Chapter 356: The Duke of Qin is the worst (2)
Three strikes of the hammer sold the third medicinal ingredient at a Heaven's-high price of 2,000,000 taels to the imperial uncle estate's Third Young Master Li Leyuan.
Now all three items had been sold. The auction should be finished now, but no one expected things to end so soon. It hadn't even taken an hour! Li Leyuan strode briskly back to his seat. Even now, he had no idea that he'd made such an idiotic move. But there were plenty of intelligent people in the crowd would did understand. General Baili hadn't been bidding in earnest, but simply trying to raise the price. If he hadn't spoiled the third auction, then the crown prince would've bought the item for 150,000 taels and taken it back. But thanks to his efforts, then Li Leyuan's brainless bid, the imperial uncle's estate would now have to pay 1,850,000 more taels than the original bid. That was no small sum. Would the imperial uncle die from fury once he heard the total? In any case, there were delighted and fearful parties alike amongst the crowd!
Li Leyuan didn't treat it as a big deal at all. As far as he knew, father had plenty of money. He didn't know the exact numbers, but they should be able to afford it. Long Tianmo and Qinwang Rong's faces had both turned ashen white. Mu Qingwu really wanted to laugh, but forced himself to keep a straight face. Meanwhile, Mu Liuyue had long grew dazed behind him. She couldn't help but wonder whether the imperial uncle's estate really was that wealthy. More than a few people stole glances at His Highness Duke of Qin, who was still leisurely enjoying his tea. They couldn't help but shiver at the sight. Everything that General Baili had done was at that icy-faced duke's instigation, after all. The calmest man in the room was also the most fearsome one.
"Your Highness, that was brilliant," Han Yunxi murmured. She was originally planning to snag a few hundred thousand taels at most from the imperial uncle's estate, but Long Feiye had exceeded that number multiple times.
Long Feiye simply poured her a cup of tea without saying a word. Zhao mama was smiling so widely that she couldn't close her mouth anymore. She was about to proclaim a successful end to the auction when an announcement came from the door.
"Esteemed Empress Dowager arrives!"
That's right. Empress Dowager Li had arrived. She had never gone to anyone's birthday banquet before, besides the late emperor and Emperor Tianhui. Grand Concubine Yi was her irreconcilable enemy, so she'd never bothered with hers at all. But this time's banquet was different. The form differed as well, so she had no choice but to attend. Of course, she had to keep her status in mind and arrive fashionably late. Naturally, she'd calculated the perfect time to show up. After the banquet was over, the auction would start. She figured that they had to put up at least ten items for sale. Her current arrival was, to her estimation, neither too late nor too early. It would give her the perfect chance to buy some things and express her goodwill to the disaster victims. Then she could drink a few cups of tea and return to the palace.
When everyone swiveled to look at the door, they saw esteemed empress dowager enter the building in her informal dress with only a few court ladies in attendance.
"May Esteemed Empress Dowager live for thousands and thousands of years!" the crowd greeted.
Empress Dowager Li smoothed her willowy eyebrows into a loving expression. "Rise, rise. Everyone may rise."
Everyone rose in bewilderment. There was no way news could travel that quickly. The empress dowager couldn't have shown up because Li Leyuan bid such an exorbitant price on the last item. But the auction was already over, so what was the point of her arrival now?
The empress dowager sat elegantly in the seat next to Qinwang Rong and glanced at Zhao mama onstage. "Continue." As she spoke, she murmured to Qinwang Rong in a low voice, "Have you two made any bids yet?"
But Li Leyuan simply laughed. "Grandaunt, the auction's finished ages ago!"
Immediately, the empress dowager was thrown into an awkward situation. Finished? How could that be? The silent air only embarrassed the empress dowager further. She coughed lightly a few times and asked Qinwang Rong in a quiet voice, "What's going on?"
Qinwang Rong had no idea how to explain the situation. In the end, he gave a concise summary of everything that had happened in the past hour. The empress dowager forgot all about feeling awkward as she glared at Li Leyuan! If not for everyone else here, she'd definitely beat that brat to death! There was no way that the imperial uncle's estate could provide 2,000,000 taels of silver immediately!
"How could this be? Why were there only three things?" the empress dowager murmured anxiously.
What could Qinwang Rong say? That was a question for Han Yunxi.
"Imperial grandmother, what do we do now? We'll have to pay at least 1,200,000 taels upfront," Long Tianmo couldn't help adding. He had come today to seize the spotlight for the imperial clan, not lose face!
The empress dowager was so furious that her entire person grew unwell. Her face paled significantly, but she maintained her cool and chuckled. "It looks like I've come too late?" While dealing with the current scene, she ordered in a low voice, "Quickly send people to the imperial uncle's estate and have them think of a way to fix this."
She couldn't think of any ideas herself. She could try to cut the wages and makeup budget of all the members in the imperial harem, but only to a certain extent. The national treasury had been in a sorry state for multiple years now, so life in the imperial harem was already less splendid than before. For the sake of keeping up appearances, she'd even spent much of her own private funds for her birthday banquet. From what she understood, the imperial uncle's estate didn't have much ready cash available either. Still, the imperial uncle would think of a way somehow.
"We've sent people over long ago. I don't think they've arrived yet," Qinwang Rong answered quietly. Palaces located on the outskirts of the capital were still some distance from their current location. Otherwise, the empress dowager would've received news of this disaster sooner as well instead of embarrassing herself.
"Then it's good that they've gone. Don't panic yet, the imperial uncle will definitely find a solution." So speaking, she leisurely picked up a cup of tea and asked, "Duke of Qin, where is your mufei? It's her birthday banquet, but I haven't seen any sign of her."
The empress dowager might be old and wracked with muddle-headedness thanks to her constant insomnia, but she had braved her share of stormy times. Under public scrutiny, she still managed to hold herself together-with difficulty. There was no way she'd let public opinion of the imperial clan change while she was out in the open. Even if Han Yunxi had made her tumble in private and forced her side to dish out over 2,000,000 taels of silver, she was still going to find a way to gain an advantage. The Duke of Qin's estate couldn't succeed all the way.
"Mufei caught a chill and returned home. If Esteemed Empress Dowager misses her, you may visit the estate," Long Feiye was always blunt with his words.
How could the empress dowager really visit Grand Concubine Yi at home? Still, she wore an expression of concern. "Why was she so careless? Did you call for an imperial physician?"
Her words were utterly superfluous. Of course they'd call for an imperial physician if Grand Concubine Yi fell ill. It was obvious that the empress dowager was stalling for time. Han Yunxi wasn't so patient, and wanted to force her and Li Leyuan to hand over their silver. But before she could tell Zhao mama to formally end the auction, Long Feiye held her back.
"No rush," he said.
No rush? What's he planning now? Is there anything left to do? The auction had been a complete success, and they'd made their opponents suffer massive losses! Han Yunxi had no idea what Long Feiye was thinking, but she was quite willing to wait and see. Long Feiye didn't pay much attention to the empress dowager as she chatted with everyone else. None of the guests dared to act as arrogantly as Long Feiye, but paid the old matron her due respect. Time passed quickly with the ensuing conversations. Soon enough, the young eunuch that had been sent to the imperial uncle's estate returned with news.
"Esteemed Empress Dowager, the imperial uncle said that he'd be able to wrangle together half the money by the end of today. The other half should be prepared within 10 days," the eunuch reported honestly. Actually, he wanted to add that the imperial uncle had smashed everything breakable in his study before saying these words. He had nearly grabbed a saber to run here himself, just so he could kill a certain clueless boy.
The empress dowager, Qinwang Rong, and crown prince all released a breath at these words.
"It's good that there were no big problems," the crown prince said mildly.
"Although the cost was high, at least we've taken the entire share of public opinion. Once news of this spreads, the Duke of Qin's name will have no choice but to fall behind the crown prince and imperial uncle's estate," Qinwang Rong sighed with emotion.
Perhaps that was their only comfort in the entire business! They'd sacrificed so much, but they'd accomplished their only goal in the end. The crown prince's 200,000 tael items hadn't been won in vain, either.
"Exactly so. Crown prince, send some people to spread the news when we return. Don't let those taels be spent in vain!" the empress dowager urged. The three of them privately rejoiced, more scared than hurt.
Since they'd gotten news from the imperial uncle's estate, the empress dowager didn't delay any further. She smiled and said, "It's getting late. Since Your Highness Duke of Qin has no further items up for auction, I think we should all disperse." There was a provoking tone to her words. Nobody else dared to speak up, so the empress dowager sighed and said proudly, "The crown prince and imperial uncle's estate have hearts all dedicated to the people and disaster victims. They gave money generously with an open hand and all the fortune of our Tianning Country!"
At her words, many of the people present rose to their feet with compliments until they were singing the praises of the duo. Han Yunxi felt a little unsatisfied at these turn of events. Although they'd taken their money away, she still felt like it wasn't enough! When she looked back at Long Feiye, she saw that he had no objections to the current festive mood. Instead, he had lowered his head to talk to Chu Xifeng. Han Yunxi was starting to wonder if she'd imagined him saying 'No rush' in the first place.
The previously happy Zhao mama now felt a little unhappy as well. She was too lazy to hear more of their hypocritical words, and seized a chance in the lull of the voices to proclaim, "Ladies and gentlemen, the charity auction has now concluded. The total sum raised was 2,400,000 taels of silver. All of it will be donated to the Board of Revenue to distribute amongst the various disaster areas and buy the people grain! May Your Highness Crown Prince and third young master hand over half of the sum within today, and the other half within 10 days!"
The crown prince immediately stood up. "Definitely!"
Li Leyuan stood up as well, presumptuous to the extreme. "It can all be paid today. Why wait 10 days? This is but a modest contribution to the fate of the disaster victims."
Though the empress dowager dearly wanted to whip that brat a round, she was still willing to let him show off at this moment. Since they'd already spent the money, they might as well flaunt their wealth to their heart's content. It'd be good if they ended up making the Duke of Qin and company feel nauseous.
Many others chimed in with Li Leyuan's suggestion. Zhao mama had said the auction was over, but there was no way for her to control the crowd. At this moment, Long Feiye slowly rose to his feet. He hadn't spoken a single thing throughout the auction, besides answering one of the empress dowager's questions. But his silent rise to his feet made it impossible for anyone to ignore him. Silence descended upon the crowd-even the empress dowager shut her mouth! Long Feiye allowed the stillness to continue as he grasped Han Yunxi's hand and led her along.
"Zhao mama," he said mildly, "Your lordship will be contributing 5,000,000 taels of silver to the relief efforts. Leave word with the Board of Revenue that the silver will be arriving shortly."
Everyone was floored by his words! A direct donation?
That's right! Even if they didn't participate in the auction, they could donate money all the same! Nobody said the donations had to be done via auction bids!
In a flash, the crown prince's 400,000 taels and Li Leyuan's 2,000,000 taels paled into significance! They were nothing before this sum! So much for swaying public opinion in their favor. So much for winning the people's hearts! Even the totals of their contributions combined couldn't match up to Long Feiye's 5,000,000 taels!
Moreover, they'd been forced to offer those sums because the auction bids had driven them up. It was nothing like someone who'd donated out of his own will! What did it mean to be domineering and generous? What did it mean to be rich and powerful? What did it mean to feel for the common people and work to relieve their plight? This was the true meaning of all those things!
The imperial uncle's estate spent so much silver and ended up winning no attention from it at all. Here was the ultimate loss to top all losses!
It took Han Yunxi some time to recover her senses. When she did, she laughed secretly into her sleeve. "Your Highness, you're so wicked!"
Long Feiye's lips rose into a slight curve as he led her out of the room. His silhouette made for a legendary memory at the auction hall. This should be the true ending of the auction, after all. As for the expression on the empress dowager and crown prince's faces...