Volume 4, Chapter 4: Arriving at Binzhou

Jiang Yong’s father was Jiang Wuya, garrisoning Xuzhou. During the Eastern Jin Dynasty, Jiang Wuya was appointed the Marquis of Yongning,1 taking the older sister of the Gaozu Emperor, Senior Princess Ninghua, as wife. When Great Yong was founded, while Jiang Wuya and Gaozu were battling for supremacy, Jiang Wuya was seriously injured by an assassin, dying on the battlefield. Yong, seeing the strength of the enemy, under orders from his mother, took his father’s former subordinates and fled to the Eastern Sea to become a pirate. Inheriting his father’s noble rank as the Marquis of Yongning, he seized control over the Eastern Sea, using his might to shake the coastal regions. Everyone called him the Marquis of the Eastern Sea. Gaozu attempted to have him surrender, but he refused.

—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of the Marquis of the Eastern Sea

After departing from the Jinyang, Lin Bi and company traveled day and night towards southern Shandong, bringing a hundred or so personal bodyguards. The areas that they traveled through were the no man’s land between Great Yong and Northern Han. As a result, Lin Bi and company changed into commoners’ attire, disguising themselves as traveling merchants. The entire journey concluded without mishap. With ten days, they arrived at Binzhou. While Binzhou was situated on the border between Great Yong and Northern Han, it was in reality within the territory controlled by the Marquis of the Eastern Sea. When the marquis was formerly raiding the coastal regions, he used Binzhou to supply his ships. In order to ensure the safety of their merchant ships on the high seas, the merchants of Binzhou would secretly share information with the marquis, especially after Li Zhi had taken over the Yong government. The enmity and hostility between Great Yong and the Eastern Sea was gradually dispelled. The marquis no longer maliciously plundered and raided Great Yong’s merchant ships, while Great Yong ceased its severe suppression of Jiang Yong’s forces. As a result, the Eastern Sea’s power and influence grew significantly in Binzhou, especially after the long-distance oceangoing trade began. As a result, Binzhou became one of the largest and most important ports in the world. Through Binzhou, Northern Han and Great Yong sent an unending stream2 of their products out on long journeys on the merchant ships in exchange for exotic countries’ gold, silver, grains, and other products. As a result, both Northern Han and Great Yong desired to control Binzhou. However, before they were absolutely certain to succeed, no one dared to act blindly without thinking.

Trade between Southern Chu and Eastern Sea was conducted at Hangzhou. This time, Southern Chu—desiring to force the Eastern Sea to exclude Great Yong’s trade, only trading with Northern Han in the north and Southern Chu in the south—had not come with kind intentions. If Great Yong intended to destroy everything, then it would be impossible for Binzhou to continue to serve as a port. When the time came, it would only be Southern Chu who could monopolize the profits. As a result, Lin Bi was not committed to Southern Chu’s proposal. Of course, if Southern Chu were really to succeed, Lin Bi would definitely exhaust her mind to ensure that Northern Han controlled Binzhou. Although difficult, it was not impossible.

Passing through the gates into Binzhou, everyone was able to experience the welcoming, bustling aura of the city. Going back and forth were merchants with regional accents from throughout the world. Were it not for the rustling of the autumn wind, one would suspect that they had arrived at a flourishing city in Jiangnan. Nominally, Northern Han was an enemy country in Binzhou. As a result, there was naturally no official posthouse for Northern Han. However, someone had already made reservations for a courtyard at Binzhou’s most famous and largest inn.

The inn’s name was the Halcyon Inn. This name was extremely ordinary. However, at present, all of the Halcyon Inns in the world were owned by one master. Two years ago, the first Halcyon Inn opened business in Southern Chu’s Jianye. Afterwards, branches were opened in all of the major cities in the world. This Halcyon Inn did not rely upon luxury to attract customers. In fact, its furnishings and decorations were known for their simplicity and elegance. Although the inn’s service was considerate and attentive, there were nothing special about it. Although one could enjoy famous dishes from all of the major cuisines of the world, compared to the dishes from renowned chefs, they were quite lacking. It would be reasonable to say that the Halcyon Inns did not have anything special that made them stand out. However, after the Halcyon Inn had opened numerous branch inns, merchants who frequently traveled the world were astonished to discover that each and every Halcyon Inn was the same. The inn’s operation, the structure and layout of the rooms, the flavor of the food and drink, were almost practically the same. To these merchants who spent years on end away from home, the comforting similarities of the Halcyon Inns made them quickly consider the Halcyon Inn as their home away from home. Within each and every Halcyon Inn, they were able to enjoy a familiar feeling. In addition, the Halcyon Inn had another benefit. Once a customer had stayed at one of the Halcyon Inns, within a few months, all of the Halcyon Inns would know of the guest’s needs and wants, arranging each stay—the rooms, the food, the service—to one’s exact specifications, making a guest feel completely at home.

Of course, it was inevitable that there were those who were worried that the Halcyon Inn would have problems. However, each and every inn, aside from one or two managers, had a majority of local workers. After undergoing training, these servants would act according to the small pamphlets filled with regulations brought by the managers. If there were any violations, a servant would be immediately dismissed. As a result, each and every Halcyon Inn was essentially the same, while some had some small distinguishing characteristics in the details. This kind of operation was extremely easy for the local authorities to dispatch spies to enter and investigate. However, it was very difficult for these spies to discover anything. As a result, until now, no one knew who the Halcyon Inn’s behind-the-scenes proprietor was.

The reason that Lin Bi selected the Halcyon Inn was not because of her fondness for this aspect, but rather because the Halcyon Inn had another benefit. Each room was separated from the others using flowers and trees, rock gardens, and winding corridors, offering the guests privacy and security. If one rented one of the courtyards, then it would be even safer. The guest rooms within the courtyards, seemingly arranged irregularly, actually controlled all of the crucial points. As long as appropriate individuals were placed at each of the guest rooms, then they would naturally form a defensive circle, most suitable for the bodyguards of high-ranking officials and dignitaries to use. After staying at the Halcyon Inn once, many guests fond of luxury would grow fond of the Halcyon Inn. Moreover, although the Halcyon Inn was not particularly luxurious, its decorations and furnishings were refined and elegant, not degrading their social status.

After settling down, Lin Bi dispatched someone with her calling card to the residence of the Binzhou Prefectural Magistrate, Huang Wei. Huang Wei was nominally an official of Great Yong. However, in reality, he was a family retainer of the Marquis of the Eastern Sea, Jiang Yong. This was a fact that everyone was well aware of. Although Jiang Yong’s influence had already extended all the way to Binzhou, Jiang Yong himself was not present in Binzhou. In order to attend the wedding banquet, one must first deliver one’s invitation. Afterwards, the Marquis of the Eastern Sea would dispatch a ship to welcome the guest and carry him or her out to sea.

Lin Bi wanted to meet with the Southern Chu envoy before attending the wedding banquet. However, the Southern Chu envoy had boarded a ship from Hangzhou and directly headed to the wedding banquet, making it impossible for them to meet before the wedding banquet. As a result, Lin Bi could only let things happen.

When the Northern Han contingent had settled down, Wang Ji was lying in bed, finding it difficult to sleep. The entire journey, Lin Bi had kept a tight watch upon him. As a result, he did not have a way of communicating with his compatriots. Now that they had checked into the Halcyon Inn, if he remembered correctly, this would be the only way for him to communicate with his compatriots. If unable to contact them, obtaining his former master’s directives, then how would he be able to pay his respects to his former master? In three days, it would be the twenty-eighth day of the ninth month, the wedding day of the Marquis of Eastern Sea’s beloved son. And on the second day of the tenth month, it would be the first birthday for his former master’s son. What could he do? Wang Ji hesitated.

Just as Wang Ji was tossing and turning restlessly in bed, someone knocked on his door and stated, “This lowly one is here to deliver tea. Would the guest please open the door?”

Raising his voice, Wang Ji allowed, “The door is open. Come in!”

The door was pushed open, and an inn waiter dressed in azure and wearing a small cap walked in. As he closed the door behind him, he said, “Honored guest, our humble inn has prepared famous tea from various regions. I do not know if the honored guest has a particular preference, so as a result, I have brought some Longjing tea. If honored guest does not like it, I can replace it at any time.”

Although the waiter said those words, his conduct was extremely strange. After setting down the teapot, he swiftly shed his clothes and took off his cap. Wang Ji was first startled before he noticed that the waiter had placed a jade pendant on the table. A look of joy appearing on his face, he began to undress as well. Wang Ji said, “Longjing is great. Oh, that’s right. This one wishes to take a short nap. Be sure to not disturb me.”

As he spoke, Wang Ji changed into the waiter’s clothes and put on the cap. The two’s figures were similar. Once their facial features were slightly hidden, they closely resembled one another. The waiter lay down in bed, covering his head with the blanket and pretending to fall asleep, while Wang Ji took the tray and walked out. He remembered his surroundings perfectly. Not saying a single word, he walked straight out of the courtyard. As he stepped through the doorway, he saw another waiter waiting for him. Wang Ji did not say a word, following behind this second waiter. After making several twists and turns, they arrived at an extremely well-hidden guest room.

Within the room was a man standing with his hands behind his back. Hearing a sound, he turned around. The two exchanged looks, barely discernible tears appearing in their eyes. Both of them took a step forward and clasped arms. The man lightly exclaimed, “Chiji! I haven’t seen you for three years!”

Wang Ji, no, Chiji, replied, “Lü’er, having not seen you for three years, you’ve become increasingly steady. Is the young master well? Are all the brothers well?”

Lü’er opened his mouth to speak, but he did not know where to begin since there were a lot of things to say. Pulling Chiji down into a chair, Lü’er arranged his train of thought before responding, “The young master’s health has become quite good, frequently taking the mistress out onto the sea in a boat, enjoying their romantic surroundings,3 arousing everyone’s envy. Right now, the little master is nearly a year old, while the young miss, Roulan, is vivacious and adorable. Accompanied and attended to by Lord Li, Supervisor Dong, and Head Maid Zhou, they are filled with boundless joy.”

Hearing all of this, delight lit up on Chiji’s face. He replied, “That’s great! Before the young master went into seclusion, he dispatched me to wander the barbarian lands. These last several years, I have wandered the world. I felt like I was no more than floating duckweed, moving swiftly along without any dependents. Now, I can finally return to the young master’s side. By chance, I even get to celebrate the little master’s first birthday. Truly making me elated!”

“Everyone agrees with you,” said Lü’e with a smile. “These last few years, I have been tasked with managing the Halcyon Inn, causing me to wander the lands. I only returned to Binzhou a few days ago. Seeing the young master’s face again caused me to immediately relax. When you were selected by the young master to be sent to the barbarian lands to investigate military intelligence and popular sentiment, all of us were originally concerned about you, afraid that you would be harmed by the barbarian’s cruelty. Who could have thought that you have not only returned safe and sound, but have also returned with the nickname, ‘Divine Doctor Bo Le?’ I have heard that the barbarians have esteemed you as one of their deities. I had expected that you would be too happy to think of home.4 Who could have expected that you would still miss the young master? If the young master were to learn of this, he would definitely be moved and possibly not drive you off again.”

Picking up the teacup on the table, Chiji drank it in one gulp. He tranquilly recounted, “The barbarians are nomadic, often idling away their time. In late autumn when the horses are fat, the barbarians plunder the Central Plains, killing and pillaging, performing all manner of evil deeds. We would naturally view them as vicious, ruthless, and barbaric. In reality, in the two years I spent in the barbarian lands, I found that the average herdsman was extremely kindhearted and guileless. After I arrived on the prairies, I met with danger several times, losing my rations and my horse. Each time, I was saved by the herdsmen. Although the barbarians are rough and uncultured, they are also unsophisticated by nature. Their emotions are written all over their faces. I was happier being with them. Unfortunately, there are not only herdsmen on the prairie; there is also nobility, composed of each tribe’s leader and their families. It is these people who are filled with wild ambitions. In order to fight for women, gold, and silk, they not only raid the Central Plains, they also fight against one another. In those tribes, those herdsmen are no better than slaves. They perform arduous labor on a daily basis. In times of war, they need to go into battle. If they win, they naturally get a share of the spoils. However, if they lose, their wives, children, and property are snatched away by their enemies. As a result, all of them are brave and good at fighting, because victory and defeat are closely linked with life and death, honor and disgrace. In all honesty, even if they win, the spoils of war are mostly acquired by the nobility. They are only given some leftovers.”

Baffled, Lü’er asked, “Since those herdsmen have to endure such a pitiful existence and they are brave in battle, why do they not resist?”

Smiling wryly, Chiji answered, “It is easier said than done to resist. Life on the prairie is arduous. It is extremely difficult for a single person to live by himself. As a result, these herdsmen are unable to separate from their tribes. In addition, by occupying the best habitats, the nobility is able to obtain the best horses and weapons. As a result, they are able to easily bribe the loyalty of the boldest and most ferocious warriors of the tribe. How are the most oppressed herdsmen capable of resisting? Moreover, regardless of location or time, as long as they are able to survive, how many individuals are willing to risk their lives?”

Hesitating, Lü’e voiced, “I have once heard that the barbarians commit all kinds of crimes. But from your personal experience, I feel a bit sympathetic towards them. I’m afraid, however, if the young master were to hear your words, he would be infuriated.”

“What kind of person is the young master?” asked Chiji rhetorically before calming continuing, “He will not blame me. In addition, I also wish to tell the young master that although those barbarians have deep-lying enmity towards the Central Plains I can see that they are divided between good and evil. When the Middle Kingdom is engulfed in war, the methods employed are just as cruel and merciless. Therefore, I desire to ask the young master why we cannot coexist in peace and instead must slaughter one another.”

Lü’e claimed, “The young master will surely be able to allay your misgivings.”

Nodding his head, Chiji cast aside the vexing misgivings in his heart. He asked, “Now that you are the owner of the Halcyon Inn and are very wealthy, naturally it is worthy of celebration! However, I have heard that Daoli is even better off.”

“That’s right,” replied Lü’e with a smile. “Daoli sailed out into the open ocean twice, each trip traveling tens of thousands of li. The exotic treasures and regional specialties that he brought back left all who saw them dazzled. Truthfully, the best off is actually Hualiu. After that fellow’s real identity was revealed, General Qin and the Elderly Madam did not blame him. With his identity revealed, there was no way for him to leave the capital. Ultimately, he became an imperial bodyguard for the Prince of Yong. I have heard that he is now Xiahou Yuanfeng’s deputy in the Bright Inspection Department. If one were to consider his rank, he is the highest. It is a pity that Baiyi, Yulun, Shanzi, and Quhuang are all busy handling the Embroidered Union and the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets. They were not even permitted to come back this time by the young master.”

Smiling Chiji declared, “What are you worried about? Once Great Yong unifies the world, we can spend the rest of our lives in leisure.”

A look of longing flashed across Lü’e’s eyes as he smiled. “Yeah, I truly can’t wait for the day when the world is unified. When the time comes, there will be no need for us to fight and kill. Oh, that’s right, Chiji, why did you come with people from Northern Han? When the young master saw the report, he found it truly laughable.”

“I had no idea that I would run into persons from the Lin family,” answered Chiji, smiling wryly. “However, my luck this time was good, not only did I get the opportunity to meet General Long Tingfei, but I also met the Princess of Jiaping, Lin Bi, who has a similar reputation as Her Imperial Highness, Princess Changle. Alas, while they can truly be said to be a heroic couple, it is a pity that they are subjects of Northern Han. Oh, that’s right. Does the young master have any instructions? Long Tingfei and Lin Bi both want me to join the Northern Han army. If the young master has issued the order, I am willing to become an undercover agent in Northern Han.”

Lü’e shook his head. “The young master has said that both Long Tingfei and Lin Bi are unique geniuses of this age. Not only are they both resolute and firm, they are also incomparably intelligent. Unless a long time passes, it will be impossible for you to gain their trust. As a result, it would be useless if you serve as an undercover agent by their side. The young master has instructed that after you have accompanied them to the little Marquis’s wedding banquet to leave using a pretext. Facing these kinds of people, the young master naturally has his own methods. That’s right. The young master also wants me to tell you that you can’t miss the little master’s zhuazhou.”5

A cheerful look flashed across Chiji’s face. He replied, “Please report to the young master that I, Chiji, will respectfully adhere by young master’s orders. I will definitely arrive before the second day of the tenth month.”

Lü’e nodded his head. “I have already made all of the arrangements. In a while, your substitute will have the waiter deliver oil for the lamp. You will take this opportunity to change places.”

Chiji nodded his head. The weight on his mind lifted, he smiled and said, “I have brought some precious gifts for the little master. I will definitely arrive on the second day of the tenth month.”

“Good. I have also prepared some gifts,” replied Lü’e with a smile. “I’m afraid that they won’t be as novel as Daoli’s gifts. He has just returned from a trip overseas.”

Chiji responded, “I had no choice in the matter. However, my gift won’t be excessively inferior. This was a gift of thanks given by the strongest tribal chief for treating his horse.”

The two continued to converse for a short period of time before a servant came to report that the time was up. Picking up an oil lamp, Chiji returned to his guest room. Although Lin Bi had assigned men to keep the night watch, she had not prohibited the waiters from coming and going. Chiji was able to successfully return to his room without a hitch. The waiter substituting for him changed back into his clothes and noiselessly departed. Chiji lay down on the bed. It wasn’t long before he fell asleep.

The next day, Lin Bi allowed everyone to go out and explore the city, only prohibiting them from provoking unnecessary quarrels. Wang Ji was pulled out of the inn by Lin Tong. Although he did not know Lin Tong’s intentions, he understood well Lin Bi’s intentions. At present, Lin Bi would absolutely not prevent him to leave the Northern Han contingent’s sight. As expected, the personal bodyguard responsible for Lin Tong’s safety was also given the day off by Lin Bi. Taking over his responsibilities were two of Lin Bi’s trusted bodyguards. From what Wang Ji could observe, the martial arts of this man and woman duo was remarkable. Wang Ji knew that he did not have the abilities to defeat the two of them. It would be impossible for him to find the chance to escape. Lin Bi’s behavior was truly cautious. However, having already made contact with his compatriots, Wang Ji freely accompanied Lin Tong in sightseeing the city of Binzhou.

Binzhou was originally a small coastal town. However, now it was a neatly laid out large city. A swarm of merchants were gathered within the city and all kinds of shops could be found everywhere. Each of the shops was packed with glittering jewels that delighted the eyes, a feast for all browsing. Lin Tong excitedly wandered the city, frequently attracted by all kinds of novel items. At her side, the two bodyguards kept their eyes upon their surroundings with their acute vision.

After walking for several hours, his hands filled with boxes and packages, Wang Ji gazed at the still highly spirited Lin Tong with chagrin. He didn’t know why, but this little princess handed all of her purchases to him. The two bodyguards only laughed at him, taking him to be a joke. Wang Ji naturally knew that they would not spontaneously help him, so as not to hinder their movements. However, when did he become the little princess’s servant?

While Wang Ji felt aggrieved, Lin Tong had caught sight of a weapons shop. Although she was female, she had grown since childhood in the flames of war. She was especially fond of weapons and warhorses. As a result, she animatedly entered the shop. This shop was quite expansive. Its four walls were stacked and stocked with all kinds of weapons, including sabers, spears, swords, and halberds. All of them were high-grade weapons. At the center, upon a long table, were exquisitely manufactured daggers and knives. Included among them were several strange and peculiar designs. With one look, one could tell that they were not manufactured in the Central Plains.

With curiosity, Lin Tong walked over and examined the weapons, picking up a scimitar to take a closer look. This was a saber that was curved, including its scabbard. It was sheathed in a green-colored scabbard made from shark skin. The saber’s hilt was made from a pure white ivory. The grip of the saber was pitch black and had delicate silk embroidery. The blade of the saber was in the shape of a crescent. Lin Tong pulled the scimitar from its scabbard. Seeing that the blade was as brilliant as the sun reflecting off of snow, Lin Tong’s eyes lit up with attachment. At this moment, the middle-aged shopkeeper walked over. Waving his hand, he dismissed the shop assistant attending to Lin Tong. Gently laughing, the shopkeeper said, “Young lady, this is a scimitar that was acquired from Persia. It is capable of slicing any metal and chopping jade, most suitable for young ladies that train in martial arts to defend themselves. If young lady is fond of it, this lowly one is willing to sell it to you at a discount.”

Holding the scimitar, Lin Tong walked over to a pile of wood to test the blade. Chopping down, the solid and aged wood was easily cut apart. Lin Tong was euphoric, asking, “How much for this blade?”

The shopkeeper promptly answered, “This scimitar was used by the Persian royal family. This lowly one does not deserve to raise the price on my own initiative. Three thousand taels of silver will be enough.”

“What!?!” Lin Tong was greatly startled. Although she had figured that this scimitar would not be cheap, three thousand taels was a bit too expensive, right? Although she hailed from a prestigious house and had the title of princess, the Lin family had spent generations garrisoning Daizhou. In order to train the army, money was spent like running water. In addition, the Lin family was known for its honesty and incorruptibility. As a result, Lin Tong did not have that much money on her. Sighing, Lin Tong set the scimitar back where it came from. If she were to really spend three thousand taels of silver on a weapon that she could not take into battle, her father would likely punish her. In low spirits,6 she walked towards the exit. Lin Tong could not help but turn her head back several times to look, gazing upon that exquisite scimitar.

At this moment, a little girl, bouncing up and down in a vivacious manner, stepped in. She walked very quickly. Coincidentally, Lin Tong’s head was turned. As a result, the two bumped into one another. That little girl was young and light. With a cry of “aiyah,” she fell backwards. Having trained in martial arts, Lin Tong was able to react immediately, reaching out to embrace the little girl. Glancing down, she saw that this little girl was about five or six years of age, her appearance beautiful, lovable, and charming. She had beautiful skin and clear and luminous almond eyes that were clever and astute. She radiated an extremely spirited and elegant aura. Lin Tong could not help but smile and ask, “Little sister, did you get hurt?”

Shaking her head, the little girl replied, “Big sister, do not worry. Lanlan did not get hurt.”

Lin Tong released her hold on the little girl. The little girl rushed over to the table, picking up the scimitar that Lin Tong was so fond of. Animatedly, she said, “Shopkeeper uncle, I brought money. Please sell it to me.”

Lin Tong’s gaze could not but stare at this little girl. This little girl surprisingly wanted to purchase this precious scimitar. What was going on?

The shopkeeper was in a somewhat awkward position. This little girl had come earlier wanting to purchase said scimitar. Naturally, he did not believe that this little girl would have that much money. As a result, although she had asked him to not sell the scimitar, he did not comply by the agreement. Blushing a bit with shame, he glanced at Lin Tong before amiably stating, “Little miss, this requires three thousand taels of silver.”

Immensely proud of herself, the little girl replied, “I brought the money. However, it’s being carried by someone else. Uncle Hai, Uncle Hai! Hurry up!”

In the wake of the little girl’s melodious and sweet-sounding voice, a deep and resounding voice boomed, “Coming, coming! Little imp, you ran too fast. Uncle Hai can’t catch up.”

Just as the voice was resounding in everyone’s ear, a man in azure robes walked in from outside. This man was over thirty years old. His appearance was refined and handsome. The only blemish was that his skin was bronzed, the skin of his face rough. With one look, everyone could tell that he was frequently under the sun. Although the man’s clothing was plain and simple, his bearing was calm and unflustered. The look on his face carried a faint majestic presence.

When the shopkeeper saw him, he was startled, recognizing this man. Smiling widely, he walked forward and said, “So it is Lord Hai who has come. Don’t speak of paying for it. This lowly one’s business is all because of your fortune. If the young miss likes it, she can simply just take it.” As he spoke, the shopkeeper was left to wonder when Lord Hai gained such a niece that he doted upon by his side.

The man smiled lightly and replied, “We’re both businessmen. How can I take advantage of you? This girl is the daughter of my best friend, always naughty and stirring up trouble. This time, she has taken a fancy to this scimitar. The money that she is spending is her own pocket money. This is the little girl’s own affairs. There is no need for you to worry about me. Charge her whatever it costs.”

The little girl pouted. “Uncle Hai is always ignoring others’ feelings and doesn’t help Lanlan bargain.”

The man smiled faintly. “Who let you be so obstinate? What precious items does Uncle Hai not have? You are free to take anything you like. Instead, you have taken a fancy to this scimitar.”

Lin Tong could not help but become curious from the lofty tone of the man’s words. Pretending to look at the other weapons, she stayed behind to watch the lively scene.

The little girl angrily said, “How would that do? This is what Daddy promised me, allowing Lanlan to personally purchase a gift for little brother. If selected and chosen from Uncle Hai’s collection, it wouldn’t be Lanlan’s gift.”

The man broke out in laughter, replying, “Your daddy has never bothered about these things and yet you are so obstinate. Fine … Uncle Hai won’t be bothered with you.” So speaking, he took out a stack of banknotes and handed it over to the shopkeeper, stating, “This time, you’ve spent two years’ worth of allowance and red envelopes. In the future, don’t come to me to borrow money.”

Immensely proud of herself again, the little girl replied, “There is no need for Uncle Hai to worry about this. Mother dotes on me dearly and will definitely give Lanlan pocket money.”

At this moment, the shopkeeper had already placed the scimitar in an embroidered case, respectfully handing it to the man, going so far as to return some of the banknotes. He said, “Lord Hai, even if this lowly one had a heaven-reaching gall, I dare not seek profit from you. Would Lord Hai please accept this kindly?”

The man smiled and replied, “This isn’t that major. You have brought merchandise back from distant lands. How can you sell at a discount? This niece of mine is fond of these exquisite objects. In the future, she will unavoidably continue to trouble you. It is enough as long as the price is fair.” So speaking, he returned the banknotes back to the shopkeeper.

After thinking it over, the shopkeeper stated, “In that case, this lowly one will obey. Lord Hai, this lowly one has an exquisite object to gift the young miss to play with.” As he spoke, he had a shop assistant go into the back of the store to bring out a strange object made out of steel. When the object was pulled apart, it turned out to be an exquisitely manufactured foldable crossbow. The steel body of the crossbow was closely connected to the arms with a hinge, while an exceedingly sturdy string made from an unknown material was firmly attached to the crossbow’s arm and body. When the crossbow was unfolded, it was only slightly bigger than the size of a palm, perfect to hide in the sleeve and use for self-protection. The shopkeeper said, “This was accidentally obtained by this lowly one. Because there is only this single one and its power is weak, therefore it was not put out to sell. Let it be a gift to the young miss to play with.”

A look of excitement flickered across the little girl’s eyes. Rushing forward, she snatched over the little crossbow, looking at it over and over for some time. Only then did she speak, “Truly exquisite. Uncle Hai, Lanlan likes it very much.” Her glittering eyes were filled with entreaty.

The man smiled slightly. “Since it is his kind intentions, you can keep it.” Finished speaking, he took the little girl’s hand and walked out. The shopkeeper followed them out, seeing them off, beaming. It was clear that he was extremely happy that Lord Hai had accepted his gift.

Lin Tong could only guess that the departed man must be an important figure in Binzhou for the shopkeeper to be so deferential. As she thought, her eyes could not help but follow that man out, revealing hints of her curiosity. The man had long discovered that someone was watching him. However, because of his extraordinary status, it was not unusual for him to be the object of others’ attention. As a result, he did not pay it any attention. However, as he walked out, he still took a look in passing. Strangely, when he saw Lin Tong, an odd grin appeared on his face, a hint of contempt flashing across his eyes.

Once the man and the little girl had departed, Lin Tong asked the shopkeeper, “Who was that person for you to flatter him so?”

The shopkeeper smiled and answered, “Young lady is an outsider or perhaps doesn’t recognize him. He is the proprietor of the biggest shipping company in Binzhou. By himself, he controls the oceangoing trade. He is Hai Wuya, Lord Hai.”

Lin Tong cried out in surprise. Rushing out of the shop, she discovered that Hai Wuya had already disappeared.

Once she had gone, the shopkeeper yelled to his shop assistant, “The one we have dealings with, young master Hai, is truly an astute individual. It is extremely difficult to take advantage of him. In comparison, Lord Hai has a generous and magnanimous character, only a bit cautious, not fond of social niceties. He is the most difficult individual to curry favor with. Surprisingly, we were fortunate enough to make such a profit. Quickly, send a letter to the owner. In two days, have the owner bring gifts and pay a visit to Lord Hai …”

Lin Tong stamped her foot and muttered, “Truly a pity. It would have been best if elder sister were here.” Finished speaking, Lin Tong was no longer in the mood to window-shop. Gloomily, she walked back towards the inn. Wang Ji smirked, a look of joy and longing showing in his eyes.

Footnotes:

永宁, yongning – lit. perpetual peace
源源不断, yuanyuanbuduan – idiom, lit. a steady flow; fig. an unending stream
花前月下, huaqianyuexia – idiom, lit. amidst the flowers under the moonlight; fig. romantic surroundings
乐不思蜀, lebusishu – idiom, lit. enjoying oneself to forget Shu; this is an idiom that speaks of Liu Shan, the ruler of Shu-Han, enjoying himself while he was a prisoner, completely forgetting his former kingdom; fig. indulge in pleasure and forgetting about one’s home and duty
抓周, zhuazhou – known as the grabbing test, it is the custom of placing a variety of objects before an infant on its first birthday to see which he or she picks up; this is used to help determine a child’s future inclinations and career
无精打采, wujingdacai – idiom, lit. dispirited and downcast; fig. listless, in low spirits

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