Chapter 6: A Far Journey Ahead
On March 29 of the thirty-third year of Hongwu, Princess Yi Ning of Korea set out from Korea in order to travel to the capital of the Great Ming Dynasty, the East Palace of the royal grandson, in accordance to the imperial decree.
The winter snow had melted, and there was a chill in the spring air. There were hints of green on the tips of the aspen tree’s twigs. There were many citizens out on the streets early in the morning — families who had brought their elderly and young with them. They swarmed to the gates of the Gyeongbok Palace like bees. The Gwanghwamun were thrown open, and colored flags were waved in the air. Rows of guards stood at order, their armor gleaming.
Scriptures, lacquerware, dukbokki, tribute rice… thirty large wagons were filled to the brim. There were also fifty Goryeo horses as tribute. The king had sent the administrative commander of the Security Council, Nan Huo, to bring the decree in accompaniment. Sergeant Zhao Ke held under his command, 165 soldiers as an escort. There was a chaotic mess of people, carriages, and horses. The expansive square in front of the Gyeongbok Palace appeared to be a bit crowded.
The king and the royal consort had brought all the civil and military officials for a send off outside the Gwanghwamun. Many offered joyous blessings, while some tendered tragic sympathies. Madame Cao’s eyes were reddened — she had been crying for more than a night. She pulled on Lotus’ hands, unable to speak. Zheng sanggung held onto Madame Cao, and murmured low words of comfort into her ears.
Lotus was dressed splendidly, in observance of the occasion. Her thick and beautiful hair was as plentiful as spring pines, while her courtly dress was as resplendent as the sunset falling on a palace pond — an unparalleled abode for immortals. Her hands clutched her mother’s, and didn’t want to let go, as if she was hanging onto seventeen years of support. Zheng sanggung reminded her in a low voice, “Princess! The time has arrived.” Lotus’ eyes were full of mist as she finally hardened her heart, and let go of her mother’s hands.
She walked gracefully to the king and royal consort, genuflecting in a grand, formal ceremony. The king and consort reached out their hands to help her up, yet Lotus refused to rise. She still kowtowed three times. All that could’ve been said had already been said thousands, hundreds of times. Everyone’s throats were frozen with a lack of words. Finally, the king cleared his throat and said loudly, “Go forth, my child! May your journey be smooth and peaceful, and cement forevermore the ties of friendship between our Korea and the Imperial Court! May you empathize with the sheepherders, and may your offspring flourish!”
The civil and martial officials, and the nearby citizens also called out loudly, “Cement the ties of friendship between Korea and the Imperial court!” “May your offspring flourish!” “Have a smooth and safe journey princess!” The calls rose one after another, reverberating in front of the Gyeongbok Palace. Tears swam in Lotus’ eyes as she bowed and paid her respects, again and again, turning to climb into the carriage. She swept her gaze in the direction of the hundred officials, but Lee Fangyuan hadn’t come. Her heart left with a feeling of emptiness, she quickly climbed into the carriage. Shan Xi was attending to her on the side, and Hai Shou followed quickly behind on a horse.
As she waved, the figures of the king, the royal consort, her mother, and the hundred officials, all became smaller and smaller. The calls of “Safe travels Princess!” also became smaller and smaller. Gyeongbok Palace finally disappeared after a bend in the road.
There were sometimes citizens out on the streets who’d come to wave and express their well wishes, as well as blessings of “Safe travels Princess!”. Lotus smiled and waved her hand back at them. After they exited the city gates and made it onto the official road, Lotus turned her head and looked at the city gates.
Farewell, my home!
The carriage’s speed became noticeably faster after making it onto the official road. The trees on the side of the road flew by. Lotus sat up straight within the carriage, with her eyes closed, and didn’t say a word. Even the normally talkative Shan Xi was quiet today. It was quiet within the carriage, with only the sound of the axle turning audible. The groomsman would occasionally flick his long whip with a thwack!
After traveling roughly ten kilometers, they were about to leave the boundaries of Seoul. There was a vague commotion towards the front of the entourage, and the carriage immediately began to slow down and stop. Shan Xi asked repeatedly, “What’s going on? What’s happening? Go check it out!” Hai Shou had already dashed to the front without waiting for Lotus’ orders. Shan Xi disembarked from the carriage out of curiosity, and glanced to the front of the entourage.
After a short while, Hai Shou came speedily back and bowed next to the carriage, saying politely. “Princess, your presence is requested.” He hesitated. “It’s His Highness.”
Lotus was greatly startled, and slowly disembarked from the carriage without a change in expression, walking towards the front. She saw Lee Fangyuan astride a horse after she took a few steps, who was forming a barrier in the middle of the official rode. A white horse, splendid clothes, and a black cape formed a tall and dignified figure. Although it was only one man and one horse, they had the breathtaking aura of a thousand troops and tens of thousands of horses. Nan Huo and Zhao Ke were keeping a large distance with the soldiers and the groomsman, bowing from afar when they saw Lotus.
Lotus walked forward, tilted her head up, and called out, “Royal brother!” She then reached out her hand and stroked the white horse’s mane, saying intimately, “White Snow! How are you? I haven’t seen you in so long!” White Snow shook his head, snorting through his nose in a type of greeting.
Lee Fangyuan leapt off his horse and stood in front of Lotus. Their gazes met and Lotus blushed, moving her gaze away. She said softly, “Thank you, I’ve read it.”
Lee Fangyuan nodded, saying, “The royal grandson is a nice person, and there’s only one royal consort in the Eastern Palace. You shouldn’t be too bad off if you go. But don’t make careless moves with the Emperor, or the multiple nobles and officials.”
“If anything happens when you reach the capital, go find my people.”
“Mm.” Lotus lowered her head, agreeing inaudibly.
Lee Fangyuan sighed lightly, and reached out a hand to tilt Lotus’ chin up. He looked into her eyes and said carefully, “I’ll ask you one final time: can you possibly not go?”
Lotus looked at him. His cheeks were damp, and frost had collected on his hair. His long lashes bore traces of water. It was obvious that he had set out early in the morning, and had waited until now. His each and every word was suffused with resignation and forbearance, and small flames danced in the bottom of his dark eyes.
Lotus was touched and she called sentimentally, “Brother Yuanyuan!” Lee Fangyuan trembled, gazing at Lotus, the flames within his eyes flickering. “You know I must go.” Lee Fangyuan’s hand was a bit stiff. “I will forever hold everything about here in my heart .” Lotus said as her eyes misted up, light reflecting off of the surface. Lee Fangyuan slowly released his hands, and his back was a bit bent.
The two were silent for a long time, before Lee Fangyuan turned his head and waved his hand in farewell. “Be on your way.” Lotus also didn’t dare look at him as she turned and stumbled to the carriage. Nan Huo and Zhao Ke reorganized the entourage when they received an indication from Lee Fangyuan, and once again set out on their path.
Lee Fangyuan leapt onto his horse, tugging on the reins, and turning it to the side of the road. Lotus’ carriage slowly travelled past, their gazes intersecting and conveying thousands — tens of thousands — of words. The wagons in the back followed up afterwards, obscuring their view bit by bit, until the two could no longer see each other.
The white horse suddenly reared up, stretched its neck out, and screamed shrilly. The scream cut through the clouds, echoing long into the air.
Would they ever be able to meet again after this farewell?
Yalu River, otherwise known as the Amnok River1” — the Han Dynasty called it the Maiyu Waters, and the Tang Dynasty called it the Duck Green River as the waters were renowned for being the color of a duck’s head. It might’ve also originated from the Man people’s ancestors, who called it “Yalu”, which indicated the border of a river. It measured 800 kilometers in length, and originated from the heights of the Changbai Mountains of the Imperial Court. It was the boundary river between the Imperial Court and Korea. (The reason why citizens of the new China would remember this name was most likely due to a popular song.)
It was already May, the beginning of summer. The river’s waters were jade green and clear, the current fast as it thundered towards the yellow sea.
Lotus was draped in a poncho as she stood on the slope of a hill not too far from the waters, and gazed upon Duck Green River. Her clothes blocking the wind, the poncho made snapping sounds as it billowed in the wind. The river wind brushed the surface of the water, with faint, chilly traces carried by the humidity. There was the refreshing scent of flowers and grass in the air, and strands of sweetness of the river waters. It refreshed and invigorated spirits, sweeping away the depression of many days, and brightening one’s spirits.
It was early spring when they set out from Seoul. The snow had turned the road into mud, and the carriage found it incredibly difficult to proceed. Lotus often alighted to walk herself, and many of the guards became laborers who pushed the carriage. The administrator and sergeant had also become hard labor. Even Hai Shou had to use his soft whip to drag Lotus’ carriage along. Hai Shou’s soft whip was the treasured heritage of many generations of Sharjah monks. His master had only given it to Hai Shou after many, many admonitions when he left.
“If master knew about this, he’d probably vomit blood?” Hai Shou worried as he dragged the carriage.
The spring rains were plentiful, and they often ran into rain. A faint, drizzling haze, and everyone’s clothes would be fully drenched after half a day. Lotus was worried about the scriptures, and would often personally check to see if they had been wettened by the rain. It was a good thing that the guards had covered it fully with oilcloth.
They had run into heavy rains a few times, and had had no choice but to stop and wait for the rains to cease. They weren’t always able to find an appropriate place to duck out of the rain, and were thoroughly drenched twice. Many of the soldiers became ill, and ginger soup and medicines had to be brewed for them. Shan Xi also became heavily ill once, burning up with a high fever that wouldn’t recede. The accompanying medical officer used acupuncture, flame, and burned herbs, finally saving her life in the end.
In this way, the journey was made quite difficult. They had only made it to the Xinyi crossing on the banks of the Duck Green River in a month. The Xinyi Crossing was a Korean naval base on the Duck Green River, located on the west in a bay. The king had specially prepared a large naval ship for their crossing, for this time’s trip into the Imperial capital, and had long since notified the Imperial Court’s East Harbor on the opposite side of Xinyi Crossing.
“Princess! Princess!” Shan Xi called out as she walked up the hill. “Sergeant Zhao says that the ship is being prepared, and that we will be able to board in two hours.”
Lotus turned and said to Shan Xi, “Arrange for the carriages to board first.”
“Yes, Sergeant Zhao has already done so.”
Lotus nodded and turned back to look at the river waters, saying no more.
Shan Xi took up a post at a slight distance from Lotus’ side, also looking at the river waters. She said softly after a while, “Princess, we’re really leaving Korea!”
Lotus said nothing, and took out the tower of glass that Master Zichao had bequeathed upon her. After a while, she faced the waters and said lightly, “Tower of Glass, I’m taking you home. Are you happy?” The sunlight was dazzling and the flow of the colors within the tower seemed to indicate joy. Did it understand Lotus’ words?
At noon, all the people and carriages made it onto the ship and began crossing the river.
Although it was a large navy ship, the currents of the river were quite fast, and it was still a bit unstable. Shan Xi had never been on a ship before and had, at first, run around on the ship looking this way and that way in the beginning. She became dizzy beyond belief after a while, and hastily sat down, but it was too late. She ran and vomited everything and anything. Her face was waxy and tinged yellow when she came back. She sat down feebly in the hold, resting her hands on her knees and murmuring. “I was wrong, I was wrong alright? Can I stop being dizzy now?”
It was also the first time that Lotus had sat, on a ship and she was also a bit dizzy. Although she sat primly, her face was starkly white. Hai Shou walked over and softly handed over a cup of water, “Princess, do you want to drink some water?”
Lotus shook her head, continuing to look down and recite scripture. She lost herself in the recitation, as tears started to form in her eyes. Hai Shou stood silently by in protection, and the arm holding the cup didn’t waver. The water within the cup however, moved.
The ship started to slowly dock on the opposite shore after an hour. The Imperial Court’s East Harbor was on the opposite side of Xinyi Crossing, in the ancient Antung 2”— what is now Liaoning Province. Commander Zheng Fang of the navy at Xinyi Crossing had personally gone over to the East Harbor a day ago to deliver the message of the Princess’ entourage crossing the river, so when the ship docked, the East Harbor’s authorities had opened the gates and sent receiving ships as well as road mats. The administrative commander Nan Huo first disembarked with all sorts of documents, arranging to be cleared by customs. The carriages, servants, soldiers, and tribute horse then disembarked in a large commotion for almost two hours. Zhao Ke organized the troops, and started to slowly cross the East Harbor Gates. It was then that Lotus, Shan Xi, and a few guards disembarked, with Hai Shou bringing up the rear.
Lotus lifted her head to look up at the sky. The sky was jade blue, and white clouds scuttled across them. The four words “Great Ming East Harbor” were eye dazzling in the sunlight. Two rows of imperial soldiers stood in front of the gates, upright and unafraid, their armor gleaming, and were silently dignified.
Lotus sighed emotionally in her heart, “The Imperial Court!”