After seeing off Zhou Gongdan, the burden of public affairs on Liu Jixin became even heavier.
Especially after Cai Ji escaped, Yuan Li did not immediately appoint a new governor of Guangyang Commandery. Instead, he transferred Cai Ji’s duties to Liu Jixin, Zheng Rong, and others to handle together.
Liu Jixin, who used to have fixed time for rest and sleep every day and could find time to enjoy tea, no longer had any free time and was forced to be busy with his colleagues. In just two days, dark circles appeared under his eyes, and he looked much more haggard.
The same was true for others.
Liu Jixin, Yuan Lou, and the group composed of the servants brought by their father were named the Ministry of Government Affairs by Yuan Li, specializing in handling government affairs.
Among them, Zhan Shaoning and Yuan Lou were not originally good at handling government affairs, but they gradually became proficient under the pile of documents, and even started working overtime and staying up late.
At this time, Yuan Lou was taken away by Yuan Li to train the wounded soldiers.
Yuan Lou was eager to leave. He held the things in his hands and his eyes lit up. He rarely smiled, revealing his teeth, and bid farewell to Liu Jixin and Zhan Shaoning, saying, “Brother Liu, Shaoning, I’m leaving first, you continue to be busy, no need to send me off.”
As soon as he finished speaking, the faces of Liu Jixin and Zhan Shaoning turned dark. Liu Jixin waved his hand without looking at him, “Just go!”
Yuan Lou turned around and ran away, looking extremely happy.
Teaching the wounded soldiers was better than being buried in documents!
As busy as the civil officials were, the military officials were no exception. Wu Kai led his assistant Gong Bin to suppress the bandits, while Wang Er had to protect the safety of Ji County and be responsible for conscription. They were so busy that they wished they could split themselves in half.
The three men around Yuan Li, Lin Tian, Guo Lin, and Zhao Ying, also had their own tasks. In just a few days, from Liu Jixin to Zhao Ying, they all came to Yuan Li saying that there were not enough people.
Yuan Li was also worried about this.
At night, he kept nagging in Chu Hechao’s ear about the lack of manpower, and directly annoyed Chu Hechao. “Let Guan Zhihuai go and help you tomorrow.”
Yuan Li agreed, then said, “I wonder where Zhou Gongdan has gone. Do you think Wu Shanshi will notice anything? I wonder if my parents have arrived…”
Chu Hechao was originally holding his face to kiss, but when he heard this, he couldn’t help but bite Yuan Li, his face turning black. “Can’t you focus?”
Yuan Li covered his mouth and glared at him.
Chu Hechao’s eyes narrowed, and something flickered in his eyes. “If you keep looking at me like this, I’ll kiss you.”
Yuan Li: “…”
As they continued, they began to sweat from kissing. Yuan Li’s eyelashes were wet, and the man’s hand caressed his cheek, his lips becoming hotter as if on fire.
After a while, they finally separated, and for a while, no one spoke.
After a moment, Chu Hechao asked hoarsely, “Do you like it when I kiss you?”
Yuan Li nodded, “I do.”
Chu Hechao was delighted by this answer and laughed twice before giving Yuan Li another kiss. He got off the bed and put on his shoes. “The apricots are ripe. Do you want to eat them?”
Yuan Li said, “Yes.”
After a while, Chu Hechao came back with three or four apricots in his hand.
“Eating too much at night is not good,” he wiped one of them on his clothes and handed it to Yuan Li, “I tried one, it’s quite sweet. Try it, is it delicious?”
Yuan Li took a bite, and the sweet and delicate taste instantly filled his mouth. Chu Hechao asked, “Is it sweet?”
Yuan Li nodded and smiled, “Delicious.”
Chu Hechao said, “Give me a bite.”
Yuan Li brought the apricot to his lips, and Chu Hechao took a bite, quickly swallowed it, and relaxed his brows. “Not bad. The peaches in Youzhou in autumn are even sweeter. I’ll pick peaches for you when the time comes.”
Yuan Li, enjoying the apricot, felt sweetness in his heart and said, “Okay.”
The next day, Chu Hechao kept his promise and sent Guan Zhihuai to assist Yuan Li.
Guan Zhihuai had a square face, a dignified expression, and seldom smiled. When he saluted Yuan Li, it was all business, and his attitude was somewhat distant and cautious.
Yuan Li had heard about Guan Zhihuai many times from Chu Hechao, Yang Zhongfa, and others, and similarly, Guan Zhihuai had heard many things about the Governor from others.
Whether it was Yuan Congyun or Yang Zhongfa, or even the irritable and difficult to get along with Mi Yang, they all praised Yuan Li endlessly.
Guan Zhihuai felt that as soon as he left to suppress a rebellion, a person suddenly appeared in the rear.
He even heard that the thunder cannon used by the general to defeat the Xiongnu was made by Yuan Li, and the military supplies were all given by Yuan Li. When these praises and rumors intertwined, Guan Zhihuai became very wary of Yuan Li.
The more he observed, the deeper his frown became, and the more guarded he became towards Yuan Li. If this continued, would the camp still be the camp of the general?
Therefore, after learning that someone from Luoyang had sent a letter to the Northern Frontier, Guan Zhihuai volunteered to come to Ji County to deliver the letter.
In reality, delivering the letter was just a side task. His main goal was to have a close encounter with Yuan Li.
After having a meal with Chu Hechao, Guan Zhihuai also noticed the general’s protection of his brother-in-law. Guan Zhihuai couldn’t understand it, especially when he learned that the general actually allowed this 19-year-old kid to train a hundred thousand soldiers alone. Guan Zhihuai’s dislike of Yuan Li reached its peak in an instant.
Playing around, this was simply playing around!
After waiting for a few days, when he went to meet Yuan Li, Guan Zhihuai scrutinized him with dissatisfaction.
Upon seeing the person, Guan Zhihuai understood why his colleagues liked Yuan Li so much.
Yuan Li was undoubtedly a distinguished scholar, with a radiant appearance and graceful demeanor. He appeared even younger than Guan Zhihuai had imagined, and when he smiled, he was sincere and gentle, lacking any aggressiveness. It made people lower their guard and feel close to him.
First impressions were important, and although Guan Zhihuai didn’t completely let down his guard against Yuan Li, he at least felt that Yuan Li was a decent person and not someone with a hidden agenda.
Yuan Li noticed Guan Zhihuai’s distance towards him, but he didn’t mind. As long as the person was useful and could temporarily alleviate the urgent situation at hand, it was enough.
After drinking a cup of tea together, Yuan Li took Guan Zhihuai to the military camp.
When they arrived, Wang Er was training soldiers to run laps.
In addition to running laps, there were soldiers training in 100-meter sprints, push-ups, and other physical exercises. Besides that, there were mud pits, water pools, and a fishing net-like setup in the training area.
This was a training method that Guan Zhihuai had never seen before. At first, he thought it was just fooling around, but as he watched the soldiers crawling on the ground, or leaping over mud walls, his brows furrowed deeper, and he couldn’t take his eyes off.
It seemed like a game, but upon careful consideration, he felt that these exercises carried profound meanings.
Mud pits, water pools, climbing… If the soldiers could excel in all of these, wouldn’t they be able to adapt well to various environments across the country?
The more he thought about it, the more Guan Zhihuai became engrossed in these exercises.
Yuan Li introduced him to Wang Er and privately instructed him, “No matter what he says, make sure he trains the soldiers according to my methods.”
Wang Er respectfully said, “Don’t worry, my lord. I will keep an eye on Lord Guan.”
Regarding the military camp, Yuan Li could temporarily set his mind at ease. However, the Ministry of Government Affairs still lacked personnel, so Yuan Li went directly to Yang Zhongfa and asked him to recommend some talents.
He really found the right person. Among other things, when Yang Zhongfa was looking for a scholar to find out the etiquette for the coronation ceremony, he almost inquired about all the famous scholars in the nearby counties. He actually found some talented people who had been in seclusion. After some consideration, he decided to bring Yuan Li to visit one of them, a person named Guo Mao.
Guo Mao lived in the countryside of Jixian County, the closest talent to Jixian County. When they went to visit him, Chu Hechao followed along.
Yang Zhongfa didn’t expect the general to come along too, so he curiously asked, “Why did the general come as well?”
Chu Hechao and Yuan Li rode together, and he said indifferently, “Bored, just coming along to see the countryside with you guys.”
“Then let’s stay in the countryside for a few more days and enjoy some leisure time,” Yang Zhongfa chuckled, “I heard that Lord Yuan has been busy lately, hardly seen around. It’s a good opportunity to relax.”
Chu Hechao coolly responded, “Not only you can’t see him, I also live in the same estate as him and can’t see him.”
Yang Zhongfa was surprised, “Oh, is Lord Yuan that busy?”
Yuan Li smiled without saying a word.
When Yang Zhongfa turned his head, Yuan Li quickly kicked Chu Hechao.
A gray footprint appeared on Chu Hechao’s leg.
Chu Hechao clicked his tongue, bent down to pat off the footprint, and said, “Are you angry because I said you’re busy?”
“What I can’t see him?” Yuan Li lowered his voice, glancing at Yang Zhongfa, his lips barely moving. “Don’t speak recklessly.”
Chu Hechao retorted, “Are you not guilty when you say that?”
Yuan Li stood his ground, “Not guilty.”
Chu Hechao: “…”
The countryside was close by, and they reached Guo Mao’s residence in less than an hour.
As they approached, Yang Zhongfa told Yuan Li about Guo Mao’s achievements.
Guo Mao is quite unique. He grew up in a poor family and never had the chance to receive an education or learn to read. However, he was clever and ambitious from a young age, not content with being just a rural villager. When he was young, he made some money by doing business with merchants and left home to travel and seek knowledge. However, his journey of learning was fraught with difficulties. He later came across a widow, whose father was the local county magistrate. A thought crossed his mind, and he directly married into her family.
Being someone else’s son-in-law was considered embarrassing in those times. But Guo Mao didn’t care at all. With the opportunity to study, he eagerly learned to read and educate himself, showcasing his intelligence and wit even further.
If that was all, Yang Zhongfa wouldn’t have recommended him to Yuan Li, as Guo Mao was considered shameless and had a penchant for using cunning and deceptive tactics. However, Guo Mao’s most famous ability was not his intelligence but rather his talent for selecting and promoting capable people and his eloquence.
As they arrived at Guo Mao’s residence, they were informed that he was not at home.
Yang Zhongfa hurriedly asked, “Then where did he go?”
“He’s in the fields,” the servant said. “My master said if someone wanted to find him, they could go to the fields.”
Yuan Li and Chu Hechao exchanged a glance. Did Guo Mao know that someone would come to find him?
After finding out the location of the fields, they headed there. Soon, they spotted a middle-aged man, his pants rolled up, lying under a tree to enjoy the cool breeze. This man was dressed in rough linen clothes, had a handsome appearance, stood eight feet tall, and exuded an extraordinary aura. As soon as Yuan Li saw him, he knew he was Guo Mao.
Hearing the sound of horses, Guo Mao stood up, and as soon as Yuan Li and the others dismounted, he warmly approached them with a smile on his face. He said, “Are you all here to find me?”
Yang Zhongfa replied, “That’s right. Are you Guo Mao, Guo Pingzhi?”
Guo Mao smiled and said, “Yes, I am Guo Mao, Guo Pingzhi. May I ask who you all are?”
Yang Zhongfa stepped aside and gestured towards Yuan Li. He said, “This is the Governor.”
Guo Mao was both surprised and delighted. Without hesitation, he deeply bowed to Yuan Li and said, “I pay my respects to the Governor. I never expected that I would have the opportunity to meet the Governor. I have long admired the Governor, and it’s my fault for not coming to greet you earlier. Please forgive me!”
Yuan Li had never seen such an enthusiastic scholar. He helped Guo Mao up and said, “You’re being too modest.”
Guo Mao stood up and eagerly asked, “May I ask if the Governor has come to offer me an official position?”
Before Yuan Li could say anything, Guo Mao had already finished his sentence. He didn’t hesitate to respond, “I’m willing, I’m naturally willing!” It was as if he had been waiting for these words.
As soon as he finished speaking, he began lavishing praise on Yuan Li’s virtues and achievements, one compliment after another, as if they were all worthy of being written in an essay.
Yang Zhongfa had never seen someone with such thick skin. For a moment, he regretted bringing Yuan Li to recruit Guo Mao.
Chu Hechao looked at Guo Mao for a moment and asked, “Did you know that someone was coming to find you?”
Guo Mao calmly replied, “Yes. Ever since I heard that someone was inquiring about me before the new year, I’ve been waiting for someone to come and find me. From the new year until now, I’ve waited for more than five months. Please forgive me for being overly eager. I didn’t mean to offend anyone.”
Yang Zhongfa was intrigued. “You’re different from others. Other scholars can’t speak so directly.”
Guo Mao laughed and said, “I don’t know what others think. But the Governor is the ruler of a province, the highest-ranking official in Youzhou, and Lord Yuan himself is a renowned scholar. He has also assisted the Great General in killing the leader of the Xiongnu and eliminating bandits in Youzhou. He cares for the people of Youzhou and personally prays for rain on their behalf… No matter what kind of scholar or talent can be visited or recruited by you, it is considered an honor.”
He was right. Being visited and recruited by a provincial governor was a great honor for anyone, especially when the governor himself was a scholar.
Just like Guo Mao, he had been looking forward to someone important visiting him. However, he never expected that the important person who would come was Yuan Le Jun, the governor who had recently gained fame in Youzhou.
With such an opportunity in front of him, Guo Mao wouldn’t play any tricks to raise his own value. He had been waiting for this opportunity for many years and couldn’t wait to kneel down and ask Yuan Li to recruit him.
Guo Mao eloquently and subtly flattered Yuan Li, praising his character and achievements. After figuring out who Yang Zhongfa and Chu Hechao were, he was equally surprised and delighted, expressing his sincere admiration for both of them.
Yuan Li had never met someone who could flatter so openly and sincerely.
“Please wait for me for a moment, Lord,” Guo Mao said, pointing towards the fields. “It’s the planting season, and there is still one acre of land that I haven’t worked on. It will be ready soon. If you all are tired, you can rest at my house for a while.”
Yuan Li was a modest person, so he readily agreed. After Guo Mao went back to the field, Yuan Li rolled up his sleeves and pant legs. “General, Mr. Yang, let’s lend him a hand. Standing around won’t do us any good.”
Yang Zhongfa’s mouth twitched, and he tried to persuade him, “After finally getting the chance to come out, why don’t you rest, my Lord…”
Before he could finish his sentence, Yuan Li had already started planting rice seedlings.
Helplessly, Yang Zhongfa turned his head and said, “General, look at Lord Yuan…”
The rest of his words got stuck in his throat as he watched Chu Hechao take off his gloves and roll up his sleeves.
Chu Hechao lifted an eyebrow and glanced at Yang Zhongfa. “If you don’t want to join us, then stay on the side.”
Yang Zhongfa happily smiled and said, “Alright, alright, I’ll wait for you guys over there.”
Looking around, he ran to a tree, leaned against the trunk, closed his eyes, and prepared to take a nap.
Chu Hechao went down to the field and joined Yuan Li, helping him plant the seedlings.
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