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    How could Guo Jiuniang bear to part with it?

    She always believed that her young miss would return, which is why she had kept the painting boat preserved all these years. It was only when Rong Shu visited that it would set sail.

    Everyone on the boat today was already acquainted. Both Guo Jiuniang and Lu Shiyi were present.

    Mama Zhang had come to the Shen family after Rong Shu's birth, so she couldn't really be considered close to Guo Jiuniang.

    But Guo Jiuniang was the type to instantly establish a friendly rapport with anyone she met. Upon seeing Mama Zhang, she promptly served two cups of watered wine and said, "All these years, I've truly appreciated your tireless care for Zhaozhao. This cup is a toast to you."

    Saying so, she promptly handed a cup of wine to Mother Zhang without further ado.

    Mother Zhang hastily declined, but Guo Jiuniang was no ordinary person. She was the leading madam of Wu's Brick Bridge, and even if the Lord of Death himself were to visit today, he'd still have to partake in a few cups of wine before being allowed to leave.

    After Mama Zhang had drained three cups of wine, Guo Jiuniang leisurely waved her round fan and chuckled. "Mama Zhang has quite the tolerance. It's been ages since I found someone who can accompany me in a drinking session. Don't be fooled by Head Constable Lu's boasts; he's out cold after just two jars of wine. After we finish celebrating Zhaozhao's longevity noodles, let's continue our feast."

    Assuming that Madam Zhang only took Lady Guo's words as mere polite talk, she was taken aback when, not long after Rong Shu finished her longevity noodles, Lady Guo reappeared with a cup of wine in hand, seeking her out once more.

    The maids and matrons attending to the pleasure boat were all from the Spring Moon Building, pouring wine with remarkable agility.

    Mama Zhang had never been poured wine like this before.

    She instinctively tried to decline, saying, "This old servant still has to attend to Miss; I can't drink anymore." As she spoke, she looked around but couldn't see Rong Shu anywhere. She couldn't help but wonder, "Where has Miss gone?"

    "Zhaozhao always releases lanterns and paper boats for her grandfather, maternal grandfather, and eldest uncle during her birthday. Just now, I had someone bring a wooden boat for her and Luan Yan to work on that," Guo Jiuniang said with a smile as she poured wine for Mama Zhang. "When Zhaozhao went down, she asked you not to worry and to enjoy your wine here. Mama Zhang, don't worry about the girl. Come, let's drink."

    The wine flask tilted slowly, filling another cup with strong alcohol.

    As one of the eight major festivals in Great Yin, the excitement of the Mid-Autumn Festival was no less than that of any other festival. The release of river lanterns, performances, and night boat rides were a joy for the living in memory of the deceased.

    At this moment, the Qinhuai River was a magnificent sight.

    Boats adorned with white banners sailed alongside countless small wooden boats and a seemingly endless array of river lamps, creating a grand spectacle on the water.

    Luan Yan had never seen such a magnificent view in Datong. Even the children on the shore held lotus or melon-skin lanterns in their hands.

    It truly embodied the phrase "green-haired beauties sparkle amidst the crowd."

    Rong Shu placed the lotus lanterns and white paper boats from the wooden boat into the river one by one. Seeing that Luan Yan was staring without blinking, she picked up the wooden paddle lying aside and rowed the small boat towards the bank.

    "The Mid-Autumn Festival in Yangzhou is livelier than in the capital. I'll take Sister to see the festivities on land," Rong Shu said with a smile.

    Luo Yan asked doubtfully, "Aren't you returning to the painted boat, Miss?"

    "No, I won't," Rong Shu replied. "There's nothing much to do on board anyway, so we might as well join in the fun. Later, they'll set up a stage inside the city to perform 'Moksa Rescues His Mother' for the common folk."

    She couldn't stay on the boat. As long as she was there, Mother Zhang would have an excuse not to drink.

    Auntie Guo was a master at encouraging alcohol consumption, and Uncle Shi was an expert at extracting information through conversation.

    Rong Shu had brought Mother Zhang out of Shen Yuan today precisely because she wanted to use her birthday as an opportunity to get Auntie Guo and Uncle Shi to chat more freely.

    That was just how she was. Once she became suspicious of someone, she wouldn't rest until she had uncovered the truth.

    They tied their wooden boat to the shore and linked arms as they pushed through the dense crowd.

    Just as they landed, a painted boat adorned with white banners docked nearby. Seven or eight men dressed in moon-white silk robes disembarked, led by a man with a goatee, high cheekbones, and a black mole on his face.

    Rong Shu introduced the unique river lanterns of Yang State Prefecture to Liao Rao, strolling at a leisurely pace. As the man with the goatee passed by her, Rong Shu's nose twitched instinctively, and she glanced towards him.

    Her gaze revealed a moment of astonishment.

    She had seen this face before.

    No, it was her past self who had seen him through a miniature portrait painted by Gu Changjin. This man was the leader of a group of pirates from Four Square Island, named Uzhda, a Di Luo tribesman. Previously, she had heard Gu Changjin mention that it was this very person who had been vying for control of the island with the Water Dragon King.

    In her previous life, it was this man who had led the chaos of the sea bandits in Yang State Prefecture. The battle had been fiercely brutal, resulting in both Liao Rao and Uzhda meeting their end together.

    Just now, as he passed her, Rong Shu distinctly caught the scent of gunpowder on him.

    Perhaps sensing her curious stare, Uzhda turned his gaze in her direction. Rong Shu quickly lowered her head, almost burying half of her face into the lotus lantern she held in her hands.

    Seeing that it was just a delicate young maiden, Uzhda assumed that her fleeting glimpse had been a mere illusion and dismissed it without much concern. The group then unhurriedly turned into a narrow alley, entering an inn, leaving only two attendants to guard outside.

    Rong Shu stealthily cast a glance down the narrow alleyway.

    In celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival, all the shops lining the alley had hung lanterns from their eaves, illuminating the narrow street with a warm glow.

    Rong Shu swiftly glanced over the inn's wine flag fluttering outside and whispered delicately into Luo Yan's ear, "Sister Luo Yan, hurry to Pingnan Street and inform Lord Gu of this: Uzhda, the pirate from Four Square Island, is currently lodged at an inn called the Exquisite Silk Pavilion. He carries the scent of saltpeter; undoubtedly, he bears firearms with him!"

    She spoke and hurriedly rushed towards the shore.

    She must hurry back to the pleasure boat and ask Uncle Shi Yi to devise a plan to evacuate the people here to a safer location!

    Chapter 54

    Today was the Mid-Autumn Festival, a time when inns, taverns, and eateries along the Little Qinhuai River would typically be bustling with patrons.

    Yet, the Exquisite Silk Pavilion was unusually quiet.

    Spotting Uzhda and his entourage entering, the manager hastily set down his ledger and greeted them with a warm smile. "Are you Mister Uzhda?"

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