After seeing the sugarcane, Yuan Li’s joy was evident. He took the sugarcane directly for himself, while the remaining merchants were handed over to Guo Mao to deal with.
He instructed Guo Mao to delay these merchants for a while before they left, taking advantage of this time to make sugar.
Making refined sugar was easier and more profitable than making soap, and it could provide a sustained source of income. While soap was a novelty and delicacy, without soap there were still soap nuts and bath beans. However, sugar was an important trading commodity. Whether in times of war or peace, its price was always higher than that of salt. It was something that only the wealthy and nobles could afford to consume.
Families with money to buy sugar would definitely be willing to spend money on it. This was especially true for the wealthy merchants from the southern regions. Yuan Li remembered that the reason why the cuisine in places like Suzhou, Wuxi, and Yangzhou was known for its sweetness was because the local wealthy families used sugar as a display of their wealth. They liked to add sugar to their dishes to showcase their financial status. Over time, this developed into a local taste.
With money-making opportunities right in front of him, how could Yuan Li let them slip away?
He had the sugarcane brought to the well-prepared sugar workshop. He took out the recipe that the system had given him and began the process of refining refined sugar.
To make refined sugar, he first needed to make cane sugar.
The most challenging step in making cane sugar was extracting the juice. After pressing the juice from the sugarcane stalks and simmering it on low heat, it would turn into syrup. Pouring the syrup into molds and letting it cool would result in cane sugar. Making cane sugar was not difficult, and Yuan Li knew the principles and steps without the system’s guidance. The difficult part was how to transform the reddish-colored cane sugar into granulated, sparkling white refined sugar.
Yuan Li spent two days in the sugar workshop, and his whole body was filled with a sweet aroma.
In the evening, when he went on a date with his boyfriend, Chu Hechao tasted a mouthful of sweetness when he kissed Yuan Li’s neck.
“Haven’t taken a bath?” Chu Hechao took another sip and commented, “So sweet.”
Yuan Li’s neck was sweaty, and Chu Hechao left several shallow marks while teasing him. The surroundings fell silent, and a warm breeze passed by as Chu Hechao continued to lower his head.
Feeling itchy all over from the kisses, Yuan Li’s eyelids twitched as he looked down. “What are you doing?”
Chu Hechao shamelessly said, “Relieving the itch from your mosquito bites.”
Yuan Li was caught off guard. “What mosquito bites?”
Chu Hechao touched them and smiled mischievously. “These are mosquito bites. They are really venomous. Look at how they swelled into two big bumps. I feel sorry for you.”
Yuan Li: “…”
With Chu Hechao tending to the “mosquito bites” and relieving the itch on one side, then going to the other side, there were audible smacking sounds. Employing poison against poison, Yuan Li blushed with embarrassment.
While feeling embarrassed, Yuan Li also had worries in his heart.
If Chu Hechao’s desires were so strong, what would happen if they really took it to the next level?
Yuan Li glanced at Chu Hechao’s pants.
Just looking at them made him feel scared and uncertain.
Yuan Li was very concerned. He already felt the weight when he used his hand, and after their last intimate encounter, his throat had been sore for a whole day. It was not an exaggeration to say that Yuan Li was a bit hesitant because it was too extreme.
If they really went all the way, he would probably end up bleeding like a river.
Thinking of this, Yuan Li lost interest in taking their intimacy to the next level.
After they had both worked up a sweat, Yuan Li took his clothes and went to take a shower. Chu Hechao silently slipped in and watched his wife shower. He watched and watched, unable to help but turn his head to another direction.
“Le Jun,” he looked at the wooden door, his full forehead, prominent nose, and thin lips outlining his sharp profile, and asked patiently, “When will you be willing to sleep with me?”
Yuan Li accidentally splashed some water out of the basin. He pretended not to hear, but Chu Hechao asked again.
“…” Yuan Li replied, “Brother, do you know how to sleep with a man?”
Chu Hechao’s expression turned serious, but his words were vulgar, “With your backside.”
Yuan Li replied directly, “But if I’m not prepared, I will definitely get hurt.”
He paused and added, “It will probably be very painful, and there will be bleeding.”
Chu Hechao frowned, and when he thought about the potential harm to Yuan Li, he immediately lost interest in that aspect. He stood silently, giving his wife a long gaze at the door. When Yuan Li finished bathing and put on his clothes, the two of them walked back to the room side by side.
Yuan Li walked ahead, Chu Hechao followed behind, with a considerable distance between them, making it clear that they did not come together.
Chu Hechao watched Yuan Li’s back and felt a sense of tranquility he had never experienced before.
Yuan Li could feel the gaze on his back, and with a faint smile, he leisurely returned to the room.
One walked, one followed, not walking side by side, but still walking together.
The next day, a messenger who had rushed from the capital brought the news that Emperor Jianyuan had passed away.
On the 29th day of the third month of the fifty-first year of Jianyuan, Emperor Jianyuan passed away on his sickbed, and the throne was passed to his second son, Qin Wen. The twelve-year-old second prince ascended to the throne in April and changed the era name to Zhouyan, becoming Emperor Zhouyan.
Yuan Li and Chu Hechao were shocked and panicked upon hearing the news. After the messenger delivered the message, he did not stay long and immediately hurried to the Wuwan’s place to convey the news of the emperor’s death.
Yuan Li calmly prepared the items for mourning the emperor. To his surprise, because the Northern Frontier was far away, it took two months for the news to arrive, and only one month of the three months remained for mourning Emperor Jianyuan.
Half a month later, more and more news reached Youzhou.
Not many emperors were foolish emperors, and Emperor Jianyuan was not foolish either. The reason he promoted eunuchs was to suppress the influence of the Empress’s family, and the reason he suppressed the party members was that he saw through the poisonous tumor of the aristocratic families under the wavering imperial power of Northern Zhou. However, Emperor Jianyuan had aspirations but lacked the corresponding abilities. Before his death, he realized that Northern Zhou was on the brink of life and death. Therefore, he appointed three of his trusted aides as the chief ministers to assist Emperor Zhouyan.
However, within a month, these three ministers were charged with various crimes and executed by the Empress’s family, Li Li. Luoyang was already in turmoil, and fear permeated the air. The last remaining minister became afraid and voluntarily resigned from his position, leaving the court with his family.
After Emperor Jianyuan’s death, Li Li eagerly revealed his true colors. He took control of the defense forces in Luoyang and enlisted General Yan Hui, commanding his 100,000 troops to station in Luoyang, turning Emperor Zhouyan into a puppet emperor in name.
Li Li didn’t bother to conceal his identity as a treacherous minister. The eunuchs, who were mainly in charge of the harem, faced persecution from him. Any eunuch who dared to defy Li Li’s authority was killed without mercy.
There were also ministers in the capital who expressed their dissatisfaction, but those who voiced their discontent were beheaded in front of Emperor Zhouyan by Li Li, causing the twelve-year-old emperor to faint on the spot.
Upon hearing this news, the people of the world immediately cursed Li Li as a usurper!
He was clearly a treacherous usurper without virtue!
After hearing this news, two of Yuan Li’s subordinates, Liu Jixin and Guo Mao, had their eyes shining and silently exclaimed in their hearts, “Excellent!”
This was excellent, simply excellent.
If there was no one to play the villain, how could their lord play the role of the righteous one against evil?
But they knew that now was not the time for them to emerge.
They still had to wait for a few more years, wait a little longer. They would wait until Li Li’s infamy grew, and his actions became more outrageous. They would wait until others could no longer bear it, and that would be the time for them to reveal their prowess.
For now, both Qin Pei in Yuzhou and Qin Meng in Jingzhou, the uncles of Emperor Zhouyan, remained quiet, so there was no need to rush.
In Shangcai County, Runan County, Yuzhou.
In the governor’s residence.
Qin Pei was discussing with his counselors on how to respond to the changes in Luoyang.
Qin Pei was already in his forties, and tears filled his eyes as he said, “What can be done for the emperor now? He is only twelve years old and is about to face such a major upheaval. Li Li, this old thief, wants to seize control of our Northern Zhou!”
The counselors wiped away their tears together.
Qin Pei cried in sorrow, and after he finished crying, anger surged within him. He grabbed the large knife on the table and prepared to go outside, saying, “As a member of the Qin family, I cannot let that villain have his way. I will personally chop off that villain’s head!”
The counselors immediately stopped him. “My lord, you must not!”
“Li Li has tens of thousands of soldiers guarding inside and outside Luoyang, and the emperor is in his hands. We can only deliberate on this matter for the long term. You must not act impulsively.”
After being persuaded for quite some time, Qin Pei reluctantly dropped the large knife and knelt on the ground. Tears flowed from his eyes once again. “Must I, as an imperial uncle, helplessly watch our Emperor of Northern Zhou being bullied like this?”
The counselors all knelt down as well.
In the silence, someone spoke, “Of course not.”
A young man with a gentle and refined demeanor came forward while kneeling. His name was Xiang Hongyun, one of the most intelligent and astute counselors under Qin Pei’s command.
Xiang Hongyun remained composed and calmly analyzed the pros and cons of the current situation. He said, “You should send a letter to Qin Meng in Jingzhou and discuss how to deal with that villain. At the same time, issue a proclamation condemning Li Li, let the people of the world know of his disloyalty and unjust actions, and let them know of your heartache and desire to protect the emperor. Although you are willing, you lack the power to act alone. We must gather the strength of the heroes of the world to fight against him.”
Qin Pei was persuaded by Xiang Hongyun. He sighed deeply, stood up from the ground, and said, “I will follow your advice. First, send a letter to Qin Meng.”
Xiang Hongyun looked at Qin Pei’s hunched back and the strands of white hair on his temples. He withdrew his gaze and sighed as he walked out of the governor’s residence. He looked at the gloomy sky and muttered to himself, “This lord is not my enlightened lord.”
Qin Pei clearly didn’t dare to go and confront Li Li, but he had to make a show of it in front of them. After Xiang Hongyun finished speaking, he keenly noticed the trace of relief on Qin Pei’s face.
At the moment, it was the right decision not to confront Li Li. However, as a member of the imperial family, if Qin Pei only displayed anger without taking any action and cowered within Yuzhou out of fear, what could he accomplish in the future?
People were not saints or sages, so it was natural for them to feel fear. Xiang Hongyun wasn’t afraid of Qin Pei’s fear of Li Li; he was just disappointed that Qin Pei truly lacked even a hint of anger and a will to confront the enemy. It was truly cowardly, incredibly cowardly.
Xiang Hongyun had already decided to leave.
But if he were to leave, whom should he turn to?
After thinking for a while, Xiang Hongyun thought of Wu Shanshi in Yizhou, Liu Quan in Bingzhou, and Lu He in Yizhou. He also thought of Yuan Li, the governor of Youzhou, whose reputation had recently soared and was continuously praised by the great scholar Zhang Liangdong.
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