After Being Abducted by the General Chapter 14

Chapter 14

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Ouyang Ting held the position of Sikong, one of the Three Excellencies, responsible for water conservancy projects, city defense construction, palace building, and other administrative affairs. He was not only a renowned scholar but also a famous general in the Northern Zhou Dynasty. He had pacified the southern region during times of turmoil and was a person who excelled in both civil and military affairs. However, he rarely took on disciples.

Because of his reluctance to take on disciples, Yuan Li had never thought of becoming Ouyang Ting’s disciple.

But at this moment, Ouyang Ting laughed heartily while stroking his beard. “Zhang Liangdong, you’ve hit the mark with your words.”

Then, his eyes sparkled as he focused on Yuan Li and asked, “Young Master Yuan, are you willing to become my disciple?”

Yuan Li was absolutely willing!

Although Ouyang Ting had once led troops, he currently held no military power and only had the honorary title of one of the Three Excellencies. Whether Yuan Li became his disciple or Zhang Liangdong’s disciple would have the same effect. Yuan Li was overjoyed and immediately performed the ritual of paying respect to his new teacher, his voice clear and loud, “Disciple pays respects to the teacher!”

Ouyang Ting’s laughter deepened the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes as he quickly helped Yuan Li up. He hadn’t been this happy in a long time. Zhang Liangdong and Zhan Qibo also congratulated him, saying, “Congratulations, Lord Ouyang, on gaining such a good disciple.”

“Lord Ouyang and Young Master Yuan have a strong master-disciple bond. Even when coming to the General’s residence for a drink, you manage to bring a disciple home,” Zhan Qibo teased, “Look, the General’s face is turning green.”

Zhang Liangdong forced a bitter smile, feeling a great sense of regret deep within his heart.

But compared to him, Ouyang Ting was indeed more suitable to be Yuan Li’s teacher. Zhang Liangdong sighed and thought that he and Yuan Li were simply lacking a bit of fate.

Yuan Li stood up from the ground with a smile on his face. At that moment, he heard a notification from his internal system.

【The Encyclopedia of All Things system has been activated. The disciple task has been completed, and the reward has been issued. Please explore it on your own.】

【Task: Serve in a position.】

【Reward: Cotton.】

Thinking about how he not only gained a formidable teacher today but also acquired the method of refining white sugar, Yuan Li couldn’t help but show a delighted expression, shedding his previous demeanor of discussing battlefields with calm composure.

Ouyang Ting couldn’t help but smile. “Li Er, starting tomorrow, come to my residence. I will teach you well, and you must not escape from the battle.”

Yuan Li’s expression changed, and he firmly replied, “Rest assured, teacher. Your disciple will definitely arrive on time.”

Ouyang Ting nodded approvingly but suddenly cleared his throat. “Li Er, about this sand table…”

Chu Hechao abruptly clapped his hands and turned to the two guards from the Yuan family. “Why haven’t you put away the sand table yet?”

His tone was overly commanding, causing the two guards to instinctively obey his order. They approached, drained the water from the sand table, lifted it, and placed it into the box.

Chu Hechao watched as the box was locked before he smirked and deliberately looked at Ouyang Ting. “Lord Sikuang, did you have something to say?”

Ouyang Ting replied, “…It’s nothing.”

“If there’s nothing, then let’s go.”

Chu Hechao bid farewell with a smile, taking Yuan Li and the sand table with him.

Ouyang Ting and the other two stared at the wooden box, collectively sighing with regret.

After returning to the Chu Residence, Yuan Li was still immersed in joy. However, as he reached the Wendao Courtyard, he noticed that Chu Hechao had followed him.

He quickly understood what was going on and pretended to be puzzled as he asked, “General, may I ask the reason for your presence?”

Chu Hechao spoke politely, softening his tone. “Can I request to have my sister-in-law’s sand table as a gift?”

Yuan Li responded, “This sand table represents the terrain of Ruyang County, and it wouldn’t be of much use to you, General.”

Chu Hechao remained patient. “No matter, I’ll keep it for appreciation.”

However, the usually generous Yuan Li blinked his eyes and appeared somewhat innocent as he said, “But I don’t actually want to give it to you, General.”

Chu Hechao’s mouth twitched for a moment, his eyebrows furrowing slightly, the pressure came suddenly. Since Yuan Li could casually give black armor to someone like Wang Er, he didn’t think he was inferior to that person. “Why?”

“Do you really not know, General?” Yuan Li sighed softly, seemingly genuine and feigning a melancholic expression. “Since I arrived at the Chu Residence, you have always targeted me everywhere, even saying that you would find an opportunity to return each gift to me one by one. With the way you treat me, I can’t help but feel a certain dislike and fear towards you, making it difficult for me to be close to you, General.”

Chu Hechao’s lips curled up, his expression filled with amusement, as if waiting to see what else Yuan Li had to say.

But the young man lowered his eyes and brows, casting a shadow over his face. His crimson hairband fluttered backward in the wind, and his profile appeared soft, conveying a genuine sense of sadness that was far from his previous spirited appearance.

Chu Hechao suddenly remembered the scene of them sharing a cup of wine together. His eyebrows twitched slightly, wanting to say, “What’s it to me if you’re upset?” But he swallowed those words, feeling a hint of impatience as he spoke, “What does Sister-in-law want, then?”

After speaking, he suddenly smiled, and a hint of cold mockery appeared on his handsome face. “How about I apologize to Sister-in-law?”

Yuan Li responded slowly, “Sure.”

Chu Hechao paused for a few seconds. “Sister-in-law, I apologize for the offense I caused a few days ago.”

Yuan Li felt refreshed upon hearing that and responded with feigned sincerity, “We’re all family, little brother, no need to be polite.”

After saying that, he walked confidently into Wendao Courtyard and turned to close the courtyard door.

Chu Hechao placed his hand against the wooden door.

His unusually slender fingers tapped on the door, creating a nervous and urgent rhythm.

“Did you forget something?”

Chu Hechao’s tall figure bent slightly, his gaze meeting Yuan Li’s through the crack of the door, exuding an uncomfortable, masculine aura. “Sister-in-law.”

He raised his chin towards the wooden box behind Yuan Li. “The sand table.”

Yuan Li no longer played tricks on him and generously instructed the two guards to lift the wooden box and hand it over to Chu Hechao.

Chu Hechao’s tone softened. “Thank you, Sister-in-law.”

He could now sense Yuan Li’s goodwill.

Although there were still doubts about Yuan Li’s connection to the goods, having a sister-in-law who possessed a sand table, had a thorough understanding of military marches, and managed the farms efficiently was undoubtedly more valuable than the worth of those goods.

A flash appeared in Chu Hechao’s eyes as he had the box carried away.

After that, every day, Yuan Li went to Ouyang Ting’s residence to study punctually.

Ouyang Ting not only taught Yuan Li the Five Classics and History, but also trained him in martial arts for battle. Yuan Li studied diligently, arriving at Ouyang’s residence before dawn and returning to the Chu Wang Mansion drenched in sweat after sunset, never complaining about the hardships in front of Ouyang Ting.

Although Ouyang Ting didn’t say it out loud, he was extremely pleased with Yuan Li. Within a few days, he already regarded Yuan Li as his own nephew.

Moreover, Yuan Li had exceptional talent, remaining calm and decisive in every situation, with a strategic mind. Ouyang Ting believed that Yuan Li could potentially become a high-ranking official in the Three Excellencies and Imperial Cabinet, becoming a renowned official.

If Yuan Li could truly achieve such accomplishments, their teacher-student relationship would become a tale of two influential figures, a story that would be envied by many.

It was precisely because of this expectation that Ouyang Ting became even more serious in teaching Yuan Li. Even Ouyang Ting’s wife, Madam Lu, couldn’t help but find it excessive and often sent fruits and snacks to them.

After a few days, apart from studying at Ouyang Ting’s residence, Yuan Li also had to attend the National Academy for further studies.

On the day before he was supposed to go to the National Academy, when Yuan Li was about to go to Ouyang Ting’s residence, Chu Mingfeng suddenly sent someone to deliver a letter to Yuan Li, asking him to pass it on to Ouyang Ting.

Yuan Li handed the letter to Ouyang Ting, who trembled as he read it. After a long silence, he said to Yuan Li, “You will be studying at the National Academy during the day, and after school, you won’t have time to come here. How about this, you can take a break every ten days and come to my residence to continue your studies. You don’t need to come during other times.”

“Teacher, there’s no need…”

Yuan Li was about to refuse, but seeing Ouyang Ting’s solemn expression, he obediently nodded, “Disciple understands.”

The next day, Yuan Li went to the National Academy.

Zhan Shaoning was also in the National Academy, and as soon as Yuan Li arrived, he enthusiastically introduced him to others. Despite Yuan Li’s humble background, with the support of the Chu Wang Mansion and Zhan Shaoning’s favor, coupled with his own straightforward and righteous character, he fit in effortlessly. Within a few days, he had made friends with several individuals of good character.

Especially after it became known that he was studying under Ouyang Ting, more people came to befriend him at the National Academy.

Even Zhan Shaoning regarded him with envy. “Master Ouyang rarely takes on disciples, Yuan Li. You must cherish this teacher-student relationship. But with your exceptional talents, it’s not surprising that you became his disciple. Those who envy you can’t compare to you!”

He added with earnestness, “However, they are not truly interested in being your friends but rather in using your connections to befriend esteemed scholars and officials. Don’t let them deceive you.”

Yuan Li couldn’t help but laugh and cry. He naturally understood this principle but still appreciated Zhan Shaoning’s reminder. Afterwards, he agreed to make a sand table for him, as Zhan Shaoning persistently requested.

However, not long after, Yuan Li heard the news that Ouyang Ting had submitted a memorial to the emperor, which greatly angered the emperor. Ouyang Ting was removed from his position as Minister of Works and demoted to the post of Governor of Xuzhou.

Several days had passed by the time Yuan Li heard this news. He was shocked and pale with worry. He hastily took leave and rushed to Ouyang Ting’s residence. Before reaching the entrance, he saw several carriages parked in front of the mansion. Servants were shuttling back and forth between the carriages and the mansion, busily moving things around, giving off an air of desolation as if people had left and the tea had gone cold.

Yuan Li’s heart sank, and he quickly entered the Ouyang residence to find Ouyang Ting. Ouyang Ting was sitting on the steps in front of the reception hall, his robes disheveled, his hair unkempt. He gazed sadly at the servants hastily moving luggage throughout the courtyard.

A few empty jars fell out of a servant’s arms, clattering as they rolled on the ground, adding to the desolation.

“Teacher,” Yuan Li’s eyes turned sour, unable to hold back, he said, “Why did this happen so suddenly…”

“Li Er, you’re here,” Ouyang Ting snapped out of his daze and looked at Yuan Li. He forced a bitter smile and said, “It’s not entirely sudden. I had anticipated that such a day would come.”

He motioned for Yuan Li to sit beside him, and the two master and disciple watched the bustling scene in silence. After a while, Ouyang Ting spoke, “Now that eunuchs hold power and persecute court officials, the emperor only seeks pleasure while the people of the world suffer in chaos. This realm, I’m afraid, is growing more chaotic by the day.”

His voice was weary and feeble, heard only by Yuan Li, who understood the desolation and helplessness in Ouyang Ting’s tone.

Ouyang Ting continued, “Do you know why I was dismissed from my position as one of the Three Excellencies? Simply because I took the lead in submitting a memorial to the emperor, urging him to allocate military funds for the northern frontier. The emperor was unwilling, and I couldn’t help but argue a few words, which angered him.”

As Ouyang Ting spoke, tears streamed down his face. “My dismissal is just a small matter, but the allocation of military funds for the northern frontier is a crucial issue. Beyond the northern frontier, the barbarian tribes cast covetous eyes on our Northern Zhou, and the Xianbei and Xiongnu harbor ambitious intentions. The northern frontier is the most important and final defense line for our Northern Zhou. Even if palaces are left unbuilt and labor levies increase, we must prioritize supplying provisions for the 130,000-strong army in the northern frontier. It’s detestable that those eunuchs have blinded the emperor, misleading him with slanderous words. Do these eunuchs even know that once we lose the defense of the northern frontier, it will be a calamity for our nation!”

Ouyang Ting slammed his thigh in frustration.

“Teacher…” Yuan Li sighed.

Emperor Jianyuan is not controlled by the eunuchs; he simply doesn’t want to allocate provisions. Ouyang Ting probably understood this deep down but refused to acknowledge the emperor’s heartlessness and frivolity.

Ouyang Ting continued, his emotions rising as he cursed the eunuchs vehemently, stirring anger within Yuan Li. Then, he sighed and said, “Now that my departure from Luoyang is an irreversible fact, Li Er, you must be cautious after I leave the capital. We will correspond through letters, and I will frequently assess your progress. Even if I can’t be by your side to teach you, you must not slack off.”

Yuan Li nodded, hesitated for a moment, and asked in a low voice, “Teacher, why did you leave in such a hurry? Is it related to the letter written by Chu Mingfeng?”

All these events may seem sudden, but upon closer examination, they are not without clues.

After reading Chu Mingfeng’s letter, Ouyang Ting petitioned the emperor on behalf of Chu Hechao for provisions, which led to his demotion as the governor of Xuzhou. Now, his hurried departure doesn’t appear to be rushing to assume a new position but rather escaping from a dangerous place.

Ouyang Ting interrupted Yuan Li’s question and hinted, “Li Er, don’t dwell too much on these matters.”

Yuan Li pursed his lips and changed the topic, “Teacher, Xuzhou is a land of abundance with a large population. It has always been a contested region for military strategists. Although you have transitioned from the Three Excellencies to a provincial governor, you now possess more actual power.”

The rank of the Three Excellencies is ten thousand shi, while a provincial governor holds a rank of two thousand shi. The difference is significant. However, a provincial governor is the leader of a province, with the authority to appoint and dismiss local officials, oversee military affairs, somewhat resembling the later-day governors or the Tang dynasty’s military governors (jiedushi). They have jurisdiction over a wide area and hold high positions of power.

In Yuan Li’s view, being a provincial governor is much better than being a powerless Three Excellency.

Ouyang Ting sighed bitterly and quietly instructed his disciple, “Xuzhou is located next to Chen Wang’s territory, and Chen Wang has long had a strained relationship with the court. As the governor of Xuzhou, to put it nicely, I am a provincial governor, but to put it harshly, I am a target for seizing territory with Chen Wang. If Xuzhou were truly that good, why would the emperor assign this task to me?”

Yuan Li pondered for a moment and said, “I see.”

Ouyang Ting continued, “Li Er, I originally wanted to gradually teach you the ways of an official, explain the court and the state of affairs. But as I am about to leave the capital, time is running short. You must firmly remember everything I’m about to tell you.”

Yuan Li replied solemnly, “Yes.”

Ouyang Ting stroked his beard and began to speak in a low voice about the situation in Northern Zhou.

Throughout history, there has always been conflict between eunuchs and powerful clans. The current Emperor Jianyuan ascended to the throne at a young age, and the power was in the hands of the powerful clans. He cultivated the influence of the eunuchs to counter the powerful clans, and the power of the eunuchs officially entered the political stage. Later, Emperor Jianyuan allowed the eunuch power to grow stronger and used them to suppress scholars and nobles.

As the saying goes, “The upper class has no commoner roots, the lower class has no prestigious families.” Those who can reach high positions are mostly from prestigious families. The court affairs and the imperial examination system have been controlled by scholars and nobles. Naturally, the emperor cannot tolerate this situation, so the eunuchs oppress the scholars severely. The scholars, in turn, are unwilling to be oppressed by the eunuchs, leading to increasing friction between the two sides.

Eunuchs have no reliance other than the emperor. They are the emperor’s most loyal blades and will do whatever the emperor asks of them. The more the scholars resist, the more ruthless the eunuchs become in their actions, and their reputation becomes increasingly notorious.

“Chu Mingfeng’s illness was caused by the eunuchs,” Ouyang Ting’s beard twitched, his hands trembled, and his voice became extremely low. “He was a young Gelao! They dare to harm even a minor young gelao! Since his illness, the scholars have been frightened and have quieted down. With the scholars silent, the eunuchs have also stopped their actions. During this time when the young gelao was seriously ill, Luoyang City has been unusually calm.”

But in reality, everyone was watching Chu Mingfeng’s illness.

This includes the scholars, the eunuchs, and even the emperor.

Everyone is waiting to see whether Chu Mingfeng lives or dies.

Ouyang Ting was unsure of the outcome and what it represented, but he could sense the underlying waves in Luoyang City. Upon receiving Chu Mingfeng’s letter urging him to leave Luoyang as soon as possible, he decided to trust Chu Mingfeng and leave early.

His recent dismissal from the position of the Three Excellencies for helping Chu Hechao request provisions had given Ouyang Ting a clear understanding. Perhaps only when Chu Mingfeng died would the emperor have full control over the military provisions for the 130,000 troops in the Northern Border. Only then would the emperor allocate provisions to the Northern Border.

Ouyang Ting closed his eyes, and a sense of sadness and despair welled up within him.

How has the world come to this state?

After listening to Ouyang Ting’s words, Yuan Li was sent back home by Ouyang Ting. The next day, Yuan Li bid farewell to Ouyang Ting outside Luoyang City.

As his teacher departed, Ouyang Ting left Yuan Li with twenty warhorses, ten sets of black armor, thirty pounds of gold, and five books of scriptures.

He patted Yuan Li’s shoulder, his eyes filled with hope. “Li Er, remember the words I told you. You have yet to establish your reputation, so there’s no rush to enter officialdom. After two years, I will recommend you as an exemplary candidate for an official position. By then, you will have established yourself and surely achieved great things!”

Yuan Li nodded earnestly and said, “Teacher, you can rest assured.”

He also believed that he needed to hone his skills in Luoyang for a while longer. Once he had enough fame and connections, he would enter officialdom, starting from a much higher position.

What’s more important is that he needs these connections and time to accumulate wealth, establish himself in the rear, gradually take control of Chu Hechao’s army, and be prepared before the troubled times arrive.

After bidding farewell to everyone, Ouyang Ting reluctantly boarded the departing carriage. He looked at the gradually receding city of Luoyang and couldn’t help but sigh with sorrow.

It’s unclear how long it will take until they meet again.

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