Long Feiye left while holding hands with Han Yunxi, so she didn't even have time to catch the crown prince and empress dowager's expressions, much less Mu Liuyue. But that was all right. Zhao mama would help her by taking down all the details before telling her at length! Perhaps it'd be better to move on to that rich and arrogant Li Leyuan instead, who considered himself top of the world. He always thought that his family was the richest one in Tianning, but now he realized that wasn't the case...
Worse, he still hadn't grasped the severe implications of his previous actions. He could only sigh with emotion as he watched the Duke of Qin's retreating figure. How he wished he could spend as freely as His Highness Duke of Qin! Unfortunately, even a silk pants rich boy like him felt that 5,000,000 taels of silver was really too extravagant. Most likely, even the reigning emperor would be unable to provide such a sum.
As for the noble, dignified esteemed empress dowager, her mouth was still hanging open in the aftermath of the shock. She wanted to show off a bit more, but now there was no chance for that. The crown prince's expression was even more ghastly. He had no idea how the imperial uncle and his imperial father would lose their tempers at him once he returned to the palace. Today he'd come to represent the imperial clan, but he not only lost imperial uncle's silver, but also imperial father's face.
One may say that he gave his enemy a wife and lost soldiers to him to boot-he paid a high price for his cunning. He always knew this was a trap, but wanted to use the trap as a justified example to take funds from the imperial uncle's estate. He never expected, however, that within the trap was yet another trap! Despite his pent up feelings, however, he still felt the utmost admiration for His Highness Duke of Qin. If possible, he really didn't want them to be enemies.
Mu Qingwu's lips were drawn into a grin. He shouldn't be smiling, but he really couldn't help it. If he had known this would happen, he should've surrendered sooner to the crown prince so they could bankrupt the imperial uncle's estate to the end! Behind him, Mu Liuyue was utterly gobsmacked. Parts of her soul had left her body to chase after His Highness Duke of Qin. Her soaring admiration for the crown prince had all but disappeared. Compared to His Highness Duke of Qin's wealth, the crown prince and imperial uncle were nothing! Mu Liuyue grew more and more unsatisfied the more she looked at Long Feiye. If it wasn't for Han Yunxi ruining her reputation, perhaps she would still have a chance to marry into the Duke of Qin's estate.
Before General Mu's estate had sided with the crown prince, the Duke of Qin had never taken any major actions. Now that he had, it was proof that the Great General's estate held some weight in his heart. The more she thought, the more jealous she grew. Mu Liuyue was close to infuriating herself to death.
Han Yunxi, ah, Han Yunxi. What did I owe you in my past life to meet you in this one?!
A long time later, Mu Liuyue's gaze finally settled on Long Tianmo, her husband-to-be. She finally began to worry about the state of her betrothal gifts. If the imperial uncle's estate had to pay up that much silver, could they still support the costs for her wedding with the crown prince? Mu Liuyue's fears grew as she thought deeper. After all, there were only a few days left before her wedding day!
It wasn't just the crown prince's faction that were left stunned. Everyone else felt restless at the recent developments-even those who were on the Duke of Qin's side. Nobody knew the Duke of Qin possessed wealth equivalent to an entire nation! His Highness Duke of Qin's actions stirred up thousands of waves amongst the political circles.
While everyone was still stunned, Long Feiye took Han Yunxi slowly through the paths in the flower gardens. Although Han Yunxi loved the feeling of quiet strolls with this man, she enjoyed talking with him more.
"Your Highness, where did your money come from?" Truthfully speaking, she was curious, too. It was a question that everyone else was wondering too, so she might as well ask him herself.
"A secret," Long Feiye replied.
"Am I allowed to know?" Han Yunxi asked timidly.
"If you knew, would it still be a secret?" Long Feiye asked back.
The glib-tongued Han Yunxi was left a momentary loss for words. If she said, 'no,' Long Feiye definitely wouldn't tell her. She thought it over a bit before asking, "Could it be that only Your Highness knows the answer to this question?"
Long Feiye seemed to be in a good mood, because he led Han Yunxi to pergola before sitting them down. With a nod, he answered, "It's something only your lordship knows."
Han Yunxi immediately seized on the chance to express her feelings. "Chenqie is willing to keep this secret safe with Your Highness!"
Long Feiye furrowed his brows, emanating a deep, profound look from his lofty form.
"Your Highness...doesn't trust chenqie?" Han Yunxi asked.
"Han Yunxi..." Long Feiye seemed to hesitate, before he trailed off into silence. Han Yunxi waited carefully. She felt like this fellow was preparing to tell her something important. It'd been ages since he'd called her by name. Usually he didn't call her by name at all-but when he did, it was always her full name.
When he still didn't speak, Han Yunxi asked doubtfully, "Mhm?"
Finally, Long Feiye spoke up. "Han Yunxi, a secret that's shared won't be a secret anymore."
Fine, he still didn't tell her a thing. Han Yunxi was a little disappointed. "Oh," she murmured, before falling into silence. Long Feiye didn't speak, but kept his fingers entwined with hers as he sat by her side in silence. Before he stood up again, he stopped to gently brush her bangs.
"Let's go," he said.
A secret that's shared won't be a secret anymore. Who could understand that? Han Yunxi silently puzzled over the words the whole trip back to the Duke of Qin's estate. She couldn't help but feel that his words carried hidden meanings, but then again, maybe she was overthinking things. Since he wouldn't tell, she didn't ask. In any case, he was full of secrets she didn't know. She wasn't the type that forced others, so she'd wait until he was willing to tell her.
Grand Concubine Yi's birthday banquet thus came to a successful end. Han Yunxi got to witness Long Feiye's black-bellied tendencies for the first time, firsthand. But it wasn't until she returned home that she realized this wasn't him at his worst. He could only get worse than worse, more black-bellied than black-bellied!
As soon as they arrived at the gates, Chu Xifeng ran out to report, "Your Highness, we've already made arrangements with the Board of Revenue to make sure the charity auction money gets there on time and then is publicly proclaimed. The imperial uncle's side is already planning to sell off his grain. Just then, we got news that he's been getting in touch with various grain merchants."
Everything was within Long Feiye's palm. He nodded and walked calmly into the estate. But Han Yunxi was utterly floored! She turned to look at Long Feiye and couldn't help but wonder whether he'd sell her off one day without her any the wiser as well! No one else could surpass his methods!
She had assumed that the auction was meant to force the imperial uncle to give up his money, but never expected his true aim was to force the man to sell his grain. The severe famine conditions had created grain shortages all over the country. Many kindhearted people who wanted to help couldn't find any grain to buy them, even if they had enough silver. Under these circumstances, what would be worth more money than grain itself?
The imperial uncle's estate might have embezzled its share of silver from the national treasury, but it stole even more grain than silver. By taking a portion of grain paid to the capital from various counties, and even the grain allotted to the disaster areas and military, they'd managed to hoard a sizable pile for private profit. When grain was in urgent supply because of famine or war, they could sell it at exorbitant prices to get rich through ill-gotten gains. Aside from selling the grain back to the prefectural governors, they sold to the country itself as well. In other words, the imperial uncle's estate had taken what rightly belonged to the country and sold it back to them, thus lining their pockets with the country's own silver.
If this was the past, the imperial uncle's estate wouldn't sell their grain at all despite the severe famine, because the price hadn't risen enough. Moreover, the country hadn't started selling grain to its people, either. However, things were different now. The imperial uncle's estate was expected to give up over 2,000,000 taels of silver within ten days! The only way to do that was to sell off their grain!
"Is Your Highness planning to use the imperial uncle's 2,000,000 taels-plus contributions to by grain for the disaster victims?" Han Yunxi asked with a smile. Using the imperial uncle's own silver to buy the grain they sold off was probably something only Long Feiye would do.
"We should be able to buy them," Long Feiye said mildly.
"If that's the case, then the imperial uncle's estate...won't last much longer!" Han Yunxi was thrilled.
Long Feiye was bewildered. "You know what's going on?"
Han Yunxi might not care about affairs of state, but she'd read her share of official and unofficial histories. Of course she understood things like this. Long Feiye had been investigating into the imperial uncle's embezzling for a long time. If the imperial uncle hadn't been driven desperately into a corner this time and forced to cash in his grain, he wouldn't had grasped his lead so quickly. Chu Xifeng had already found out the names of the grain merchants that were contacted by the imperial uncle. It would be much easier to find proof of their transaction method, place, and time later on.
Once enough evidence had been collected, Long Feiye's personality would ensure that he destroyed the imperial uncle's estate once and for all. In other words, his ultimate goal for the whole affair wasn't to save the disaster victims or cause others heavy losses, but to create a chance to find proof of the imperial uncle embezzling grain! He had planned to explain everything to Han Yunxi once they got inside their rooms, but the woman was smart enough to figure it out on her own. He stared at her, his gaze growing more and more domineering as his interest in her intensified.
"Your Highness, isn't chenqie smart?" Han Yunxi was quite self-confident in herself.
But Long Feiye simply countered, "How could your lordship's woman be anything except intelligent?"
Han Yunxi's heart skipped a beat as she turned stupefied. Meanwhile, Long Feiye turned to leave with a slight smile on his lips, feeling extremely satisfied. Han Yunxi didn't even remember how she got back to the Leisurely Cloud Pavilion. In any case, she felt like her heart had tasted a bite of honey, sweet enough to make her smile even in her dreams.
That very evening, news came from the Board of Revenue to confirm that the crown prince and Li Leyuan had sent over 1,200,000 taels, with a promise to hand over the other half within 10 days. Long Feiye naturally busied himself with the imperial uncle's plans to sell his grain, while Han Yunxi was looking forward to the crown prince's wedding in four days' time. After all, Mu Liuyue had said herself that she had enough betrothal gifts to line an entire street! According to Tianning's marriage customs, betrothal gifts were sent before the marriage itself. All gifts had to be delivered to the bride's home three days before the wedding.
But there was still no news from the crown prince's Eastern Palace by the second day. Mu Liuyue sat waiting and waiting in her house, while Han Yunxi did the same at her estate. Finally, night fell with no news of any betrothal gifts. Instead, a public proclamation came from the Eastern Palace instead. Its general message was that a crown prince's wedding merited congratulations from the entire country, but in light of the severe famine, a thrifty and frugal approach was preferred to relieve the disaster areas. Thus, there would be no grand ceremony to welcome the crown prince's consort. A small wedding ceremony would be performed in the palace instead.
Long Feiye wasn't home the next morning, so Han Yunxi accepted a letter from the Eastern Palace in his place. It was actually an invitation for the two of them to attend the crown prince's wedding ceremony at his palace. Wouldn't they be the least welcome pair at the palace? And yet they'd been invited anyways? Were they planning to threaten them with General Mu and company? Han Yunxi wasn't planning to go at all-but when she thought of Mu Liuyue's arrogant attitude, she decided to attend after all!