When they arrived at Lin Ming’s store, Xue Tong, Guo Jin and the other attendants stayed outside. Clearly, they didn’t want anyone to disturb the young lord.
“Friends, there’s no need to stand guard,” Lin Ming offered a placatory smile. “My people will keep all the busybodies out.”
Xue Tong shook his head coolly. “Just keep our young lord happy, Boss Lin. There’s no need to be concerned about us.”
The guardsman had small-town origins, but even he knew how to rely on his master’s influence. Because of the young lord’s rise in status, Xue Tong naturally became more assured as a result. The mild statement was practically inviolate to its listener. The only thing Lin Ming could do was to keep smiling. “Well then, I’ll leave the hard work to you. Please excuse me.”
These people weren’t particularly strong in terms of prowess, but they were indubitably those that young lord Zhen trusted most. Why would he have brought them instead of the Peafowl Guard otherwise? Lin Ming couldn’t offend any of these people, either. It was better to get on their good side. The quartet of Xue Tong, Guo Jin, and the Qiao brothers stood at the door like quadruplet gatekeepers. Despite their lack of actual ability, their very presence prevented most people from having the courage to intrude within. It was as if there was a restricted area beyond. Any trespassing would lead to disastrous results.
Lin Ming had made ample preparations for Jiang Chen’s arrival. Immediately as the latter entered alongside his girls, a variety of refreshments were offered to them, all of the highest quality. Huang’er was an easygoing girl, and Wen Ziqi quite shy. Neither of them said anything. Gouyu and Ling Hui’er, on the other hand, were very chatty and active. There was no need to stop them, so Jiang Chen let them be.
Lin Ming didn’t know what the girls’ relationship to young lord Zhen was, but it was a given that any girls near a young lord were to be fawned over. There could be no oversight in this regard. He acted with the utmost caution in their presence, lest he did anything thoughtless.
“How’s business lately, Boss Lin?” Jiang Chen didn’t want to see the merchant’s excessive busyness and courtesy. Lin Ming was being too careful! This was not the kind of respect that he wanted.
“To answer your question, young lord, business is as usual. It’s hard to make a living here in the Fish and Dragon District, and it’s thanks to Veluriyam Capital that I’m able to eke out a few proceeds.” Lin Ming’s answer was humble.
Jiang Chen laughed. “You’re a smart man. If even smart people can’t stay in business, then the district would be in big trouble.”
There were sweat drops on Lin Ming’s forehead still. Jiang Chen smiled again, this time placidly. “Alright, you should take a seat as well. Relax, Boss. I’m still me. Treat me like one of your regulars.”
The merchant wanted to do that more than anything, but psychological barriers were hard to break. Who could possibly treat Sacred Peafowl Mountain’s young lord as an average Wang, Chen, or Lin?
The young lord raised the teacup in his hand. “Cheers to you, Boss Lin. Pardon the substitution of wine for tea. I haven’t yet thanked you for your help last time.”
Lin Ming immediately stood up. “Not at all, not at all. I really didn’t do much. It is I who should thank you for your lifesaving kindness.”
Jiang Chen shook his head. “I saved only a single life in your case. But you… you helped me rescue a few dozen. It is right for me to respect your aid.”
The robbery of a few thousand slaves from Myriad Puppets Pavilion was widely known. Lin Ming had heard of it almost instantly after the fact. At the time, the young master of House Sikou had investigated even him. Thankfully, Lin Ming had been extremely tight-lipped about the entire affair. Having failed to unearth any useful clues, House Sikou gave up the endeavor as fruitless. Both the event and aftermath made him wonder about Jiang Chen’s origin. And yet, he could only speculate about these things internally. Announcing them to any outside parties was absolutely out of the question. Neither House Sikou nor young lord Zhen was an entity he could trifle with. Angering either one would lead to a swift and painful death. Though Lin Ming did not have a stalwart patron, he made his way around the Fish and Dragon District with his innate guile instead.
“No matter what you say, young lord, I cannot forget your compassion in saving my life. I’ve prepared a batch of slaves today, all of them sage realm or above. Perhaps they might yet be fitting for someone of your greatness. If it pleases you, do grace us with your presence at the back of the store?”
Jiang Chen raised an eyebrow, looking at Lin Ming with some surprise. He knew that sage realm slaves cost two to ten million saint spirit stones per head. Lin Ming’s store was not big at all. It couldn’t compare to the scale of an establishment like the Myriad Puppets Pavilion. The merchant was quite capable to have pulled off such a feat. More importantly, he was also shrewd enough to have foreseen that Jiang Chen would come buy slaves in the first place. That was why he’d maneuvered his resources like this.
The young lord’s ruminant gaze made Lin Ming feel somewhat nervous. “Young lord, I’ve always felt a bit sorry about meaningful last encounter,” he stammered. “As soon as I heard you became Sacred Peafowl Mountain’s new young lord, I wanted to make it up to you. I spared no expense when gathering these slaves, and only barely made ends meet. I only hope that you’ll be willing to accept them, as both an apology and a token of my appreciation.” Lin Ming was a clever man. Worried about possible misunderstandings, he plainly explained his motives ahead of time. Jiang Chen smiled and nodded at his words.
“No problem. Shall we go see? It is not good to seek two solutions to a single problem. If we can get business done here, there’s no need to trouble another.” Jiang Chen didn’t exactly approve of the slave trade at his core. But, he was in dire need of additional help that could maintain the day-to-day operations of his residence. After he cultivated his own followers, the slaves could then be slated for eventual release. An opportunity at a new life, so to speak. The response cheered Lin Ming up. The young lord hadn’t borne a grudge after all. To the contrary, he was going to do him the favor he’d wanted. The merchant led Jiang Chen into his courtyard.
A hundred and fifty or so sage realm slaves were lined up here, row by row. All of their masks had been removed ahead of time. The supposed rules of the trade: no revealing appearances, no checking identities, none of them were imposed here. Jiang Chen gave the group a casual scan with his God’s Eye. He passed over their faces one by one. There was no one he knew among them.
“These slaves are from all over the world. Most are wandering cultivators. As to their identities, I don’t think there’s much worry about any resulting trouble,” Lin Ming explained.
The young lord nodded. He knew what ‘no resulting trouble’ meant. There was no need to worry about anyone who was going to come find them. In general, slave sales did not extend to those affiliated with large sects. No slave trader wanted to attract an inconvenience, especially since any such inconvenience was likely to devolve into a very sticky affair. The largest sects were especially vengeful. Buying or selling their disciples was like playing with a keg of gunpowder. Jiang Chen checked all of the slaves’ consciousnesses. All of them were sage realm and above. Some were young, some much older.
“These are fine.” A single examination was enough for him to make his decision. A man of his station normally kept three to five hundred servants. However, he had no such designs of excessive grandeur. He had only become young lord for a short while. There was no need for him to flaunt his newfound eminence. A hundred or so sage realm servants was already quite staggering. It was many times more than Regal Pill Palace used to have, once upon a time. Of course, Sacred Peafowl Mountain could not be compared to a mere fourth rank sect. It was at least as powerful as a first rank sect, likely even more so. As the second-in-command of the power and its future leader, Jiang Chen could easily justify a degree of ostentation. Lin Ming was very pleased at young lord Zhen’s decisive patronage.
“How many spirit stones do I owe you, Boss Lin? Give me the bill, if you would be so kind.”
“If the young lord finds it satisfactory, how can I take…” The merchant hurriedly replied.
Jiang Chen waved a hand. “Don’t say anything about not taking my money. Firstly, I’m not a fan of what essentially is outright robbery. Secondly, I’m not going to miss that money anyway. Finally, your store isn’t big enough to play ball like that. Name a price.”
Lin Ming was ashamed. The young lord had hit the mark with his comments. He really couldn’t afford to give the slaves away. Stocking them had cost the majority of his personal fortune. If he wasn’t recouping any of the cost, his store would suffer a grievous blow virtually impossible to recover from. But making young lord Zhen’s acquaintance was more important. If the young lord wanted them for free, then he would get them. Lin Ming wouldn’t bat an eyelash. As long as he had young lord Zhen’s support, there would surely be future opportunities to prosper. Merchants were adept at guessing their betters’ thoughts, however, and Lin Ming was no different. There was no hint of freebooting intent in Jiang Chen’s tone. If he forcefully gave the slaves away, it would upset the young lord instead.
Young lord Zhen had said it himself just now: he didn’t need the money. Still, he had to be careful about how much money he did take. “Then I’ll quote you the cost of the goods straight. Three hundred million saint spirit stones would be enough to cover my expenses.” The sum was fairly accurate, in a fashion. It was only missing a few dozen million saint spirit stones from the actual cost. He could bear a loss like that fairly easily.
Jiang Chen nodded, tossing the merchant a storage ring. “Here’s four hundred million. I know there’s some water to your quote. You wouldn’t just tell me the full amount. No matter the difference, you can keep everything there. I don’t think there’s any need for further courtesy.
Taking the storage ring in hand instinctively, Lin Ming’s mouth was agape. He didn’t know what to say, but the gesture warmed the cockles of his heart. Such exceptional generosity! As expected of a young lord. Any more bargaining or pushiness was excessive and a little boorish. Clearly, young lord Zhen didn’t care about a trifle in difference. He quickly sang the young lord’s praises. “Thank you for being so thoughtful, young lord. This’ll make me a tidy sum. Here are the slaves’ identification tablets and jade tokens...”
Lin Ming presented the necessary accessories one by one. Jiang Chen waved a hand for Gouyu and Ling Hui’er to collect the items. “Alright. I have business elsewhere, so I won’t stay any longer.” He gave the slaves another once over. “Boss Lin, would you mind delivering them to Sacred Peafowl Mountain for me?”
“Of course, of course.” Lin Ming hastily nodded. “A visit from a young lord is a very rare occurrence, so I was originally thinking of setting a banquet, well…”
“Next time.” Jiang Chen was in no mood to stay. Lin Ming’s disappointment made him smile, though. “I’ll bring Wei Jie sometime. The two of you should get to know each other better.”
Overjoyed, Lin Ming silently cursed his own stupidity. How could someone of his standing just invite young lord Zhen to a banquet like that? On what basis would the young lord have come? The insinuation in the young lord’s words was clear. If he wanted to hobnob with the young lord, getting on Wei Jie’s good side was the first thing to do. He accompanied Jiang Chen’s entourage out the door, incessantly nodding all the while. There was no more mention of a banquet.
1. These are some of the most popular Chinese last names. This would be similar to saying the “average Tom, Dick, and Harry”.