Edited and Proofread by KitKat
Xiao Zhige had been expecting this. He took An Chang Qing’s hand and comforted him. He then put on his official robe and took a carriage into the Palace to face the Emperor.
In Qian Zhen Palace, dragon braziers were burning bright. A golden curtain sweeping on the ground was pulled apart as Emperor An Qing leaned against the soft cushion. Two palace maids were massaging his arms and legs. Not far away, a middle-aged Taoist Priest was carefully adjusting the fire around the pill refining cauldron. A faint medicinal fragrance was rising from the cauldron as occasional crackings of the fire could be heard.
“Xuan Yi, you’re saying that the crazy Taoist is probably more powerful than even your master?” Emperor An Qing’s eyes lit up as he fiddled with a white jade flask in his hand.
The Taoist Priest Xuan Yi opened the cauldron lid and placed the refined pill into a small white flask. He then presented the sealed pill in front of the Emperor. “That’s right. To be able to decipher nature’s mysteries and foretell disaster, this ability is not something that my master possesses. If what the Northern Warlord said was true, then that eccentric priest is definitely someone of higher sanctity.”
Emperor An Qing’s interest was piqued, “Could he have the power to refine the pills that would make me immortal?”
Xuan Yi observed his mood and answered with caution, “The pill to immortality had always been a floating rumor. Although it is widespread, I have never seen anything tangible. Even if it’s a person of higher sanctity, I’m afraid he would also be clueless…”
Emperor An Qing immediately changed his attitude. He waved his sleeve and said, “Then how can he be called a person of higher sanctity?”
Xuan Yi cupped his hand and bowed, “If his cultivation is deep and can tap into the ways of the heavens, even if he does not have a way to produce the immortality pill, prolonging Your Majesty’s life is still viable…”
Emperor An Qing was slightly pacified. He stretched his neck and looked out, eagerly urging, “Where is the Northern Warlord? Hurry up and bring him in!”
The eunuch at the door replied, “Wangye had already been summoned into the Palace.”
The moment he finished speaking, a voice announcing the arrival of The Northern Warlord sounded.
“Bring him in!” Emperor An Qing pushed away the palace maids and got up excitedly. This should be the first time he was looking forward to seeing this repulsive son of his.
Xiao Zhige had to come through the snow and wind to reach the palace. He stayed in the front hall to dispel the cold before stepping into the inner hall.
The inner hall was thoroughly heated. There was also a strange fragrance drifting in the air, causing Xiao Zhige to briefly glance at the burning cauldron. He then humbly saluted, “Your Majesty.”
“Rise.” Emperor An Qing looked at him with an eagerness in his eyes, “The crazy priest you spoke of, do you still remember what he looked like?”
Xiao Zhige sneered in his heart but he put on a pensive expression and said, “I met him on the road to the barracks outside the city. He was dressed poorly even in winter with only a common priest robe and a gourd hanging off his waist. Judging from his face, he was probably around seventy but his steps were full of vigor and spirit, unlike those of ordinary people.”
Emperor An Qing’s smile widened the more he listened, “Do you have a way to find him?”
Xiao Zhige hesitated, “This priest was quite peculiar, it was as though he was waiting for me on that road. After relaying those words, he walked away a few steps and disappeared. I wanted to go after him for further questions but couldn’t catch up.”
Emperor An Qing knew about his son’s ability. With his martial prowess, anyone who could outrun him must be someone extraordinary.
“Have someone search for him!” Emperor An Qing was overjoyed, “Anyone who can bring him back will be rewarded!”
“This priest is indeed gifted. Now that his prediction has come true, shouldn’t we start preparing for the snow disaster?” Xiao Zhige took the chance to ask.
The smile on Emperor An Qing’s face waned. He frowned and said, “It’s just a heavy snow, what could it cause? Besides, the local officials will deal with it.” He remembered something and continued, “I recall that your manor had procured quite a bit to prepare for the winter, did you not?”
“Yes. The priest had said that I have to make use of this event to accumulate good deeds so as to ward off misfortunes to the people close to me.”
“That’s perfect,” Emperor An Qing waved his hand and said, “Now that the treasury is empty and since you’ve already made the effort, I’ll let you take care of it. Consider it as a way to help you gain blessings from the people.”
Xiao Zhige had long been aware of his father’s nature. His words did not come as a surprise to him. He only contemplated shortly and said, “If everything is as the eccentric priest said, the snow disaster will drag out. I’m afraid the things I’ve stored up are just a drop in the bucket if it was to be the only source to relieve this disaster.”
Emperor An Qing waved his hand with disregard, “How many lives can a snowstorm claim? We’ll discuss this again if it’s not enough.”
Xiao Zhige gauged the situation and decided not to argue. He bowed respectfully before taking his leave.
The eunuch led him out then went on to pass an Imperial edict to the public regarding the search for the eccentric Taoist priest.
Xiao Zhige looked back at the resplendent palace with mockery in his eyes. He turned and left without any sense of nostalgia.
It had turned dark by the time Xiao Zhige returned to the Wang Manor. In just half a day, the ground had been covered by a thick layer of snow, leaving a deep print as the carriage threaded by. On the way back, Xiao Zhige saw that many were still trying to repair their roofs in the dark. More pitiful were the beggars who did not have a place to live and could only huddle to find warmth.
Even the prosperous Yejing had fallen to such a state, the Beidi territories and the other provinces couldn’t possibly fare any better. But all Emperor An Qing could care about was the immortality pill and his own indulgent vices.These ‘trivial matters’, he could not be bothered with.
Back at the Wang Manor, Xiao Zhige saw that the lights were still lit in the main courtyard and his spirit was slightly lifted. He brushed off the snow before entering the room.
An Chang Qing who had been waiting for Xiao Zhige immediately stood up to welcome him. He noticed Xiao Zhige’s expression and asked, “Is everything all right?”
Xiao Zhige recounted his trip to the palace to him.
“His Majesty is simply…” An Chang Qing was furious but restrained his mouth and only voiced the injustice, “Those were Wangye’s personal gold…”
Xiao Zhige was delighted to see that he was feeling unjust for him. He comforted and said, “Using the Emperor’s name for this relief work would prevent others from being too suspicious. It’s for the same cause after all, there’s no need for our effort to be recognized.”
Of course An Chang Qing understood this, otherwise, Xiao Zhige would not have fabricated the story about the eccentric priest. But understanding was one thing, he still couldn’t help feeling aggrieved for Xiao Zhige.
Seeing this, Xiao Zhige said, “Wouldn’t Nuo Nuo rather think about how much profit you can earn from selling the coal?”
In the beginning, An Chang Qing had accumulated 30,000 pieces of winter clothes, 30,000 rice tubs, and 15 tonnes of coal. The winter clothes and rice were not meant to be sold for a profit. Only the coal which was used by the rich could help him recover some of the costs.
It had only snowed for a few days, he would have to wait a little for the price to escalate.
And time had proven that Xiao Zhige was right.
The snow continued to fall intermittently for ten days, raising the snow on the ground to knee level. The winter wear that was ready to be put away was taken out again. After a season of winter, many houses already had their food depleted, prompting them to rush to get food and winter clothes. In their panic to stock up for the prolonged winter, the prices of winter clothes, grains, coal and other winter commodities skyrocketed.
Poorer families who thought that they had managed to brave through the winter were now left with small amounts of rations to live by while looking forward to the spring that now seemed uncertain of its arrival.
Meanwhile, An Chang Qing gathered the managers of all the shops and after the discussion, put the items up for sale.
The prices of winter clothes and grains would remain unchanged. At the same time, he also set up a soup kitchen outside the city to hand out porridge and winter clothes to the poor who could not afford them.
As soon as these matters were established, the first to get the news were the big bosses behind the other shops in Yejing. However, the moment they came to the door to make trouble, the clerks who had been briefed in advance simply warned them that this was Wangye’s effort in providing disaster relief under the Emperor’s edict. As such, no one dared to get in their way.
And so, the dissatisfied business owners could only back down and watch as the people flocked to the Northern Warlord’s shops to buy goods. But some were still interested in watching the excitement. Yejing was such a big city with so many people. If everyone were to buy grains solely from the Wang Manor’s stores, how long could their stock last? In a few days when they ran out of stock, those shrewd businessmen believed that they could still sell their grains at a profit.
But very quickly, another news broke their plan.
To ensure that everyone had enough to survive the winter, the Wang Manor had limited their sale of grains to ten bushels per household every ten days.
And after causing these businessmen to stomp their feet in anger, An Chang Qing finally opened his new shop selling coal.
The Wang Manor had dealt in the coal business before. Coal was not produced in Yejing but was transported from the Qizhou province up north. Every year, only a small amount, enough to use over the winter, was delivered. But due to the snow disaster this year, transportation had been disrupted. Moreover, Qizhou had also been hit with the disaster. Their coal prices had soared as well and they couldn’t be bothered with Yejing.
Yejing housed a large number of wealthy families who could afford to spend extravagantly. Now that the weather was freezing, the delicately bodied nobles couldn’t possibly put up with the cold. The stewards of every manor were in a frenzy trying to find a way to get their hands on precious coal.
As soon as the new store was opened, those who were well-informed immediately flocked over.
Someone was stunned after hearing about the price, “Why is it so expensive? On regular days, it’s only 12 taels.”
Due to the lack of manpower, Zhou He Lan was watching over the new shop. The skinny youth was wearing a blue cotton padded coat. He tucked his hands into his sleeves and gave the customer a foxy smile, “Today is not a regular day. If you do not intend to buy, please give way, there are customers waiting behind you.”
The person at the head of the queue was displeased. He stepped aside, thinking that the next person in line would have the same complaint but to his surprise, he did not even ask for the price, “Do you have silver coal?”
Zhou He Lan said, “We have it all. How much do you want?”
“200 jin of regular coal, 100 jin of silver coal. Have it sent to Nobleman Xiao’s Manor.” The man then quickly took out several bills to pay upfront for fear he would miss the chance to buy the coal. Seeing this, the people behind did the same and registered their addresses for the delivery.
By the end of the day, over half of the coal stock was sold. Regular coal was sold at 32 taels per jin and higher grade coal was sold at 100 taels per jin. Tallying up the accounts at night, An Chang Qing found that on this day alone, he had earned a total of 530,000 silver taels selling coal.