Yuan Li looked at Chu Hechao’s cheerful expression and couldn’t help but smile, “This is a birthday gift for you.”
Chu Hechao raised an eyebrow, “A birthday gift just a letter?”
Yuan Li became cautious, “Then what else do you want?”
Chu Hechao wanted to say something lewd, but the words got stuck in his throat, and he swallowed them back. He sighed, and his Adam’s apple and chest trembled slightly as he spoke, “I’m afraid it would scare you if I said it now. Let’s talk about it in two years. Let you grow up a bit more, little one.”
He still had two more years left in his mourning period.
Yuan Li immediately understood his meaning and asked directly, “Do you want to sleep with me?”
Chu Hechao was suddenly choked by his saliva and coughed several times. After he recovered, he looked at Yuan Li in disbelief. His face turned red, feeling that even thinking about such things while still in mourning was too immoral. He blushed and argued, “I never said that. You’re just imagining things. Look at what you’re thinking.”
Seeing him embarrassed like this, Yuan Li sighed, “You’ve endured a lot, elder brother.”
Chu Hechao was filled with question marks, “What?”
“You’re already thirty after your mourning period,” Yuan Li said with pity, “and you still haven’t experienced physical intimacy.”
Chu Hechao: “…”
Yuan Li reached out to touch his head and consoled, “It’s okay, you don’t look old. At first glance, you still look like a young man in his twenties.”
Chu Hechao’s temple veins throbbed, “…Could you please shut up?”
After this exchange, Chu Hechao completely lost his mood for that matter.
He held Yuan Li in his arms and talked to him about the events during the attack on Bingzhou and the current situation there. “Some of the officials in Bingzhou are still there, but I’m not sure if they’re reliable. We’ll have to make do for now since we can’t bring in so many officials to fill the vacancies. It doesn’t matter for minor officials, but we must send our own trusted people to serve as governors in various commanderies.”
Yuan Li nodded, “You’re right.”
Youzhou needed people, and Bingzhou also needed people. Especially Bingzhou, as a newly conquered territory, the garrison forces needed to be replaced with their troops, and the upper-level officials had to be appointed by their trusted aides to firmly control Bingzhou.
The people of Bingzhou also needed to be properly settled. The winter snow disaster, combined with the uprisings, had made the common people fearful, leading to numerous cases of freezing and starvation.
Fortunately, there were no epidemics in Youzhou or Bingzhou.
The medical book that the system had rewarded was now in Yuan Li’s hands, and he had ordered people to study these medical skills systematically, preparing to train skilled doctors.
Yuan Li scratched his arm and asked, “Who will be appointed as the Governor of Bingzhou?”
Chu Hechao massaged his earlobe, “Who else but you?”
They spoke casually, as if they could appoint anyone as the Governor of Bingzhou. In fact, that was the case. Since they now controlled Bingzhou, the power to appoint officials naturally rested in their hands. After arranging someone, they only needed to superficially present the matter to the emperor, claiming that they recommended someone as the Governor of Bingzhou.
In such chaotic times, the act of “recommending someone for an official position” held a unique charm.
In the territories they already controlled, the appointments were genuine. However, in the territories they had yet to control, the appointments were merely symbolic gestures. For instance, if Li Li recommended his subordinates as the Governors of Bingzhou, Jizhou, and Yanzhou, would his subordinates really be able to govern those places? It was all just for show.
Both Yuan Li and Chu Hechao were not concerned about Li Li’s or the emperor’s reaction to them taking control of Bingzhou. They were in no rush to immediately recommend their people as Governors of Bingzhou.
The reason was simple: even if Li Li did recommend someone as the Governor of Bingzhou, that person wouldn’t dare to come and assume the position. And if they did dare to come, they would be nothing more than figureheads with no real power.
Yuan Li thought for a moment and felt he could take on the role. “Alright, I’ll handle it. But have you noticed that we have too few people in our two states?”
During the entire snow disaster, the only substantial gain was the migration of over five hundred thousand refugees who fled to Youzhou.
However, these five hundred thousand refugees were still too few for the vast unpopulated lands of Youzhou and Bingzhou.
The most important task now was to find a way to attract more people to settle in Youzhou.
While they were talking, Yuan Li suddenly sighed and helplessly said to Chu Hechao, “Can you please stop poking me?”
Chu Hechao’s ears blushed, and he replied shamelessly, “It misses you after not seeing you for four months. I can’t control it. Can’t you persuade it?”
Yuan Li turned over, reached out, and touched it. “Be good, it’s time to sleep. Stop causing trouble.”
After a gentle persuasion for a while, Yuan Li’s arm got sore. He complained, “What did you eat to grow this way?”
Chu Hechao exhaled with satisfaction, raised his hand to tidy his hair, and his sweat-drenched face exuded a seductive moistness. He took a towel and wiped Yuan Li’s hands, then kissed Yuan Li’s lips with a mischievous smile, “This is your blessing. Do you like it?”
Yuan Li’s mouth twitched, “…I can’t bring myself to like it.”
Chu Hechao scolded with a laugh, “You don’t know how fortunate you are, indeed!”
Yuan Li thought to himself that this good fortune was really too much to bear. Whenever this matter was mentioned, he felt troubled. Yuan Li covered himself with the quilt, grumbling to the man beside him, “I want to sleep.”
Chu Hechao clicked his tongue and snatched the quilt back, fearing that Yuan Li would suffocate himself, “Then sleep, why are you covering your head on such a hot day?”
Yuan Li replied, “If you don’t kiss me, I won’t cover my head.” Kissing could easily lead to other things.
Chu Hechao didn’t hesitate at all and immediately covered Yuan Li with the quilt again, thoughtfully tucking the corner for him, “Then keep it covered.”
Yuan Li grumbled, “…Just go away.”
The first night together after four months, both of them slept soundly.
In the morning, when they were exercising together, they mentioned what happened to He Lang in Luoyang.
Chu Hechao asked lightly, “Did Li Li have any reaction?”
“No,” Yuan Li replied casually, “He was too slow to act. By now, the whole world knows that he killed Chu Wang and the Madam and attempted to bribe us.”
As Yuan Li finished speaking, he realized that it was inappropriate and looked at Chu Hechao with guilt for bringing up the tragedy of Chu Wang and the Madam.
Chu Hechao’s expression didn’t change. He paused for a moment and calmly said, “Within a few years, we won’t be able to avenge them.”
A gentle breeze rustled the leaves.
Yuan Li spoke with determination, “We will kill them sooner or later.”
Chu Hechao smiled and said, “Good.”
In the afternoon, everyone gathered in the study to discuss who should be sent to Bingzhou for their appointment.
After the snow disaster, seeing the remarkable side of Yuan Li, Xiang Hongyun decisively pledged allegiance to him, and Yuan Li appointed him as his subordinate.
Yuan Li was not being polite at the moment either and immediately assigned Xiang Hongyun, Yuan Lou, Zhan Shaoning, Zheng Rong, Zhong Ji, and Guo Lin to lead a team to Bingzhou to handle follow-up matters.
Xin Zhou and Guan Zhihuai, who had not returned from Bingzhou yet, would temporarily station themselves at their current locations. Once they had organized the garrison troops, they would start recruiting soldiers from Bingzhou.
However, the number of people they could send to Bingzhou to serve as county magistrates was still too few. After much consideration, Yuan Li personally visited Zhang Liangdong and asked him to go to Bingzhou as a county magistrate.
Zhang Liangdong had once held the position of a high-ranking official, and naturally, he was capable of being a county magistrate.
His words had an effect on Zhang Liangdong, who felt somewhat tempted. However, due to his previous removal from office due to the Emperor’s anger, he hesitated and said, “I am already old… I’m afraid it’s not suitable.”
Yuan Li sincerely said, “Uncle, now only you can help me. The people of Bingzhou are suffering, and you have served as an official your whole life. No one is more suitable than you to be the county magistrate and bring stability to the people. Uncle, with your love for the country and its people, please endure a few more years of hard work for the people.”
In the end, Zhang Liangdong was moved by Yuan Li’s words and sighed, “If you address me like this, how could I refuse?”
He also understood Yuan Li’s predicament of lacking manpower. After considering it for a while, Zhang Liangdong wrote a letter to his disciples, asking them to come to Youzhou to help Yuan Li.
When Yuan Li heard about this, he was so touched that he immediately gave Zhang Liangdong half of the famous wine from Bingzhou.
Among the subordinates who were going to Bingzhou, Guo Lin was the most concerned one. Before he left, he sought out Yuan Li and said, “Lord, though I’m leaving, I can’t abandon the work I’ve been doing. I want to recommend someone to take over my responsibilities.”
Yuan Li was curious, “Who?”
Guo Lin replied, “Ding Zongguang.”
Ding Zongguang, the name sounded somewhat familiar.
Yuan Li looked at Chu Hechao, who was sitting next to him.
Chu Hechao furrowed his brows and thought about it. He had a good memory and soon remembered someone, “He’s a sergeant under Yang Zhongfa. He lost an arm during the battle with the White Rice Gang in Weixian and wanted to seek death. However, you arranged for him to do some work to save him.”
Yuan Li had a vague impression. After Chu Hechao finished speaking, he suddenly realized, “It’s him.”
At that time, when he was in the military camp and heard that he would take in wounded soldiers, Ding Zongguang had brought the wounded soldiers to bow to Yuan Li. It was because of this sergeant’s refusal to eat or drink and choosing to die that Yuan Li had the idea to take in wounded soldiers for work.
Yuan Li had some fondness for this person and smiled as he asked, “How is he?”
Guo Lin bowed and said, “He is extremely grateful to the Lord and is willing to devote his loyalty to you, even if it costs him his life.”
Guo Lin didn’t say anything else, as for Yuan Li, this was enough.
Guo Lin was a cautious person. He said that Ding Zongguang was completely loyal to Yuan Li, and that must have been confirmed repeatedly.
Yuan Li trusted Guo Lin and his ability to judge people, so he smiled and said, “Then let him take over your responsibilities.”
After dealing with the important matters at hand, Guo Lin felt relieved and was now looking forward to leaving Yuan Li’s side to work in Bingzhou. He said, “Lord, there is one more thing. The old master instructed me this morning that you should go to the Yuan Mansion for dinner.”
After conveying this message, Guo Lin left with a light-hearted step.
Yuan Li stretched lazily and suddenly felt an itch on his back. He asked Chu Hechao to scratch it while saying, “Would you like to go with me to the Yuan Mansion for dinner?”
It was about time for dinner, and since Chu Hechao had returned, Yuan Li had been staying at the Chu Wang Mansion with him and hadn’t visited his parents.
Chu Hechao scratched Yuan Li’s back and pulled him into his arms while saying, “Sure. It’s a proper opportunity to pay a visit to my future father-in-law. How could I miss it?”