s why,” uttered Lin Tong, nodding her head. “That’s reasonable. Did Jiang daren’s health improve? Did the Yong Emperor betroth the two?”
“If that was the case, then it wouldn’t be considered as a legendary saga,” conveyed Wang Ji, continuing to smile. “Having made such a great contribution to Great Yong, Jiang daren was on the cusp of a meteoric rise in his career. However, at the same time the Prince of Yong was being anointed as the heir apparent, Jiang daren quietly left Chang’an, bringing along Demonic Shadow Li Shun. Reportedly, Jiang daren came and went completely honestly, sealing up and leaving behind all of the rewards bestowed upon him by the Prince of Yong, taking nothing with him. In such a manner, he departed into seclusion within jianghu. For someone of his talents and feats, he actually cared not the slightest for riches and honor, power and influence. Even those people who felt that there were blemishes on his reputation and integrity can only cease their criticism and sigh with admiration.”
A look of tremendous respect flashed across Lin Tong’s eyes, as she stated, “If that is the case, then that Jiang daren’s character is truly unparalleled in this world. Wait a minute … weren’t you originally going to tell me why Princess Changle was capable of being compared to my elder sister? How did you stray from the topic?”
Wang Ji complained internally. If I truly digressed, isn’t it because of your questions? However, a smile remained on his face, as he answered, “Princess is unaware that although Jiang Zhe departed in such an easy and relaxed manner, he managed to take a person with him.”
Her eyes widening, Lin Tong asked, “Could it be … could it be that Princess Changle actually eloped with him?”
Wang Ji clapped his hands together. “Indeed! Princess Changle’s temperament is outwardly flexible and inwardly unyielding. Originally, when the Yong Emperor was forcing her to remarry, she would rather die than to obey. Now that the Yong Emperor was prohibiting her from marrying Jiang daren and with Jiang daren departing in such a manner, how could the Princess feel at ease watching him depart? Those two had exhausted their youths and heart’s blood for the sake of Great Yong. Without any qualms, the two of them departed for the ends of the earth, wandering the lands free and unfettered, forming a loving couple, ‘rather living the life of a pair of mandarin ducks than the life of immortals.’7
“Princess Changle had originally been advanced to the title of Princess of Ning, obtaining incomparable glory and honor. In addition, her mother was advanced to become Empress. As a result, she was not lacking in riches and honor. However, she ended up discarding everything, accompanying her lover to reside in seclusion in jianghu. This kind of amazing woman should barely be able to be comparable to Her Imperial Highness, the Princess of Jiaping.” As he spoke these last lines, he gazed towards Lin Bi, caution filling his eyes.
Shaking her head, Lin Bi declared, “Princess Changle of Ning was able to accommodate both loyalty and filial piety, possessing outstanding conduct and appearance that values emotion while maintaining her character, disregarding power and influence, riches and honor. How can We compare to her? Tong’er, you were young before, as such Daddy and Mommy were worried that you wouldn’t understand the true essence behind Princess Changle’s story. In fact, it would have been detrimental to you. Today, since you have heard Sir Wang tell you of her story, I can tell that you have come to realize some of the principles. As such, I made no attempt to prevent you from listening.”
Finished speaking, Lin Bi’s gaze fell upon Wang Ji. With a subtle meaning behind her words, she said, “Sir Wang, you are still young and yet have such extensive knowledge. Truly hard to come by …”
Everyone’s eyes fell upon Wang Ji, gaining a bit of suspicion and wariness.