Listening to Lin Tong’s story, Lin Bi comforted her, “Tong’er, there is no need for you to feel regret. Hai Wuya is a character whose words carry enormous weight in Binzhou. It would be good if we had the chance to have a meeting with him. However, that man clearly has an intimate relationship with the Marquis of the Eastern Sea. It would be useless to only convince him. If the Marquis does not nod his head as well, no one will be able to make the decision that we need. Further, we have also made inquiries and discovered that it would be more useful to convince Hai Li than to convince Hai Wuya. To this day, Hai Wuya is a bachelor. More than two years ago, his nephew, Hai Li came from the Southern Chu to seek shelter with him. Right now, Hai Li has become his uncle’s most valued and important assistant. We have already dispatched men to investigate. Many years ago, the Hai family was destroyed by a flood. That nephew of his was left destitute in Southern Chu. During the time that he drifting about homeless, there was practically nothing that he didn’t do. It was only more than two years ago that Hai Li learned of the existence of his father’s younger brother and came to seek help from his uncle. Hai Wuya’s temperament is magnanimous, completely ignoring the disputes that he had with his brother, taking in this nephew. Although Hai Li is young, his mind is meticulous and is extremely shrewd. Of Hai Wuya’s business, he can make seventy percent of the decisions. I don’t think that we will be able to completely exclude Great Yong. However, if we are able to persuade Hai Li to be preferential to us, we will reap enormous benefits.”
Lin Tong was confused. If the only relative that Hai Wuya had was this nephew, then who was the little girl? To be doted on so much by Hai Wuya, her identity must surely not be ordinary.
However, Lin Tong also knew that it would be impossible to get an answer to her question. She thus asked, “Elder sister, there is another matter. Why do I feel like you’re on your guard against Wang Ji? This is very different from your usual behavior.”
Lin Bi sighed softly and replied, “Foolish child, do you really believe that Tingfei and I simply wished to recruit his services?”
Lin Tong was startled. “What, you guys?”
“Tingfei and I both are suspicious of Wang Ji’s master’s identity,” explained Lin Bi with a smile. “Wang Ji is not only an outstanding horse archer, he also has literary talent. On top of all this, he is able to identify and treat horses. Even rarer is his bearing and mannerisms. To Tingfei and my status, he is neither servile nor overbearing. This entire journey, I have noticed that he is extremely familiar with the geography of the lands that we have passed. This kind of individual, no matter where he is, is impossible to be neglected and ignored. You know that he has spent years in Southern Chu and Great Yong. If so, why has he not enlisted in the army and not recruited?”
Lin Tong refuted, “He’s a veterinarian. Or maybe it’s because he does not wish to enlist or become someone’s subordinate?”
Lin Bi continued, “This entire journey, we have hastened along as if we are an army force marching. But he not only was not exhausted, he would frequently tell some jokes and talk about his experiences to amuse you. In addition, I can sense that he is not unfamiliar with military matters. It is clear that if he has never enlisted, then he must have been received similar training. Little sister, this man’s identity cannot be simple.”
Lin Tong’s face flushed before it paled. She rose, intending to go out, but was pulled back by Lin Bi. Lin Bi questioned, “What are you going to do?”
In a rage, Lin Tong answered, “I want to go ask him why he is acting like a spy. Why is he deceiving me … and elder sister?”
“I can tell that he is not deliberately deceiving you,” stated Lin Bi, shaking her head. “This entire journey, he made no effort to get close to you, neither did he made inquiries about military matters. I believe that your meeting was wholly unexpected. He does not have the deliberate intentions of being a spy. I am only saying that there are surely some question marks about his background. Seeing how he esteems his former master, little sister, what kind of individual can have a servant like this? Have you thought about this?”
Lin Tong’s heart palpitated with fear for some time, recalling each and every word that Wang Ji had uttered. Afterwards, her mind suddenly remembered the vigor and spirit within Wang Ji’s eyes whenever he talked about Jiang Zhe. She could not help but mumble, “Elder sister, you don’t think … don’t think … that his master is that person?”
Lin Bi smiled slightly. “Originally, I would never make this kind of baseless conjecture. However, with the fact that his master is also in the Eastern Sea, this has only aroused my suspicions. At the time, when Jiang Zhe went into seclusion, there was no one in this world who did not desire to find his whereabouts. If this kind of individual is not properly controlled, no one can rest easily. After carefully thinking things over, Jiang Zhe is no normal person. He was the Prince of Yong’s trusted strategist and also has Princess Changle of Ning by his side. In addition, Princess Changle was originally the Queen of Southern Chu. Then, thinking of Jiang Zhe’s conduct and behavior, it is impossible for him to go to Southern Chu. As for the Kingdom of Shu, it has been divided by Great Yong and Southern Chu, but he can’t go there either because he forced its former King to commit suicide. If he were intelligent, it would be best if he never went to Shu in this lifetime. Beyond that, the present situation in Shu is unstable. Adopting the goal of reestablishing Shu, the Embroidered Union comes and goes as they please. If he were to remain in Great Yong, it would be impossible for him to escape the authorities’ attention and notice. If he came to Northern Han, he likely fears that we would take him captive. In this enormous world, there is only one location that he can hide himself—the territory of the Marquis of the Eastern Sea.
“At present, although the relationship between the Marquis of the Eastern Sea and Great Yong has warmed, the Marquis has not yet sworn fealty to Great Yong. Jiang Yong has a stubborn temper. It would be unlikely for him to surrender and pledge allegiance before Li Yuan has died. Moreover, from the intelligence that we have obtained, Jiang Yong’s son, Jiang Haitao was once bitten by a poisonous snake and was only saved by Jiang Zhe. Tell me, wouldn’t that make the Eastern Sea the best place for Jiang Zhe to hide and live in seclusion? The Marquis of the Eastern Sea would definitely treat him as an honored guest, while Great Yong would not have to worry that he will become employed by another country. It is only that the Eastern Sea is vast and boundless, while our Northern Han is not adept at naval warfare. Furthermore, although Jiang Zhe is formidable, Tingfei and I do not fear him. As a result, we naturally have set this matter aside.
“However, after running into Wang Ji, I have guessed that his master is likely Jiang Zhe. Tong’er, tell me. What would happen if Jiang Zhe were to die in the Eastern Sea?”
Although Lin Tong was young and rarely participated in military decisions, she had grown up in a military household. As a result, she only needed to think for a moment before crying out in alarm, “It is likely that Great Yong’s Emperor will be utterly enraged . The Eastern Sea and Great Yong will become enemies, since Jiang Zhe died in Eastern Sea.”
In a calm and unruffled tone, Lin Bi replied, “This by itself is easy to guess. The Yong Emperor, Li Zhi, is surpassingly wise. Sooner or later, he will realize Eastern Sea’s innocence. Although he will be angry, it will not be enough to affect the ultimate result. The Eastern Sea’s surrender to Great Yong will happen sooner rather than later. However, Li Zhi will use all the means at his disposal to pursue and assassinate Jiang Zhe’s murderers. Our Northern Han and Southern Chu will be the biggest targets. When the time comes, if we were to proclaim responsibility, then Li Zhi will order the Prince Li Xian of Qi to immediately attack Northern Han. Although Li Xian has many troops and generals, there is a rift between him and the Emperor, and his soldiers and generals are filled with doubt. Our Northern Han will definitely be able to achieve a decisive victory, allowing our counterattack to penetrate through Great Yong’s frontier. From this superior position, we will be able to ensure that Great Yong will be unable to confront us for many years to come. As for Southern Chu, they can seize this opportunity to attack as well. Tong’er, when the time comes, we will no longer have to live in fear and worry about our country being destroyed.”
Seeing her older sister’s glowing expression, the grief and joy in Lin Tong’s heart increased. She naturally knew of the anxieties of her father, her elder sister, and her brother-in-law. If her elder sister’s desire were to succeed, it would naturally be for the best. However, Lin Tong didn’t know why, but she could not help but recall the stories that Wang Ji had told of Jiang Zhe. Surprisingly, she could not bear for such a man to die at the hands of assassins.
As if she understood her younger sister’s thoughts, Lin Bi reached out and grasped Lin Tong’s hands, stating, “Tong’er, you have already reached the marriageable age. Elder sister wants you to understand that it isn’t that elder sister is fond of these kinds of actions. In war, who wouldn’t exhaust all of the methods available? In these matters, even a tiny bit of mercy cannot be tolerated. Our four brothers are fierce and brave generals, but none of them are capable of serving as a commander-in-chief. Although you are still young and mischievous, I know that your intelligence and cleverness are not any less than elder sister’s. Tong’er, you must make all efforts. In a few years, once you can assume a heavy responsibility, elder sister can be at ease accompanying your brother-in-law in battle.”
Lin Tong was stunned for some time. Suddenly, with tears falling, she embraced Lin Bi wept. “Elder sister, it’s entirely Our fault, otherwise, there’s no way that you wouldn’t be married to brother-in-law. Elder sister, Tong’er will discipline myself going forward. In the future, when Tong’er becomes a Grand General, I will lead a magnificent army and protect Daizhou, ensuring that you and brother-in-law will not have any fears about trouble in your rear.”4
Feeling sour, Lin Bi also wrapped her arms around Lin Tong. She whispered, “Tong’er, all of this is destiny. Our Lin family has never had a disloyal and unjust member. That year when Mom and Dad were in love, after Maternal Grandfather rose in rebellion and established Northern Han, Daddy would rather never see Mother again then betray the Jin Emperor. From the various uncles, I have heard that when the First Ruler’s army surrounded Daizhou, the city had already run out of supplies. At this moment, the First Ruler dispatched a messenger informing Daddy that the Jin Emperor had been deposed. Hearing this news, Daddy was heartbroken. Although for the sake of Daizhou’s troops and civilians, he had no alternative but to surrender to the First Ruler, Daddy still refused to be an official of Northern Han, using the pretext of convalescing from illness to remain at home. Afterwards, when the barbarians invaded and Daizhou fell into a desperate situation, the First Ruler personally came to ask for Daddy’s help. For the common people and these lands, Daddy could only ultimately don his armor and go into battle. Afterwards, Daddy became a subject of Northern Han. These last several years, Maternal Grandfather and Uncle have trusted and relied upon our Lin family, never having a hint of suspicion or jealousy. Tong’er, our Lin family cannot watch our home and country be invaded and conquered! As a child of the Lin family, there is nothing that we cannot sacrifice for Northern Han and for the Lin family. Elder sister knows that you are quite fond of Wang Ji. However, you must remember that he is not from Northern Han, while you are a child of the Lin family.”
Lin Tong’s face became as pale as paper. She did not refute her sister’s words. She had truly begun to fall in love with that cultured and refined, yet also courageous and resolute youth. She had originally believed that since Wang Ji had already promised her brother-in-law that he would stay in Northern Han, then it may be possible to keep him by her side. However, right now, Lin Tong finally understood that her first love, like the gorgeous and beautiful spring blossoms, had already died under the desolate autumn wind. Afterwards, she heard Lin Bi add, “This time, I have brought along two batches of people with me, overt and covert. If Jiang Zhe’s whereabouts are discovered, they will assassinate him. As a result, our watch over Wang Ji cannot relax, even for a moment. You must be careful and ensure that he does not pass along any information. We will definitely be able to find Jiang Zhe by following him.”
When Wang Ji pushed open the door and walked out of his room, seeking to eat in the inn’s dining hall, he coincidentally saw Lin Tong walk out from Lin Bi’s room. Just as he was about to call out to Lin Tong, he discovered that he couldn’t utter a single sound. That charming and adorable little princess’s entire body was glowing with an incomparably gorgeous radiance, almost as if she were another Lin Bi. Lin Tong’s gaze also fell upon Wang Ji and smiled slightly. Even though that smiling expression was splendid, Wang Ji could feel his heart palpitate with fear. Lin Tong walked over. Beaming, she said, “Hello! Are you going to eat? I’m also going to eat. It’s definitely a lot livelier there.”
Wang Ji wanted to reply, but only felt that his mouth was too dry, and was incapable of speech. The little princess seemed both familiar yet unfamiliar.
On the twenty-seventh day of the ninth month, under the guidance of the Marquis of the Eastern Sea’s subordinates, Lin Bi and company boarded a large ship, specially prepared by the Hai Family Shipping Company to carry all of the guests invited to the wedding banquet to the island occupied by the Marquis. There weren’t that many guests aboard the ship. Only those of sufficient status were permitted aboard. Responsibility of entertaining the guests fell upon a trusted subordinate commander of the Marquis, Luo Heng. Grinning from ear to ear, he stood on the deck of the ship, chatting with the guests, completely showing no signs of his nickname as the “Maritime Butcher.”
When Lin Tong first boarded the ship, she was filled with excitement. However, once the ship began to move, she felt dizzy and sick. Although hating to part with the ocean scenery, she was forced by Lin Bi to go into a cabin and rest. Lin Bi remained at the bow of the ship, enjoying the gentle sea breeze, while paying attention to the other guests aboard the ship out of the corners of her eyes. There were many guests aboard, each with different social statuses and ranks. It went without saying, though, that the majority were merchants or businessmen. However, in order to have the qualifications to take this vessel, all of them were among the richest merchants in the world.
At this moment, someone spoke up from behind Lin Bi. “This commoner, Hai Zhongying, has heard that Your Royal Highness, the Princess of Jiaping, was aboard the vessel and has specially come to pay my respects. Princess, please forgive this commoner for being so presumptuous.”
Lin Bi turned around. Beyond the defensive perimeter established by her bodyguards, she saw a middle-aged man in a set of deep blue robes. His appearance was cultured and handsome, his skin color bronzed from exposure to the sun. Following behind him was a youth with a delicate and elegant appearance. He had slightly tanned skin. It was clear that this youth’s skin was originally fairly pale and had only been browned by exposure to the sun in the last few years. The appearances of these two were seventy percent similar, evidently blood related.
Lin Bi’s heart leapt, as she replied, “So it is Hai Wuya, Sir Hai, and Hai Li, young master Hai! We are extremely honored to have the privilege of meeting you two gentlemen today.” As she spoke, Lin Bi gestured with her hand, having her bodyguards allow the two to approach.
“This name, Wuya, is only an alias that everyone presented me with,” Hai Wuya smiled. “Because it violates the naming taboo with the Marquis’s father, I no longer use it. Your Royal Highness, the Princess, please call this lowly one, Zhongying. For Your Royal Highness to personally arrive at the Eastern Sea, Zhongying should have come long ago to pay my respects. However, Your Royal Highness’s status is majestic. This commoner did not dare to profane your presence. Your Royal Highness, please forgive me.”
Lin Bi smiled slightly and asked, “Sir Hai, please do not stand on ceremony. What’s going on? Why hasn’t Sir Hai gone ahead to help the Marquis of the Eastern Sea with the arrangements for the banquet? Based upon Sir Hai and the Marquis’s relationship, you should have gone to help.”
Disdain flashed across Hai Wuya’s eyes. “The little Marquis’s wife-to-be is a daughter of Southern Fujian’s Yue family. The Yue family and I have always had our grievances. In order to not wreck the atmosphere, I did not go to help.” Speaking to this point, Hai Wuya seemed to return to his senses. Lowering his voice, he continued, “My rare treasures exhibition will be held on the thirtieth day of the ninth month. I wonder if the Princess is interested? This time, I have brought some rare treasures from overseas. There are some that may be of interest to the Princess.”
As he spoke, Hai Wuya opened his palm. Hai Li, standing to his side and smiling continuously without saying a word, took out a red invitation and handed it over to Hai Wuya. Hai Wuya then handed the invitation to Lin Bi, stating, “Within is a catalogue of the precious and valuable objects being displayed. If Your Royal Highness is interested, you can take a look beforehand.”
Lin Bi accepted the invitation, though she did not open it. She smiled and voiced, “As expected, Sir Hai is an excellent businessman. Southern Fujian’s Yue family also has a significant merchant fleet. It may be assumed that the Marquis of the Eastern Sea wishes to gain an additional partner.”
A hint of a sneer flashed across Hai Wuya’s face, as he declared, “Your Royal Highness has misunderstood. The little Marquis’s birth mother is from the Yue family. This marriage is merely to cement the old marriage ties with another layer.”
At this moment, the sound of a little girl floated over with a laugh, “Uncle Hai, Uncle Hai! Take a look at what Lanlan has managed to hit!”
Hearing the voice, Lin Bi took a look, seeing a little girl in pink dress, bouncing up and down vivaciously as she ran over. In the little girl’s right hand was a small, exquisite crossbow. In her left hand was a seabird that had its head pierced with a compact crossbow bolt.
Under Lin Bi’s nod, the bodyguards did not stop the little girl. In a good mood, she threw herself into Hai Wuya’s arms. As if she was presenting a treasure, she held the seabird up for him to see.
Hai Wuya doted, “All right. If your daddy were to learn of this, he would definitely be happy. However, he probably will be even more overjoyed if you acted like a proper young lady.”
The little girl retorted, “That’s definitely not the case! Daddy has said that I can do whatever I like. In the future, Lanlan wants to accompany elder brother Li to see those barbarians with red hair and green eyes.”
Smiling, Hai Li responded, “I dare not agree to this. Who doesn’t know that the young master and the madame both view the little miss as a pearl without price? If I were to take you out to sea, at most the young master would ground you. I would likely be chased out.”
Dejectedly, the little girl muttered, “If elder brother Li is fearful, then boo hoo … Last time, Lanlan wanted to find someone to deliver a letter to elder brother Jun, and no one dared.”
Hearing the little girl speak in such a manner, Hai Li shivered inwardly, shooting a look of worry at Lin Bi. Lin Bi did not seem to have noticed anything, only maintaining a wide smile as she gazed upon the little girl. Only then did Hai Li relax. Apologetically, he said, “Princess, the child is naughty and mischievous, incurring your ridicule.”
Lin Bi smiled. “There is no harm. What an adorable little lady. What is your name? Does young master Hai have a master and servant relationship with her father?”
Hai Li returned her smile. “She is called Roulan and is the beloved daughter of Hai Li’s master. That year, when this commoner was wandering the world, I was taken as a student by my master. Afterwards, when I learned of my uncle’s whereabouts, I came here. Receiving master’s grace, Hai Li was able to gain my freedom. It is only that I do not dare to forget past kindness. As a result, I still use the terms of master and servant.”
Lin Bi gazed at Roulan’s curious, wide eyes. Reaching out, Lin Bi picked Roulan up. Hai Li took the crossbow and seabird from Roulan’s hands. Her hands free, Roulan instinctively wrapped her arms around Lin Bi’s neck. Her heart warming, Lin Bi smiled and asked, “Little Lanlan, why isn’t your daddy here?”
Hai Li frowned. Just as he was about to interject and answer for Roulan, he saw a warning look given by one of the bodyguards. At this moment, Roulan had already answered, “Daddy is not fond of being around so many people. Only with difficulty was Lanlan able to get mother to agree to allow Uncle Hai and elder brother Li to bring Lanlan to see the bustling scene.”
Lin Bi continued to smile, as she asked, “Then what is Lanlan’s surname?”
Roulan’s eyes lit up, as she answered, “This, Lanlan does not know. Daddy is Daddy. Lanlan is Lanlan. Uncle Hai, what is Daddy’s surname?”
Everyone who heard her response could not help but laugh. It was normal for a child to not know their parents’ surnames. Lin Bi also laughed and let it go.
Looking at the vivaciously bouncing up and down little Roulan depart, Lin Bi thought, Am I being too paranoid? Why do I think of that man whenever I meet someone new?
Just then, the swift running little Roulan banged into a little boy. The little boy seemed to be younger than four, but was taller and more solid than Roulan. When the two children collided, the boy only stumbled, while Roulan fell to the ground.
Hai Li immediately strode over, helping Roulan to her feet. The little boy coldly glanced at the two of them before turning to leave. Roulan shouted, “Hello! You bumped into me! Why are you leaving before apologizing?”
Disdain flashed across the little boy’s eyes, as he callously replied, “You are also at fault.”
Roulan felt rage in her mind. Although she was young, all those who ran into her would either treat her as a treasure or with respect. The worst treatment she would get was still quite good, filled with fondness. She had never before been treated so rudely. Her eyes reddened and she leapt towards the little boy. Grabbing onto the little boy’s clothing, she screamed, “Quickly apologize to me!”
Just as the little boy was about to struggle free, seeing Roulan’s tear-filled eyes, he could not help but soften. However, he refused to admit his mistake, saying, “You are also at fault.”
After thinking it over, Roulan released her grip. “It was my mistake. I should not be running around. I’m sorry.”
The little boy was surprised. Before he could even respond, Roulan had already placed her hands and on her hips, stating, “I have already apologized. It’s your turn.”
The little boy was truly stupefied. It was quite some time before he responded, “It was my fault.”
Roulan smiled, immensely proud of herself. At this moment, a laugh and a forthright voice resounded, “Good skills! Lin’er, it’s rare to see you apologize.”
The little boy blushed. Lowering his head, he walked behind a man in brocade silk clothes. The man was over thirty years old. His appearance was handsome and straightforward. His dark eyes carried an icy light. Although he was joking, from his expression, one could not see a hint of delight on his face. This man was surrounded by a cruel and unfeeling aura. At the same time, however, it was filled with grace and calm. This man was like a tamed leopard, causing all those who saw him to anxiously believe that he would break out of his prison at any moment and tear his enemies into shreds.
The little boy’s admiring gaze was upon this man. However, the man did not spare the little boy a single glance, instead looking indifferently at the little girl. Disappointment appeared in the little boy’s eyes, as he lowered his head.
Alarm emerged from within Lin Bi. This man was definitely a dangerous character. When the man’s gaze fell upon Lin Bi, a hint of a smile appeared on his face. Lin Bi trembled inwardly, unhurriedly stepping forward. She was unwilling to lower her head in front of anyone, especially this man who was likelier an enemy than a friend.
The man impassively stated, “Princess of Jiaping, this is our first meeting. Truly, the stories do you no justice.”5
Lin Bi’s eyes flickered, as she returned, “Who would have thought that Your Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, would leave your army? Truly leaving Lin Bi be surprised and wondering.”
The man laughed heartily. “It is a hundred years of fortune that we share a ship. This Prince is truly fortunate. The Princess of Jiaping is truly a heroine amongst women, helping your father protect Daizhou and casting fear upon the barbarians. This Prince has come incognito to the Eastern Sea with the intentions of meeting the Princess. Since we have met, it is enough to comfort me for the rest of my life. Although Long Tingfei is formidable, this Prince does not care about him. However, this Prince is envious that he has you for a fiancée.”
Lin Bi could tell that although his words were indulgent, his gaze carried an aura of gloom. She suddenly recalled that although this man had a famous reputation of being a dissolute wastrel, after the events of two years ago, he had not only dismissed all of his concubines, but also restricted himself from sexual intercourse. Lin Bi could not help but feel pity for his deep and sincere attachment to his deceased wife. Sighing lightly, Lin Bi distantly replied, “Your Imperial Highness is praising me too much. Why has Your Imperial Highness come to the Eastern Sea? I have heard that your honored country’s envoy is the Prince of Qing, Li Kang.”
The man’s face darkened, as he calmly spoke, “This Prince and the Marquis of the Eastern Sea are cousins. This time, my nephew is getting married. This Prince has come as a private citizen to congratulate him. Chiji, why are you here? Where is your master?”