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Chapter 4-Part 1

Shopkeeper Fan heard the sound, raised his head for a glance, then hurried over, cupping his hands, and said, “So, you’re Young Master Li. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Fan, the new shopkeeper at the Moxiang bookstore. You can call me Shopkeeper Fan. Young Master Li, please follow me.”

Li Hehua nodded and followed him into the private room. After sitting down, she scrutinized her new collaborator. Unlike the chubby and unreserved shopkeeper Lin, this shopkeeper Fan was of medium height and very lean. Though there were wrinkles on his face, he should be younger than shopkeeper Lin. He appeared simple and reliable. However, she doubted his simplicity, considering he could manage such a large bookstore.

Shopkeeper Fan also assessed Li Hehua. So, this is the mistress, good at writing and beautiful and generous in person. No wonder Uncle said the mistress was delighted about the engagement.

He smiled warmly.

“Miss Li, from now on, you can contact me directly. I will strictly adhere to the contract, and I can promise you that if your book sells well, I can split the profits of the next book with you, with a 40/60 split, 60 for you and 40 for me. If your work becomes famous throughout the country, with no worries about sales, I can offer you an even better deal.”

Having experienced shopkeeper Lin’s exploitation, Li Hehua became cautious when someone was overly generous. She smiled and asked, “Shopkeeper Fan, do you trust me so readily upon our first meeting?”

Shopkeeper Fan felt a twinge of anxiety, realizing he had been too eager to please the mistress, arousing her suspicion.

But this actually reassured him more; with a clever mistress, the master could focus on his endeavors outside.

He quickly remedied, “Miss Li, I believe in your writing and your sincerity. Since you started cooperating with the Moxiang bookstore, you have never missed a deadline, making you one of the most trustworthy authors we have. With your growing reputation and our distribution channels, I believe our partnership will flourish. So naturally, to retain talent like you, I am willing to offer better terms. However, one condition: you can only sign contracts with our Moxiang bookstore.”

Li Hehua relaxed upon hearing this. The condition was normal, preventing her from signing with multiple bookstores, similar to how it was in her previous life.

She nodded, held onto the manuscript, and said, “Alright, I agree. If the next book meets your approval, we’ll sign another contract.” It would be foolish not to make money when there’s an opportunity.

Shopkeeper Fan took the manuscript, examined it, and carefully stored it away. Li Hehua found his actions appropriate; this was the attitude a true book lover should have. As long as he loved this industry, he would at least have a moral bottom line, unlike shopkeeper Lin, who was deceitful and greedy.

Casually, she asked, “I don’t recall seeing Shopkeeper Fan in the county before. What about Shopkeeper Lin? Has he been transferred?”

Shopkeeper Fan hurriedly explained, “I used to be the sahopkeeper at the Moxiang bookstore in Jing County. I was transferred back because shopkeeper Lin got into trouble.”

“What happened to shopkeeper Lin?” Li Hehua was surprised. Had his wrongdoing been exposed and the superiors found out? Was he transferred or dismissed? Would he suspect her of informing on him? If so, she needed to be cautious.

Shopkeeper Fan explained, “Shopkeeper Lin provided money to a serious offender of the court and attempted to bribe court officials to get him out. As a result, he was treated as an accomplice and punished.”

It all started when the mistress found out about steward Lin’s mistress. They traced it back and found out that this mistress was actually a courtesan who used to be involved in a rebellion against the Crown Prince. The main conspirator was executed, while accomplices like the courtesan and her brother were sentenced to exile.

After getting involved with shopkeeper Lin, the courtesan tried various ways to get her brother released. Shopkeeper Lin, being audacious, was enticed by her beauty and actually spent a large sum to bribe court officials, using the bookstore’s money no less. Well, he brought it upon himself.

Li Hehua hesitated for a moment and asked, “What kind of punishment does the court usually give in such cases?”

Shopkeeper Fan sighed, “Capital punishment. The serious offender shopkeeper Lin was trying to help was charged with treason.”

Li Hehua fell silent. Regardless of the era, treason was a serious crime. With shopkeeper Lin out of the picture, he wouldn’t pose a threat to her anymore. Finally feeling relieved, she chatted briefly with shopkeeper Fan and was about to take her leave.

Shopkeeper Fan glanced outside and suggested, “Miss Li, it’s already dark. How about I find you an inn in the county to stay for the night, and you’ll head back early tomorrow morning?”

Li Hehua shook her head as she walked and said, “No need, I’ve already made arrangements.”

Seeing Li Hehua walking away, Fan Ping stomped his foot and called a servant, whispering, “Quick, go see if the master has arrived yet?”

He had already notified the master, so why hadn’t he arrived yet?

When Lu Junyu rushed to the Moxiang bookstore, he was only met with Fan Ping’s forlorn face.

Meanwhile, Li Hehua had already boarded the carriage and hurried back to Liuhe Town overnight, staying at the Liuhe Inn, preparing to return to Li’s village the next day.

The next morning, as she got up, she noticed people in the inn whispering in groups. She asked storekeeper Wang with some curiosity, “What’s happening?”

Putting down his abacus, shopkeeper Wang raised his head and said, “Two exiles escaped last night. The constables searched all night but couldn’t find them. Everyone’s feeling uneasy. I heard one of them is a murderer. It’s a disaster. Murderers should be executed immediately. Now that they’ve escaped, who knows who else will suffer?” He shook his head and went back to his calculations.

Li Hehua frowned. The exile location wasn’t far from Li’s village. If they made it into the village, her mother was still there. She decided to take a steep shortcut through the rocky mountains to get back.

Suddenly, she faintly heard voices. Hiding her figure, she cautiously approached until she could see clearly. Then she stopped in her tracks and looked out. She saw two constables surrounding a person.

One of them shouted, “Ma Dashan, release the person and come with us peacefully. If you behave well, you might get out early. If it weren’t for the amnesty, you’d be dead by now. Don’t forget to repay the kindness.”

A hoarse voice shouted back, “Get lost! I, Ma Dashan, killed so many people just to become the king of the mountains, not to be your laborer. Let me go, or I’ll kill this person and then you. You might not be able to stop me.”

Li Hehua tensed. This person was a cold-blooded murderer? The exile area was heavily guarded; how could such a dangerous person escape?

She knew about the amnesty from her conversation with Lu Junyu last time. It was issued in the name of the Crown Prince’s ascension.

She speculated that after the rebellion led by King Huai failed and the throne was secure, the Emperor was eager to win over the people to prove the stability of the kingdom.

But to pardon even serious criminals without execution seemed overly lenient. Ultimately, it was the innocent common people who suffered. Behind him was a small mountain, and beyond that was Li’s village. She couldn’t let him enter the village.


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