At the turn of spring and summer, Lingnan boundary.
Soon after the Venus star fell, the sky lit up early. By Chenshi (7-9am), the sun was already high, and the street pavement had faintly floating steam. The roadside was lush with a few green shadows, and the verdant green of the treetops gradually dried up. As if feeling the heat outside, the horses in the stable snorted and drank the slightly muddy well water from the sink.
This southwestern border area is the basin region, and the climate was humid. Coupled with this scorching hot sun, it was almost like a steamer. This hot and humid, hard to endure weather, made people feel annoyed.
Zhou Dawu got off his horse, handed the reins to the stable lad, wiped the sweat from his face, and let out a long sigh.
This awful weather!
He complained in a low voice. Calculating the days, it has been more than seven years since he left the capital to come to this Lingnan boundary. During this period, he married a wife and had two children, but he still couldn’t adapt to this humid weather. He didn’t know if there would be a chance for him to return to the capital in the future.
He shook his head and sighed, but did not dare to delay. He took out the documents from his rucksack on his horseback and hurried to King Guangan mansion.
Turning a corner, the lintel of Guangan Palace came into view.
This palace didn’t resemble the magnificent and gorgeous king palaces at all. The gates in the front hall had the unique and bearing characteristics of Lingnan’s district. It was very different from the nobles’ mansions in the capital. The only similarity was the two stone lions stepping on the side, baring their teeth and sitting in a dignified manner. Behind them stood two solemn and strict looking soldiers.
Zhou Dawu hurriedly stepped inside the mansion’s gate and bumped into Zhang Long who was rushing outside.
“Ai, you finally came. If you were half an hour late, young master would definitely peel off two layers of your skin!”
“Is this not hurried enough?” Zhou Dawu wiped his face and asked, “Where is he?”
Zhang Long clamored: “Where else can he be? He’s waiting at the training ground.”
Zhou Dawu shrank his neck and felt anxious. Although he was seven or eight years older than the other party, whenever he was in front of the young master, he was always short of breath. Who made his skill not as good as him? Who made the other party get the position of the chief commander of the palace soldiers.
Although Zhou Dawu was not a top master, he was definitely not someone to be underestimated. Unexpectedly, that 17-year-old young man shook him off in just a few short years. Thinking of that first time he was thrown off the horse, he shook his head and sighed. He squeezed his documents, and hurried to the training ground behind the king’s palace
Before the gateway, he heard a burst of enthusiastic cheers inside.
After walking a few steps, he saw Ni Lie’s face that was as cold as a knife. His posture was tall and straight, and his expression was indifferent while pulling his big bow. His pupil shrank, then he suddenly let go of the arrow. Almost at the same time, he drew another arrow, hooked the string, pulled the bow, and released it in one go. Three arrows were shot in succession. One arrow followed another, and actually split the arrow feathers in the center of the bull’s-eye ahead. It only took a breath worth of effort for several arrows on the bullseye to split and bloom. The last one penetrated the bullseye and the three-inch wide target. The target base trembled, making a humming sound.
The soldiers on the training ground burst into a greater cheer.
Zhou Dawu’s heart was in great awe. Although he had seen many masters in the capital, he had never seen someone born with such god-like strength. He couldn’t help but be speechless inwardly.
Taking advantage of this gap, he hurriedly stepped forward and handed the paper to Ni Lie. Ni Lie threw the big bow easily to him. After reading through it for a while, the corner of his mouth raised up to a sneer. Placing it in his bosom, without saying anything and minding his own business, he walked to the front courtyard.
Zhou Dawu himself recognized that this bright cold dragon tongue bow was given to King Guangan when the predecessor of prefecture magistrate of Lingnan left office not long ago. He had later gifted it to Ni Lie. Hearsay, it was made from red sandalwood god tree, which was even stronger than black iron.
Zhou Dawu weighed it in his hand. It was quite heavy. He watched as Ni Lie’s figure disappeared at the entrance. His heart was itching, he wanted to try it out. He arched his body and exerted a bit of strength.
However, the bowstring did not move in the slightest. Zhou Dawu did not believe in evil. At any rate, he was the three gifted people selected by Old General Li from more than a thousand young children. How could he be inferior to that person? He gritted his teeth and used his full strength, until his face was flushed, and his veins appeared, but he could only pull it halfway.
After barely holding on for a moment, he instantly ran out of air. He panted, sweating like a cow.
Recalling the effortless appearance of Ni Lie, he once again aggrieved, knowing the reason. There were inherent differences between people.
He dropped his head dejectedly, then wiped the dragon tongue bow with a soft cloth dampened with tung oil until it was as bright as new and hung inside Ni Lie’s resting room.
After detouring the long hallway, Ni Lie arrived at the backyard. He was about to hurriedly enter the master chamber. But seeing himself covered in dust and sweat, he pondered slightly before returning to the side courtyard first. He called a boy servant to bring water to wash up.
After taking a bath, Ni Lie changed into casual clothes and went to the backyard.
As soon as he stepped into the courtyard’s gate, he saw a young girl wearing vigorous clothes (clothes for people who are energetic) come out with an empty bowl. The girl was about fourteen to fifteen years old. She looked quite similar to Ni Lie. Her eyebrows were heroic, but still had the lovable charm of a young lady. When she saw Ni Lie come over, her eyes lit up:
This young girl was Ni Lie’s younger sister, Ni Ying.
Six years ago, through Li Mao and other generals’ painstaking effort to rescue her, she was fortunate enough to escape the Jiaofang Division. Fortunately, she was young and was not met with torment. She only did the cleaning and washing chores in Jiaofang Division. But how could the Jiaofang Division be generous in raising the child? She also endured hardship every day. When the young girl just arrived in Lingnan, she was so skinny, and only had a handful of bones left.
Fortunately, these few years she had been raised in King Guangan mansion and was raised well.
Seeing his younger sister swiftly walking towards him, Ni Lie’s indifferent eyebrows eased a lot. He glanced at the brown medicine slag at the bottom of the bowl, a trace of worry appearing in his eyes.
“How is His Highness now?”
Ni Ying said, “He took the medicine and is resting now. Brother, wait until the afternoon to come again.”
“No matter.” Ni Lie didn’t say anything much. He only explained a few words to her, then walked straight to the master courtyard.
As soon as he opened the door and entered, a faint, sweet fragrance assailed his nose.
The servant woman was changing the water to the water tank in the outer room. The curtain of the inner room drooped lightly, vaguely showing the narrow bed inside.
The servant woman saw the person come in and stood up at once. Ni Lie hinted at her to keep silent and waved his hand, ordering her to withdraw.
She bowed her body in salute and quietly went out.
Ni Lie lifted the curtain and stepped into the inner room.
A faint aroma of herbal medicine rushed towards his face. Because the inside of the room was cut off from any light, it was much more pleasantly cool than the outside. The hot and stuffy heat from the outside instantly became formless.
The person on the bed had already fallen asleep. The crow, feather-like eyelashes reflected a faint gray shadow under his eyes. His jade snow skin had a light rouge to it, hidden in the dark, it had a soft light to it. His black hair had already scattered on the side of the pillow, making his face extraordinarily beautiful.
Recalling the increasing gazes secretly and blatantly falling on his body over the years, Ni Lie’s eyes somewhat deepened, and turned dark.
He stepped forward slowly, sat on the bedside, then gently held the wrist that fell on the bedside.
Lingnan’s late spring was stiflingly hot, but the other party’s body was still cold, without a bit of sweat at all. After years of court life, it had damaged his foundation. The past few days of hard work still made him sick. Ni Lie was deeply worried and sick at heart. He gently caressed that jade white wrist for half a day, before placing it inside the thin quilt.
He just sat and looked at him like this, not disliking it or bored with it. And sat like this for almost two hours.
At the middle of the day, when the cicada’s sounds rose up from the outside, Li Yuanmin started to move. His eyelashes fluttered, then he slowly opened his eyes. When he clearly saw the person in front, he couldn’t help but smile:
Sitting up with his body being supported, Ni Lie stretched out his hand to help him up. His black hair brushed over and a trace of cold fragrance penetrated his nose. Ni Lie’s adam’s apple moved, then without changing his expression, placed him to lean against the pillow.
“When did you come? Why didn’t you wake me up?”
“Not too long ago.” Ni Lie looked at him, “Are you still uncomfortable?”
“It’s much better now.”
Li Yuanmin looked at the quiet child in front of him. Before he knew it, he was already seventeen years old. Thinking of the time when he helped him, he was only a youngster in dire straits being recklessly bullied and humiliated by others. Now he has grown into a tall and bright, handsome young man. Standing in front of him, he could only be as tall as Ni Lie’s chin. Indeed, a white steed flits past a crack (how time flies).
Li Yuanming felt relieved. Although he spoiled him selfishly, he did not blindly shield him. After all, he took the position of the chief commander of the mansion based on his own ability. Although this child was not 20 and had not come of age, no matter if it was a veteran or a new recruit, they would still wholeheartedly accept him, without any hesitation—These years, in the end it’s all thanks to him.
Thinking of the bitter days of relying on each other when they first came to Lingnan, he couldn’t help but sigh.
Li Yuanmin thought, this kind of child, he only went astray in desperation. How could he be the bloodthirsty monster that murdered people without batting an eye in his previous life?
Fortunately he saved him.
His heart was a little soft, “Have you had lunch yet?”
“Not yet.” Looking at those soft eyes like spring water, Ni Lie’s heart also seemed to be floating in warm water, but his face was calm without a ripple: “Is your Highness hungry now?”
Li Yuanmin had no appetite, but when he saw a trace of hope in those dark eyes, he smiled: “Alright, order something to eat, you can accompany me.”
Ni Lie immediately got up and sent out the instructions.
Lunch had always been simple. Japonica rice, a plate of golden chicken shreds, a plate of sauteed shredded pork, a plate of stir-fried cabbage, ginseng black-boned chicken soup, and nothing else.
The two sat and dined together.
Originally Ni Lie was a subordinate, so how could he eat at the same table with his master. But Li Yuanmin had always spoiled him dearly. Although he had some reservations when they were outside, he naturally never restrained him in private.
After drinking the last sip of the soup, Li Yuanmin’s face had a bit more color. He took the fragrant tea on the side to rinse his mouth, and said:
“Have you sent Zhou Dawu to Yuan Xuntai?”
Ni Lie showed some confidence on his face, put down his chopsticks, and handed the document in his bosom to Li Yuanmin.
Li Yuanmin opened it and glanced briefly. He didn’t get angry, only smiled: “This Yuan Chongsheng is really brazen. Two large landholdings, soundlessly, turned to rows of crops.”
To show the grace of the Imperial family, all the vassal kings of Bei An have always been rewarded farmstead fields. But in the Lingnan boundary, these farmstead fields have always been under the control of Xuntai prefecture. Li Yuanmin had secretly sent people to find out the backstory. These farms earn about one or two per acre. The original provincial governor was quite kind and honest. Except for the supply and demand of local soldiers and horses, the rest was allocated to the King Guangan mansion. While this new official, Yuan Chongsheng, made bold changes on assuming the post. The first thing that made him have a headache was already here. Without saying a word, he chopped off a large chunk of it and left only 10% of the remaining to King Guangan mansion.
Not to mention the thirty thousand two-hundred annual salary that he must hand over to the capital, even the money used to support Bei An King’s mansion was not enough.
Li Yuanmin knew why. This Yuan Chongsheng was an official transferred from the capital. He had long heard of Li Yuanmin’s life experiences and clearly didn’t pay attention to him. Otherwise, being in office for more than half a month, how could he have not come to pay an official visit. This was him blatantly giving King Guangan mansion a display of his strength immediately on taking office.
He heard Ni Lie’s cold voice again: “In the afternoon, I will lead dozens of soldiers to bring him over. Let’s see if his bone is actually that hard and strong.”
“This matter has not yet reached the point of no return yet,” Li Yuanmin smiled: “Eat first, let’s talk about it again tomorrow.”