After Being Abducted by the General Chapter 60

Chapter 60

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After returning to the dining hall, the Yuan brothers were almost finished with their meal.

Seeing Yuan Li bringing an unfamiliar man with him, they instinctively glanced at Chu Hechao a few times. They couldn’t help but feel that this man before them was tall, mighty, handsome, and extraordinary in demeanor.

The brothers felt somewhat restrained. “Who is this?”

“This is Great General Chu Hechao, Chu Ciyue, from the Northern Frontier. He hasn’t had dinner yet, so he came over to have a meal together.” Yuan Li smiled and introduced them to each other.

Chu Hechao casually nodded at the two of them, then lifted his robe and sat in an empty seat.

He remained calm, but the Yuan brothers were taken aback. Chu Hechao?!

This person turned out to be Chu Hechao!

The brothers exchanged a glance, their hearts pounding. They never expected to one day meet the renowned General Chu Hechao, known as the War God of the Northern Zhou. They quickly stood up and saluted Chu Hechao, “We pay our respects to the General.”

Chu Hechao nodded faintly. “Please sit.”

Only then did the two of them nervously take their seats.

Since his youth, Yuan Dan had greatly admired Chu Hechao. Whenever he heard of Chu Hechao’s achievements, his blood would boil, and he often fantasized about fighting alongside Chu Hechao on the battlefield. However, when Chu Hechao appeared before him, he felt a hint of fear from the general’s imposing aura. He wanted to speak but dared not say much, sitting restlessly in his seat.

Yuan Li noticed his demeanor and teased, “Do you want the General to sign an autograph for you?”

“Autograph?” Yuan Dan was puzzled. “What is an autograph?”

His bewildered expression, coupled with the two patches of red on his face, unexpectedly struck Yuan Li’s funny bone. He laughed so hard that he bent over, burying his head under the table, leaving only one hand waving at Yuan Dan.

The others exchanged bewildered glances, unsure what he was laughing about.

Chu Hechao’s mouth twitched, and he lifted Yuan Li up. “Just eat your meal properly.”

Yuan Li, with a red face, stood up and brought his own bowl and chopsticks to Chu Hechao. He reached out and picked a piece of meat, stuffing it into his mouth.

After watching how Yuan Li ate, Chu Hechao followed suit and took a bite, raising his eyebrow in approval. It was indeed good.

However, his appetite wasn’t great at the moment. Even the best flavors tasted mediocre in his mouth. Chu Hechao lazily moved his chopsticks a few times, casually picked up a glass of water, and drank it all in one gulp.

Yuan Li watched him finish and silently said, “That was my water.”

“Cough, cough, cough!” The general suddenly coughed loudly. “Yours?!”

Yuan Li nodded and generously said, “It’s okay, you can drink it.”

But Chu Hechao pushed the glass away as if he had touched something dirty, sending it far away.

Yuan Li stared at him. “Are you disgusted by me?”

Chu Hechao lowered his eyes and chuckled. “Sister-in-law, it’s better for us, as brother-in-law and sister-in-law, to have some consideration.”

It had been a long time since he called Yuan Li “sister-in-law,” and now that he said it, Yuan Li couldn’t quite react in time.

By the time he realized it, Chu Hechao had already resumed eating and drinking without uttering another word.

The next day, Yuan Li rallied his spirits and began testing the effectiveness of the vertical windmill.

He remembered that Yang Zhongfa was also interested in the vertical windmill, so he sent someone to inform him.

Sure enough, Yang Zhongfa arrived happily, bringing two children with him. One was Han Jin’s daughter, Han Yan, whom Yuan Li had seen before. The other was Yang Zhongfa’s young son, the five-year-old Yang Yixuan.

Both children were well-mannered and well-behaved. Yuan Li carefully observed Han Yan. She had a rosy complexion, dressed warmly, and had a shy smile on her face, indicating that she was well taken care of. Yuan Li felt content and then turned his attention to Yang Zhongfa’s young son.

Yang Zhongfa often boasted to others about his talented and intelligent young son, who was eager to learn. Even Yuan Li had heard him mention it several times and was already extremely curious about Yang Yixuan.

Upon seeing him now, Yang Zhongfa’s young son did indeed appear extraordinary. At just five years old, he performed his greetings meticulously, with chubby cheeks and a composed demeanor. When he spoke, his thoughts were organized and he remained calm and unhurried, unlike his impatient father, Yang Zhongfa.

However, the child was a little chubby. But such chubbiness on a child only made them irresistibly cute. Yang Yixuan was also dressed warmly, and when he walked, he resembled a little ball. Walking seemed to be a bit of a challenge for him as well, as he moved slowly and steadily, without any rush.

Truly, a little aristocrat raised in a bandit’s den. Yuan Li couldn’t help but sigh with amazement.

But then, this little young master walked straight up to Yuan Li and looked up at him. “Master Yuan.”

Yuan Li crouched down, smiling, and asked, “Call me uncle.”

“Uncle,” Yang Yixuan’s chubby face barely made a sound when he spoke. He asked clearly, “Can uncle give me a windmill like the one for sister?”

“Of course,” Yuan Li couldn’t resist reaching out to ruffle his face. “Once uncle is done being busy, I’ll make you a small windmill.”

Yang Yixuan’s eyes lit up. “Thank you, uncle.”

Before long, everyone had gathered.

Upon hearing that Yuan Li had come up with something new, Liu Jixin, Wang Er, and Wu Kai, who had just recovered, also arrived at the estate, eager to see what this new thing was.

The millstone had been placed beneath the vertical windmill and was carried to the entrance.

The winter days in Youzhou were always accompanied by the cold northwest wind, and they feared the children would catch a chill, so the servants had taken them back to their rooms. The adults stood in groups beside the vertical windmill, watching as the howling cold wind made the wind sails of the vertical windmill continuously flutter.

In the cold wind, everyone shivered and trembled.

Liu Jixin was heavily wrapped up and stood next to Yang Zhongfa. Yang Zhongfa held himself to keep warm, shivering slightly as he whispered to Liu Jixin, “Young Master Yuan says that this thing can make the millstone turn just by the power of the wind. Do you believe it?”

“I naturally believe it,” Liu Jixin replied calmly, sniffling and unfazed.

Yang Zhongfa sighed and said, “It’s not that I don’t trust Young Master Yuan, but I have doubts. This millstone, though small, still requires a person or a donkey to move it. Can this wooden contraption, made with these flimsy wind sails and reliant on the elusive wind, really make the millstone turn?”

In truth, Liu Jixin had his own doubts.

He had never heard of using wind to move a millstone, and like Yang Zhongfa, he found it highly unlikely. But even if he didn’t believe it, Liu Jixin believed in Yuan Li.

Since Yuan Li had brought out the vertical windmill, it meant he had confidence in it.

After waiting for a while, the vertical windmill still didn’t move. People couldn’t help but whisper to each other, feeling anxious.

Yuan Li’s expression remained calm, but internally, he felt nervous, keeping his gaze fixed on the windmill.

He had built this windmill himself, with some assistance from Chu Hechao. Although Yuan Li knew that the chances of the experiment succeeding on the first try were slim, he sincerely hoped for a successful outcome this time.

Finally, in the increasingly tense atmosphere, the vertical windmill started to turn.

Everyone held their breath, their eyes focused intently.

At first, the windmill turned extremely slowly and subtly, as if the bottom millstone was holding it back from spinning. But soon, the force of the windmill’s rotation caused the gears to engage and separate, and the millstone began to spin faster and more effortlessly.

Between the grinding stones, the crisp sound of grain being crushed, “crack, crack,” filled the air as the grains gradually turned into powder and overflowed from the small opening.

“It’s really moving…” Wang Er and Wu Kai murmured.

Yuan Li smiled slightly, silently breathing a sigh of relief and lifted his spirits.

That day, the crowd gathered around the vertical windmill and watched for a long time. When the millstone was carried back, everyone still felt unsatisfied.

After confirming that the vertical windmill was functional, Yuan Li prepared to invite craftsmen to build a larger windmill based on its structure. He planned to test it in Jizhou County the following year so that when the people were grinding their grains during the autumn harvest, they could use it.

Nowadays, few households had livestock that could be used as labor, and grinding grains relied on human effort. With the vertical windmill, the people would no longer have to toil so much after the autumn harvest. They could free up manpower to cultivate more crops.

Among the group, Wu Kai was the most fond of the vertical windmill.

In the past, Wu Kai had been the one to turn the millstone for grinding grains at home. He had never imagined that such a contraption could make the millstone rotate on its own. Watching this scene, Wu Kai was reminded of how his mother used to sweat profusely while grinding grains. He gently touched the windmill, thinking that if his mother could see such a thing, she would be overjoyed.

He carefully touched the windmill, afraid of damaging it. Seeing Wu Kai’s affection for the vertical windmill, Yuan Li simply smiled and said, “On the day of your marriage, I will give you a vertical windmill.”

Wu Kai was taken aback. He didn’t know if this thing was expensive or not, and he was afraid of burdening his lord with expenses. He instinctively wanted to refuse, but deep down, he really wanted one to give to his mother in the future. Feeling ashamed, he lowered his head, his dark face tinged with a blush, and clasped his fists, saying, “Thank you, my lord.”

With the matter of the vertical windmill settled, Yuan Li was preparing to have the craftsmen try making a watermill. However, a few days later, he received a reply from his master, Ouyang Ting.

Ouyang Ting’s letter mentioned that his wife, Madam Lu, particularly liked the soap that Yuan Li had sent. She especially treasured the soaps carved in the shape of plum blossoms and chrysanthemums and was reluctant to use them. When Madam Lu occasionally attended gatherings with other noblewomen, she never forgot to praise the soaps that Yuan Li had sent. As long as she showed these soaps to the other ladies and let them try them out, there was not a single lady who didn’t love them.

Of the twenty sets of soap that Yuan Li had given to Ouyang Ting, Madam Lu had already given away fifteen sets, keeping only five sets for herself.

However, the fifteen sets of soap sent out were like a drop in the bucket and did not meet the demands of the ladies. Many local wealthy merchants saw the business opportunity and traced it back to Ouyang Ting. They wanted Ouyang Ting to recommend them to Yuan Li so that they could engage in soap trade with Yuan Li.

Ouyang Ting couldn’t help but sigh at this.

His situation in Xuzhou was not favorable. Most of the officials in Xuzhou, from top to bottom, were locals. Even though Ouyang Ting was a renowned scholar and a former high-ranking official, as an outsider, he became the governor of Xuzhou. Regardless of his reputation, the officials under him were often uncooperative.

Ouyang Ting tried various methods, but progress was slow. However, thanks to the soap, the wives of these officials whispered many favorable words, and even the officials themselves showed a lot of enthusiasm towards Ouyang Ting.

Ouyang Ting found it both funny and exasperating. Although this enthusiasm had no substantial effect, it allowed Ouyang Ting to break the ice. Who could have imagined that a mere piece of soap could have such an effect?

Knowing that Yuan Li also wanted to do business with the southern merchants from Xuzhou and Yangzhou, Ouyang Ting did not reject the merchants’ goodwill. With his disciple in mind, he carefully examined these merchants and selected ten with good reputations. Ouyang Ting informed Yuan Li that he would send these merchants to Youzhou to meet with him after the spring.

As for the sugarcane Yuan Li mentioned, Ouyang Ting also found some locally and planned to send them to Youzhou together with the merchants.

After reading the letter, Yuan Li couldn’t help but smile.

The merchants from Xuzhou and Yangzhou would have to wait until February to set off, and it would be around May when they arrived in Youzhou. Yuan Li put this matter aside for now and focused on the upcoming wedding day of Wu Kai.

Soon, the day arrived.

Marriages between noble families emphasized extravagance and grandeur. The more lavish the wedding, the more it showcased the family’s background. This trend swept across the entire Northern Zhou Dynasty, to the point that even poor families had to borrow money from relatives and friends to support the celebration when they had a joyous occasion at home.

However, the wedding of Wu Kai and Yun Niang was kept exceptionally simple.

The couple, Yun Niang, had no parents or siblings ad the groom’s mother was far away in Ruyang. On their wedding day, they simply hung a few red silk decorations and pasted a few “double happiness” characters in their home. Yun Niang personally prepared several tables of food, and that was all.

Yuan Li was the first to be invited to sit down, followed by Chu Hechao. However, Chu Hechao didn’t sit in the seat next to Yuan Li but chose a seat slightly farther away, leaving two empty seats between them.

Yuan Li glanced at him, a flicker of doubt passing through his mind.

The man sat upright, with his back and thighs as hard as stone carvings. He raised his head keenly and looked over. “Sister-in-law, is there something wrong?”

Yuan Li shook his head.

Chu Hechao turned his face away.

Although the wedding banquet was simple, it was filled with warmth. After the meal, everyone helped clean up the tables and chairs and sensibly didn’t linger, giving the newlywed couple some alone time.

After attending Wu Kai’s wedding feast, He Lang, who had hurried back from the border, eagerly brought Lady Yu back to his own residence. In contrast to the simplicity of Wu Kai and Yun Niang’s wedding, he directly hired performers to entertain the guests in his residence.

Performers were ancient artists who specialized in music, dance, and comedic acts, somewhat similar to modern stand-up comedians. Their language was witty and rich, their movements and expressions exaggerated, and the stories they told brought laughter to the audience.

Yuan Li couldn’t stop laughing either. His sense of humor was very low, and he laughed so hard that he almost slid off his chair.

Yang Zhongfa, sitting next to him, glanced at Yuan Li again and again, unable to contain his amusement as he said to Chu Hechao on the other side, “General, look at Young Master Yuan. He’s still just a child.”

Chu Hechao kept his gaze fixed on the stage, not even glancing at Yuan Li. He picked up his teacup, took a sip, and calmly replied, “Hmm.”

Yang Zhongfa burst into laughter again. “General, hahaha, look at Young Master Yuan. He’s about to hide under the chair.”

Chu Hechao still appeared disinterested, his gloved hand propping up his cheek as he lightly tapped his fingers. He didn’t even want to spare a glance, saying, “I don’t want to look.”

It was as if there was some extraordinary performance happening on stage, and missing even a glance would be a loss.

Yang Zhongfa clicked his tongue and whispered, covering his mouth, “General, you seem rather indifferent to Young Master Yuan these past few days.”

It’s not exactly indifference, if you must say, it’s politeness.

In the past, the brother and sister-in-law were quite close, but now they seemed distant, no different from any ordinary brother and sister-in-law.

Chu Hechao lazily, with half-lowered eyelids, replied, “Mmm.”

Yang Zhongfa asked, “Have you two been quarreling again?”

“No,” Chu Hechao looked at the performers on stage, his mouth twitching in a perfunctory manner, “I just find it uninteresting to hang around with a child.”

Yang Zhongfa wasn’t entirely convinced. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Alright.”

Yuan Li didn’t notice what they were talking about. He was laughing so much that his face hurt. He drank several glasses of water, but after a while, he needed to use the restroom because he had drunk too much water. He got up and left for the time being.

The performer was engrossing the audience with an exciting story, and everyone was laughing heartily, oblivious to Yuan Li’s departure.

Chu Hechao’s peripheral vision followed Yuan Li for a moment before quickly retracting, his speed so fast that Yang Zhongfa didn’t notice.

On the stage, the performer continued to entertain, singing and joking around. The sound of musical instruments filled the air, creating a lively and bustling atmosphere.

Chu Hechao closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead, his handsome face revealing a hint of deepness and coldness veiled by shadows.

His lips straightened, devoid of any trace of a smile.

Suddenly, the performer on stage shifted the topic and started telling a popular folk story.

“There was a young master who went to visit his critically ill older brother. His brother, who had taken care of him since childhood, had become emaciated and had a sallow complexion. The young master burst into tears, kneeling by the bedside. In that instant, he saw his beautiful sister-in-law holding medicine in her hand, tears streaming down her face. His sister-in-law had eyebrows like willow leaves and lips like peonies, and the young master was momentarily stunned…”

The audience below would occasionally burst into laughter at the performer’s words, followed by cursing the young master as a despicable creature and urging the performer to continue.

“The young master’s heart was moved. He knew he was no better than a beast, but he couldn’t resist the longing in his sister-in-law’s eyes. Eventually, he gritted his teeth and pulled his sister-in-law into his embrace, intending to engage in that illicit act…”

A loud “bang” interrupted the performer, startling him. The venue fell into silence, and everyone turned their heads in astonishment toward Chu Hechao.

Chu Hechao overturned the table in front of him. Standing amidst the mess, he stared fiercely at the performer on stage and uttered each word with suppressed anger, “Shut up.”

Fury burned in his eyes, his expression terrifying, as he continued, “To openly talk about such filthy matters like the affair between a brother and sister-in-law in front of everyone, are you trying to sully everyone’s ears?”

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