After listening to Yuan Dan, Yuan Li and Chu Hechao didn’t return to their rooms. Instead, they turned with their guards and followed Yuan Dan towards the Artifact Division.
The Artifact Division was located in a secluded and quiet area, hidden and secure, allowing the staff to work in peace. When Yuan Li arrived, he saw Cui Yan with disheveled hair, hunched over a desk, writing something.
There were scattered papers and bamboo slips all around him, and several craftsmen were busy walking around, creating things. Wood shavings were piled up on the ground.
Yuan Li had found many people for the Artifact Division, but most of them were craftsmen who could do manual work. There were only two people, Yuan Dan and Cui Yan, who had the knowledge and literacy. However, craftsmen were not inferior to intellectuals in terms of creativity. They had rich experience and often brought astonishing ideas to Yuan Dan and Cui Yan.
Yuan Dan carefully avoided the objects on the ground and walked up to Cui Yan, gently pushing him and suppressing his excitement. “Cui Yan, Le Jun has come!”
Cui Yan raised his head in a daze, with two prominent blue circles under his eyes. This scholar, who used to live a carefree life at the foot of Mangshan, now seemed completely drained of his vitality and no longer had the leisurely and comfortable demeanor he once had.
Upon seeing Yuan Li and the General’s arrival, Cui Yan’s eyes were still somewhat dazed. “Why have you both come?”
Yuan Dan was anxious and patted him again. “Le Jun and the General came to see the crossbow!”
Cui Yan winced in pain but immediately realized what was happening. He stood up with renewed vigor and said, “Gentlemen, please follow me.”
Yuan Li and Chu Hechao exchanged a glance and followed him into the courtyard.
Two crossbows had already been placed there.
One was a large bed crossbow, while the other was a small one-armed crossbow.
Chu Hechao immediately noticed the novelty of the bed crossbow.
Underneath the bed crossbow, there was a wooden frame for support. It used three bows combined onto the crossbow, making it drastically different from the massive crossbows he had seen before.
Chu Hechao’s eyes flashed with interest. He took a few steps forward to examine it closely. After seeing the long and deep arrow grooves that could seemingly accommodate spears, he looked up at Cui Yan with an intense gaze. “Is this the modified bed crossbow you mentioned?”
Cui Yan smiled shyly. “After the Governor mentioned the possibility of integrating mathematics into weapons, I was puzzled. I discussed it with the Governor, and he mentioned that there are only bed crossbows and catapults as long-range weapons on the battlefield. However, both of these weapons have their shortcomings. He believed that these weapons could be improved with precise calculations. For example, with the bed crossbow, by combining the force of several bows, the power could be increased… After the Governor explained it to me, I came up with the idea to modify the bed crossbow and improve its mechanism to enhance its power and range.”
Chu Hechao raised an eyebrow, looking somewhat teasingly at Yuan Li, his lips curling up. “So, my sister-in-law is also involved in this field.”
After confirming their relationship, hearing him being called sister-in-law felt extremely peculiar to Yuan Li, with a sense of guilt and forbidden affair lingering in his heart. He ignored this feeling and calmly smiled, modestly saying, “It was just a spontaneous thought from me. I never expected that Mr. Cui could actually bring it to life and make it so impressive.”
He approached and carefully examined the bed crossbow as well.
In history, the Song Dynasty had also invented similar multi-bow bed crossbows, with the most famous and powerful one being the three-bow bed crossbow. When he urged Cui Yan to apply mathematics to weapon development, he did wonder if Cui Yan could create a three-bow bed crossbow. He didn’t expect Cui Yan to actually make it. Although he didn’t know if it was the same, it looked quite similar. The only question was whether Cui Yan’s modified bed crossbow could achieve the same power as the three-bow bed crossbow.
“What is it called? What is its range? How many people are needed to wind the crank and draw the string?” Yuan Li asked eagerly.
Cui Yan, perhaps due to lack of sleep, spoke slowly, frustratingly causing impatience. Yuan Dan, anxious, scratched his head and answered the question on his behalf, “It doesn’t have a name yet, so let’s call it the Three-Bow Bed Crossbow for now. Its range is eight hundred paces, and it requires thirty people to draw the heavy bowstring!”
Eight hundred paces meant approximately one kilometer, a distance that current long-range weapons could not reach.
“Is it really eight hundred paces?” Chu Hechao’s gaze turned sharp.
Yuan Dan, feeling a bit scared under his gaze, swallowed nervously and replied, “General, it is indeed eight hundred paces. If you don’t believe it, you can try it.”
Chu Hechao immediately said, “Let’s give it a try.”
The Three-Bow Bed Crossbow was set up in an open space, with the manor’s earthen wall located over a thousand meters away. Thirty guards gathered together to wind the crank and draw the bowstring. The arrow, as long and thick as a spear, was placed in the arrow groove. After aiming, a strong soldier used a giant axe to pull the trigger. The spear-like arrow shot out with a thunderous force, flying straight towards the manor’s earthen wall.
Everyone held their breath, staring intently at the direction the arrow flew.
Little by little, the arrow crossed the distance of over a thousand meters. Finally, it firmly embedded itself directly into the earthen wall.
Everyone hurried over and, at a close distance, realized that the arrow was already halfway embedded in the wall and couldn’t be easily pulled out.
One of the guards pressed down on the arrow embedded in the wall with force. Satisfied with its stability, he stepped on the arrow and climbed up the wall.
Seeing this, Chu Hechao’s eyes glittered with excitement. He lifted his robes, circled them around his waist, and nimbly stepped on the arrow, leaping onto the wall.
After experiencing it personally, Chu Hechao found that the arrow was indeed firmly embedded in the wall and could easily support his weight if he controlled his stepping force.
“A fantastic weapon!” He gracefully jumped down from the wall, praising it.
Yuan Li’s eyes also shone with excitement. “Such a remarkable weapon, it’s a siege-breaking tool. Just imagine, during a siege, if we place these on the battlefield and fire them at close range, the spear-like arrows will be driven into the city walls. Rows and rows of arrows will be arranged like neat ladders, allowing the attacking soldiers to climb and assault the city while being covered.”
And with such great power, it’s not only useful for penetrating enemy city walls during a siege, but also for destroying their fortifications, such as arrow towers, watchtowers, and even ships.
Of course, the bed crossbow can be used to kill individuals, but the three-bow bed crossbow is too wasteful for that purpose. It is more suitable for destroying enemy equipment and besieging cities.
After understanding this, Yuan Li’s gaze towards Cui Yan became increasingly eager.
Cui Yan was undoubtedly talented, the kind of person who could be recorded in history as a great inventor.
Yuan Li lavished them with praise, and after finishing, he remembered what Yuan Dan mentioned earlier about a “repeating crossbow.” This bed crossbow obviously couldn’t fire in quick succession, so the only one capable of doing so…
Yuan Li’s gaze shifted to the small crossbow that had been overlooked by everyone since the beginning. “Is this the repeating crossbow that Wen Han mentioned?”
Yuan Dan nodded repeatedly and hurriedly picked up the small crossbow. “Le Jun, this is the repeating crossbow I was talking about.”
Compared to the bed crossbow, this repeating crossbow was truly lightweight and portable, suitable for individual soldiers to use. Although it was said to be small, it was still as long as an adult man’s arm, close to a meter in length.
The crossbow had three arrow grooves, allowing it to simultaneously fire three arrows. Although it could only fire three arrows in quick succession, it still tripled its firepower.
Yuan Li personally tried using the small crossbow and found that although it required some effort to wind the string, it was much better than the existing crossbows. What surprised him even more was that the aiming device on the crossbow had markings, similar to the scales on firearms in later times, allowing for more precise adjustments to the shooting angle and greatly increasing the hit rate.
He quickly discovered that when the aiming device, arrow tip, and target aligned in a straight line, the arrow would be precisely shot at the target.
Yuan Li couldn’t contain his smile and couldn’t put it down. “This small crossbow is very handy.”
The crossbow was a weapon that effectively countered cavalry, with greater lethality and higher accuracy. Moreover, it had lower requirements for soldiers to use compared to archers.
The role of crossbows nowadays was limited because soldiers needed to use their feet to draw the bowstring, requiring protection from shielded soldiers on the battlefield to organize crossbowmen. Although crossbows were good, they had too many drawbacks, and soldiers used a mixture of bows and crossbows without clearly distinguishing between the two.
But the crossbow made by Cui Yan was different. Its structure was not complex, and it could be mass-produced on a large scale. Soldiers could easily handle it. Even people like Wu Kai and Wang Er, who were not skilled in archery, could quickly become accurate crossbowmen.
It was like cheating, an extraordinary weapon.
Yuan Li looked at Chu Hechao and gave him a meaningful look.
Chu Hechao understood the value of these two weapons. He immediately sent guards to station around the Artifact Division to protect it from outsiders and started investigating all the people in the department, with a focus on the crossbow craftsmen.
Fortunately, Yuan Li had already prepared for this. After establishing the Artifact Division, he had already required these craftsmen to stay within the department unless permitted by Yuan Dan. Although Yuan Dan had a carefree personality, he was still agile and thoughtful. He was extremely cautious, and the craftsmen worked cooperatively under his guidance to create these two weapons.
After the previous lesson, this time, Yuan Li had already taken control of the families of these craftsmen. So far, none of the craftsmen involved in making the three-bow bed crossbow and the small crossbow had left the Artifact Division.
Seeing Yuan Li’s precautions, Chu Hechao smiled. “I trust your actions.”
After inspecting the two weapons, it was already late at night. Yuan Li personally accompanied Cui Yan back to his residence, and the group hurried back to the manor under the cover of darkness.
Along the way, Yuan Dan was still immersed in excitement. “Le Jun, if we use these fantastic weapons on the battlefield, our Youzhou troops will be invincible…”
Just thinking about that scene made him intoxicated.
Yuan Li listened to him with a smile, while Chu Hechao followed slightly behind them.
After a while, Yuan Dan calmed down, slightly puzzled. He said, “By the way, Le Jun, when I went to find you, the servants didn’t know where you went. I waited for you for nearly half an hour before I saw you come back. Did you and the General go out again?”
Yuan Li pursed his lips and replied, “The General and I had something to discuss.”
“Oh,” Yuan Dan said without much thought, then expressed his concern, “There are many mosquitoes right now. I didn’t pay attention before, but now I vaguely remember that your lips seemed a bit off. Did you get bitten by mosquitoes?”
Yuan Li’s face flushed, and he coughed softly, trying to blur the truth, “Maybe I got bitten, or maybe it’s just some internal heat these days.”
A soft laughter came from behind, lazily saying, “Internal heat is not a trivial matter. Eat something to cool down quickly, or else your condition might worsen in a few days.”
Yuan Dan didn’t catch the underlying meaning in Chu Hechao’s words and nodded repeatedly, “The General is right. Le Jun, you should eat lighter meals these days and drink some cooling tea. It’s a pity that the pears aren’t ripe yet; otherwise, I could have given you some pear to cool down.”
Helplessly, Yuan Li nodded and said, “Alright.”
Chu Hechao then said, “He is your nephew, so why don’t you ask him where we went?”
Yuan Dan thought it was a forbidden question, fearing it might involve some secret matter. But hearing Chu Hechao’s words, he realized that he had over thought it. Curiosity sparked within him, and he asked, “Right, Le Jun, where did you both go? If it was due to internal heat, it’s fine, but if you got bitten by mosquitoes, it must have been uncomfortable. If you go to that place again, remember to bring some mosquito repellent.”
Yuan Li felt his fists clenching, wanting to punch someone. He casually brushed off Yuan Dan’s questions with a few vague words and, before entering the room, shot Chu Hechao a glance with a stern face.
After the lights were turned on and preparations for bed were done, someone quietly entered through the window. The sound of their landing was as light as a trace, and they stealthily approached Yuan Li’s bedside in the dark.
Yuan Li, indifferently, said, “What are you doing here so late?”
Chu Hechao sat by the bedside, took off his shoes, and carried a faint scent of soap. Water droplets from his damp hair fell onto the bed, irritating Yuan Li, who angrily kicked him twice on his back.
With his broad back, the kicks didn’t faze Chu Hechao. He took off his shoes and got onto the bed, saying, “Move over.”
Yuan Li shifted inward, making room for him, then turned around, his back facing Chu Hechao.
Chu Hechao hugged him from behind and flipped him over forcefully, asking, “What’s wrong? Did you get heated up again?”
Just mentioning that made Yuan Li angry. He reached down and pinched a piece of flesh on Chu Hechao’s arm, giving it a twist.
Chu Hechao hissed, his face slightly distorted in pain. He grabbed Yuan Li’s misbehaving hand, looking menacingly, and said, “How dare you pinch me?”
Yuan Li didn’t fear him at all and said, “Look at what you said in front of Yuan Dan tonight. What if he figures something out?”
Chu Hechao scoffed and countered, “Do you think he can figure it out?”
Yuan Li remained silent, feeling that Chu Hechao was right.
But he still felt unhappy. Yuan Li pulled out his other hand and pinched Chu Hechao’s chest.
Chu Hechao’s face had turned completely dark, but with no light in the room, no one could see anything. However, Yuan Li could imagine what expression he would have. Smartly taking the initiative, he said, “You see, you’re being mean to me again.”
Chu Hechao, who hadn’t said a word yet: “…”
After a while, Chu Hechao lowered his voice and whispered in Yuan Li’s ear, “Let’s speak reason, kid.”
His voice was low and hoarse, and his breath tickled Yuan Li’s ear. “I haven’t done much to you, and you call it being mean?”
Feeling a bit guilty, Yuan Li abruptly changed the subject, “Don’t sleep here with me. It wouldn’t be good if someone saw us tomorrow.”
Chu Hechao understood and said, “I’ll leave once you fall asleep.”
With a sigh, he added, “Feels like we’re having an affair.”
Yuan Li also felt uncomfortable. The next moment, his chin was lifted, and his mouth was pried open as the taste of fresh lotus leaf toothpaste, just brushed by the man, filled his throat.
After a moment, Chu Hechao left because Yuan Li didn’t allow him to linger for too long, fearing that his lips would swell in the morning. Yuan Li touched his moist lips and worried, “Do I really need to eat something to cool down? I feel like I’ve been irritable these past few days.”
Chu Hechao smirked and said, “I have something to cool you down. Want some?”
Yuan Li replied, “…Your temper is even hotter than mine.”
Chu Hechao sighed again, his rough fingers caressing Yuan Li’s face, brushing against his scars, causing a tingling and painful sensation. “There’s nothing I can do. Your man only just found a wife at twenty-seven. Cut me some slack.”
Yuan Li nodded, “I understand.”
After thinking for a moment, he hesitated and said, “I can let you kiss me, but you have to clean up. After I let you kiss me, you have to let me kiss you too.”
Chu Hechao immediately agreed, “I’ve already cleaned up.”
“No,” Yuan Li refused decisively this time. He turned over, facing away. “Your scent is too strong. Wait a few days until it’s less noticeable. I’m tired and want to sleep.”
Chu Hechao: “…”
What else could he say?
Chu Hechao wiped his face, embraced Yuan Li, and said, “Go to sleep quickly, my ancestor.”
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