On January 11, 210 BC, an escort of the Emperor’s guards accompanied Xu Fu as he disembarked and walked up the docks. The guard’s expressions were as uninviting as the thousands of black banners flying over every building in the city.
There’s no reason he won’t believe you again... compose yourself lest you fumble.
China was unified for the first time. But the legalism inflicted upon the population left many longing for the good old days of constant war. The state’s supremacy over the individual was raised so that people lived in fear of saying the wrong thing, thinking the wrong thought, of their cart length being an inch short of the standard.
As they approached the palace, they passed two gangs of prisoners en route to execution. Xu Fu recognized several of them as court advisors from his last visit and asked one of the guards what they’d done.
“They failed. Three times the Emperor asked them to find eternal life... some others are illegal philosophers, and the rest were hiding history books in their homes.”
A few minutes later, Xu Fu found himself at audience with Qin Shi Huang, a man mad with the quest for immortality.
“Nine years ago, I sent you over the sea to find the immortal grass. Five years later you returned and said you needed craftsmen to retrieve it. I gave you forty ships and sent you off again. You’ve returned now with what news?”
Xu Fu licked his dry lips.
“My Emperor, this time the immortals there placed a great dragon in the sea, blocking the way. I will need many more men, archers... We are very close!"
Of course, Xu Fu had no intention of coming back a third time. He and his flotilla would start a new history in Japan.