A person cannot be tense all the time. During the Lunar New Year, Yuan Li kindly granted his subordinates a holiday.
Yuan Song is now the head of the Yuan clan. When he and Lady Chen escaped to Youzhou, they brought the Yuan clan members with them. After arriving in Youzhou, the Yuan clan members worked as managers at the farm and gathered at the Yuan mansion during the New Year.
As Yuan Lou was away, unable to come back to celebrate with them, Yuan Dan naturally came to the Yuan mansion for the New Year.
Both his parents had come to Youzhou, and Yuan Li and Chu Hechao were also staying at the Yuan mansion during the New Year. They had to behave properly in front of Yuan Li’s parents, speaking carefully and refraining from any risky behavior like sleeping together at night.
Yuan Li felt a bit uncomfortable sleeping alone.
On the thirtieth night, they had a sumptuous feast, and everyone wore smiles.
During the after-dinner chat, Lady Chen wanted to talk about Yuan Li’s marriage, but considering that Chu Hechao hadn’t finished his mourning period yet, she refrained from mentioning it. Instead, she asked Yuan Dan with concern, “Your elder brother is married, and you are still single. Your mother passed away early, and your father doesn’t think about these matters. As your elder, I naturally have to inquire about your marriage. Yuan Dan, do you have any girl in mind? If not, starting tomorrow, I’ll find some girls for you to meet.”
Yuan Dan blushed and shook his head, feeling embarrassed.
Everyone smiled kindly, and Lady Chen playfully teased him, “So, you don’t have a girl in mind, or you don’t want me to find girls for you?”
Yuan Dan stammered, “I… I don’t have a girl in mind.”
Yuan Li found it amusing to see Yuan Dan like this, while Chu Hechao seemed deep in thought.
“What are you thinking about?” Yuan Li asked.
Chu Hechao habitually reached out to hug him, but halfway through, he let go and lowered his voice, “My three younger sisters are still unmarried. I don’t care about these things, but you should tell your mother and ask her to help find a good husband for them.”
Yuan Li nodded, “Okay. I’ll have my mother find good husbands for them.”
After pondering for a moment, Chu Hechao suddenly asked, “What if one of them marries Yuan Dan?”
Yuan Li was taken aback, not expecting Chu Hechao to have this idea. But after careful consideration, he thought it was a good idea.
Chu Hechao’s three younger sisters were all noble and graceful young ladies from prominent families. They were raised well by Lady Yang and had been quiet and well-behaved since arriving in Youzhou, never causing trouble in front of Yuan Li and Chu Hechao. They excelled in appearance, talent, and everything else.
Yuan Li believed that these three girls were worthy of marrying into the family of kings and nobles. However, the Yuan family was of modest status, and it wouldn’t be fair to marry these noble girls into such a small household.
But on second thought, it wasn’t necessarily true.
In the current turbulent times, even nobles might lose their status at any time. Identity was not as important as a stable life.
Yuan Dan was Yuan Li’s cousin, just a few years younger than him. Putting aside everything else, Yuan Li had observed Yuan Dan’s character since they were young, and he was a good person, ambitious, and attentive. Though their family was not wealthy, their family traditions were strictly upheld by the clan’s elder. Yuan Lou only had one wife and treated his children with love. His wife had a gentle temperament and would not be difficult for her as sisters-in-law.
Moreover, the present time was different from the past. Yuan Lou and Yuan Dan had both been highly valued by Yuan Li and were considered to have unlimited prospects. It was precisely because of their wholehearted assistance to Yuan Li that Lady Chen was so concerned about Yuan Dan’s marriage.
Even from a political perspective, it would be a good thing for the Chu and Yuan families to be related by marriage. Whether it was Yuan Li’s subordinates or Chu Hechao’s subordinates, they would be happy to see this happen.
Yuan Li replied, “I’ll talk to my mother about it, and you can ask your eldest sister about it. I remember she’s not young anymore.”
Chu Hechao nodded.
The next day, Yuan Li privately discussed this matter with Lady Chen.
Upon hearing it, Lady Chen’s eyes and brows showed a pleased expression, “Ciye is willing to marry his sister into our family is a good thing. I came all the way from Luoyang to Youzhou with a few of the Chu ladies, so I know their personalities the best. Yuan Dan is also very caring, and even though his family is not wealthy, his father is the only one left in the family. Though he might be a bit clumsy with words, he is a filial and hardworking person. This is definitely a good match.”
“We also need to consider their opinions,” Yuan Li said, “Mother, please don’t spread this matter around, so as not to harm the girls’ reputations. Once the girl has seen Yuan Dan and is satisfied, you can ask Yuan Dan about his feelings.”
Lady Chen smiled and lightly tapped Yuan Li’s forehead with her finger, “You are a caring person too. How about I show you some girls first? When the mourning period is over next year, you can also marry a wife and have a double celebration?”
Yuan Li’s eyes twitched, and he fell silent for a moment before saying, “Mother, there’s no need to put in so much effort. In these years, I don’t intend to marry.”
Everything should proceed step by step. Yuan Li didn’t mention the relationship between him and Chu Hechao. He simply explained that getting married at this moment wouldn’t be good for the current situation. It might cause both sides to drift apart and arouse the suspicion of outsiders.
Upon hearing this, Lady Chen quickly responded, “I understand. You can rest assured, I won’t hold you back. You are still young, and there’s no rush to get married. Look at General Chu; he’s several years older than you and hasn’t married yet.”
Yuan Li managed to hold back his laughter and replied solemnly, “You’re right.”
On the sixth day of the first lunar month, with clear skies, Yuan Li found an excuse to invite Yuan Dan to the Chu mansion. Chu Hechao had the eldest sister of his family secretly observe Yuan Dan for a while and even asked her to write down the questions she wanted to ask Yuan Dan, which Yuan Li would then convey.
Yuan Dan was a bit puzzled but still obediently answered the questions. Strangely, after answering, Yuan Li asked him to leave.
When leaving, Yuan Dan felt quite confused.
The results of this “blind date” were good, and the Chu family girls were satisfied with Yuan Dan. When Lady Chen asked Yuan Dan about it, he recalled the Chu family girls he had seen during the funeral of King Chu and blushed before agreeing.
However, it was not appropriate to formally propose during the mourning period, so the matter was not publicized. They would wait until next year when the mourning period at the Chu mansion was over.
On the tenth day, Youzhou was hit by a heavy snowfall.
Yuan Li looked at the snow outside the window and sighed. This was his third winter in Youzhou.
In these three winters, it was only this year that allowed him to hold a cup of hot tea and leisurely enjoy the falling snowflakes.
When the snow accumulated on the ground, Yuan Li became excited and pulled Chu Hechao out to make a snowman.
With his subpar artistic skills, he created an incredibly ugly snowman and unabashedly pointed at it, saying, “This is you.”
Chu Hechao: “…”
Yuan Li, dressed in a fox fur coat, had white fluff against his cheeks, and his black hair draped behind him. Two strands hung down from both sides of his neck, used to keep it warm. His appearance was beautiful and gentle, like jade, making even Chu Hechao’s eyes look incredibly innocent. “Brother, do you like it?”
“Yuan Le Jun,” Chu Hechao stared at the snowman without moving, “you did this on purpose.”
Yuan Li blinked, “How could that be? Look carefully; this snowman looks just like you.”
Chu Hechao’s eyelids twitched, revealing an unbearable expression, “Listen, don’t make a snowman of me again next time.”
Yuan Li stopped smiling and silently picked up a snowball from the ground, threw it hard, and hit Chu Hechao’s head precisely.
“…” Chu Hechao’s face darkened, “Yuan Le Jun!”
As he turned to look, Yuan Li had already skillfully run away. Chu Hechao sneered and also picked up a snowball from the ground to chase after him.
If others were having a snowball fight, it would be just for fun. But the more Yuan Li and Chu Hechao played, the more intense the battle became, with no mercy shown. By the time it ended, both of them had their clothes wet for more than half.
Lin Tian had already prepared hot water, and the two of them enjoyed a nice bath. When it was time to sleep, Chu Hechao brought another basin of hot water for Yuan Li to soak his feet.
The water was infused with Sichuan pepper and salt. Since Yuan Li mentioned that Sichuan pepper and saltwater could promote longevity, it had become their nightly ritual since the autumn. Maybe because of the effect of this Sichuan pepper and saltwater, they hadn’t experienced any coughs or colds throughout the entire winter. They never felt cold; their bodies were warm, and sometimes they even broke into a sweat when taking a walk outside.
The water was a bit too hot today, and Yuan Li hesitated to put his feet in the wooden basin.
Chu Hechao tried and said to him, “It’s not too hot; come on down.”
Yuan Li tested it by lightly tapping his foot into the water and quickly pulling it back, “No, it’s still too hot.”
After a while, he still couldn’t make up his mind. Chu Hechao directly stepped on his feet and pushed them into the water.
Yuan Li’s feet were scalded, and he tightly grabbed Chu Hechao’s arm. Chu Hechao remained unfazed and firmly kept Yuan Li’s feet in the water.
Finally, Yuan Li got used to the temperature of the water and relaxed his tense body.
Only then did Chu Hechao let go, kissed his partner’s face, and said, “Let’s wait a little; the water will cool down.”
Yuan Li’s face flushed as he soaked his feet, and Chu Hechao couldn’t resist biting his cheek lightly, leaving a clear tooth mark on Yuan Li’s profile.
Yuan Li turned his face away, sulking, “I don’t want to talk to you.”
Chu Hechao said, “It’s a misunderstanding! Look at my arm, who left these marks?”
Yuan Li took a look at his arm and saw several nail marks, with one of them being particularly deep, causing a slight bleeding.
Yuan Li pretended to turn a blind eye and said, “I didn’t see anything.”
Chu Hechao chuckled, pinched Yuan Li’s nose, and teased, “You little heartless guy.”
During the day, Yuan Li received a letter from his teacher, Ouyang Ting. He took it out and read it.
After reading, he became elated and looked up at Chu Hechao, saying, “Teacher said that many Confucian scholars and literati in the south have heard about our reputation and the changes in Youzhou over the years through the merchants. They are quite interested and will come to Youzhou in May. Teacher advises me to seize this opportunity to publicize the good reputation of Youzhou and attract people to settle here. He also asks me to try my best to find ways to keep these Confucian scholars and literati for our use.”
Many of these scholars and literati were renowned figures.
Currently, Yuan Li was in need of talented people, and this letter came at just the right time.
But these southern scholars and literati had already seen the most beautiful and prosperous scenery of the Northern Zhou dynasty. They were only coming to Youzhou out of curiosity. How could Youzhou attract them to stay?
Yuan Li pondered.
Even if they didn’t stay, it would be great if these scholars and literati could write poems and essays about Youzhou, which could change the image of Youzhou as a desolate and remote place in the eyes of the world.
Yuan Li’s eyes suddenly lit up.
He could organize a market fair and hold a lantern festival to attract them to Youzhou!