After Being Abducted by the General Chapter 59

Chapter 59

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At the moment, there was no chili pepper, and the two soups in the split pot were not spicy soup and original soup. Instead, they were chicken soup and mushroom soup.

While the two brothers, Yuan Lou and Yuan Dan, were resting in the afternoon, the chicken soup and mushroom soup had already simmered the entire time. It had been simmering for two hours now. As the fire burned, the creamy white soup boiled, releasing a fragrant aroma that made one’s mouth water.

The brothers stared fixedly at the pot, unable to help but swallow their saliva.

The table was filled with a variety of vegetables and meat. The meat was the freshest beef, sliced into thin circles by the chef, not that much thicker as the meat rolls in later times. This beef came from two bulls that fought in the livestock farm. One of them was directly stabbed in the stomach by the other, and that’s how it ended up being slaughtered and brought to the estate. Yuan Li had left the beef outside to freeze, preparing it for hotpot or for the Lunar New Year.

Eating hotpot in winter was a delightful experience, especially for those who had never tasted such delicacies before. With one bite, the taste buds exploded, warming the body and satisfying the palate. It was simply addictive.

Eating hotpot together was a great way to strengthen bonds. As they ate, their camaraderie noticeably grew warmer.

Yuan Lou and Yuan Dan had let go of their inhibitions and eagerly recounted their excitement throughout the journey, especially their surprise and pride upon learning that Yuan Li had temporarily assumed the role of the Provincial Governor in Youzhou. Their faces turned red as they spoke, and they were still overwhelmed with excitement.

Yuan Li listened attentively, his gentle demeanor unchanged. He asked them many questions about their hometown, drawing out stories of his father’s enfeoffment that brought tears of joy to their relatives, the establishment of ancestral temples to worship their clan, and the influx of followers after their father was hailed as Lord Ruyang… Yuan Li could vividly imagine the festive scenes in Ruyang County from their descriptions.

As he listened, he felt a deep sense of contentment.

In addition, Yuan Lou and Yuan Dan brought many things with them.

Yuan Song had sent six hundred loyal and talented subordinates, as well as thirty individuals selected from the followers who sought refuge under him, all of whom had come to Youzhou.

Upon hearing about the followers sent by Yuan Song, Yuan Li’s spirits lifted, and he felt greatly pleased.

Of course, these retainers are not all talented individuals like Liu Jixin. Yuan Li doesn’t need to see them to know that most of them at best can read and handle official duties, and have some knowledge. Because of Yuan Song’s identity, as a minor Guannei Marquis, the quality of the retainers who would seek refuge with him would not be very high. More talented individuals would not choose Yuan Song.

However, even so, they are still like treasures to Yuan Li.

Because Yuan Li is truly lacking in grassroots civil servants.

As a provincial governor, he has to deal with numerous government affairs and documents. Just subordinate officials alone has dozens of positions, such as Zhizhong Officials, Bijia Officials, Gongcao Officials, Bingcao Officials, Zhubu Officials, and so on. These all need to be filled with Yuan Li’s own people.

The thirty individuals sent by Yuan Song must be of decent character and knowledge, otherwise Yuan Song would not have sent them. These individuals can temporarily help Liu Jixin handle daily official duties and relieve some of his pressure.

Once Yuan Li officially assumes the position of the Governor of Youzhou, with the entire Youzhou being a fief of the Chu family, he will have complete control over the promotion, appointment, and removal of all officials in Youzhou, without needing to seek approval from the emperor and the court. From another perspective, Youzhou or the fief of Chenliu Wang is no longer an area that the emperor can govern.

To fully control Youzhou, officials are indispensable, especially at the grassroots level.

Yuan Li has not formally assumed the position of the Governor of Youzhou yet, so technically he does not have the power to appoint officials and recruit retainers. However, once he truly becomes the Governor of Youzhou, Yuan Li will have the authority to recruit talents through the process of “zhengbi”.

“Zhengbi” refers to the direct recruitment of renowned individuals by the emperor or high-ranking officials of the state or province to serve as officials. Generally, there are no restrictions on the qualifications of the recruited individuals, and both officials and commoners can be appointed, with the freedom to accept or decline the appointment. If the examination system represents a bottom-up approach to officialdom, then “zhengbi” represents a top-down approach.

Those who are recruited through “zhengbi” naturally do not need to have a background as a xiaolian (successful candidate in the imperial examination). This is also one of the reasons why people in the current era are so concerned about gaining fame and resort to various means to enhance their reputation.

If my reputation is prominent enough, I can stay at home and wait for the emperor and high-ranking officials to recruit me for an official position. In the context of this era, as long as ambitious and clever individuals have some aspirations for official careers, they will actively promote their own reputation.

Please Confucian scholar evaluate me or let me show off. It is quite normal for scholars to engage in self-promotion or cooperate with influential families to enhance their reputation. This is because everyone knows that when everyone is filial, if they don’t employ some means, how can they stand out from the crowd?

Previously, Yuan Li had considered this issue. If he couldn’t enter the Imperial Academy or take the path of the imperial examination, he would continuously strive to promote himself and seek appointment through recommendation.

However, if given the choice, he actually didn’t want to be appointed by someone else.

Because being appointed would make him a subordinate of the appointing person, for example, if a county magistrate appointed Yuan Li, he would become the magistrate’s subordinate, calling the magistrate his lord, and they would have a master-subordinate relationship. Yuan Li didn’t like the feeling of being subservient to someone else, so he initially considered this path as a last resort.

Moreover, there are only a few officials who have the power to make appointments. Needless to say, the Emperor himself, the imperial cabinet, the Three Excellencies, and the Grand General have the power to appoint. Local county magistrates and provincial governors also have the power to make appointments.

All in all, it still depends on being an adult.

Yuan Li sighed and then asked the Yuan Lou brothers if they had brought anything else besides these.

Upon hearing this, Yuan Lou nodded and took out a well-preserved envelope from his body, handing it to Yuan Li. “There is also a letter from our eldest brother (Yuan Song) entrusted to us to deliver to you.”

Yuan Li took it, wiped his hands, and opened the envelope, reading the words on the paper by the light of the fire.

The letter was thick, with about ten pages, meticulously describing the events that had taken place in Ruyang over the past year.

The first three pages were dictated by Lady Chen and written by the attendants. The letter asked about Yuan Li’s situation in Youzhou, whether he felt cold, whether he had trouble adapting to the local food, whether he experienced any discomfort due to the different climate and environment. It also mentioned the recent situation at home, especially the changes that occurred after Yuan Song’s enfeoffment.

Yuan Li smiled as he finished reading the first three pages, and then he began reading the rest of the letter, which was personally written by Yuan Song.

The content of the letter was more detailed than what Lady Chen had written. It listed one by one the things Yuan Song had done after being enfeoffed, including recruiting troops and attendants, constructing city walls, widening the moat, and so on. Yuan Li nodded as he read through it. However, as he continued reading, the smile on his lips slowly faded, and his eyes filled with shock.

In the letter, Yuan Song told him to treat Yuan Lou and Yuan Dan well, keeping them by his side to work. This was the patriarch’s wish.

The patriarch would pass away from an “illness” in the coming winter and leave a last wish for Yuan Li to be promoted a year in advance. Yuan Song asked Yuan Li to prepare for the promotion after the spring.

And all of this was to help Yuan Li avoid the imperial decree.

Yuan Li’s hand trembled as he held the letter.

Yuan Lou and Yuan Dan noticed and asked concernedly, “Yuan Li, what happened? Did the letter mention something unpleasant?”

Yuan Li looked at their innocent faces and said in a hoarse voice, “Do you know what the letter says?”

Yuan Lou’s expression turned serious. “Rest assured, I have kept this letter with me all along. Apart from our eldest brother, no one else has seen its contents.”

“… ” Yuan Li remained silent for a long time. A hint of sadness appeared on his face, which he quickly concealed by lowering his gaze. “Before you came to Youzhou, did our patriarch grandfather say anything?”

“Not really,” Yuan Dan interjected. “They just asked us to learn from you, not cause trouble, and protect your safety. Besides that, there didn’t seem to be anything else. Brother, do you remember what Grandfather said?”

Yuan Lou pondered for a moment. “Grandfather asked me to tell you, ‘In this harsh winter, take good care of yourself.'”

A bitter and sour feeling surged up from Yuan Li’s heart, and he almost burst into tears on the spot.

The patriarch was bidding him farewell.

And the two grandsons, Yuan Lou and Yuan Dan, who were sent to deliver the letter, were still unaware that their grandfather would pass away this winter.

He took a deep breath, stood up, and almost stumbled over the chair. Yuan Li forced a smile, showing his usual demeanor, and said to the Yuan Lou brothers, “You guys continue eating, I have something to attend to.”

The brothers didn’t notice anything amiss and responded with a “Sure, go ahead.”

Outside, the sky had already darkened.

The lingering sunlight disappeared miserly beyond the horizon, and the night fell heavily. The cold wind cut across his face like knives, instantly dispersing the warmth brought by the room. In Youzhou, nearing the Lunar New Year, even a drop of water could turn into ice.

Yuan Li stared blankly at the horizon for a while. The breath from his nose turned into white mist. He lifted his foot and walked slowly towards a less crowded place.

Each step felt heavy.

Unaware of how long he had walked, almost unconsciously, Yuan Li arrived at the spot where the vertical windmill was being built during the day.

The nearly completed windmill stood silently in place, and the wood shavings on the ground had already been cleaned up by the servants.

Yuan Li walked beside the windmill in a daze, gently touching its supporting pole.

Is the windmill finished? Did Chu Hechao make it?

His breathing grew slightly heavier.

Someone died for his own career, a burden as heavy as a bag filled with stones pressed down on his shoulders. Yet, Yuan Li understood rationally that it was Yuan Song and the patriarch’s choice. They believed it was the best way forward.

As the beneficiary, what he should do was to carry the heavy burden on his back and continue walking forward with greater determination; only then could he live up to the sacrifices made by others for him.

Yuan Li would never shrink back. He was just saddened by the fact that an old person who had loved him since childhood had willingly sacrificed himself for him.

He leaned against the windmill, his hands clenched into fists.

Guilt and reluctance weighed heavily on his heart, like a burden of a thousand pounds. Yuan Li even felt the air around him thinning, making it difficult to breathe.

This pain almost made Yuan Li believe that he was crying, but as he touched his face, he realized it was dry, and his eyes were parched.

He forced a bitter smile, vigorously wiped his face, and then heard footsteps approaching.

Yuan Li immediately turned his head and saw Chu Hechao walking towards him, adjusting his belt.

When Chu Hechao saw him, a hint of surprise flashed in his eyes, and he stopped in his tracks.

Yuan Li said, “General, why are you here so late?”

His voice came out hoarse. Chu Hechao paused for a moment, walked over to him without showing any emotions, lowered his head, and looked at him for a while before asking in a deep voice, “What’s going on?”

The question seemed abrupt, but Yuan Li knew he was asking about himself.

Yuan Li pretended to appear normal and said, “I’m fine.”

Chu Hechao narrowed his eyes coldly. “I’ll ask you one last time.”

Yuan Li shook his head. “I’m really fine, General. I have something to do, so I’ll leave first.”

He turned to walk away, but his wrist was grabbed. Chu Hechao’s voice carried a low and irritable tone, “Is it those two uncles of yours who upset you?”

“With the Chu Wang Mansion and me supporting you from behind, what are you afraid of?” Chu Hechao suppressed his temper and patiently advised, “If you don’t like them, just send them back. A man should not hide in a corner and cry.”

Yuan Li, who had a heavy heart, found it difficult to laugh or cry. “General, it’s not like what you said.”

Chu Hechao turned Yuan Li around, raised an eyebrow, and looked at him with a gaze that resembled how one would look at a child making excuses. “Then, what is it?”

Yuan Li, who couldn’t utter a word in front of Yuan Lou and Yuan Dan a moment ago, now had the desire to confide in Chu Hechao. After hesitating for a moment, he walked with Chu Hechao to sit at a stone table under a tree and quietly told him about the patriarch sacrificing himself for him.

As he spoke these words, it was a process of releasing the pain from his heart. Yuan Li even felt that he didn’t need Chu Hechao to say much to him; he was already feeling much better than before.

After listening, Chu Hechao’s expression remained unchanged as he calmly said, “He died as he should.”

Yuan Li fell silent for a moment and said, “Perhaps.”

The two of them sat in silence, with the evening wind swaying the tree branches, casting crooked shadows in the moonlight.

Yuan Li stared at the patterns on the table for a while, then suddenly asked, “General, how do you alleviate the pain of losing someone familiar?”

He noticed that whether it was the death of Chu Mingfeng or Han Jin, it only caused Chu Hechao to suffer briefly. Chu Hechao always seemed to quickly detach himself from the sadness brought by the deceased, whether they were relatives or subordinates. He had an iron-like will, unaffected by anyone’s death, and relentlessly forged ahead with unwavering rationality.

“When someone dies, they can’t come back,” Chu Hechao said with an indifferent expression, even a hint of coldness, completely different from the time when he picked up a copper coin from the mud for a soldier. “Everyone will die sooner or later. The only difference is the timing of death. The dead are already gone, no matter how much we miss or grieve for them, we can’t bring them back. In that case, the wisest course of action is to disengage as soon as possible and continue living well.”

Yuan Li knew he was serious, as Chu Hechao himself followed this principle.

When Chu Mingfeng died, no one knew how Chu Hechao felt, and Yuan Li didn’t know either. But he knew that the taste must not have been pleasant.

His current feelings were probably similar.

Yuan Li exhaled a breath, collected himself, and nodded. “You’re right.”

After speaking, Yuan Li stood up. “The dew is getting heavier. General, let’s go back.”

Chu Hechao stood up as well.

Yuan Li didn’t plan to go back and continue eating hot pot. He sent a servant to inform Yuan Lou and Yuan Dan that they were free to do as they pleased. He himself was ready to return to his room and rest.

Chu Hechao’s room was next door, and the two walked together. Along the way, Chu Hechao wrinkled his brow and sniffed the fragrance coming from Yuan Li. “What’s that smell on you?”

Yuan Li raised his sleeve and sniffed, suddenly realizing, “It’s the smell of hot pot.”

“Hot pot?” Chu Hechao asked with curiosity, never having heard of it before. “What is that?”

Yuan Li then remembered that Chu Hechao had never tasted hot pot before and couldn’t help but chuckle. “It’s a delicious dish that is perfect for eating in winter. General, does the smell on me make you hungry?”

Indeed, the aroma could stimulate one’s appetite. Chu Hechao sniffed again, and his stomach growled twice.

The moment the sound rang out, Yuan Li immediately looked at Chu Hechao with a subtle expression. However, Chu Hechao remained calm, and after noticing Yuan Li’s gaze, he even glanced at him and asked, “What’s wrong? Can’t I feel hungry?”

Yuan Li suppressed a smile. “Of course you can. Allow me to ask, General, have you had dinner?”

Chu Hechao replied calmly, “No.”

“It’s so late, how can you not be hungry?” Yuan Li scolded him with a reproachful look. “Come on, I’ll take you to taste hot pot.”

Chu Hechao didn’t move.

Yuan Li emphasized his tone, taking on the air of an elder admonishing a younger one. “Chu Hechao.”

Chu Hechao closed his eyes briefly.

Yuan Li’s attitude towards him grew increasingly intimate, but it was clearly the demeanor of a sister-in-law toward his deceased husband’s younger brother.

If that was the case, then he would be a good little brother-in-law.

With time, everything would settle down.

Chu Hechao opened his eyes and calmly followed Yuan Li’s footsteps. “Alright.”

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