Chapter 3 – Taking a Bet

“Don’t believe me?” The captain asked. “Why don’t we make a bet?”

The confidence of someone who’d already planned ahead seeped into his voice.

“What bet?” Hai Lian irritably rolled his eyes.

“Let’s bet… on which one of those not as skilled will be the first to find the best-of-your-crew you and the best-of-my-crew me. Of course, we’ll stay right here —” He hadn’t finished speaking when a sharp pain traveled up his arm. Looking down in amazement, he found that the little hostage pinned under him had somehow slipped a knife out from between his fingers. Blood dripped from its blade.

“Who said I was coming quietly?” Hai Lian laughed coldly.

The captain reacted quickly. Rather than covering his wound, he unhesitatingly twisted the boy’s wrist backwards. Hai Lian cried out in pain. The blade fell from his hand and was tossed into a corner.

“I can’t even claim victory in peace when you’re starving. Little brother, what would I do if you had eaten?” Had the wound been half an inch deeper, he might as well kiss his arm goodbye. The average person would have given Hai Lian a good beating, but the captain just took a deep breath. He took a moment to calm down.

“Who did you learn your skills from?” The captain asked.

“This father1Hai Lian is calling himself the captain’s father. I would’ve left this out, but then the next line wouldn’t make sense. was fucking born with them.” The boy retorted.

“I didn’t know I had a father from in Nanjing.” The captain smoothly pulled out several Tisu coins from Hai Lian’s waist pouch. With a flick, they flew through the air and landed on Hai Lian’s blood stained cheek with a derisive slapping sound.

“Father, it must have been difficult living at sea; you only have a couple coins in your bag. Why didn’t you come to Dongzhou and ask your son for help?”

Hai Lian had never met someone so shameless. In a fit of anger, he struggled harder against the man. However, his captor was clearly skilled at capturing people — Hai Lian’s efforts only made his head bleed more.

“Hey, to be honest, I heard Tisu exports plenty of three things: pirates, assassins, and sea lotuses. You fall into two categories yourself. Quite impressive.”

“All three,” Hai Lian sneered at him and spat each word carefully. “My fucking name is sea lotus.2* The Lian character in his name is pronounced the same and one radical away from being the character in the flower.

The captain’s wound continued to bleed, dripping from his arm to his fingers to Hai Lian’s clothes. A rush of flames passed by the window. The captain caught Hai Lian’s unruly eyes under this orange light and was inexplicably startled.

“Good name. Us Dongzhou people value courtesy and reciprocity. My name is Tinglan. Fang Tinglan3Fang being his surname.” The corner of his mouth unconsciously flicked upwards.

“Who’s being courteous and kind with you?” Hai Lian said through gritted teeth.

“You Dongzhou soldiers sure are weak and hesitant. Why bother breaking my wrist and making small talk when you can just shoot me and be done with it?”

“Nope.” The captain pat Hai Lian’s cheek with the gun barrel.

“You’re attractive, I can’t bear to.”

What bullshit was he sprouting? In this darkness, who could make out the other’s features? Hai Lian’s wrist was broken, weapons were lost. Not bothering to respond to the other man, he simply laid on the ground and played dead.

After calming down, the wound on his forehead reminded him of its presence. It hurt as if thousands of red hot needles were dancing on Hai Lian’s head. As soon as he suppressed the pain from his head, his wrist would start hurting too. Hai Lian was tired, hurt, and hungry. As the boat rocked in the waves, he fell into a semi-conscious state. Only his sense of hearing still remained minimally attuned.

Hurried steps passed above, each step causing muddy water to drip from the roof. Muffled shouts and swearing could be heard. But this captain named Fang Tinglan showed no intention to either take a look or release Hai Lian. A strange silence filled the cabin.

After some time, the noise above slowly calmed down. Two people roughly opened the hatch above. The strong fishy smell that entered the room pulled Hai Lian from his dream-like state. He opened eyes and saw only a bright fire illuminating red uniforms.

“Fang Tinglan, you’re not hurt, are you?” An anxious voice shouted out.

Dongzhou soldiers. Hai Lian’s heart thumped.

“I’m fine.” The man above him responded.

The person that asked let out a long sigh, and seemed to turn around to order some other people. Then, numerous soldiers entered. Seeing the state of the storage bay, their faces stiffened. One noticed that their captain had someone pinned down.

“He is…?”

“Just a prisoner,” Fang Tinglan answered with a smile. He bent down to whisper said prisoner’s ear.

“Little pirate, I won the bet.”

“… I didn’t even bet.” Hai Lian pursed his lips and snorted.


As soon as Fang Tinglan released Hai Lian, two Dongzhou sailors picked him up. Their skill was clearly inferior to their leader’s. Hai Lian felt like his shoulders would snap.

Other soldiers took out the bodies left in the storage bay, dressed Fang Tinglan’s wound, and carried out clean up operations.

Fang Tinglan quietly exchanged a few words with his subordinates. After several nods, he turned to speak at Hai Lian.

“Bring this little hostage along.”

The soldiers hummed in understanding, then promptly dragged Hai Lian up the stairs.

Hi Lian squinted his eyes against the sudden light.

Red filled Hai Lian’s vision. He saw red uniforms, red blood, even haphazardly arranged red cots. If he didn’t know any better, he’d have thought that Dongzhou lost instead. But when he looked further, he found many familiar faces lying surrounded on the deck. The pirates left on the Dufeng had been herded to the head of the deck, where a red uniformed soldier guarded them with a sword. Hai Lian thought he was going to join them, but his escorts shoved him straight towards the auxiliary mast and tied him securely, like captured game.

Hai Lian had just been unbound from the Dufeng but was bought again on this Dongzhou ship. He almost laughed at himself. What, did they expect him to single-handedly take out the entire warship full of soldiers? As these thoughts filled his foggy mind, his chin was suddenly lifted. He came face to face with a certain person. Fang Tinglan.

“Little brother, let’s make a deal.” Fang Tinglan said.

“And if I don’t want to?” Hai Lian asked listlessly.

“No matter. I’ll give you a little time to consider it.” Fang Tinglan’s voice was gentle, as if he wasn’t threatening anyone.

“Otherwise, I’ve heard of a nasty habit you pirates have: tying ten pound weights to your prisoners’ ankles and forcing them to walk the plank. If you refuse, you can pick which order your underlings die in — with yourself going last.”

He clapped as soon as he finished, and the red soldier on the other ship started binding the pirates’ ankles. Hearing the cries and shouts of his fellow sailors, Hai Lian frowned.

“You’re more of a pirate than we are.”

“I’m simply learning from your examples.” Fang Tinglan replied righteously.

“Do what you want. They aren’t my subordinates, I’m not the captain. If you want to make a deal, go for the captain.”

“You are the captain.” Fang Tinglan twists Hai Lian’s chin to the side.


“ ‘See’ my —” The words died in his mouth.

A corpse leaned against the ship’s railing. Even though the bloody battle had rendered both his clothes and face dirty and unrecognizable, Hai Lian still recognized him in an instant.

Dufeng’s captain.

A deep sword wound cut from the left side of Hui Sha’s forehead to the right side of his jaw. It was nearly identical to the cut he killed his predecessor with. His left eye socket was blood and housed a dagger rather than his eye. The remaining eye seemed fixed on Hai Lian.

“My first mate just informed me that to defeat this mad dog, we lost four of our brothers.” Fang Tinglan slackened his grip. He gently wiped at the bloodstains on Hai Lian’s cheeks.

“With your captain like this, doesn’t it make sense that I name you, the best sailor on your ship, as the new captain?”

“Captain Hai Lian, the fate of your entire crew hangs on your next words.”

Hai Lian didn’t hear the rest of Fang Tinglan’s words. Staring at the corpse that was slowly turning colder, Hai Lian’s first thought was actually one of relief. He wouldn’t need to return those six silver coins he owed.

When he was seventeen, Hai Lian defected from the White Tiger crew to join Hui Sha. The two managed to secure the Dufeng after three years. Hai Lian ended up as his first mate and ended up in his bed as well. Love between pirates was as fleeting as smoke, rarely even as real as a glass of liquor or a handful of change. But should the smoke enter one’s lungs, it was sure to leave one’s nose sore.

Hai Lian opened and closed his mouth wordlessly. He shut his eyes. Swiveling his eyes behind his eyelids, Hai Lian finally managed to force his tears down.

It’s not like we were a damned pair of mandarin ducks or star crossed lovers. So what if he died? Do I need to follow him to the grave?

Hai Lian stared fiercely at Hui Sha’s corpse.

After a long pause, Hai Lian hoarsely responded.

“… I’m hungry.”

Fang Tinglan smiled at his response.

“Untie him.”


T/N: Edit: changed references of the southern border to Nanjing because that seems to fit better. It refers to an entire area rather than just the border.

  • 1
    Hai Lian is calling himself the captain’s father. I would’ve left this out, but then the next line wouldn’t make sense.
  • 2
    * The Lian character in his name is pronounced the same and one radical away from being the character in the flower.
  • 3
    Fang being his surname


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