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    Chapter 227 - Building the Sheep Pen

    The collaboration with the Chen family was something Sang Luo had planned for a while. However, Chen Dashan took the initiative to propose it first, and Chen Po happened to seek her advice, so she decided to disclose her intentions earlier.

    Having witnessed Sang Luo's laborious tofu-making, Shen Lie knew that making food with yams and mung beans wouldn't be any easier. Thus, he genuinely supported this cooperation.

    Knowing that they would need a large amount of yams and mung beans for their post-harvest business, Shen Lie and Shen An didn't delay. They hurriedly returned to the mountain to start clearing the land.

    ...

    Zhu Qichang arrived swiftly, returning to Daxing Village in less than two hours with a negotiated plan and a team of officers carrying scales and grains.

    Zhu Qichang, or rather, Governor Zhi, did not disappoint this time. The grain exchange proposal was to swap grains and yams at a proportional rate.

    Of course, grains were categorized into coarse and fine varieties. The government offered a ratio of seven parts coarse grain to three parts fine grain.

    To be honest, the provision of fine grain was already a pleasant surprise. Sang Luo had been longing for flour, so she immediately asked if there was any flour available for exchange.

    Zhu Qichang was taken aback by her question but still nodded. "Yes, there is."

    Indeed, it was true. Many of the garrison soldiers in Xizhou City were northerners, accustomed to eating grains and wheat-based foods. At present, the court did not provide them, be it officials or garrison troops, with silver coins but food supplies. Most of these provisions did not come from Xizhou's granaries; rather, they were military rations supplied by Prince Qi and his supporting families.

    However, Chu Qichang had not brought flour with him on this occasion. In the vicinity of Shezhou, rice is predominantly the staple food, with impoverished households often subsisting on bean gruel. To request flour outright is indeed uncommon, as the majority of people, even if they were to obtain it, would be unable to prepare dishes well with it. Thus, he hadn't anticipated anyone specifically demanding this ingredient. Reflecting upon today's revelation that the Sang family hailed from Dong Prefecture, it all made sense.

    Considering that Governor Xu had promised a third of the refined grains, Sang Luo asked accordingly. Chu Qichang agreed, saying, "Yes, I do have some, but I didn't bring them along this time. If you want them, I can ask Young Master Shen to fetch them for you later."

    Sang Luo was delighted just to hear that she could exchange them for flour. Without hesitation, she allowed Chu Qicang to lead people to her place to carry away the yams. Upon entering the storage shed, she symbolically kept about thirty or forty roots, allowing the rest to be carried off by others.

    "Pay close attention to the method of storing the yams, and replicate it when you return home for optimal preservation."

    The officials were well aware that these were seed potatoes, and they handled them with care, asking about any precautions as they carried them. After they had all been moved out and weighed, the total came to four hundred eighty-five catties.

    "Big Sister, we can exchange for one hundred forty-five and a half catties of flour and three hundred thirty-nine and a half catties of coarse grains."

    Before Chu Qichang's men could even finish fumbling with their bamboo counting rods, Shen Ning's eyes had already darted around in excitement as she swiftly announced the calculation.

    Chu Qichang looked at her in surprise. After a moment, the most skilled mathematician among his officials also arrived at the same result and nodded at Chu Qichang.

    Chu Qichang: "..."

    What kind of influential family was the Dong County Sangs? He had never heard of them. They couldn't be a major aristocratic family; perhaps they were similar to the Lin and Wang families in Shezhou. But still, wasn't this girl's talent a bit too remarkable? A young girl of ten or so with such exceptional financial skills.

    Chu Qiqiang realized that he knew very little about places outside Huainan Circuit. Of course, how many commoner families could he be familiar with?

    The governor was even considering the Sangs' connection with his wife due to their shared hometown.

    Shen Ning was solely preoccupied with the thought of delicious food once there was flour available. She had no idea that she had unintentionally impressed Lord Chu once more.

    Sang Luo smiled, turning to Shen Ning and saying, "I promised Little Tie that I would make rice cakes for him tonight. What do you want to eat tomorrow?"

    Shen Ning's eyes curved into a smile. "I'll help Sister-in-law."

    If it weren't for the crowd, she would have clung to her sister-in-law's arm affectionately. She had been raised to be a spoiled and loving child.

    In Daxing Village, the Xus also requested flour, just like the Shens. However, the Xus did not have as many yams to exchange with the government office as the Shens did. After visiting several households, Chu Qiqiang realized that it wasn't because people were unwilling to offer more yams to the authorities but rather that only the Shens had achieved high yields this year.

    He was amazed and felt fortunate to have stumbled upon such an extraordinary family.

    In the latter half of the twelfth lunar month during the third year of the Wuding era, Chen Dashan and his five companions tirelessly traversed the mountains. Meanwhile, Shen Lie selected an auspicious date and time, consulted with several elderly villagers including Chen Laohan about the proper customs, and then, accompanied by Shen An and the younger brothers Xiao Jin, made a journey back to Qiyang County. After ascertaining the wishes of the three Xiao Jin brothers, he arranged for Tian Ya's remains to be transferred from the county to Shili Village, where she was laid to rest beside the Li family gravesite.

    After that, he led a group of young and strong men, along with teenage boys, selected from the village. In secret, they returned to the inner area, retrieving the items left in the mountains, especially from the valley floor where not only grains were stored but also over twenty sheep that several families jointly raised at the bottom of the valley.

    So many people had left the village, which would normally have been quite conspicuous. However, at this time, every village around Shexian County was preoccupied with clearing land for their own use, so few people were out and about, and no one noticed. Even the Zhao brothers, who worked for the Shen family, were initially unaware of these events. Having completed the initial clearance of trees and shrubs from the mountain slope where Sangluo intended to plant yam, they had moved on to another mountain to clear land for constructing a sheep pen. This new site faced southward, situated on the opposite side of the village, hidden from view.

    It wasn't until two or three days later that I began to grasp the situation, realizing that people like Shen Lie and Chen Dashan would assist the authorities in searching the mountains for the missing person. I didn't give it much further thought.

    Yet, as the two brothers continued their work, they became more and more puzzled. Especially when Sang Luo started marking the foundation lines with her hoe, Zhao Si couldn't resist asking, "Madam Sang, doesn't your family have a sheep pen on the mountain? Why build another one?"

    Indeed, it was vast, covering more than an acre of land.

    While working for the Shen family, during their daily tasks of chopping trees and weeding, they would usually collect any grass or leaves that the sheep enjoyed eating and deliver them to the sheep pen. Hence, the Zhao brothers were well aware of the number of sheep in the Shen household.

    "There are five," Sang Luo said as she marked the area where they would dig the foundation in a few days. "But soon, there will be more. I've sent Shen Lie into the mountains to hunt for more sheep."

    Their family had six sheep living in the valley, and they needed a source for their growth. With the expectation of several new additions come spring, they would likely have at least sixteen or seventeen sheep by next year.

    The Zhao family also had two sheep, which they had traded from another village years ago. They were well aware of Shen Lie and his companions' skills, so they didn't find it strange. However, Zhao Si was puzzled. "Isn't it better to raise them at the foot of the mountain? If needed, we can build more pens. This acre of land could yield crops."

    Sang Luo replied, "It's alright with just a few sheep, but if there are many, it wouldn't be pleasant near the house when summer comes. Besides, if the sheep are always kept in their pens, they're more likely to fall sick. Since we don't have much time to graze them, it would be more convenient to build a separate pen on the mountain, and it would be more comfortable for the sheep too."

    She paused her work, took out two folded papers from her sleeve, unfolded them, and handed them to Zhao Si. "Uncle Zhao and Uncle Zhao Si, you can take a look. This is how I plan to build the sheep pen."

    She wasn't confident enough to show her handmade paper, so she used the paper given by the Wangs and Chus. When Zhao Si received it, he looked down and froze.

    After hearing Sang Luo's conversation with the governor that day, the brothers knew that she came from an extraordinary background. But a drawing so lifelike... As someone who had never touched a brush or paper in his life, he couldn't have imagined such skill.

    The artistry was secondary; the Zhao brothers weren't scholars, they valued practicality. What mattered most was the sheep pen depicted in the picture—no, it should be called a sheep ranch.

    Zhao Da leaned over to his fourth brother, and as soon as he saw the first sketch, he exclaimed, "Isn't this comfortable? It looks so cozy!"

    The first drawing in Zhao Si's hand showed the overall layout. Only now did he understand why Sang Luo had asked them to cut down all mature and semi-mature trees on the neighboring mountain, saying they would come in handy. Indeed, they would be put to good use.

    Although the four sheep pens didn't seem to occupy much space, additional pens for chickens and rabbits would require a lot of timber, right?

    Only now did he realize why Sang Luo had marked many trees and some shrubs that the sheep enjoyed eating, indicating not to cut them down. The entire sheep ranch would be surrounded by trees. After removing the shrubs that sheep disliked, the existing trees in the mountains wouldn't provide sufficient density. However, the spacing in the drawing was well-balanced.

    In the midst of their land, extra space was allocated for sheep pens, surrounded by mulberry, persimmon, and tung trees, whose leaves the sheep enjoyed. Presumably, these trees were intended to be transplanted there.

    Between the trees, the sketch depicted horizontal barriers made from bamboo or young timber to prevent the sheep from jumping out, as well as to deter any wild creatures from the nearby mountains. However, this area, being closer to the outskirts, had gentler slopes and fewer wild animals. This year, due to the hunting by the city's garrison soldiers and idle villagers, even pheasants and rabbits were scarce, let alone other wildlife.

    In the over one mu (about 0.16 acres) of land, aside from the natural barrier formed by trees and wooden fences, smaller shrubs that the sheep favored were planted in front of the fence. Among the four sheep pens, nearly seven-tenths of the open space was occupied by paths and patches of grass and shrubs designated for the sheep to graze and roam.

    Flipping to another page, there was a drawing of the interior and exterior of the sheep pens from various angles. Elevated off the ground, the structure was built with wooden planks that had slight gaps between them. The presence of these gaps could be inferred from the detailed sketches on the back of the paper. The sheep pens appeared exceptionally clean and tidy inside.

    Neither of the two brothers had ever seen such a sheep pen before.

    Zhao Si inquired about the purpose, and Sang Luo gave a general explanation: raising lambs separately by gender to prevent diseases, isolating sick sheep in their own quarters, and elevating the floor to keep it dry and warm. The gaps between the wooden planks were for easy cleaning and collecting sheep manure.

    Don't ask how she knew all this – as a farmer, who hasn't purchased fermented sheep manure fertilizer online? She'd browsed Taobao extensively and seen her fair share of sheep pens, plus she had a few years of experience raising them in the mountains, allowing her to deduce and adapt these practices.

    Just as they were discussing the construction of the sheep pen, Xiao Ya ran up the hill. "Auntie Luo, there are people from the Governor's mansion. Sister An asked me to fetch you."

    Sang Luo was taken aback, unable to fathom why anyone from the Governor's mansion would visit her home. Not wanting to delay, she set down her hoe and hurried down the mountain.

    ...

    As Sang Luo hastened home, she spotted a attendant dressed in official attire standing outside her residence, with Shen Ning accompanying him.

    Her memory was sharp, and she recognized the young man as one of those who had followed the governor during his visit.

    The youth held a wooden box with a serious expression, standing straight. Upon seeing Sang Luo from afar, he bowed respectfully before she could speak: "Madam Sang, my master has sent me to deliver several scrolls of silk books to you and Mister Shen."

    He then presented the wooden box to her.

    Sang Luo was surprised by the mention of silk books, wondering why the governor's residence would send books to her family. She hadn't heard Shen Lie mention anything about this.

    "Inquiry, what kind of books are these?"

    "The books my master is currently reading, with some personal notes and annotations. He ordered a handwritten copy to be delivered for your perusal, Madam."

    Sang Luo glanced at the attendant, reached out to take the box, and passed it to Shen Ning who stood nearby. She lifted the lid, revealing nine neatly rolled silk scrolls within. The first one read "Commentary on the Book of Documents, Volume One", followed by a sequence from Two to Nine.

    Sang Luo's breath quickened. She unfolded the first scroll, scanning the preface. When she saw the name "Taiyuan's Zeng Family" in the introduction, her heart skipped a beat. She looked up at the attendant, "Pardon my boldness, but may I know the governor's surname?"

    The attendant replied, "Our master's surname is Zeng."

    San Luo's grip on the silk scroll tightened slightly. "Could it be... the Tan Yuan Clan?"

    "Indeed."

    San Luo drew in a breath, gradually regaining her composure.

    Though she knew not what aspect of her had caught the magistrate's favor, upon hearing the manservant mention that the gift was intended for both her and Shen Lie, Sang Luo surmised that it must somehow relate to their methods of cultivating Dioscorea.

    She performed a graceful bow and said, "Please convey my gratitude to the Provincial Governor. This gift is truly invaluable."

    The attendant smiled and nodded, clasping his fists in greeting. "The book has been delivered. I must return to report to my master. Farewell."

    San Luo took a few steps forward to see him off. The attendant stopped and said, "Madam, please stay."

    He saluted again before striding away with long strides.

    ...

    Only after the attendant left did Shen Ning release a breath of relief. She walked towards San Luo with the box in her hands. Seeing that her sister-in-law was still gazing at the man's retreating figure, she whispered, "Eldest Sister, is the Tan family from Taiyuan very influential?"

    San Luo nodded, gazing at the slightly unfurled silk scroll in her hands. She murmured, "The Zhang family of Taiyuan were renowned for their mastery of the 'Book of Documents,' enjoying great prestige in several preceding dynasties. During their heyday, three generations of their family held the prestigious position of Three Dukes."

    Her original self, being a lady confined to the inner quarters, had no understanding of court affairs, especially those from previous reigns. However, she had indeed heard of the Zhang family of Taiyuan. It was mentioned by her father and elder brothers when they discussed studies in the study while she delivered tea and snacks.

    At that time, her father had used the Zhang family as an example to encourage his sons to work hard, highlighting the benefits of reading. Among the esteemed clans he cited was precisely this Zhang family of Taiyuan. When San Luo read the preface, memories belonging to her original self surfaced.

    She hadn't expected the Governor of Xizhou to come from such an illustrious lineage and receive such a box of silk scrolls as a gift.

    Nine silk scrolls couldn't possibly be the complete set, just as the attendant had said. They were likely the few volumes that this Lord Zhang happened to have on him. Nevertheless, in an era where most people lacked access to education, books were typically preserved by noble families and circulated through handwritten copies. For ordinary folk, obtaining a copy of the 'Book of Documents' was already challenging, let alone a version with annotations and explanations. Moreover, these scrolls had been sent as a gift from the Zhang family of Taiyuan.

    San Luo felt the weight of the silk in her hands more heavily than ever.

    Not daring to entrust Shen Ning with the task, she personally stored them, seeking a secure spot in the room to place them.

    Given the fear of rats in their earthen cottage, San Luo was wary of the silk scrolls being damaged. She planned to copy all nine scrolls onto bamboo strips after marking out the foundation for the sheep shed on the mountain.

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