Yuan Li slept soundly while Chu Hechao busied himself for a while, changing his clothes and wiping away the smell of alcohol.
He had never done such a thing before, but he was surprisingly patient when taking care of Yuan Li. He personally took off his shoes and clothes. When Chu Hechao finally laid on the bed, holding Yuan Li as they slept, he found it unbelievable. He couldn’t imagine himself being so attentive to someone. He pinched Yuan Li’s nose and looked at the person in his arms, feeling both annoyed and fond, “It’s only you who can make me like this.”
Yuan Li, with a flushed face, uncomfortably made a few grunting sounds.
The more Chu Hechao looked at him, the more he liked him, to the point where he wished he could shrink Yuan Li and tuck him into his waistband. His heart burned with desire as he looked at him, and he couldn’t help but bite Yuan Li’s cheek lightly before letting go.
The morning light seeped through the door.
Yuan Li, who was deep in sleep, turned over to avoid the light when suddenly a voice rang in his mind.
【Chancellor of the First Generation system activated】
【Annihilation of the Yishan Army mission completed, rewards have been issued. Please explore on your own, host.】
Yuan Li gradually woke up from his hazy dream. In the next moment, the location of the coal mine appeared directly in his mind.
Realizing what had happened, Yuan Li sat up abruptly, his eyes shining brightly as drowsiness vanished.
It turned out that Wu Kai had successfully wiped out the Yishan Army, he obtained the coal mine!
Yuan Li was overjoyed and couldn’t wait to go and see what the coal mine looked like. But as soon as he moved, the man beside him pressed his arm against him, pinning Yuan Li back onto the bed. With a tired voice, he said, “Sleep a little longer.”
Yuan Li wriggled out from under him and looked at the man’s sleeping face. Flashes of last night’s drunken memories came back to him intermittently.
Yuan Li’s expression twisted slightly. He quietly moved Chu Hechao’s hand away, and just when he was about to succeed, Chu Hechao asked, “What are you doing?”
Caught red-handed, Yuan Li’s face turned hot. He quickly preempted and said, “Get up quickly. It’s getting late, and you have to leave.”
Chu Hechao opened his eyes, gradually becoming more awake. He looked at Yuan Li’s guilty appearance and raised an eyebrow, but he didn’t move.
Yuan Li pulled him off the bed and bunched up Chu Hechao’s clothes, urging, “Hurry, hurry.”
Chu Hechao stood there, bare-chested and strong. He looked down at the clothes in his arms, stable as if rooted to the ground. No matter how much Yuan Li pushed, he didn’t budge. When he got annoyed from being pushed, he lazily said, “You want me to leave as soon as I wake up? Have you forgotten how I took care of you last night, Yuan Le Jun? Don’t you have a conscience?”
Yuan Li simply replied, “No.”
“…,” Chu Hechao was almost amused by his response. He looked down at Yuan Li, squinting his eyes threateningly. “Give me a kiss, and then I’ll leave.”
Yuan Li’s mouth still had the taste of alcohol, which wasn’t pleasant. He didn’t want to kiss him like this. He negotiated, “How about after we wash up?”
The man still wasn’t satisfied.
But then a knocking sound came from outside the door. “Lord, have you awakened?”
Yuan Li hurriedly pushed Chu Hechao again. Chu Hechao furrowed his brow, cursed softly, and jumped out of the window, holding his clothes.
Relieved when he saw him leave, Yuan Li let out a sigh and opened the door. As soon as the door opened, several flies flew in, and the strong smell of blood rushed in, almost making the hungover Yuan Li nauseous.
He waved away the flies and took a closer look. He exclaimed, “My goodness! Where did this black bear come from?”
There was a massive black bear leaning against the pillar in front of his door, weighing three to four hundred catties! The bear’s eyes were dull, and its body was covered in blood. At first glance, it looked alive.
Lin Tian’s face turned slightly pale in fear. “This is the black bear the General killed in the mountains yesterday. He specially placed it in front of your door. Should I bring the bear to the kitchen first?”
Yuan Li waved his hand and walked over to the black bear with great excitement. He muttered to himself, “The bear’s claws are so big. One swipe could kill a person…”
He played with the bear’s paw for a while, then lifted its head. Just as Chu Hechao, who had changed his clothes, walked out of the room, he saw this scene. He approached and said, “Do you like it? I’ll have someone skin it later and make a blanket for you.”
After Yuan Li finished inspecting the bear, he began to praise Chu Hechao, “General, you are truly impressive. You managed to obtain a black bear.”
Chu Hechao’s lips curled up subtly, and he added, “Not only that, there’s also a white snake.”
A white snake?
Oh, right, Chu Hechao seemed to have mentioned last night that he had caught a white snake.
Yuan Li immediately asked Chu Hechao to take him to see it. After seeing the snake, Yuan Li recognized it—it was a golden python of the albino variety.
The white snake was indeed beautiful, and Yuan Li liked it very much. However, at the first sight of the white snake, Yuan Li thought of Liu Bang, the leader of the White Snake Rebellion.
Because of this sudden thought, after seeing the snake, Yuan Li said, “Let’s have someone take care of this snake.”
Seeing his fondness for the snake, Chu Hechao was also happy. He immediately called someone to release the white snake into a fenced area in the forest for captivity.
After freshening up, Yuan Li and Chu Hechao huddled in a corner and kissed, as he had requested.
Because Chu Wang and his wife had just left, this kiss was purely innocent, devoid of desire. Yuan Li swallowed and pushed Chu Hechao, asking, “Are you going to the mountains today with your men to chop firewood?”
“I chopped a lot of trees yesterday, but there’s still some left,” Chu Hechao rubbed his temples and said, “I’ll have the soldiers take care of such minor tasks. Do you want to come with me?”
Yuan Li shook his head and whispered, “I found a coal mountain. Let’s go with a team of people to mine coal today.”
Chu Hechao furrowed his brow. “You sent people to look for coal?”
He looked intrigued, his expression meaningful. “Yuan Le Jun, you have many secrets. Tell me, what does ‘boyfriend’ mean?”
Yuan Li pondered for a moment. He didn’t like hiding secrets between lovers, but the concept of the system was obviously difficult for someone from ancient times to understand.
Finally, Yuan Li calmly said, “I do have many secrets, but I haven’t figured out how to explain them to you yet. I’ll tell you when I’ve figured out how to explain. Is that alright?”
The man remained silent.
Yuan Li called out, “Brother.”
Chu Hechao retreated, rubbing his temples. He easily accepted the explanation. “Alright, alright. Say whatever you want. Just don’t call me so affectionately. It gives me goosebumps.”
Yuan Li stared at the smile on his lips and rolled his eyes. “Boyfriend means my man.”
Chu Hechao clicked his tongue. “Interesting.”
After their intimate moment, Yuan Li’s parents were already waiting in the dining hall.
Ever since Yuan Song and Lady Chen came to Ji County, they had been living with Yuan Li and Chu Hechao. Originally, they wanted to move out, but because their son and Chu Hechao were busy with the funeral and administrative affairs of Chu Wang, they didn’t mention it, fearing that they would disturb Yuan Li.
Now that Yuan Li’s matters had settled down and Chu Hechao seemed to have recovered from the pain of his parents’ death to some extent, Yuan Song brought up the idea of moving out at the dining table.
Yuan Li had initially wanted to persuade them to stay, but when he saw Yuan Song’s expression, he knew his father wasn’t polite and genuinely wanted to leave.
It made sense. It was uncomfortable for the Yuan family and Chu Hechao to live together. The Yuan family brought many people and many things from Ruyang. They had the money to buy another estate, so they must have felt it would be more convenient to have their own place.
After some thought, Yuan Li realized that his relationship with Chu Hechao wasn’t that simple. If it were to be discovered by Yuan Song and Lady Chen, it would be troublesome.
Yuan Li said, “If you really want to move out, I’ll find a good residence for you today.”
“No need for you to find,” Yuan Song couldn’t suppress the smile at the corners of his mouth in front of his eldest son, who was already a provincial governor at a young age. He happily said, “I’ve already found a residence.”
Yuan Li asked, “Where is the residence?”
After Yuan Song finished speaking, Yuan Li nodded thoughtfully and said, “That place is good.”
Receiving Yuan Li’s approval, Yuan Song became even happier. He couldn’t help but ask, “Li Er, will you come with us to live there?”
Chu Hechao’s hand holding the chopsticks paused imperceptibly.
Lady Chen also couldn’t help but persuade gently, “Li Er, your father is right. Come and live with us. It’s been almost two years since your mother last saw you. Now that both your father and I have come to Youzhou, shouldn’t you be with us?”
“Uncle, Aunt,” Chu Hechao put down his chopsticks and took the handkerchief handed to him by a servant to wipe his hands. His expression was calm as he said, “The Chu Wang Mansion has already been renovated. Although Le Jun is your son, he is also my sister-in-law. It’s not good for him not to live in the Chu Wang Mansion.”
Yuan Song also remembered this, and he sighed deeply. “The General is right.”
“Please rest assured,” Chu Hechao said, “I will take good care of Le Jun.”
Yuan Song hadn’t expected this highly reputed and arrogant general to be so humble and polite. He felt a strong sense of goodwill towards Chu Hechao and gratefully said, “Then, let me thank you on behalf of my son.”
Lady Chen also smiled at Chu Hechao and thanked him gently. However, when she returned to the room with Yuan Song after finishing the meal, she couldn’t help but wipe away tears from the corners of her eyes with her handkerchief.
Yuan Song softly scolded, “What are you crying for?”
Lady Chen choked up and said, “You’re only concerned about our son’s high position when you’re away, but have you ever thought about how difficult it has been for Li Er? Look at the past ten or so days since we arrived in Youzhou. Has Li Er had a moment of leisure? He’s only nineteen years old. He has to be well-informed about everything inside and outside the mansion, and he has to personally handle everything. As his mother, I can only occasionally see him during meals. Look at how much weight he has lost in these past ten days. If we weren’t in Youzhou, it would be one thing, but now that we’re here, we can’t even live with Li Er. How can I not feel sad?”
Yuan Song sighed and scolded, “He’s doing well, isn’t he? How many times did you beg your family for this opportunity, and how much effort did it take for Li Er to have the chance to enter the Imperial Academy? After becoming the mother of a provincial governor, have you forgotten all the hardships?”
Lady Chen continued to cry.
Yuan Song sighed, realizing that she understood in her heart. It was just temporary discomfort. After all, their son hadn’t even reached twenty years old.
He stopped saying more. After all, how could a mother not feel distressed for her son?
On that day, Yuan Li took a team of people to the coal mountain to mine coal.
The system was generous and gave him a large coal mountain. Yuan Li chose a suitable spot, and the miners began digging. It didn’t take long for the dark coal to be exposed.
Yuan Li named this coal mountain “Black Volcano.” As time went on, more and more coal was excavated from the Black Volcano, filling up two warehouses. After the autumn harvest, the tax revenue collected from Youzhou was swiftly sent to Ji County, and the granaries in various parts of Youzhou were already full.
The harvest this year was good, especially the potato yield, which surprised many people.
The commoners also witnessed the potato yield firsthand. To help them accept potatoes, Yuan Li even roasted freshly dug potatoes in the fire in front of the crowd and ate one on the spot.
The soft and fragrant aroma made many people’s mouths water.
Yuan Li kept 50% of the potatoes, which would be provided by the government for the people to plant in the spring of the following year.
Yuan Li took out a portion of the remaining potatoes and distributed them to his subordinates, parents, and household. The majority of the potatoes were sent out to the people, along with instructions on how to cook and consume them.
The hungry commoners were both picky and unconcerned when it came to food. They wouldn’t dare to eat something they weren’t familiar with, but once they were assured that it was edible, they wouldn’t find any trouble in it.
Eating potatoes wasn’t troublesome at all; one just needed to pay attention to whether the potatoes had sprouted or not.
In addition to potatoes, the mature cotton was also harvested by Yuan Li. Nobody knew what the cotton was used for, and Yuan Li didn’t say. Instead, he recruited women in Ji County to sew cotton clothing during their agricultural downtime, encouraging them to earn some extra money.
When news of the earning opportunity spread, many women from different families came forward. Yuan Li specially set up a workshop for them to sew cotton clothing. The talented Lady Yu, who stayed in Chu Wang’s mansion, led the women in their work.
At this time, Zhang Liangdong’s articles for Youzhou had spread to several neighboring provinces and were gradually spreading further.
As Yuan Li had expected, the people’s attitude towards Li Li would be unanimous. After their manifesto spread, the “righteous individuals” of various provinces voluntarily extended their support, publishing articles that condemned Li Li for his treachery, the murder of loyal subjects, and his attempt to bribe the Grand General and the Youzhou governor.
From north to south, Li Li’s reputation became increasingly infamous.
Under Zhang Liangdong’s persuasion, Xiang Hongyun also decided to accompany him in Youzhou, writing articles and occasionally playing chess. He would also offer valuable advice to Yuan Li. However, his attitude towards Yuan Li remained polite, and he didn’t declare his allegiance.
After the autumn harvest, the soldiers sent by Yuan Li to purchase grains from various regions returned with cartloads of grains.
There was too much grain, and the prepared granaries were not enough. They had to hurriedly build several additional granaries overnight to store the grains purchased from Bingzhou, Yizhou, Qingzhou, and other places.
These were all new grains that could be stored for at least four years. If properly preserved, they could last even longer. Yuan Li wasn’t worried about hoarding grains. In his view, even if there was no snow disaster this year, there would still be calamities in the winters of the following years. Even if there were no snow disasters in the coming years, it would be a result of his misjudgment, which wouldn’t matter.
In times of chaos, grain was the hard currency. They would undoubtedly face a tough battle against Li Li within the next three years, and these grains would be useful sooner or later. With a sense of certainty, Yuan Li spent one-third of his savings on this, considering it well worth it.
However, in the eyes of others, the amount of grain that could feed Youzhou for ten years seemed overly extravagant.
Even the most rational Liu Jixin couldn’t help but advise Yuan Li several times, but Yuan Li refused to compromise. After repeated attempts, Liu Jixin’s heart gradually sank.
He wasn’t worried about the grain; what worried Liu Jixin the most was Yuan Li’s stubborn refusal to listen to anyone’s advice. He felt anxious, but because of his trust in Yuan Li, Liu Jixin forcefully suppressed his anxiety.
Yuan Li wouldn’t make a move without confidence.
Recalling the heavy rain and the matter of planting potatoes, he reassured himself with his reasoning and suppressed his concerns.
By the end of October, Wu Kai and Zhong Ji, who had been sent to eliminate the Yishan Army, also returned.
After returning, Wu Kai didn’t have time to visit his wife, Yun Niang. He went directly to Chu Wang’s mansion to meet Yuan Li and inform him of the successful elimination of the Yishan Army. After recounting the events, he said, “Lord, Governor Che Kangbo of Yanzhou already knows about our mission to eliminate the bandits.”
Yuan Li nodded without surprise, “If Governor Che Kangbo didn’t know what you were doing during the whole month it took to eliminate the bandits, then he shouldn’t continue as the governor of Yanzhou.”
Wu Kai breathed a sigh of relief. “After we defeated the Yishan Army, Governor Che Kangbo’s troops arrived at Yishan and took over the subsequent handling of the Yishan Army. All the captives have been taken away by Governor Che Kangbo.”
It was as if they had fought the bandits for nothing, as they hadn’t captured a single captive in the end.
Yuan Li laughed, “Didn’t you ask Governor Che Kangbo for some rewards?”
Wu Kai was taken aback. “Could we have gotten them?”
Yuan Li laughed heartily, “As long as you ask, of course you can get them. But we shouldn’t stab him in the heart just for a small reward. Since the captives are given to him, let him have them. I won’t let you go through all that trouble for nothing.”
“It wasn’t for nothing,” Wu Kai smiled awkwardly. “Before Governor Che Kangbo’s men arrived, we had already looted the bandits’ stronghold and took everything we could find as spoils.”
Yuan Li exclaimed, “Well done!” He smiled and told Wu Kai to rest.
That night, Yuan Li held a celebratory banquet for Wu Kai and Zhong Ji. The atmosphere was lively and joyous, with everyone drinking and celebrating. Xiang Hongyun watched the friendly and lively scene and took a sip of his wine, feeling a hint of emotion in his heart.
As autumn progressed, the winter cold arrived quickly. In the blink of an eye, it was already December.
On December 20th, a heavy snowfall suddenly descended upon Youzhou.