Yuan Congyun and Yang Zhongfa originally thought that as they headed towards the northern frontier, the amount of food they carried would only decrease. They thought it would be considered good if they could deliver half of it to the battlefield. However, they never expected that along the way, instead of decreasing, the amount of food they had kept increasing.
On their journey, following Liu Jixin’s method, whenever they reached a city, they would first seek out the local influential families and forcefully persuade them to exchange food.
But that’s not all. Their general originally wanted to exchange the batch of antiques and paintings from the Young Master Yuan for food, but was stopped by the Young Master himself. Instead, the Young Master produced a set of things called “soap” from somewhere. These things were pure white and delicate, emitting a faint fragrance, arousing curiosity among many influential families as soon as they were brought out.
However, the Young Master only sold a limited number of sets, usually just one or two sets at each place. Each set had four different carvings of plum blossoms, orchids, bamboo, and chrysanthemums, all exquisitely crafted and luxurious. Despite their small size, they were sold at prices that astonished Yang Zhongfa and the others.
Especially when there were more influential families in a particular area, the soap sets could be sold at eye-popping prices.
Soap was a rare and peculiar thing, brought from Luoyang. Originally, these influential families only wanted to spend money to buy them for the sake of the army’s face, to avoid trouble. But after seeing the finished soap products, each and every one of them felt a newfound curiosity and fondness.
Moreover, Yuan Li sold very few.
These influential families were wealthy, so wealthy that they would spend tens of thousands of money on a single meal, and they would complain if there was nowhere to put their chopsticks. They were so wealthy that they had ten maidservants waiting by their side even when they went to the restroom, casually playing with exquisite jade carvings.
Among these influential families, showcasing their wealth had become commonplace. Every time they arrived in a new place, Yuan Li would send Zhao Ying and Liu Jixin to inquire about the influential families’ power and relationships, and then they would use this information for strategic marketing.
Those who held grudges against each other would have only one of the two influential families chosen to sell the soap. Those who had marital ties with each other would have the value of the soap conveyed through one family.
Yuan Li made great efforts to turn soap into a new tool for showcasing wealth among influential families.
The results were outstanding, and as a result, Yuan Congyun earned millions of times more money than the cost of the soap.
Of course, he didn’t want money for himself. Instead, he exchanged the money for long-lasting provisions such as food, cloth, medicinal herbs, alcohol, and warhorses.
Among these items, only alcohol was not a necessity in troubled times but rather a luxury item. However, such luxury items could play a crucial role at specific times.
Yuan Li didn’t exchange livestock such as pigs, cows, or sheep because there was still a distance to travel to reach Youzhou. If the livestock fell ill or contracted a plague on the way, even the horses would be affected, resulting in significant losses.
Of all the exchanged items, warhorses were the most difficult to acquire in large quantities. The influential clans all had their private armed forces and recognized the importance of horses as strategic resources. However, apart from horses, the other items were relatively easy to obtain through the exchanges.
That’s why, as they continued on their journey, the consumption of food didn’t decrease but instead increased.
Yang Zhongfa and his group admired Yuan Li wholeheartedly. They had become accustomed to privately referring to him as the “God of Wealth.”
They were also curious about the soap in Yuan Li’s hands. Seeing how highly regarded the soap was by the influential clans, they too felt a desire to have it, but they didn’t dare to ask for it. However, it seemed that Yuan Li knew what they were thinking. On the evening before leaving each city, after receiving sufficient military funds, he presented each person with a set of soap.
Naturally, due to the limited quantity, only a few generals and Yuan Li’s close associates received them.
The people who received the soap were at a loss, unsure of how to use it. “Lord Yuan, how should we use this?”
“It’s alright, it’s not really a precious item,” Yuan Congyun chuckled. “If you run out, I still have some with me.”
Yang Zhongfa and Han Jin exchanged glances, and Han Jin couldn’t help but ask, “Lord Yuan, since you have so much soap, why not sell it all to those influential clans?”
Just the thought of the price the soap could fetch made Han Jin’s hands and feet go numb with excitement.
As soon as this question was raised, the others also focused their attention on Yuan Congyun. Yes, why not sell it? The money earned from selling would be much more meaningful than using it themselves.
Guo Lin and his two servants were even more cautious as they held the soap and presented it to Yuan Li, saying, “Lord, we wouldn’t even dare to use the soap you gave us. Why don’t you sell our portion as well and exchange it for silver?”
“If I gave it to you, then use it,” Yuan Li sighed helplessly. “Even though I have plenty of soap left, I can’t just sell it to them.”
Yuan Congyun asked, “Why not?”
“Scarcity increases value,” Yuan Li replied.
Liu Jixin suddenly realized and couldn’t help but praise, “Ingenious!”
Seeing everyone looking extremely reluctant, Yuan Li’s mouth twitched, and he subtly urged, “We’ll be leaving the city tomorrow, and we need to speed up our march. We won’t be staying in towns until we reach Youzhou. Since we have some time tonight, why don’t you all try using the soap and see the results?”
As they traveled further north, the weather became hotter. These high-ranking men, covered in dust and sweat, gathered together every day. The strong scent even made Yuan Li’s face turn green.
But the generals didn’t catch the underlying meaning of his words. Upon hearing Yuan Li’s suggestion, they immediately became intrigued when they looked at the delicately crafted soap emitting a pleasant fragrance. That night, they closed the courtyard gate, and two or three people carried a large wooden tub. Bathing in the moonlight, they used the soap to wash themselves.
Yuan Li also carried a basin of warm water and walked over with the soap.
As he approached, he could hear them laughing and chatting.
“General, this soap really smells amazing!” Yang Zhongfa leaned in and took a deep breath of the soap, reluctant to let go. “How did Lord Yuan manage to create such a thing?”
While pouring cool water over himself, Yuan Congyun advised, “Why do you care about how Lord Yuan made it? Just be grateful you can use it!”
“I’m just curious!” Yang Zhongfa smacked his lips and glanced at Chu Hechao, then said with a hint of jealousy, “We’ve been eating so many delicious things under Lord Yuan’s care these days, and everyone has gained some weight. How come General, you haven’t gained a bit of flesh?”
Han Jin winked mischievously and said, “Those little ladies like our General the way he is.”
Liu Jixin was also bathing with them. He carefully felt the smooth texture of the soap, then followed their gaze towards Chu Hechao and shook his head in amazement. Unable to contain himself, he said, “I’m afraid the sight of our General might scare those little ladies instead!”
The group of men understood the implication and burst into laughter. Chu Hechao smirked lazily and said, “Then when you’re in the bridal chamber with your wife, won’t you make her laugh?”
Liu Jixin’s face turned dark, and he said, “General, your words are heart-piercing.”
The others burst into laughter.
Upon hearing their laughter, Yuan Li couldn’t help but laugh out loud behind them.
They turned their heads and saw Yuan Li, and their smiles widened. They warmly said, “Lord Yuan, are you here to join us in bathing?”
After months of spending days and nights together, they had grown familiar with Yuan Li’s temperament. They felt closer to him and trusted him more, speaking and acting with a familiarity as if they regarded Yuan Li as one of their own. Yuan Li nodded with a smile and walked over to Chu Hechao, placing the wooden basin down.
Chu Hechao glanced at him, his smile still lingering on his lips, and continued teasing playfully, “Sister-in-law, isn’t it inappropriate to undress and bathe in front of your younger brother?”
In the cover of the night, Yuan Li rolled his eyes. Although Chu Hechao was cold and stern, he had grown up mingling with the military, and he had the characteristics of a rough soldier. When he wanted to be mischievous, he truly excelled at it.
Look at him, he even dared to say such cheeky things.
But Yuan Li had also experienced life in a military camp before, and this level of vulgar talk was as ordinary to him as chewing bean sprouts.
“General, it’s also not appropriate to be naked in front of your sister-in-law, is it?”
He replied in the same tone, glancing at Chu Hechao from the corner of his eye.
Chu Hechao had a great physique, broad shoulders, narrow waist, tall and strong, with well-defined muscles that were impressive. However, what was even more striking were the numerous scars of various sizes on his masculine body.
Most of the scars were healed, displaying a well-recovered appearance. They covered Chu Hechao’s chest, waist, back, and thighs, some deep and some shallow, serving as the medals left by his victories on the battlefield, exuding a fierce and ferocious beauty.
Yuan Li noticed a particular scar on Chu Hechao that seemed to be a fatal wound. It was near his chest, and one could imagine how perilous that arrow injury must have been. It was likely the very wound that nearly took Chu Hechao’s life on the battlefield.
Yuan Li suddenly felt moved and thought to himself, “Chu Hechao is indeed a hero.”
Chu Hechao was momentarily taken aback by that statement. He narrowed his eyes, quickly rinsed off the foam with cold water, and picked up his robe. With a casual flick, he put on his clothes. Chu Hechao loosely tied the belt, wearing a smile that seemed both genuine and mocking as he said to Yuan Congyun, “Now I’m dressed.”
Yuan Li: “…”
He decided to retract his previous statement.
Yang Zhongfa and the others on the side were holding back their laughter, their faces turning red, afraid that laughing would anger the general. They hurriedly increased their speed, finished washing, and quickly put on their clothes before running away.
Chu Hechao was still waiting for Yuan Li’s response, but Yuan Li deliberately ignored him. He bowed his head, washing his hair, and treated Chu Hechao as a handyman, saying, “General, could you help me with my hair?”
Chu Hechao approached and lifted Yuan Li’s hair, and Yuan Li applied soap to it. A faint floral scent accompanied the steam as it diffused through the courtyard.
Chu Hechao pondered for a moment and asked, “Can this thing be used to wash hair too?”
“Of course,” Yuan Congyun replied confidently. In his previous life, he always used a single bar of soap for his entire bathing routine. “A bar of soap can last for a long time. General, do you think there’s a market for soap in Youzhou?”
“Yes,” Chu Hechao concisely answered. “Is it difficult to make?”
Yuan Congyun leisurely responded, “It’s neither easy nor difficult to make. However, I have brought skilled artisans who have experience in soap-making. Once they have the necessary materials, it will be much simpler for them to make it again.”
“What materials?” Chu Hechao asked.
Yuan Congyun raised an eyebrow, turned his head slightly towards Chu Hechao, the steam making his brows and eyes damp. With a teasing smile, he said, “General, are you trying to trap me with your words?”
Chu Hechao remained silent.
Yuan Li lowered his head and continued washing his hair. “General, we are family, so naturally, you should trust me a little more. If you keep testing me like this, I will get angry sooner or later.”
Chu Hechao smirked, “Is that so?”
Clearly, he didn’t take it seriously.
Yuan Li thoughtfully lowered his gaze, washing away the dirt from his hair.
He felt that he should find an opportunity to provoke Chu Hechao and make him angry. This journey had been too peaceful, and Chu Hechao might have forgotten about the ups and downs in Luoyang. If he wanted to establish his authority in front of Chu Hechao, he needed to let Chu Hechao understand the consequences of making Yuan Li angry. By leaving a deep impression on Chu Hechao, he would know not to provoke Yuan Li’s anger and learn what it meant to be afraid.
Yuan Li hinted meaningfully, “Once you arrive in Youzhou, you will know what those materials are.”
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