Chapter 1277: [YeXi] Salt mines

Gu Beiyue had been worried that Qin Min would say something that forced him to reject her outright. But when he heard "I'll divorce you," he visibly exhaled in relief despite feeling a strange heaviness in his heart. Qin Min smiled openly at him, but her grin carried an air of mischief that made him wonder whether she was joking or serious. 

Gu Beiyue himself didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Perhaps it was because she called him "Gu Beiyue," but he felt that this was Qin Min's true self. Before he could respond to her words, she waved a hand and said, "Until next time, Academy Head!"

She left as soon as she finished. This time, she didn't look back. After last night, Gu Beiyue wanted to be cruel and crush her thoughts once and for all, but he lost his chance. It wasn't until Qin Min's back vanished into the lane that he couldn't help chuckling softly. 

He left Yunning Province by night, but even Gu Beiyue had no idea when he'd return again. At the same time, Long Feiye's carriage had left the region as well. While Gu Beiyue headed north to Medical City, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi went east to visit Changning's salt mines. Something had indeed happened there, but neither Long Feiye nor Han Yunxi were worried. They had sent Gu Beiyue that letter on purpose. Although neither of them had suspected anything in the tea shop, a day's worth of reflection had raised some suspicious points.

First, Gu Beiyue was not a careless man. How could he leave Qin Min along in Yunning City for long periods of time? He would have sent men to protect her in secret. A miscarriage was such a big deal that his underlings would have no choice but to report it. Secondly, Han Yunxi recalled all the flowers and planets she found in the courtyard. It was impossible to raise them by ordinary means, so likely Qin Min cared for them personally. Third, it seemed impossible to hide the miscarriage for three whole months. 

Both Long Feiye and Han Yunxi suspected that something was up with Qin Min's womb. Han Yunxi dearly wanted to figure out the reason, worried that Gu Beiyue or Qin Min had run into some sort of unspoken trouble. But Long Feiye declared that he wouldn't interfere in Gu Beiyue's personal matters. Thinking back, Han Yunxi figured that Gu Beiyue wouldn't say a thing with his personality even if she pressed. At most he'd explain a few lines and end it at that. Thus, the two of them feigned ignorance and didn't pay a visit, allowing the duo to continue their act while they made an excuse to leave.

The sound of horses' hooves in the night had long lulled Rui'er to sleep in Long Feiye's lap. But his parents remained awake discussing the matters of Changning's salt mines. Salt was a common good with wide-reaching implications. Its influence was equal to that of grain in controlling the rise and fall of a nation. Han Yunxi hadn't understood anything of salt in the past and figured it was just a condiment used in cooking. But after coming to this world, she realized its true importance. 

A great use of salt was its preservation of food to prevent rotting. Very few people were like Long Feiye, who paid hundred times the value of ice and worked multiple horses to death just to deliver fresh lobster to their estate for Han Yunxi to eat! In a world without freeze technology, the common people could only rely on salt to pickle and preserve vegetables, meat, and fish. In Cloud Realm Continent, seafood from the east, meat from the west and central regions, and dairy products from the north could last longer with the aid of salt. This also aided in food trade between the regions, which created business. Thus, although the average household used very little salt on a daily basis, the average use of Cloud Realm Continent was frightfully large. Of course the court would levy taxes on salt merchants! The royal court earned revenue from salt taxes more than any other good. 

During the Spring and Autumn Period, Duke Huan of Qi placed a salt on tax and indirectly forced the merchants of the world to pay all dues to Qi. Now Long Feiye and Han Yunxi were heading to the continent's largest salt mine in Changning. If anything happened to them, it would send shockwaves throughout Cloud Realm's business world, negatively affecting the Great Qin's national treasury and their annual revenue. Moreover, this salt mine involved a massive workforce. Thousands worked in the mines, while more were in charge of transport. Together, these numbered tens of thousands of people. If the mines stopped operation for a day, then they'd have no jobs to earn money, which was likely to incite riots. 

Logically speaking, it should be the royal family overseeing operations of such a huge mine. Even if the family was too small, the emperor's relatives should be placed in charge. However, this salt mine was controlled by the four big clans of Jiangnan. Even though the Xiao Clan had been deposed, there were still three families blocking access. The salt mines were the biggest source of income for them and thus they refused to yield it to the court. Long Feiye long had designs on the mines, or else the three families would have caused a big deal by making a ruckus recently. However, the new tax system had just been set for the year so he didn't want to move too fast. Originally he wanted to check on the status of tax reforms, but yesterday afternoon Long Feiye received an urgent missive from the capital detailing the matters of Changning salt mine. 

Someone had privately sent off a huge shipment of salt to Wintercrow Country!

With the three great families in charge of the mines, it was impossible for the royal court to take the reins. Currently, the trade of salt within Great Qin was quite free. However, the royal court needed to step out if any sales were made beyond its borders. It was prohibited to do private business, which counted as tax evasion. Whoever managed to get so much salt must have brokered a deal with the three great families. If they could use this chance to suppress one or two of the groups, it'd be easy for Long Feiye to take the salt mines under imperial control. 

Five days later, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi arrived at Changning salt mines. Xu Donglin took Rui'er away to play while the couple disguised themselves. Han Yunxi pretended to be a son of a rich family while Long Feiye dressed in white as a wealthy gentleman. One was refreshing handsome while the other was eminently noble, making them a vision as they strolled through the streets earning looks left and right. They would never run directly to the salt mines. Pretending to be representatives of Three-Way Black Market's East Origin Hall, they sent requests to visit to all the managers of the three clans in charge of the salt mines. A single request from East Origin Hall was enough for everyone to know their intentions. If someone from the black market was here to look for the mine's masters, they were planning to sell some salt privately!

Long Feiye assumed that it'd be a challenge to manage such deals, but the background of East Origin Hall gave them an immense advantage. Many people knew that Cloud Realm Trade Consortium held power in Three-Way Black Market, but few realized that Long Feiye had personal power there too. At any rate, the three big families of Jiangnan had no clue. 

Long Feiye was using the identity of East Origin Hall's young master Sir Ye (叶公子). When the managers of the three great families saw his request to meet, they were all stunned. The Zhou Clan's manager was its family's third young master while the Murong Clan's manager was its ninth young master. As relatives via marriage, they were essentially wearing the same trousers. Third Master Zhou immediately found Ninth Master Murong to discuss the matter.

"Are they here to seek goods from us?" Third Master Zhou asked cautiously. "He sent requests to us both—what are the chances he contacted the Xie Clan too?"

"What does he want?" Ninth Master Murong was lost.

 "Lower prices!" Third Master Zhou scoffed. 

"Then what do we do?" Usually Ninth Master Murong followed Third Master Zhou's advice.

After some thought, Third Master Zhou said hastily, "If he waits for the three of us to fight among ourselves, he'll reap all the benefits. Why don't we…bring Xie Yujun (谢玉君)[1] into the fold and join hands to raise prices? Three Way Market's East Origin Hall is a master with plenty of money. If their young master is truly here, we stand to do big business!"

Ninth Master Murong immediately agreed, but who knew that Xie Yujun would show up first to propose the alliance? The trio instantly teamed up. As the Xie Clan's eldest young master, Xie Yujun was actually younger than the Zhou and Murong masters by five to six years. He was well known amongst the three families and his own mother for being a spendthrift, and yet stood strong within Xie Clan conflicts. Although his mother sent him to the salt mines to look after things, all he did was spend, and spend big!

Xie Yujun was smug. "I've already made inquiries. That Sir Ye only brought one friend with him here and they're both living at Joyous Winehouse (乐荣酒庄). Supposedly they've reserved the entire building. Hehe, what a rich master! All I could afford is one whole floor." 

"According to my father, East Origin Hall has enough wealth to topple a nation," Ninth Master Murong added quickly. "Just you guys wait. When our emperor finishes busying himself, he'll deal with Three-Way Black Market next. East Origin Hall will definitely be in his targets!"

"Aish, then we'd better hurry up and make a fortune before the emperor dissipates theirs!" Third Master Zhou laughed.

After some discussion, the three agreed on a high price before parting ways to inform Sir Ye without budging an inch on their offers. Long Feiye was only probing the black market business at this point to see who secretly traded salt. Realizing that all three families had responded to his offers made him furious! Just how much revenue were the trio taking from the national coffers on a daily basis? He didn't try to bargain with their prices beyond saying he needed time to think things over. Then he ignored the trio for five whole days, leaving them to fret.

At least, Third Master Zhou lost patience. "How about this? Let's all invite him to a banquet and negotiate the price in person?"

Xie Yujun was all for it, while Ninth Master Murong remarked, "You can't close a deal without wine. I'll be in charge of drinks."

Xie Yujun's eyes suddenly turned sly as he chuckled. "And you definitely can't close a deal without women. I'll be charge of girls! I promise I'll find the best lady in the Ningzhou City!"

Thus, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi arrived at the appointed time to see a woman as lovely as blossoms sitting on the side while clutching a pipa, her face half-veiled. Once everyone was in their seats, Xie Yujun handed over a tablet and chuckled, "Sir Ye, pick a song first. Our lady today is the best in Jiangnan and her songs…hehe, are enough to seduce one's soul! Be careful when you choose, Sir Ye—we wouldn't want her to snatch your soul before we've closed our deal."

As he finished, Han Yunxi remarked from the side, "Her looks are enough to seduce a man too." So speaking, she walked over and used her fan to lightly lift the maiden's face by her chin. 

These Jiangnan people leave me speechless. The seniors want to give Long Feiye a concubine, while the juniors offer him a courtesan!

While she was pondering over that, the maiden suddenly broke free of her hand and ran towards Long Feiye with her pipa clutched in her arms…

1. Xie Yujun (谢玉君) - Yujun literally means "gentleman of jade."

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Ruyi's Thoughts

so at long last we go back to our main couple after that lovely tangent with gu beiyue and qin min. i miss them already, lol.