The second way was to journey by water. The war had ceased, and so did the precautions along the water routes. Chu Qiao knew that there were lots of secret dealings which involved smuggling people without papers through the border for high prices, by boat. Hence, she had to take the risk and enter the city in search of such services.
She scouted the black market for two days, before finally agreeing on the time. She would board the boat at Qian Shui Canal, 30 miles away, at 11 at night, in a day's time. Nighttime had fallen. Chu Qiao walked hurriedly across the long street. In order to hide her cover, she was dressed like a male teenager, about 16 or 17. Her red lips and white teeth made her look handsome. The city of Xian Yang was located near the border of the Xia Empire. It was large in size, and any businessmen had to pass through when they were in Xia territory. Its liveliness did not lose out to the city of Zhen Huang. Even though it was late at night, the streets were bustling. The various shopkeepers advertising their products only served to add to the liveliness.
Chu Qiao would be journeying on water in future. She sold the horse she had just bought at a low price and bought some dry rations. As she prepared to leave, a slave seller with many customers caught her eye. Chu Qiao frowned and stared in that direction, seeing a big metal cage with 80 or 90 slaves. There was a mixture of men and women. One of the men, dressed in a scholarly outfit, stood out. He had many middle-aged women clamoring to buy him as a slave, trying to bargain with the slave seller for a good price.
"Hi!" Chu Qiao leaned on the cage, body slanted. She held a few melon seeds in her hand and called out to the man in the cage. She spit out a melon seed in his direction while smiling. She resembled a wastrel belonging to a noble family.
The man looked up and stared her in the eye, frowning. His face was filled with disgust. Without replying, he lowered his head to look down.
"It's only been a little bit, and you've forgotten me already? You're in luck. It's only been a few days, and you have a new owner already!"
Liang Shaoqing was stunned. He looked up and sized her up. After he recognized her, he exclaimed in joy, "Ah! It's you? Why are you dressed like this?"
"It's not like you don't know." The young lady laughed. "I'm a bandit."
"Oh, right." As he spoke, he shook his head, correcting himself. "That's not right. How can you be a bandit? It must have been the misjudgment by the officials, wronging a good person."
"Hehe," Chu Qiao laughed and mocked him, "What are you saying? We are gentlemen. We walk upright, are principled, and stand at seven feet tall. Why are we beating around the bush? What's up? You want to beg me for a favor?"
"Miss, please get me out of this place," Liang Shaoqing pleaded. "You cannot watch me get humiliated like a slave. They don't believe anything I tell them. I'm not familiar with this place, only you can get me out now."
"Save you?" The young lady threw her melon seeds on the ground, eyes widened. "How do I save you?"
"You buy me out?"
"How is that appropriate?"
"Why is that not appropriate?"
Chu Qiao shook her head, saying, "You're a scholar. You're about to get purchased by a group of civilians. It's an insult to your status. You're my benefactor, how could I do such a thing to humiliate you?"
Liang Shaoqing was flabbergasted, his face turned red. After a long while, he stuttered, "We're out of time, and this is an emergency. Let's…let's put the matter of principle aside first."
Chu Qiao laughed upon hearing his words. As she was about to speak, a chubby woman in her fifties, dressed to the nines with heavy makeup on her face, escorted by the crowd, made her way over. She grabbed Liang Shaoqing by the collar, saying, "This one."
The boss froze, laughing. "Lady, at the price that we just discussed?"
"As you wish!"
"All right! Please hold on!"
Liang Shaoqing's face turned pale. He looked at Chu Qiao, pleading with her.
The lady was accompanied by over ten servants and 20 new slaves, each handsome and well-built.
Chu Qiao bit her tongue. She walked up to the lady and smiled. Slowly, she said, "Lady, you're advanced in age. Purchasing so many well-built men, can you take it?"
The lady was not happy upon hearing those words. She stared Chu Qiao coldly in the eye, saying, "Where did this idiot come from? Get out of my way."
"I'm doing this for your own good! Why not give me one slave?"
"Dream on!" the lady raged. "If you continue to speak nonsense, I'll break your legs!"
"Aiyo, how fierce!" Chu Qiao dodged to the side, shouting at the boss, "Boss! How much does this slave cost? I'll pay double!"
As the boss, who was preparing to pull Liang Shaoqing out of his cage, heard this, he froze. He stared at Chu Qiao, gleaming.
"Double?" The lady stated coldly and sharply, "I'll pay four times! You want to fight with me?"
Chu Qiao laughed, leaning on the cage. Nonchalantly, she replied, "I'll pay ten times."
Chu Qiao shook her head, saying, "I'll pay forty times."
"I'll pay a hundred times!"
"Two hundred times!"
"One thousand times!"
"Wow! One thousand times!" Chu Qiao smiled and said, "I'll let you have him. I can't beat that."
The boss was all smiles. He rushed forward, saying, "Lady Qian, we have a deal at one thousand times your original price. That will be two thousand pieces of gold leaves."
The lady had previously acted out of spite. Realizing that this slave was not worth two thousand pieces of gold leaves, she turned to look at the shopkeeper and shouted, "Good! Boss Mu, you conspired with others to cheat me!"
"It-it's not like this! Even if I dared to cheat anyone, it wouldn't be you!"
"Hmph! I'm not buying any more. We shall wait and see!" the lady hollered, storming off with her servants.
Boss Mu stood in his original position, confused. He looked left and then right, before seeing Chu Qiao standing by the cage. He rushed forward, saying with a smile, "Young Master, that lady is gone. Since you fancy this slave, I'll sell him to you at the price you quoted. Two hundred times, that will be four hundred pieces of gold leaves."
"Boss, you think that I'm young and inexperienced, so you can bully me?" Chu Qiao smiled, continuing, "I did that to spite the lady just now. Now that she's gone, you're still asking me for so much money? You're selling slaves, not young princes."
Boss Mu was dumbfounded. Laughing sheepishly, he said, "You quote a price then."
"Two pieces of gold leaves, just as you initially agreed upon."
"What?" Boss Mu was stunned. Frowning, he said, "I should have sold him to that lady. Why did I offend her for you? You need to add a bit more money."
Chu Qiao sneered and prepared to leave. "It's up to you. If you don't sell him to me, you can go look for your old customer."
"Hey! Wait up, wait up!" Boss Mu sighed and said, "Deal."
Liang Shaoqing heaved a sigh of relief. However, before he managed to smile, Chu Qiao made a shocking revelation. "But Boss, I did not bring any money with me today. How about this? I'll give you an IOU, and I'll pay you back afterward."
"What?" Everyone present at the scene froze. Boss Mu was enraged. He screamed, "Young Master, stop playing pranks on me. I'm old. I've lived in this city for over 20 years, and I've never seen a customer like you."
"Hey! Hey!" Liang Shaoqing whispered, "What are you doing? Pay up!"
"I ran out of money." Chu Qiao turned around and said, "If you don't believe me, you can check my belongings. I've spent every cent. Who told you to reject my money?"
Liang Shaoqing turned pale. In a pitiful tone, he whispered, "What do we do now?"
"There's no other choice. I can only do this."
Liang Shaoqing prepared to ask her what she was about to do. However, the young lady drew her sharp dagger. Swiftly, she held it to Boss Mu's neck, laughing, "I offered you an IOU, but you refused. Now, I have no choice but to rob you openly."
Boss Mu's teeth chattered. He stammered, "How…how audacious!"
"I don't know how bold I am. However, Boss Mu, you are quite bold. At knifepoint, you are still so eloquent.''
"Release our boss!" The crowd watching this spectacle increased in size. Chu Qiao smiled and looked around, then whispered in Boss Mu's ear, "Given your status, is it worth it to die for two pieces of golden leaves?"
The dagger sliced at Boss Mu's neck, inflicting a wound which oozed blood. The slave seller, who was over 60 years old, gave a chilling scream.
"Shut up!" Chu Qiao kicked the man in the calf. She frowned, saying in a cold tone, "Release him!"
"Quick! Release him!" It was only a small wound, but Boss Mu was crying vehemently.
Chu Qiao noticed the herd of horses beside the cage, belonging to Boss Mu. In a flash, the young lady leaped up, kicking Boss Mu in the chest. Grabbing Liang Shaoqing, she mounted the horse's back. With a cry, she rode away into the distance!
"Quick! After them!" Boss Mu shouted hysterically, but they were nowhere to be seen. In the long, cold night, tranquility was restored.
In a dilapidated temple outside the city, Liang Shaoqing sat on dry straw. Chu Qiao offered him the dry rations in her rucksack and laughed. "Eat a little."
Scholar Liang did not accept her gesture. Chu Qiao did not force him further, instead offering him a few banknotes and saying, "I'm leaving tomorrow. We're going on different paths, so I won't be able to save you anymore if you get into trouble. Take these banknotes."
Liang Shaoqing frowned and said, "Didn't you run out of money?"
"Who said I did?"
"You said it yourself at the market."
Chu Qiao raised her eyebrows and replied, "I have money, but not much. I'm left with this. If I gave it to him, what would happen to you?"