Qiang Jin Jiu – Chapter 182 : Quail

Translated with: Jia<3

The merchants were locked up in the courtyard for two days. It was one thing to go without food and water, but it was the lack of latrines and chamber pots that proved to be the most intolerable. They could not hold it in any longer and thought of climbing over the wall to get out. As it turned out, Fei Sheng was prepared for this and had his men stand guard at the top of the wall to douse them in the face with several buckets of cold water, subsequently causing an uproar to break out in the courtyard.

“The fuck is this?! What’s wrong with you?! You nearly made me piss my pants!” 

Fei Sheng had been sitting until his buttocks were aching. He stood up and took several steps before saying, “Piss, huh. You people are the one reeking of it, anyway. Not my problem.”    

The merchants all held up their pants, their legs shaking from the urgency of their needs. The man who took the lead earlier clung to the crack in the door and put aside his pride to plead, “My good sir, all men surely have to answer the call of nature! Aren’t you extorting a confession by doing this?!”  

Fei Sheng exclaimed in astonishment and moved closer to the side of the door, “What nonsense are you spouting? I didn’t even touch a single finger of yours!” 

This man pressed his legs together and bent over at the waist. “Yes, yes, yes. But you still have to let us use the latrine somehow!” 

Fei Sheng said with a hypocritical smile, “I’ve already made it clear to you people. You want to come out, sure, but first write down the names of the officials who supplied you with the goods.”  

The merchants were not natives of Zhongbo, and they still had to return to their hometowns after conducting their business, so how would they be willing to offend the local officials? When they refused to write, Fei Sheng continued to keep the door sealed. Out of options, they could only put up with the shame and pull down their pants to relieve themselves. It was still fine at the start, but it became unbearable later as the foul stench of urine permeated the courtyard. It was so overwhelming that they all covered their noses, and after two days, they finally caved in and confessed it all.    

Proud of his success, Fei Sheng handed the name list to Shen Zechuan, who wanted this list to investigate if there were any white scorpions among these local officials. With the transportation of such a large batch of goods east, they would have inevitably left a trail behind.

◈     ◈     ◈

Yan Heru, having been starved into obedience, was now sitting cross-legged looking all well-behaved as he stood trial. He waited, but seeing as Shen Zechuan was still maintaining his silence, he asked, “Your lordship, aren’t you going to interrogate me?”  

Shen Zechuan set the list before Yan Heru and said, “All the names in here are your acquaintances, right?”   

“I’m a businessman, and businessmen like me have nothing whatsoever to do with the yamen.” Yan Heru tilted his head and finished looking through the name list. “They are just some drinking buddies.”  

“Hezhou is the most convenient for you to do business if you so wish, but you set up a small mutual trade market in Dunzhou and brought the merchants from all over the world here together.” Having slept well last night, Shen Zechuan was feeling so refreshed this morning that he did not even lose patience beating around the bush with Yan Heru. “That’s quite something you’re up to.” 

Yan Heru blinked his eyes and said, “Even if I am up to something, they are all small tricks employed in the business world. Your lordship is truly the one who is circumspect and farsighted. Let’s not even bring up Huaizhou, Cizhou, and Chazhou, because it makes me green-eyed with envy just to mention them. Now that Dunzhou is under your control, I shall make my livelihood under you. I’m willing and happy to be your younger brother.” 

“Why don’t you make it clear first before talking about becoming sworn brothers?” Shen Zechuan said. “These local officials embezzled official goods and handed them to the merchants to be transported here, where they then sold the goods to the various Biansha Tribes through you and used this as an opportunity to have the goods converted into money. You’re truly a righteous one to be leading a bunch of people into making their fortune off state wealth.” 

“You are so smart.” Yan Heru actually started to account for his actions with his hands behind his back. “That’s right; that’s exactly the case. It’s through the tea trade that my Yan clan made its fortune. We had to spend mountains of silvers on bribing the local officials in order to find a means of subsistence under the Xi clan, but we could never have enough to fill this bottomless pit. These rats in charge of the local copper and iron mines had lucrative jobs where they could line their pockets to the brim. They only had to hold out their hands, and they would be able to fish up tens of thousands of silver. Anyone else would be tempted by this, so I decided I might as well join them in this endeavor.”  

Yan Heru showed no sign of fear as he spoke to this point. All the business he had successively engaged in was all capital crimes punishable by execution if he had been reported to the authorities, but he had still gone ahead with them, and he had even become rather seasoned at it.   

“But I’m not the one who is providing Amu’er with copper and iron,” Yan Heru bared his canine tooth and smiled at Shen Zechuan. “Your Lordship’s interrogation of me today is because you’ve found out that these are all but small batches of goods that are completely incapable of meeting the requirements for the scorpions’ equipment, right?”   

Shen Zechuan did not respond. 

“All the transactions that pass through my hands are recorded in black and white. Your Lordship, having conducted your investigation to this date, should have already known that I’m telling the truth.” Tired from sitting cross-legged, Yan Heru shifted a couple of times. “I’ll have you know that the person who went to Zhongbo at the very start to deal in grain was Xi Hongxuan.” 

After Xi Hongxuan’s death, all the Xi clan’s shops fell into Shen Zechuan’s hands. The reason why he ordered Ge Qingqing to stay still in Juexi was to keep a tight watch on Xi Dan. He understood the Xi clan’s current accounts like the back of his hand, and he was aware that Xi Hongxuan was the one dealing in grains in Zhongbo after the fourth year of Xiande, although it was directly resold to the Yan clan by the fifth year of Xiande. But despite turning over the Xi clan’s accounts, Shen Zechuan could not find any traces of copper and iron trading between Xi Hongxuan and the various tribes of Biansha. 

“Whether it was before or after the troops’ defeat, Zhongbo is the only place where you can transport goods to Amu‘er.” Yan Heru said, “Even though Zhongbo lost the ability to defend itself after the fourth year of Xiande, Amu’er never made another move to invade again. By now, it should have already dawned on Your Lordship why this was the case, right?”    

To transport goods.   

After the fourth year of Xiande, not a single one of the provincial administration commissioners deployed to Zhongbo from Qudu lasted for long. Replacements were a frequent occurrence. Initially, Shen Zechuan had thought that it was due to the severity of the banditry, but upon arrival in Zhongbo, he quickly learned that this was not the case. At the very least, Lei Jingzhe had not been that influential at the beginning of the fourth year of Xiande. Afterward, he thought about how thorough Hai Liangyi had been in transferring Jiang Qingshan over to Qudu after he became the Grand Secretary. He had Jiang Qingshan reside temporarily in Qudu while waiting for the confirmation of his appointment then, and he had done it all so that he could send Jiang Qingshan down to Zhongbo to change and turn the situation there around.    

“I truly want to fraternize with Your Lordship.” Yan Heru said, “Come on, let’s do this  together.”   

“Hezhou was still transporting grains to Qudu last year.” Shen Zechuan was in no hurry to answer. He looked at Yan Heru. “You have money and grain. Why aren’t you throwing in your lot with Xue Xiuzhuo? He is working in collaboration with an equally powerful ally in Juexi—Jiang Qingshan. No reason for him to let you do as you please.” 

Yan Heru curbed his smile and said, “I want to too, but this man only wants my head.” 

Shen Zechuan asked, “Xue Xiuzhuo is checking your accounts?”   

“Not just mine, he’s also looking into the Xi clan’s accounts.” Yan Heru said. “This man is a fearsome one. He can’t tolerate corruption, and he particularly doesn’t care about sentimental ties at all.”   

Yan Heru was loath to deal with people like Xue Xiuzhou for a very simple reason—he was afraid of Xue Xiuzhuo. Back in the reign of Xiande when Xue Xiuzhuo was still serving as the Chief Supervising Secretary in the Ministry of Revenue, Yan Heru had attempted to bribe Xue Xiuzhuo. However, it proved futile. Not only did it not work, Xue Xiuzhou also almost traced it back to Yan Heru’s shops at that time.   

The way in which Yan Heru formed his alliances was very simple, and that was, everyone transgressed together, giving the others a hold over himself at the same time he had a hold over the others. 

Shen Zechuan did not continue Yan Heru’s thread of conversation.  

On seeing this, Yan Heru hurriedly craned his neck and said, “Do we have a deal? Let us draft up the rules and regulations, alright? Our respective shares in the mutual trade market’s business in Huaizhou, Cizhou, Chazhou, and Libei in the future, along with the finer details of the business operations are all open to negotiations. I can also deliver grains to Libei.”   

“The business aspect is easy to work out. As long as you can make up for the remaining winter clothes for the Libei Armored Cavalry before the tenth month,” Shen Zechuan set the lid over the teacup. “Hezhou has to assume the responsibility of supplying the granaries in Chazhou and Dunzhou at the start of spring next year.”

“Can you establish yourself as king by the beginning of spring next year? You can’t. In that case, my grains in Hezhou are still subject to requisition by Qudu, and I’ll have to transport them to Qidong as military provisions.” The internal abacus in Yan Heru’s mind was clicking away at high speed as he made his calculations. “Qi Zhuyin is the commander-in-chief of the Qidong Five Commanderies, and she’s just over the banks of Hezhou. I don’t have the troops to obstruct her. When the time comes and she doesn’t receive the provisions as scheduled, she will come after me first and foremost. Never mind if it’s just me, but if it implicates Your Lordship, then Cizhou will be beset with a crisis. ”    

Shen Zechuan was well-aware that Yan Heru had his own schemes in mind, and so he asked, “So, your point is?” 

Yan Heru’s eyes lit up. “How about this? When spring comes next year, the supply to the granaries of Chazhou and Dunzhou will be jointly borne by Hezhou and Cizhou. I’ll take the lion’s share. Isn’t that honorable enough of me? As for the portion of provisions owed to Qidong, I’ll personally head to Baimazhou via the water routes on the west side to purchase them. I have old acquaintances there. But the consumption of money to bribe my way through the checkpoints is too high. I have to figure out a way to make up for it over the winter. How about Your Lordship waive the tariffs for the merchants who have registered at the Yan clan’s pawnshop and let them trade what they’ve amassed on hand at the mutual market in Libei? The Huiyan tribe has tea, which I can make a killing with if I buy and resell it at the Port of Yongyi.”

Having drunk his fill of tea, Shen Zechuan rose to his feet and made to leave without so much another word.   

“Aye.” Yan Heru followed suit and said, “This won’t do either? Your Lordship, you’re really a little stingy! Even if you want to shear my wool, you still have to let me fill up my tummy first.” 

Shen Zechuan strode out of the door. It just so happened that Xiao Chiye was entering from the moon gate.1

Yan Heru simply fell to the ground and shamelessly created a scene. He hollered, “Don’t go, Shen-gege! You’re my dear kin brother! We can always discuss it over again, man!” 

Shen Zechuan turned his head back to look askance at him. “It’s all thanks to you the bandits are running rampant in Chazhou, Dunzhou, Fanzhou, and Dengzhou. Ever since the fifth year of Xiande, the Yan Clan has earned quite the fortune in Zhongbo. I’m already giving you due respect by not closing down the Yan clan’s shops for good. If anyone in the two prefectures of Chazhou and Dunzhou dies of starvation at the start of spring next year, I’ll have your head for it.” 

Feeling timid and apprehensive, Yan Heru cowered and shrunk his neck back like a little quail. As he lay on the ground, he saw Xiao Chiye’s boots through the curtain Fei Sheng had lifted. He suddenly had a brainwave and shouted, “I still have a treasure!” 

Xiao Chiye rapped his umbrella on the step and said, “What treasure? Show this eye-opener to your Second Young Master too.” 

Yan Heru promptly put on a smiling face and said ingratiatingly, “What Second Young Master? It’s Second Master! The Second Master liked pearls and jades back in Qudu, right? I just so happened to newly acquire some good stuff at the start of autumn. As the saying goes, a precious sword ought to be gifted to a hero;2 in the same vein, precious gems are befitting of the Second Master. I’ve long wanted to pay a tribute of respect to the Second Master!”  

Xiao Chiye had been wanting to make Shen Zechuan a few more earrings, so his interest was piqued on hearing him. He had Fei Sheng continue holding up the curtain as he asked, “What kinds of goods?” 

Yan Heru knew that the relationship between Xiao Chiye and Shen Zechuan was an intimate one. Shen Zechuan had said “my husband” on Fuxian Peak. He could not convince Shen Zechuan, but he could coax Xiao Chiye and make him happy, so he said, “When I get out, I’ll get my men to deliver them to your residence for your amusement.” 

Xiao Chiye was in quite the good mood. “A sensible one, you are.” 

Yan Heru nodded his head as though he were pounding garlic. “The Second Master came with the Prefectural Lord on official business and has been staying on my property for quite a few days, and I still have yet to play the good host and entertain you. That makes me feel so ashamed.”

Xiao Chiye stood on the stairs, and Yan Heru secretly smacked his lips as he marveled just how tall this Xiao the Second was. Those shoulders were so broad one could simply roll around on them. 

“What did you call the Prefectural Lord earlier?” Xiao Chiye inquired.   

Yan Heru answered, “Shen-gege.” 

“Toss him out,” Xiao Chiye’s tone abruptly went cold. “Let him clear his mind in the pond. To think he even forgot who his parents and siblings are.”

Fei Sheng leaned over to pick up Yan Heru and headed out. 

How was Yan Heru to know that Xiao Chiye was displeased again? He kicked his legs and said in a panic, “I remember, I remember! Second Master, don’t toss me away!” The wind was extremely cold out there. Yan Heru continued, “There’s something I still have yet to tell the Second Master. You—”  

Fei Sheng had already dunked him into the water.

◈     ◈     ◈

Five days later, Shen Zechuan departed for Cizhou, while Tantai Hu remained in Dunzhou. His letter was delivered right at this time to the Bianjun Commandery, where it was sent into the campground.

Qi Zhuyin stepped out of the tent. Upon seeing Qi Wei dismount from his horse, she asked, “Where did that letter come from?”

Qi Wei presented the letter and answered, “From Zhongbo. It’s affixed with his private seal.”

“Looks like Shen Zechuan is doing rather well for himself in Zhongbo.” Qi Zhuyin opened up the letter. “To think he could still remain alive long enough to send a letter my way.”

Although Qi Wei had not looked at the letter without permission, he knew what its contents entailed. As Qi Zhuyin was reading it, he said, “It has not even been half a year since the establishment of the Cizhou garrison troops, and yet they were able to defeat the Biansha Cavalry in Dunzhou. Their ability can’t be underestimated.”

“We have Xiao the Second to thank for this.” Qi Zhuyin handed the letter back to Qi Wei and looked at the overcast sky. “The longer that the Prince of Libei keeps him in check and holds him back, the more zealous he will be when he steps onto the frontlines in the future.” 

Qi Wei said, “After the new year, Qudu will be urging you to head up north to suppress King Yi of Fanzhou.”

Qi Zhuyin did not respond. She whistled towards the soldiers at the back and grabbed her overcoat. As she put it on, she changed the subject. “Is my father well?”    

Qi Wei followed Qi Zhuyin and answered. “As per your instructions, five men have been tasked to take turns to attend to him. His concubines3 in the residence are not allowed to go near. They’re not happy about this and have been making a racket over at the madam’s residence day in and day out.” 

Qi Zhuyin had initially been about to get on her horse, but stopped on hearing what he said. “Hua the Third didn’t give them a lashing?”

Qi Wei scratched his head. “She was raised as a princess and isn’t like the rest of us. She’s all soft-spoken when she talks to those concubines. She’s truly a gentle one.” 

“Then she’s got a good temper.” Just thinking about those women in the courtyard at the rear gave Qi Zhuyin a headache. She continued, “The old man’s got a stroke and they’re treating it like he’s about to breathe his last. They kept clamoring all day long about splitting the family properties, even harping over that golden chamber pot of his.” 

Qi Wei said, “They’re scared of you.”

Qi Zhuyin was irate. “Do I not feed them?”

Qi Wei replied awkwardly, “Well, you’ve been watching their accounts and deducting their rouge allowance.”

Qi Zhuyin had nothing to say to that. This was a rotten debt. For the past few years, Qi Zhuyin had drained her personal funds empty in order to make up for the shortfall in the military salaries and provisions of the Qidong’s garrison troops. The remaining four camps could rely on their garrison troops to cultivate the lands4 to mitigate this burden, and the granaries were in abundance in all the years there was no war. But the Bianjun Commandery could not do the same. Lu Guangbai had emptied out his family assets for the troops in Bianjun, as had Qi Zhuyin with her dowry. When the military provisions for the Bianjun Commandery were discovered to be rotten half a year ago, Qi Zhuyin had borrowed money from merchants to make up for the difference. She had initially saved enough to pay off the debt, but then, the wedding between Hua and Qi took place soon after, and to marry Hua Xiangyi into the family, the Qi clan’s finances had been utterly exhausted.  

The amount of money these concubines spent every month was alarming. Just the amount spent on rouges and powders amounted to a couple tens of thousands of taels. By making the decision to deduct this amount, Qi Zhuyin might as well have stirred the hornet’s nest. She had riled her father’s concubines into a sobbing mess in the rear courtyard then, all baying to complain to Qi Shiyu. 

Qi Wei knew of Qi Zhuyin’s troubles, and spoke up. “What if we discussed it with the madam? Her dowry…”

Qi Zhuyin cast a swift glance over, and Qi Wei, aware that he had spoken out of turn, immediately sank to his knees.  

Without looking at Qi Wei again, Qi Zhuyin got onto the horse. “Deploy Hongying back, say it’s on my order. If anyone dares to get rough with Hua the Third, tell Hongying not to stand on ceremony with them and just have them tied up and sent over directly to me. She did not marry far away to Qidong to help me make up for the deficit or to become the punching bag of my father’s concubines. She has Qi Shiyu’s name plastered all over her, and she is the rightful madam of Qidong that I traversed eight hundred li to welcome. Bullying her is akin to bullying my old man, and bullying my old man equates to bullying me. So on that note, don’t you dare have any designs on the little maiden, you hear me?”

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  1. 洞门 An opening in a wall separating different courtyards within a residence or palace. It’s also known as a moon gate (月亮门).
  2. A play on 宝剑赠英雄,红粉赠(送)佳人 give a precious sword to a hero, gift rouge powder to the fairer sex; i.e., give gift according to the recipient 
  3. 姨娘 yiniang, which means maternal aunt, is also a term of address for the concubines of one’s father.
  4. 军屯 military troops (mostly in border regions) who carry out garrison duties and farm crops to supply the border garrisons with grains.