In Central Continent City, within Flourishing Heights’ courtyard, there was a different type of grand atmosphere.
In the central hall, Flourishing Heights’ dozen or so shopkeepers gathered with all of their wives and children.
There was an incense burner table leaning against the east wall, on it a large iron pot surging with clear soup. There was no wine, ginger, or anything else to get rid of fishy smells, only some salt and wild scallions, the strong smell of lamp and fragrance interweaving intensely.
This was Flourishing Heights’ Sheep Head Feast that was carried out year after year.
The reason why Flourishing Heights had this type of tradition was because when Flourishing Heights was founded, there was a year where they were left in a sorry state, their brothers unable to eat meat for a long time. Right when it began to snow, Cheng Family’s ancestor thought of an idea, using all of the remaining money he had to buy a lamb, making it seem like a wild sheep, arranging for it to barge in on purpose when he entertained his brothers for dinner… making it seem like it was the heavens who were helping them, seeing that they couldn’t eat meat, so they sent a sheep to them when it snowed. Baci then, these brothers whose morale was at the absolute bottom immediately bounced back, Flourishing Heights thus sticking it through.
That was why this type of Flourishing Heights feast was carried out immediately whenever the first snow fell in Mountain Yin Province.
However, this year, Flourishing Heights’ Sheep Head Feast wasn’t like usual, being held much earlier than before. It was already carried out before Mountain Yin Province experienced its first snowfall.
Flourishing Heights’ master Cheng Manying didn’t explain much, but every single Flourishing Heights great shopkeeper knew why they did this.
Just like before, after Cheng Manying entertained these dozen or so shopkeepers’ families who had worked hard for an entire year for a bit, he directly cut off the sheep’s head, cut off a piece of boiling hot sheep meat, chewed it, and then began the great feast.
Cheers immediately surged. More than ten shopkeepers began to cut the meat, plates of steaming hot dishes were also brought out into this banquet.
Nothing seemed that different from before. Only, after several cups of wine went down their throats, the banquet instead naturally slowly became quiet.
All of these shopkeepers, including the little children who had just learned how to read and write, began to focus their attention on Cheng Manying.
Cheng Manying held up his wine cup, and then deliberately filled it a bit higher. He stood up, drained it in one gulp, and then showed all of the shopkeepers and their families a bow. “I’ve let everyone down… I’ve troubled all of you.”
The noses of all of the shopkeepers became a bit sore, knowing that Cheng Manying made his decision.
“I fear that I must ask everyone to get a better job elsewhere in the following year. I really have let everyone down… After this banquet, I have prepared a few silvers for everyone, please do not show too much courtesy, I hope no one finds it disdainful.”
Cheng Manying’s voice was trembling a bit, but his face carried a sincere smile.
This place was still silent.
Flourishing Heights’ Great Shopkeeper Mu Zongli who already seemed much older than the previous year stood up while raising a wine cup.
“Master, I will drink this cup in your honor.”
He drained the cup in one go. “I am already old.” He released a breath filled with an alcohol smell, slowly saying, “After working for Flourishing Heights and Auspicious Virtue, these types of businesses, I don’t want to continue working at a different company anymore, I’ll just get some rest. Many thanks for master’s great kindness, just through our master’s great care these years, our livelihoods are already without any problems… If master still treats me as a friend, then at this type of time, where we need to continue spending money, there is no need for sir to talk about this type of disbandment and retirement money.”
“Master, we also offer you our respect and admiration…” In this banquet, there were several solemn and stirring voices, several voices carrying reluctance.
Within a fertile field to Yunqin’s south, there was a village.
In front of the village was a brook. Next to the brook was a large amount of new farmland that had weeds burned away.
Within the two low houses near the farmland, a bed-ridden older woman who was already at the point of death forcefully shifted her head, making some room on her cloth pillow embroidered with flowers.
Her son and daughter-in-law who were right next to her knew that she was going to pass away soon, so they couldn’t help but sob loudly.
Her son wore clean moon white cloth robes, from the looks of it already a countryside private teacher.
He knew that his mother had lived frugally all her life, covered within this grass filled cloth pillow were her life savings… There wasn’t much, only enough to make sure that he doesn’t experience an additional burden, enough for her burial after she passes on.
The waxen complexion older woman’s face mysteriously produced a flush of rosiness.
This elder who had already been bedridden for a long time now truly experienced her dying flash. Her originally scattered and muddled eyes instead became clearer.
“Give to Shopkeeper Liu…”
She moved her head, making room on her pillow, instead using the last of her strength, using her face to lean against this pillow, releasing this type of voice.
The son and daughter-in-law in front of her were stunned.
This was precisely Yunqin’s so-called coffin source. “Mother, she…”
The son was stupefied, staring blankly. This older woman who was about to die instead became annoyed. She already didn’t lift her hand for a long time, looking as if she wanted to hit this son she loved dearly. Her voice was soft like a hairspring, but especially moving, “In this life of mine… I’ve worked and toiled, experienced who knew how many hardships… enabled you to study… could it be that all of that studying ended up in some dog’s stomach… Auspicious Virtue closed their shops for our sake… how can we not repay the money we borrowed… if the coffin is a bit lighter, I’ll be able to rest a bit easier too…”
This older woman’s hand froze in the air, fell down, and then no longer rose again.
The son who knelt in front of her bed couldn’t hear her scolding anymore, could never hear her life teachings again. He could only nod while shedding tears, letting this old mother of his leave this world peacefully.
To Yunqin’s north, far away from the southern provinces, there was another ordinary village.
This village was filled with all types of apple trees. The harvested apples would be sent to many of Yunqin’s great cities.
In this village, the only blacksmith was named Ding Tiezhu. 
His name was iron pillar, when he grew up, he spent every day with iron chunks and calluses, becoming a blacksmith.
In the eyes of others in the village, he was extremely robust and fierce, his voice exceptionally loud, but in reality, he was someone with quite a good disposition, also extremely gentle towards his wife and elders back home, just that sometimes, his nature was a bit more crabby.
He just liked to eat pork belly with a lot of fat. This type of crabbiness showed in the example where if he couldn’t purchase pork belly, he would rather starve. If he was forced to try fine leg meat, he might even get angry.
This type of crabbiness appeared on the things he set his decision on. Once he decided on something, it was extremely hard to change.
This day, he already cut down a lot of wood, preparing to use a bit of the charcoal used during winter.
That was why even though it was already extremely cold, he whose entire body was dirty and smelly prepared to take a bath.
However, when he saw his wife give him a piece of soap, his dark brows instead furrowed deeply, saying roughly in displeasure, “Why isn’t this Auspicious Virtue’s?”
His wife was currently busy adding firewood and boiling water out of fear of her husband catching a cold, saying without thinking too much, “This is Tang Green Mountain’s, more or less the same thing.”
Ding Tiezhu’s face sunk, not saying anything.
His wife who was currently adding firewood, her eyes stinging a bit from the smoke, didn’t notice anything either.
Ding Tiezhu thus forcefully smacked this chunk of soap forcefully on the table, releasing an extremely loud noise, saying furiously, “I’m not taking a shower anymore!”
Only now did his wife see his ashen expression, how he walked straight out, looking at his soaked cotton-padded clothes. She felt distressed and wronged, tears starting to move about her eyes. “Why are you venting out your anger at me when there’s nothing wrong? Even if you’re that angry, we should talk about it after you take a bath.”
When one’s wife’s nature was gentle, that was when a man would most easily soften. However, Ding Tiezhu instead still straightened his neck, continuously roaring fiercely, “You can still say more or less the same?! Are Tang Green Mountain and Auspicious Virtue’s abilities the same?! Do women only grow hair on their heads, not knowledge? Is this really a matter of the item being the same or not?! What has Auspicious Virtue done?! What has a merchant company like Tang Green Mountain done? Auspicious Virtue allowed all of the families down south to have hot congee to drink, which is why I insisted on purchasing Auspicious Virtue’s soaps! This is the reason why I am so stubborn on this matter! This isn’t an issue of if the item is the same or not, do you understand this type of reasoning or not?!”
“I understand.” The woman felt great pain, not arguing with him, only only pushing him towards the bath. “I will definitely remember to buy you soap from Auspicious Virtue next time… it is just because there wasn’t any in Sister Chu’s shop. Also, Sister Chu also said that Auspicious Virtue’s shop in the city has closed, so in the future, it’ll be difficult to buy Auspicious Virtue’s soaps…”
Ding Tiezhu stared blankly. “Auspicious Virtue’s shop closed? How could it be closed? Purchasing them will be difficult in the future… Auspicious Virtue’s shop won’t open again after closing?”
The woman wiped at her tears, first using a dry towel to wipe his cold and soaked body, saying quietly, “They said that it is because they have too much debt, too far in the red, truly unable to turn things around, which is why they closed the shop… It isn’t just the store in our city, all of the stores outside have closed.”
“Too far in the red… cannot continue?” Ding Tiezhu asked in a stupefied manor, “Isn’t it only the rice business that is offering credit… Auspicious Virtue’s business is so great, everyone uses their soaps, won’t these soaps be able to continue earning quite a bit of money? Even if they cannot hold on, they should at most only close the rice stores, why did they close all of the soap and odd goods’ stores?”
This straightforward blacksmith who possessed the greatest strength in this village couldn’t think of the reason.
His wife was just like him, never studied before, unable to figure out the answer to his question either.
He finished his bath in somewhat of a daze, not even scrubbing out the old dirt on his body. In a somewhat muddled state, he put on some clothes and headed towards the village’s most knowledgeable old chief.
“Doing business isn’t like forging steel, one hammer after another, this simple.” The stooped elder sighed as he slowly explained to Ding Tiezhu. “Not being able to pay back money isn’t that pressing, but raw materials must be purchased with silver, right… Even if you can first buy it on debt, if you cannot pay it back in time, others won’t always continue to lend you money. Moreover, when doing business, when others feel like you definitely won’t be able to continue, scared that you might not be able to pay back the debt you owed before, they might rush you to pay back the previous debt, this will only make things worse in an already bad situation. Moreover, a huge business like Auspicious Virtue, in many places, is full of different segments. If one segment experiences some problems and they don’t have enough silver to fill in the gap, then the entire chain would break. So many mouths are eating, for Auspicious Virtue to support them for so long is already not easy… Previously, it was already these soap shops that were helping them hold on. Now, these soaps that are only like a helping hand cannot hold on any longer either.”
The old chief explained in great detail, to the extent where he explained that even the soaps made locally, if there was an issue in one part of its transportation, then they could only continue to suffer losses… they cannot continue the business. Ding Tiezhu heard him out, he listened extremely carefully. Even though he still only half-understood, he was at least sure that what his wife said was true, that Auspicious Virtue really is about to go bankrupt, it might even shut down completely. The Auspicious Virtue shopkeeper who was normally discussing things enthusiastically with the people in the streets and alleys also seemed to be at the end of the road, powerless to reverse things.
Why would Auspicious Virtue, such a large and great merchant company, close down?
Why was it that Auspicious Virtue could continue offering those refugees credit for rice, but other merchant companies couldn’t continuously lend to Auspicious Virtue on credit?
Ding Tiezhu, this blacksmith, didn’t understand business, which was why he couldn’t think through many issues. He only felt like his entire body became uncomfortable, even the pork belly he normally loved to eat the most becoming tasteless.
During supper, he picked up a bowl of rice and looked at the pork belly flickering with oil in front of him, suddenly realizing what those in the southern provinces were eating, what those Auspicious Virtue employees were eating from today forth… He suddenly raised his head and said to his wife, “How about we go on a long trip?”
His wife raised her head, asking in confusion, “What’s wrong?”
“I know that Auspicious Virtue has opened up land for agriculture in Jadewater and Jadefall Provinces.” Ding Tiezhu looked at his wife and said, “Even though Auspicious Virtue cannot hold on, those fields will always be there. As long as there is someone planting, there will be a harvest… Our family doesn’t have much money, but I have strength. I’ll head over to help them do farmwork.”
His wife burst into tears with a wa sound.
She knew that if she went so far, there was no way it could possibly compare to her current lifestyle.
However, she also knew that her husband was extremely stubborn sometimes, feeling a bit proud of this husband of hers… That was why while sobbing, she began to help the two of them organize their luggage.
1. One of Yunqin’s three great banks, their wealth is equivalent to that of an entire nation B10C19