After Being Abducted by the General Chapter 35

Chapter 35

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The Wuwan people rushed from Pan County to Zhuolu County, which would take about seven to eight days. During this period, Yuan Li first welcomed a group of trusted individuals who had come from Bohai. 

This group consisted of about thirty individuals, precisely the thirty elite guards that Yuan Li had brought with him from Luoyang. 

They all had determined expressions, their exposed skin sunburned and peeling, but they had hurriedly made their way without stopping, delivering the refined salt weighing three hundred jin (around 150 kilograms) to Yuan Li. 

The person leading the team was Meng Yanyi, the guard whom Yuan Li hadn’t seen in a long time. He clasped his fists and said, “We have fulfilled our mission, my lord.” 

When Yuan Li arrived in Youzhou, he had taken three hundred troops with him. 

These troops were all outstanding talents trained by him using modern military theories. Yuan Li had taught them literacy, basic farming, and medical knowledge. Each of them held a deep gratitude towards Yuan Li, possessing unwavering loyalty. 

Yuan Li supported Meng Yanyi and said with satisfaction, “You have all worked hard.” 

He immediately ordered his men to bring food and drinks to Meng Yanyi and the others, arranged for a skilled physician to treat their sunburns, and provided ice blocks to cool their rooms. Everything was arranged properly. 

After the trusted individuals had settled down and started to rest, Yuan Li summoned Chu Hechao and Yang Zhongfa.

These two individuals happened to be together, and when they heard Yuan Li calling them over, they exchanged a glance and eagerly approached. 

As soon as they entered, Yang Zhongfa curiously asked, “Young Master Yuan, do you have something good again?” 

Upon entering, Yang Zhongfa was the first to notice a bulging sack placed on the table in front of Yuan Li. The sack’s opening had been torn, revealing white, snowflake-like substances.

Yang Zhongfa asked curiously, “Did you grind the ice into powder?”

But upon closer inspection, it didn’t resemble powdered ice.

Chu Hechao strode forward and stood by the table, observing for a while. Suddenly, he reached out, took a pinch of the substance, and smelled it. Not detecting any scent, he put it in his mouth.

The next moment, Chu Hechao stood frozen in place.

Shock flashed across his face as he incredulously lowered his head to look at the sack’s contents.

Yang Zhongfa grew increasingly curious and quickly approached. “What is this, General?”

As soon as he finished speaking, Yang Zhongfa couldn’t contain his impatience and also took a pinch to taste. The unmistakable salty flavor quickly spread in his mouth, instantly dissolving without any trace of bitterness. Yang Zhongfa widened his eyes and looked at Yuan Li in disbelief. “My goodness, is this… is this salt?”

He was so excited that his beard trembled, and he lowered his voice in an instant. “Is there such pure, snow-white salt in the world?!”

Chu Hechao also gazed intensely at Yuan Li.

Under the intense gaze of the two pairs of eyes, Yuan Li didn’t keep them in suspense and nodded firmly, admitting, “Yes, this is indeed salt!”

Chu Hechao’s throat tightened. “Very good.”

He stared at the fine salt and suddenly smiled.

Yang Zhongfa took a sharp breath and couldn’t speak for a while. After realizing what it was, overwhelming joy swept over him. He burst into hearty laughter, forcefully pounding the table. His face turned red as if he were drunk. He took another pinch of salt and put it in his mouth, contorting his face from the saltiness, but his eyes brightened more and more. “Great salt! Wonderful salt! The taste of fine salt is much stronger than coarse salt, and there’s not even a hint of bitterness. Even the Emperor has never tasted salt like this!”

Yuan Li handed him a cup of tea. “Lord Yang, rinse your mouth.”

Yang Zhongfa hurriedly waved his hand. “No need to rinse! Yuan Li, let me savor this salt more. I can’t bear to rinse my mouth!”

Chu Hechao carefully examined a pinch of salt in his hand.

These salts were delicate and pure white, without a trace of impurities, and the grains were distinct, like tiny grains of rice.

Salt was not just a daily necessity but also an essential strategic resource, on par with iron, or even more important. To have strong and powerful soldiers, salt was indispensable. Chu Hechao also paid great attention to controlling the salt ponds throughout Youzhou. He considered himself well-versed and had seen many good things due to his high status. However, he had truly never seen salt like this. Yang Zhongfa was right; even the Emperor had never tasted such salt.

“Sister-in-law,” Chu Hechao spoke slowly, a faint smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “How much of this salt do we have? Is it from salt ponds, wells, or the sea? And where did it come from?”

Pausing for a moment, he turned his head towards Yuan Li, determined to get an answer. “If this place is not within Youzhou, we must seize it by force.”

Yuan Li answered one by one, “Because it has been a short time, we currently have only around three hundred catties. This salt was extracted by my men from the southern coast of Bohai Sea using a new method. That’s why the taste and appearance of the salt are different from the coarse salt we had before. The southern coast of Bohai Sea is already part of the general’s fief, so there is no need to seize it.”

The southern coast of Bohai Sea had abundant shallow underground brine water resources. Coupled with a flat terrain and ample sunlight, it had a high daily evaporation rate, making it an ideal place for salt production.

Chu Hechao was somewhat surprised. “So it’s sea salt…”

Yuan Li smiled and asked, “Based on General and Mr. Yang’s assessment, how valuable is this sea salt?”

“It’s definitely a valuable commodity!” Yang Zhongfa was the first to respond. “Once it’s sold, it will drive the masses crazy. However…”

He hesitated and asked, “Is this white salt very expensive?”

In Northern Zhou, the price of salt was 1.5 to 2 times that of grain, and this price specifically referred to inland areas during peacetime. In remote regions or minority-populated areas such as Youzhou and Liangzhou, the price of salt could be as high as five times that of grain. People often had to consume bland food because they couldn’t afford salt, leading to physical weakness.

However, in times of war, the price of salt would likely skyrocket to eight to ten times that of grain.

Yang Zhongfa was afraid that Yuan Li would sell this salt at an even higher price.

However, Yuan Li said, “If we are to sell it, this salt should be priced the same as grains.”

Yang Zhongfa looked up at him in shock.

Yuan Li smiled and said, “Mr. Yang, there’s no point in making money off the common people. If we want to profit, we should make money from the barbarians.”

A cold glint flashed in his eyes. “This salt will not be sold to the common people in the short term. We will earn enough gold, silver, treasures, and livestock from the barbarians at a high price. Then, we will sell the fine salt in Youzhou at a low price.”

Chu Hechao instantly understood. “Are you saying that we will sell this salt to Da Dan and his group, and retrieve the spoils they looted from Pan County and Xia Luo County?”

“Yes and no,” Yuan Li raised an eyebrow and suddenly grinned mischievously. He raised his voice and said, “Mr. Liu, please bring me some coarse salt.”

After Liu Jixin brought the coarse salt, Yuan Li directly mixed the fine salt with the coarse salt in a ratio of one to one point five, creating a lower-grade salt that was much better than the coarse salt.

Yuan Li nodded in satisfaction and wiped his hands clean. “This lower-grade salt is already much better than the salt on the market. The Wuwan people are short of salt, and they have just looted a large amount of gold, silver, and treasures, so naturally, they have a lot of money to spend. Mr. Yang, if I present this lower-grade salt to them, do you think they will buy it?”

“Of course they will,” Yang Zhongfa laughed heartily, his eyes sparkling. “The Wuwan people love to boast, and Da Dan is particularly prone to arrogance and complacency. Although I’m reluctant to sell them this good salt, the thought of tricking them out of their money makes me happy. Lord Yuan, let General and me handle this matter!”

Yuan Li said, “Then it will be a task for the two of you. Besides exchanging salt for their gold and silver treasures, it would be best to also acquire some livestock such as cows, sheep, and horses, as well as the captive White Rice Gang who serve as their slaves.”

Yang Zhongfa was somewhat puzzled, “Acquiring cows and sheep is possible. However, the Wuwan people are more likely to sell horses to horse traders than to us. Also, Lord Yuan, why do we need to retrieve the captive White Rice Gang?”

“Even if the White Rice Gang have committed crimes, they are still people from the Central Plains. How can the people of the Central Plains be enslaved by the barbarians?” Yuan Li’s voice turned cold. “Mr. Yang, I entrust this matter to you as well. With the combination of this fine salt and coarse salt, we have a total of six shi. How much we can obtain from the Wuwan people will depend on the banquet in a few days.”

Yang Zhongfa nodded solemnly in response.

Afterward, they began discussing how to deceive the Wuwan people.

Once the discussion was over, Yang Zhongfa and Chu Hechao left.

On the way back, Yang Zhongfa sighed in amazement at the wonders of the fine salt. Suddenly, he chuckled and said with a hint of showing off, “General, have you noticed that Yuan Li seems to be more enthusiastic towards me than towards you?”

Chu Hechao clenched his fingers and couldn’t help but make a “cracking” sound. He looked at Yang Zhongfa with a smile that wasn’t quite a smile and asked, “Is that so?”

Yang Zhongfa didn’t notice and continued to boast, “Just now, you heard him, Yuan Li kept calling me ‘Mr. Yang’ and even handed me water to drink. But as for you, General, Yuan Li only called you once and had a few words with you. General, I’m not saying this, but it seems like Yuan Li isn’t as close to you.”

Chu Hechao chuckled, “Yang Zhongfa, why do you talk so much?”

Suddenly realizing that something was off, Yang Zhongfa looked up at Chu Hechao’s expression and trembled. He hastily apologized with a forced smile, “General, I was just speaking nonsense. I can’t compare to the position you hold in Yuan Li’s heart as his brother-in-law. I’m just an outsider, how could I surpass you?”

Chu Hechao’s expression didn’t become any better upon hearing those words. The mockery in his tone grew stronger, and there was no trace of amusement in his eyes.

He also sensed Yuan Li’s excessive politeness towards him.

It wasn’t exactly cold, but rather a professional and distant attitude, neither unfamiliar nor intimate, with a perfectly balanced demeanor.

Chu Hechao pursed his lips.

In fact, this was the normal dynamic between any brother and sister-in-law. How could the relationship between a younger brother-in-law and his sister-in-law be so close?

Yang Zhongfa stole glances at Chu Hechao again and again, feeling that Chu Hechao was somewhat intimidating at the moment, as if he was on the edge of rage, which made him a bit afraid.

He didn’t dare to say anything either, and the two of them continued walking in silence.

In the evening, Guard Meng and the others woke up. Yuan Li took them to soak in the hot springs in Zhuolu County and returned with laughter and chatter along the way.

On their way back, they encountered Chu Hechao. Yuan Li nodded to Chu Hechao and exchanged a greeting before passing by.

When it was time for Yuan Li to go to bed that night, Chu Hechao came looking for him and asked for the clothes he had left with Yuan Li a few days ago.

Yuan Li got up in confusion and searched around for a while before finally finding the dark-colored shirt with many scratches on the back. He draped it over his arm and walked out of the tent.

The night breeze carried a warm heat, and Yuan Li awkwardly smiled, “I thought you didn’t want this garment anymore, so I didn’t have it repaired.”

Chu Hechao took the clothes, “No problem.”

Yuan Li politely waited for Chu Hechao to leave, but to his surprise, Chu Hechao remained standing in place. The moonlight was obscured by dark clouds, and Yuan Li’s hair was blown into a disheveled state. Under the flickering torchlight, it seemed like strands of dancing gold.

The prolonged confrontation made the atmosphere incredibly strange. Finally, Yuan Li coughed lightly and asked, “General, do you have something else?”

Chu Hechao tugged at the corner of his mouth and said, “Sister-in-law, are you in a good mood today?”

Yuan Li didn’t understand why he asked this, but he didn’t want to continue this awkward confrontation with Chu Hechao. So he shook his head slightly, hinting, “Not really, I don’t feel like talking much.”

“Oh,” Chu Hechao responded indifferently, “I thought you were in a good mood, laughing and chatting with your trusted men earlier.”

Yuan Li: “…”

Chu Hechao continued, “They are your trusted men, the ones who brought you the salt?”

Yuan Li nodded.

Chu Hechao chuckled a few times, “Good to know.”

Yuan Li’s mouth twitched, not understanding what Chu Hechao meant. He felt that the man was being cryptic and strange. “General, if you have nothing else to say, I’ll go back to sleep.”

Chu Hechao was about to speak, but Yuan Li exaggeratedly yawned, turned around, and lifted the curtain, waving his hand at him with a smile. “General, see you tomorrow.”

See you tomorrow?

Chu Hechao clenched his jaw, standing alone for a while. Suddenly, he sneered, “Did I agree to see you tomorrow?”

The next day, Chu Hechao woke up early, trained and worked up a sweat, and then took a shower. He didn’t stay in the camp all day and instead wandered around, overseeing the training of the soldiers. Amidst his busy schedule, he occasionally glanced around, but even when the moon was high in the sky, he didn’t see the “see you tomorrow” that Yuan Li had mentioned.

Two days later, the Wuwan people from Shanggu County arrived in Zhuolu County with ten thousand cavalry.

A feast was prepared in Zhuolu County, awaiting their arrival. As evening fell, the bonfires were lit, and dishes of food and wine were served.

Chu Hechao sat in the central seat, with Yuan Li and a few other military leaders, including Yang Zhongfa, seated to his left. When Da Dan arrived, he took a tour of the feast and then unceremoniously sat behind a row of low tables on the right side, accompanied by his own trusted men.

As soon as he sat down, Da Dan placed his swords and knives on the ground beside the table and burst into loud laughter, the sound resonating painfully in people’s heads. “Hahaha, it’s been a long time since I last saw the Grand General. After several years apart, the Grand General still has such a heroic and fierce demeanor.”

Yuan Li was sitting diagonally across from Da Dan, observing him in the flickering firelight.

Da Dan appeared to be in his forties or fifties, with a strong and robust physique. He and his subordinates were dressed as nomads, with ordinary looks and thick flesh on their faces. However, their voices were loud and piercing, definitely skilled at calling for battle.

Chu Hechao also laughed and raised a cup of wine to Da Dan, his fingers with black leather finger guards caressing the cup. “I am still the same as before, but you, Da Dan, seem to have aged quite a bit.”

After finishing his words, Chu Hechao downed his drink in one gulp.

Da Dan’s face briefly turned ugly, but he quickly recovered and maliciously said, “Of course, I can’t compare to the General. I wonder if your hands have recovered? It’s been so long, the General’s burns shouldn’t be hurting anymore, right?”

Previously, Da Dan wouldn’t have dared to provoke Chu Hechao no matter how self-assured he was. But now, as the Wuwan people were vassals of the Northern Zhou Dynasty and heroes who suppressed the rebellion, Da Dan felt he had accomplishments and the confidence to face Chu Hechao. He had completely forgotten his previous fear of Chu Hechao.

The several generals on the left side were instantly infuriated, their faces turning red and their necks bulging. Yang Zhongfa slammed the table forcefully and sternly scolded, “You, Da Dan, dare to show such disrespect to the General. I see that today you don’t want to leave Zhuolu County!”

As he finished speaking, the entire row of generals stood up abruptly, simultaneously drawing their steel blades halfway out of their waists. The cold light was dazzling, threatening the Wuwan people across from them.

All the surrounding soldiers, witnessing this, also drew their weapons and stared fiercely at the Wuwan people.

Chu Hechao made no attempt to stop them and continued to calmly pour himself more wine.

Da Dan’s face alternated between pale and red.

Reasoning says with ten thousand cavalry by his side, Chu Hechao would never dare to kill him here.

However, at this moment, he only had a dozen or so subordinates by his side. If these generals were truly consumed by anger and decided to attack him directly, his few followers would be powerless to resist.

Chu Hechao was also an unpredictable person, and Da Dan was getting old. He cherished his life and didn’t dare to gamble on that one-in-a-million possibility.

Da Dan stood up in frustration, clasping his fists and bowing his head to Chu Hechao in a muffled voice. “I spoke without thinking. General, please forgive me.”

Chu Hechao took a dagger from his waist and threw it directly in front of Da Dan on the ground. He said coldly, “Since you know you spoke out of turn, then cut your finger and apologize to me.”

Da Dan angrily retorted, “Chu Hechao, do not push people too far!”

Chu Hechao suddenly stood up and quickly walked up to Da Dan, looking down at him from a higher position.

Though Da Dan was already quite sturdy, Chu Hechao stood a head taller than him. As Da Dan’s back was no longer straight, the once mighty Wuwan hero couldn’t help but feel his own aging when faced with such a comparison. He looked up at Chu Hechao, expressionless, and deep within, the Long-forgotten fear and timidity towards Chu Hechao began to resurface.

“Da Dan,” the firelight cast on Chu Hechao’s profile, and shadows flickered on his face. He suddenly smiled, bent down, and spoke in a cold, low voice, “Do you still remember when I nearly decapitated your Wuwan leader, Gulichi, with a single stroke?”

The flesh on Da Dan’s face trembled violently.

Five years ago, in the 34th year of Jianyuan.

Chu Hechao led a hundred thousand infantry to defeat the Wuwan people, causing them to submit to the Northern Zhou Dynasty and relocate to Youzhou. That battle was extremely bloody, and Chu Hechao employed a tactic of sacrificing eight hundred troops to inflict damage on one thousand enemies. But that battle had to be fought.

That war was extremely brutal. Chu Hechao had too few cavalry, and the once 180,000-strong army of the Northern Border was reduced to only 130,000, with hundreds of his subordinates dead. As for the Wuwan leader, Gulichi, the greedy and agile eagle of the Wuwan people, who ruled over all the Wuwan factions, he had almost lost his head to the bloodthirsty Chu Hechao.

Gulichi managed to narrowly escape, but he lost an arm in the process.

In the end, Da Dan reluctantly lowered his head, bent down, and picked up the dagger from the ground. His hands trembled as he removed the sheath, gritting his teeth, preparing to cut off his own finger.

His subordinates on the side anxiously exclaimed, “Lord, you can’t!”

Chu Hechao looked on coldly.

At a critical moment, Yang Zhongfa took on the role of the peacemaker. “Wait—” the fierce aura on his face suddenly dissipated. He clasped his fists towards Chu Hechao and said, “General, let’s forget about it. The feast has already been served. Don’t let filthy blood ruin our appetite for the meat.”

Da Dan stopped his hand, his eyes filled with hope as he looked at Chu Hechao, hoping that Chu Hechao would spare him.

Chu Hechao slowly straightened his body, turned around, and walked back to his seat, raising his robe as he sat down. “Then let it be. Da Dan, take your seat. Punish yourself with three cups,” he said.

Da Dan quickly sat down, heaving a sigh of relief.

A hot breeze blew, and Da Dan suddenly realized that his back was drenched in sweat, unbeknownst to him.

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