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Yuan Lin hadn’t accompanied his parents enough, and in the blink of an eye, it was time to go to the Chu Mansion.
The people of the Chu Mansion couldn’t wait a moment longer. As soon as the day broke, the carriage was already waiting outside the county magistrate’s residence, unloading a pile of red wooden boxes.
The Yuan family didn’t take advantage of the Chu Mansion’s generosity. For everything the Chu Mansion sent, Yuan Song also organized an equal amount to send back, maintaining a dignified attitude.
After the carriage set off, Yuan Li lifted the curtain and looked at his parents, who were tearfully bidding him farewell. He suppressed the sorrow in his heart and smiled, waving to his parents.
Seeing his radiant and carefree smile, reminiscent of his worry-free childhood, Lady Chen took a few steps forward. “Li Er…”
Yuan Song held her back and, suppressing the pain of parting, and gestured towards Yuan Li.
Go early and come back early. Your father is waiting for the day when you return home in glory.
The carriage gradually moved farther and farther away until his parents’ figures were no longer visible, and only then did Yuan Li let down the curtain.
He let out a gentle sigh but quickly regained his spirits.
Ruyang was only a hundred miles away from Luoyang, and since Yuan Li had been independent from a young age in his previous life, the feeling of parting, although present, wasn’t too intense.
He was still thinking about what his father had told him about the Chu Mansion.
The Chu Mansion’s ancestors were once close friends who fought together with the founding emperor of the Northern Zhou dynasty. After the establishment of the Northern Zhou dynasty, the emperor granted titles to five major clans, including the Chu Mansion. Naturally, they were happy when they were initially granted the title. However, as time went on, the founding emperor of the Northern Zhou dynasty regretted his decision more and more. The five major clans became a thorn in his side, so he began to find ways to eliminate these clans.
Nowadays, only two of the major clans remain. One clan obediently left their fiefdom and chose to live in the capital under the emperor’s watchful eyes—that is the Chu Mansion. The other is the Chen Wang, Chen Liu, who retains a strong military presence in his own fiefdom.
In front of them was the thorn in the eye, Chen Wang, while surprisingly Chu Wang has gained favor with the Emperor. Even now, before his eldest son, Chu Mingfeng, has reached adulthood, he has already become the Deputy Prime Minister in the court, known as the ‘Young Gelao.’
Chu Wang has two sons, both talented and accomplished in both military and political affairs. The eldest son, Chu Mingfeng, is the one that Yuan Li needs to bring good fortune to. Despite his frail health since childhood, he is remarkably intelligent and highly favored by the Emperor, already holding a prominent position in the country despite his young age. As for the second son, Chu Hechao, Yuan Li didn’t know much about him. Except for his renowned military achievements and a fearsome reputation, legend has it that he has a ferocious appearance, with a fierce countenance and the ability to stop a baby’s crying at night.”
Because the Chu Mansion has shown Yuan Li many favors, he has also shown corresponding sincerity. He specifically researched many of Chu Mingfeng’s deeds and the more he learned, the more he realized that dealing with this influential figure, despite his weak health, would not be easy. After finishing his research, he sought information about Chu Mingfeng from the eunuch Yang Gonggong, who had come to escort him to Chu Mansion.
The eunuch seemed delighted to see Yuan Li and Chu Mingfeng in a “loving” relationship, so he spoke without reservation, portraying everything in a positive light.
However, as Yuan Li listened, he couldn’t help but deepen his wariness towards Chu Mingfeng, picking up subtle clues from the eunuch’s words.
After discussing the matter of the eldest young master, the eunuch seemed eager to continue, asking, “Would Young Master Yuan like to hear about our second young master as well?”
Yuan Li honestly shook his head. “There’s no need.”
There was no need to waste time on unnecessary socializing.
The eunuch clicked his tongue in regret and turned to tell Yuan Li about other matters regarding the Chu Mansion.
They continued discussing these matters until they reached Luoyang. By the time they arrived at Chu Mansion, it was already late in the evening. Yuan Li, exhausted, crawled out of the carriage, feeling that riding in a carriage was much more tiring than riding a horse.
Stretching his body, he looked up at the Chu Mansion. Two large red lanterns were already hanging in front of the gate, red cloth and silk flowers adorned the door beam, and two prominent “happiness” characters were posted.
It was a scene of joy and festivity.
Seeing that Yuan Li was lost in thought and afraid that he might change his mind, the eunuch quickly said, “Young Master Yuan, shall we go?”
Yuan Li snapped out of his reverie, instructed someone to take care of his belongings, and followed the eunuch through the gates of the Chu Mansion.
Among the guards who escorted him to Luoyang, more than thirty of them were Yuan Li’s own men. They were not just guards but also included three personal attendants who had always been by his side.
These people were the cream of the crop, having grown up with Yuan Li since childhood, and were wholeheartedly loyal to him. They would be the foundation for Yuan Li
Yuan Li had prepared exquisite gifts for each master in Chu Wang Mansion but the path the old eunuch led Yuan Li on did not lead to the main courtyard. Yuan Li was puzzled and asked, “Yang Gonggong, aren’t you taking me to meet Chu Wang and the Madam?”
“The madam has instructed this servant,” Yang Gonggong said, holding up his robes with a smile. “Young master has been busy all day today, and it’s almost moonrise, you should rest for now. When you’re well-rested, it won’t be too late to see them tomorrow.”
Yuan Li laughed and cried, “But tomorrow is the day of the wedding ceremony.”
Yang Gonggong leisurely said, “Listen to this old servant and relax!”
Since he said so, Yuan Li didn’t say anything more. After a while, Yang Gonggong led Yuan Li to a courtyard. “This is where you’ll live from now on. The courtyard hasn’t been named yet. You can think of a name for it. If there’s anything you’re not satisfied with, just let me know, and I’ll arrange it for you.”
“I have no complaints. Everything is fine,” Yuan Li looked around the courtyard and smiled. “Along the way, I saw a Daoist temple not far away. Let’s call it the ‘Wendao Courtyard.'”
After saying that, Yuan Li asked Yang Gonggong to express his thanks to Chu Wang and his wife, and then he let Yang Gonggong leave.
The people he brought quickly organized the luggage and checked every corner of the courtyard. Before long, Guo Lin, a manservant, brought a cup of perfectly warm tea.
“Sir, early this morning, we received news from the farmstead that I haven’t had a chance to inform you about,” Guo Lin said.
Yuan Li took off his outer robe and loosened the band that was painfully tight around his head. “What’s the news?”
Guo Lin replied, “A few days ago, Wang Er, who had just arrived, requested that you take in another group of refugees.”
Yuan Li smiled. His disheveled black hair cascaded down his back, and the shadow of the bed curtains casted a dim light, accentuating his fair and jade-like complexion. There was a touch of warmth in his face, as if discussing family matters. “Reply to him and ask him to count how many refugees there are in total, where they are currently located, and how many among them are capable of working and supporting themselves. If these refugees are heading towards Ruyang County, make sure they keep it quiet, crossing through the mountain paths without being seen by others. Also, remember, if there are any sick refugees, relocate them outside of Ruyang County.”
Guo Lin noted down each point and then asked, “Young master, if there are only a few hundred refugees, it’s manageable. But what if there are more? What should we do then?”
Yuan Li replied, “There are still many uncultivated fields in Ruyang County. As long as we help them survive until the autumn harvest, they will naturally become residents of Ruyang County.”
Guo Lin hesitated and said, “Young master, if the number of people is too large, we might not have enough grain reserves to sustain them until the autumn harvest.”
Yuan Li opened the bed curtains and said, “Let me ask you, how much grain do we have in the house? How much relief grain is distributed per person each day? Do these refugees have no other uses before the autumn harvest? You’re worried about insufficient grain reserves, but have you ever seen my father refuse refugees from entering our farms?”
This series of questions left Guo Lin at a loss. After careful thought for a while, he shamefully shook his head.
“You only see us providing food to the refugees, but you fail to see what we can gain in the future,” Yuan Li said slowly. “Labor and food, these are the most valuable commodities today. During the severe drought in Hanzhong, the refugees fled to Luoyang only to be openly rejected and kept outside the city walls. Even the emperor… I’m afraid he…”
His voice grew lower, and Guo Lin couldn’t hear clearly. But Guo Lin didn’t dare to ask any further. He quickly continued, “Young master, I have another matter. Wang Er wants to meet with you. He says he has a reason that he can only share with you, and he refused to tell anyone else when I asked him.”
Yuan Li became interested. “After the wedding, there will be a ‘returning to the bride’s home’ day. Make arrangements in advance for me to meet with him.”
Guo Lin agreed and obediently left to write a letter.
The room fell silent. Yuan Li stood by the bed in his snow-white inner garment and let out a sigh.
Perhaps his father also knew that the world was not easy, which was why he didn’t reject the refugees.
Once these disaster victims became their subordinates, they would become their household servants. Yuan Li didn’t feel guilty or uneasy about this.
Each era had its own way of life and values. For these refugees, becoming servants in the county magistrate’s household was something to be delighted and encouraged about. If Yuan Li made them do nothing and only accept daily relief rations, they would be restless and anxious, worrying if there would still be food to eat tomorrow or the day after. When people’s hearts are unsettled, unrest arises.
Yuan Li once again looked at the system in his mind.
【The Encyclopedia of All Things system has been activated.】
【Mission: Enter the National Academy.】
【Reward: Soap recipe.】
The emperor was getting older, and his control over the world was diminishing day by day.
He needed to speed things up.
The next day, Yuan Li was awakened by a lively and cheerful melody.
It was still dark outside, but servants flooded into Yuan Li’s bedroom like water, urging him to bathe and groom himself.
An hour later, Yuan Li’s hair was neatly arranged, and he was dressed in a wedding gown.
The wedding gown was a magnificent attire for a gallant young man, with several layers that had to be meticulously put on. But no matter how good it looked, it couldn’t stop Yuan Li’s stomach from growling in protest.
The servants carefully fed him pastries, and Yuan Li cooperated with them. He didn’t know how much time had passed until someone called out, “Done!”
Yuan Li snapped back to attention and looked down at himself, curiously tugging at the hem of his clothes.
With the red robe draped over him, he seemed to radiate a brilliant glow like a precious gem. He couldn’t see what he looked like, but the maids and servants casted glances at him repeatedly. Yuan Li had fair and handsome features, like a jade tree, with thick ink-like hair, eyes as dark as lacquer, and a pair of rosy and healthy lips. The contrast created a striking visual impact, making him look like a beautiful and elegant young man.
Two embroiderers were busy checking the wedding gown and discussing alterations in hushed voices.
“The golden silk pattern on the hem is showing, we just need to make a quick fix.”
“Oh dear, the waist needs to be tightened a bit more. The young master looks tall, why is he so thin?”
Yuan Li wanted to explain that it wasn’t about being thin, but rather the result of regular exercise, but he couldn’t find the words to say it.
These were minor issues, and they didn’t even require Yuan Li to take off the wedding gown. Shortly after noon, the embroiderers had finished modifying the gown.
In the Northern Zhou dynasty, the wedding procession takes place in the morning, and the actual wedding ceremony would be held in the evening. Yuan Li sat in the room in a daze, unaware of how long he had been sitting there, until the subtle fatigue of getting married to a man turned into weariness. Finally, Yang Gonggong came in, excited and with animated eyebrows. “Young Master Yuan, it’s almost the auspicious time. Come with me quickly!”
Yuan Li snapped back to reality and wiped his face. After taking a deep breath and clearing his mind, he stood up and said, “Let’s go.”
The Chu Wang Mansion was already engulfed in a sea of red. Red cloth strips were hung on the trees, and peach blossoms with buds exuded a shy and timid joy.
Sounds of blowing and beating instruments seemed to come from somewhere, muffled and not very clear behind the mud walls.
The venue for the wedding was the grand hall of the Chu Wang Mansion. Today, it was filled with distinguished guests, bustling with excitement.
As the young master of the Chu Wang family was getting married, most of the civil and military officials had rushed to congratulate him and catch a glimpse of the “bride.” The people allowed into the main hall were those who had a relationship with the Chu Wang family, while many others sat outside, offering their congratulations and toasting with a glass of wedding wine, but they couldn’t see the master of the Chu Wang Mansion.
Occasionally, bursts of laughter could be heard in the grand hall, but due to the poor health of the eldest young master of the Chu Wang Mansion, there was an added sense of restraint to the festivities.
As soon as Yuan Li entered the hall, he was greeted by many gazes.
“Oh,” a military official exclaimed, “Lord, your young master’s bride is truly beautiful!”
Chu Wang stroked his beard and burst into laughter. “Of course, he is. He looks much better than your son.”
This remark sparked another round of laughter. Lady Yang glared at Chu Wang and waved her hand towards Yuan Li, whose face was slightly flushed. “Good child, come here and let Mother have a good look at you.”
Yuan Li felt even more uneasy hearing Chu Wang Consort referring to herself as “Mother.” He approached in a proper manner and was immediately held by Lady Yang’s hand.
Lady Yang’s face appeared somewhat tired, but with the help of makeup, she looked spirited and quite well. She carefully looked at Yuan Li and smiled, pursing her lips. “I’ve heard of your reputation before, and now that I see you in person, I truly understand why everyone admires you. I know that marrying Feng Er might have been a compromise for you, but rest assured, our family will never mistreat you.”
Yuan Li smiled and replied, “Madam over praises me.”
Lady Yang playfully scolded, “Still calling me Madam?”
Yuan Li only smiled and changed the subject.
He couldn’t bring himself to say the word “Mother.”
Suddenly, someone below asked curiously, “The auspicious time is approaching, why hasn’t the eldest young master come out?”
Lady Yang and Chu Wang exchanged glances, about to say something when suddenly, a voice from outside shouted in alarm, “The second young master has returned!”
This cry of astonishment pierced the air like thunder. Immediately, a military officer stood up, both shocked and delighted, and exclaimed, “Chu Hechao has returned?!”
The shouts of the servants outside continued to reach their ears.
“Dear lords, please dismount quickly. Horses are not allowed to enter the mansion. The reception hall is just ahead!”
“Generals, generals! It’s not appropriate to carry weapons on this joyous day. Please put them down!”
The anxious and urgent voices grew closer, and the sound of hooves was now near their ears.
Yuan Li followed others in looking outside.
A group of soldiers clad in armor rode high-headed horses, galloping towards them.
These individuals were joking and laughing, with resolute expressions. The leader among them was exceptionally handsome, with a playful smile on his face. While he bantered with those around him, his eyes glanced towards the interior of the house, devoid of any laughter.
He was tall and well-built, with a straight and sturdy back that made the armor appear majestic like a towering mountain. The muscles of his legs, as he rode the horse, were firm and beautiful. His hands were adorned with black leather gloves that fit tightly against his fingers, emphasizing their exceptional length.
At this moment, one of his hands leisurely held the reins, while his scarlet cloak rolled behind his spine. The other hand lightly tapped the riding boots with a horsewhip, the whip swaying lazily by his calf, exuding a hint of provocative and sinister aura.
His appearance was far from the rumored ferocious and toothy visage.
Yuan Li was momentarily stunned, he had thought that the ugliest person among this group would be Chu Hechao.
Fortunately, no embarrassing situation occurred.
Just as he finished thinking, Yuan Li’s gaze met Chu Hechao’s. The corners of the man’s lips slightly pressed down and tugged, revealing a touch of coldness. Suddenly, he reined in his horse, dismounted, and strode directly towards Yuan Li.
In just a few steps, he stood in front of him. The strong scent of blood and dust permeated the air, and sweat beads rolled down the man’s Adam’s apple, sliding into his collar. Yuan Li furrowed his eyebrows lightly, feeling a sudden uneasiness, realizing that this was a dangerous individual.
The man noticed his wrinkled brow, clearly aware of his discomfort, yet he insisted on pushing further. Shadows enveloped Yuan Li as Chu Hechao’s ambiguous smile appeared. “So, you are my sister-in-law?”
His tone was inexplicable, making it unclear whether he was expressing gratitude or anger. “I must thank my sister-in-law. Before I arrived in Luoyang, you had someone send me a generous gift.”
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