Three days later, at the Yuan family’s farmstead.
The steward checked the fields but found no trace of Wang Er and his group.
He called the person in charge of resettling the newly arrived refugees. “Where are Wang Er and the others?”
“They finished the work in the fields and took a temporary leave,” the worker replied. “These people haven’t been out of Ruyang County since they arrived. There’s a shortage of bowls, utensils, and bedding in the house, so I gave them some wages to go buy what they needed.”
The steward casually asked without noticing anything amiss, so he nodded in response.
The sun was hazy.
Yuan Li hurriedly made his way back to the county magistrate’s residence.
As if people already knew he was coming back, there were many onlookers gathered outside the magistrate’s residence, occasionally whispering and pointing at Yuan Li. “This is the young master of our county magistrate.”
“That’s the young lad, so handsome and filial. The county magistrate and his wife are truly blessed.”
Yuan Li could face these praises without changing his expression.
Steward Lin rushed over with a few servants, his eyes reddening when he saw the weary face of Yuan Li. He knelt down at the entrance and cried out, “Young master, you’ve finally returned safely!”
Yuan Li hurriedly helped him up. “I’ve found the herb that my mother urgently needs. How is her health now? Take me to see her!”
Steward Lin was overjoyed and couldn’t help but cry tears of joy. “That’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful! Madam can be saved…”
The master and servant hurried back to the residence. Once the gates of the magistrate’s residence closed, only the amazed and praising voices of the people outside remained.
Inside the residence, as he wiped the sweat off his face, Yuan Li breathed a sigh of relief, feeling slightly embarrassed by the commotion outside.
Upon entering, Steward Lin wiped away his teary face and skillfully dried his eyes. “Young master, Master is waiting for you in the study.”
Yuan Li was puzzled. “Hmm?”
Steward Lin whispered, “Yesterday, Master received a letter from Luoyang. After reading it, he locked himself in the study. He specifically instructed that you should go to the study as soon as you return. There must be important matters to discuss.”
Upon hearing this, Yuan Li didn’t linger and quickly made his way to the study.
He lightly knocked on the door, and his father, Yuan Song, who seemed somewhat exhausted, responded with a weak voice, “Li Er? Come in.”
Yuan Li pushed open the door and saw his father sitting wearily at the desk, with sunken eye sockets and dark circles beneath his eyes.
“I heard you didn’t sleep last night?” Yuan Li joked. “What kind of earth-shattering event could keep you tossing and turning like this?”
Yuan Song let out a sigh. “Take a seat first. I had tea and pastries brought for you. It won’t hurt to fill your stomach before we talk.”
As soon as he finished speaking, someone brought the items. Yuan Li didn’t hesitate to indulge himself. After eating and drinking his fill and washing his face, he comfortably leaned back in his chair. “Alright, you can tell me now.”
Yuan Song sighed again. “You spent three days on Santou Mountain, did you get injured?”
Yuan Li couldn’t help but laugh. “Every evening, you and mother would send someone to check on me. How could you not know if I got injured or not?”
As he spoke, he became genuinely curious. “What exactly is the matter that made you hesitant to speak up so many times?”
After a moment of silence, Yuan Song pulled out a letter from under the documents on the table and handed it to Yuan Li. “Yesterday at noon, the Chu Wang Mansion in Luoyang sent a letter.”
“You mean the Chu Wang’s Mansion that was established by the three generations of high-ranking officials, who, together with the founding emperor, conquered the world and were granted the title of one of the royal houses?” Yuan Li asked.
Yuan Li opened the envelope and casually asked, “What does the letter say?”
His father closed his eyes and said heavily, “It’s a marriage proposal.”
The letter from the Chu Wang Mansion was written by Chu Wang’s wife, but the seal bore the Wang’s mark, which meant that the matter of the wedding had also received the consent of Chu Wang. The tone of the letter was earnest, almost tearful.
Yuan Li hadn’t heard his father’s quiet words clearly, but he had already started reading. As he read through the contents of the letter, his expression slowly transformed from confusion to shock, and finally to complete astonishment.
His father said, “The Chu Wang Mansion is desperate. They somehow obtained your birth information and want you to marry their young master. Doesn’t it sound ridiculous?”
He turned his head and looked at his eldest son, who was still lost in thought across from him.
The young lad, who hadn’t yet come of age, had rosy lips, white teeth, eyes like stars, and eyebrows like bows. The strands of hair at his temples were mischievously tousled, making him all the more charming.
Yuan Song felt a mix of complex emotions in his heart.
Yuan Li put down the envelope and looked directly into Yuan Song’s eyes. “I don’t accept.”
Yuan Song smiled bitterly. “I don’t want to accept either, but the conditions offered by the Chu Wang Mansion have made me hesitate.”
Yuan Li furrowed his brow.
Yuan Song valued him the most, considering him the future of the Yuan family. What kind of conditions could make Yuan Song hesitate?
The envelope did not specify these conditions.
Yuan Li asked, “What conditions did they offer?”
Yuan Song closed his eyes and relayed the words he had long been familiar with, not omitting a single word.
The Chu Wang Mansion stated that although it was called a “marriage proposal,” there would be no substantive relationship between Yuan Li and the young master, Chu Mingfeng. Yuan Li would only be like a temporary resident in the Chu Wang Mansion. Regardless of whether the young master’s illness improves after the marriage, the Chu Wang Mansion will express their gratitude to Yuan Li.
If Yuan Li agrees, the Chu Wang Mansion will immediately use their connections in the National Academy and arrange for Yuan Li to study there or at the Grand Academy. They will also find a famous scholar to take Yuan Li as a disciple, so he no longer needs to worry about the limited number of prestigious positions for scholars. They will provide him with full support and protection in the future.
Even reputation has been taken into consideration by the Chu Wang Mansion. Yuan Li’s marriage into the Mansion, done to save someone and out of benevolence, such an act of loyalty and righteousness will only earn him praise from everyone.
Such conditions were not only difficult for Yuan Song to refuse; even the influential and deep-rooted noble families would find it hard to refuse.
During the Northern Zhou Dynasty, society was relatively open, and the laws were not stringent. It was not uncommon for scholars and literati to marry other men. Although it was not widely seen, it was not rare either. If someone like Yuan Song, who had already experienced the ups and downs of the officialdom, saw this letter, he would undoubtedly agree without hesitation. But Yuan Li was still a young lad, a spirited young lad who might feel insulted by it.
“I won’t force you,” Yuan Song said with difficulty. “If you find it difficult, then reject it.”
Yuan Li lowered his gaze, and a shadow fell over his long eyelashes. He silently contemplated.
Troubled times were approaching.
If he followed the normal course, it would take him at least a few more years to become an official and have some power to recruit soldiers and horses.
But a few years later, he had already lost the opportunity.
Yuan Li suddenly opened his eyes, his gaze firm and clear. “Father, agree to Chu Wang Mansion.”
Yuan Li possessed the open-minded thinking of a modern person. Although he didn’t like men, the young master of the Chu Wang Mansion didn’t actually need him to participate in the wedding. It could solve the problem of entering the National Academy, allow him to learn from a renowned teacher, and let the Chu Wang Mansion owe him a favor. Moreover, his reputation would not be tarnished. It was a win-win situation without any disadvantages. There really was no reason to refuse.
Yuan Li didn’t believe that the wedding would be effective, but if it truly had an effect, perhaps it could save someone.
“You—” Yuan Song was astonished, opening his eyes wide to look at him, his eyes gradually becoming moist. “Li Er, you don’t have to do this for me and your mother…”
“Dad, don’t think too much,” Yuan Li couldn’t help but smile, his eyes curved, and his lips lifted. “As a man, it’s our duty to achieve success and establish a career. Why bother about these trivial matters?”
His words were filled with great vigor, and Yuan Song felt all his pent-up frustration dissipate. He took a deep breath and said, “My son is right.”
Yuan Li laughed out loud and handed the letter to his father. “Has the Chu Wang Mansion set a date for the wedding?”
“The person who delivered the letter is still here, waiting for your response,” Yuan Song said with a bitter smile. “Once you agree, he will rush back tonight, and tomorrow the carriage from the Chu Wang Mansion will come to take you to Luoyang. The day after tomorrow will be the day of your wedding.”
Yuan Li was surprised. “Why such a rush?!”
Yuan Song whispered, “The young master of the Chu Wang Mansion is in bad shape, I’m afraid.”
Yuan Li understood and no longer hesitated. “Then let it be. Tonight, I’ll spend some quality time with Mother.”
“Go ahead,” Yuan Song waved his hand. “I will personally arrange everything for the refugees you left on the farm, according to your instructions. You don’t have to worry.”
“Since Dad has said so, I won’t worry anymore.”
Yuan Li smiled, bowed to his father, and turned to leave the study.
But as he was about to cross the threshold, his father suddenly said from behind, “Li Er, I’m sorry.”
His words were filled with guilt and sadness.
If his status were a little higher, how could he let his child suffer like this?
Yuan Li paused for a moment, then waved his hand casually and walked forward gracefully.
He had never had biological parents since he was young. Reincarnating into this life, his family had already filled the void of paternal and maternal love. A young person naturally had to use their own hands and feet to seek a bright future and earn their own merits, only then would it be worthy of reincarnating into this life.
Outside the city, mountains towered into the clouds.
On the official road, several bodies laid from the mountainside to the roadside, scattered in disarray. Blood seeped through the cracks in the grass, winding like a thin river.
Not far away, the sound of galloping horses approached rapidly. In just a few moments, a group of mighty soldiers arrived at the scene of the bodies.
The leader dismounted with an unpleasant expression and, after examining the appearance of these people, cursed, “Who the f*ck intercepted my goods?”
“Sir, is this the convoy sent by that corrupt official in Hanzhong to deliver gifts to Luoyang?” The deputy general was dumbfounded and quickly dismounted, approaching. “Oh my god, who did this? Where’s the silver? The antiques? The silk? Where did all the things we were supposed to loot go?”
“How would I know!” Yang Zhongfa grumbled. “How am I supposed to explain this to Chu Hechao? I was counting on replenishing our military supplies this time, but there’s no silver to be seen, only corpses all over the place! If Chu Hechao asks me for the goods, where am I supposed to get them from?”
The deputy general wiped off his sweat, his face filled with worry. “What should we do, sir? The general has given us strict orders to intercept this shipment and keep it for ourselves.”
Yang Zhongfa took a deep breath to suppress his anger and walked forward to inspect.
All these bodies were lying face up, as if they had been individually killed while escaping from the mountains. Yang Zhongfa walked into the mountains and discovered several traps. In one pit filled with sharp bamboo spikes, there were seven or eight bodies, resembling hedgehogs.
The people who intercepted their goods were not very powerful, so they used tactics like luring them into the mountains and killing them one by one.
The deputy general and his men walked around the area and found several wheel tracks on fallen leaves.
They followed the tracks deeper into the mountains and halfway through, they discovered several destroyed wooden carts that had been pushed into the river.
These were the carts used by the corrupt official to transport the silver.
Yang Zhongfa’s face turned pale. Who could have done such a thorough job? By the riverbank, even the last trace was severed. How were they supposed to investigate?
But if they didn’t investigate, how could he explain it to that b*stard Chu Hechao?
He found several skilled soldiers who were good at swimming and had them take off their armor and jump into the river to search. They nearly turned the entire river upside down, and finally, under a stone crevice downstream, they found a blood-stained garment.
Yang Zhongfa unfolded the garment and stared at it with a dark expression. He said in a deep voice, “Investigate! Chu Hechao is returning the day after tomorrow. No matter which thieving scoundrel took our belongings, they will have to answer to him when he comes back!”
His subordinates echoed in unison, “Yes!”