Chapter 198: A Large Transaction
When Qin Yining reached the side hall, Steward Zhong was pacing in circles with a solemn expression on his face. He rushed up to the miss anxiously when he saw her. “Miss, bad news!”
“What is it? Have a seat first.” Qin Yining led the steward to a chair. Songlan served both of them tea before dismissing herself.
The steward wasn’t able to pay attention to manners in his great haste. He gulped down half of the tea to quench his fiery thirst.
“More and more people have been fleeing for their lives these days. Those who’ve put down their houses and stores as loan collateral have run away and left their property behind! I visited all of them and not a single one lived up to our agreement. There were only one or two servants left behind to watch the house and most of them left us letters and the property deed.”
Qin Yining was taken aback and perused the pile of papers the steward handed over. Most of them said the same thing—the writer didn’t care if the loan was equivalent to the value of their houses or storefronts. They had to leave the capital because of urgent business at home or various other reasons. They were turning the fourth miss’ loan into a purchase of their property, so now the deeds belonged to her.
And what’s this? Forcing the purchase on me?
Where could they go to find such good deals in times of peace? She’d have to expend inordinate effort to obtain any one of the deeds in her hand, much less than the dozen she now held. Compared to how much they usually went for, this was a steal!
But herein lay the problem. These properties were worthless in times of war! With how savage the Valiant Tigers had been in Xihua, it was tough to say that they wouldn’t just barge into the capital. Once the doors were forced open, would they burn, kill, and loot in the city?
Stores and houses were fixed, dead things. The people running for their lives couldn’t take these things with them, but they could take silver with them. The silver could support their family in the new world.
But what did Qin Yining need with so many hard assets in the capital? She couldn’t eat or use them. If the Great Zhou army came in, they could reduce it all to nothing with a single torch.
No wonder the steward was so frantic.
Qin Yining sighed heavily. “Such is how the world functions. It’s no use worrying now. Look on the bright side, we’ve gotten quite a few houses and storefronts. If times were like before and I could rent out all of these stores, the rental income alone would be enough to set me up for life.”
“You can still laugh at a time like this, miss?” The steward heaved a sigh as well. “You haven’t seen what it’s like outside these days. Merchants thinking ahead to the future have run off with their wealth, and even ordinary citizens selling their houses and stores to get away. Many country manors are being sold as well. With how bad these times are, who doesn’t want some more silver in their pocket? What good are manors that one can’t eat our se?”
He shook his head and jabbed an accusatory finger in the direction of Great Zhou. “How could that bastardly scum not keep their word? Didn’t we agree during the peace negotiations and sign a treaty? We gave away cities and paid reparations so that the people could live peaceful lives. But after taking everything we gave them, they decided to pretend that all of it didn’t exist! Yes, our emperor is completely useless, but what does that have to do with the people? Everyone’s selling their lands for now, but I bet you it’ll be selling their sons, daughters, and wives before long.”
Qin Yining was quite familiar with the kinds of lives people led in times of war. Not only was the enemy army wicked, but those who turned to banditry in search of food and shelter were even more so. They burned, raided, looted, and raped. The things they did were so terrifying that one didn’t even dare close their eyes at night. She wouldn’t have taken shelter in the mountains otherwise.
“Grand Steward Zhong, given how the situation is, have you made your own plans for your family?”
The man nodded. “I’ve had my son prepare a way out.”
“That’s good. No matter what the upcoming battle’s results are, it’s good to have plans in place. Why don’t your family head south as well? You’ll be able to come back anytime if the capital remains safe, and you’ll be out of harm’s way if something really does happen. Martial law hasn’t been imposed yet, so why not leave when you can? When Great Zhou really is at our city gates, it won’t be that easy to leave. You’re a smart man and should think of your family.”
The steward nodded rapidly, touched. “It’s rare that an owner thinks so much for their people. I heard that you let your servants go and gave them silver to smooth the way. A lot of people are praising how kind and benevolent the Marquis of Anping. Ai! The emperor is blind to treat the marquis this way!”
Qin Yining waved a hand with resignation. “All storms and breezes are a result of imperial favor. My father thinks of nothing but to serve the nation, so he has to endure it all. I just don’t want to drag in any innocents. Since they wanted to leave, I wasn’t going to force them to stay. Now that Steward Zhong has made the appropriate arrangements for your family, you should leave the capital with them at an appropriate time. You can go over the accounts with me over the next couple of days and hand them off to me.”
The steward hadn’t really answered the question earlier because he wanted to avoid it. But the fourth miss’ continued concern for him forced him to face it. “But miss, it’s easy for me to leave. What about you?”
“Me?” Qin Yining smiled faintly. “I’m a Qin daughter and a pillar of Great Yan. I’ll stay in the capital with my father.”
She rose and walked over to the rear window, gazing down at the verdant grass and lush patch of forest. Some sparrows rested in the trees and chirped to each other happily. Who knows if such a peaceful scene will exist in the future.
When she thought of the people in the capital who wanted to flee but lacked the silver to, an idea occurred to Qin Yining. “Steward Zhong, I have one last task for you. You can leave with your family once you’ve accomplished it.”
“What is it, miss?”
“I should still have some silver left over after sheltering the refugees at Ning Park, correct?”
The steward nodded. “The Duchess of Ding gave you a great business, miss. You’ve only used ten thousand or so. There’s plenty more from where it came from.”
“Mm, good. Since the people want to run for their lives, have our people quietly buy out all of the property they’re selling.”
“What?!” Steward Zhong shot to his feet. “Miss, the property they’re selling is just like the collateral that people have left behind, it’s all completely useless to you! They’ll be ruins once the city falls. We don’t even know what nation we’ll be part of then, so what use are fields that no one will till? You’re just throwing your silver away!”
“I know. I understand.” Qin Yining turned back with a smile. “But I don’t want to make any presents for the emperor of Great Zhou.”
That stopped the steward in his tracks.
“If Great Yan is defeated, then our country is no longer our country and our home no longer our homes. The entire Qin clan and Great Yan treasury will fall into the new emperor’s hands, much less my Institute of Luminous Grace. I can’t do anything about the national treasury or the family vault, but when it comes to my silver, I’d rather throw it away than give it to the Great Zhou emperor!”
“Miss…” The steward’s eyes grew hot, his nose twinged, and tears almost spilled forth.
“I won’t be able to get away. If the country really does fall, then my things will all become the property of the Great Zhou emperor. I might as well help more people run away while my silver is under my control. I’m using them on Great Yan citizens anyhow, it’s not a waste. I would really be sad if they just ended up filling Great Zhou coffers.”
“You’re truly noble, miss!” The steward raised cupped hands of admiration, seeming to come to a decision himself. “Alright, since you’ve decided on this, then I’ll do it myself!”
Qin Yining smiled. “Remember, don’t let word of this spread. We have to do this gradually so that no one traces it to me.”
“Why not use this as a chance to build an even better name for yourself? You really are doing things for the people.”
The girl pointed at her head. “Don’t forget, the emperor has his eyes on my Institute. What if he confiscates it in a fit of anger if he found out what I’m doing? We wouldn’t be able to do anything then.”
Rage filled the steward’s belly when he thought of that dog of an emperor, but he was just an ordinary person. There was nothing in particular that he could do. What he could do now was to make sure Qin Yining’s silver was put to the best use possible.
“Alright, don’t worry miss. I’ll handle this perfectly so that no one traces it to us.”
“Many thanks for your efforts, Grand Steward Zhong. I think it can be done in three to five days. When the silver’s spent, you can leave with your family after you hand over the various deeds to me.”
The steward looked at Qin Yining’s sincerely smiling face and shook his head. He raised cupped hands and departed. The fourth miss sent the steward off with her eyes before returning to the pond to chat with her father.
Five days passed like this. It would be the seventh month of the year soon. There had been little rain this year and the sun grew more scorching everyday. The heat made everyone irritable.
On this day, Qin Yining was cuddling Riceball and about to take a nap when Songlan rushed in.
“Miss, Steward Zhong is here,” she whispered.
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