Chapter 26.1 Chip Chip Chip Chip Chip



As the saying goes, the easiest way to open one's heart was at a feast…
even though there was only a variety of food on their table.


Huo Caiyu and Chi Zhongming casually steered the conversation to the prefect and the new tax policy in Qingshui Prefecture, which indeed opened Chi Zhongming's mouth.


“I have heard about the new tax policy which the prefecture has already implemented,” Chi Zhongming shook his head and sighed, “It is said that the people are complaining and none of them are happy about it.”


This surprised Huo Caiyu and Li Jinyu.


Li Jinyu stopped chewing on the corn, his eyes widening.
“How is that possible? Why?”


In the novel, didn't the common people praise Huo Caiyu's new policy?


Huo Caiyu also frowned.
“I know a little about the new tax policy.
Theoretically, the taxes paid by using the Single Whip Policy should be much lower than before.”


“Although it is indeed lower, that is not the problem,” Chi Zhongming shook his folding fan again, intending to pick up some food with his chopsticks.
However, he found that the table was filled with bland and unappetizing dishes.
He put down his chopsticks and continued, “The government has lowered the purchase price of the goods by another thirty percent, so in the end, the people have to pay more.”


Thirty percent!


Huo Caiyu's gaze slightly hardened.
“The new taxes should only be collected in silver.”


“Although that's what it should be, the government has designated a specific commercial firm that citizens must use to purchase the tax silver.
People need to bring proof from these commercial firm in order to pay their taxes.”


A flash of anger passed through Huo Caiyu's brown eyes.
He closed his eyes for a while, and said in a slightly chilly voice, “The prefect is also making profits.”


“Who says he isn't?” Chi Zhongming closed his fan and shrugged.
“If there weren't a few capable officials left in Qingshui Prefecture, he would have eaten it all up by now.”


The two continued their conversation, treading lightly around sensitive topics.
However, as they spoke, they began to let their guards down and find common ground.
Despite being strangers, they shared similar views and concerns about the state of affairs in the prefecture.


Chi Zhongming finally clapped his hands with some reluctance, called the waiter to settle the bill, and stood up.
“This humble one still have things to do, so I'll take my leave.
If we have the chance, we'll meet again.”


Huo Caiyu nodded slightly.
“Thank you, Brother Chi.”


“No need to thank me.” Chi Zhongming looked at the table regretfully, and sighed, “This is probably the cheapest treat I've ever spent.”


When Li Jinyu saw Chi Zhongming was about to leave, he stopped eating and frantically signaled to Huo Caiyu with his eyes. Your future Younger Brother is leaving! Why aren't you asking for his contact information?


But Huo Caiyu only pushed the tea cup towards him, slightly furrowing his brow.
After Chi Zhongming left, he asked, “Are you…
very interested in him?”


Li Jinyu looked in dismay at Huo Caiyu allowing the person go like this, then regretfully resumed eating his corn.
“No, I just think he looks good.”


Chi Zhongming's baby face was indeed quite cute.


If Li Jinyu hadn't mentioned his interest in Chi Zhongming's looks, Huo Caiyu wouldn't have thought much of it.
He found himself instinctively touching his own face and wondering if he needed to tidy up his appearance as well.


After their meal, Huo Caiyu and Li Jinyu returned to their inn and encountered Lame Beggar, who had gone out to gather information.
The beggar had changed his appearance, wearing shabby clothes and blending in with the beggars around the county yamen.


Lame Beggar's intel confirmed what Chi Zhongming had shared earlier.
The government had designated certain commercial firm to handle the sale of grain and cloth, resulting in reduced prices.
However, the spring taxes had become even more burdensome than the previous year, leading to discontent among the people.


Li Jinyu had only a vague understanding of these matters before experiencing the hardship of village life.
He could now fully comprehend the dire situation described in the novel.
He asked, “Isn't this an obvious problem? Can't it be reported to the Three Departments?”


Huo Caiyu answered, “There's no conclusive evidence.”


“What about the commercial firm?”


Huo Caiyu explained, “If the prefect is cunning enough, he won't establish the firms under his name.
Destroying the official documents verifying the firms' accounts would make it impossible to convict him.”


Even if Ye Gui'an was a fool, he wouldn't lack the ability of a sly rabbit.
If he encountered any issues, he would undoubtedly use a scapegoat to deflect the blame.
Furthermore, the Prime Minister's faction would likely protect him.
Without substantial evidence, there was no way to fight against them.


The melon seeds in Li Jinyu's hand no longer tasted good.
“What should we do then?”


After thinking for a while, Huo Caiyu shook his head.
“Tonight, I'll go to county yamen to investigate.”


Knowing oneself and the enemy was the key to winning every battle.


But Li Jinyu was slightly worried.
“Is your injury alright?”


Seeing Li Jinyu's concern for him, Huo Caiyu's heart warmed up a little, and the frustration from earlier dissipated quite a bit.
“I have a plan in my mind, don't worry.”


Li Jinyu had a lot of confidence in the fortune of Heaven's favorite son, so he nodded.
Suddenly, a thought struck him, and he urged, “If you meet Chi Zhongming again, make sure to establish a good relation with him.”


He will be your strongest “shield” in the future!


Huo Caiyu had indeed felt a connection with Chi Zhongming during their earlier encounter, and had even considered befriending him if they met again.
However, hearing Li Jinyu suggest it made the idea lose its appeal.
Huo Caiyu's warm mood plummeted like a stone sinking to the bottom of the sea.


Huo Caiyu felt a growing unease as he realized that his emotions were almost entirely influenced by Li Jinyu's words and actions.
He couldn't quite put his finger on what was wrong with his current state of mind, but a nagging feeling tugged at his heart.


He even had a slight premonition of the answer in his heart, but fear and anticipation held him back from delving deeper.


To divert his attention, Huo Caiyu abruptly changed the topic.
“Does Your Majesty want to take a bath?”


Li Jinyu regarded him with a quizzical look, unsure why Huo Caiyu had reverted to using honorifics.
After a brief moment of consideration, he shook his head with firm resolve.
He despised bathing in water.


Even during his time in the palace, Li Jinyu had avoided bathing in water whenever possible.
Instead, he relied on his spiritual power to swiftly cleanse his body of any impurities.


Huo Caiyu remembered spending so much time with the Emperor in the palace, but rarely saw him bathe.
Tentatively, he ventured, “Your Majesty, regular bathing can help to cleanse not just the body, but also the mind…”


“Zhen hates water,” Li Jinyu grumbled.


“Hates water?” Huo Caiyu echoed, surprise coloring his tone.


“Yes, bathing can be a comfortable experience, but Zhen just doesn't like water,” Li Jinyu explained.
“And last time during the bath, a black cat appeared, which made Zhen even more scared to bathe now.”


Since leaving the palace, he hadn't experienced the same pervasive sense of coldness that had always seemed to linger in the air.
And, thankfully, no cats had crossed his path either.


A subtle change came over Huo Caiyu's face.


Memories of the last time he had seen Li Jinyu bathing flooded his mind, and he couldn't help but feel a slight twinge of discomfort.
Though he had found it endearing at the time that the Emperor, who seemed so formidable, could be frightened by a cat, the memory now held a different weight…


Suddenly rising to his feet, Huo Caiyu fixed a deep, intense gaze upon Li Jinyu before turning and walking away without a word.


Perplexed, Li Jinyu watched him go, wondering if he had said something wrong.




After a brief absence, Huo Caiyu returned with a waiter in tow, who carried a bucket of steaming hot water.
Li Jinyu could already guess what he intended to do.
When the waiter put down the water and left, he frowned and said, “Zhen doesn't want to bathe.”


Huo Caiyu simply smiled in response, reassuring the Emperor that he needn't worry.
“Your Majesty, there's no need to take a full bath,” he said, before proceeding to wet a clean towel in the hot water and wring it out.
“Your Majesty can try wiping the dragon body with this.”


Li Jinyu's resistance seemed to wane a little when he realized that he didn't have to take a bath.
He hesitantly took the towel and began to undress.
“Let me try.”


With his meager spiritual power remaining, he didn't want to waste it on cleaning himself.


Huo Caiyu saw Li Jinyu undressing right in front of him and unconsciously turned his head away, standing up and saying, “This official will wait outside.”


“No, you stay here!” Li Jinyu still had a deep fear of the black cat and emphasized, “Don't go out!”


Huo Caiyu's heart was racing for reasons he couldn't quite comprehend.
He cast his gaze downwards, turning away from Li Jinyu as the Emperor undressed and began to clean himself with the towel.
this official will wait here.”


He could hear the sound of Li Jinyu undressing, the sound of the towel being soaked and wrung out, and the sound of him wiping his body from behind.


He stared at the book in his hands, but the words blurred together as his thoughts spiraled.


Why was he reacting like this? He had seen plenty of naked men before, even bathed with friends.
So why did the sound of Li Jinyu wiping his body make his heart thud like a drum?


Could the injury he'd sustained have left some hidden side effect?




After Li Jinyu finished washing up, Huo Caiyu put down the book he hadn't even turned a page of and said somewhat embarrassedly, “This official will leave first.”


Later that night, Li Jinyu was still wide awake when Huo Caiyu returned, a grim expression etched onto his face.
Accompanying him was a young, baby-faced man with a grin that could light up the darkest of rooms.


He had only talked to Huo Caiyu earlier that day about building a relation with Chi Zhongming, and now he had already met him?


Li Jinyu wondered what Huo Caiyu had talked to Chi Zhongming about.
“Brother Li hasn't slept yet?”


“Why did Brother Chi come here?”


“I was investigating the county yamen tonight and chanced upon Brother Huo,” Chi Zhongming explained with a grin.
“We discovered that we are kindred spirits indeed.”


Li Jinyu was a little surprised.
“What are you doing there?”


“I won't hide it from both of you.” Chi Zhongming coughed and straightened his face.
“I am a secret envoy sent by the court to supervise the new tax policy, and I have come to investigate Qingshui Prefecture.”


Li Jinyu was taken aback by the revelation.
A secret envoy sent by the court? Wasn't it Huo Caiyu who was sent? He didn't remember anyone else being sent!


Chi Zhongming noticed Li Jinyu's surprise and interpreted it as a sign of admiration for his identity.
He shook his fan proudly and said, “I came here this time to ask for Brother Huo's help.”


Huo Caiyu's heart twisted with sourness just by seeing Li Jinyu and Chi Zhongming in the same room.
He tried to keep his tone neutral, but it was impossible to hide the coldness creeping in.
“What do you want me to help with?”


“For Brother Huo to infiltrate the yamen at night, either you're a gentleman on the beam, or you share the same goal as me.” Chi Zhongming closed his folding fan and sat down at the old wooden table, acting like an old friend.
“I want to ask Brother Huo for help and find evidence against the prefect who obstructed the new tax policy.”


Huo Caiyu had anticipated as much during his conversation with Chi Zhongming on their way to the inn.
His expression remained unchanged as he asked, “Why have you chosen to approach me, Brother Chi?”


“Firstly, Brother Huo's words clearly show that he stands on the side of supporting the new policy and liberating the people.
Secondly, Brother Huo's martial arts are strong, and if we work together, we will surely achieve results.”


Huo Caiyu subtly felt that there was some unfinished meaning in Chi Zhongming's words.
“And thirdly?”


“Thirdly…” Chi Zhongming looked at the bewildered Li Jinyu, and a hint of emotion appeared on his face.
“Thirdly, it's rare to meet like-minded people like Brother Huo and Brother Li, which gives me a little more confidence for the future.”


Li Jinyu looked at him with some admiration.
“It's quite unexpected that Brother Chi cares so much about the country and the people.”


No wonder it was said that in the future, he would be a trusted subordinate under Huo Caiyu's command.
This level of concern for the world is not something an ordinary person can compare to.


Chi Zhongming choked slightly.
“That's not what I meant…
Anyway, Brother Huo, what do you think?”


Huo Caiyu sat next to Li Jinyu, lightly tapping the table with his fingertips, and pondered for a moment before nodding.
“That's fine, but who will be in charge?”


If the two were to cooperate, it was imperative that they each had designated roles.


Li Jinyu didn't even think about it and said, “Of course, Brother Huo is the leader.”


Huo Caiyu was the future ruler of the world! Moreover, this Chi Zhongming's “secret envoy” identity was still unclear!


Chi Zhongming, however, bristled at Li Jinyu's use of the term “Brother Huo” so casually.
He gritted his teeth in frustration, but ultimately conceded defeat with a wave of his hand.
“Fine,” he said grudgingly, “I just want to achieve our goal.
The process is not important.”


After happily reaching an agreement and arranging to investigate together the next day, Chi Zhongming left with some reluctance.


Now that Chi Zhongming had departed, the two should also go to sleep.


In order to ensure Li Jinyu's safety and because they didn't have much money, the two of them had rented a single room with only one bed.
They had shared a bed before, but tonight, Huo Caiyu was feeling increasingly uncomfortable.


He stood before the table, lost in thought.


Li Jinyu, on the other hand, happily shed his coat and burrowed under the covers.
After a while, he popped his head out, puzzled by Huo Caiyu's lack of movement.
“Aren't you going to sleep?”


Huo Caiyu pursed his lips, tracing a line on the table with his finger.
not sleepy at the moment.
Your Majesty should rest first.”


“Even if you're not sleepy, you should still sleep.
Don't you have to go out tomorrow?” Li Jinyu thought of Huo Caiyu's devotion in the novel and felt a little heartache.
He shifted over and gently patted the empty spot, “Go to sleep, go to sleep.”


Huo Caiyu gazed at the space Li Jinyu had made for him and found it difficult to resist the offer.
He approached the bed and laid down still fully dressed.


The warmth of the Ziwei aura enveloped Li Jinyu, making him feel a bit overwhelmed.
Soon, he felt his eyes growing heavy and he drifted off to sleep.


Huo Caiyu felt Li Jinyu turn into a big dumpling, his head nestled into his side.
The subtle sound of his breathing had a wonderful rhythm that slowly relaxed his tense nerves.


The bright moonlight outside the window cast a fragmented silver frost on the ground, while the distant sound of the night watchman's gong served as a gentle lullaby.


As he lay there, Huo Caiyu couldn't help but feel a sense of contentment wash over him.
Despite being in a small inn in an unfamiliar town, sharing a bed with Li Jinyu had somehow made him feel at home.


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