After Being Abducted by the General Chapter 7

Chapter 7

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The lights in the county magistrate’s mansion were already lit, eagerly awaiting their arrival.

Once Yuan Li returned to his mansion, he felt as if he had returned to his natural habitat, far more at ease than in the Chu Wang mansion. He took it upon himself to take care of his guests and made proper arrangements for Chu Hechao and his entourage.

After paying his respects to his parents, Yuan Li dragged his weary body back to his bedroom.

As soon as he entered the room, he put away his smile.

Yuan Li was a cheerful person, with round and gentle eyes. When he smiled, he appeared sincere and amiable, making it hard for people to maintain their guard. But when he didn’t smile, a heavy air of authority weighed down on those around him, with traces of sharpness revealed between his eyebrows.

The three servants in front of him couldn’t help but feel uneasy.

Yuan Li suddenly spoke, “Guo Lin, Wang Er wanted to see me?”

Guo Lin replied, “Yes. This is the message that came from the farm manager four days ago.”

Yuan Li continued, “He said he has something to tell me that he won’t tell anyone else except me?”

Guo Lin was puzzled but nodded in confirmation.

Yuan Li then turned to Zhao Ying, who was bold and meticulous, responsible for gathering information and handling discreet matters for him. He asked, “Did anything unusual happen when Wang Er arrived at the farm?”

Zhao Ying cautiously replied, “There were no unusual incidents. Only on the fourth day, he took a half-day off.”

Yuan Li rubbed his temples, finally revealing a bitter smile and muttered to himself, “This is bad. The premonition is getting worse.”

When Yang Zhongfa initially tested him at noon, he indeed didn’t sense anything amiss. However, when Yang Zhongfa mentioned that the goods were robbed near Ruyang County, Yuan Li instantly became alert and connected many things in a short moment.

On the surface, he pretended not to know and continued to chat and laugh with Yang Zhongfa.

Chu Hechao appeared unfriendly from the moment he saw him, likely harboring suspicions. In addition, the recent request from Wang Er to meet him made Yuan Li believe that the stolen goods might have been taken by Wang Er and his group.

Yuan Li began to rub his temples again. “Guo Lin, arrange for me to visit the farm tomorrow and meet Wang Er.”

Since the mansion was filled with Chu Hechao’s people, it wouldn’t be appropriate for Wang Er to come and see him.

Guo Lin acknowledged his order.

The next morning, instead of immediately heading to the farm, Yuan Li went to his study and found his father, Yuan Song. He handed over the written plan for establishing a soap workshop that he had prepared the previous night.

Yuan Song received it with confusion and lowered his head to read. After a moment, he stood up abruptly, unable to hide his astonishment. “This… This is, Li Er, do you really have something called ‘soap’?”

Yuan Li nodded, and Yuan Song suddenly became breathless. He quickly walked to the door, checked left and right, and hurriedly closed the windows.

After doing all this, he returned to the table, lowered his voice, and his face turned red. His beard trembled as he said, “This ‘soap’ is truly white and smooth as jade, with its own fragrance? It can remove dirt and make the skin smooth and delicate, refreshing the person using it?”

Yuan Li nodded again.

After taking several deep breaths, Yuan Song’s astonishment turned into great joy.

The soap, both in terms of effectiveness and appearance, was completely different from the ashes and soap pods currently used. Although Yuan Song came from a humble background, his knowledge was quite extensive. He was certain that even the noble families and aristocrats had never seen such “soap” before!

In this plan, Yuan Li not only described how to make soaps with different fragrances but also detailed how to establish a soap workshop and how to package and sell the soap.

As conditions improved in the future, ordinary soap could be sold to the common people at a low profit margin. But for now, the main focus would be on luxury soaps tailored for the upper class. These soaps would require meticulous packaging and be sold at high prices to satisfy the sense of class and vanity of the noble families.

Yuan Li planned to secretly establish the first soap workshop in Ruyang, using trusted household servants as employees to produce the initial batch of soaps.

Once the soaps were ready, Yuan Li would take the finished products to discuss cooperation with Chu Mingfeng. After securing the partnership, he would leverage the background of the Chu Wang Mansion to launch the soaps on a large scale.

Yuan Li couldn’t do this in Luoyang; the only place he felt at ease was Ruyang, which he had already thoroughly investigated, and his parents, who naturally stood on the same side as him.

Yuan Song’s hand holding the paper trembled slightly.

Yuan Li reminded him, “Father, please remember, the soap formula must be carefully protected and never leaked. Only trustworthy individuals should be allowed to enter the soap workshop.”

“I understand,” Yuan Song’s expression turned serious, a hint of severity flashed in his eyes. “Li Er, rest assured, I understand the importance of this matter.”

As he spoke, he couldn’t help but stroke his beard and sigh with pride. “No wonder you insisted on raising so many pigs on the farm since you were young. I thought you simply had a preference for pork, but I didn’t expect there was more to it. You were already preparing for today, weren’t you?”

Yuan Li smiled without saying a word.

Since he learned that the first reward from the system was the soap formula, Yuan Li did start intentionally raising pigs. However, at that time, he didn’t know whether the system’s reward was real or not. It was just his cautious nature that led him to do so.

“Soap only requires the leftover fat or lard from the edges of the pig’s body, and it doesn’t waste the meat,” Yuan Li explained. “When making soap, we can’t waste those pork cuts either. Let’s give them to the guards and soldiers as an additional meal.”

Yuan Song chuckled. “You’ve always been so kind-hearted.”

Yuan Song carefully put away the soap formula and hurriedly left the study to begin handling the matter. Yuan Li also left the study. Guo Lin was already waiting outside and whispered, “Young Master, the farm has been arranged.”

Yuan Li glanced at the sky and said, “Let’s have a meal first before going.”

Ordinary commoners typically only ate two meals a day, breakfast and dinner, with no lunch. However, this rule did not apply to wealthy households. As long as they had money and food, not only three meals a day, but even five meals a day would be of no concern.

After having lunch, Yuan Li prepared to go to the farm. However, just as Guo Lin led his horse to the entrance of the mansion, he ran into Chu Hechao and Yang Zhongfa, who were returning from outside.

Yuan Li’s movements halted for a moment, but he greeted them with a smile on his face.

This group had been investigating in Ruyang County since early morning, but they had found nothing by midday, making them somewhat weary.

Yang Zhongfa responded weakly, “Young Master Yuan, are you going out?”

Yuan Li smiled and replied, “Judging by your appearances, have you grown tired from wandering around Ruyang County?”

Yang Zhongfa sighed, “Indeed, Ruyang County may seem small, but it’s actually quite large.”

Yuan Li exchanged pleasantries with them, holding the reins and preparing to mount his horse. Just as he was about to leave without drawing attention, Chu Hechao suddenly spoke up, “Where is Young Master Yuan planning to go?”

His tone was relatively gentle, and he addressed Yuan Li as “Young Master Yuan,” seemingly because of Yuan Li’s performance yesterday, which had reduced his suspicion, or perhaps because of the beggar chicken.

Yuan Li turned his head to look at him. The fiery red tresses adorned his shoulders, and he smiled, his features clear and gentle. “After finally returning to Ruyang County, I plan to take this opportunity to visit the farm.”

Chu Hechao’s gaze wandered over him, then he turned his horse and rode up to Yuan Li’s side. “It sounds interesting. How about taking me along?”

Yuan Li had a feeling that this would happen.

With a wry smile in his heart, he readily agreed, “Of course. However, the farm is simple and dirty. I hope the General won’t mind.”

Yang Zhongfa was puzzled. “General?”

Chu Hechao waved his hand, signaling them to continue their investigation.

Yang Zhongfa cupped his fists in response and led the others back to the county magistrate’s residence.

The farm was located in the countryside, about half an hour’s ride from the county magistrate’s residence. The further they went into the countryside, the rougher and more rugged the road became, with shallow puddles and potholes scattered everywhere. If a horse’s hoof stepped into a pit, it would result in a disastrous fall for both horse and rider.

Yuan Li had traveled this road several times and was very familiar with it. Surprisingly, Chu Hechao was visiting for the first time, yet he seemed at ease.

Yuan Li wanted to test his riding skills and deliberately darted onto a difficult path. He led the way, racing like the wind, with Chu Hechao closely following. Unconsciously, the guards and servants who were following Yuan Li gradually struggled and eventually disappeared from sight.

“Young Master Yuan,” the man approached closer, his breath carrying a warm air, his voice sinister, “that’s enough.”

Yuan Li reined in his horse and slowly came to a stop. His face was flushed from the heat, and he fanned himself with his hand, giving the man a thumbs-up. “General, impressive.”

Chu Hechao looked at his thumb, half-closing his eyes. Sweat droplets rolled down Yuan Li’s face, adding a hint of damp sensuality. Although Chu Hechao had never seen this gesture before, he roughly understood its meaning and couldn’t be bothered to continue the banter with Yuan Li.

They had traveled a long stretch of road, which was much longer than the normal route. Both horses were covered in sweat, and they walked slowly, easing their heavy breathing.

The horse’s tail swished back and forth, impatiently swatting away the mosquitoes that caught up with them.

A few people who were busy catching insects for the seedlings in the field looked up at them, glanced for a moment, and then lowered their heads to continue tending to the crops.

Yuan Li was attracting mosquitoes and slapped the blood-sucking insects on his palm. He looked at Chu Hechao in confusion. “General, how come the mosquitoes don’t bite you?”

Chu Hechao smirked, casting a sidelong glance at Yuan Li’s fair, almost translucent skin. “Perhaps because I am not as delicate as Young Master Yuan.”

Yuan Li: “…”

As the two horses continued walking, getting closer and closer, perhaps it was due to their recent side-by-side gallop that forged a camaraderie, or perhaps it was the exhilaration of the early spring, they began rubbing their heads together, nuzzling each other affectionately.

Chu Hechao’s thigh bumped into Yuan Li’s leg several times. The scorching heat and contact brushed against each other lightly, and before Yuan Li could realize anything, Chu Hechao was already feeling uncomfortable with this strange sensation all over his body. He furrowed his brow and forcefully pulled on the reins.

The horse winced from the pain, letting out a few whimpers, and obediently kept its distance from Yuan Li.

After a quarter of an hour, the two finally arrived at the farm.

By now, the others who had been left behind were already there, having taken the main road. Yuan Li dismounted from his horse and looked at Guo Lin.

Guo Lin nodded discreetly.

A fleeting smile crossed Yuan Li’s lips.

He deliberately took Chu Hechao on a detour, allowing Guo Lin to arrive at the farm earlier to handle things and inform the villagers that an esteemed guest from Luoyang had come from afar. This way, the villagers would have peace of mind.

The steward stepped forward and said, “Young Master, hot water and food are ready. Would you like to change your clothes first?”

Yuan Li nodded, and immediately someone came to take away their horses and provide them with food and water, as well as cleaning the horses.

This was not because Yuan Li was overly concerned about cleanliness, but rather a necessary procedure whenever they visited the farm.

Rural areas in ancient times were far from the cleanliness one would imagine. There were no sewage systems or public toilets. Excrement and wastewater could be found everywhere, not to mention the animal droppings from pigs, cows, and sheep. It was tolerable when walking, but once riding a horse, it was inevitable to get splashed.

The farm managed by Yuan Li was already well-maintained. Daily cleaning was carried out, and the manure was used as fertilizer. He often reminded the steward to supervise the farmers to wash their hands before and after meals and to bathe every three days, in order to keep the farm clean and fresh.

However, this did not mean that the rural folk didn’t care about cleanliness. They simply lacked the means to maintain it.

The wealthy could afford daily hot baths, mouth rinses with salted willow twigs in the morning and evening, occasional petal baths, and using bath beans for scrubbing, but the poor couldn’t.

After bathing, Yuan Li felt refreshed. He glanced to the side and saw Chu Hechao also emerging, wearing ill-fitting clothes.

It looked a bit tight, with a bulging chest.

The steward offered an apologetic smile. “We have sent someone to the county to fetch the clothes for the esteemed guest. Please don’t take offense, Your Excellency.”

Chu Hechao’s face darkened as he tugged at the tight collar, his lips pressed into a frown.

Yuan Li suppressed a laugh. “Steward, please lead us to the dining area.”

The steward nodded and bowed. “Yes, of course.”

The dinner at the farm was not much different from the taste at the county magistrate’s residence, perhaps even rougher. Yuan Li always felt like Chu Hechao glanced at him during the meal. Before he could figure out the meaning behind that look, Chu Hechao had already started eating heartily.

Yuan Li had recently eaten and wasn’t very hungry. He watched as Chu Hechao ate bowl after bowl, his lips twitching.

“To be able to eat is a blessing,” Yuan Li remarked.

After finishing the meal, the servants cleared the bowls and chopsticks. Chu Hechao glanced at Yuan Li and suddenly said, “Did Young Master Yuan come to the farm just to have a bath and a meal?”

Yuan Li had the steward bring the account book and replied, “Of course not. I still have to look at the accounts.”

Chu Hechao smirked, his eyes devoid of any amusement. “Is that so? I thought the farm manager would send the account book to the master’s residence every month instead of the master personally coming to the farm to retrieve it.”

Yuan Li sighed inwardly. Chu Hechao was truly an unpredictable person. Just yesterday, after Yang Zhongfa couldn’t find anything suspicious about him, Chu Hechao’s attitude toward Yuan Li had eased considerably. Yuan Li had thought that Chu Hechao no longer doubted him, but little did he know that as soon as a hint of doubt arose, Chu Hechao reverted back to being cold and ruthless.

Even if the doubt was completely unwarranted.

Yuan Li realized that he probably understood why there was such a stark difference in the way Chu Wang and Madam Yang treated their eldest and second son.

With Chu Hechao’s temperament, anyone who sincerely treated him would likely be immediately met with a cold-hearted response.

Fortunately, Yuan Li had long been prepared for Chu Hechao to turn against him. He never expected Chu Hechao to truly stop suspecting him.

They were both testing each other, and it remained to be seen who would come out on top.

“Naturally, it’s not just about looking at the accounts,” Yuan Li said leisurely. “Father enjoys working in the fields, experiencing the labor of the common people. There is a piece of land belonging to Father in this farm, and it’s currently the season for planting. However, with Father’s physical exhaustion and the abundance of government affairs, as his child, it is natural for us to alleviate his worries. My visit to the farm is to help Father with the farming. Moreover, Father enjoys the crucian carp from the lake in the countryside. As I will be returning to Luoyang soon, I can catch a few fish for him.”

Filial piety was always the correct political mainstream in Northern Zhou. As long as one invoked these two words, no one could say anything against it.

The handsome and enigmatic man’s face remained expressionless. “You’re truly filial, Sister-in-law.”

Yuan Li insincerely exchanged compliments with him. “Not as much as my younger brother.”

The atmosphere in the room became somewhat tense, but it was interrupted when Lintian brought in two cups of tea.

Yuan Li raised the account book slightly. “I still need to look at the accounts. If you’re bored, little brother, why not have someone show you around the farm?”

Chu Hechao lifted an eyebrow, his lips curling. “No need. I’ll just stay here and keep an eye on you, Sister-in-law.”

After speaking, he casually pushed the low table in front of him aside and laid on the ground, resting his hands behind his head. His tall figure resembled undulating mountains. Chu Hechao closed his eyes as if he were asleep.

But Yuan Li knew he couldn’t be sleeping. He gestured for Lintian to leave and took advantage of the remaining sunlight to examine the account book.

The room fell silent, with only the sound of pages turning and the soft inhales and exhales of their breaths.

After almost half an hour, Chu Hechao seemed to be truly asleep.

Nature called, and Yuan Li closed the account book, stood up, and headed towards the door.

Just as he took a step, the man who had kept his eyes closed suddenly opened them wide, fixing his sharp gaze on him. “Where are you going?”

Yuan Li’s brow twitched. “To the outhouse.”

Chu Hechao sat up. “I’ll join you.”

Yuan Li hesitated.

On the way to the outhouse, Yuan Li occasionally glanced back with the corner of his eye, observing Chu Hechao who was following him at a distance neither near nor far.

He did want to find an opportunity to meet Wang Er, but Chu Hechao had adopted the most troublesome yet effective method, constantly trailing him and completely preventing him from meeting Wang Er.

Yuan Li furrowed his brow.


But by making him feel irritated, Chu Hechao had already achieved success.

Yuan Li entered the outhouse, focused on his task, and noticed that Chu Hechao didn’t follow him inside. After satisfying his bodily needs and calming his emotions, Yuan Li walked out only to see Chu Hechao crouched by the roadside, his strong back hunched under clothing that seemed a size too small, engaged in something.

Quickly reacting, Yuan Li hid himself, ducking behind a corner and peeking out.

This time, he could see clearly what Chu Hechao was doing.

Chu Hechao was digging in the mud.

Expressionless, he disregarded the mud clumps and disgusting creatures, sweeping them away. From the muddy water, he picked up a dirty copper coin, carefully wiping away the dirt with his fingers, and then tucked it into his waist after cleaning its surface.

It was the first time Yuan Li had seen Chu Hechao so focused.

It was as if that coin wasn’t just a piece of copper but a miraculous remedy that could save the soldiers under his command.

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