Chapter 397: Unexpectedly, it's her
It was only the first month of the lunar new year, and the days had just passed lichun, or the first solar term. Northern Tianning was still a world of snow and ice, while central Tianning was snow mixed with sleet, but the south was already welcoming spring with a chill in the air. Although planting could begin after lichun, most of the time farmers needed to wait for rain to fall first. This was especially true in the central famine regions, which needed to wait a bit longer. Han Yunxi calculated that the regions were still missing about a month's worth of grain. Once that month was past, they could rely on the profusion of wild plants in place of the still growing crops to prevent starvation. So what could they eat during that month?
All of Tianning was waiting for an answer to that very question.
Han Yunxi had once thought of hunting for animals to use as a food source, which was how the Northern Li passed their winters-by amassing hunted boars. But things like that took advance preparation, since it was impossible to find large quantities of prey in the winter forests. She had no idea where their carriage was going, but instead of asking him, she tried her best to guess the answer.
As it had turned out, Long Feiye took her to a seaport!
When Han Yunxi dismounted the carriage, she saw an extravagant battleship docked by the shore and a familiar figure rushing off the deck to meet them. He was none other than General Baili.
"Your Highness, we're going out to sea to catch fish! But will there be enough time?" Han Yunxi truly admired Long Feiye for his foresight. He could actually come up with such an idea. But could they get all the fish in time?
Not only was it long past the fishing season, even during prime fishing times ships needed three months out at sea before returning with enough of a stockpile! If they waited that long, the people would be cursing them out for the delay, while Emperor Tianhui would be joyfully penalizing them for dereliction of duty.
"Greetings to Your Highness and esteemed wangfei," General Baili was extremely respectful. After rising from his bow, he smiled and said, "Esteemed wangfei, perhaps you've never heard of the Fishery Island?"
"Fishery Island?" Han Yunxi really hadn't heard of it at all.
"Esteemed wangfei, the Fishery Island is located north of the Eastern Sea. On the island is a giant lake called the Illusory Sea Lake. The bottom of the lake connects to the ocean, so every lichun, it fills up with large quantities of fish. As long as we can find the appropriate 'fisheye' to break the ice and send in our nets, we're assured to get a bumper harvest!" General Baili explained.
Han Yunxi immediately understood. They were going 'ice fishing!' Though she'd never seen it in person herself, she'd heard of the tradition. Catching fish like this relied on luck. As long as one found the right location, it would be easy to snatch even tens of thousands of jin1 worth of fish! Moreover, they could even freeze the fish with the ice in order to keep it fresh.
Goodness, if they could really bring back a haul of fish, the famine victims wouldn't have to starve. They'd even be able to add meat back in their diets! Which would go a long way to helping them recover from the famine. Han Yunxi was even beginning to imagine the expression on Emperor Tianhui's face after he found out the news. She looked at Long Feiye and exclaimed, "Your Highness is wise and brilliant"!
Long Feiye held her by the hand as they followed General Baili onto the ship. "Have you found all the fishermen?" he asked.
The Illusory Sea Lake on Fishery Island was boundlessly vast. Although schools of fish teemed beneath its blue waters, they wouldn't be able to get anything unless they found the right place to break the ice. For that kind of skill, they had to depend on experienced sea fishermen. Although their rate of failure was high, it was still better than finding just any random person to do the job.
"Your Highness, my daughter Mingxiang is one of those insider experts. She came specifically to work in your service." As General Baili spoke, Baili Mingxiang quickly emerged from the ship's hold, covered in a thick fox fur cloak. Despite this, she still looked thin and wan as if a single gust of wind would knock her over. With her head bowed, she stepped forward to offer her greetings.
"Baili Mingxiang greets Your Highness Duke of Qin and esteemed wangfei."
Han Yunxi was surprised to meet Baili Mingxiang here of all places. She thought they'd only see each other again after six months or so, and she'd even been worrying whether the girl would last that long.
"She has the know-how?" Long Feiye was surprised as well.
"It was simply something she studied because she was interested in the subject. She's been to Fishery Island a few times as well, so she has more experience than even those fishermen. When I heard that Your Highness was going out to sea, I brought her along." General Baili was the one making the explanation, while Baili Mingxiang stood there respectfully, without even lifting her head.
"Can her body endure it?" Long Feiye asked.
Baili Mingxiang's heartbeat quickened at those words of His Highness. Though she knew His Highness was more concerned with other matters beyond her health, she was still satisfied with his words. Even if this was all she got in this lifetime, she would be content. At the very least, she could acknowledge that he'd only spoken them.
It was still General Baili who replied in her stead. "She can take it. To render service to Your Highness is her honor."
Long Feiye nodded. "Then go back and rest in the cabin."
"Thanks to Your Highness," Baili Mingxiang finally spoke up. She had waited for so long just to have a chance to speak with His Highness Duke of Qin. Unfortunately, she didn't even dare to spare him a single glance. She was afraid that she'd be unable to look away if she saw him, that she'd be too reluctant to let him go, that she'd expose her love for him to all eyes present. Because of her tangled thoughts and feelings, she kept her head purposely low and backed up multiple steps until she turned to leave.
Han Yunxi had witnessed the entire exchange, her sharp eyes picking up on how Baili Mingxiang's hands had been trembling. She'd originally wanted to call her back, but with the winds so high and the girl so fearful of Long Feiye, she relented. After the ship set sail, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi took the lead at the head of their battleship, with a fleet of fishing boats behind them. Naturally, all of the boats were planning to ship the caught fish back to shore.
Han Yunxi, Long Feiye and General Baili stood on the deck for awhile before she went below decks in order find Baili Mingxiang. When Han Yunxi entered her cabin, the girl was huddled in front of a stove as she tried to get warm, her entire figure curled up pathetically. She quickly rose at Han Yunxi's entrance and said, "Esteemed wangfei."
"What now? Not afraid to raise your head anymore?" Han Yunxi asked in amusement.
Baili Mingxiang only smiled and said nothing.
"You're afraid of His Highness Duke of Qin?" Han Yunxi grew curious at her response. She knew every single member of General Baili's estate was extremely deferential to Long Feiye, but she'd never seen someone as afraid of him as Baili Mingxiang obviously was.
"I am," Baili Mingxiang replied docilely.
"What's there to fear? You're raising the Beauty's Blood for him! And you haven't done anything worth a guilty conscience, so why were your hands shaking?" Han Yunxi asked doubtfully.
Baili Mingxiang had been quite calm until she heard those words. Her heart seized up for fear of being caught as she quickly explained, "Mingxiang was simply shaking because of the cold."
"You haven't met much with His Highness in the past, right?" Han Yunxi asked as she took one of Baili Mingxiang's hands in order to check her pulse.
"In order to avoid arousing suspicion, all meetings were rare," Baili Mingxiang murmured back.
"He's not that scary. When you see him in the future, raise your head. Don't act so much like a servant," Han Yunxi really wasn't used to seeing Baili Mingxiang act so servile and cowardly.
Baili Mingxiang didn't want to discuss the subject any longer. But neither was she willing to stop. "Of course His Highness Duke of Qin wouldn't be frightening for esteemed wangfei," she remarked.
"Is he very cruel to his subordinates, then?" Han Yunxi really didn't know.
"His Highness only keeps useful people around. He doesn't tolerate rebels or traitors..." Baili Mingxiang was going to ramble, but paused to add, "I even heard father say that His Highness never uses female servants, but only keeps a single Chu Xifeng by his side as a bodyguard."
"That's true," Han Yunxi muttered to herself. There hadn't been a single female servant in that fellow's living quarters. "Anything else?" she asked. Truthfully speaking, she didn't know that much about Long Feiye, either.
Baili Mingxiang knew all too much, but how could she dare to keep speaking? "Esteemed wangfei is the closest person to His Highness's side. Naturally, you should know him best of all. Mingxiang's only heard things here and there, that's all."
Closest? That was hard to determine. Han Yunxi smiled soundlessly as she released Baili Mingxiang's hand. "You must have rushed about to prepare for this trip!"
"His Highness's intentions to go to sea came about very suddenly, so we traveled day and night to make it here." Baili Mingxiang could speak calmly about it now, but her wild joy at hearing the news was something she'd never felt before. She had spent three entire days and nights before she finally calmed herself down. She told herself that she could only succeed this time. Failure wouldn't be tolerated, so she had to find the right 'fisheye' to break the ice and haul in the fish!
"Fortunately you didn't catch a chill, or else things would get troublesome! The sea winds are rather fierce, so you better stay below decks. Don't go out too much," Han Yunxi responded seriously.
Baili Mingxiang obediently nodded her head. "Thanks to esteemed wangfei."
Han Yunxi creased her eyebrows and scrutinized Baili Mingxiang, causing her to grow faint at heart. "Esteemed wangfei, what is it?"
"You silly girl, you've stopped worrying about your own life now?" Han Yunxi asked with interest. She made a special trip Baili Mingxiang's quarters, originally expecting Baili Mingxiang to plague her with questions about the antidote to the poison. But the girl hadn't brought it up at all.
"You've seen through the meaning of life and death, then?" Han Yunxi teased.
Baili Mingxiang's eyes flashed with thinly veiled panic. She'd been so happy these days that she'd placed the matter of her own mortality at the back of her head. The whole trip here-even up to this very day-she'd been filled with thoughts of nothing but traveling together with His Highness, and whether she'd get a chance to exchange a few words with him. Being a smart girl, she simply lowered her head and said, "Esteemed wangfei, good news will still last even if it's tardy. Bad news... it's no big loss even if I don't hear it."
Han Yunxi sighed. "Don't worry. Although I don't have any good news yet, I don't have bad news either. I'm still looking into the matter."
"Esteemed wangfei has certainly worked heard," Baili Mingxiang silently exhaled a breath of relief. She had no idea what esteemed wangfei would do if she discovered her love for His Highness one day...
Their ship traveled five days and five nights, and Baili Mingxiang used her weak body as an excuse to stay inside the entire time. If I knew things would turn out like this, why would I need to have anticipated this trip? Despite that, she still didn't regret it.
However, when their battleship approached the shores of Fishery Island, General Baili suddenly discovered a similar battleship nearby. Upon closer scrutiny, he was stunned by what he saw.
"Your Highness, it's a battleship from the royal fleet of Northern Li's imperial clan!"
There were countless shoals surrounding Fishery Island, so the only place to dock was a single port deep enough to drop anchor. Before they started fighting over fisheyes, they had to grab that docking space first!
"Northern Li's imperial clan?" Long Feiye's lips curved up into a cold smile.