Chapter 355: The Duke of Qin is the worst (1)
Nobody cared about what was for sale anymore. Though the third item was rather rare, it was only a daylily stem. They were more interested in the auction price.
"150,000 taels, any other takers?" Zhao mama shouted once more. The entire room was silent. It seemed like no one else would offer another price. The crown prince had spent 200,000 taels each on the previous two items, before spending 150,000 additional taels on the final medicinal ingredient. His perfectly self-possessed face as he sat there respectfully made everyone sigh with emotion. They never expected the crown prince and imperial uncle's estate to be so wealthy. After all, auctions like this demanded payment in cash.
What did that mean? Solid pieces of silver. They might be silver drafts that could be instantly changed into taels at private banks, or gold cards that could be used at once. There were two types of rich people in the world. One was the man without ready cash on hand, but plenty of wealth in properties, land, industries and private collections. He would need some time to convert all his holdings into money. The other was someone who could spend money like water and show off gold and silver as he pleases. The latter was the standout of the lot.
If the crown prince could get the third item as well, then he would have spent a total of 550,000 taels of silver! That wasn't a small number at all. Zhao mama had already called out twice. When everyone was convinced that the auction was over, General Baili opened his mouth again.
His declaration created a sensation! It was unclear whether Zhao mama was truly shocked, or simply pretending. "General Baili, what did you say?"
"400,000 taels. This old man's willing to pay 400,000 taels!" General Baili even stood up.
Zhao mama repeatedly nodded her head. To tell the truth, she'd was completely flummoxed. Wasn't General Baili's money her own master's money? Maintaining an army cost substantial sums, especially when they were naval forces. Her master attached great importance to General Baili's navy, and secretly supported him with silver each year in addition to the annual pay from the imperial court! Had General Baili gone mad? Bidding 400,000 taels in one breath was paying more than twice the amount of Long Tianmo's offer!
Even Han Yunxi was shaken. His Highness Duke of Qin might be right, but this auction was set for the crown prince and imperial uncle's estate to spend their money, not themselves! Han Yunxi turned towards Long Feiye, who was still calm and unruffled. She couldn't help but wonder whether General Baili's 400,000 taels was more than just a 'coincidence.' Long Feiye was probably the only calm person in the entire room. Long Tianmo's eyebrows had long creased into folds above his forehead.
He was extremely sensitive to these 400,000 taels, because General Baili's bid matched the total of his two previous bids exactly! He was probably trying to pull even with him! Before Long Tianmo came to this auction, he'd already told his imperial father than the Duke of Qin's estate had taken the first step to win people's hearts with the charity auction. This time, he had to attend the auction and draw public opinion back to their side, thus suppressing the Duke of Qin's influence. He had much respect for His Highness Duke of Qin, but at the end of the day, they were still on opposing sides. His Highness Duke of Qin was not only his rival to contend for the throne, but to 'inherit' the throne, as well!
Under these circumstances, he had to stand on his father's side. Even if he couldn't beat his father, he could still wait until the older man expired. As long as he didn't have any major problems, his turn on the throne would come eventually. But His Highness Duke of Qin was a different matter. Long Feiye was much too young, only two or three years older than himself.
He didn't want to lose to the Duke of Qin's estate this time!
Moreover, he had his personal motivations as well. He was overdrawing the imperial uncle's funds on purpose to relieve the disaster victims. His imperial father had precautions against the imperial uncle's estate, just like him. There were countless accounts in history of how an emperor's relatives on his mother's side meddled in state affairs. There were also similar accounts of court eunuchs monopolizing power all to themselves. So what if the imperial clan was the ultimate nobility, respected and revered? Too many cases existed where someone else controlled the emperor and ordered nobles about in his name. He didn't want to ascend the throne and be stuck listening to his imperial uncle's orders instead.
Right now, the only thing he could do was advance gradually and dig in at every step. Everything else, he had to endure patiently within his own heart. He hadn't told anyone else about his thoughts, even Qinwang Rong.
Amidst all the commentary, Zhao mama even forgot to ask for additional bidders. Unexpectedly, Long Tianmo suddenly rose to his feet despite Qinwang Rong's best efforts to stop him.
"500,000 taels!" he cried.
Instead of a commotion, there was now absolute silence.
This wasn't an auction, but a full out competition! Still, General Baili wasn't about to back down.
Long Tianmo's momentum was momentarily driven back! Everyone turned towards General Baili, either with gasps or looks of shock. After the empress dowager's birthday banquet, everyone knew that General Baili was backed by His Highness Duke of Qin. General Baili bidding was equal to His Highness Duke of Qin bidding himself. In other words, the Duke of Qin's didn't simply host a charity auction, but was willing to pay such a large price themselves. This style of playing attracted praise and commendation from all parties. The crown suddenly realized that His Highness Duke of Qin was far richer than they thought!
Long Tianmo looked stunned at General Baili, his breathing unsteady. 1,000,000 taels...made him momentarily hesitate to add onto the sum. If he kept bidding, the total would surpass 1,400,000 taels. He would have to seriously consider whether the imperial uncle's estate could afford such a price tag. After all, rules of the auction stated that the winning bid had to set down half of the price to start. The rest would need to be paid within 10 days' time. If they couldn't come up with the money by then, they'd stand to lose tons of face!
But he wanted to keep bidding!
Meanwhile, Han Yunxi finally understood the rationale behind General Baili's actions. She was certain that he wasn't there to bid for real, but to push the price higher and force Long Tianmo to pay more money! She smiled slyly and said, "Zhao mama, why are you just spacing out? Hit the hammer!"
Zhao mama's mind had turned completely blank. She sheepishly smacked the auction hammer until a clang rang out in the room. "1,000,000 taels going once! Any other takers!"
The entire room...was silent!
"1,000,000 taels going twice! Anyone else?" Zhao mama shouted again.
Silence still reigned on in the room. The only sound left was that of people breathing. Long Tianmo stood in place as he held his breath. He was this close from impulsively raising his hand to shout out a price, but he held himself back.
"1,000,000 taels going thrice! Is there any other bidder?" Zhao mama yelled as she raised the auction hammer up high. In that second, everyone nervously focused their sights on her hammer, including Han Yunxi and General Baili. Had their constant bidding come back to smash their own toes? Instead of failing to lure the crown prince, they'd even lost the 150,000 taels he last bid on the item?
Slowly, the hammer lowered towards the table.
Amongst the crowd, it was only Long Feiye who remained elegant as ever as he raised his cup to taste the tea inside. Self-satisfied and pleased, he appeared to be in a world of his own, removed from the anxious party. In the silence, one person suddenly stood up. He was none other than the sole son of the imperial uncle's estate and the empress dowager's most favored grandson. He was also the crown prince's younger cousin and the capital city's wealthiest young master, who had come to the auction on behalf of the imperial uncle's estate.
This was Third Young Master Li Leyuan.1
He was a very skinny man, but still wore loose fitting brocade robes and a long necklace of jade beads. One of his shoulders was lower than the other, and his entire stance looked frivolous and flighty, nothing like a proper posture at all. Han Yunxi recognized him on sight as the boy she'd saved when plague had invaded Tianning's capital city. The situation had been tense back then, because he would have lost his life if she hadn't come in time.
As soon as he stood up, she released a breath of relief. She knew that General Baili's prodding had succeeded. Li Leyuan stood up long enough to draw all eyes his way before smiling in cold satisfaction. Then he slowly strode forward. The current imperial uncle was a cunning and crafty old fox. He was extremely low-key with his behaviors, but his son was something else! One could only say that he'd been spoiled rotten!
Zhao mama stopped moving at the sight, her hammer only a few inches from the surface of the table. Everyone watched Li Leyuan as he strode to the auction stand. Suddenly, he seized the hammer for himself and turned to sweep his eyes across the crowd.
"2,000,000 taels, any takers?" he asked.
The room was silent to begin with, but grew even more silent at his words. Even the sound of breathing had disappeared with all the people holding their breaths! Long Tianmo and Qinwang Rong were both dumbfounded. So was Han Yunxi. She knew this fellow was planning to add to the price, but not that he'd add so much! Long Feiye's lips curved up into a satisfied smile, while General Baili didn't bid any higher.
"No one?" Li Leyuan knew the answer to his question, but struck once with the hammer anyways.
"General Baili, are you going to bid any more?" he provoked on purpose. "If not, I'm going to hammer the table again. Don't regret it." So speaking, he struck the table a second time.
He didn't have the guts to provoke the Duke of Qin directly, but glanced at him before asking, "Is there anyone else here willing to add onto the price? Otherwise, this young master's going to settle things with one more strike!"
Even adding one more copper coin under the circumstances would mean the bidder needed to pay 2,000,000 additional taels. The room was still. Li Leyuan was quite smug. "Ladies and gentlemen, please forgive me. I'm taking this lot." Then he hammered the final strike with a sound loud enough to reverberate through the courtyard.
When the imperial uncle's estate received the invitation letter, neither his father nor grandfather were willing to give the Duke of Qin face. Mother was going to come, but then she fell sick, so he came in her place. Li Leyuan was well known for being someone who spent money like flowing water. Every single time, his father would scold him about it. This time, father had even urged him countless times not to compete against the crown prince at the auction. No matter what happened, he couldn't steal the spotlight from Long Tianmo.
The crown prince had such a flourishing reputation that he did his best to sit still during the auction despite wanting to cause trouble. But when the tides changed, he could sit still no longer. Even if he couldn't steal the crown prince's thunder, he could at least steal General Baili's spotlight, right? He didn't care about the purpose of this auction at all. He only knew that he had to step in when the crown prince couldn't stand up anymore. No matter what, the Duke of Qin's estate couldn't be allowed to run rampant!
2,000,000 taels would finish off everything! The auction had come to an end.
But had it really?
No, His Highness Duke of Qin had other things planned...
1. Li Leyuan () - Li is a surname that means "plum," Le is "joy, amusement, pleasure" Yuan is "distant."