After Being Abducted by the General Chapter 16

Chapter 16

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Yuan Li’s nose was dotted with tiny beads of sweat.

However, this was just his speculation.

To be on the safe side, Yuan Li had instructed Zhao Ying to send out two groups of people. One group would secretly monitor the households where white cloth was tied to the doors, while the other group would quickly ride back to Ruyang County to see how many households there were with white cloth tied on their doors.

Ruyang County was Yuan Li’s stronghold. Chaos could happen anywhere, but not in Ruyang County.

He also had Zhao Ying pass a message to his father, Yuan Song, subtly indicating that these households might show signs of unrest. He instructed Yuan Song to mobilize two hundred troops from the farm and station them in the mansion as a precaution. He also ordered Yuan Song to temporarily halt the production at the soap factory and find another place to hide the dried soap. People were to be stationed near the soap factory, ready to set it on fire immediately if anything unusual occurred.

Yuan Li calmly issued one order after another, and his initially agitated mood gradually returned to calm.

As for the Chu Wang Mansion, Yuan Li wasn’t worried. Even if a rebellion were to occur, the rebels in Luoyang would be the smallest in scale and would be suppressed the fastest. Moreover, Chu Hechao was there. Even without him, the Chu Wang Mansion had a substantial number of retinues supported by wealthy and influential families.

Over the next few days, Yuan Li appeared calm on the surface but continued to collect information in secret.

After finally having some clues, everything became much clearer to Yuan Li. The more he looked, the more he felt that his speculations were correct.

According to Yuan Li’s original plan, the chaos would not arrive for at least three or four years. But now, it had come much earlier, catching him somewhat unprepared. Although he harbored hidden ambitions and aspirations deep within, he also had many concerns.

Yuan Li spent his days with a troubled expression, sighing deeply. Seeing him like this, Madam Yang tried to comfort him, grasping his hand and saying, “My dear child, don’t be so sorrowful. Feng Er has always had frail health, and his current situation is also a result of fate. I don’t blame you, and you shouldn’t blame yourself too much.”

Yuan Li knew immediately that she had misunderstood, but he couldn’t explain it. He responded vaguely, “I understand, Madam.”

Madam Yang patted him gently and, feeling exhausted, had her maidservant support her as she left.

Yuan Li returned to Wendao Courtyard, where he encountered the old servant he had seen at Chu Mingfeng’s residence.

The elderly servant, with white hair, respectfully greeted Yuan Li with a bow. “Young Master Yuan, my master has sent me to bring two people to you.”

Yuan Li was momentarily surprised. The old servant stepped aside, revealing the two individuals behind him.

One man was robust and sturdy, appearing like a hunchbacked wild bear. He had an honest face and dark skin, resembling ordinary farmers who worked in the fields.

The other person had a warm and friendly smile, with occasional gleams of shrewdness in his eyes. He had a handsome and astute appearance.

Both individuals raised their hands and bowed to Yuan Li. “Greetings, Young Master Yuan.”

Yuan Li returned the gesture. “Who are you two?”

The shrewd-looking man spoke first. “I am Liu Jixin. I will rely on Young Master Yuan from now on.”

The other person, with a somewhat blunt manner, said, “I am Wu Kai, from Xuchang. If Young Master needs anything, just give the order.”

Yuan Li looked at the old servant, who spoke with a weathered voice. “Wu Kai is from Xiangcheng County in Xuchang. He comes from an honorable family and has only a blind elderly mother at home. Though he may have an unattractive and burly appearance, he possesses extraordinary natural strength and is exceptionally brave. My master believes he has the potential to become a military general, so he assigned him to protect you.”

Wu Kai lowered his head.

Yuan Li furrowed his brow, slightly displeased. “If he is indeed a promising military talent, why waste him as a bodyguard by my side? A hero does not concern himself with his origin, let alone someone like me. Take him to see your Second Young Master.”

Wu Kai’s ears turned red instantly, and he anxiously glanced up at Yuan Li.

Liu Jixin pondered over the phrase “A hero does not concern himself with his origin” and found it incredibly inspiring. In the Northern Zhou dynasty, where the gentry and nobility controlled the selection system, being a county magistrate’s son was enough to be labeled as someone from a humble background. The resources were firmly controlled by established families through generations, and anyone who dared to utter the words “regardless of background” would surely face the fierce opposition of the gentry and nobility.

Coming from Yuan Li’s mouth, this statement seemed inconceivable, yet it filled people’s hearts with a sense of valor and even generated a favorable impression of this Young Master Yuan.

Liu Jixin noticed Wu Kai’s uneasy appearance and, considering they would be colleagues in the future, kindly explained to him, “Don’t worry. The Second Young Master is a renowned general in the Northern Zhou dynasty. Young Master Yuan isn’t rejecting you but rather trying to find a better path for you.”

Wu Kai breathed a sigh of relief and nodded silently, then shook his head.

The old servant chuckled and looked kindly at Yuan Li. “The master anticipated that Young Master Yuan would say something like this. He said that precisely because Wu Kai is a promising military talent, he should be placed by Young Master Yuan’s side.”

Yuan Li was taken aback for a moment and then began to contemplate the matter.

If Chu Mingfeng had said it, there must be a reason behind his words. Yuan Li could only speculate that Chu Mingfeng hoped he could train Wu Kai and mold him into a qualified military general.

But here came the problem.

Yuan Li’s eyelids twitched.

How did Chu Mingfeng know that he could train people?

“Well then, you can stay by my side,” Yuan Li finally said.

Yuan Li turned his gaze to Liu Jixin and asked, “Is this gentleman also supposed to stay by my side?”

The old servant replied, “This Liu Jixin is a local of Luoyang. He has served as a counselor in the Ministry of Finance and the Intendant’s Office of the Capital. He is highly intelligent and eloquent, but he has been suspected of betraying his masters on two occasions. It is up to Young Master Yuan to decide whether to keep him by his side.”

Even when being accused of being cunning and treacherous in front of everyone, Liu Jixin maintained a smiling and unaffected demeanor. He casually said, “Oh, Uncle Zhang, why do you have to say that about me?”

He then bowed to Yuan Li again and said, “Just as a good bird chooses its perch, a loyal minister chooses his lord. I was merely seeking a better lord to serve and have never uttered a single word against my former master. How can I be accused of betraying them?”

Yuan Li helped him up and said with a wry smile, “So you found Chu Mingfeng?”

“No,” Liu Jixin straightened himself with the assistance, “Young Master Yuan, I was looking for you.”

Yuan Li showed a surprised expression.

The old servant interjected, “Although these two individuals were sent by the master to be handed over to you, when the master befriended them, he specifically stated that they were to join your service. Since they agreed to come, naturally, they are coming for you.”

Yuan Li couldn’t help but feel curious.

Although he had gained some reputation in Luoyang, it was only the fame of being a filial son from Ruyang and the recognition he received from the Chu clan and his teacher, Ouyang Ting. As the son of a small county magistrate in Ruyang, where could he find the ability to attract others to seek refuge with him?

Liu Jixin seemed to perceive what Yuan Li was thinking and spoke, “To be able to make Master Ouyang eagerly accept you as his disciple and receive high praise from the Taiweil and the Magistrate of the Capital, I must admit that it has piqued my curiosity. Today, after seeing Young Master Yuan, I am even more convinced of your extraordinary charm. I request that Young Master Yuan not refuse me and allow me to stay by your side.”

Yuan Li considered himself to be relatively unknown and lacking significant achievements to make a name for himself. However, unbeknownst to him, he had already gained some reputation in the eyes of many.

In particular, the incident where he visited the Lord Taiwei and ended up being accepted as a disciple by Master Ouyang had caused quite a stir. Liu Jixin, who had served as a counselor to Zhan Qibo, the Magistrate of the Capital, was deeply intrigued when Zhan Qibo kept exclaiming things like “Remarkable young talent… sand table… three-pronged attack” or “Thousands of miles for grain supply, how many people and horses in the escort convoy.” These words sparked Liu Jixin’s profound interest. And when he heard the Lord Taiwei openly praise Yuan Li in front of everyone, his curiosity immediately transformed into action, and he found a way to establish a connection through Chu Mingfeng.

Yuan Li inwardly sighed, realizing that this person had sought refuge with him because of his teacher.

Although he sighed inwardly, he still welcomed talented individuals seeking to join him and smiled, saying, “It is fortunate for me to have the assistance of both of you.”

Seeing that Yuan Li accepted the two individuals, the old servant spoke, “Young Master Yuan, General Chu Hechao will be returning to the frontier soon. At that time, he will entrust the mansion to you.”

Yuan Li immediately turned to look at him and asked, “Chu Hechao is leaving?”

The old servant nodded in affirmation.

Yuan Li’s expression became subtle.

Chu Hechao was someone who would pick up a copper coin from the mud because he suspected it was related to a batch of goods. He had even followed him for several days without obtaining any provisions. And now he was preparing to leave?

Yuan Li found it hard to believe that there was nothing peculiar about Chu Hechao’s departure. This further confirmed his belief that troubled times were approaching, and that was why Chu Hechao wanted to leave Luoyang before the complete chaos unfolded in this tainted city.

He calmly asked, “Has the general already reclaimed his military pay?”

The old servant replied, “Urgent news arrived from the northern frontier, and the general is preparing to return early. As for the military pay, the general has managed to obtain a portion of it.”

After Chu Mingfeng’s death, Chu Hechao had once again petitioned the emperor for provisions. The emperor was likely satisfied with Chu Mingfeng’s demise, perhaps even a bit regretful, and thus provided provisions generously this time. However, due to financial constraints, the amount of provisions given could only sustain them for three months at most. It seemed that the emperor planned to collect taxes after the autumn harvest before providing the northern frontier with food for the latter half of the year.

Chu Hechao didn’t say much and prepared to leave with the provisions.

Yuan Li couldn’t help but praise the two brothers for being ruthless.

Superficially, it appeared that the court had only provided Chu Hechao with three months’ worth of provisions, and Chu Hechao appear quite aggrieved. But in reality, with the impending chaos, once turmoil broke out, every region would prioritize hoarding provisions for themselves, fearing for their own survival. The court itself was already impoverished, and when they turned around and realized they had given all the remaining provisions to Chu Hechao, it would be like depleting their own food supply to fill someone else’s granary.

At that time, Emperor Jianyuan would likely regret his decision. He would not have the luxury to worry about Youzhou and the border regions, and he might even struggle to sustain the over ten thousand troops of the Central Army’s Five Great Camps.

Yuan Li couldn’t help but chuckle.

“How wicked,” he thought, and he liked it.

Looking at it this way, it was good that Chu Hechao was leaving now. Before the chaos erupted, he would transport the provisions back to the northern frontier. Even if Emperor Jianyuan regretted and wanted to reclaim the provisions later, he would be powerless.

Yuan Li felt a tinge of envy.

If possible, he also wanted to escape as soon as possible. With troubled times approaching, it was the right path to find a place far from the capital to gather troops and provisions. As the saying goes, “Amass grain, build high walls, and bide your time before claiming the throne.”

However, as Chu Mingfeng’s “wife,” Yuan Li couldn’t just pat his buttocks and leave with his younger brother-in-law right after Chu Mingfeng’s death. Moreover, Yuan Li had not yet established his own position or entered official service. In the eyes of the world, he was nobody. Without a proper background as a successful candidate in the imperial examinations, how could he stand shoulder to shoulder with the warlords in troubled times?

It was just a joke.

What Yuan Li needed to do was stay in Luoyang, stabilize the rear, accumulate wealth and provisions, and wait two years to establish his position and officially enter the political stage.

Thinking of this, Yuan Li no longer felt regret. He nodded with a smile and said, “Then I’ll go prepare the farewell gifts for the general.”

After arranging Wu Kai and Liu Jixin in Wendao Courtyard and instructing Lintian to take good care of them, Yuan Li went to prepare the gifts for Chu Hechao.

Soon, the day for Chu Hechao’s departure arrived.

Cavalry and the army’s food supplies have been transported outside the city of Luoyang. Chu Hechao and Yang Zhongfa put on the same dusty armor they wore when they arrived. They sat atop tall and majestic horses, after a month of rest and recovery, the horses had been cleaned of bloodstains and dust, eagerly pawing the ground, itching to gallop.

The cold-colored armor gleamed with sharp, icy light from the blades and spears. Chu Hechao, donning the armor, appeared even taller, colder, and more intimidating. He firmly held the reins, the rope coiling several times in his palm, while his crimson cloak rested on the back of the horse. Chu Hechao turned his side to look at the people in front of the mansion.

The sun rose from the east, casting a chilling shadow on this group of people.

Having just bid farewell to one son, they were now bidding farewell to the second. Madam Yang lowered her head, wiping the corners of her eyes, and forced a smile, “Ciyue, take care and have a safe journey.”

Chu Ciyue lowered his head, looking at the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and the white hair on her temples. His thin lips pressed tightly together, then suddenly he leaned down, casting a shadow, and stared at Madam Yang, whispering, “Mother, why don’t you and Father come with me to Youzhou?”

Madam Yang resolutely replied without hesitation, “No, Feng Er died here. How can I abandon him and go to Youzhou?”

After uttering those words, Madam Yang realized her slip of the tongue and avoided Chu Ciyue’s gaze with evasive eyes.

Chu Hechao remained motionless.

Just when Yuan Li thought Madam Yang’s words had deeply hurt him, Chu Hechao slowly straightened his body. His facial expression remained unchanged as he calmly looked at Yuan Li.

His eyes were as serene as an ancient deep pool.

Yuan Li regained his composure and smiled at him, his lips slightly pursed. “General, have a smooth journey. I have prepared many things for you. You will see them when you pass through Ruyang County. I believe the General will find them useful.”

Chu Hechao asked, “What things?”

Yuan Li smiled mysteriously. “You will know when you see them, General.”

Chu Hechao caressed the reins and suddenly asked, “Does sister-in-law want to stay in Luoyang for a few more years?”

Yuan Li nodded. “That’s right.”

Chu Hechao suddenly laughed, a rare smile without any sarcasm. He spoke leisurely, “However, I feel like there’s one thing I’m missing. Sister-in-law didn’t bring it for me.”

Yuan Li pondered for a while but couldn’t figure out what he had forgotten to bring. Confused, he asked, “General, what is it?”

A gust of spring breeze swept by.

The rustling sound of the wind lifted their robes, causing the general’s scarlet cloak to billow. Dust filled their eyes, and Yuan Li’s long hair was blown forward by the strong gust. He closed his eyes, letting his dark hair and hair tie flick against his face.

But in the next moment, a thick black whip suddenly wrapped around his waist. Shadows obscured his vision, and a strong and sturdy arm leaned down. Yuan Li felt a whirlwind sensation, and suddenly his nose pressed against a solid chest.

The horse suddenly neighed with excitement, lifting its hooves to run.

Intense jolts shook them, and the scent of battlefield dust clung to the man’s body.

Chu Hechao encircled Yuan Li with his hands, trapping him like an iron prison.

“Sister-in-law,” his hot breath landed on the top of Yuan Li’s head, “Isn’t it you?”

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