Chapter 27 Chip Chip Chip Chip Chip Chip
Following the route he inquired about, Li Jinyu arrived at the “man-eating den” known among the locals as Yuan Guang Commercial Firm.
This was the very place where the heartless firm conducted their ruthless business, exploiting the common folk by lowering their prices by a staggering thirty percent during the exchange of tax silver.
Li Jinyu had arrived here for the very same reason as the other customers— to exchange some silver. However, his intentions were vastly different from the rest. He planned to use the silver to provide shelter for those scholars who still held onto their principles and were in need of a shelter from wind and frost.
By choosing Yuan Guang Commercial Firm, Li Jinyu had a sly plan in mind. He intended to use the tax silver certificates he obtained to alleviate the burden on the struggling scholars, helping them to avoid the oppressive clutches of the government.
As Li Jinyu entered the establishment, he was immediately engulfed by a cacophony of sounds and smells. The air was thick with the aroma of freshly cooked food and the pungent scent of fish. The sounds of desperate pleading, furious shouting, and heart-wrenching cries of despair blended together, creating a tumultuous torrent that assailed Li Jinyu’s senses.
Despite his apprehension towards crowded places, Li Jinyu steeled his resolve and marched forward, determined to see his mission through. Clasped tightly in his hand were the same precious jade beads that he intended to exchange for silver.
Upon entering Yuan Guang Commercial Firm, Li Jinyu was met with the disdainful gaze of the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper carefully examined the beads and was visibly impressed by their superior quality. However, he did not let his admiration show and instead silently assessed Li Jinyu’s appearance. The young man seemed to have come from a well-to-do background, leading the shopkeeper to believe that he was a young master who had likely run away from home, the kind of easy prey that the shopkeeper could profit from.
With this mindset, the shopkeeper saw no need to offer a fair price for Li Jinyu’s precious jade beads. Instead, he deliberately offered an insultingly low price for the jade beads, “These are just average quality beads. I can only offer six qian per bead.”
Li Jinyu’s eyes widened in disbelief. “So low?”
This is the Emperor’s treasure! How could the quality be average? One bead could buy this whole establishment!
“Sell it if you want to sell it,” the shopkeeper said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “It’s worth only a few coins.”
Li Jinyu faltered for a moment before mustering up the courage to reply, “Sell it.”
The shopkeeper’s attitude remained unchanged as he quoted, “Four qian and twenty wen per bead. How many do you want to sell?”
“Didn’t you say six qian just now?!” Li Jinyu protested.
“That was the listed price,” the shopkeeper retorted. “Here at the Yuan Guang Commercial Firm, we must work hard to turn a profit. There are always expenses for labor and materials, you know?” He rolled his eyes at the bewildered Li Jinyu. “You really don’t understand anything!”
With gritted teeth, Li Jinyu held his breath and conceded, “Fine, I’ll sell twenty beads.”
Initially, Li Jinyu had only intended to sell ten beads, but a sudden surge of anger had driven him to petty measures. With the use of his magic, he doubled the beads, exchanging them for nearly ten taels of silver. Li Jinyu quickly requested a silver certificate and made a swift escape.
As a spiritual hamster, Li Jinyu’s magical abilities were not particularly potent, and the fake beads would soon disappear. He was unconcerned about the potential consequences of the shopkeeper discovering his deceit, as it was not his problem.
In Li Jinyu’s mind, his actions were justified. After all, he was just a hamster, and he had every right to be petty!
With the silver cerificate in his hands, Li Jinyu felt a sense of ease wash over him. He scanned his surroundings, taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling city. As he walked down the street, his eyes caught sight of a quaint shop tucked away in a relatively remote corner. Without a second thought, he made his way towards it.
As he entered, the shopkeeper greeted him with a polite smile. Li Jinyu wasted no time in purchasing the property, leaving the shopkeeper in awe of his impulsive decision. With the paperwork and tax certificates in hand, he sauntered out of the shop and made his way back to the group of diligent scholars.
With a lighthearted grin, he approached them and declared his intentions to turn the shop into a school for their benefit. The scholars were taken aback by his offer and thought he was playing a cruel joke on them. However, when Li Jinyu presented them with the proof of ownership, they were left dumbfounded.
Never before had they encountered someone so selfless and kind-hearted to the point of foolishness. Who was this young master? Which prestigious family did he hail from?
Coming back to his senses, the leader of the scholars refused, “Little Brother, we are grateful for your generosity, but we cannot accept such a valuable gift from someone we have just met.”
Li Jinyu did not expect to be refused. He was slightly stunned, but then his beautiful eyes curved with the smile on his lips. “Didn’t you give me a cake? This is my gift in return.”
The scholar smiled wryly. “How can a coarse cake be exchanged for a shop like this?”
“It’s not just a gift,” he declared, “you need to achieve something, otherwise, I will take it back.”
The scholars were taken aback by his statement, their eyes widening in surprise. “Achieve what?” they asked in unison.
Li Jinyu pondered for a moment, his eyes flickering with an idea. “Let’s use the results of the imperial examination as a benchmark. If you do not perform well, then it means that you are not worthy of my shop.”
A scholar frowned, “But the imperial examination now…”
How could poor scholars like them ever hope to participate in the prestigious imperial examination? It seemed like an impossible feat.
Li Jinyu’s lips curved into a determined line. “There will be a way,” he stated firmly, making a promise based on his independent will and personal wish. “There will be changes.”
The court and the people would soon witness a new tomorrow!
Li Jinyu had always been dependent on others, but for the first time, he felt a sense of accomplishment in doing something entirely on his own. Despite his fear of social interactions, he had managed to purchase a shop and turn it into a school for the diligent students he had met.
As he gazed upon the scholars reading with great focus in the cozy shelter, a wave of satisfaction washed over him. It was a bittersweet feeling, but it made him feel as though he was walking on air.
However, lost in his thoughts, Li Jinyu had failed to notice the time slipping away. It was only when he saw the tense expression on Huo Caiyu’s face that he realized how late it had become.
Feeling a twinge of guilt, Li Jinyu surveyed his surroundings and realized that he had unknowingly walked to the other side of the county town. His carelessness had caused him to lose track of time, and he knew that Huo Caiyu would be worried about him.
Li Jinyu let out a nervous chuckle, “Brother Huo, what a coincidence.”
Upon hearing Li Jinyu address him as “Brother Huo,” Huo Caiyu’s tense expression relaxed, but then quickly became stern again. “It’s late. Wandering around outside by yourself can be dangerous.”
He had just identified his own feelings and ran back excitedly to catch a glimpse of His Majesty, but was met with a cold and indifferent closed door upon his return.
If it wasn’t for the innkeeper confirming that Li Jinyu had gone out alone, Huo Caiyu would have thought someone had kidnapped him while he wasn’t paying attention.
When Huo Caiyu heard that Li Jinyu had gone to Yuan Guang Commercial Firm, he was shocked and anxious all the way, worried that His Majesty might have suffered or been mistreated in his absence.
But to his relief, he found Li Jinyu unharmed and carefree, laughing and jumping on the side of the road for reasons unknown.
Huo Caiyu originally wanted to scold His Majesty for his behavior, but when he saw the genuine and sincere happiness on Li Jinyu’s face, all the negative emotions he had been brewing evaporated like mist before the sun.
It was as if all the unhappiness and sorrow could melt away in His Majesty’s smile.
Huo Caiyu had never experienced this feeling before and couldn’t help but feel fascinated and intoxicated by it.
Lost in thought, he couldn’t bring himself to continue scolding Li Jinyu. Instead, he let out a heavy sigh and murmured, “Let’s go back to the inn.”
Huo Caiyu had to go and investigate the Shen’s mansion that night and couldn’t stay for long, so he quickly bought a large bag of melon seeds and prepared some cool tea and sweetmeats. He repeatedly reminded Li Jinyu not to go out, knowing that the night outside was much more dangerous than during the day.
Li Jinyu didn’t understand why Huo Caiyu was being so verbose and cautious, but he promised to stay inside. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I won’t go out.”
Huo Caiyu left, feeling both relieved and worried.
Li Jinyu honestly stayed inside their shared room, cracking melon seeds to pass the time until Huo Caiyu’s return.
Finally, Huo Caiyu arrived, looking weary and bedraggled. As soon as he saw Li Jinyu sitting on the bed, waiting for him, Huo Caiyu’s expression softened. The frown lines on his forehead relaxed and his cold demeanor gave way to a gentler, more approachable demeanor.
Li Jinyu dropped the melon seeds and curiously approached. “So, any results?”
“Shen Fuyao is very shrewd. There is almost nothing to be found in the yamen.” Huo Caiyu’s expression was not good when he mentioned this.
Li Jinyu’s heart sank. “Then… what did you do?”
“Chi Zhongming and I tried to sneak into his backyard and directly captured him for interrogation,” Huo Caiyu replied bluntly.
Li Jinyu was taken aback by the simple and direct approach. “And what did you find out?”
“He doesn’t admit that Yuan Guang Commercial Firm was his idea. He says it was all planned by Ye Gui’an, and if he had been in charge, it wouldn’t have caused such public outrage.”
Li Jinyu was a bit puzzled. “But isn’t he also greedy for money?”
“Indeed he is, but…” Huo Caiyu recalled the modest environment in the Shen’s mansion and pursed his lips. “Most of the money he gained through greed was spent on filial piety to keep his current position.”
If you put it that way, Shen Fuyao was one of the few capable and conscientious high-ranking officials in Qingshui Prefecture today.
Li Jinyu couldn’t help but feel puzzled by such a complicated person. “So what do we do now?”
“I have discussed it with Chi Zhongming. He will continue to investigate Shen Fuyao, and I’ll investigate Ye Gui’an.” Huo Caiyu took off his chilly night clothes and hung them on the wall. “We’ll go to inquire tomorrow.”
Li Jinyu was a bit regretful. If he could turn back into his original form, he could slip into the county yamen and investigate. But he had been using up his spiritual power as much as he could in recent times and had none left.
“Let’s go to bed then.” Li Jinyu climbed onto the bed on his own and patted the empty space beside him. “Come on.”
Huo Caiyu, however, stood still, his gaze fixed on Li Jinyu. A complex emotion brewed in his brown pupils.
“I-I… this official… I…” Huo Caiyu, who dared to stop the dragon carriage and boldly speak his mind, now stood before the Emperor with a hesitant and stuttering voice. His self-address changed several times as he struggled to find the right words to say.
After a long pause, he finally spoke, “If the new tax matters on this side are settled, what does Your Majesty plan to do?”
Li Jinyu felt that Huo Caiyu’s state was a bit strange. His response was tinge with confusion, “We shall return to the palace, of course.”
“Then… what arrangements does Your Majesty have for this official after our return?”
Li Jinyu didn’t know how much courage Huo Caiyu had to ask this question. He couldn’t help but entertain the possibility that Huo Caiyu might have already contemplated acquiring more power upon his return, a prospect that thrilled Li Jinyu to no end. He did not fear Huo Caiyu’s ambition for power. It was good to have that drive to climb higher!
“Don’t worry. Once we set foot in the palace, Zhen shall promote you immediately!” Li Jinyu waved his hand magnanimously. “What kind of official position do you want?”
Huo Caiyu stared in dismay. “…That’s not what this official meant.”
Since realizing his own feelings, Huo Caiyu had been yearning to see His Majesty and discover the truth of his affections. However, as the opportunity finally presented itself, he found himself filled with hesitation. His thoughts and emotions collided within him, creating a tumultuous turmoil that he struggled to articulate.
All he could do was cautiously test the waters.
The result of his probing…
Huo Caiyu’s heart was in turmoil as he looked at the bewildered expression on Li Jinyu’s face. In the end, all he could do was let out a sigh and say, “Your Majesty, let’s get some rest.”
“Do you think being an official is too lowly?” Li Jinyu’s eyes lit up as he recalled his knowledge of human history. He thought of the position closest to the throne and easiest to hold absolute power, and said, “How about I make you the Regent?”
Huo Caiyu was slightly stunned, wondering if the Emperor was deliberately teasing him because he didn’t like the previous probing.
For a man in love, there was nothing more terrifying than being disliked by his beloved.
Huo Caiyu took a step forward and knelt down on one knee, gazing earnestly into Li Jinyu’s face. With sincerity in his voice, he said, “This official has no other intentions towards Your Majesty. There is no need to test me like this.”
Li Jinyu was taken aback by Huo Caiyu’s sudden expression of loyalty. He couldn’t understand why Huo Caiyu had chosen this moment to declare his allegiance. Could it be a ploy to deceive him and gain his trust, so that he could ultimately gain power and control?
Li Jinyu blinked and raised his hand, saying, “Huo Aiqing, please stand up. Zhen trusts you.”
Yes, he really trusted him. He believed that Huo Caiyu was capable of overthrowing the tyrannical Di dynasty and slaying the cruel monarch, as depicted in the novel. And he knew that this wasn’t simply a matter of personal ambition, but of saving the entire world.
He just hoped that when that time comes, Huo Caiyu would be merciful towards him, considering the numerous times they had shared a bed together.
Li Jinyu pondered with a toothache.
Even if he could fake his death and escape, it would still hurt… He wondered if there was such a thing as euthanasia in this world…
Huo Caiyu didn’t feel at ease leaving Li Jinyu alone in the inn, so he took him along to meet Chi Zhongming.
With a flick of his fan and a clucking of his tongue, Chi Zhongming greeted them, quipping, “Brother Huo, why do you keep bringing Brother Li along with you? Haven’t you already showered him with enough affection?”
Huo Caiyu gave him a warning look.
Chi Zhongming had already realized that their relationship hadn’t yet crossed certain boundaries, and perhaps the younger one was still naive and the road ahead was uncertain.
This made him feel less envious and more empathetic towards them.
Regardless, the matter at hand was something else entirely. After expressing his sympathy for Huo Caiyu’s situation, Chi Zhongming went on to disclose his findings, “I have looked into Shen Fuyao’s family assets, and it appears that his relatives and family members live a comfortable, yet not extravagant life.”
This information seemed to suggest that there might be some truth to Shen Fuyao’s words after all.
Huo Caiyu nodded and said, “Ye Gui’an is the cousin of Prime Minister Ye. If Prime Minister Ye intends to obstruct the new policy, he would definitely receive the news.”
This meant that if Ye Gui’an was indeed leading the operation, his approach would be to form a commercial firm and forcibly extract money from the people, paying no heed to Shen Fuyao’s warnings.
“In that case, where could the crucial letters and account books be?”
This was a difficult situation.
Huo Caiyu presented the information he had gathered thus far, “Ye Gui’an hardly ever sets foot in the county yamen. His subordinates report to him at one of his many other residences scattered throughout the county city. He also maintains fifty concubines, each situated in a separate dwelling within the city. He seldom returns to his own home.”
Li Jinyu’s jaw dropped at the revelation. “Fifty concubines?! That’s almost as many as an Emperor!”
While the imperial harem was said to have housed three thousand concubines, the truth was that only about a hundred were proper concubines.
Huo Caiyu cast a sidelong glance at Li Jinyu, his eyes betraying a hint of indescribable restraint.
Chi Zhongming sighed lightly. “Who doesn’t say so? Ye Gui’an is like a local Emperor in Qingshui Prefecture.”
“But even if some of those fifty concubines are just for show, searching through his numerous residences would be a daunting task. By the time we find the right one, the spring taxes would have already been collected,” he continued, folding his fan and appearing visibly concerned. “I don’t know how I’ll be able to report this back… Do any of you have any good ideas?”
“If we work backwards from when the spring tax collection began, we can pinpoint the residences where Ye Gui’an was staying ten days prior.”
Li Jinyu asked, “How were you able to obtain such precise information?”
Could it be that Ye Gui’an really kept records like an Emperor?
Huo Caiyu had no intention of hiding anything from Li Jinyu and lightly tapped his right leg to indicate something. Li Jinyu was momentarily confused, but then he remembered that they still had Lame Beggar!
Although the young man was often gloomy, he was fueled by a deep-seated desire for revenge and justice. He had been busy integrating into the beggars’ group in the county town and only visited the inn in the evenings to share any news he had gathered.
Beggars were the most ubiquitous presence in Qingshui Prefecture, especially around the back doors of wealthy households’ villas. They would squat there for years, begging for scraps of food from the gaps in servants’ fingers or even from garbage trucks.
Chi Zhongming saw that they had a potential solution and didn’t press for more details. Instead, he said, “Then I’ll leave it to Brother Huo. I’ll keep a watchful eye on Shen Fuyao.” Although Shen Fuyao’s words held some credibility, it was important to approach them with a grain of skepticism.
Huo Caiyu also felt the same. To say that Shen Fuyao did not know about the establishment of a commercial firm was too ridiculous.
Huo Caiyu pushed a plate of black melon seeds to Li Jinyu and casually asked, “Since Brother Chi is an imperial envoy, don’t you have subordinates you can use?”
Chi Zhongming reopened his fan, shook it, and sighed. “Unfortunately, the person who dispatched me must remain in secrecy, and thus, only I can undertake this mission.”
Huo Caiyu furrowed his brows slightly.
If he was truly an “imperial envoy,” why would he need to conceal his identity?
“But what good would it do if Brother Chi finds out the truth alone?”
“That’s why we need solid evidence! To silence those corrupt officials in court!” Chi Zhongming closed his folding fan with a snap. “We’re counting on the two of you to uphold justice in this matter!”
Li Jinyu looked at Chi Zhongming with a mixture of amusement and exasperation.
If he hadn’t been certain that he was wide awake and not hallucinating, he might have assumed that Chi Zhongming was his subordinate. The situation was no different from when he had sent Huo Caiyu on a mission!
As he turned his head, he caught sight of Huo Caiyu’s complicated expression.
There was confusion, bewilderment, and indecision etched into his features. Li Jinyu even sensed a hint of grievance.
Li Jinyu: “…”
Could it be that Huo Caiyu really believed that Chi Zhongming was sent by him?!
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