Translator: Dragon Boat Translation Editor: Dragon Boat Translation
The next day.
People in Shichuan County were so rattled, they were running from their own shadows, not a single soul seen on the streets.
All the constables of the county office had squared their shoulders, waiting for calamity to arrive.
The Zhao family and the Zhang family had a long-standing feud. A few days ago, the son of the Zhang family had been murdered by assassins, which had detonated the strife between the two families.
Last night, several violent fights had taken place on the streets between the two families, spilling blood everywhere.
Who would dare to venture out in times like this?
On the other hand, Stone Village wasn’t quite peaceful either.
There were a few dozen tall, burly horses at the entrance of the village, and every horse seated a robust guard from the Wang family.
These people had battle knives on their waists, giving off an air of ferocity. They were nothing like the sidekicks that Lord Wang had brought with him previously.
“Village chief, our second lady has arrived. Why haven’t you come and received us?”
As the powerful bellow sounded, the village chief walked out timidly.
Despite having lived for many years, he couldn’t help but be terrified by the battle array before his eyes.
In the past, the steward of the Wang family would, at most, bring several ordinary house guards when they came to collect the farm rent.
What were they trying to do this year? A massacre?
“Welcome…second lady!” The village chief bowed and cupped his fists, his attitude extremely humble and modest.
All the villagers stepped out of their houses at that moment. Upon seeing so many newcomers, they were all frightened into silence.
The chief remained bowed for a full minute. Only when he was so exhausted that he was trembling all over did a burly, white horse stride out slowly from among the crowd.
On the white horse, Wang Suqin was clad in soft, red armor, her face icy cold and her eyes indifferent.
“Steward Wang has encountered an accident. This year, I have come over to collect the rent in person. I hope you won’t make things difficult for me.
“Back then, Steward Wang only treated you with generosity and leniency because Shichuan County was peaceful.
“Now that riots have taken place in Shichuan County, our Wang family is not in good condition either. Therefore, the farm rent for this year will be increased by 50%.”
Right as Wang Suqin finished, a commotion ensued among the villagers.
It did not matter whether Steward Wang really was generous or lenient.
The point was, they had been victimized by the flood this year, and not a single grain had been harvested. In order to amass enough farm rent, they had gone bankrupt and were all in heavy debt.
Worse still, the rent was increased by fifty percent this year. Wasn’t she trying to push them to a dead end?
The village chief was also infuriated by her words. With trembling hands, he retrieved a contract from his pocket. “Second lady, we have been farming for the Wang family and the amount of farm rent has been decided from the start. How could you raise it at your own will?”
Before the village chief could finish, the contract was sliced into halves following the shriek of a sword.
Wang Suqin sheathed her sword and spoke in a cold voice, “I told you, Shichuan County is in deep chaos right now, and the rules have changed. I do not wish to reiterate words that I have spoken.”
The villagers exchanged glances upon hearing this, their faces turning pale.
They had to be financially capable in order to afford the increment. There was no way they could make the money materialize out of nowhere.
As though she had foreseen this, a guard beside Wang Suqin spoke up at that moment.
“The Wang’s aren’t trying to push you to a dead end. It is alright if you refuse to pay the rent. You just have to sign this slave deed and become slaves to the Wang’s, and then this matter can be over and done with.”
The village chief began coughing vigorously upon hearing those words.
The people of Stone Village were all farmers, but farmers were freemen, not slaves.
However, if they signed the slave deed, they would become slaves to the Wang family. Their lives and deaths in total control by the Wang’s. How could they allow that happen?
“We will go farm for the Zhao’s and the Zhang’s!”
“Stone Village has always been a place for freemen. Why should we become slaves?”
“Right! I do not want my child to be a slave before he is even born!”
Some young, high-spirited villagers shouted out complaints.
The guard sneered upon hearing them, his eyes flickering with a cold gleam.
“The Zhang’s and the Zhao’s are engaged in a war at the moment, do you think they have time to care about you peasants?
“Let me tell you, Sichuan County is in deep chaos right now. If you happen to run into any accidents on the way to the other families, no one is going to take care of you!”
The tone of caution in his words was obvious. The villagers who were speaking just now all fell silent, their eyes full of despair.
The village chief was weeping bitterly. With a thud, he knelt on the ground, begging Wang Suqin, “Second lady, please show us some mercy. Some children in our village haven’t even grown up, I can’t let them be slaves to someone else from such a young age!”
Wang Suqin’s eyes were filled with disgust as she listened to him.
A group of lowly people picking and choosing all the time. Was becoming slaves to the Wang’s such a disgrace to their status? Outrageous!
The guard at the side was good at observing countenance. Seeing that the second lady was displeased, he growled, “We are kind enough to offer you a job, but you don’t want to be slaves? Look at you villagers, all ugly and unsightly with those slavish looks. You were born to be slaves. The second lady is just trying to let them serve their purpose. Now you are only being ungrateful. What more do you still have to grumble about?”
After he finished growling, the guard tapped the village chief’s cheek with the sheath of a knife, a provocative look on his face.
Right at that moment, Chen Chen suddenly showed up and stood in front of the village chief. He pushed the sheath aside and raised his head to look at the guard.
“Is it true that if we pay the additional fifty percent on the farm rent, we don’t have to sign the slave deed?”
“Pay the farm rent or sign the slave deed. You have to make a choice today.”
The guard put the knife on his shoulder, his tone disdainful.
In his opinion, this group of lowly peasants could hardly afford to pay the original amount in the past, let alone paying the additional fifty percent.
They were determined to force these peasants to become slaves today.
The Zhang’s and the Zhao’s were engrossed in an intense battle, but in the end, both families would sustain great losses. The Wang’s could seize this opportunity to rise.
They might even obtain a great number of new farmyards.
How do you make the most out of the new farmyards? By having these peasants labor away, of course.
Once these peasants became slaves, the Wang’s could exploit them to the extreme, as long as they did not die of exhaustion.
As for the elderly, the weak, the ill, and the disabled, they should roll up their sleeves and get down to the fields as well.
Instead of dying of sickness at home, they might as well die in the fields. That would maximize their worth.
Upon hearing his words, Chen Chen took a deep glance at the guard and began laughing unexpectedly. Loudly, he proclaimed, “Stone Village has fifty households. Theoretically, every household should pay 1,200 pennies, which adds up to 60,000 pennies in total.
“Now that you have increased the amount by 50%, it will be 90,000 pennies.
“I will pay the additional 30,000 pennies, which is equivalent to 30 taels of silver total.”
Upon finishing speaking, Chen Chen fished out 30 taels of silver from his pocket and placed them on the stone tablet at the village entrance.
As the popular saying went, “the money one picks up does not belong to him.” Thus, Chen Chen did not feel sorry for himself at all.
Apart from that, he had always been treated well throughout the many years he had lived in Stone Village. It was his obligation to pay that small amount of money for the villagers.
Most importantly, he knew that even after making the payment, there was bound to be a fight today. With the battle array of the Wang’s, they wouldn’t possibly leave so easily just because they received the 30 taels of silver.
He had to seize the chance to establish an absolute prestige in Stone Village. That way, when he went away for cultivation in the future, his parents would have a group of loyal people to take care of them.
As they beheld the shiny silver, all the guards and the villagers dropped their jaws in awe.
Thirty taels of silver did not sound like a big amount, but it was considered an enormous sum to the villagers of Stone Village. They might not be able to amass it even if they sold off several households.
However, Chen Chen displayed it all without even batting an eyelid. This made them wonder if they were dreaming!
“Chen! From tomorrow onwards, you will be the village chief!”
The village chief, who was shivering with agitation, gave his village chief post to Chen Chen right away.
Chen Chen was rather speechless. Did he look like someone that was longing to be the village chief?
The face of the lead guard turned extremely awful as he watched the scene.
Were the Wang’s really concerned about 30 taels? Their true intention was to enslave all the villagers of Stone Village, wanting to exploit them generation after generation.
By then, their value would be far more than anything 30 taels of silver could compare to.
Having thought of that, the guard shot a glance at Wang Suqin.
Wang Suqin did not speak a word, staring coldly at Chen Chen, who was standing in front of the stone tablet.
She slowly unsheathed the longsword in her hand.