Great Qin’s treasury was poor, but the emperor was rich and the officials even richer.
Because the national treasury was lacking, the emperor had to keep channeling funds from his private stores to supplement it. If a day came that he couldn’t handle all the expenses, the the trade consortiums would become even more unbridled. It was imperative to reform the taxation system, but how could that be easy? The Ministry of Revenue had raised the issue just recently by suggesting a raise in tea and tobacco taxes, only to meet with objections from the big tea and tobacco companies in Jiangnan. It would take two to three years to permanently settle the issue.
Without such taxes, the national treasury and private imperial coffers lacked a source of revenue. Meanwhile, the Jiangnan trade consortiums rejected appeals to raise taxes, did not offer donations, and basked in the various benefits and salary befitting their noble titles. Long Feiye had long lost patience with the lot. While Han Yunxi had come up with the idea of auctioning off the crown prince’s birthday presents, Long Feiye was planning to seize this chance to cheat a handsome sum from those wealthy leaders.
Silence greeted Gu Qishao’s opening bid of 30,000,000 taels. Guogong of Ding, Xiao An, knitted his brows as he contemplated, while Great General Xiao Dong kept shooting him looks. Xiao An couldn’t figure out whether Xiao Dong was telling him to offer a price or stay put, but he understood after the latter indicated the two empty secondary seats. Recently, an incident had broken out in the western front with a leather trader named Manager Chen from the south. Under his daughter’s name, he donated a large number of leather vests to Northern Li to help the victims stave off the cold, then gave ten million taels to the emperor to treat the construction workers to wine.
The construction of the capital city needed vast amounts of manpower, some of which were recruited from the soldiers or conscripted from the common people. Army conscripts had a steady income of silver and didn’t need construction salary, but the common workers did. Naturally, their pay came from the emperor’s imperial coffers. Tang Zijin was still Long Feiye’s blood-related uncle in the end and couldn’t bear to see the imperial coffers waste away, so he had supplemented many of the extra expenses from the Tang Clan.
Manager Chen’s ten million taels were purportedly “wine money,” but it was truly a donation. He even phrased it beautifully by claiming that while the workers were tirelessly building the Great Qin capital, he was too old to personally participate and could only invite them for a drink. This too, could be an expression of his sincerity and efforts. As soon as the news spread, Long Feiye granted him a title of county duke and commended Manager Chen for thinking after the people.
Xiao An met Xiao Dong’s gaze and looked towards the two empty secondary seats. His heart grew moved when he recalled Manager Chen’s story! For a banquet of this level, every seat was pre-arranged. Rarely would there be any empty spots. The banquet was now almost over, but those two seats were still unoccupied. What did the emperor mean by this?
Could it be, like everyone guessed, that the emperor was planning to confer Junwang titles at this very event? If he behaved well today, would he be granted a title just like Manager Chen in the western front? It was true that the Xiao Clan had no shortage of silver, but what they lacked was rank and titles. A paltry Guogong didn’t make Xiao An feel any pride. He even thought it was rather inferior.
He was already moved, but Xiao Dong’s urging gave him the final push. At last he opened his mouth and exclaimed, “50 million taels!”
Dead silence fell upon the crowd. In truth, many others were wavering on bidding, but Xiao An’s offer completely cost them their nerve.
“The Xiao Clan is indeed generous,” Long Feiye praised.
Xiao An hastily stood up. “This humble official dares not act rashly before the emperor. I simply wish to alleviate the Northern Li victims with my meager powers.”
“Heheh, an outstanding personage like the Guogong of Ding who thinks for our Great Qin’s people like County Duke Chen can reduce some of the white hairs on Zhen’s head,” Long Feiye said, seemingly in a much better mood.
It was rare for Long Feiye to speak at all, much less say so much. His words were food for thought to the crowd. Meanwhile, Xiao An only felt more excited after hearing “County Duke Chen.” Now he was even more determined to purchase No. 7 Teahouse. Gu Qishao had no idea who County Duke Chen was, much less Long Feiye’s true motives for leave the two empty secondary seats. He only knew that Xiao An was seeking death by helping Long Feiye steal No. 7 Teahouse away from him!
“60 million taels!” Gu Qishao proclaimed loudly.
Everyone was flabbergasted by his offer. That’s a shocking sum! No. 7 Teahouse wasn’t even very big and only a medium-sized tea plantation at best. Under Cloud Realm Continent’s current economy, 60 million taels was simply a sky-high price. Although they all knew Gu Qishao was rich, they never expended him to be this wealthy!
Han Yunxi, Gu Beiyue, Tang Li and the rest all stared at Gu Qishao with the same thought in mind: If Xiao An doesn’t increase his bid, then Gu Qishao will become Long Feiye’s biggest sucker in his scheme this time!
But against everyone’s expectations, Xiao An didn’t hesitate.
“80 million taels!” Xiao An retained his polite demeanor as he spoke, “Your Highness Prince of Yu, this official has a rare chance to show the Northern Li victims my sincerity. I hope that you will yield.”
Gu Qishao grew even more irritated. Screw etiquette but he was pissed. Arching a brow, he loomed from above and said, “What yielding are you talking about? 90 million taels!”
At last, the crowd broke into a commotion. Even Han Yunxi’s group never imagined that Gu Qishao was so rich! However, it wasn’t strange if one thought about it. Gu Qishao owned one-third of the Three-Way Black Market and the medicine and tea markets were very profitable in the early years. More importantly, Gu Qishao was different from Long Feiye and the other trade consortium families because he was alone and only needed to support himself. Compared to Long Feiye and the trade consortiums, he had the fewest expenses.
Xiao An was taken aback at the declaration as well and regarded Great Qin’s only Qinwang in a new light. 90 million was no small sum. His heart began to waver. If he keep raising the bid and earned a rank of Junwang for over 90 million taels, that was perfectly fine. But he was worried that his continuous bids with Gu Qishao would cause the auction to spiral out of control into endlessly large numbers.
Of course, if it was within his means, he’d rather use silver to buy the Junwang title directly, but he didn’t have full faith that the emperor would grant him a rank in a fit of good temper just because he waved money around.
Xiao An hesitated.
“Does anyone else dare to steal this bid from this prince?” Gu Qishao demanded loudly from his seat.
It was silent in the crowd. Xiao An and Xiao Dong exchanged frowns.
“Zhen!” Long Feiye suddenly opened his mouth.
For a second, the crowd couldn’t react. Even Gu Qishao didn’t get it.
“100 million,” Long Feiye said, stunning the crowd into understanding. He too, was participating in the auction!
The money to aid the disaster victims had all come from the national treasury under the Ministry of Revenue’s watch. The imperial family’s private coffers didn’t pay for this cost and only donated some money under the name of the royal clan. Long Feiye’s current 100 million taels would come from the private imperial coffers!
Although this was a casual auction that required no usual rules of etiquette, who would dare to bid against the emperor himself? Not Xiao An, that was sure.
But Gu Qishao definitely had the guts!
“110 million!” he cried.
“120 million!” Long Feiye followed quickly.
“130 million!” Gu Qishao wasn’t going to back down.
“150 million!” Long Feiye didn’t budge either.
It was quiet enough to hear a pin drop in the hall as sparks intensified between the two men. They almost looked on the verge of breaking out into an argument. Everyone was full of dread, but Gu Qishao refused to give up and kept following up successive bids until they reached the choking sum of 200 million taels. Han Yunxi, Gu Beiyue, and the rest were stunned witless. This isn’t how things should go! Why are those two fighting all of sudden? If they keep going, how will Xiao An ever get a chance to show off? They’ll scare Xiao An off instead!
“250 million!” Long Feiye slammed the table.
Han Yunxi sucked in a cold breath in shock. She knew Long Feiye was liberal with his money, but he couldn’t be so extravagant! They’d agreed to cheat others today, but why was he emptying out his own reserves instead?
As his palm hit the table, the crowd trembled with more fear. But Gu Qisaho only treated it with contempt and cried, “260 million!”
Everyone stared at him. In the past, many people were displeased to see him made prince, but his large sums had truly impressed a crowd. This time, Long Feiye didn’t immediately follow up, but regarded Gu Qishao with a cold stare. The sparks between them looked imminent to explode into fireworks!
Amidst the silent tension, Xiao An suddenly stood up and said, “Your Majesty, this old official daringly ventures to add another 10 million taels. 270 million.”
Since Xiao An was adding on to Gu Qishao’s total, this technically counted as bidding against Gu Qishao instead of Long Feiye, right? Even so, he used the term “daringly ventures.”
Cold laughter flickered past Long Feiye’s eyes before he asked, “Guogong of Ding is so sincere. Prince of Yu will you still add to the bid?”
Gu Qishao only felt that Long Feiye’s words sounded odd. He didn’t think much, but he knew No. 7 Teahouse couldn’t fall into someone else’s hands. But as he prepared to speak up, Gu Beiyue secretly tugged on his sleeve and murmured, “Little Qi, that’s enough.”
Gu Qishao suddenly came to his senses and realized this might’ve been a trap from the start!
He fell silent briefly before raising a hand dispiritedly. “Forget it, forget it. Everyone knows Guogong of Ding has lots of silver! This prince won’t vie with him!”
“Hahaha!” Long Feiye laughed out loud as if immensely pleased. He looked at the officials and asked, “Does anyone else want to increase the bid?”
Who dared? Who dared at all?
Nobody else spoke up. Xiao An looked at Long Feiye’s happy mood and felt some of the anxiety in his heart ease. He had been conflicted and hesitant while judging the situation and even thought of giving up. But when he saw Gu Qishao irritating the emperor so much, he decided to stand forward. As long as he could suppress Gu Qishao’s price, the emperor would naturally feel pleased.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
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hahaha, congrats to Xiao An for being Great Qin's biggest sucker...!