Usually one chose a common surname when picking an alias, all the more to avoid suspicion. But this smuggler chose "Ning" and combined it with Wintercrow Country's largest slave trader clan, the "Le." Why?
"His deposit's a substantial sum," Han Yunxi murmured. "Despite this…he's still not demanding the goods?"
Abruptly, she realized something. "Long Feiye, Ning Le didn't want the goods at all. He's doing this on purpose!"
Long Feiye understood as well. This Ning Le wasn't an actual smuggler, but simply setting up a trap for Treasurer Cao before reporting the incident to Long Feiye so he could notice the private salt trade.
"This person…couldn't be Ning Cheng, right?" Han Yunxi muttered to herself. That was her first reaction upon hearing the name.
"If it was him, why use the Le name?" Long Feiye had his guesses too, but he wasn't sure. He looked at Han Yunxi with furrowed brows in thought.
If Ning Cheng had used this deposit to get their attention, was he trying to say that the human trafficker Le Zheng was interested in Great Qin's private salt trade? If it wasn't Ning Cheng, then they had to uncover the smuggler's identity. In these matters, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi didn't dare jump to conclusions. They could only wait for news from Treasurer Cao's side. With Long Feiye's trap and Treasurer Cao's eagerness, they were certain to receive any news fast.
After leaving Changning, Han Yunxi and Long Feiye continued south privately while awaiting progress reports from Treasurer Cao. Ten days later, Treasurer Cao sent off a hundred carts first. He wasn't careless enough to leak their route to Long Feiye, but only said the first delivery had started and would arrive within a month to Three-Way Black Market.
100 carts was a sizable load. If it was purely land transport, it'd take at least two months to arrive. Long Feiye estimated that the goods might be taking the canal this time. There was only one canal connecting south to north and it was full of customs and gates!
"Transporting such a large volume of goods by canal? That's too blatant!" Han Yunxi was angry. This meant that the three great clans of Jiangnan had a lot of unseen activities going on the riverfront!
Long Feiye didn't stir any local officials or alert the higher authorities; he simply sent people to investigate in secret.
Five days later, the second delivery went out. Treasurer Cao told them once again that it would take a month. Without a doubt, this delivery was traveling the canal route too.
Ten days after that, the third delivery was sent. This time Treasurer Cao estimated an arrival time of two months.
Han Yunxi only smiled coldly. "These locusts have men in the river and on shore!"
Long Feiye still didn't move and only sent his trusted subordinates to continue the investigation. Just like that, the ministers at court assumed the emperor and empress had gone for a private visit in Northern Li while the duo was investigating the private salt trade in Jiangnan.
One month later, the first and second deliveries of salt arrived at a large warehouse near Three-Way Black Market as scheduled. Treasurer Cao asked Long Feiye whether he wanted to forward them to Wintercrow Country. Long Feiye replied that he'd wait until the third shipment arrived to send them all together. It did a month later.
Within these two months, Long Feiye had more or less investigated all the people involved in both lines of trafficking and collected evidence. Many were officials bribed by the Jiangnan three clans. There were also those who took initiative to curry favor with them, and those who were forced to cooperate out of sheer fear. At this point, Long Feiye was still in no rush. He continued to use Sir Ye's name to have Treasurer Cao send the first shipment into Wintercrow Country's Mt. Xiao Fort.
This time, Treasurer Cao actually said he needed one month!
"One month?" Han Yunxi was surprised.
It would take two months to travel from Three-Way Black Market to the border between Northern Li and Wintercrow Country. The distance between the two places wasn't far, but there were no straight roads. One had to bypass multiple mountains—including snowy ones. In other words, it should take no less than three months to ship the salt there!
Long Feiye looked at Han Yunxi wordlessly.
"Could they have another way to reach Wintercrow Country?" Han Yunxi wondered.
"I get it!" Long Feiye suddenly came to his senses as his gaze chilled. "It must be Ning Cheng! What a man, turns out he's hiding in Wintercrow Country to beg for wine!"
Han Yunxi didn't understand, so Long Feiye explained it simply. Wintercrow Country horses were extremely fine steeds suitable for war. Northern Li's emperor had spent years and multiple ambassadors to buy horses from Wintercrow Country, but never succeeded. However, Jun Yixie brought a couple imperial princes with him to negotiate and succeeded. The route he took that year was different from the general ambassadors: a secret path that didn't fear snow blockages even in the middle of winter. This way, they were able to timely deliver the warhorses back to Northern Li.
The two imperial princes also died by Jun Yixie's hands during the trip, leaving Jun Yixie and his men the only people with knowledge of the secret route. Later on, his Black Clan members fell under the command of Jin Zi and Ning Cheng. Long Feiye couldn't be certain that Jin Zi knew the secret route, but Ning Cheng would definitely find out by himself. Treasurer Cao could deliver to Wintercrow Country so quickly precisely because of Jun Yixie's path.
"I get it!" Han Yunxi muttered.
After Northern Li fell, its lands fell under Jin Zi's jurisdiction. But he was so busy dealing with disaster relief and reconstruction that he'd hardly had time to relax until now. He didn't report anything about the secret route either, while Long Feiye was preoccupied with Jiangnan matters to remember its existence. In other words, nobody controlled the passage right now, nor did it have any customs. Both smugglers and human traffickers could use the path!
Ning Cheng's alias contained a "Le" character, which matched the name of Wintercrow Country's largest slave traders. Without a doubt, he was hinting to them that Le Zheng was related to this matter. With Le Zheng's skills, it wasn't difficult to find the secret passage between two countries. No matter whether he was smuggling salt, slaves, or had other purposes, he must have ambition to control the secret passage! No doubt the three families of Jiangnan knew of its existence as well. Undoubtedly, they were in cahoots with Le Zheng!
"The three great clans aren't necessarily in the slave trade too," Han Yunxi declared. "Long Feiye, they must be colluding together to smuggle goods. How much business could one do with a tiny Wintercrow Country? Le Zheng used to be part of the slave trade between Wintercrow Country and the Mysterious Continent. The three great clans of Jiangnan must have their eyes on the Mysterious Continent, ah!"
Now she was truly furious.
Before, she had entertained thoughts of trading tobacco, wine, and tea with the Mysterious Continent through proper business channels. Gu Beiyue suggested Long Feiye raise tariffs to make it possible, but these Jiangnan merchants were actually smuggling goods to avoid taxes! They originally came to investigate the private salt trade but stumbled on something bigger instead.
"Ning Cheng has good intentions," Han Yunxi declared.
But Long Feiye's voice was cold. "Beating around the bush…hehe, he better hope I don't find him!"
Long Feiye and Han Yunxi immediately canceled their journey to Plum Blossom Sea to head north with Rui'er. On the way they passed by Medical City and left their son with Gu Beiyue. Once the delivery of salt entered Northern Li borders, they found Jin Zi in secret. He was the same as ever, doing plenty of practical things for the Northern Li people in the past two years despite his high status. The one thing he didn't change was his thin frame and dislike of loose robes. He preferred close-fitting black clothes, short hair, and thin slanting bangs that covered the covers of his eyes to make him look gloomy.
Those who didn't know him would guess he was some cold, silent assassin instead. In truth, his martial arts were average at best. His best skills were still making money the easiest way. While cleaning up Ning Cheng's mess in Northern Li, he had secretly started his old business and opened an underground bank. The cash naturally came from Mu Linger's gold card. The cash that Mu Linger paid back to him had long been donated to Northern Li's disaster relief. The overdraft—or rather, money he'd cheated over—was used as capital to open the small bank. Despite its size, his skills would ensure it grew within one to two years.
He had been waiting this entire time for Mu Linger to get back at him. After all, he'd calculated the dates and figured Kanggan Private Bank should be collecting debts from her by now. Unless her brother-in-law Long Feiye stepped in to waive her debt and seal her card, there was no reason for the girl to avoid him.
Recently, Jin Zi had been taking the gold card to the bank daily to take out silver drafts and check if it'd been banned. But he still succeeded in withdrawing money every time. Thus, he was looking forward more and more to the day Mu Linger came to quarrel with him. He never expected to see Long Feiye and Han Yunxi knocking on his door first.
In fact, Kanggan Private Bank's Manager Luo had asked Long Feiye about the matter of the gold card, but he was too lazy to care and handed it off to Han Yunxi instead. She thought over a night before deciding not to get involved. Her answer to Manager Luo was, "Treat public affairs with public methods!"
Inside the tent, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi sat drinking tea while Jin Zi stood on one side. Besides dealing with the luggage, he hadn't said a word. Han Yunxi thought that Jin Zi could probably stand there for an entire day if she and Long Feiye didn't speak. She was really curious: was he naturally taciturn or just silent when it came to them? Did he talk a lot while working under Ning Cheng?
If he didn't like to talk, why did he take a fancy to a girl like Mu Linger? She was a garrulous sort who could chirp incessantly like a bird. Han Yunxi wanted to test how long Jin Zi could keep standing silent, but Long Feiye had no such interests.
He asked coldly, "Ning Cheng's in Wintercrow Country?"
Hearing this, Jin Zi looked up. "Really?"Previous Chapter Next Chapter
I'm pretty surprised. I started out as an avid LFY x HYX shipper but these days I'm all about the JZ x MLR ship ahhhhhh...