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    "The handwriting differs, as do the stationery and ink used. Most importantly, this person clearly knows Water Dragon King's aliases and whereabouts from the past two years, as if they're within Great Yin's borders, ready to detect his presence the moment he arrives."

    Gu Changjin's gaze never left the secret letters. "Can General Liang determine who delivered today's letter?"

    " Impossible to trace. It's as if the letter materialized out of thin air in the hands of the commander," Liang Xiao replied. "No wonder both officials believe this person is not the same as Jiao Feng. To deliver a letter undetected, that individual must have an intimate understanding of the Defense Commander's office, perhaps even all of Yangzhou. Jiao Feng doesn't possess such capabilities."

    Gu Changjin set down the secret letter and spoke calmly, "Whether it's true or not, we'll know when we meet Jiao Feng. If the pirates from Four Square Island return, Jiao Feng will surely appear. Then, I'll personally escort Pan Xueliang to meet her."

    Liang Xiao pledged solemnly, "Lord Gu, rest assured. I've made the necessary arrangements. Once the Mid-Autumn Festival passes, all garrison soldiers will fulfill their duties and maintain coastal defense."

    He couldn't help but sigh as he spoke, "The people of our Great Yin place extraordinary importance on the Mid-Autumn Festival. Every year, countless lanterns are released for the deceased. On this day, the military and defense officials have to allocate personnel to monitor these citizens."

    In previous years, whenever a holiday approached, local government offices had to be extra vigilant.

    Especially during major festivals like Mid-Autumn, Double Seventh, and Lantern Festival, there would always be unexpected incidents. This year, the Governor of Yangzhou had requested assistance from Liang Xiao in advance, fearing any significant mishap that might jeopardize his position.

    While Liang Xiao was lamenting, Liu Yuan, on the other side, seemed to have had a thought. Glancing at Gu Changjin, he smiled and asked, "Does Lord Gu have any pressing matters on the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival?"

    Gu Changjin returned Liu Yuan's gaze with a calm expression, his thin lips barely curving.

    Liang Xiao was unaware of the hidden meaning in Liu Yuan's words and assumed that Gu Changjin had genuine business to attend to. He kindly said, "If Lord Gu has matters to attend to, feel free to take care of them on that day."

    Gu Changjin sipped his tea slowly.

    Recalling the confusion and skepticism in the girl's eyes when he asked her about celebrating his birthday earlier, his throat turned dry.

    She had even asked if he had any tasks for her to handle.

    A man would naturally inquire about how a lady celebrates her birthday because he liked her and wanted to make it special for her.

    But she didn't seem to interpret it that way.

    Upon hearing him say that he had no plans, she seemed to relax.

    Indeed, how could he blame her for misunderstanding when he hadn't told her that he didn't have feelings for Wen Xi and had no intention of marrying her?

    Gu Changjin now fully understood what it meant to shoot oneself in the foot.

    Back then, he thought that after their divorce, he would never see her again, and his affection for her would gradually fade away.

    Therefore, whether he explained or not made little difference.

    Who could have known that he would dig himself into such a predicament?

    Tea leaves swirled up and down in the indigo tea cup, and Gu Changjin gazed at it, feeling as if more than just the tea leaves were sinking and rising within the bitter brew.

    He must find an opportunity to clarify his feelings to her – he liked her. He decided.

    Time flew by, and before he knew it, it was the Mid-Autumn Festival. Gu Changjin arrived early at the Defender's Office.

    Liang Xiao was holding a map, instructing his soldiers to keep watch on various canals, especially those busy waterways near the Wu family's brick bridge in the inner city.

    "No more incidents of citizens being trampled this year," the middle-aged general commanded sternly with his deep voice. "Keep a closer eye on those kidnappers, thieves, and unscrupulous ruffians."

    The subordinate commander bowed and replied, "This officer will carry out your order."

    After they left, Gu Changjin asked, "Has General Liang sent anyone to guard the Qinhuai River area?"

    "Surely there are guards stationed there. At night, the place is swarming with people; how could it not be guarded? Ah, on such a peaceful Ghost Festival, all this commotion – even if the lanterns for the deceased could reach the Underworld, Lord Yama might complain about the noise and refuse to accept them."

    Liang Xiao was a military commander, skilled in arranging troops and strategy. But when faced with civilians who ignored discipline and wandered aimlessly, his abilities were rendered useless, causing him immense frustration.

    Listening to Liang Xiao's complaints, Gu Changjin's attention was drawn to the young lady's repeated warnings about pirate raids. He thus picked up the map and started studying the naval defenses.

    It had to be said that Liang Xiao truly had a gift for military strategy, making him a rare and exceptional general.

    This officer in his early thirties had been specially appointed by Emperor Jia You to defend this region of the Yangzhou seas.

    When he first arrived as the commander, the soldiers under his command paid no heed to his orders, their morale low, and they disregarded military discipline. Liang Xiao was forced to recruit miners from the local community as new recruits.

    In less than three months, a well-trained and fearless group of soldiers emerged. Liang Xiao led these novices back to the defense command, where they disciplined the veteran soldiers who had defied his authority.

    Five years later, those original rookies and veterans had become the renowned "Liang's Army," feared throughout Jiangsu and Zhejiang.

    Gu Changjin now understood why the former Minister dared to act against Liao Rao at this time.

    With Liang Xiao in charge, the maritime defenses along the Jiangsu-Zhejiang coast and Four Square Island were impregnable to pirates.

    After studying the defense map, Gu Changjin's gaze lingered on a marked inner harbor along the Small Qinhuai River for a moment before he slowly tore his eyes away.

    At the fourth hour of the evening, just as twilight began to set in, a magnificent painted pleasure boat silently docked along the banks of the Small Qinhuai River.

    Rong Shu lifted her skirt and stepped onto the boat, with Mama Zhang following closely behind, softly reminding her, "Miss, don't walk too fast, be careful with your steps."

    "Mother, you can't scold me today; you'd better indulge me in everything," Rong Shu replied with a smile over her shoulder. "Today is my birthday."

    Upon hearing her childlike words, Mama Zhang chuckled helplessly. "Alright, this old servant won't say a word to Miss today."

    Only then did Rong Shu proceed inside the boat happily.

    This was the same painted boat that Shen used to frequent in the past. After she married into the Cheng'an Marquis Estate, she gave it to Gu Jiuniang, telling her to use it for the girls at the Spring Moon Building.


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