The woman who had settled next to Ning Cheng had golden hair and jade-green eyes, with a svelte figure that seemed more akin to the Tanta people from the western end of the Mysterious Continent than the northerners of Wintercrow Country.
It wasn’t strange for slaves of the Wintercrow Clan to hail from all across the continent. Unlike Cloud Realm Continent, which had outlawed the slave trade, the human trafficking business was thriving in the Mysterious Continent. Slaves were different from servants in that they could never earn their freedom and were at the mercy of their masters. Children of slaves were destined to be slaves as well, while servants earned salaries and could leave as soon as they fulfilled their contracts. The slave trade was also very profitable and from what Ning Cheng understood, the biggest slave market in Wintercrow Country wasn’t owned by a local, but someone from the Mysterious Continent.
Ning Cheng had headed south after leaving Northern Li, intending to wander about the Jiangnan and try out all of their famous wine shops. Then he would pick a suitable place to open his own.
But who knew!
Long Feiye actually took control of all wineshops in the continent, making it impossible for him to open shop or even have a drink. He knew the man was forcing him to show himself, but he refused to yield. If their last deal ended up giving Long Feiye a faceplant, he was happy to bear the label of a man who went back on his word. Wintercrow Country had nothing but strong liquors which suited his taste just fine.
Since he had nothing to do, he began to pursue Jin Zi’s origins in earnest. In the short span of a few months, he had ended up mixing with the biggest slave trader in the country, Le Zheng. Le Zheng himself hailed from the Mysterious Continent and was a waste at martial arts. It was impossible for him to make a living there, so he came to Wintercrow at the age of 20 to establish the Liubei Trade Consortium and get involved in the slave trade. Now he was in his sixties, never married and with no children.
For the past few years, he had been looking for a successor to his empire. If it was anyone else, they’d be hard pressed to earn the favors of the man within a few years, but Ning Cheng was a master of a trade consortium himself. He not only had capital, but a head for business, so it was easy to get in the man’s good graces. The grasslands here were directly under Le Zheng’s sphere of influence and the man himself was sitting across from Ning Cheng, looking at him drunkenly while surrounded by a dozen or so of his closest confidants.
Ning Cheng had no interest in the slave trade. When Le Zheng had half-joked about them combining forces in the business and taking it to the Mysterious Continent, Ning Cheng had refused. Although the industry was highly profitable and could make him powerful connections up north, Ning Cheng had zero interest. Without the duty of the Di Clan resting on his shoulders, he was free to do as he liked. If he wanted, he could establish his own business empire without taking someone else’s work.
He found the man who sold Jin Zi out of Wintercrow Country and traced him backwards from there to find a few suspicious points. If it was a simple slave from Wintercrow Country, smaller slave traders would buy them from the owners, exchanging several hands in succession before the slave was sold to a larger slave trader and out of Wintercrow to Cloud Realm or the Mysterious Continent.
Most such slaves were from Wintercrow Country, where slaves made up two-thirds of the population. Slaves were always destined to be such, including their descendants. They had no chance to change their lot and would be branded as soon as they were born. When the masters didn’t need them, they would draw up indenture agreements and sell them off.
There were also a portion of slaves that came from Cloud Realm or the Mysterious Continent, either because they were tricked, adopted elsewhere, or had to sell their bodies for certain reasons. When such slaves were sold to their masters in Wintercrow, they were branded with a unique mark that increased their resale value. Typically specially, both slaves from within and without Wintercrow Country were sold around three to four times in the slave markets of the country before finding a final master.
However, Ning Cheng discovered that Jin Zi’s indenture agreement was sold a full ten times between different slave markets. His first seller was an Uncle Gong who worked under Le Zheng’s men, but Ning Cheng didn’t find out where he got Jin Zi from, or who drew up Jin Zi’s indenture agreement in the first place. Since Uncle Gong himself had already passed away, Ning Cheng ended up mixing in with the Liubei Trade Consortium. He didn’t uncover any clues after looking into Uncle Gong’s other slave trades. At the same time, he investigated the entire Wintercrow Clan and never found a second person capable of talking to animals. He began to suspect that Jin Zi wasn’t a Wintercrow Country man at all, but someone from the Mysterious Continent. Someone had also destroyed older records of Uncle Gong’s slave trades, making it clear that something was afoot.
To truly discover the origins of Jin Zi’s past, he would have to figure out why the man had been sold as a slave to Wintercrow Country in the first place.
It was late at night when the wine was sweetest and everyone was drunk. Ning Cheng seemed drunk as well, but he was as sober as ever. Le Zheng had awarded everyone present with a female slave of their own tonight, all of them Wintercrow Country girls. Ning Cheng was the only one with a foreigner. It was unclear whether this was special favoritism or his way of probing the man.
The golden-haired woman knew Ning Cheng’s interests very well and picked up a tankard of wine before raising her head to down its contents. When the crowd saw this, they cheered. Ning Cheng sat reclining on the ground while arching his brow at the beauty, his face alit with interest. Even though he was blind in one eye and wore an eyepatch, it didn’t affect his handsome features or noble air. Even his one remaining eye could fascinate viewers with its wicked gleam. When he smirked, it was enough to send all the female slaves aflutter.
The blonde beauty finished her drink before shattering the tankard to one side. She placed a hand on Ning Cheng’s shoulder and picked up a second jug, her body pressing close with all its seductive curves as men whistled in chorus. Ning Cheng looked at the crowd before breaking into a more dazzling smile. “Drink!” he hollered.
As he threw back his head and opened his mouth, the beauty straddled him and poured wine into his mouth. Ning Cheng gulped down the wine, allowing its excess to splash his face, hair, and clothes in wanton cheer. Very soon, another tankard was drained dry, so the beauty tossed that aside. In an instant, the prone Ning Cheng straightened up and pressed the woman beneath him on the ground.
The whistles and cries around them grew even more heated. A sluggishly drunk Le Zheng laughed out loud. “What a good drinker!”
Ning Cheng glanced over before grabbing a tankard of wine and tossed it his way. None of the others present, formidable as they were, dared to act so brash to Le Zheng. But Ning Cheng did!
Le Zheng caught the wine overjoyed and began to drink. Meanwhile, Ning Cheng focused his attentions on the blonde beauty and curved his lips into a wicked grin. He grabbed more wine and began to pour it down her throat. His actions matched the wicked thoughts of the crowd, whose cheers grew in ferocity at the sight. The beauty was utterly drunk after downing the wine and began to entwine around him like an octopus. Her fingers dug into Ning Cheng’s robes and tried to undo his belt.
Ning Cheng purposely pushed her hands away and gave a drunk hiccup before slurring, “Beauty don’t be hasty, hehe, I’ll serve you well tonight!”
So speaking, he stood up, grabbing her waist with one hand and more wine with the other. Waving a hand at Le Zheng, he turned and headed for a nearby tent. Le Zheng laughed boisterously and grabbed a girl of his own before gesturing for his other brothers to keep drinking. Soon enough, everyone had left the scene with beauties of their own.
At this moment, a young and tall maiden silently entered Le Zheng’s own tent. The man wasn’t drunk at all, and the slave girl he’d brought with him was currently massaging his back. Beneath the lamp light, the young woman who entered was dressed in black with beautiful features; her single-fold phoenix eyes were especially arresting. She was none other than Le Zheng’s favorite goddaughter, the eldest young Miss of Liubei Trade Consortium Lele. Those who didn’t know any better thought she was Le Zheng’s flesh and blood.
She dismissed the slave girl and went to massage her godfather’s shoulders personally.
“Father, I picked a good slave for A’Cheng, didn’t I?” Lele asked.
When Ning Cheng had entered the consortium, he had left out his last name, so everyone just called him “A’Cheng.”
“Whether or not she’s good will only be known after he uses her, haha!” Le Zheng chuckled.
Lele burst into giggles. “Don’t men all want the same thing? I promise Ning Cheng will keep her. I’ll buy one for father too. If one doesn’t work, then I’ll give you triple! If one is enough, I’ll buy some nourishing products so father doesn’t exhaust yourself and hurt your body.”
“Look at you, lass. You might as well go be an old bustard,” Le Zheng drew Lele close and scolded her with knitted brows. “If you mess about like this, be careful or you’ll never get a husband!”
Le Zheng trusted Ning Cheng very much, but Lele had her suspicions. She wanted to arrange a spy by his side to observe him. To ensure Ning Cheng would keep the slave, she even found the blonde-haired, green-eyed beauty Shaqiu who was not only attractive but skilled in bed.
“It’s perfect if I don’t get married. Father can give Liubei Trade Consortium to me and enjoy life. I promise I’ll gift father a big present of silver every year!” Lele said happily.
Many people wanted to take over the business but didn’t dare to speak their piece, but Lele was different. She never avoided the topic. Perhaps her daring ways was what endeared her so much to Le Zheng. He took her hand and patted it gently, his words heavy.
“Daughter, father wants to ask you a serious question. What about someone like A’Cheng?”
“He’s good in every way except for his eye and his unknown origins,” Lele said without a second thought.
“If we find out his origins and confirm he has no ill intentions to Liubei Trade Consortium, will you marry him?” Le Zheng asked next.
Le Zheng had the mind to give his business to Lele, but she was female after all. It was mainly men who dealt in the business and she would suffer for it if she had to deal with them all the time. However, if she married A’Cheng and the two controlled the empire jointly, he could go back to his homeland with no worries.
After leaving that place for decades as a wandering leaf, he had to return to his roots eventually.
Le Zheng had refused to take any wives all these years precisely because his family had high standards for bloodlines. Even if he was a useless waste, he could not take a woman of Cloud Realm Continent to be his wife.
Lele thought it over before chuckling. “Done. I’ll go ask Shaqiu later. If A’Cheng turns out to be useful , I’ll consider him!”
1. 袒塔族人 - Tanta ethnicity is what the Chinese says, but there’s no real equivalent name in the real world that I could find. Considering that Mysterious Continent is north of the China-equivalent Cloud Realm, I’m guessing these would be potentially people from western Russia and/or the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania). If it helps, in the manhua Song of the Long March, set in a fictional Tang Dynasty from ancient China, certain characters have blonde hair and green eyes: most notably Mujin, Ashina Sun’s friend who has Turkic background, and Li Jin, the main character’s mother (see this gorgeous picture for reference).
3. single fold phoenix eyes (丹凤眼) - dan feng yan, technically speaking they’re double eyes with internal folds and ends that arch up. The eyes themselves are longer and thinner, and they have a commanding presence. An example of an actress with such eyes would be Liu Yifei.