Yanli was born in Zhongzhou during the Tang dynasty and grew up enthused with the prospect of travelling. At some point, she became a merchant and was granted passage on a trading boat. Leaving behind her family and friends, Yanli travelled west from China and eventually wound up in England. Around 873, Yanli travelled to the Ragnarssons' Encampment in Ledecestrescire after receiving a trading request from Halfdan Ragnarsson. However, by the time she arrived, the settlement had been abandoned by the Sons of Ragnar and became a hideout for a group of Saxon bandits. Yanli and a stablemaster by the name of Rowan were subsequently captured and held at the longhouse, meant to be sold as slaves to the nearest bidder.
Sometime later, both Yanli and Rowan were found by Sigurd Styrbjornsson, Eivor Varinsdottir, and Dag Nithisson, members of the Raven Clan from Norway. The Vikings freed both Yanli and Rowan and invited them to rebuild the settlement and make it their home, which they accepted. Eivor was later appointed as the settlement's leader during Sigurd's absence and built a proper trading post for Yanli to reside in and trade.
Behind the scenes
The exact explanation of Yanli's birthplace of Zhongzhou is not given in Assassin's Creed: Valhalla. In addition to being an alias for China, Zhongzhou can also be written in four different forms of place names in Chinese characters in the Tang Dynasty:
- 重州, established in 619 CE in modern Nanzhang County, Hubei Province, and was abolished in 627;
- 中州, established in 619 CE in modern day Daning County, Shanxi Province, and was abolished in 627;
- 忠州, established in 634 CE in Zhongxian County, Chongqing, and was abolished in 1913; or,
- 种州, established in 631 CE in Huachi County, Gansu Province, and was occupied by Tibetan Empire in 764
As both Zhongzhous formed in 619 CE were abolished two hundred years before the events of the game, this leaves either Zhongzhou from the 630s. Of those two, the last one appears most likely. At the time, the main resident of the area was the Tangut Yeli (野利) clan. According to the work by linguists Wang Li and Li Fang-Kuei in translating Middle Chinese, Ye is presumed to be Jǐa, and Yan is presumed to be Jiän. Further, Yanli does not follow the typical Chinese naming conventions, but is a separate surname or first name. Therefore, Yanli is likely to be a sound change of Yeli, and Zhongzhou is likely to refer to 种州 rather than China proper.