Chapter 25 Chip Chip Chip Chip
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Huo Caiyu possessed an exceptional memory. He had personally crafted most of the new regulations, and as a result, he knew exactly how much tax the village was required to pay.
Compared to the current taxation policy, the tax amount demanded was almost ten times higher than the actual amount required by the Single Whip Policy!
It was easy to imagine where the extra profit went.
The more Huo Caiyu thought about it, the angrier he got. He wanted to twist the tax official’s arm off.
“This… brave man, since you are just passing by, why bother getting involved?” The tax official couldn’t help but threaten, “You should know that the court is not easy to mess with… a-a-a-ah, it hurts! Spare me, brave man!”
Suppressing his anger, Huo Caiyu released his grip, and kicked the tax collector. “Get lost!”
Only then did the yamen runners finally stepped forward to help the tax official up.
The tax official seethed with anger as he watched the man in front of him. He knew that the useless lackeys behind him would be no match for this formidable opponent. The official gritted his teeth and made a silent vow to put a warrant out for this troublemaker as soon as he returned to the county yamen. And to teach this village a lesson, he decided to double their tax collection!
As everyone prepared to leave, Li Jinyu suddenly spoke up, “Wait, I’ll pay the taxes for the village.”
All eyes turned to him in surprise. Li Jinyu had always been a quiet and unassuming creature. Suddenly surrounded by curious gazes, Li Jinyu instinctively shrunk behind Huo Caiyu for a moment before gathering his courage and holding out two or three sparkling and translucent beads. “Are these enough?”
Huo Caiyu’s attention was immediately drawn to the beads, which were of an exceptional quality. Their deep black color was accented with golden threads, and it was clear that they were worth a considerable sum.
As Huo Caiyu examined the beads, his mind was racing with questions. These were the exact same beads that had appeared in his sister’s package after she had returned from the palace. Could it really be possible that His Majesty had secretly gifted her these items?
Lost in thought, Huo Caiyu barely registered the fact that Li Jinyu had come to an agreement with the tax official.
The tax official’s eyes gleamed with greed as he examined the valuable beads. They were worth far more than his original goal for this tax collection. The pain from his dislocated arm was forgotten as he realized the sizeable profit he could make by selling them.
The tax official took a deep look at Li Jinyu’s innocent face and a smile crept onto his lips. “Very well, I’ll take them,” he said.
As Li Jinyu handed over the beads, the tax collector subtly signaled to one of his assistants.
The assistant understood his intent and quietly slipped away.
This rich young master, who came from who knows where, seemed to have some money to spare, might as well…
They couldn’t beat the skilled fighter standing next to him. It was best to regroup and come back with reinforcements!
After sending the tax official away, Huo Caiyu discussed with Li Jinyu and planned to go directly to the county yamen.
Thanks to the information they had obtained from the tax official, they knew that the county government was maintaining the corrupt tax collection policy. It was clear that the issue lay with the prefect.
Huo Caiyu had previously learned that the prefect of Qingshui Prefecture was the cousin of Prime Minister Ye and undoubtedly his supporter.
The only problem now was… they didn’t know which way to go.
In this era without smartphones or GPS, no one knew the specific location of the county yamen in this small village.
With the warm hospitality of the villagers, Huo Caiyu and Li Jinyu had a meal of chicken.
The village was really poor, but they still managed to gather rice and flour, picked the scarce vegetables in the fields, and wanted to provide some nourishment for Huo Caiyu and Li Jinyu who had helped them.
Mrs. Liu even killed the remaining chicken.
Before leaving, everyone insisted on paying Li Jinyu, but Huo Caiyu left some broken silver on their dining table in secret.
Before leaving the village, someone stopped them.
Lame Beggar emerged from behind a tree, holding the chicken he had stolen, seeming a little timid yet determined. “Can I come with you?”
Li Jinyu asked with surprise, “Take you? Where to?”
“You’re going to the county yamen, aren’t you? I know the way.”
Huo Caiyu frowned slightly, “Why do you want to go there?”
Lame Beggar gritted his teeth and lowered his voice, “You two are the officials who came to investigate taxes from the capital, right?”
Li Jinyu’s eyes widened suddenly. “How did you know?”
Huo Caiyu couldn’t stop him in time and looked at Li Jinyu helplessly.
Realizing his gaffe, Li Jinyu covered his mouth.
With Li Jinyu’s confirmation, Lame Beggar’s eyes suddenly lit up with hope and even his voice became filled with a strong passion. “When I was in town inquiring about news, I heard the beggars in town say that the court seems to be imposing a new tax policy, but no one here knows anything about it. You two are dressed elegantly and know about the new tax. You must be the imperial officials who came incognito from the capital to conduct a private investigation!”
Li Jinyu was a bit speechless— this guy must have listened to too many stories… but it was a fortunate coincidence.
Huo Caiyu was silent for a moment and asked, “What do you want?”
“The corrupt official killed my parents, and I want to avenge them by taking his life!” The teenager’s eyes were slightly red, his hands clenched tightly, and the chicken he was carrying was squawking in pain.
Huo Caiyu looked at him without any disdain for his small, dirty, and ignorant appearance, and said seriously, “We have things to do and we won’t kill for you.”
Lame Beggar’s face showed obvious disappointment.
Huo Caiyu continued slowly, “But if the official you mentioned is really guilty of many crimes, the best course of action is to transfer him to the Three Departments of the court and let him receive the punishment he deserves.”
Lame Beggar lowered his head and sneered, “Officials protect each other, and even the Emperor doesn’t care about our lives. Will it be useful to hand him over to the court?”
“If you think it’s useless, why did you come to us?”
Lame Beggar remained silent. A drowning person would even grasp at a straw with all their might.
“It’s worth a try,” Huo Caiyu said. “If you agree, we will take you with us. If you don’t, we will find our own way slowly.”
Lame Beggar hesitated visibly. After a while, he asked, “Will the court really handle him if there is conclusive evidence?”
“If there is.” Huo Caiyu turned his head slightly and glanced at Li Jinyu, who still looked a little confused. His eyes softened and his voice became gentler. “At least I know that the person at the top of the court really cares about the country.”
Emperor Jingchang’s reputation was such that it could stop a baby from crying. Lame Beggar didn’t really believe what Huo Caiyu said, but after some thought, he still nodded firmly, “Alright, I’ll show you the way.”
“Before that…” Huo Caiyu looked at him and slowly said, “You need to take a bath first.”
Lame Beggar blushed and scurried off to the nearby stream to wash himself, while Li Jinyu remained seated on the ground, poking the dying chicken with a curious expression. He looked like he had never seen a live chicken before.
Huo Caiyu watched in amusement. His smile lingered for a while, until he became aware of his own odd behavior. He forcibly shook away his own thoughts and asked, “Is Your Majesty hungry?”
His Majesty didn’t seem to be eating much.
Li Jinyu, startled by the sudden question, diverted his attention from the chicken and responded with a shake of his head. “Not really… Are you hungry?”
Huo Caiyu spoke just to break the eerie silence that had fallen upon them. After speaking, he fell silent. On the other hand, Li Jinyu raised his head with interest and asked, “Did you just call me ‘Your Majesty’?”
“We’re outside, so let’s try not to draw attention to ourselves. Shouldn’t we use a more common form of address?”
Huo Caiyu was taken aback for a moment. Before entering the palace, he used to refer to His Majesty as “Dog Emperor”, but he had been calling Li Jinyu “Your Majesty” since they started hanging out. He hadn’t thought of any other form of address.
“How should this official address Your Majesty?” Huo Caiyu asked.
Li Jinyu thought for a moment and said, “Just call me ‘Li Jinyu’.”
“Li” was the surname of the royal family of Di Dynasty, and “Jinyu” was Li Jinyu’s name when he was still a spiritual hamster. It was perfect for a pseudonym.
“Li Jinyu…” Huo Caiyu mused, trying out the name. He thought that it rolled off the tongue quite nicely. “This official…I understand, Your Majesty.”
Li Jinyu was not content with merely giving himself a new name, however. “Would you like a pseudonym too?”
Huo Caiyu shook his head. “I’m just a nobody. I don’t need to be so cautious.”
As the future Emperor, you really should be more cautious… Your name might become a taboo word in the next dynasty.
But the conversation took a turn when Huo Caiyu remembered how Li Jinyu had called him “Brother Huo” at Old Zhang’s home. Without thinking, he blurted out, “If you’re willing, you can call me ‘Brother’ in private.”
“Brother?” Li Jinyu scratched his chin lightly, and called out cheerfully, “Brother Huo.”
The words “Brother Huo” seemed to have a strange magic, slipping into Huo Caiyu’s ear and taking root into the softest part of his heart. A clear spring of joy bubbled up, manifesting itself in a gentle gleam in his eyes and a smile on his lips.
After Li Jinyu finished saying the name, he felt a bit strange. “Why are you smiling? Does it sound bad when I call you like that?”
Huo Caiyu slightly adjusted his expression and coughed. “It’s nothing.”
After a pause, he couldn’t help but whisper, “It sounds very nice.”
It really sounded nice.
As Lame Beggar returned from washing himself in the nearby stream, Li Jinyu’s attention was drawn to him. He was taken aback by the change in the man’s appearance, as the once scruffy and unkempt beggar now appeared delicate and spry, evoking the nimbleness of a youth.
Intrigued, Li Jinyu approached Lame Beggar, studying his appearance with a strange expression. “You look rather good,” he remarked, surprised by the stark contrast from his previous appearance.
While there were many good-looking individuals within the palace walls, Lame Beggar’s transformation was nothing short of remarkable.
The smile on Huo Caiyu’s lips vanished in an instant. He didn’t know why his mood suddenly turned sour.
Taking a step forward, Huo Caiyu deliberately blocked Li Jinyu’s line of sight. “We should get going,” he said firmly. “Is this the only way out of the village? Is there another path we can take?”
With his face now cleaned and a softer tone to his voice, Lame Beggar informed them of a small path they could take, although it would require a longer detour.
“Let’s take the small path.”
Li Jinyu was a bit puzzled. “Why not take the main road?”
Huo Caiyu looked up at the mountain road, his hand hovering over the wound on his body that had just recently healed. His gaze darkened slightly as he replied, “To avoid the filthy hyenas.”
Still recovering from his injuries, Huo Caiyu knew all too well the dangers of the road ahead. The threat of ambush loomed heavily over them, and he would have charged forward alone without hesitation. However, with the added responsibility of protecting His Majesty and another person with limited mobility, avoiding the danger seemed like the better option.
Li Jinyu blinked and surprisingly understood.
He pondered for a moment, then quickly made an excuse to go behind a nearby tree to relieve himself. Once out of sight, he focused on gathering the limited amount of spiritual power he possessed.
Recalling the three beads he had previously infused with a bit of his breath, he knew he could use them to remotely sense the location of the tax official and even cast spells through them. Though his abilities were restricted, he could still manipulate mortals who had been weakened by alcohol and lust, but only for a brief period.
The tax official had already returned to the county yamen.
He was confirming the details of their plan to rob the “fat sheep” with the constables beside him. However, before he could say more, he suddenly fell to the ground with a “thud” and then began to laugh foolishly, as though he were under the influence of strong spirits.
“Hehehehehehe, let me tell you about the county magistrate and his daughter-in-law’s dirty laundry that I saw with my own eyeballs…”
The constables who stood guard nearby were aghast, fearful of the repercussions that would surely follow this display of madness. But it was the county magistrate’s confidants who were truly incensed. Their faces darkened with fury as they realized the enormity of the tax official’s reckless indiscretion. How dare he betray the trust of his superiors in such a scandalous manner?!
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