As Jun Yixie crawled to his feet, Ning Cheng wanted to continue fighting, but a few guards hastily held him back. Ning Cheng glared at Jun Yixie with flaming eyes as if he’d never stop raging.
Jun Yixie had shattered teeth, a bruised nose, and a swollen face from the blows. Bai Yuqiao had ignored her own pains to help him up, but he simply shoved her aside. She rolled to the ground and was completely neglected. Perhaps Jun Yixie hadn’t even realized it was her and not a random guard that went to help him up.
Ning Cheng’s kick was already painful enough. Coupled with her new fall, and Bai Yuqiao was in too much pain to get up again. Jun Yixie wiped away the blood from his lips and broke into a wicked, wild grin. If Ning Cheng had said any other reason for agreeing to work with him, he would have held suspicions. But he didn’t suspect this reason at all!
Despite being only merchants, the Di Clan was famous for their moral integrity amongst the Seven Noble Families. Even if they were disappointed in West Qin, they would never agree to cooperate with his Black Clan and betray the dynasty. However, if Ning Cheng was doing this because of love turned into hate, then that was a different matter.
Jun Yixie licked at his blood before examining the phoenix wing facemask once more. The longer he stared, the more thoughtful he grew. He chuckled and said, “It’s pretty interesting that you’re hiding that blind eye with a phoenix wing!”
“How do you want us to cooperate?” Ning Cheng asked coldly.
Jun Yixie didn’t reply immediately, but brought Ning Cheng into his tent. There, he settled into the host’s seat and got straight to the point. “Soldiers’ pay and provisions!”
Ning Cheng’s eyes flashed with scorn before he replied, “How much do you need?”
“The Northern Li emperor cut off all my supplies of grain. The 30,000 soldiers and horses here all need food, while the second round of 30,000 battle horses will be arriving in another month. All of them need silver to keep them alive, and grain prices are most expensive during the winter,” Jun Yixie didn’t blush at asking for money outright.
“That’s it?” Ning Cheng feigned ignorance.
“I also have 10,000 cavalrymen under my command,” Jun Yixie said next.
“Just these?” Ning Cheng asked again.
As Jun Yixie prepared to nod, Ning Cheng cut in coldly. “Jun Yixie, you should know very well that our alliance isn’t a business deal. However much you need, just tell me. This clan head is in no mood to haggle!”
Jun Yixie rubbed his sore shoulder and laughed. “Alright, that’s straightforward! I want ten billion!”
Anyone else might be cowed by such huge numbers, but not Ning Cheng. He didn’t even knit his brows and coldly replied, “It’s only 90,000 battle horses and 10,000 cavalrymen. To pass a winter with all pay and provisions won’t require more than 20 million.” He was not only a businessman, but a general who’d led his share of troops. When it came to military estimates, he was very clear.
“In other words, Ning Clan Head is only planning to cooperate with me for one winter?” Jun Yixie arched his brow.
“I’m only calculating the costs for a single season, that’s all,” Ning Cheng said briskly.
“I’m not just raising 90,000 horses and 10,000 cavalrymen,” Jun Yixie stood up and walked towards the map hanging on his wall. He pointed to multiple locations and said, “The troops stationed at these spots are usually supported by me.” Since he was asking Ning Cheng for money, he needed to show the man his military might, too.
Ning Cheng glanced at his map a few times and memorized all of its markers, which detailed the situation of Northern Li’s various troops. Looks like Bai Yuqiao wasn’t lying. Jun Yixie really does have the skills to face off against the Northern Li emperor. If he has enough pay and provisions, Northern Li will be thrown into internal chaos as soon as he calls on the troops. Although the Northern Li emperor wouldn’t be defeated, he couldn’t gain any advantages over Jun Yixie, either.
“Even if you factor in all those men, the total still doesn’t add up to 10 billion,” Ning Cheng said calmly.
“10 billion includes the costs and expenses of everything between the Black and Di Clan. In the future, I won’t ask you for a single cent more--whether we’re facing Long Feiye or conquering Western Zhou and Tianning!” Jun Yixie said seriously.
Ning Cheng chuckled. “I can give you 10 billion, but what can your Black Clan give me?”
“What do you want?” Jun Yixie asked.
Ning Cheng only gave him three words. “Han Yunxi!”
Cold laughter flitted past Jun Yixie’s eyes before he walked over to pat Ning Cheng’s soldiers. “Brother,” he probed, “Why take the pains? When we control Cloud Realm in the future, won’t we have our pick of women?”
“If you can’t do it, then the deal is off!” Ning Cheng was absolute.
Jun Yixie immediately released his shoulder. “Ning Clan Head, if you want the woman, go snatch her yourself! I’m not interested!”
A sinister gleam rose in Ning Cheng’s eyes before he demanded, “Give me 30,000 battle horses and 10,000 cavalrymen.”
Despite his emphasis on Han Yunxi, his request still raised Jun Yixie’s guard. He studied Ning Cheng without a word.
“You help my Di Clan deal with Long Feiye, while I can afford to raise all of your horses and troops. I can even add another 1.2 billion so you can conscript new recruits. All you have to do this winter is ensure chaos within Northern Li! Once spring arrives, you can take the army down to conquer the south central regions!”
Jun Yixie still remained mute. He returned to his seat and slowly sat down. If he gave Ning Cheng 30,000 horses, then the man could combine them with his red coat cannons to really deal with Long Feiye. Perhaps he’d even win. Meanwhile, he’d have 60,000 cavalrymen and horses to his name along with the various scattered forces of Northern Li around the country. That was enough to deal with the Northern Li emperor as well. Once Ning Cheng and Long Feiye had finished hurting each other, he’ll be done with the Northern Li emperor as well and go south to reap the rewards.
But suppose Ning Cheng went back on his words? Wouldn’t he lose 30,000 horses out of it? Although 11 billion was a large sum in these times, it still wasn’t grounds for Ning Cheng to buy horses off him! Even if he went back to Wintercrow Country again, he wouldn’t be able to get so many horses a second time. Suppose Ning Cheng even used the horses against him?
Ning Cheng was in no rush. He allowed Jun Yixie to think it over while he turned to study the map on the wall with hands behind his back. Meanwhile, Jun Yixie narrowed his eyes at Ning Cheng’s back. Because of the revelations surrounding his master, he’d been acting on impulse, but now he had calmed down. When he thought of how easily he’d told Ning Cheng the secret about the East and West Qin civil war, he felt it was inappropriate now. Supposing Ning Cheng was still loyal to West Qin and stopped treating East Qin as his enemy. Wouldn’t everything he did today be smashing a rock on his own foot?
The more he thought, the more complicated Jun Yixie’s gaze grew. Meanwhile, Ning Cheng seemed wholly focused on the map, but his peripheral vision was all on Jun Yixie. After some hesitation, he spoke again. “Jun Yixie, I already said that the country is yours but Han Yunxi, mine! Once I defeat Long Feiye, I’ll return those 30,000 horses back to you without losses!”
“Hehe, women are like clothing. You might be thinking about her now, but you’ll get tired of her after a few years.” Jun Yixie stuck to implied meanings, but Ning Cheng was more direct.
“I have hypertoxic poison in my body and depend on Bai Yuqiao to survive everyday. You don’t have to believe me, but you should at least trust in your junior sister’s poison, hehe!”
Jun Yixie finally realized this point. If he had such power over Ning Cheng, then he didn’t have to fear the man going back on his word. “Heheh, seems like I’ll have to trouble Master Ning to permanently reside within my ranks,” Jun Yixie grinned. In other words, he was going to put him under house arrest.
Han Yunxi was a detox expert. If he released Ning Cheng, then how was he supposed to stop worrying? Keeping the man by his side meant he could use him to dredge up Cloud Realm Trade Consortium’s funds and even control the Di Clan for himself. The suspicious Jun Yixie much preferred this kind of plan, which held no advantages!
“Then I’ll have to trouble you to take care of me,” Ning Cheng intoned.
“No need to be formal,” Jun Yixie smiled with satisfaction.
Just like that, Ning Cheng ended up “living” within Jun Yixie’s horse farm. Although Jun Yixie didn’t seem to limit the man in any way, he sent many subordinates to spy on him in secret and report back his every move. He didn’t make Ning Cheng arrange the soldiers’ pay and provisions right away, nor was the other in any rush to offer them. He spent the rest of the day simply sitting in his tent, staring into nowhere. Meanwhile, Jun Yixie stopped bringing up any mention of Bai Yanqing.
At night, Jun Yixie had Ning Cheng write a letter to the Di Clan assuring them he was well. Of course Ning Cheng knew Jun Yixie would review his words first, so he simply wrote a few lines: I’m staying temporarily at the Northern Li’s horse farms, everything is well.
Who was he addressing it to? His first thought was Han Yunxi. After going missing for so many days, the Di Clan had to be searching for him by now, but what about her? The very thought made his blind eye ache beneath his mask. What was Han Yunxi doing now? Was she still with Long Feiye? Or chasing after Bai Yanqing?
After a pause, Ning Cheng wrote “Old Cheng” on the envelope. As Jun Yixie had long reviewed the contents of his message, he only glanced at the name before asking with interest, “Old Cheng? Who’s that?”
“A retainer who’s been following me for over a decade,” Ning Cheng replied.
Jun Yixie handed off the letter to one of his subordinates to send off. “I heard things haven’t been very peaceful at Myriad Merchant Hall recently. Both the auction and gambling houses had people causing trouble,” Jun Yixie probed.
A complicated look flashed past Ning Cheng’s eye, but quickly vanished. He said disdainfully, “There’s nothing my Myriad Merchant Hall can’t resolve in Three-Way Black Market.”
Outsiders wouldn’t know, but Ning Cheng was clear that the Cloud Realm Trade Consortium, had been suffering heavy losses in the past two years after losing their revenue from the medicine business and south central regions. It was the auction and gambling houses that kept them afloat, but if they were in trouble, then the consortium wouldn’t hold out for long. After all, the soldiers under his or the Di Clan’s command, along with Cloud Realm Trade Consortium’s other unprofitable business, all relied on Myriad Merchant Hall to support them.
Just what had happened in those places? Without him there, could the Council of Elders hold out? Was that girl Ning Jing still in the black markets? Ning Cheng hid all these worries within his heart. Jun Yixie had no idea of the trade consortium’s inner workings, nor was he interested in affairs at the black markets. All in all, he just knew that the Di Clan had to have money!
“You should rest for the next few days. We’ll talk about soldiers’ pay and provisions another day,” Jun Yixie said.
11 billion was really too much. Was Ning Cheng planning to give him it all at once, or some other way? And how was Ning Cheng planning to get the 30,000 horses in return? Should he publicize the fact that they were working together now, or move in the shadows? All of that merited discussion.
As soon as Jun Yixie left Ning Cheng, Bai Yuqiao hurried over. “Senior brother, about master….”
“Enough!” Jun Yixie snapped.
“Senior brother, are you still--”
Jun Yixie abruptly turned back with a ruthless gaze. “You’ve got no place talking about master and me!” Then he stalked off. Bai Yuqiao only felt her heart ache, but at least her efforts had awakened senior brother to the truth.
20 year’s worth of affection between master and disciple could change to hate on a whim. Of course, once it did, it would be irreversible. Jun Yixie wasn’t stpid, but he needed time to hide away and lick his wounds first. As the ruckus died down and the sun began to set, Ning Cheng was left sitting alone in the tent. He too, was licking his wounds--that of the Di Clan, and that of he himself alone.
Three generations’ worth of devotion, a hundred years’ more of perseverance, and his own determination had all turned into a joke overnight!Previous Chapter Next Chapter
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