In his bowl were two poached eggs, but there were none in Chu Hechao’s noodle bowl.
Yuan Li pursed his lips and picked up an egg with his chopsticks, placing it in Chu Hechao’s bowl. “One for each of us.”
Chu Hechao declined, “You eat more, it’ll nourish you.”
Yuan Li glared at him and scolded, “Hurry up!”
Seeing Yuan Li looking so fierce, Chu Hechao couldn’t help but laugh and tease, “Are you worried about me?”
Yuan Li retorted, “….Worried about you? More like worried about you making my whole body ache!”
As Yuan Li got angrier, he spoke like he was breathing fire, criticizing Chu Hechao for lacking “masculine energy” and being strong on the outside but weak on the inside. As Chu Hechao listened, he suddenly burst into laughter, threatening, “You want to keep scolding me? If you do, I’ll get hard.”
Yuan Li immediately shut his mouth, looking at him in disbelief.
Chu Hechao’s neck was covered in nail marks, and there was a scar on his rugged chin. He rubbed his fingertips, reminiscing as he placed the empty bowl on the table. He looked at Yuan Li with a wicked smile and said, “Do you know what you look like right now?”
After swallowing his noodles, Yuan Li held his chopsticks defensively against Chu Hechao, “What do I look like?”
Chu Hechao said, “You look like someone who has matured by sleeping with me.”
Yuan Li blushed instantly, his temples throbbing. He was so infuriated that he could barely speak, “Chu… He… Chao!”
Chu Hechao looked at him with a smug expression, his eyes as if he wanted to strip Yuan Li naked, openly lascivious.
Indeed, Yuan Li’s current appearance was obvious that he had slept with someone.
The appearance hadn’t changed much, but there seemed to be subtle changes in the details. The mix of innocence and afterglow of the bed activities made it impossible for Chu Hechao to turn his gaze away, captivated.
It made his heart burn.
Yuan Li said, “Don’t look at me.”
Chu Hechao agreed, “Okay, quickly eat. I’m not hungry; both eggs are yours.”
Yuan Li was indeed hungry, so he picked up two chopsticks full of shredded potatoes and mixed them with the noodles. He lowered his head and ate heartily.
His hair, tied up by Chu Hechao at the back of his head, had loosened a bit, falling down by his ears. Lit by the dim candlelight, it exuded a warm and intoxicating aura.
After finishing a bowl of noodles with two poached eggs, Yuan Li burped, feeling sleepy.
Chu Hechao pulled off the wet sheets and beddings from the bed and replaced them with fresh ones. He carried Yuan Li to the bed, his arm wrapped around him, gently massaging his waist. “Go to sleep.”
Yuan Li looked at the messy nail marks on Chu Hechao’s neck and slowly fell asleep.
Yuan Li fell asleep, but Chu Hechao hadn’t slept yet. The more he thought about it, the more excited he became. Before dawn, afraid of waking Yuan Li up, he got out of bed and practiced the push-ups that Yuan Li had taught him, expending some energy.
Yuan Li wanted to sleep in, but his biological clock woke him up early.
After taking a shower and a nap, his body felt even more fatigued. Yuan Li felt lethargic and languid as he turned over, trying to continue sleeping by covering himself with the blanket.
Chu Hechao was afraid he would get sick, so he invited a physician early in the morning to check Yuan Li’s pulse. The result was good—Yuan Li was perfectly fine.
By the afternoon, Yuan Li woke up feeling refreshed. He did some stretching exercises and had Chu Hechao massage the bruises on his body to regain his vitality. By evening, he was full of energy.
Chu Hechao finally got to see how good his wife’s physical condition was. He was delighted and held Yuan Li affectionately, saying, “We can do it a few more times next time.”
Yuan Li: “……”
He started worrying again.
But Yuan Li’s worries didn’t last long. The harvest from various places was quickly transported to the granaries, and the joy of a bountiful harvest immersed the entire Youzhou in celebration.
This year’s harvest in Bingzhou was also reported to Yuan Li by the end of October, and the comforting news was that Bingzhou’s grain production had already recovered to nearly the same level as before the wars.
The potato production was particularly pleasing. Yuan Li praised the county magistrates of several counties with the highest yields in Bingzhou and used them as examples for the rest of the counties to work harder.
The magistrates who received the praise were greatly encouraged and happily promised Yuan Li that they would be more diligent in overseeing the fields next spring, ensuring that the county’s harvest would be better year by year.
Yuan Li allocated a portion of the harvest from Bingzhou and ordered Guan Zhihuai and Xin Zhou, stationed there, to start recruiting soldiers.
At the same time, before the arrival of winter, Yuan Li planned to repair the roads in Bingzhou.
Normally, with a major war approaching, road repairs would be postponed. However, the situation was different this time. Chu Hechao led the army to punish Li Li, and Yuan Li was bound to accompany him.
The reason was simple: a major event like eliminating a traitor would attract the attention of all the feudal lords. As one of the feudal lords himself, and having been appointed as the governor of Bingzhou and Yan Jun Marquis by the “Emperor” himself, it was not reasonable for him to stay in Youzhou and watch Chu Hechao march against Li Li.
Once they left, the rear would be left to their subordinates.
Yuan Li had talented advisers in his camp, while Chu Hechao had skilled generals in his army. Yuan Li trusted their abilities but also needed to be cautious. To prevent any mishaps in the rear, it was necessary to improve the road connecting Bingzhou and Youzhou, ensuring that both provinces could support each other with troops and supplies in the shortest possible time.
In particular, the roads leading to the various county seats in Bingzhou were crucial transportation arteries.
After the autumn harvest, road repairs became a priority. Yuan Li not only used prisoners of war for labor but also recruited farmers to work, providing them with daily wages and meals.
The people of Youzhou already knew what kind of person Yuan Li was, and they warmly welcomed every recruitment effort by the government. However, the people of Bingzhou hadn’t had a chance to truly interact with the newly appointed governor yet, and they were cautious about responding to the government’s recruitment efforts.
That was because when Liu Quan served as the governor of Bingzhou, he had repeatedly conscripted the people as forced labor for building his mansion and clearing river silt. The supervisors during those times were extremely harsh, resorting to beatings and verbal abuse. The people were deeply afraid of such treatment.
But if they didn’t go, would the governor get angry and forcefully conscript them later?
These worries troubled the people.
However, as time passed, they found that things were not as cruel as they had imagined. They secretly observed the prisoners of war working and saw that these prisoners were in good spirits and had plenty of strength. They looked like they were well-fed. Seeing this, some poor villagers hesitated and joined the labor force. Regardless of whether there was any pay, if they could have their meals taken care of during the farming off-season, it was better than having to use up their own food at home.
Not long after, these villagers were pleasantly surprised to receive their wages. The daily meals were simple, consisting of millet rice and vegetable soup, not particularly tasty, but for the villagers, it was already enough to be grateful for.
Once they discovered this benefit, all the villagers with idle time during the farming off-season rushed to join the labor force, and the progress of road repairs surged forward.
Yuan Li took advantage of the late autumn and personally came to Bingzhou to inspect the progress.
Xiang Hongyun, Guo Lin, and others welcomed him. Yuan Li visited various counties in Taiyuan Prefecture and also examined the current situation of the road repairs.
He shared a meal with the prisoners of war and villagers, eating the same rations provided by the government, which consisted of millet rice and vegetable soup. The taste wasn’t great, nor was it terrible, but for the people, it was already worthy of immense gratitude.
After finishing the meal, Yuan Li looked at how the people cherished every bite and sighed, “Every grain on the plate is hard-earned.”
Xiang Hongyun savored the words and nodded, “Lord, you speak wisely. It seems simple, but it hides profound truths.”
“No, that’s not something I said,” Yuan Li chuckled and shook his head. “Don’t take it to heart; just listen and forget about it.”
On their way back, Chu Hechao handed Yuan Li a small oiled paper package. Yuan Li opened it and found several pieces of dried meat inside.
“Your appetite is getting bigger, you were not full just now right?” Chu Hechao urged, “Quick, take a few pieces of dried meat to fill your stomach.”
Yuan Li hadn’t actually eaten enough, and he wasn’t shy about it. When no one was watching, he popped a piece of dried meat into his mouth.
Lately, he felt like he was growing taller; his calves would cramp at night.
After finishing one piece, he reached for another. Surprisingly, the dried meat was quite delicious. Yuan Li was enjoying himself when he noticed Chu Hechao’s sidelong glance as if observing him.
Yuan Li couldn’t help but ask, “What are you looking at?”
Chu Hechao glanced at him again with a somewhat strange look, and in the end, shook his head.
Yuan Li became suspicious under that scrutinizing gaze and approached Chu Hechao while riding his horse. “Speak up, what are you looking at?”
Chu Hechao coughed and said vaguely, “You’re not pregnant, are you?”
Eating so much, did he have Chu Hechao’s child in his belly?
Yuan Li maintained his composure and put the dried meat back into his embrace. He silently looked at Chu Hechao for a while before coldly chuckling and pressing down on Chu Hechao’s neck, saying through gritted teeth, “I am a man!”