“A pool of moonlight before the bed, I took it to be frost on the ground. Raised my head to gaze at the moon, and lowered it to think of home.”
It was a simple poem.
A masterpiece centered on homesickness composed by Li Bai, a romantic poet in the Tang Dynasty, which had been popular over a thousand years.
On Earth, even a toddler could recite it without difficulty. It was certainly known by every single Chinese.
If looking at it in that light, the poem was the least bit special.
But for Li Mu, he felt his stomach do a flip-flop as he set his eyes on it.
Because the paper with the poem was delivered by an envoy from the Northern Song.
And the poem was written in Chinese, too.
It was a poem from Earth, written in a language used on Earth.
Surprisingly, it was sent to him by an envoy of the Northern Song.
Although that piece of work was alien to that planet and so was the language that conveyed it, the man who delivered it was from that world.
Li Mu immediately realized that it was highly possible that the sender was also an Earth resident who currently lived in that world.
And that Earth resident was in the Northern Song.
That meant a lot to Li Mu.
A sense of excitement spurred by running across an old friend in a distant land surged wildly inside him.
Li Mu was so overwhelmed by the stunning surprise that it wasn’t until Qing Feng led the Northern Song envoy into the study that he came to his senses.
“I, Zhao Ji, the envoy of Northern Song, pay my tributes to the Sage-to-be.” The envoy gave a deep bow.
He was a young man in his twenties. His facial features were well proportioned. His brows were thick, his eyes large, giving him an indomitable air. He was clad in the Northern Song’s civil outfit in vogue, which had loose collar and sleeves. A Song sword was fastened to his waist. And he was tall and lean, carrying a dignified bearing.
Li Mu set his eyes upon the Northern Song envoy, his look sharp as a broadsword.
Zhao Ji sensed a kind of indescribable pressure shrouding him at once. With Li Mu the Sage-to-be staring at him, he felt like an ant stuck under a huge boulder, who might be crushed once he took a wrong move.
“The Sage-to-be does live up to his title!”
”Who sent you to deliver this to me?” Holding the poem in one hand, Li Mu cut to the chase.
Zhao Ji dared not make light of Li Mu, so he answered respectfully, “It’s the adopted daughter of Lord Virtuous the Eighth who entrusted me with the task of handing the object to the Sage-to-be before I set off. She told me that if Your Honor refuses to see me when I come to Taibai County, I should just present the object to you, then you might make an exception for me.”
In truth, he was quite amazed upon hearing that remark.
In fact, before he left Lin’an, the capital of the Northern Song, the adopted daughter of Lord Virtuous the Eighth had visited him in private. She asked him to deliver the object to Li Mu, the Sage-to-be, adding that it was likely to help him.
At that time, Zhao Ji took it with a pinch of salt.
Because even though Li Mu’s name and poems had spread to the Northern Song and were quite popular there, Li Mu had never traveled to that country yet. He had not even left Chang’an in the Western Qin. Thus, by no account could the adopted daughter of Lord Virtuous the Eighth have encountered Li Mu, let alone befriend him. So, how could a sheet of paper with some eccentric signs and marks pluck the heartstrings of a Sage-to-be like Li Mu?
Afterward, Zhao Ji arrived in Taibai County and made several requests to meet the Sage-to-be but all were denied. Every time he came to Li Mu’s mansion, the only one he met was Qing Feng, the little attendant. That made him anxious, but he had no better idea about what to do next.
Then, carrying only a shred of hope, he presented the thing the adopted daughter of Lord Virtuous the Eighth gave him. To his great surprise, it worked! He was admitted to Li Mu’s study right away.
At Zhao Ji’s reply, Li Mu was still nonplussed.
“The adopted daughter of Lord Virtuous the Eighth in Northern Song?”
He had never heard of such a woman.
“Can you tell me more about that adopted daughter of Lord Virtuous the Eighth?” Li Mu asked, “Where is she from? What’s her name?”
At that, Zhao Ji was baffled. “Why is the Sage-to-be so interested in that woman?”
Despite his bewilderment, he ordered his thoughts and said, “Lord Virtuous the Eighth is a prince with prominent achievements in our empire. He is at a very high standing. Inadvertently, His Highness adopted a girl as he traveled around in disguise about half a year ago. He adores the girl very much, and surnamed her Zhao, so her full name is Zhao Shiyu. He also granted her the title ‘Countess Huanzhu’, which stirred quite a sensation in Lin’an. As to her specific background, I’m not quite sure.”
Li Mu was stunned by his account.
“I find the name quite familiar!”
When Li Mu was in school on Earth, he had a deskmate who was the most beautiful girl in the class, or even in the whole school. Her name was Wang Shiyu. She was sharp-witted and very kind, often providing help to Li Mu, her parentless deskmate. For that reason, it was rumored that Wang Shiyu and he were dating among his classmates.
In Li Mu’s view, they were certainly not dating each other. Honestly, he might have taken it as the budding period of a flickering affection. It was nothing strong and intense, but it was surely the first crush the boy experienced.
Indeed, Li Mu had a good vibe for Wang Shiyu.
But after he arrived in that world, he gradually let the crush on the most beautiful girl on campus fade, as he knew they would live in two different worlds. Perhaps in twenty years, the campus belle would have married someone else already.
But at the moment…
Li Mu’s heart throbbed out of the blue.
Because he was wondering if the adopted daughter of Lord Virtuous the Eighth called Zhao Shiyu was… precisely his old deskmate, Wang Shiyu. “Has she come to this world, too? After all, only a Chinese on Earth could have known Li Bai’s poem.”
“And she has become Countess Huanzhu?”
“It kind of reminds me of the famous character Princess Huanzhu, doesn’t it?”
But giving it a thought, he found that coincidence unlikely in spite of all the clues.
Wang Shiyu was, after all, a normal person. She had no one like the old faker around her, so she could not have crossed the seas of stars and reach that planet.
Even so, clinging to a wisp of luck, Li Mu posed another question. “Now that she has been granted the surname Zhao, I was wondering if you know what Countess Huanzhu’s original surname is.”
Zhao Ji cast Li Mu a complex look and answered, “Someone once told me that her surname was Wang…”
“What?” Li Mu leaped to his feet in shock. “Surnamed Wang? You can’t be mistaken on that, can you? Was she really… surnamed Wang?”
His reaction gave the envoy called Zhao Ji quite a turn.
“It appears that she was surnamed Wang. Yes, that’s it. I remember it. Once I heard that at a gathering of the prestigious ladies in Lin’an, Countess Huanzhu got drunk and still called herself Miss Wang. She cried her eyes out and quite forgot herself at that feast. That story later became a laughingstock among the masses,” Zhao Ji added.
“She was truly surnamed Wang!”
“Could she really happen to be that attractive campus belle who used to share a desk with me?”
Li Mu was instantly seized by nervousness, which was something he rarely experienced.
“She… What does Countess Huanzhu look like? How old is she?” probed Li Mu with a note of suppressed anticipation.
By that time, the envoy named Zhao Ji was even more puzzled.
Judging by Li Mu’s reaction, he was likely an old acquaintance of the adopted daughter of Lord Virtuous the Eighth, while it seemed unfeasible that the two could have known one another considering time and geography.
Holding back his incredulity, he said, “Countess Huanzhu is fifteen. She has just held her fifteenth birthday party on the ninth day of October…” Then, he also gave a rough description of Countess Huanzhu’s appearance and figure.
When the envoy finished, waves of stupefaction surged inside Li Mu.
By that time, he was almost certain that Countess Huanzhu was Wang Shiyu, his good-looking deskmate back on Earth.
Because it all fitted.
In particular, her age and the main features of the figure Zhao Ji described tallied with the beautiful deskmate left in Li Mu’s memory.
“She also traveled to this planet?”
“How did she manage that?”
“This thing is just too inconceivable!”
Li Mu wished he could rush to the Northern Song right off and visit her to figure out what was going on. Yet, he took a deep breath and curbed that impulse.
That was because, for the time being, he could not step out of Taibai County or the Taibai Mountain area.
Only when he was within the Dragon-assembling Pattern in Taibai Mountain could he possess the power of a Sage-to-be. Once he left the geomancy deployment, the more distant he was the more sharply would his strength wane. If he was over one thousand miles away from the geomancy deployment, he could not be able to use any of the deployment power.
Li Mu scratched his head.
“I should have known better than to be so high-profile and mess up with so many people.”
Now that he was wildly known as a Sage-to-be, having also murdered the second prince and vanquished the Fire Devil, he had set many others against himself. Countless people were planning to take him on. If he stepped out of the Taibai Mountain area and some of his enemies insisted on trying their luck and attacked him, his secret would be given away.
Watching Li Mu lost in thought, Zhao Ji, the envoy, found the whole thing even more bizarre.
“Your Honor, this time I’ve come here on behalf of His Highness, Lord Union of our Northern Song. He hopes to…” Zhao Ji brought up the official purpose of his trip. After all, that was the point of this journey as an envoy.
Li Mu heard him out absent-mindedly and nodded. Then, he asked, “Is that Countess Huanzhu doing well at Lord Virtuous the Eighth’s place? How is she being treated? Does she practice martial arts?”
Zhao Ji: “…”
“It turns out that the Sage-to-be didn’t hear a word of my long speech on the purpose of this trip!”
“But it indirectly shows that Li Mu does care a lot about Countess Huanzhu.”
An idea popped out in Zhao Ji’s mind.
“Such being the case, why not make use of the favorable situation to reach my end?”
“What worries me is the Sage-to-be’s lack of interest in our Northern Song, not the contrary. So, as he already attached such importance to Countess Huanzhu, why not seize the opportunity to start the negotiation?”
At that thought, Zhao Ji cast aside his concerns and started to introduce Countess Huanzhu in detail. He told Li Mu everything he knew about her.
According to him, Lord Virtuous the Eighth was the number one lord in the Northern Song. He was enormously powerful and respected. In his early days, he was the Commander in Chief of the imperial army and went to the battlefield in the border area. There he met his wife, a daughter of a general stationed at territorial boundaries. They were very much in love and soon got married. The couple’s beautiful love story had once been on everyone’s lips in that area. But unfortunately, his wife was killed on the battlefield by the Southern Chu. Afterward, Lord Virtuous the Eighth lived with a broken heart. Although his wife did not leave him any child, he never remarried.
The lord was quite reputed and esteemed in the Northern Song. Only in recent years he had begun to withdraw to the backstage and seldom paid attention to political affairs.
Around half a year ago, Lord Virtuous the Eighth took a journey in disguise to have some fresh air. On his way, he encountered Wang Shiyu, a girl who strayed to the barren countryside. Curiously, the old man’s heartstrings were tugged by the girl and he immediately took her in as his adopted daughter. Since then, he adored her very much and asked the current emperor of the Northern Song to grant her the surname Zhang and enlist her into the royal family tree with the title Countess Huanzhu. Thus, she enjoyed a high standing in Lin’an.
Upon hearing that, Li Mu felt a bit relieved.
“If she is really the Wang Shiyu I know, no matter how she got to this world, she must be very scared, lonely, and helpless when she first arrived here. But luckily, she met a good old man and found herself a reliable backer.”