Volume 4, Chapter 8: Southern Fujian’s Yue Family

Fujian’s Yue family was involved in shipping for generations, surviving and never weakening for a long time. The upstart Hai family had a long-running dispute with the Yue family, never able to be resolved …

—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of Merchants

Within the red house of the Tranquil Sea Manor, I gazed at the geographic map of the world. Smiling, I said, “Fujian’s Yue family is the world’s largest shipping company in the world. It has been passed down for several generations, never weakening. The family not only has capable descendants, it also has shrewdly formed marriage alliances throughout the world. Since the collapse of the Eastern Jin Dynasty, the Yue family seized the opportunity to take control over Fujian’s army and government. After Southern Chu was established, Fujian remained independent. Under pressure from Great Yong, Southern Chu did not have the energy to pacify Fujian. As a result, the Yue family is a de facto independent faction. While Fujian is nominally a vassal of Southern Chu, in reality, it is similar to Binzhou, and remains outside of Southern Chu’s control. However, the Yue family will not be unduly excessive. After all, if Southern Chu is determined—even though the Yue family can pledge allegiance to Great Yong and receive benefits—in the short-term, they will be forced to retreat to the ocean, causing their assets in Fujian to suffer tremendous losses. As a result, to the Yue family, the best solution is for the world to remain fragmented, allowing them to reap the most benefits.”

Sitting on the soft couch at the start, focused on her embroidery, Princess Changle raised her head. Pensively, she replied, “From the outset, when elder cousin fled to the Eastern Sea, the Yue family took the initiative to get close to cousin and formed a marriage alliance with him. It seems that they want cousin to curb Great Yong.”

I evenly stated, “That’s right. Although the Yue family is based in a secluded location on the Southern Sea, and are incapable of seizing the throne for themselves,1 they have the ambition of setting up an independent regime. ‘Three thousand guests get tipsy and drunk in the hall; a glint of steel earns twelve prefectures.’2 This is a famous saying used to denote the Yue family’s prestige. The twelve provinces refer to Fuzhou, Jianzhou,3 Quanzhou, Zhangzhou, Tingzhou,4 Nanjianzhou,5 and Shaowu of Fujian; Xinghua of Jiangsu; Meizhou, Jieyang, Yuedong, and Nan’ao of Guangdong.6 Although Nan’ao can’t be considered as a prefecture, that location has always been acclaimed as the throat to Fujian and Guangdong. Merchant ships converge there. Its thriving surpasses even Binzhou. As a result, that is why there are twelve prefectures. Although the Yue family only directly controls Zhangzhou, Quanzhou, Jieyang, and Nan’ao, all of these locations are important strategic locations with their backs to the mountains and facing the sea. Southern Chu is powerless to do anything, while it is beyond Great Yong’s reach.

“Although the Yue family is low-key, never fighting for supremacy, nor declaring themselves as a monarch to build a personal fiefdom, we can tell from the line, ‘Three thousand guests get tipsy and drunk in the hall,’ that the Yue family has thousands of retainers in its service. In order to maintain its position, and then become the vassal of the strong, they must ensure that the chaos not end. This time, the marriage between the Jiang and Yue families was done on the Yue family’s initiative.”

Frowning slightly, Princess Changle replied, “It is truly awful that the Yue family is so motivated. They probably view the suffering of the common people as insignificant. Suiyun, since that is the case, why are you watching the marriage go through? With this, wouldn’t their desire be fulfilled? Moreover, at present, the Hai family is working for you, engaging in oceangoing trade. Binzhou has already become a harbor second only to Fujian’s Quanzhou. In addition, cousin places heavy importance upon military force. Right now, the Yue family is likely also trying to muscle their way in on the ocean trade. If they obtain the Hai family’s secret shipbuilding technology, wouldn’t their power be a like a tiger gaining the power of flight? From this factor alone, they cannot be allowed to succeed with their plan of forming a marriage alliance with the Jiang family.”

“Although the Yue family’s intentions aren’t good, it is my desire to have them become involved in the ocean trade,” I serenely explained, playing with the jade paperweight in my hands. “The matters of this world are like this: Aside from the Imperial Throne, which can only be occupied by one person, everything else, regardless of what, must not be held by one person alone, ensured by using any means necessary. Right now, the ocean trade is monopolized by the Hai family. Who knows how many people are green with envy? At present, it is fine because the world is not yet united. Once the world has been unified and peace falls upon these lands, the first person to target the Hai family will likely be the Son of Heaven. Even if he temporarily does not move against the Hai family out of respect for me, once I have passed on, the Hai family will be exterminated. Since that is the case, it is best to allow the Yue family to get in on the action. With this, although there will still be those who seek to attack and suppress them, as long as they are capable, they will be able to survive.”

When Changle heard me speak that the “first person to target the Hai family will likely be the Son of Heaven,” her hands shook, causing her embroidery needle to prick her finger. As she continued listening, she gradually calmed down. She voiced, “You speak the truth. Although Imperial Brother is wise and brilliant, he can’t pretend that he doesn’t see something like this. Since you have such intentions, there is no need to worry about the marriage alliance between the Jiang and Yue families. It is only that the Yue family’s power is formidable, is leaning towards Southern Chu, and is unwilling to swear allegiance to Great Yong. For Husband to allow them to get involved in the ocean trade, aren’t you helping to foster their strength?”

In a profound voice, I replied, “How will there be such a good thing? Although the Yue family can participate, it is not presently. If the Yue family is not weakened, not only will I not be at ease, even elder brother Hai will not rest easy. I have made preparations to strike a critical blow at the Yue family before allowing them to participate in the ocean trade.”

With concern, Princess Changle asked, “But since the Yue family is the overlord of the Southern Sea, how can Husband strike a critical blow at them? After all, at present, Fujian is still the territory of Southern Chu. Wouldn’t it be even more bothersome if the Yue family becomes infuriated and completely supports Southern Chu?”

“All things must pass, this too shall pass,” I recited, shaking my head. “Right now, the Yue family inheritance has been passed down for over a dozen generations and is already weighed down by layers of private worries. Especially problematic and infuriating is the Yue family’s business methods that are excessively overbearing. Against their business rivals, they frequently use all methods available to suppress them. All those who comply with them thrive, while those who do not, perish. The merchants of Guangdong and Fujian only work under the Yue family in order to survive.

“Zhongying has spoken of offending a manager of the Yue family in the past. Later, when he set sail, he ran into pirates. All of his assets were lost. Afterwards, Zhongying suspected that all of this was the Yue family’s doing. Although he didn’t have any proof, the Yue family has always had dealings with pirates. Moreover, Zhongying should have been able to continue to do business. His debtors originally did not have any intentions of forcing him to settle, hoping that he could continue and repay the enormous sum owed. Because of the Yue family’s interference, although Zhongying ultimately used up all of his assets, he could not repay everything that he owed. Unable to stay in Fujian, he could only wander to Great Yong. It was a complete coincidence. Managing the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets, Wuji took a fancy to Zhongying’s ability, helping him stage a comeback. Afterwards, Daoli discovered that Zhongying was his paternal uncle. And since I had retired into seclusion here to the Eastern Sea, I used all my efforts to help the Hai family.

“At the time, Marquis Jiang was also quite dissatisfied with the Yue family, thus leading to today’s situation where the upstart Hai family has outstripped the Yue family. The Yue family’s conduct and style has naturally gained them many enemies. Under normal circumstances, it would be impossible to tell. But at the crucial juncture, they will be assaulted from all sides. In addition, the Yue family itself has many worries. The conflict over the position of the head of the family is as unstoppable as wildfire. This is the perfect time to strike a blow at them.”

Princess Changle sighed. “The succession struggle in the imperial clan is admittedly extremely bloody. For aristocratic and influential families, the struggle for the position of the head is also a catastrophe.”

In a soft voice, I asked, “Zhen’er, are you remembering again what happened at the Hunting Palace?”

Sorrow showed on Princess Changle’s face. “How can I forget something like that? Eldest brother committed treason and was forced to commit suicide. Sixth sister-in-law committed suicide to apologize for her sins. Her Imperial Majesty, the Empress, also died from suicide. Zhen’er does not want to remember such a calamity.”

I walked over to Princess Changle’s side, lightly pulling her into my arms. I said, “There is no need for you to overthink things. They got what they deserved. In addition, we owe our love to the turmoil in the Hunting Palace. Forgetting everything else, for this alone, you should not feel such grief.”

Princess Changle could not help but blush. Although she had been married for close to three years, remembering what had happened in the Hunting Palace—completely losing her self-control publicly in front of everyone—would still cause her to be unable to hide her bashfulness. Only after seeing that she was no longer sad, I continued, “Since you do not want to hear about the domestic matters of the Yue family, I won’t speak of it any further. Right about now, Shen’er should wake. Go take a look. I still need to look over some documents and won’t go over.”

Gathering up her embroidery, Princess Changle complained, “These last two years, on the surface you’ve left the court, relaxing and convalescing, and yet you are still unable to let these things go. If one had known earlier that things would be like this, it would have been better not leaving. Even your hair has grayed. Why are you going to such lengths?”

“Zhen’er, I’ve told you long ago that there is no helping my hair,” I replied, unable to help but smile wryly. “At the time, although the Nine Revolutions Heart Protection Pill preserved my life and Sir Sang diligently nursed my health when we arrived at the Eastern Sea, the medicinal properties were still too intense, causing my hair to become like this. These last few years, I have calmed my heart and qi, sincerely convalescing. As for the trifling matters relating to the Hai and Yue families, they are only things that I have handled to alleviate my boredom. Have you seen me completely wrapped up in my work?”7

Princess Changle rolled her eyes. “Fine … I’ll believe you. At the time, if you weren’t helping second brother, you would not have nearly lost your life in Chang’an. In the future, I won’t permit you to work as if your life depended on it. Do you think that I do not know about what happened after second brother’s letter arrived? You immediately got to work. It seems that our days of leisure are coming to an end. I won’t stop you. It is only that all tense things need relaxation. It will be good as long as you don’t shed your blood, sweat, and tears as before.”

I promptly consented, “Definitely, definitely. How could I refuse to obey my wife’s order? How about I go with you together to see Shen’er?”

“Don’t make trouble,” smiled Princess Changle. “Do you think that I don’t know that if you go to see him, you’ll go to tease him? He’s at that age when he likes to sleep. I don’t know this temperament of yours … Before, I heard second brother speak of your constant bullying and teasing of Lan’er. And now, you won’t even let Shen’er off. You truly don’t act like a father.”

I could not help but shrink into my shoulders. This was not something that I dared to refute. On several occasions, I had teased my son to the point of tears and been caught by her.

After the princess’s figure disappeared, I retracted my reluctant to part gaze. I walked over and took a look at the embroidery that she had left behind, finding the bloodstain upon it. I could not help but feel sad. These last few years, although we lived in marital harmony, I constantly carried my guilt around. That day when the princess and I eloped and ran away to the Eastern Sea, our marriage was presided over by Medical Sage Sang Chen. Forget about the many and complicated etiquette and rites required for a princess’s marriage, we didn’t even adhere by the six pre-wedding customs. In addition, the number of witnesses could be counted on one hand.8 Aside from our attendants, there was not a single outsider.

After we were married, I had spent half a year in recovery, surviving by taking medicine. During that period, the Princess was my wife in name only. However, she did not have a single complaint, setting her heart to attending and taking care of me. In addition, she took over management of the household and the responsibility of caring for Roulan. Although she had the help of Dong Que and Head Maid Zhou, it took a lot for the pampered daughter of the Son of Heaven to be able to handle the trifling domestic matters. It was only in these last two years that my health improved dramatically. Although our mutual affection was great, the joys of the bed chamber were quite restrained. She continued as always, carefully taking care of my everyday life, providing me with nourishment. In order to help nurse my body, she took out the rare imperial medicinal cuisine cookbook and asked for guidance from Sir Sang. Right now, all of my eats were prepared by the princess. Even Sir Sang could only admire the princess’s ability.

But even in the face of the princess’s affection, I was still intent upon returning, abandoning this ordinary, peaceful, and happy life, returning to that stormy and dangerous, vulgar world. I had no alternative. A few days ago, Emperor Li Zhi had Hualiu deliver a letter, explaining the current situation, indirectly asking for my return and help. Even if I were to ignore Li Zhi’s grace towards me, considering the Princess Changle’s face alone, I had no choice but to become involved. If another grave mishap were to happen to Great Yong’s imperial clan, the princess would likely be unable to bear it. Further, this was the perfect opportunity to allow Princess Changle reunite with the Emperor Emeritus and the Empress Dowager. Whatever was going to happen, the princess’s elopement had infuriated Li Yuan. Now that I had received Li Zhi’s imperial edict to return, it could allow the father and daughter to reconcile. In all likelihood, the princess would be delighted. In addition, I understood clearly, as a son-in-law of Great Yong’s imperial clan, that my destiny was already intimately and irrevocably intertwined with Great Yong. If Great Yong failed to unify the world, then it would be impossible for me to live the rest of my days in peace.

Gazing at the documents on my desk, I flipped through them again. A frozen smile appeared on my face, as I softly muttered, “Eastern Sea, Yue family, Southern Chu!” My tone gradually acquired a somber and desolate intent.

***

Concurrently, in the harbor of the island where the Marquis of the Eastern Sea was holding his beloved son’s wedding, inside of an extremely hidden cabin aboard the Yue family’s ship delivering the bride, a refined and exquisite looking young man with an elegant bearing was paging through some documents. The windowless cabin was only illuminated by the dusky light of a single candle, shining upon this man of about thirty years of age. Perhaps because of the light, the handsome man’s features carried a hint of a malicious, killing intent.

“Eastern Sea, Yue family!” read the young man in a low voice, disdain flashing in his eyes. Setting down the document in his hands, the young man picked up the candle and walked to a corner of the cabin. On the wall was hung an exquisite map that showed the limits of the Eastern Jin Dynasty. The territory controlled by Great Yong, Northern Han, and Southern Chu were all displayed with different colors. The young man’s gaze fell upon Binzhou in the north and Quanzhou in the south. After revealing an icy grin, his eyes fell upon Jinyang and Zezhou, where the Northern Han and Great Yong armies were in a stalemate. Talking to himself, he muttered, “Northern Han will seize the opportunity to attack Great Yong. They will surely not miss this kind of golden opportunity. Although the loss of the Eastern Sea isn’t a fatal blow to Great Yong, the damages will still be serious. Moreover, gaining control over the Eastern Sea has another benefit … I may be able to capture that man.”

Thinking of that man, a look of implacable hatred appeared on the young man’s face. He ferociously shouted, “Jiang Zhe! Li Zhen! I will definitely not let you off! Li Zhen, under the pretext of chastity, you refused to marry me. That is by itself nothing. But, you actually eloped with Jiang Zhe! How does such an impure and corrupt woman have the face to continue to live in this world?”

Just as the young man revealed a cruel and sinister expression, someone outside of the cabin reported, “Chief, all the preparations have been made. Yue Wujiu has sent word requesting that Chief not act if there aren’t any mishaps.”

Ridicule flashed across the young man’s face, as he replied, “Come in.”

The door to the cabin was opened, and a thin middle-aged man walked in. Respectfully, he said, “Chief, letters have arrived from both the Heads of the Yihuang9 and Fengwu10 Halls, asking you when to mobilize.”

The young man indifferently asked, “What’s the rush? Wouldn’t it be better to act once both sides have suffered losses?”

The middle-aged man smiled slightly and answered, “Yue Wujiu can be considered an astute individual. This time, he surprisingly fell into Chief’s trap, trying but failing to live up to his illustrious reputation. Chief is wise and formidable. How can those merchants be a match?”

Without showing the slightest hint of conceit, the young man responded, “I once suffered a crushing defeat and learned from my mistakes.11 I learned two things. One: there is no one in this world without weaknesses. Two: before something has succeeded, one cannot relax. Yue Wujiu is not a fool. However, his weakness is also too obvious. Speaking of which, it’s all due to the excessive ambition from the Yue family’s inheritance method.

“The ancestor of the Yue family was quite visionary and sagacious.12 He understood that wealth never survives three generations13 and that future generations would be unable to take up heavy responsibilities if they were permitted to live like a prince.14 However, he also did not want the direct line of descent to be supplanted by ancillary branches of the family. As a result, he set up a strange custom. Each family head is permitted to select a suitable successor from his descendants. If all the successors are unworthy, then the family head is permitted to select one of them as the interim family head, while appointing the most capable and outstanding clansman to manage things, handing the clan’s authority to said manager. Simultaneously, the family head will select a trusted individual to serve as the protector. With this, if the interim family head has a capable descendant, he can retrieve the family head’s authority from the manager with the help of the protector. If even the third generation does not have a suitable successor, then the manager can inherit leadership over the clan. This not only provides an opportunity for the children of ancillary branches to become the family head, it also provides an enormous safeguard for the main branch. Imagine, if the powerless interim family head still did not know to properly educate his children, then it would be reasonable that that branch would be supplanted. As a result, after this custom was set, the Yue family has been passed down for seventeen generations. Although the main branch once lost power, they managed to seize it back. This is exactly why Yue Wujiu is so anxious and frightened, willing to work with us.

“At present, although the current Yue family head, Yue Wuling, is mediocre, he is not a fool. He married his own younger sister to the Marquis of the Eastern Sea, Jiang Yong, consolidating his own authority. Now, he has even married his beloved daughter, Yue Qingyan, to the Little Marquis, Jiang Haitao. His eldest son, Yue Wenhan, possesses great talent and bold vision. Tell me, will Yue Wujiu stand idly by and watch as the power and authority be taken away? We will exploit this weakness. For the sake of power and status, why wouldn’t Yue Wujiu take the bait?”

The middle-aged man hesitatingly spoke, “Although that is the case, Yue Wenhan is deeply respected by the younger generation of the Yue family. If we were to help Yue Wujiu in this manner, the Yue family will likely be unwilling to accept Yue Wujiu as the family head.”

The young man laughed. “There are some things that you don’t know. Although that Yue Wenhan certainly possesses ability, he did something that he should not have done. He should not have blocked our path, he should not have a good younger sister who is always considering him, and most definitely should not have taken that concubine.”

The middle-aged man suddenly understood. He asked, “Don’t tell me that Lady Xue is someone from the Yihuang Hall?”

“That’s not the reason,” responded the young man after hesitating momentarily. “In the past, Lady Xue was a close friend. She hailed from honorable origins. Even now, her father is a first-rank minister in the Yong court. A young lady from such prestigious origins. If not because of a slip-up in her conduct, how would she become someone’s concubine? To speak of it, the Sect Master and Chiefs Ji and Yan all feel that Lady Xue is an embarrassment to the sect. However, regardless of what is said, without Lady Xue convincing Yue Wenhan and his sister, they would likely have killed themselves long ago and not allowed us to manipulate them. Who let Lady Xue be so fond of saving face and unwilling to reveal her past to her husband? If it weren’t for us blackmailing her using this, how would she have been willing to submit?”

“But hasn’t Chief agreed that after this matter has succeeded that Yue Wenhan’s life will be preserved and Lady be made the formal wife?” asked the middle-aged man. “Will Yue Wujiu be willing to agree to these conditions?”

The young man sneered. “We won’t let him refuse. Yue Wenhan’s survival is a tool to curb Yue Wujiu and ensure that he doesn’t get too arrogant. In any case, when the time comes, it will be impossible for Yue Wenhan to escape our control. For the grave crime that he has committed, who aside from Southern Chu and us can protect him?”

When the young man finished speaking, the cabin fell into an incomparable silence. He subconsciously recalled all of the arduous work that he had put in these last several years. It was not easy to gain a foothold in the initially hostile Southern Chu. In addition, the members of the sect were not of one mind. After nearly three years of struggle, he was able to rebuild the Fengyi Sect with difficulty, creating the Fengwu and Yihuang Halls, splitting up the Fengyi Sect’s power. Ji Xia and Yan Wushuang were assigned leadership of the two halls. Owing to their philosophical differences, the two would frequently scuffle in secret. As for himself, he had founded the North Star Hall, recruiting outsiders into the sect, managing external matters and offensive work. On the surface, he was neutral. But with the two other halls mutually attacking one another, his North Star Hall became the most important force in the sect. Sect Master Ling Yu had long been made a mere figurehead by the three halls. Aside from her personal guards, she did not have any other forces. As for himself, he knew that it would be impossible for him to seize control of the Fengyi Sect, thus smartly preserved Ling Yu’s position and the sect’s balance. The entire process to control the Fengyi Sect and embark upon his revenge had been exceedingly difficult. In addition, he had finally managed to convince Shang Weijun to cooperate with him. To Shang Weijun, the Lu family’s domination over the military was too great of a threat, even surpassing the danger posed by Great Yong towards Southern Chu. Destroying one’s own defenses was probably the favorite task of those who wielded political power in Southern Chu.

When the young man thought about Lu Can, contempt flickered in his eyes. Were it not for the need to rely upon Lu Can to resist Great Yong, the young man would have caused Lu Can to die an unnatural death long ago. This would not be because of the useless Shang Weijun, but because Lu Can was once that man’s student. In his chest, he felt a fiendish beast roar and wail. He was determined to remove everything left by that man on this world. This was his—Wei Ying’s—only obsession.

***

At the rear of the wedding hall, behind layers of heavy curtains, the bride-to-be, attended by maids, was waiting for the auspicious time. Hailing from the prestigious Yue family and as the daughter of the family head bore by his formal wife, Yue Qingyan had many maids and an ample closet. Her escort was her own elder brother, the young family head, Yue Wenhan, and the manager of the Yue family, Yue Wujiu. Of course, at this moment, both of them were up front in the wedding hall. In the rear hall, aside from the female members of the Yue family, there were only the Jiang family’s maidservants. The one responsible for looking after the bride wasn’t an outsider; she was Yue Wenhan’s concubine, Lady Xue.

This Lady Xue had been married into the Yue family for nearly two years now. She was a young lady that Yue Wenhan had inadvertently ran into. Reportedly, she hailed from a prestigious northern house. Because she offended a ruler, she traveled to the Mount Putuo’s15 Black Bamboo Nunnery to meditate without taking vows. Three years ago, Yue Wenhan came to Mount Putuo to fulfill a promise made by his deceased mother. Unintentionally, he ran into this Lady Xue. Falling in love, he persistently wooed her. However, this Lady Xue remained frigid, repeatedly rejecting his advances. After pursuing her for more than a year, Yue Wenhan was finally able to move the beautiful woman. According to Yue Wenhan’s intentions, he wanted to take her formally as his wife. However, this was met with disapproval from the senior generations of the Yue family. The hopes that they placed upon Yue Wenhan were profound, treating him as the future family head. The Yue family head’s marriage could not be so casually determined. Although Lady Xue’s behavior and appearance were both outstanding, no one knew of her origins. As such, she could not be permitted to become the formal wife. Without any other choice, Yue Wenhan beseeched Lady Xue, hoping that she would be willing to become his concubine and wait for the right moment to raise her to formal status. Surprisingly, after thinking it over in seclusion for several days, Lady Xue actually agreed, stating that she did not have the qualifications to be the wife. Although Yue Wenhan found this strange, he was deeply in love. As a result, he happily took Lady Xue as his concubine. Originally, the love between the two was excellent. However, after Yue Qingyan became engaged, a chasm appeared in the relationship between the two, as Yue Wenhan suddenly became aloof and distant towards Lady Xue. Lady Xue paid it no mind though, instead enthusiastically arranging her sister-in-law’s wedding.

Under the guidance of female servants from the Jiang family, Roulan and Li Lin arrived at the rear hall just in time to watch Lady Xue direct the maids to help the bride fix her makeup. Lady Xue was about twenty-six or twenty-seven years old. She was as beautiful as a spring flower, with a physique like a willow. Her expressions were natural and unrestrained, carrying a poised bearing. Although there were many people in the rear hall, under her direction, everything proceeded smoothly and orderly.

However, Roulan’s attention was completely focused upon the bride. Looking carefully, one could tell that the bride, Yue Qingyan, was no more than sixteen or seventeen years old. She looked slender and frail, possessing picturesque eyebrows, looking beautiful and elegant. Even though she was still young, she had the stunning looks of a beautiful woman. The only flaw was that her skin was too pale, almost as if it were transparent. It made it seem like her qi and blood were lacking. As a result, Lady Xue was personally applying rouge to her face. Only after carefully applying the makeup for some time did Lady Xue finally stop with reluctance. It could be assumed that Lady Xue was skilled at makeup and appearances. With her brilliant skills, young Miss Yue seemed to gain a bit of color, gaining beauty. She was fully dressed in a red wedding gown with a phoenix crown and a red cloud cape. The entire ensemble gave her an unearthly beauty.

The maidservant leading Roulan and Li Lin gasped in surprise and said, “The little mistress is truly stunning. The little Marquis is truly fortunate.”

The maid’s words startled Lady Xue and company. Lady Xue smiled and said, “So it’s wet nurse Li who has come. They are?” Her gaze fell upon Roulan and Li Lin.

The maid kneeled. “Reporting to Lady Xue, this is young Miss Lan. She is the daughter of the little Marquis’s master. The Marquis has allowed her to come to the rear hall to take a look at the little mistress.”

A bright light flitted across Lady Xue’s eyes, as she smiled and replied, “So it is young Miss Lan. Qingyan, come say hello.”

Yue Qingyan was originally silent, not speaking. Hearing Lady Xue’s words, she lifted her head and gazed at Roulan. An indescribable mournful look flashed across her eyes, as clear as a cold spring. Bowing slightly, she said, “Younger sister Lan.”

Finished speaking, she stretched out her right hand, indicating for Roulan to go to her side. It was a pale and slender hand, with icy flesh and snow-white skin, almost as if carved from fine jade. Roulan walked over and could not help but grasp that slender hand. As their hands touched, Roulan felt a chill crawl up her arm. She thought, Could it be that this bride is made from ice? She could not help but shiver.

Footnotes:

逐鹿中原, zhulu Zhongyuan – idiom, lit. hunting deer in the Central Plains; fig. to attempt to seize the throne
This is a modified line from a poem by the Buddhist poet and painter, Guanxiu (贯休, note surname from Li Zhi’s adviser) who lived during the waning days of the Tang Dynasty and early stages of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (五代十国). The poem is entitled Offering Tribute to Imperial Father.
建州, Jianzhou – modern-day Jian’ou (建瓯), Fujian Province
汀州, Tingzhou – modern-day Changting (长汀), Fujian Province
南剑州, nanjianzhou – modern-day Nanping (南平), Fujian Province
All of these are major sea or river ports in southeastern China.
“废寝忘食, feiqinwangshi – idiom, lit. to neglect sleep and forget about food; fig. to skip one’s sleep and meals, to be completely wrapped up in work
寥寥无几, liaoliaowuji – idiom, lit. just a very few; fig. tiny number, you can count them on your fingers
仪凰, yihuang – lit. ceremonial (female) phoenix
风舞, fengwu – lit. (male) phoenix dance
吃一堑,长一智, chiyiqian, zhangyizhi – idiom, lit. fall into the moat and you’ll be wiser next time; fig. learning from one’s mistakes
远见卓识, yuanjianzhuoshi – idiom, lit. visionary and sagacious; fig. having foresight
富不过三代, fubuguosandai – idiom, lit. wealth does not last more than three generations
养尊处优, yangzunchuyou – idiom, lit. to live in style; fig. to live like a prince
One of the four sacred mountains of Buddhism in China, Mount Putuo (普陀山) is located in Zhoushan (舟山), Zhejiang Province.

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