Volume 4, Chapter 6: Life and Death Without Regrets

In the twenty-fourth year of Wuwei, Zhongying was frustrated with the Chang’an market, when suddenly on one day, he was paid a visit by a man surnamed Han. That man used a lot of money to pay off Zhongying’s debt. Soon afterwards, Zhongying went to Binzhou, establishing the Hai Family Shipping Company. In the twenty-fifth year of Wuwei, the company received a significant investment, allowing it to build large ships able to travel to distant lands, traveling unhindered for tens of thousands of li. As a result, Zhongying received the nickname, Wuya, meaning “without end.”

—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of Merchants

Chiji almost cursed Li Xian out. He did not expect that the Prince of Qi would actually speak to him. Even an idiot who saw him with Lin Bi and company would definitely not casually reveal his name. He did find it strange that the Prince of Qi would remember him; after all, they had only met in Southern Chu when Jiang Zhe had saved Li Xian’s life. As he angrily and mentally cursed him out, Chiji smiled insincerely and addressed, “Reporting to Your Imperial Highness, this commoner has long been dismissed by my master. This time, I have come to the Eastern Sea to extend my congratulations. If Your Imperial Highness is interested, this commoner is willing to lead you to the young master.”

Li Xian let out an “oh” before indifferently stating, “Your master’s temperament is truly strange. Setting aside and not enjoying status and wealth, instead enjoying bringing trouble on himself.”

After smiling, he continued, “Princess Bi, although our two countries are enemies, we are currently in the Eastern Sea. This Prince has no wish to cause any incidents. It is rare that I am able to set aside military affairs. I believe that Princess won’t be unapproachable.1 This Prince is of mind to invite the Princess to enjoy the ocean scenery with me. I wonder if I will have the honor?”

Lin Bi withdrew her attentive gaze upon Chiji, ridicule flickering across her eyes. She replied, “To be able to meet Your Imperial Highness, although Lin Bi is only a woman, We are unwilling to let this opportunity to have a good conversation with Your Imperial Highness slip by. Your Imperial Highness, after you.”

A look of approval appeared on Li Xian’s face before following Lin Bi and walking to the bow of the ship. As he walked past Roulan, he paused. Smiling, he stated, “My Lin’er is a bit younger than you. Are you willing to play with him for a while?”

Bewilderment flashed across Roulan’s eyes. To this seemingly familiar stranger, she replied, “Okay! However, I’m the elder sister. If he doesn’t listen, I’m going to have to discipline him!”

Li Xian broke out in laughter. For the first time, an actual smile appeared on his face. He agreed, “Okay! Lin’er, you should have heard everything. If you don’t listen to her, she can discipline you on my behalf.”

Finished speaking, Li Xian walked to the bow of the ship to Lin Bi’s side. The two’s guards isolated them from the rest of the passengers on the ship, preventing their conversation from being heard by those unrelated.

Pleased with herself, Roulan told Li Lin, “Did you hear? Your daddy has said that you are going to be my younger brother. Very good! My little brother does not yet know how to walk. As such, I can’t teach and discipline him. Let me try it all out on you!”

Vexation appeared on Li Lin’s face. At this moment, his expression was finally like that of a little child. Roulan had started running to the stern of the ship, pulling on his sleeve. She made a big fuss, almost as if she had found a new toy.

Gazing out at the boundless ocean that seemed to merge with the sky,2 Li Xian seemed to want to say something, but hesitated. Lin Bi flicked her beautiful hair and asked, “Why isn’t Your Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, speaking? Presumably Your Imperial Highness has some matters to speak to Us privately about? We have not avoided suspicion, treating Your Imperial Highness with sincerity. Why has Your Imperial Highness remained so reserved?”

Li Xian suddenly chuckled. Lin Bi was startled, immediately realizing that there was a bit of innuendo in her words. Her face flushed and she added, “If Your Imperial Highness is unwilling to speak business, then Lin Bi can only ask to withdraw.”

“At this moment, I presume that the Princess bears a heavy responsibility,” replied Li Xian casually. “However, has the Princess thought about the consequences?”

The expression on Lin Bi’s face sank. She coldly retorted, “I wonder. What is Your Imperial Highness referring to? We have come to the Eastern Sea as an envoy upon His Royal Majesty’s order. I wonder what the consequences are? Could it be that the Eastern Sea is Great Yong’s territory and cannot tolerate others from benefiting?”

Li Xian sighed. “I usually dislike being meddlesome. Since the Princess has come to serve as an envoy to the Eastern Sea, you are here on official business. I have come to attend the wedding banquet, meaning private business. As a result, regardless of what the Princess wants to do, I am disinclined to pay any attention to it. However, the Princess has been accompanied by quite a few subordinates. This Prince has received a secret report that several disciples of the Sovereign of the Devil Sect, Jing Wuji, should have stayed by General Long’s side to protect him. However, in recent days, they have disappeared. I originally believed that General Long was worried about Princess’s safety, thus allowing them to accompany you. However, today, I noticed that Princess does not have many people by your side. They are either protecting the Princess in secret or … the Princess has other intentions. Why have you hidden them?”

Lin Bi turned her head slightly, trying to hide the killing intent in her eyes. She smiled and responded, “Your Imperial Highness is overthinking things. It could be that they have been dispatched away by Tingfei. It could be that they are scouting around within your Great Yong’s borders.”

“Since the Princess is speaking in such a manner, then that’ll be the case” replied Li Xian, smiling slightly. “Binzhou is nominally controlled by Great Yong. In reality, it is under the control of the Marquis of the Eastern Sea. However, although the Marquis of the Eastern Sea’s strength isn’t small, it is primarily naval. As a result, Binzhou is where the Marquis of the Eastern Sea’s strength is at its weakest. After all, no one would be willing to use up one’s energy on a location that can be lost at any moment. As a result, for the Princess to dare to bring so many subordinates to Binzhou and, in addition, has a method of mobilizing them to follow your orders, they will be able to succeed with one strike. Based upon the horse archery abilities of the Northern Han experts, they can naturally retreat back within your honored country’s territory at any moment.”

His voice hardening, Li Xian warned, “This Prince only wants to caution the Princess. There are some people that can be offended. But there are also some people that are best left alone.”

Lin Bi’s mind was a mess. She was the only one who knew the reason why she had come to the Eastern Sea. Everyone else was simply following orders. In addition, she had only received permission to act at her own discretion. Why did it seem from the Prince of Qi’s words that he knew of her intent to assassinate Jiang Zhe? Although she had come up with the plan to assassinate Jiang Zhe, to actually be able to carry it out required that all kinds of conditions be met. She needed to discover Jiang Zhe’s hiding spot. In addition, she needed to have sixty to seventy percent assurance of success before she could execute her plan. Even right now, she could not say that the plan will succeed. Although she had brought many experts with her, most of them were needed to deal with possible moves by the Southern Chu contingent.

Seeing Lin Bi fall silent, Li Xian found it laughable. The reason for his trip to the Eastern Sea was specifically to meet with that man. He originally thought that with the vast and boundless Eastern Sea, without the help of the Marquis of the Eastern Sea, it would be impossible for him to meet that man. Who could have thought that the man would actually dispatch a messenger to meet him? That man had countless spies in Binzhou, knowing everything that happened within the city like the back of his hand. Even his sudden arrival had been noticed by that man’s spies, let alone someone who attracted attention like Lin Bi.

Li Xian did not find it strange that Lin Bi wanted to assassinate Jiang Zhe. Initially, when Jiang Zhe first arrived at Great Yong, didn’t the Fengyi Sect and Southern Chu make attempts on his life? That kind of man living in this kind of world would naturally leave many unable to rest and eat in peace. Northern Han and Great Yong had waged war for years and were sworn enemies. Whatever they did would not be surprising. Moreover, Northern Han had its own outstanding talents who would realize that Jiang Zhe was the only individual capable of mediating the tense relationship between the Prince of Qi and the Yong Emperor. Didn’t he come himself with this purpose in mind to help resolve his present predicament? However, Li Xian really wanted to know why Jiang Zhe had not set a trap, taking out all of these experts from Northern Han in one go, and instead, allow him to alert the enemy, forcing Lin Bi to give up the assassination plan.

Glancing at Lin Bi, seeing that her killing intent was still hidden and actually gaining some fear and misgivings, Li Xian lightly shook his head. He said, “Your Royal Highness should have seen a spider hunt, correct? Opening an inescapable net, arranging layers of ambushing troops, only waiting for the enemy to enter the net. When the enemy enters, only death awaits them. The man that Princess fears is most adept at arranging such traps. When you are thinking about dealing with him, you would have already fallen into his trap, almost impossible to retaliate. He has spent nearly three years in the Eastern Sea. This area is already his territory. It is impossible for the Princess’s movements to be concealed from him.”

Lin Bi grew frightened. At this moment, she finally realized the truth behind the rumors. Her activities were within that man’s calculations; otherwise how could the Prince of Qi know of her intentions? However, at the same time, doubt grew inside. Could it be that the Prince of Qi had already had secret communications with Jiang Zhe long ago? Otherwise, how could the Prince of Qi know of these things? But why did the Prince of Qi come to warn her when Jiang Zhe held all of the advantages? Wasn’t this purposely making things difficult for Jiang Zhe? The more she thought, the more tangled and complicated it became. Lin Bi forced a smile and acknowledged, “Many thanks for Your Imperial Highness’s advice. We are only worried about my younger sister’s safety, thus brought some extra subordinates. Although the Eastern Sea is neutral, it is increasingly intimate with Great Yong. Your Imperial Highness cannot blame Us for taking extra precautions, correct? However, We are baffled. It can be assumed that that man has long lived in seclusion in the Eastern Sea. Why has the Great Yong court allowed him to live as a refugee like this? Isn’t it a pity that this kind of talent is not properly employed?”

Seeing the killing intent in Lin Bi’s eyes gradually dissipate, Li Xian cheerfully replied, “There is no need for Your Royal Highness to be overly sensitive. If the Princess were to meet that man, then you would understand how truly strange his temperament is. This Prince only met a messenger he sent when I arrived at the Eastern Sea. That man prefers to live a secluded and quiet life. If he can avoid matters of state and military, he will avoid them. In the boundless Eastern Sea and with the protection of the Marquis, although Imperial Brother and I both wish to invite him to come back, he is like a dragon, mysterious, appearing and disappearing at will. We have never been able to find his secluded location. Further, Imperial Father has yet to forgive him and relent. As a result, Imperial Brother can’t look for him with great fanfare. Beyond that, to this day, the Marquis of the Eastern Sea remains uneasy about Great Yong. Imperial Brother has not been willing to offend him. Were it not for the stalemate between this Prince and General Long, this Prince would not be so impulsive, coming so far to ask for his help even though I do not know where he is staying. Originally, this Prince intended to force the Marquis to lead me to him. However, because of Princess, this Prince was able to meet with that man’s envoy just when I arrived at Binzhou.”

Lin Bi’s mood gradually calmed. Originally, her plan to assassinate Jiang Zhe was a last resort. Since it had already been seen through, there was naturally no point in executing it. It was best to improvise. Perhaps she could acquire an even greater harvest. She glanced at Li Xian, amusingly thinking, Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to assassinate him?

Seeing the strange smile on Lin Bi’s face, Li Xian immediately guessed what she was thinking. Laughing heartily without restraint, he stated, “There is no need for the Princess to be so heartless. To speak of it, General Long and I sympathize with one another. To fight to one’s heart’s content on the battlefield, isn’t that one of the few enjoyable things in life? No matter how useful the results of crafty plots and machinations, their perniciousness is boundless. We are soldiers who use lives to determine victory and defeat. What need is there for plots and schemes outside of the battlefield? It is best to leave those things to civil officials. Why does the Princess not meet this Prince in a life and death battle with General Long? Wouldn’t that leave all of us filled with elation, dying without regrets?”

Hearing him speak, Lin Bi was overwhelmed by emotion. This was her original intent. However, with Northern Han relying upon a single province to fight against the entire Central Plains, unable to make ends meet,3 even if they won, Northern Han would likely be completely exhausted. Further, with the Prince of Qi focused on defense, adopting a scorched earth policy, where could victory be found? She glanced at Li Xian, seeing that his previous gloomy, grim detachment had been swept away, his countenance glowing with health and vigor. Within his smile was a heroic expression that seemed to look disdainfully on the entire world from the corners of his eyes. She could not help but think, Fighting a bloody battle with this kind of man can truly be counted as one of life’s most enjoyable events. Arriving at this conclusion, a heroic spirit also burst forth from Lin Bi. In a loud voice, she ordered, “Bring wine!”

When two of Lin Bi’s bodyguards heard her words, they promptly brought over two wineskins. Lin Bi, herself, took one of them, gesturing at the other to Li Xian. Li Xian understood and took the second wineskin. With a smile, Lin Bi declared, “Within is my Northern Han’s best and strongest alcohol. The custom of the people of my Daizhou is to share a drink upon meeting the best of friends or the most admirable of enemies. If friends, then they must henceforth show absolute and sincere loyalty. If enemies, if they meet in a life and death situation, they will not be filled with hatred. Your Imperial Highness’s heroism reaches to the clouds.4 If Tingfei were here, he would surely invite Your Imperial Highness to a drink. Although Bi is a mere woman, I do not concede anything to men, and would like to invite Your Imperial Highness to share a drink with me. When we meet on the battlefield in the future let us die without hatred and enmity.”

Li Xian’s eyes shone. It was some time before he replied, “The Princess is truly an outstanding woman and heroine. Brother Long is truly blessed. Good! I will drink this wine.” Finished speaking, Li Xian unplugged the cork of the wineskin and began to gulp down the wine. This wineskin was big enough to contain half a catty of strong wine. Relying upon his drinking capacity and his profound internal energy, he drank the entire wineskin in one go. As the alcohol hit his stomach, Li Xian felt his head grow heavy. However, he still turned the wineskin upside down, signifying that he had completely drank it all.

Seeing this, Lin Bi smiled slightly. She also drained her wineskin in one go. Her only reaction was the ruddiness of her face. In a clear, bright voice, she recited, “Strangers meeting by chance become friends, to share these feelings on the battlefield in the years to come.” Finished reciting, Lin Bi fell silent. Turning, she departed, heading for the hold of the ship.

Li Xian’s heart shook, feeling the upright and straightforwardness of these two verses by Lin Bi, and also the deeper meaning. After reciting several times, he felt himself longing for the day when they would meet again on the battlefield in a life and death situation.

At this moment, behind Li Xian, he heard the sound of his personal guards crying out in alarm. Afterwards, an elegant voice spoke, “Hai Li requests a meeting with His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi.”

Li Xian did not turn around, indifferently stating, “Allow him to come over.”

Hai Li walked close to the Prince of Qi and respectfully addressed, “This commoner, Hai Li, known as Daoli in the young master’s service, pays my respects to Your Imperial Highness.”

Li Xian turned around and glanced at Hai Li, replying, “There is no need to stand on ceremony. What? Has Suiyun changed his mind about coming to see me?”

Daoli answered, “The young master has said that since Your Imperial Highness has come to the Eastern Sea, it is best to first pay a visit to the Marquis. Moreover, with Your Imperial Highness’s intelligence and resolution, it is best to not miss the Marquis of the Eastern Sea’s happy occasion. It will definitely not go smoothly.”

Li Xian smiled. “Suiyun is always so secretive. Fine … I am already satisfied that I am able to see him so easily. However, since something will happen during the wedding, wouldn’t it be too dangerous for the two children?”

“Your Imperial Highness, do not worry, the young master has already made arrangements,” explained Daoli. “This is the best opportunity to ensure that the Marquis of the Eastern Sea pledges allegiance to Great Yong. Both sides will have a way out of the embarrassing situation. Moreover, the young master has said that since everything has already been prepared, it is time to close the net. Binzhou was originally the only passage for Northern Han to communicate with the outside world. Once it has been closed, then Your Imperial Highness will be able to complete the glorious deed of conquering Northern Han. Your Imperial Highness must not miss this golden opportunity.”

Thinking pensively, Li Xian replied, “What? Suiyun also feels that the time is right? However, isn’t Northern Han flourishing right now?” While Li Xian spoke these words, he could see the awkwardness on Daoli’s face. Laughing in spite of himself, he said, “I’ve completely forgotten that we aren’t in the army encampments. All right, pass along this message to Suiyun. I’m completely convinced. It seems that Imperial Brother’s letter had reached the Eastern Sea long ago.”

Glancing at Daoli again, Li Xian voiced, “That Suiyun … you are such a talent and yet aren’t interested in getting titles for your wife and children. Why are you, Daoli, acting like a merchant? Why go through all the trouble? If you are interested, I will bring this up with Suiyun, allowing you to become an official.”

Daoli was startled. “This commoner has engraved upon my organs Your Imperial Highness’s deep affection. It is only that although this commoner holds no office, I feel that being able to lead a convoy of merchant ships to distant lands tens of thousands of li away is far more delightful than anything else. It doesn’t matter that I do not hold any office. Moreover, by following the young master, this commoner is also serving Great Yong. There is no need to hold an official post.”

Hearing his words, Li Xian could feel at ease. From Daoli’s words, he could tell that Jiang Zhe had no intention of remaining a spectator. It seemed that although Jiang Zhe had spent these last few years in seclusion, he made quite a few preparations. If that was the case, then it wouldn’t be a problem to invite Jiang Zhe out to mediate between him and the emperor. Thinking about the nagging vexations that had plagued him these few years disappear like smoke, Li Xian could not help but beam with happiness.

At this moment, little Roulan’s clear, soft, and moving voice came drifting over, sining:

“An illuminated horizon, on a deserted island.

My heart follows the lone sail far, my body at ease as an oar.

As the ocean spray dances in sunny shadows, the coral island swallows the sound of the rushing waves.

Where the broad hazy plain meets the sky, a master crane crosses the sphere leisurely by.”5

Hearing her sing, Li Xian could feel himself become carefree and relaxed. He thought, Roulan’s song must definitely be Jiang Zhe’s new composition. ‘An illuminated horizon, on a deserted island’ must mean that Changle and him are living together with deep love and passion, enjoying endless pleasure. Gazing upward, only seeing the mirror-like, bluish-green waves, the unending white clouds and the same colored sky and sea, Li Xian could feel himself grow tranquil.

He did not fear battle. He bitterly hated the political struggles within the court. At present, the entire Great Yong abounded with rumors, the majority of them directed at him. If they weren’t talking about his intentions to rebel, they were talking about the emperor’s intentions to settle accounts. He did understand that Li Zhi wouldn’t be choosing this moment to get rid of him, if that was his wish. In the face of those rumors, it didn’t matter that he, Li Xian, and Li Zhi in Chang’an did not believe in those rumors. The problem was that those important ministers of the court and the majority of the soldiers and generals of his army were filled with doubts. As a result, morale and logistics were unstable. If this were to continue, then Long Tingfei could surely take advantage and attack.

After receiving news that the beloved son of the Marquis of the Eastern Sea was getting married, he suddenly was inspired to do something.6 He knew that Jiang Zhe was living in seclusion in the Eastern Sea. This was something that both he and Li Zhi were well aware of. Although it was not confirmed, they were positive about it. Living in seclusion for three years should be enough time for him to laze about. If he did not come to help him at this time, then wouldn’t he be too heartless? Regardless of what was said, he was now a son-in-law of the Li family. Surely, there was no way that he would watch as brothers fell into conflict, allowing another to reap the benefits?

Just then, the sound of a little boy’s stammering singing voice could be heard. Presumably, Roulan was forcing Lin’er to sing a song. However, after hearing two verses, Li Xian felt a sharp twinge in his chest, his face paling.

“A pair of swans came flying by,

Soaring from the southeast.

In tens and fives, the others grouped,

Spreading out as they begin the difficult journey.

Suddenly illness and exhaustion struck,

They could no longer fly together.

He looked back at five li,

He faltered at six li.

I wish to lead you and go,

But my mouth is closed and unable to speak.

I wish to carry you,

But my plumage is lost and ruined.

Our happy friendship has just begun,

How mournful is it to part now.

Hesitating and wavering towards gathered companions,

Tears falling freely and unopposed.

Birdsong far removed from seclusion,

Sorrowful wails like caws.

The wounded sincere heart weeps blood,

Shedding tears of farewell.

Seeing you fall to the northwest,

How can I go the southeast?

Remembering the former affection towards my beloved,

And yet unable to speak of it in hiding.”7

The miserable singing almost drove Li Xian insane. It was the song he sang while within his desolate tent, garrisoning the border, a dirge of endless tears shed under the moon. Just as he was about to weep, Li Xian suddenly came back to his senses. He walked towards the cabins at the back of the ship, catching sight of Li Lin singing, his face covered with despair and heartbreak. Roulan gazed at him, her face filled with alarm and fear.

Before Li Xian could get close, Roulan had already covered Li Lin’s mouth and said, “I’m not going to force you to sing. There’s no need for you to feel so sad from singing.”

Li Xian’s heart shook. What did Li Lin understand at such a young age? The little boy had clearly seen his everyday mood and copied it. An intense self-loathing welled up from the pit of Li Xian’s stomach. He had only thought to keep Li Lin by his side so that he wasn’t harmed or bullied and humiliated by others. He did not expect that his own forlorn feelings had been completely observed by his son. In addition, as he was busy with military affairs on a daily basis, in order to protect this son of his, Li Xian was inevitably aloof and distant to him. Speaking from the heart, Li Xian did not know how to properly take care of this child. It could be assumed that over these last nearly three years, not only had he been suffering, the most miserable and helpless individual was this Lin’er, losing his mother and unable to obtain the love of his father.

At this moment, Li Lin caught sight of his father. He could not help but retreat behind Roulan. To him, his father was an icy tyrant. As for this little girl who was smaller in size than him, her soft and small, pampered body, and her fragrant scent, caused Li Lin to feel like he had returned to his once wonderful childhood, as if he were back in his mother’s embrace.

With large strides, Li Xian walked over and picked up Li Lin. In an amiable manner, he said, “Lin’er, there is no need to be afraid. It is all daddy’s fault. This time, daddy will bring you to see your auntie. Do you want to stay by auntie’s side?”

A frantic look appeared in Li Lin’s eyes, as he replied, “Daddy, please don’t drive away Lin’er.” His hands tightly gripped Li Xian’s clothes, increasingly unwilling to relinquish his hold.

Li Xian smiled and said, “You silly child. Daddy is busy fighting a war and does not have time to take care of you. Your auntie is merciful and kind, and will definitely treat you as her own. Moreover, there is also a little elder sister who will play with you.”

With a suspicious look, Li Lin gazed at Roulan. Li Xian smiled and said, “Real smart! That’s right! Call her elder sister Lan from now on.”

A rarely seen brilliant smile appeared on Li Lin’s face. Li Xian felt his heart ache, tightening his embrace around his beloved son.

***

When she walked out of her cabin, Lin Tong saw Chiji standing in the distance, in a daze. Her heart ached. She had already learned what had happened moments earlier. Since this man’s real identity had been revealed, even if she wanted to pretend as if she didn’t know, it would be impossible. She directly walked out, almost as if she didn’t see Chiji. Chiji suddenly reached out and pulled on her arm, bringing her to a halt. Lin Tong’s complexion darkened, as she said, “What are you trying to do?” However, her voice wasn’t loud so as to not disturb anyone else.

Chiji apologized, “I did not deliberately mislead you.”

Lin Tong callously retorted, “What did you mislead me about, ‘Divine Doctor Bo Le?’” She sounded resentful and sorrowful.

After falling silent for a moment, Chiji replied, “I did not say a single lie, only not revealing that my former master was Jiang Zhe, Jiang Suiyun. Moreover, the promise I made to General Long to serve Northern Han was just a stop-gap measure. I have no intentions of staying in Northern Han to gather military intelligence.”

Lin Tong apathetically conveyed, “I know that you did nothing wrong in this matter. The two countries are at war and we are only serving our separate masters.”

Chiji felt a stab of pain from her icy gaze. He could not help but release her. Although he clearly felt that he had done nothing wrong, he still felt guilt bubbling up from within.

After taking several steps, Lin Tong stopped. “You do not owe me anything. It’s my temper that is poor, taking out my anger on you. Wang Ji, are you going to follow your master and attack our Northern Han?”

Chiji was startled. Resolutely and decisively, he replied, “I won’t.”

Startled for a moment, Lin Tong stated, “You are very suitable to serve as a scout. Moreover, you should also be extremely familiar with Northern Han.”

In a low voice, Chiji muttered, “The young master has never forced us to do anything that we do not want to. The world is so large. There are other things that I can do. In addition … in addition, I do not wish to run into you on the battlefield.”

Lin Tong laughed. Although Chiji could not see the expression on her face, he could tell that she was laughing uproariously from the way her shoulders shook up and down. However, the laugh carried a thick sorrow. After a while, Lin Tong stopped laughing. She said, “You are too cowardly. It would be better if you were like my elder sister and Prince Li Xian of Qi. Although sympathetic towards each other, they still have made an appointment to meet on the battlefield, dying without hatred and enmity. If you wage war upon us, I will kill you on the battlefield. When the time comes, I will naturally not hate you. As for your hate, what use is it then? An ignorant fellow without a brave and unyielding character. I, Lin Tong, will definitely not be lenient towards a coward like you!”

Chiji did not speak. Having undergone extensive and rigorous training as a spy, he understood what it meant for Lin Tong to tightly grip her hands into a fist and the shaking of her body. However, he did not step forward to console her, because he knew how wide the chasm was between them. Rather than wallowing in a beautiful dream, it was better to sever all the entanglements of emotion. This young lady, as beautiful as a flame, would become a secret that he would hide in his heart.

In silence, he walked out. Just as the door was about to close, he heard sounds of sobbing. With great difficulty, he ignored the temptation to turn and look. Perhaps he did not recall Southern Chu or Great Yong fondly. However, that figure, as deep as the sea and as straightforward as the wind, was his master that he could never disobey or betray.

***

On one corner of Penglai Island in the Eastern Sea, on a small harbor overlooking the sea with its back to the mountain, stood an elegant and hospitable little manor. It was known as the Tranquil Sea Manor. Although the grounds of the villa were large, there were few buildings and pavilions. The few that existed were hidden by greenery. It seemed like a paradise. Halfway up the mountain, within a small and exquisite red house, a handsome scholar in azure robes was practicing calligraphy. Upon the fine snow-white paper was a natural and flowing handwriting. Just then, a gentle voice somewhat concerned expressed, “Lan’er is still young and yet you allow her to go to that place without any worries. As a father, if you aren’t even a bit distressed, I, as the mother, am worried.”

The handsome scholar in azure set down the brush. With satisfaction, he gazed at his just completed work of calligraphy. He smiled and replied, “It is said that a warm, caring mother will spoil a child. These words aren’t false. You should not worry yourself about this matter. Do you think that I wouldn’t dispatch men to protect Lan’er?”

The beaded curtains moved slightly and the snow-white figure of a beautiful woman with a graceful demeanor walked out from the room within. Pouting playfully, she said, “You are always so mystifying.8 Fine … I won’t argue with you about this. If something happens to Lan’er, I won’t spare you.”

The scholar in azure chuckled loudly. He reached out with his hands and pulled the woman in snow-white into his embrace. Smiling, he replied, “Okay, okay! If anything happens to Lan’er, I’ll allow you to punish me as you see fit.” As he raised his head, he revealed his delicate, handsome, and cultured appearance. His age was a bit difficult to ascertain. From his appearance alone, he was probably between twenty and thirty years of age. However, his black hair, although still as lustrous as his youth, bore the marks of age. His temples were graying. It would be normal if someone said that he was between forty and fifty. However, from his expression and bearing, as serene as a deep pool in the depths of the mountains, it would be enough for someone to say that he was around sixty or seventy years old. No one would doubt that he had reached the age of seeing through the entire world and feeling the effects of changing temperature.

The woman in white, seeing his appearance, could not help but sigh softly. Supple and yielding, she snuggled into his embrace, not speaking a word. At this moment, the crying of an infant came noisily over. The two exchanged a look and giggled. Holding hands, they walked towards the inner room.

Footnotes:

拒人于千里之外, jurenyuqianlizhiwai – idiom, lit. keep somebody a thousand li away; fig. keep at an arm’s length, keep a good distance from someone, unapproachable
水天一色, shuitianyise – idiom, lit. the waters and the sky are the same color; fig. the water and the sky seem to merge into one in the horizon
捉襟见肘, zhuojinjianzhou – idiom, lit. pulling on the lapels exposes the elbows; fig. strapped for cash, unable to make ends meet
豪气干云, haoqiganyun – idiom, lit. heroism reaching to the clouds
This is adapted from a poem by the infamous Chinese World War II traitor, Wang Jingwei (汪精卫), entitled Composed in my Dream (梦中作).
突发奇想, tufaqixiang – idiom, lit. suddenly have a thought; fig. to be suddenly inspired by something
This song is adapted from a Han Dynasty yuefu (poems composed in the style of folk songs), entitled Pair of Swans (双白鹄).
装神弄鬼, zhuangshennonggui – idiom, lit. dress up as a deity, playing the demons; fig. to mystify, to deceive people, to scam

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