544. Spin-Off – A Journey to the South Ocean (2)
Ling Zhang and Yuwen Tong stopped talking as Ling Zhaowu walked up to them.
“Father-in-law,” said Yuwen Tong.
As they were not in the palace, Ling Zhaowu simply made a bow with hands folded in front and then said, “Sire, shortly before I boarded this vessel, a member of the Chamber of Commerce delivered a chart to me as a matter of urgency. Would you like to see it?”
Yuwen Tong nodded. “All right.”
With that he suspended the inspection tour and followed Ling Zhaowu into a cabin with Ling Zhang.
Cabins of this vessel were quite roomy. There were two floors above the deck. On the upper floor were the cabins of Yuwen Tong, Ling Zhang, Ling Zhaowu, Ling Maomao, Ji Xiaocong, Ji Yanlai, Ji Yin and Yuwen Jin, each cabin accommodating two men.
The lower floor covered a larger area. Aside from the rooms for Mr. Mu and a couple of others, there was also a commodious study and a spacious living room.
Ling Zhang, Yuwen Tong, Ling Zhaowu, Yuwen Jin and Ji Yanlai were now in the study, an unrolled chart from Jiahe Chamber of Commerce on the desk.
Ling Zhang studied it. It had not been long since their departure from the port outside Pingtao City, and the chart had detailed information about a very long section of the remainder of the shipping route. It was after the route wound its way out of the waters under jurisdiction of the Great Wen and entered the South Ocean that information about the route became less definite.
“These waters are the area where that island is rumored to have emerged,” said Ling Zhaowu, circling a particular spot in the South Ocean with his finger. That was a large area. Though they knew its approximate location, finding it would still take a lot of doing.
Ji Yanlai said, “This tallies with the information from my men.”
Ling Zhang also said, “And the location provided by the envoys from the couple of mini-states on the South Ocean is not far away from this area.”
Ling Zhaowu observed with an inclination of the head, “Then there should be no mistake about its approximate location.”
They were going in the right direction. Though unaware of its specific location, they knew which area it was in, so their search wouldn’t be aimless.
“We may have those envoys act as our guides when we get there,” suggested Ling Zhang.
The envoys from the couple of mini-states on the South Ocean had been very excited when they had been told that Ling Zhang and Yuwen Tong were going to the South Ocean. They had offered to be Yuwen Tong and the others’ guides on their own account and were now right on one of the naval vessels.
“Seeing as we’re with a naval force, we’ll inevitably have to deal with the authorities of those mini-states when we get there. They know about these waters better than we do. We’ll be saving ourselves a lot of trouble if we let them be our guides, but we can’t trust them completely. It’s best if we keep a weather eye on them,” said Ling Zhaowu.
Yuwen Tong had thought of this as well. Neither he nor Ling Zhang would believe everything the envoys told them.
After a few moments, Yuwen Tong summoned the naval officers and some others familiar with the South Ocean to study the chart with them. There were some experienced steersmen among them, who, after a mere glance at the chart, came to know where that spot roughly was.
Ling Zhang was watching on the side. At first he couldn’t quite understand the marks and lines on the chart, but after hearing their discussion for a while, he gradually got the hang of it.
In a word, those waters were relatively desolate even in the various countries on the South Ocean, so they must always be extra careful.
It would be a very long time before they reached land. Ling Zhang and Yuwen Tong went to every area of the vessel to take a closer look at everything the vessel was equipped with and how the marines worked together.
Yuwen Tong had never been a naval officer, but there were some parallels between the navy and the army. After a short tour on the vessel, he had a better idea of the combat power of the marines.
“Let’s wait and see if they could defend against attacks from pirates,” said Yuwen Tong.
To get to the South Ocean, they would have to sail through some pirate-infested waters. Presently they had no idea whether or not those pirates would be so bold as to take action, but it struck Ling Zhang that Yuwen Tong was probably looking forward to seeing the marines display their real strength in a fight against pirates.
But Ling Zhang felt that even the dumbest pirate wouldn’t dare mess with such a large naval fleet of the Great Wen, that Yuwen Tong would very likely be disappointed.
“I can hold my breath for a very long time in this kind of sea water. I’ll show you what I can do underwater when the marines stop the vessels to have a breather.”
On the deck, Ji Xiaocong was speaking proudly with his chest thrown out, looking expectantly at Ling Maomao.
Ling Maomao did not look very well, mainly because he was slightly seasick, despite the fact that he had received some specialized training. A couple of years ago, when he had been delivering a package back to the Millennium Pavilion for Ji Yin, he had vomited so badly that he had specially trained against seasickness afterward.
On hearing Ji Xiaocong say he was going to go underwater, Ling Maomao had a momentary dizzy spell. “I believe you, but these waters are dangerous, and I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to venture underwater.”
Ji Xiaocong said, “It’s okay. Trust me. I’ll teach you how to swim in the sea and how to hold your breath, and you won’t be afraid of the sea again after you learn it.”
A slight frown of apprehension creased Ling Maomao’s forehead as he heard Ji Xiaocong offer to teach him, but beneath Ji Xiaocong’s expectant gaze, he didn’t have the heart to disappoint him and said with a head bob, “All right.”
Ji Xiaocong’s face was instantly wreathed in smiles. He was very like his uncle and both of them were very physically attractive. This smile of his made him even more charming than the rosy afterglow just above the horizon. That scarlet mole in the middle of his forehead, in particular, was so enchanting Ling Maomao felt as though his soul were being disembodied.
Ling Maomao was unable to take his eyes off Ji Xiaocong.
As Ji Xiaocong saw Ling Maomao gazing at him in a somewhat dreamy way, a twinkle passed across his smiling eyes and with that he bowed his head slightly, chuckling even more happily.
Ji Yanlai, who happened to be talking with Ling Zhang and some others upstairs, caught sight of this scene by accident and the look in his eyes flickered. When Ling Zhang and the others looked at him, he casually withdrew his gaze and at the same time changed the topic.
In fact Ling Maomao was not the only one suffering from seasickness. Ling Zhang had been slightly seasick as well, but thanks to his powerful internal energy, he had quickly adjusted himself to the heave of the sea. Nobody outside of Yuwen Tong had noticed his symptoms of seasickness.
When the two of them returned to their cabin to get some rest, Yuwen Tong told him to go to bed early.
“It’ll take a long time to finish the remainder of this voyage. Do you think you can tough it out?” asked Yuwen Tong, looking at him, seeming ready to give the order to get ashore immediately if Ling Zhang answered in the negative.
Ling Zhang nodded. “Yeah. Actually I’m just a little unaccustomed to it, but I’ll adapt in a day or two.”
After all, Ling Zhang was a landlubber and this was his first time being on a voyage.
“Besides, if I don’t overcome it on this occasion, we’ll be in trouble when some day we have the time to leave the palace to travel overseas again, won’t we?”
Yuwen Tong undressed, got into bed and put an arm around Ling Zhang’s shoulders to let him lie propped against it. “Is this making you feel better?” he asked.
Ling Zhang chuckled and inhaled deeply in contentment. His nostrils filled with the familiar smell, he rubbed his brow against Yuwen Tong’s shoulder and replied, “Yeah. Much better.”
Yuwen Tong said, “I heard that some people suffer from the climate on their first voyages.”
Ling Zhang was probably among them. But his symptoms were minor, and he had a high level of endurance.
Ling Zhang took another deep breath. These years Yuwen Tong’s body odor had been affecting him as well. The two of them had been living together and very intimate, and their daily necessities, including their clothes, were of the same quality. In fact, the refreshing perfume he had been using was the same as Yuwen Tong’s, but whenever he smelled the scent given off by Yuwen Tong, Ling Zhang still felt overwhelmingly entranced and relaxed, which had always baffled him.
But now, lying in Yuwen Tong’s warm embrace which felt like an indestructible mountain protecting him, he suddenly came to realize that maybe it was not the refreshing fragrance given off by Yuwen Tong but Yuwen Tong’s warmth and heartbeat which he had been infatuated with for so many years, and which made him feel overwhelmed every time he smelled it or heard it. These were peculiar to Yuwen Tong, and even his own body temperature or heartbeat didn’t stack up against them. These were what he was most besotted with.
Thinking about this, Ling Zhang involuntarily burrowed his face into Yuwen Tong’s chest again, their cuddle tightening.
Having been married for so many years, they had developed a kind of mutual understanding which enabled Yuwen Tong to know what Ling Zhang wanted at a mere slight body movement of Ling Zhang’s. He naturally hugged Ling Zhang tighter and kissed him on the forehead. “What’s the matter?”
This reaction of Ling Zhang’s seemed to be tinged with the air of a cosseted child. Ling Zhang had frequently comported himself in such manner in spite of himself before the age of twenty, but less and less often as he and their adopted children grew older. The times when they were making out did not count, of course, because in times like that, Ling Zhang always acted like a spoiled child from start to finish – at least in Yuwen Tong’s eyes. He felt that Ling Zhang, when making out, left aside the poise he had developed over the years and willingly let Yuwen Tong do whatever he wanted just as he had when he’d been unsophisticated and younger, but at the same time he relied heavily on Yuwen Tong and left everything he had fully open to Yuwen Tong; that kind of absolute trust always made Yuwen Tong feel more difficult to control himself and want to leave more marks on Ling Zhang and become one with him, and thus all his movements became progressively wild until the two of them both lost control.
As this thought crossed his mind, Yuwen Tong felt his body burning up in spite of himself and subconsciously moved his hand downwards, but then it occurred to him that Ling Zhang was seasick, so he exercised his self-restraint and his hand stopped progressing, caressing Ling Zhang’s waist in a restrained manner.
What could there possibly be that either of them had not come to know about the other during all these years? Ling Zhang was aware of the reason for even the slightest change in Yuwen Tong’s palm on his body or his exertion of strength.
The old Ling Zhang would have raised his head, kissed Yuwen Tong, held Yuwen Tong’s hand and let him continue, but today he did not do that. Maybe because he had just figured out that little something in his mind, he merely burrowed his face deeper into Yuwen Tong’s chest, causing Yuwen Tong to tighten his embrace further.
“Nothing. I just want you to hug me.”
Yuwen Tong’s breathing abruptly became heavier and with that he cuddled Ling Zhang closer. Eventually, he lay on his back and had Ling Zhang lie prostrate on his front.
Ling Zhang felt that that remark of his did not contain any undertones, but it almost caused Yuwen Tong to lose control. Such words sounded to Yuwen Tong as if Ling Zhang were requesting him to make fierce love to him.
Yuwen Tong’s eyes were considerably darker with longing.