The next day, He Lang returned to Luoyang, keeping an eye on the team escorting the rewards. Liu Jixin and Guo Mao also went to Mang Mountain to visit Cui Xuan.
Not only did they bring generous gifts, but they also brought Cui Yan, who rarely left the Ministry of Government Affairs, hoping that Cui Yan could help persuade Cui Xuan.
Upon learning of their purpose, Cui Yan had an instinctive feeling that this matter would not succeed. He knew his father Cui Xuan too well. Due to his exile in his youth, Cui Xuan had an extreme aversion to the officialdom. It was already the limit for him to come down from the mountain and help Yuan Li receive his crown. However, Cui Yan hadn’t seen his father, wife, and children for a long time, so he gladly accompanied the two of them to Mang Mountain.
Yuan Li also believed that Cui Xuan would not agree to this matter. After Liu Jixin and Guo Mao left, he began making secondary preparations—sending people to find other famous scholars in Youzhou. At the same time, he started spreading the news that Li Li had murdered Chu Wang and Madam and intended to frame the eunuch, as well as his intention to bribe Chu Hechao and the Youzhou Governor.
This matter was closely related to the stability of Youzhou itself. It wasn’t just about Chu Wang and the Madam being murdered; all the county officials in Youzhou had to stand united with Yuan Li against their common enemies.
At the same time, Yuan Li, together with Chu Hechao, began preparing for the upcoming winter.
Chu Hechao didn’t take his words lightly and had already brought people to the mountains to chop wood, collect firewood and coal, and build houses.
Yuan Li told him, “Don’t deforest the mountains completely. Plant saplings while you’re cutting, so that the green mountains will remain and we won’t run out of firewood.”
Chu Hechao raised an eyebrow, “Your brother understands better than you.”
After saying that, he flicked Yuan Li’s forehead with his hand and then ran away.
The orders from Jixian quickly spread to the officials in various counties. They were instructed to stockpile food, build shelters, and strengthen houses for the people.
Yuan Li ordered the captive prisoners to start building more granaries, and he also sent guards with gold to several nearby provinces to purchase grain after the autumn harvest.
Such a large-scale action puzzled and confused everyone who knew what they were doing.
After all, the grain in Youzhou hadn’t been collected yet, and there was still plenty of surplus in the granaries. After the autumn harvest, there would surely be even more grain. In their eyes, Yuan Li’s behavior of using gold to buy grain from outside the region seemed like a waste, as if he had too much money to spend.
Having more grain was good, but if they stockpiled too much, they wouldn’t be able to consume it all. It could attract pests and rodents, and if not properly protected, it could become damp, rotten, and moldy. Yuan Li was well aware of these issues, but why was he doing this?
Zheng Rong, Zhan Shaoning, and Yang Zhongfa all came to persuade Yuan Li, asking him not to be anxious and not to waste money on such a large amount of grain.
They already had enough grain, and every year they needed to replace old grain with new grain. Buying more grain would only waste resources.
Yuan Li had always been someone who could listen to his subordinates’ advice, but this time, he stubbornly rejected their suggestions and insisted on doing it his way, regardless of who advised him.
His authority was already deeply rooted, and his subordinates dared not argue further, so they could only let him proceed.
After Liu Jixin and Guo Mao returned from Mang Mountain, they heard about this matter. Once they realized how determined Yuan Li was, they wisely refrained from offering further advice. However, after reporting that Cui Xuan was unwilling to write articles for them, they subtly inquired about why Yuan Li was doing this and if they could help.
If Yuan Li could be certain whether there would be a snow disaster this year, he would be able to tell them openly. But unfortunately, he himself was uncertain whether there would be a snow disaster or not. In this situation, Chu Hechao was willing to believe him and take action, but telling others would only cause panic.
“You don’t need to inquire further about this matter,” Yuan Li said directly, “I have my own use for buying this grain.”
Liu Jixin and Guo Mao glanced at each other, bowed, and said, “Yes.”
As for Cui Xuan’s unwillingness to help, Yuan Li had anticipated this. He sighed and rubbed his forehead, saying, “It seems that I need to ask for help from other scholars…”
Meanwhile, outside Jixian County.
The Zhang family, who had fled from Luoyang, finally arrived at their destination.
Inside the carriage, Zhang Liangdong and Xiang Hongyun lifted the window and marveled at the surrounding scenery.
They had experienced many dangers along the way, and they thought that the chaos in Youzhou would be similar to the outside world. However, as soon as they entered the boundaries of Youzhou, the chaos seemed to be completely cut off, with no impact on the internal affairs of Youzhou.
Looking outside, they saw low houses with rising smoke, and the people were busy in the fields. Vast golden rice fields resembled waves, swaying from one end to the other with a gentle breeze.
The scenery was so beautiful.
The dim sunset shone upon the rice fields, and Zhang Liangdong watched as a child on the roadside calmly carried a bamboo basket to collect horse dung. He feels as if he’s witnessing an era of peace and prosperity, and he became captivated by the view.
The family members in the vehicles behind were also looking at the scenery outside the carriage. Seeing this scene, the expressions of the women softened, and their anxious hearts settled down.
They said that Youzhou was remote and desolate, but from what they saw, it was peaceful and content.
Compared to Zhang Liangdong, Xiang Hongyun observed with greater detail and scrutiny.
The closer they got to Jixian County, the smoother the roads become, and as the carriage passed through the countryside, they didn’t see any filth or smell any foul odors. Xiang Hongyun can’t help but be amazed by this.
When they arrive at the outskirts of Jixian County, they saw the people queuing up to enter the city, each one being inspected by the city guards. Xiang Hongyun’s eyes lit up with interest.
Since their entry into Youzhou, they have been subjected to such inspections at each city they pass through. Not only do they check the number of people in the group, their place of origin, purpose in Youzhou, and where they will be staying, but they also inspect the items they carry for safety.
The level of scrutiny was the most thorough Xiang Hongyun has ever seen in his life. It effectively screens out individuals with impure motives from entering Youzhou. From this alone, Xiang Hongyun can discern just how safe and secure Youzhou has become.
When it was Zhang Liangdong’s group’s turn, a soldier approached and asked, “Where are you from? What brings you to Jixian County?”
Zhang Liangdong stroked his beard and smiled, “We have come from Luoyang, and I have come to Jixian County to seek an audience with your Excellency, the Governor. Just go and inform your Excellency that Zhang Liangdong has come to pay a visit.”
The soldier was skeptical but stepped back. Another person came forward to observe Zhang Liangdong’s group before riding his horse into Jixian County.
Xiang Hongyun was slightly surprised and whispered to Zhang Liangdong, “Even a low-ranking soldier like that can ride a horse.”
Zhang Liangdong was also greatly astonished and sighed, “Yuan Le Jun has governed Youzhou well. In just a year and a half, Youzhou has already changed significantly.”
He squinted his eyes and took a few more glances before the horses disappeared. “Oh,” he said, “What’s on the horses?”
Xiang Hongyun also squinted his eyes but couldn’t see anything clearly. “Teacher, is there something on the horses?”
Knowing that this disciple’s eyesight wasn’t good due to excessive studying at a young age, Zhang Liangdong said, “Yes, it seems to be something made of iron.”
Xiang Hongyun nodded thoughtfully.
Soon, the sound of galloping hooves approached rapidly from inside the city gate.
The people outside the city gate looked up and saw a handsome young man riding a spirited horse, his robes fluttering as he leaped over the road.
Zhang Liangdong and Xiang Hongyun also heard the sound of the horses. Zhang Liangdong looked out of the window and was initially stunned, but then a smile spread across his face. He stood up and laughed heartily, “Le Jun, this child, has personally come to welcome me. As a high-ranking Governor, he doesn’t need to do this!”
Has Yuan Le Jun really come in person?
Xiang Hongyun also alighted from the carriage and followed Zhang Liangdong towards the front. They saw a group of men in sturdy clothing rapidly approaching, and then they abruptly halted their horses. The young man at the front was handsome and confident, striding forward with broad steps. He exclaimed, “Teacher has come to Youzhou? Why didn’t you write to me in advance?”
Xiang Hongyun knew that this was the Youzhou Governor, Yuan Li, who was only nineteen years old.
Zhang Liangdong laughed heartily and, as Yuan Li approached, said, “I have come to seek refuge with you. The outside world is chaotic now, and you mentioned in your letter that Youzhou is prospering in all aspects and that you need my help. I hope this old fellow has arrived in time and can be of use to you.”
Yuan Li’s eyes lit up, and his smile grew deeper. He smiled and invited Zhang Liangdong, saying, “You’ve come at just the right time. I have something I’d like to ask for your help with!”
Zhang Liangdong asked curiously, “Oh? What is it?”
Yuan Li smiled meaningfully and said, “No rush, no rush. Let me take you to your residence first, and then we can discuss this matter at leisure.”
For Yuan Li, Zhang Liangdong’s arrival was like a lifeline. He arranged a mansion for Zhang Liangdong, and after settling his family, he began discussing the matter of Li Li.
Upon hearing that Li Li had killed Chu Wang and his wife and was attempting to frame the eunuchs, Zhang Liangdong was furious. He slammed the table heavily, exclaiming, “This is outrageous!”
Zhang Liangdong was a man of strong emotions and principles. He had sacrificed three high-ranking positions to plead for Zhan Qibo, which demonstrated his character. Already displeased with Li Li and the eunuchs due to their growing actions, Zhang Liangdong’s anger intensified upon hearing about this matter. Tears welled up in his eyes as he uttered, “This Li Li is truly detestable… The Emperor is already in such a difficult position, and yet he dares to try and bribe you. Is this world surname Qin, or should it be changed to Li?”
Yuan Li sighed, “I, along with the General, always bear in mind that we are loyal ministers of the Northern Zhou Dynasty, and we only serve the Emperor. We will never associate ourselves with traitors like Li Li. However, Li Li will never give up. I’m afraid he might take our actions as an act of rebellion against the Emperor and brand us as rebels.”
Zhang Liangdong furrowed his brow, “We must not allow that! Le Jun, tell me what you want me to do, and I will do my best to assist you. We cannot let Li Li continue to harm loyal and righteous individuals!”
“Thank you, Teacher,” Yuan Le Jun immediately expressed his gratitude. “I don’t ask for much. You don’t need to exert yourself. I only request that you write a few articles to clarify the truth and vindicate us in front of the people.”
Zhang Liangdong readily agreed.
Quietly listening without interrupting, Xiang Hongyun suddenly spoke up, “Governor, aren’t you afraid of Li Li’s retaliation?”
Yuan Li knew that this person was a disciple Zhang Liangdong had picked up on the journey and didn’t mind his audacity. After glancing at Xiang Hongyun, Yuan Li’s expression turned serious, and he said, “If we fear his retaliation, should we suppress our grievances, disregarding the death of Chu Wang and his wife and the precarious situation of the Emperor? By doing so, we would be no different from cowards. A noble person knows when to act and when not to. Faced with such disloyal and unjust individuals, we must naturally stand up and fight for the sake of the people. Otherwise, how can we protect the people of Youzhou and the world from Li Li’s disturbance?”
His words were resolute and powerful, causing Zhang Liangdong to exclaim three times with tears in his eyes. He held Yuan Li’s hand and said, “Le Jun, I haven’t misjudged you. If all the loyal ministers of the Northern Zhou Dynasty were like you, how could Li Li be so arrogant?”
Xiang Hongyun witnessed the determination in Yuan Li’s demeanor, something his previous lord, Qin Pei, lacked. Indeed, Yuan Le Jun, who at such a young age managed to govern a province so well, lived up to his reputation.
Respectfully, Xiang Hongyun said, “What the Governor said is absolutely right.”
He bowed and covered the gleam in his eyes.
The world, the world…
Yuan Li frequently mentioned the world in his speeches. Was it just a casual remark, or did it hold a deeper meaning? What kind of world was this man, who constantly spoke about the world, envisioning?