Chapter 354: A feeling of admiration surges like a river
Chu Xifeng had been scoping out news for the past few days and was wild with joy with what he heard. His Highness had wanted to stick his foot in when the crown prince's wedding became such lofty news. Unexpectedly, esteemed wangfei's gambit had saved His Highness a lot of work and effort.
"I heard the eunuchs at the palace say that the empress dowager got in an argument with the crown prince because of the betrothal gifts. Your Highness, esteemed wangfei is really too smart!"
Long Feiye leisurely finished his tea before he deigned to reply. "Mhm, she's very intelligent."
"Isn't that so? Your Highness, why didn't we know esteemed wangfei was so competent in the past?" Chu Xifeng was extremely thrilled as he anticipated the coming of the banquet.
In response, Long Feiye simply broke into a smile and didn't say a thing. Chu Xifeng felt momentarily dazzled by the sight of his master's mesmerizing smile. Fine, even a man like me thinks his smile is charming. It's a shame he doesn't do it more often.
As the sensational news went on in the midst of common chaos, Grand Concubine Yi's birthday finally arrived. The Duke of Qin's estate had always avoided commotion and didn't like being disturbed by anything-no matter how earthshaking the news. Due to that, Han Yunxi chose to hold the event at one of the side palaces located in the capital's western end. Grand Concubine Yi and Empress Dowager Li were both prominent, high-ranking figures. The former's birthday banquet was just as stunning as the latter's, whether it was a comparison in guests, scale, or scope. The only low note was the fact that Emperor Tianhui didn't attend. Of course, he was still keeping an eye on things in secret.
Grand Concubine Yi had long stopped caring about affairs of the world, but her heart was still as shrewd as ever. She knew exactly how to deal with the situation. After partaking of the simple vegetarian banquet, she simply excused herself on the pretext of a chill, leaving the particulars of the auction itself to His Highness Duke of Qin. Moreover, the auctioneer was none other than the all-familiar Zhao mama. Han Yunxi and Long Feiye were the first seat on the right of the stage, while Qinwang Rong was the first seat on the left. After him sat the crown prince and Mu Qingwu. Mu Liuyue wasn't an imperial consort yet, so she sat further back behind her brother.
Zhao mama said a pile of pretentious, highfalutin' prattle to set the stage. She promised that she'd publicly proclaim all proceeds from the charity auction. His Highness Duke of Qin would personally distribute the money into the disaster areas. Naturally, favorable comments followed in her wake. There were also plenty of people who weren't listening at all, but looking forward to all the items up for sale. They didn't come just to spend money, but to pick and choose amongst different items that exceeded their price.
Unexpectedly, Zhao mama said that there were only three medicinal ingredients up for grabs!
Chaos broke out amongst the crowd. There were at least 100 people here. Were they all going to compete for just three ingredients? What was the Duke of Qin playing at?
Long Feiye had expected more items, too. He lowered his voice and murmured, "Only three things?"
"Your Highness, more than half the people attended just to boost their reputation rather than from a sincere desire to help out. Why do we need to give them a chance to promote their hypocrisy?" Han Yunxi asked by way of an answer. After all, those who spent the most at today's auction would have their names spread far and wide.
Countless guests had ruminated over this fact, but how many of them had truly thought of the welfare of the people in disaster areas? Even if they had silver, there was no grain for them to buy! There wasn't much grain in Tianning Country to begin with! Too much money would just be useless. The main point of today's auction was to grab Long Tianmo's silver!
Long Feiye looked silently at Han Yunxi before grasping her hand in his own, their fingers intertwined. Han Yunxi had been glowing with vitality and self-assurance, but she suddenly dropped her head and cracked a smile. She felt as sweet as if she'd just eaten a bit of honey. Although she'd rejected his advances at the Poison Sect's forbidden area, she liked them immensely now, especially after they cleared up the misunderstanding between them.
Mu Liuyue's gaze hadn't shifted from Long Feiye the entire time. Even though he was a married man, she'd never forgotten the person she'd crushed on since young. When she saw their hands joined together, Mu Liuyue loathed Han Yunxi all the more. She silently told herself that she had to help the crown prince as much as she could. She had to make the Duke of Qin see her worth!
In the meantime, everyone started guessing about the three items up for auction. How much silver could the auction raise just from these three items alone? Unless...the items themselves were rare goods worth the value of entire cities? Many people thought of Han Yunxi and her Han Estate's medicinal warehouse. Maybe it's really superb medicinal ingredients!
"Zhao mama, let's start. Take out the items," Han Yunxi said with a smile. Instead of Long Feiye, it'd been her who spoke up while sitting with her hand entwined with his. It was as if she was Long Feiye's representative, making her quite the impressive female host.
"Yes, esteemed wangfei." Zhao mama beckoned her fingers, and a servant girl offered up the first item. It was covered by a red cloth on a plate so no one could tell what it was. In the midst of everyone's curiosity, Zhao mama lifted the cloth and revealed that the plate contained nothing else but an extremely commonplace...Chinese angelica!
Nobody expected that. How much were they planning to sell that normal herb off for? As everyone broke into whispers, Zhao mama loudly proclaimed, "This is an ancient three-year-old Chinese angelica plant. The starting price will be 5,000 taels!"
5,000 taels!? Everyone was stunned! Even a ten-year-old Chinese angelica wouldn't be worth than much! What kind of charity auction was this? It was simply extortion!
Long Feiye had no idea what Han Yunxi had prepared, but the curve of his lips betrayed his satisfaction with her choice. Everyone else was extremely dissatisfied. If the starting item had a base price of 5,000 taels already, how much would the other items be? Since there were only three things for sale, anyone who bid late wouldn't even have enough money to buy the item anymore. Today's auction was meant to raise money for relief efforts. If they came and spent no money at all, how disgraceful would that be? How much face would they lose if news of their actions spread?
Very soon, someone cried out, "7,000 taels!" It was none other than Mu Liuyue! She figured if she could grab the first item, she'd definitely become the center of attention. Perhaps it'd even win back some of her reputation as well.
"8,000 taels," someone else immediately bid.
Mu Liuyue wasn't anxious, but soon enough, the price rose into the tens of thousands.
"20,000 taels and 1,000!" Mu Liuyue added on again.
"20,000 taels and 2,000," someone else countered immediately.
"Add another thousand taels!" Mu Liuyue raised her hand.
"Then I'll match that thousand taels!" the other said persistently.
"5,000 taels to the base price!" Mu Liuyue went ahead in spite of everything.
Finally, the other person hesitated. 25,000 taels was no small sum, but Mu Liuyue had gone ahead for the sake of her reputation. She should have enough once she emptied out her private savings and added on her father's dowry.
"25,000 taels, going once! Any else want to add more?" Zhao mama shouted.
Mu Liuyue felt smug as she was swept away by her emotions. But suddenly, General Baili opened his mouth and cried, "100,000 taels!"
"Urk..." What a big spender!
Everyone exchanged glances of disbelief. Mu Liuyue had turned completely dumbfounded when she realized her price was nothing before his.
"This old man is willing to offer his humble efforts for the sake of the disaster victims. 100,000 taels total." General Baili's words were very well spoken. The auction was just a pretense, but the money was the more important thing. They weren't paying silver to buy the Chinese angelica, but to donate for the relief efforts!
"General Baili's generosity is a great fortune for the disaster victims!" Zhao mama sighed with emotion. At her words, neither Qinwang Rong nor Long Tianmo could sit still any longer.
Long Tianmo blurted, "200,000 taels!"
Could the auction go on like this? A while ago, the price had been increasing by 1,000 taels a bid. Now it was increasing by 100,000 taels a bid?! Everyone sucked in a cold breath at his words. The crown prince is indeed the crown prince. With the imperial uncle backing him up, his wealth speaks louder than others!
This time, General Baili didn't match his price. Naturally, no one else did either, so Long Tianmo's 200,000 taels got the Chinese angelica from the Duke of Qin's estate. Mu Liuyue had no love for her future husband, but she'd entrusted her hopes to him. Seeing his actions now, she couldn't help but sigh with feeling. The power backing the crown prince went beyond her imagination. She assumed that the crown prince would be high and dry after spending so much on her betrothal gifts. Unexpectedly, he was as heroic and free as ever. Does even Heaven know the depths of his spending limits?
And thus, the auction of the first item came to an end. The servant girl presented the second item, which Zhao mama revealed with a flourish once again. Everyone was hoping it'd be a better item than the first, but reality proved that Han Yunxi was the world's stingiest wangfei. Item number two was actually a cassia seed. Moreover, there was only one seed on the dish.
Despite its measly origins, everyone broke into heated bidding over the seed. Even if they couldn't buy the item in the end, at least they could say they participated in the auction itself. That way, they'd sound less like a laughingstock. Like the first item, the starting price was 5,000 taels. As before, Mu Liuyue did her best to add to the bids. As soon as someone outbid her, she'd hurry to add more to her own price, stealing the spotlight every time. Unfortunately, neither Long Feiye nor the crown prince spared her a single glance, though Han Yunxi was staring at her with interest.
She was a bit puzzled. Doesn't Mu Liuyue know that the crown prince is using betrothal money to bid for the auction goods? Why is she so excited? Meanwhile, Mu Liuyue's bids failed to get her the second item as well, because the crown prince bought it yet again. As before, he'd spent 200,000 taels.
By the time the third item came out, Qinwang Rong placed a hand over the crown prince's own. "Your Highness, that's enough."
They had already far exceeded their budget with 400,000 taels. If this kept on, they wouldn't be able to hold a wedding at all. The crown prince didn't speak, but as soon as Qinwang Rong was careless, he raised his hand and shouted, "150,000 taels!"
Qinwang Rong nearly spat up blood. Auctions required ready cash to pay for the goods. Where was he supposed to find so much silver in such a short time?! Was the imperial uncle's estate supposed to provide the silver? Mu Qingwu's eyes flickered coldly. He hadn't spoken up for the entirety of the auction. Meanwhile, his sister felt her admiration surging like a river for her future husband! She couldn't help but imagine why she couldn't like such a wealthy and daring man with future prospects ahead of him.
"150,000 taels! Anyone else?" Zhao mama shouted gleefully.
Would anyone dare to add onto the price?