In the evening, after freshening up, the two of them arrived at the Yuan Mansion. Seeing Chu Hechao also present, the expressions of those seated at the table subtly changed, as they hadn’t expected his presence.
It was a family banquet, and besides Yuan Li, his two younger brothers and several concubines were also in attendance. Unaware of Chu Hechao joining, they abandoned some of the formalities and sat together informally.
Yuan Song reacted swiftly, saying, “Quick, bring the folding screen to shield us!”
He then apologized to Chu Hechao, “Our family is not very strict with formalities. I hope you’ll pardon us, General.”
Chu Hechao squinted his eyes and quickly scanned the dining hall, “It’s fine. It’s just a family banquet, no need for so many rules.”
Yuan Song smiled and invited him to take a seat.
Once everyone was seated, Yuan Li inquired with a smile about his parents’ health.
Behind the folding screen, Lady Chen replied with a smile, “They are very well. Your father has been full of energy these past few months.”
Her words sparked a conversation, lightening the atmosphere. Yuan Song then had his son pour wine for Yuan Li and Chu Hechao. As the brothers were pouring wine, a concubine’s voice from behind the screen sounded in a flattering tone, “Eldest Young Master, I heard that you are looking for someone to serve as the county magistrate in Bingzhou. Yuan Lou has already been sent there by you, but your other two younger brothers still haven’t found suitable positions! The fertile water should be channeled to our own fields, why do you need to look for outsiders?”
Another concubine quickly chimed in, “Exactly! You’re already the governor, so support your brothers as well.”
There was a subtle undertone of complaint in their voices.
Yuan Li’s smile slowly faded, and Chu Hechao’s expression turned cold.
The momentary ease in the atmosphere dissipated. Yuan Song’s face displayed a mix of embarrassment and anger. His two brothers, however, were watching Yuan Li with eager anticipation, clearly revealing their ambitions.
“What nonsense are you both spouting!” Yuan Song put down his chopsticks and reprimanded them, “Shut up at once!”
The two concubines looked aggrieved, “Master…”
Such an incident would never happen in prestigious families. If it were only Yuan Li, that would be one thing, but with Chu Hechao here, Yuan Song felt his dignity slipping away.
Behind the screen, Lady Chen also coldly chuckled without saying a word.
No wonder this group of people was so attentive and gathered in the dining hall. It turned out to be for this occasion. Did they really think that Bingzhou was a one-man show for her son? Even in the presence of General Chu, they dared to request favors for their useless sons. It was not only embarrassing but also might arouse suspicion from Chu Hechao towards her son, which Lady Chen could not tolerate.
“Lady Liu, Lady Yue,” Lady Chen said in a calm tone, “Didn’t you hear what Master said?”
The two concubines, intimidated by Lady Chen’s authority, closed their mouths reluctantly.
Yuan Li still remained silent and quietly picked up his cup to drink water.
The two younger brothers exchanged glances and couldn’t resist the temptation of becoming the county magistrate. They didn’t even know how to be subtle and directly said, “Elder Brother, if you could use Yuan Lou and Yuan Dan, why can’t you use us?”
Yuan Li gave them a faint glance.
Under his gaze, all the discontent in their hearts froze, and they felt a cold shiver down their spines. It had only been two years since they last saw Yuan Li, but his authority had grown to the point where a single glance from him made them tremble.
“You haven’t even received your adulthood ceremony yet, and you want to be a county magistrate?” Yuan Li said nonchalantly, “Do you know the responsibilities of a county magistrate? You barely know how to read and write, only recognizing a few hundred characters. This is not ambition, it’s just arrogance. If I were to appoint you as a county magistrate, who would suffer, the common people or myself?”
After saying this, he ignored the two half-brothers and looked at Yuan Song, “Father, you should find someone to discipline our two younger brothers.”
Yuan Song’s expression turned unsightly as he nodded, “Yes, I should find someone to guide them.”
Both half-brothers showed fearful expressions.
Chu Hechao always remembered that these were Yuan Li’s family members, so he resisted the urge to get angry. His tone remained indifferent, his face serious, “If the two young masters can’t behave well in your home, I can have them educated in the military camp.”
Yuan Song took a deep breath, “You needn’t bother, General. I will definitely discipline these two unruly children.”
Chu Hechao nodded and was no longer interested in continuing the meal. However, leaving like this would harm Yuan Li’s father’s face. Yuan Song’s dignity wasn’t important, but he was still Yuan Li’s father.
Both Yuan Song and Lady Chen were afraid that Chu Hechao would leave abruptly. Seeing his expression, they felt relieved. The meal ended quickly, and after finishing, Yuan Li and Chu Hechao walked back to the mansion.
When there was no one around, Chu Hechao cursed, “Your two brothers are both idiots.”
Yuan Li smiled, “When I was at home before, they were somewhat sensible. I suppose they have become like this because I left, and my parents didn’t have time to discipline them.”
“Don’t worry,” Yuan Li said calmly, “After this incident, my father won’t let them behave recklessly anymore.”
Chu Hechao suddenly chuckled and pinched Yuan Li’s hand under the cover of the night. “You’re not much older than them, but your tone sounds like an elder.”
Yuan Li swatted away his hand and glared at him. “You’re too strong.”
Chu Hechao chuckled softly.
When they returned to their room, they each took turns washing up. Once they were back in the room, Chu Hechao started kissing Yuan Li again. He felt as though kissing was becoming addictive; the more he kissed, the more he wanted to kiss, and he couldn’t stop himself.
But as they continued kissing, Yuan Li suddenly frowned and pushed Chu Hechao away, saying, “Wait.”
Chu Hechao, with a heart that couldn’t help but race, immediately retreated his hand, breathing heavily. His eyes carried a fiery desire and urgency. “What’s wrong?”
Yuan Li touched his throat and coughed lightly, “My throat feels itchy.”
Chu Hechao got him a glass of water, and after drinking it, Yuan Li felt slightly better, but the itchiness persisted. He handed the glass to Chu Hechao and slumped, resting his head on his arms.
“Still itchy?” Chu Hechao stood by the bed, intending to get him another glass of water. “Do you want more to drink?”
Yuan Li shook his head listlessly and suddenly reached out to Chu Hechao, “Hold me.”
Chu Hechao’s heart pounded, and he immediately reached out to embrace Yuan Li. Yuan Li’s hands hooked around Chu Hechao’s neck, and he buried his head in Chu Hechao’s shoulder.
Chu Hechao felt a little awkward, carefully lying down on the bed with Yuan Li in his arms, supporting him against the bedpost.
“You act like a child. What’s wrong?” Chu Hechao’s rough fingers gently rubbed Yuan Li’s neck, his voice soft and gentle, “Feeling uncomfortable?”
Yuan Li murmured a response, sounding a bit aggrieved, “Why do mosquitoes always love to bite me?”
Among all the seasons, Yuan Li found spring and summer to be the most troublesome. There wasn’t any other reason—just that there were too many mosquitoes. Especially during July and August, they became more rampant.
Chu Hechao’s heart softened, feeling both pity and amusement. He lowered his head and kissed Yuan Li’s hair, soothingly saying, “What kind of mosquito can bite you inside your throat? Open your mouth, let me take a look.”
Yuan Li opened his mouth for Chu Hechao to examine, but he found nothing.
Luckily, after a while, the itchiness in Yuan Li’s throat subsided. However, his arm began to itch, and he pulled up his sleeve to see two red marks.
Chu Hechao exclaimed, “This mosquito is venomous.”
Yuan Li agreed, nodding, “My back itched earlier too. Can you check if there are any bites there?”
Chu Hechao lifted his shirt, examining his back. Sure enough, there was a mosquito bite on Yuan Li’s fair and slender back, near his shoulder blade.
“You’ve been bitten.” Chu Hechao dampened his finger with saliva and gently rubbed it over the bite. “Does it itch?”
Yuan Li couldn’t help but scratch his arm. “A little.”
Chu Hechao continued to rub, his fingers were thick, so the rubbing brought both pain and comfort. Yuan Li felt instantly relieved. After Chu Hechao finished tending to the mosquito bites on his back, Yuan Li proactively offered his arm.
Not long after, Yuan Li fell asleep. Chu Hechao patiently waited for him to fall into a deep slumber before lowering the bed curtains and going to find some herbs to alleviate the itching. He crushed them and applied the remedy to Yuan Li’s mosquito bites. After that, he checked around the room for any other mosquitoes.
Sure enough, he found two or three more mosquitoes. Chu Hechao sneered as he killed them, avenging his beloved. Then, he got back into bed and slept alongside Yuan Li.
The next morning, Chu Hechao woke up early. When he looked to the side, he saw Yuan Li still sleeping soundly. Chu Hechao kissed his face, intending to leave after, but when his lips touched Yuan Li’s cheek, his expression suddenly changed.
Chu Hechao quickly touched Yuan Li’s forehead, cheeks, and palms—everywhere was hot. He had a fever!
Yuan Li was awakened by his actions and asked with a drowsy voice, “What’s wrong?”
Speaking hurt his throat, and he felt weak and fatigued all over.
Chu Hechao said in a hoarse voice, “You have a fever. Stay in bed, I’ll go call the physician.”
Yuan Li coughed and said, “My body itches.”
Chu Hechao felt that something was off. His eyelid twitched, and he pulled up Yuan Li’s sleeve to find five or six red spots on his arm. His expression darkened as he lifted Yuan Li’s shirt and saw a few red spots on his abdomen.
This couldn’t possibly be mosquito bites!
Chu Hechao’s breathing became heavy, and his hands trembled. He reassured Yuan Li, touching his face, and quickly got out of bed to put on his clothes and shoes. He was so anxious that he accidentally put on his shoes the wrong way around.
But he didn’t have time to fix it. Disheveled and in a hurry, Chu Hechao rushed outside.
Meanwhile, Yuan Li laid on the bed, and his drowsiness slowly faded. He pulled up his sleeve and took a look, but he froze in surprise.
This was… chickenpox?
His body felt itchy, but he didn’t dare to scratch. The familiar sensation made Yuan Li realize that he indeed had chickenpox.
In his previous life, Yuan Li had contracted chickenpox once when he was young. It took about seven to eight days to recover. In this life, he hadn’t had it as a child, so he assumed he wouldn’t get it again. Who would have thought that he’d develop chickenpox at twenty years old?
Yuan Li’s expression turned gloomy. Wasn’t chickenpox a disease that only children got?
Soon, hurried footsteps were heard outside the door.
Chu Hechao pulled a physician along and quickly arrived in front of Yuan Li. His eyes were bloodshot and frightening as he urged, “Quickly, see the Governor’s condition!”
Lin Tian’s face turned pale, and he followed closely behind.
The physician, who had been called in a hurry, was frightened by Chu Hechao’s appearance, almost thinking that Yuan Li had some incurable illness. However, after examining Yuan Li’s symptoms and taking his pulse, the physician finally let out a sigh of relief.
He wiped the sweat from his forehead and said, “Governor and General, no need to worry. It’s just chickenpox, which is treatable. The medical book that the Governor taught us happens to include remedies for treating chickenpox. Please rest assured, within ten days at most, the chickenpox will be fully cured.”