547. Spin-Off – A Journey to the South Ocean (5)
Everybody’s curiosity was piqued. After all, they had never heard of anybody practicing cannibalism, except for some ravenous people who had eaten each other’s children in times of severe famine resulting from war. Besides, people eating each other’s children had been a tragic phenomenon that had happened in exceptional circumstances, but a tribe of cannibals who actually ate people regularly was unbelievably horrifying.
Ling Zhaowu, having only heard about it from some members of a caravan, did not know much and thus was unable to fully sate their curiosity.
“How about we go and check this tribe of cannibals out after rescuing your father?” Yuwen Jin, quite audacious, said to Ji Yanlai. Actually he was trying to sound out the others about it.
Ji Yanlai was not very curious about tribes of this kind. The so-called “tribes of cannibals” held far less appeal for him than good food and fun gadgets did, but he was not strongly against the idea, so he replied with a non-committal inclination of the head, “All right.”
Ling Zhang wasn’t very curious about it either. The very words of “tribes of cannibals” struck him as unpleasant. It did not take a genius to see what a nightmarish place it must be for ordinary people. “We’ll have to go back to the Great Wen after rescuing the Clan Leader’s father.”
Yuwen Jin, somewhat disappointed at these words, looked at Yuwen Tong.
Yuwen Tong said, “None of the envoys from the couple of statelets mentioned anything about tribes of cannibals. Seeing as those people practise cannibalism, they must be savage and live like beasts, and the place they inhabit must be some isolated backwater with poor transportation. Finding them would definitely take a lot of doing. Willing to satisfy your curiosity as I am, I’m afraid your new missus wouldn’t be very happy when she finds out I’ve left you on the other side of the South Ocean.”
Yuwen Jin was taken aback. “You’re going to leave me here, cousin?”
“I’m too busy to spare any time to look for some tribe of cannibals with you,” said Yuwen Tong.
Yuwen Jin, fearing that Yuwen Tong might really leave him alone in a foreign land, had no choice but to drop the idea.
The fleet berthed a short way off the coast for a day. Those sent ashore to gather intelligence returned to the vessel before the envoy.
“The King of the South Ocean and his eldest trueborn son have indeed arrived, but they’ve set sail already, and their destination is the very island we’re looking for. They brought a guide too, and the guide is assigned by the king of a mini-state in this area, which means apart from the fleet of the King of the South Ocean, the royal household has also got involved.
But it seems the royal household of that mini-state have no information about the source of that quake either. I think they won’t be able to locate the island anytime soon. We should be able to catch up with them if we set off right away. So far there still hasn’t been anybody knowing exactly where that island is, and neither has there been anybody who has returned after entering those waters.
And, that envoy still hasn’t come out of the royal palace. Nobody knows what their king is up to.”
One of those responsible for collecting intelligence reported to the others what he had got.
Everybody had a grave look on his face. Yuwen Jin looked at Yuwen Tong and said, “I think we’d better not venture into those waters until we’re sure it’s safe to do that.”
Though having jokingly suggested they visit a tribe of cannibals to check it out, Yuwen Jin was quite prudent when it came to important matters. He knew that his main duty during this journey to that island was to ensure Yuwen Tong’s safety. After hearing that hitherto nobody had returned from those waters, Yuwen Jin became a little worried about this journey. They did have a lot of men, but if there was indeed something very dangerous in there, they might have to flee, and fleeing on the sea was far from fun. This was no laughing matter.
While speaking, Yuwen Jin gave Ling Zhang a significant look.
Ling Zhang caught on to what he meant. Actually he happened to have just thought of something, so he said, “Jin has a point. It’d indeed be reckless of us to venture into that area knowing nothing about it. Since it is in these microstates that the rumors have been circulating, there’s got to be someone who managed to flee that island. I mean, who else could have started these rumors? If we find that person, maybe we’ll be able to figure out a way to leave that place after getting in there.
And there’s another thing. Didn’t that envoy say that their king had given up trying to find that island because there had never been any progress? Why is he suddenly sending his men to join the King of the South Ocean on the search? Some flotillas had traveled south before us, bringing back news of our journey to this place, so their king definitely was informed of our arrival. Considering that envoy’s unduly warm hospitality, I’m sure they think highly of our caravans. The Fangcun Kingdom stands no comparison with the Great Wen in any respect. That king, as long as he’s not stupid, should know which side to pick. But somehow he was so anxious to have his men go south with the King of the South Ocean he ignored the opportunity to cooperate with us. The way I see it, he must have got wind of something. The reason why he sent some men to go south with the fleet of the King of the South Ocean in such hurry was either because time was short or because he was worried we might beat him to something. I think we should start with him and see if we could worm some information out of him.”
At Ling Zhang’s words, the light suddenly dawned on the others.
“That’s right. Why didn’t I think of that? If nobody had seen the island and come back alive, how could the rumors have started? There’s got to be someone who made it out of there, which means there is a way out of that place,” said Yuwen Jin, feeling relieved. Given that someone had survived that island and brought back information, this journey could be much less dangerous than expected.
“All of us were too anxious, which was why we failed to think of this,” observed Ling Zhaowu thoughtfully.
Everybody else felt that Ling Zhang had got a point, so they naturally agreed to stay and make some more inquiries.
Ling Zhang shifted his gaze to Ji Yanlai, intending to hear his opinions.
Ji Yanlai, catching on, said, “The closer we are to those waters, the more strongly I could sense my father. Now that he’s still alive, I guess I could wait another few days. Besides, you’re right about one thing – this rumor would never have spread so widely had nobody ever made it out of there alive. Since there is a way out of those waters, I’m sure my father can get out of there if he wants to. It must be because he has some unfinished business there that he hasn’t left that island. I’ll go with you guys to ask that king about it. With my abilities, I’ll be able to save you some time.”
Since Ji Yanlai raised no objection either, the others looked at Yuwen Tong, waiting for him to make a decision.
Yuwen Tong said, “We’ll continue staying here tonight and see if that envoy returns. If he doesn’t, we’ll pay their royal palace a visit at night.”
“All right!” said Yuwen Jin excitedly. “I haven’t had a good fight since the reunification of the three countries.”
Ling Zhang looked at him. “We’re just going to find that king and ask him some questions. It’s not like we’re going to wage a war. Why are you so excited?”
Yuwen Jin said, “Even so, I could still be the vanguard. I want to go a few rounds with them and see what their so-called war elephants are like.”
Ling Zhang, who couldn’t be bothered to say another word to him, slightly shook his head.
Yuwen Tong had the one who had gone ashore to collect intelligence mark the royal palace on a map.
The royal palace of this statelet was located right in this coastal city. It was not large and was the only building in the city that could be deemed splendid. They didn’t even have to enter the city to look for it, because they could easily spot it from a relatively high position near the dock.
At dusk, the envoy of that microstate came back.
“Our king did receive a visit from the King of the South Ocean and his son. They were anxious to find that island and the King of the South Ocean requested help from our king, so our king sent a couple of men to be their guides, who then led them to those waters.”
“Oh? Your king hasn’t got any other news about that island recently?” inquired Ling Zhang, looking at him with his piercing eyes.
The moment he met Ling Zhang’s eyes, the envoy gave an involuntary shudder and hastened to hang his head. “No, h–he hasn’t. There hasn’t been any progress since that earthquake.”
Ling Zhang gazed at the envoy, a disapproving look in his eyes, knowing that this man was lying.
This afternoon their men had ascertained that their king had sent a flotilla to go with the King of the South Ocean, not just a couple of men. Given that this envoy was avoiding his eyes when asked a question, he was definitely keeping a lot of things back from them.
“Is there anything particular your king sent you back here to tell us?” Ling Zhang asked him another question.
The envoy, head still down, didn’t dare look up at Ling Zhang or any of the others at all. “I have orders from our king to be a dutiful guide for His Majesty.”
Be a guide? Be a spy, more like.
That king probably did not have the guts to have Yuwen Tong killed. It was very likely that this man had orders to misdirect them and waste their time, so that it would take them a longer time to find that island. If they had not found out about it, they would be tricked by this man and go in circles unawares.
“We’ve changed our minds. We’re in no hurry to set sail. We want you to take us to your king tonight so that we can have an audience with him,” said Ling Zhang in a deep voice.
The envoy had a few moments ago sensed that the atmosphere was different from how it had been before he left, and now, after hearing Ling Zhang’s icy tone, he was on tenterhooks. Not daring to say no, he tremulously agreed.
After Ling Zhang finished speaking, Yao Yi walked inside and took the envoy out of the cabin, preparing to “throw him a welcome party” and see how much he could drag out of the envoy before they set off to meet that king.
“Is it possible there’re some rare treasures on that island? I mean, why else would their king want to beat us to it at the risk of angering us?” Yuwen Jin was very curious.
“No matter whether or not there’re any rare treasures on that island, there’s no doubt it’s a dangerous place. Otherwise there wouldn’t have been so many people who went missing after entering those waters, so we’ve got to be cautious,” said Ling Zhaowu.
“Earl Taichang has a point. Cousin, I think it’s best if you stay away from that island and let me take some men and check out the lay of the land on it first after we find it,” Yuwen Jin said to Yuwen Tong.
Yuwen Tong said, “We’ll take about that after we get there. Right now we don’t know anything about it.”
“Okay.” Yuwen Jin, though on the surface having undertaken to do as Yuwen Tong said, had in fact secretly made up his mind to be the one checking out the lay of the land and was now thinking about what kind of formation he would have his men adopt.
Both Ling Zhang and Yuwen Tong could tell what kind of little game Yuwen Jin was playing. Neither of them said anything, but they had indicated their bodyguards to keep a close eye on Yuwen Jin lest he do anything rash and cause them trouble.
After an hour, Yao Yi gave them a reply.
During that “welcome party” they threw him, the envoy disclosed a lot of information.