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    Chapter 225 - Dong County's Sang Family?

    The fact that Chu Qichang had visited the Shen residence was no secret in the village; his official attire was too conspicuous. The Shen family lived at the innermost part of the village, and as he made his way through, many an eye had fallen upon him, though none dared approach the Shen household.

    Sure enough, as Shen Lie and the other two saw Chu Qichang off from Daxing Village, they were stopped by a group of people gathered outside the Xu family's residence upon their return, asking for an update.

    Aware that the mission involved searching deeper into the mountains, who wouldn't be enticed by the prospect of both wealth and land? Even someone like Elder Madam Xu, with her relatively comfortable background, would be delighted at the prospect of increasing her family's land holdings. The villagers were even more enthusiastic, their willingness beyond measure.

    Only Elder Lu and Old Lady Lu felt regret, aware that they had missed their chance. Others would now take their place, and even if they desired to return, it would be impossible. There was nothing they could do about it. However, with the addition of over thirty mu of land and seven taels and half an ounce of silver, the elderly couple were already quite content.

    Thereafter, Shen Lie refrained from further involvement, entrusting all matters to Chen Dashan. He returned home, where Sangluo had already prepared a basin of warm water. Meanwhile, Shen An and Shen Jin were busily engaged in washing dishes and wiping the table.

    San Luo, worn out from the day's activities, made a cursory tidy-up and didn't intervene any further.

    The couple began to talk about Chu Qichang.

    Shen Lie said, "He appears honest but is actually cunning and thoughtful. At this moment, he might be pondering over our family's background. Qiyang County was burned to the ground, leaving no records of its residents. That might spark even more speculation in his mind."

    When Shen Lie said this, he looked at Sang Luo. In truth, he had been taken aback today. This was the first time he had seen a side of Sang Luo that was completely different from her usual self. The change in her demeanor, aura, and choice of words were strikingly distinct.

    "It's better to think more. Red wine is too eye-catching. I'm grateful now that there were other rare items on the table today. It's better for them to be uncertain about our intentions than to have them relentlessly coveting our possessions."

    Sangluo finally understood the advantage of having multiple courtyards in a grand ancient residence. In their home, let alone having several courtyards, even if they had just one entrance, separating the dining area from the guest area would have prevented such awkward situations where all their secrets would be laid bare with a sudden visit.

    Recalling the events at the banquet, Shen Lie said, "Regarding the wine, I don't think he'll bring it up again. However, Wen Qing mentioned the possibility of growing yams. He inquired quite a bit during the banquet. The local government office might come asking for details soon. With so much mountainous terrain in Xizhou, they won't let this opportunity slip."

    Sangluo didn't object. Whether it was teaching the cultivation method in detail or promoting the early adoption of yams, she was willing, considering that these techniques had been shared years ago. Besides, the prosperity of Xizhou's economy was something she welcomed. Therefore, she said, "If they come to us for information, teach them whatever you can. If they want to buy the tubers, we can negotiate, but try to exchange them for grain. The prices in the city are too high, and they may remain so for another year or two. Even if they have money, it might not be easy to purchase. Until the autumn harvest this year, let's prioritize storing grain over silver."

    Agriculture relied on the weather, and her family currently had food to eat. Who knew what next year's climate would bring?

    As for the government not paying and simply requisitioning the yams, Sangluo didn't think that would happen. Based on the behavior of Xizhou officials since they left the mountains, she didn't believe they would act in such a manner.

    Understanding her intentions, Shen Lie prepared to speak but reconsidered, unsure who might be sent from the government office and what kind of person they would be. Instead, he nodded and agreed, "Alright."

    ...

    The government officials arrived sooner than Shen Lie expected. Shen Lie and Shen An read in the morning and went to work in the mountains by mid-morning. Before long, Xu Wenhong rushed up the hill, panting, "Master! Master! The governor is here! My father is leading him this way."

    This startled Zhao Da and Zhao Si, who were chopping down a tree. They nearly swung their axes off-target, convinced they had misheard. They looked at Xu Wenhong in disbelief.

    On the mountaintop, Shen Lie noticed that most of the trees in the vicinity had been cut down. Hearing Xu Wenhong's words, he stood up and looked down the mountain. In the distance, three men in official uniforms, led by Shopkeeper Xu, were heading their way. Naturally, they were followed by bailiffs and attendants.

    Common folk always feared armed bailiffs. Zhao Da and Zhao Si felt a bit nervous as they asked, "Master Shen, what's going on?"

    Seeing that the group was approaching with stately strides and was already quite close to his home, Shen Lie didn't dare delay. He replied, "It's nothing. They're probably here to inquire about the yam. Keep busy, I'll go greet them."

    He then instructed Shen An, "Go tell your eldest sister-in-law."

    And with that, he hurried down the mountain.

    ...

    The visitor wasn't just the prefect; accompanying him were also the magistrate and Cui Qichang, the military counselor who had visited the previous night.

    Shen Lie hadn't expected the prefect of Shezhou to be so young, appearing to be only around twenty-five or twenty-six years old.

    After Cui Qichang introduced the two, Shen Lie performed the proper greeting, but before he could kneel, the prefect supported his arm. "No need for such formalities outside. Show me where you've planted the yams."

    Shen Lie observed that the prefect had an upright gaze and an air of nobility. It was rare for him not to emphasize ceremony, and instead prioritize practical matters. His words and actions carried the distinctive decisiveness of a military commander, which Shen Lie found quite familiar.

    "Please, sir," Shen Lie offered, leading the way forward. The Xizhou Governor, meanwhile, discreetly observed him, as well as the nearby Shen family residence and the nearly barren mountain peak from which Shen Lie had just descended, along with the few cottages nestled by its slopes.

    Although the village was not overly populous, every household they passed on their way had pens for goats and chickens, each filled with a considerable number of livestock. In Xizhou, where most commoners struggled to make ends meet apart from the wealthy aristocratic families, such prosperity could be considered remarkable.

    What a prosperous Daxing Village.

    In the morning, Sang Luo measured her family's garden plot. Secluded inside her room with a freshly sharpened charcoal pencil, she was busy designing the layout of their future courtyard and house on the large sheets of paper she had crafted herself, preparing a blueprint for the spring construction. Before she could make much progress with Shen Ning, Shen An returned, announcing that the governor had arrived.

    She hastily hid her work and rushed out of the house. Shen Lie, leading the group, had already reached the entrance.

    Upon seeing Chu Qi Chang accompanying them, Sang Luo was not surprised. After presenting herself as refined yesterday, she couldn't afford to appear as an ordinary peasant woman in front of Chu Qi Chang today. Thus, she performed the necessary etiquette, accompanied by Shen Ning, to greet them.

    Shen Ning, who had not been exposed to such formalities since childhood, stood quietly. However, Sang Luo's actions caused the governor and his chief secretary's eyebrows to raise slightly.

    This was the instinctive recognition of a noble or wealthy family's offspring among their own kind.

    This was distinct from Shen Lie's earlier greeting; one was in form, the other in spirit, and there was also an air of composure about it.

    Although the woman before him wore simple clothes and a plain hairpin, she was certainly not an uneducated country peasant. Even if she didn't come from a noble family, she must have been born into a reputable lineage.

    "There's no need to be so formal," he nodded in response, then turned his attention back to Shen Lie, saying, "Let's take a look at that yam."

    Shen Lie, relieved by the gentlemanly demeanor, exhaled a breath of relief. He turned and headed for the shed, returning shortly with a full-sized yam that stood half a person tall.

    The governor and the chief secretary were clearly familiar with yams, but where would a young nobleman from a prominent family have seen a food item before it reached the dining table? Like Chu Qichang, they had only seen cooked versions used in medicinal dishes. This was their first time witnessing a raw yam prior to being served.

    Unbothered by its dirtiness, the governor took it and examined it thoroughly. Noticing the layer of sand covering it, he inquired about its cause. Upon learning that it was due to the storage method used for large quantities, he found it quite enlightening. Recalling Chu Qichang's mention that these yams were cultivated on mountain slopes, he glanced at a nearby mountain that had nearly been cleared of trees and asked, "Is that mountain reserved for planting yams?"

    Shen Lie nodded affirmatively. "Yes."

    The governor raised an eyebrow. "Do all the trees need to be cut down? And the soil loosened on the mountain slope?"

    If it required an enormous amount of labor, aside from the Zheng family, there wouldn't be a single ox available for plowing in Xizhou. It would prove to be a challenging task.

    Shen Lie shook his head. "It could be planted directly, but a rough cultivation method is simpler, albeit resulting in a lower yield compared to a meticulous approach."

    The position of Chronicler was nominal, but it entailed assisting the Censorate in educational and agricultural affairs. Thus, he inquired further, "How exactly is the yam cultivated?"

    With no suitable space for entertaining guests at home, Shen Lie decided to invite them up the mountain instead. Accompanied by Manager Xu, he elaborated on the techniques of yam cultivation.

    Their conversation lasted well over an hour, covering topics such as whether yams preferred shade or sunlight, the ideal soil type, seed selection, the optimal planting season, fertilization methods, and the right time for harvest.

    The Chronicler asked numerous questions, while Shen Lie provided detailed answers.

    The Censorate listened attentively throughout the exchange and then turned to Shen Lie, asking, "We previously knew yams only as medicinal herbs, harvested by collectors from the mountains. How did you come to learn the art of cultivating them?"

    Clerk Xu's eyes lifted slightly.

    After a moment of pondering, Shen Lie replied, "My wife came across its record in our family's book collection. When we were hiding in the mountains to avoid trouble, food was scarce. We happened to find this yam and dug it up for sustenance. We also preserved some roots to cultivate."

    Master Chu Qichang raised his eyebrows in surprise, but quickly lowered them again.

    Sang Luo, who had accompanied them but remained unassertive, felt a bit surprised as well. She looked at Shen Lie, who gave her a slight smile in return.

    The Governor of Xi Zhou's lips curled up slightly. He then turned to the silent Sang Luo and asked with a smile, "May I ask which region Madam is from?"

    San Luo found herself having to reveal her identity, naturally, that of the original owner's.

    "I hail from Eastern Province," she said.

    The chief secretary lifted his gaze, surprise flickering in his eyes. He then turned to the young governor, who studied San Luo for a while before asking, "The Sang family from Eastern Province?"

    This time, it was San Luo's turn to be taken aback. "You know of the Sang family?"

    The original owner's family was indeed well-off in Eastern Province, but their reputation wasn't so prominent that people would immediately think of them upon mentioning the province.

    The governor smiled. "Quite a coincidence, my wife hails from the Fan family of Chenliu, not too far from Dongjun."

    Noting that the East County had suffered devastating floods several years prior, the Prefect refrained from further comment and instead shifted the conversation to address Miss Sangluo: "This method of cultivating Dioscorea is truly excellent, perfectly suited for widespread adoption in Shezhou. Would Madam have any objection to publicly sharing this technique?"

    Sangluo naturally had no objections.

    "Pray, my lord, do not hesitate. During those challenging years in the mountains, I did not withhold this method. The folks in nearby villages have all learned it. You may propagate it with confidence. If you require the tubers, we do have some stored. However, they were originally intended as our family's food reserve. Should you need them, no payment in currency is necessary. Kindly leave enough for our own needs next spring, and in exchange for the rest, a provision of grain would suffice."

    She deserved a straightforward answer. It turned out that the yam wasn't cultivated solely by her village, but was widely grown by villagers in several nearby settlements. This was tremendous news for both the governor and the chief secretary.

    "Very well, since my lady has such benevolence, I won't let you suffer any loss either. I've heard that Cui the military officer is quite acquainted with you. In that case, I'll leave the matter to him to discuss further with you, how does that sound?"

    "As you wish, Your Excellency."

    The governor chuckled. Busy with official duties, he didn't linger and began his descent down the mountain. Before leaving, he patted Shen Lie's shoulder, "The provincial school is excellent. Study hard. It's a time when the country needs capable people. Upon completion of your studies, there will be a future for you."

    Shen Lie was surprised that the governor knew about his attempt at the provincial school examination. He hurriedly bowed in gratitude.

    The governor smiled and left Da Xing Village. After walking some distance, he instructed his attendant, "When we return, copy the few volumes of 'Commentary on the Book of Documents' from my study and send them to the Shen family."

    The chamberlain was taken aback, opening his mouth as if to say something. But knowing that his master's decisions held their own reasoning, he dared not interject a mere servant's opinion. He quickly nodded in agreement.

    The chamberlain's brow twitched upon hearing this. He was well aware of the weight behind those casual words and turned to ask, "Does Your Excellency hold Shen Lie in high regard?"

    The Prefect chuckles, "A commendable character, pleasing to the eye; is it not so that the Sang family shares their hometown with my imperial consort? In this sense, we are half-hometown acquaintances ourselves. It would only be fitting to extend them some care and consideration."

    Trailing behind, Chu Qichang's heart was pounding so fiercely that it seemed ready to burst from his chest – it was Zeng's commentary on the Book of Documents from Taiyuan!!!

    He swallowed audibly, astonishment filling him. Shen Lie's luck was simply heaven-defying!!!

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