AIP - Chapter 27: A New Rival
Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
Ji Ziqian stood in the hall, bowing to Zheng Shufeng. "Ziqian pays respects to my maternal aunt!"
Seated on the raised platform, Zheng Shufeng inspected Ji Ziqian. She saw that this was a delicate youth who appeared well-learned and polite. Satisfied, she softly asked, "How old are you now?"
"Thirteen, born in the same year as Chong'er and two months older than Chong'er. Sister-in-law, how could you forget?" The one who spoke was a middle-aged woman seated next to Zheng Shufeng. She was elegantly and luxuriously dressed, but she seemed lacking compared to Zheng Shufeng.
Her name was Wei Lanxin, and she was Wei Danbai's younger sister who had been married out.
Zheng Shufeng slapped her forehead. "Oh my! I'm getting old, so my memory isn't what it used to be. Ziqian, it has been a long time since you last came to our home, yes?"
"Two years and four months," Ji Ziqian answered.
"Oh, you remember the day so well," the lady said with a smile.
"Ziqian has always yearned to enter the Wei Clan, but the distance of my home makes visiting inconvenient. I naturally remembered my one visit."
"You're a child that knows how to speak." The lady nodded in satisfaction. She turned to Wei Lanxin. "This child doesn't seem bad."
"If you think he's not bad, then there's a chance?" Wei Lanxin smiled.
Zheng Shufeng was in no rush, casually saying, "But Ziqian is still a child of the Ji Clan. Wouldn't it be wronging him too much to make him a servant student of Chong'er?"
"No, no!" Wei Lanxin waved her hand. "Ziqian is blessed to be able to enter the Wei Clan. It's an opportunity that you can't get even if you beg for it. We don't seek anything else. My clan will pay for everything else. All we need is the spot."
"How could that do?" The lady was not happy to hear this, frowning and saying, "Since he will be a servant student, the Wei Clan will naturally pay for the expenses. How could it be reasonable for your clan to pay?"
Ji Ziqian hastily said, "If maternal aunt's support can allow me into the academy, Ziqian will be deeply grateful and will repay you until my body crumbles!"
"These are heavy words," the lady said. "We are all family, so what need is there to repay until the body crumbles? Sit, sit. There's no need to be so polite. In a little while, I will take you to see the venerable master. For this matter, his venerable self's approval is needed…"
Standing in the flowerbed, Tang Jie sternly asked, "So the lady has already agreed?"
"I wasn't there at the time. I heard all of this from Yanzhi, so I don't know the details," Shi Yue whispered. "I do know that she didn't agree immediately, instead pushing the matter to the venerable master. But it seems that it will succeed."
"That's strange." Tang Jie was confused. "Can't the lady decide this on her own? Why leave it to the venerable master?"
"How would I know?"
Tang Jie pondered the problem for ages and still couldn't find out the reason. He could only mutter, "There's something fishy going on here."
"Why are you thinking about what's fishy or not? I'm saying that the spot is about to be taken away and you're still not nervous?" Shi Yue was amazed by his composed manner.
Tang Jie indifferently replied, "The ones who should be nervous are Shi Mo and Shi Meng. Suddenly, two spots have become one. This should have been a big blow to them, right?"
Shi Yue covered her mouth and chuckled. "Shi Mo has been very obedient as of late, probably thinking that he still has a good chance, but he's probably crying after hearing this news. But since there's only one spot, it means that your and Shi Meng's chances have both gotten smaller. You had best be careful!"
"I understand. Right, I still haven't thanked you for telling me this." Tang Jie took out some money to place in Shi Yue's hand.
But to his surprise, Shi Yue drew back her hand and glared at him. "You think everyone is like Yanzhi, helping you for some money? Idiot!"
Her face red, she turned to leave.
Tang Jie watched Shi Yue leave in shock, and then he shook his head and bitterly smiled.
But a moment later, his face was covered by dark clouds.
He muttered, "Ji Ziqian…"
He had heard about the Ji Clan.
The Ji Clan was a clan of Ling Province's Yongkang City. It was an old clan with deep roots in Yongkang and had a longer history than the Wei Clan. It primarily operated in the buying and selling of textiles.
But in the last ten-some years, the Ji Clan's textile business had been steadily deteriorating, and the clan's fortunes were beginning to wane.
Yongkang didn't have a high status in Ling Province, and the Ji Clan's falling fortunes meant that obtaining a spot at the academy was extremely difficult.
In these circumstances, it was understandable that Ji Lanxin would seek out a chance for her son as a servant student.
But his arrival was a nightmare for all the servants hoping to become servant students!
More importantly, if Ji Ziqian could come out of nowhere to seize a spot, who could say that tomorrow wouldn't bring a Li Ziqian or Zhang Ziqian?
There were only two spots for servant students, and if another came, Tang Jie would lose all hope!
The poor would be ignored by all in a busy market, whereas the rich would be sought by distant relatives while deep in the mountains.
The Wei Clan was a grand enterprise, and there were numerous people related to them in one way or another. It wouldn't be strange if one or more people came up in another few days seeking out the servant student spot.
Tang Jie felt his head swell at the thought of it.
He had gone to such great effort for the sake of getting into Basking Moon Academy, but would it all come to naught just because of family connections?
The thought of the relationship between the Ji Clan and Wei Clan made Tang Jie feel helpless.
Tang Jie's eyes brightened.
The lady had not immediately agreed.
Since she had pushed the matter to the venerable master, it meant that the lady did not actually like this. Though he didn't know the reason, the Ji Clan matter wasn't going as smoothly as it appeared.
Then perhaps he still had a chance!
That afternoon, once he was done with work, Tang Jie decided to go and see Chief Steward Qin rather than going to rest.
After a long conversation, he went to the Lady's Harmony Garden.
The lady was taking her afternoon nap, so Yanzhi had nothing to do and was waiting outside. When she saw Tang Jie coming over, she shot him a glance.
Inwardly chuckling, Yanzhi walked over and said, "Oh my, how is it that you have the free time to visit today?"
Tang Jie answered, "The young master is tired of flower arts, so I have to think about getting new tricks. But as Elder Sister knows, how could this little brother have this many tricks? As I was worrying about what to do, I remembered that Elder Sister is skilled at embroidery, so I've come to humble myself and ask Elder Sister Yanzhi to make an embroidery for me."
Yanzhi looked Tang Jie over. "You even want a woman's embroidery? If this got out, how could I continue to walk the streets? It might even be misunderstood as you and me having an…"
Her face turned red and she said no more. Tang Jie smiled and said, "Yes, I was in too much of a rush and didn't think of this possibility. This being the case, forget it."
Though he implied that he was leaving, Tang Jie didn't actually move, instead saying, "Right, Elder Sister Yanzhi, I heard that another honored guest came to the estate today?"
Yanzhi looked in amusement at Tang Jie and snorted, "Hmph, news travels rather fast. Was it that little rascal Shi Yue who told you? It seems that your request about embroidery was fake. What you really came for is information."
Tang Jie grinned. "Rather than looking for information, I'm here to verify it. After all, the Ji Clan and Wei Clan are connected by blood. This servant student matter must be set in stone already."
"That's not for certain," Yanzhi harrumphed. "The lady did not express her agreement, instead leaving it to the venerable master to decide. But the venerable master said that the master should be consulted over this matter, and the master is still out on business. He sent back a reply saying that there was no rush to decide the servant students just yet, and that that other young master should stay in the Wei Estate for a while and spend some time together with the young master."
"They're all shirking responsibility, but why?" Tang Jie hurriedly asked.
Yanzhi grunted and ignored him.
Tang Jie took out some money and placed it in Yanzhi's hand, upon which Yanzhi smiled and put it away. Looking around to make sure that no one was around, she went up to Tang Jie's ear and whispered, "I don't know either. When the madame returned this time, she had many gifts, and she also said that so long as the Wei Clan gave the Ji Clan a spot, the Ji Clan could pay all the expenses. Surprisingly, the lady didn't seem to appreciate this kindness, instead taking them to see the venerable master. When she came back, she even threw a tantrum, saying 'Is my Wei Clan so lacking in money that they need to pay the fee? Truly inexplicable!' I really don't understand why she got so angry."
The academy fees were expensive, and to support several cultivation disciples every year, the Wei Clan paid a massive sum. For the Ji Clan to shoulder the school fees was a good thing, so why wasn't the lady satisfied? Yanzhi truly didn't understand.
"I see…" Tang Jie nodded and chuckled, his doubts finally cleared. "I thought that this matter should have easily succeeded, and was wondering why it was taking so long for the decision to be made. It seems that the problem is here."
Yanzhi was confused and poked Tang Jie. "Hey, what are you saying? Do you know why the lady is angry?"
Tang Jie answered, "There's one other important reason the clan is willing to select servants to join the young master in the academy besides serving the young master: to train an Immortal Master that belongs to them. To obtain a trustworthy Immortal Master, any amount of money is worth it. While the Ji Clan and Wei Clan are related by marriage, Ji Ziqian is ultimately not a member of the Wei Clan. He isn't a part of the clan, but he could join the clan. But the madame insisted that the Ji Clan would pay the fees. This is clearly an investment meant to reduce the amount of power they need to borrow from the Wei Clan. In other words, in the future, Ji Ziqian will still serve the Ji Clan!"
Tang Jie coldly laughed. "For the poor, the school fee might be a high threshold to overcome, but for the big clans, it's the spot that's truly worth the money. You also know that those spots opened up to outsiders every year are things that not even money can buy. A single one of these few spots can be sold for tens of thousands of taels of silver, even one hundred thousand, many times more than the tuition. The hottest items in the auction houses are always the spots for Basking Moon Academy! But the Ji Clan is trying to take a Wei Clan spot while giving absolutely nothing in return. How could the lady not be angry? The Wei Clan gets one spot a year, but there are at least one hundred people every year who are after this spot. The Wei Clan uses this spot to balance the books so that it can continue to support its members already in school. Otherwise, not even the Wei Clan would be able to bear this million-silver-tael expense. You can say that the selling of this spot has already become a business, and the Ji Clan has offered up the lowest bid out of everyone!"
Tang Jie snorted. "With such shortsighted vision, it's no wonder the Ji Clan is declining. They're not even willing to pay the most basic price, so how can they get the long-term rewards? Of course, they're only able to pull this off because of their closer relationship. Alas, this madame has clearly overestimated the value of her chip. Not even the venerable master would agree to throw away tens of thousands of strings of cash for a daughter that he already married off."
He spoke casually but with a profound tone, and Yanzhi was amazed by what she was hearing.
She was just a maid who served the lady, so her vision was very limited. Though she knew that Spirit Masters were revered, she had no clear idea about what this really meant. She only knew that the tuition fee of several hundred silver taels annually was an astronomical price, never realizing that the spot was actually the most valuable of all.
She was a maid, so one or two silver taels was enough to entertain her for quite a few days. The thought of tens to hundreds of thousands of silver taels being thrown around left her dizzy and her head aching.
After hearing Tang Jie's last few words, she finally understood why Shi Yue treated Tang Jie so well.
She sensed that this rascal of a girl had seemingly understood everything and so had long ago made her choice… She was investing for the future!
This was different from Shi Mo, who was still entrusting his hopes to the young master. Yanzhi and Shi Yue had long ago realized that Shi Mo's chances were minuscule, and so Yanzhi had already begun to distance herself. However, for the sake of money, she had yet to completely ignore him. To her surprise, Shi Yue had gone a step further and had begun to hang around Tang Jie.
Realizing this, Yanzhi cursed her blindness. She had thought herself smart, but she had been distracted by small profits. Meanwhile, though Shi Yue appeared gentle and quiet, she was secretly using every method at her disposal.
Yanzhi's expression changed, and she smiled at Tang Jie and said, "I get it now. You're the clever one here, immediately finding the problem. It seems that they won't be able to succeed at this matter."
She was now trying to flatter Tang Jie.
"That's not for certain either!" Tang Jie firmly said. "In the end, the two clans are still connected by marriage. So long as the madame is willing to yield a little, the venerable master and master might be willing to lower themselves. It looks to me like the Ji Clan has grown too used to doing business and is playing the negotiating game, putting in the lowest bid when the seller is asking for the highest price. But the madame will eventually agree to a few conditions, at which point Ji Ziqian's entry into the academy will be set in stone."
Saying this, Tang Jie looked at Yanzhi and smiled. "Elder Sister Yanzhi, though I haven't been with the estate for long, Elder Sister has helped me many times and I am grateful for it. I was originally planning to repay Elder Sister once I entered the academy, but it seems that my hopes are slim now."
He shook his head and sighed. "Alas, Ji Ziqian is still the young master of the Ji Clan. No matter how much success he achieves in the future, he will have nothing to do with Elder Sister."
Yanzhi was vexed by these words.
This was true. Unlike Tang Jie, Ji Ziqian came from a wealthy clan and had countless servants of his own. He had no need to gain the favor of the servants of the Wei Clan. Even if Yanzhi wanted to try and curry favor with Ji Ziqian, she had little chance.
This caused Yanzhi to anxiously say, "Isn't there still one spot left?"
Tang Jie solemnly said, "There are still two years until the young master leaves for the academy. How can Elder Sister Yanzhi be so sure that someone else might not pop up in the future? Moreover, two spots open is always better than one spot. Best to prepare for a rainy day. If you wait until the second spot is gone, no amount of anxiety will save you!"
Yanzhi utterly paled.
The hope that had just stirred up in her heart was instantly extinguished by Tang Jie, so it was easy to imagine her mood.
Looking at Yanzhi's expression, Tang Jie knew that the time was ripe. He softly muttered, "But it's not like there's no way…"