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    Chapter 233 - A Thought

    The quivering voice belonged to Elder Lu.

    Several people chimed in after him, "Yes, we've encountered good officials and a benevolent government."

    Those years had been too bitter. They had endured layer upon layer of exploitation, only ever seeing malevolent officials and brutal enforcers seize even their grain for survival. Had they ever witnessed an official or his family willingly part with their belongings to aid the people?

    Experienced women like Chen Mother and Lu Mother, both with tears in their eyes, understood the gravity of the situation. Chen Mother smiled and said, "We have good days ahead; they'll all be good days from now on."

    The officer, himself a commoner, could empathize with the villagers' emotions. After the commotion subsided, he chuckled and said, "Alright, that's all for today. You choose your village head, and once you're done, head over as soon as possible. The earlier you go, the better your choice will be."

    Livestock and poultry, having traveled a long distance, wouldn't all be in optimal condition. Naturally, it was best to choose the healthier ones first, and selling them early meant they'd receive more tender care in the hands of these citizens than in the makeshift sheds outside the government granary.

    Of course, he didn't directly express this. The officer looked around at the crowd and asked, "Is there anything else you don't understand?"

    Certainly, there were questions, especially about the prices of the poultry. Everyone eagerly sought clarification.

    The officer had clearly prepared well beforehand, as he was ready with answers. Poultry prices weren't as low as expected, at least equivalent to current rice and meat prices. It was evident that the Governor's wife had considered the farmers' spring plowing, genuinely caring for the well-being of the oxen.

    Upon the departure of the official, the assembled crowd remained in place, engrossed in discussions about the price of the ox.

    Or rather, it is a discussion about the Prefect and his wife.

    Having had a close conversation with the Censorate Inspector, it was said that Sang Luo shared half her hometown with the Inspector's wife. Naturally, she was summoned for questioning.

    Sangluo said, "Half-fellow townsfolk, that's an honor bestowed by Governor Zeng, but observing our current governor and his lady, they truly hold the welfare of the people at heart. Indeed, it is a blessing for the people of Shezhou."

    "You assume the cow's price was favored by the governor's wife. In my opinion, every bit of grain and livestock our governor and his wife have cared for benefits us all."

    Although they didn't fully understand, at this moment, everyone unanimously held the governor and his wife in high regard. They nodded repeatedly, their praises overflowing without need for elaboration.

    Sang Luo chuckled. Shopkeeper Xu smiled and chimed in to clarify, "Ah Luo is right. Our governor hails from the Zeng family of Taiyuan, while the governor's wife comes from the Fan family of Chenliu. Taiyuan is thousands of miles away from Shezhou, and Chenliu isn't exactly nearby either. Regardless of their inherent value, just the transportation costs for these items would have been immense."

    Such a price is no less than performing a virtuous deed.

    It was only then that Elder Chen and Elder Lu and the others came to their senses.

    Indeed, back then they were conscripted to build embankments and transport grain, carrying with them a full load of dry provisions along the way. Considering the distance of a thousand miles mentioned by Manager Xu, and carefully calculating in my mind, I finally had a clear understanding of the words spoken to Sang Luo.

    Another round of contemplation ensued.

    ...

    As for who should become the village chief, everyone agreed that it was best to wait for Shen Lie, Chen Dashan, and Shi Dalang's return before making any decisions. Thus, they first discussed the matter of purchasing an ox.

    A village could only buy one ox, which meant it wasn't solely the Xu family's responsibility. Consent from every household was required.

    An ox cost fifteen taels. With nine, no, possibly ten households in the village – considering Lu Dalang who had yet to return – the cost would be shared equally, amounting to slightly more than one tael per household, but less than two.

    In the past, families like the Shis and Lus might not have been able to afford it. But wasn't it true that right after they came out of the mountains, they took on jobs from the local authorities and earned seven taels and five silver coins each? Actually, when Chen Dashan returned later, each person would receive another five taels for this trip. Hence, they could indeed afford this sum of money.

    "Cows are specifically designated to be purchased."

    The Chen, Shi, and Zhou families, of course, needed no mention. As for Uncle Xu and Wei Qinghe, Uncle Xu had the assistance of Manager Xu in his contribution, while Wei Qinghe, having received all the assets left behind by his parents which the Wang family had returned, also held a decent fortune. Hence, he too made a purchase.

    Brothers Shen Jin and several others were also present, each of the three siblings possessing grain, poultry such as chickens and ducks, as well as livestock like sheep and rabbits. However, they lacked money. Suoluo gently stroked his head and addressed Manager Xu, saying, "Our household and Little Jin's family shall purchase as well."

    A tael and five catties of silver — Shen Jin was no stranger to currency values. She instinctively looked up at Sang Luo, who said, "I'll cover it for now. You can repay me later when you have the chance."

    When it was the Lu family's turn, Old Man Lu hesitated before saying, "Our family will contribute two shares. We'll cover one for the eldest branch."

    Though they hadn't been rescued yet and their safety was still uncertain, the household registration and land allocation had already been arranged with Lord Xing. The elderly couple couldn't help but hope for the best for their children and grandchildren. Back then, Second and Third Son, along with Da Shan, had helped ensure proper protection. Zhuangzhu and his brothers had also learned from Shen Lie for a while. Old Man Lu dared not entertain any other thoughts; he could only pray that they would all come out safely.

    Therefore, he spoke up to offer to pay the first branch's share as a good omen.

    Shopkeeper Xu said, "That makes ten families. Each family will contribute one tael and five catties of silver. Once we've chosen the village head, we can take the money to the government office."

    ...

    San Luo returned home first. She watered the bark that was drying and continued copying the book from the bamboo slips.

    Shen Lie and Shen Ansi were on their way back as well. Afraid that he still reeked of blood, Shen Lie washed his hands thoroughly outside before entering the house. He didn't dare get too close to San Luo, so he simply handed her the purse in his embrace and said, "We sold it for five taels and seven catties of silver. You keep it."

    He then asked San Luo, "Did an official visit?"

    San Luo looked at him. "You knew?"

    Shen Lie nodded. "I went to the yamen. I saw the notice at the entrance."

    When Sang Luo heard this, she said, "You don't have to give me the money either. Keep it with you for now. The livestock brought by the Governor's wife will be sold at a low price to the people. There are nine households in our village, plus the Lius as the main branch. Ten households can buy one cow, and we'll contribute one and five taels of silver. I've agreed to cover Little Jin's share too, so that makes it three taels in total."

    "I was thinking of buying another goose. Take a bit more money with you this afternoon. If there are chickens or ducks available, get them as well, and see if you can exchange them for a goose."

    Goose were very useful in the mountains, chasing away predators like weasels, leaving them questioning their rodent-like existence.

    Upon hearing this, Shen Lie nodded and put the money pouch back. Watching Sang Luo copy the book, he hesitated for a moment before asking her, "Can the book gifted by Governor Zeng be circulated outside?"

    Sang Luo paused her writing and turned to look at him. "Are you thinking of copying a copy for Wei Qinghe, Wen Zheng, and the Xu family?"

    Shen Lie nodded. "All these years, the books we've been reading were copied by Yun Zheng. Let's not talk about Qinghe for now; Yun Zheng truly has a gift. With half of this commentary, I believe he could progress even further. However, I heard from you that the Zeng family's book is extraordinary. I'm unsure if it's appropriate to copy it for them."

    After all, it wasn't his property, and the book was highly valued by the Zeng family. Hence, Shen Lie couldn't make up his mind.

    Sang Luo had indeed considered this matter. Having come from the modern era, she placed greater importance on the dissemination of knowledge rather than its monopoly. These days, she had been copying a book for Shen Ning, partly because silk scrolls were fragile and she wanted Shen Lie and Shen An to have bamboo slip transcripts. Moreover, the act of copying served as a thorough reading for themselves.

    Though she hadn't spoken it out loud, her plan was to continue teaching the children in the village after understanding the content herself.

    With five students from the state school this year, were these village children destined to remain farmers?

    Certainly not.

    The book should still be read, regardless of the purpose behind it.

    However, she didn't dare to entertain the thought of simply giving it away for copying, perhaps because she was well aware of its significance to the Tianyuan Zeng family. It was an unconscious avoidance on her part.

    Her focus was more on engaging Shen Lie in discussions about the book's insights and knowledge with Wang Yunzheng and the others, allowing them to learn that way.

    Now that Shen Lie had brought up the matter, she lowered her gaze and found it amusing. The village children might need her to explain it gradually, and not all of them would be suitable for such advanced lessons. Tailored teaching was the best approach. As for Wang Yunzheng and his companions, there was no need for such roundabout methods, as the outcome would be the same either way.

    With this realization, she felt at ease.

    "Give it to them. Start with the copies I've already made, and make it clear where the book came from. As for Governor Zeng, I had my reservations before, but now it seems we may have underestimated him. Since he gave away the book without instructing against sharing it, he likely doesn't mind. In the future, when there's an opportunity, I might be able to return the favor."

    Shen Lie looked at Sangluo. "You mean..."

    He didn't say the word 'paper', but he had seen the two bamboo scrolls she kept hidden. One recorded the results and paper samples from experimenting with different bark treatments for papermaking, while the other contained ideas for improving various papermaking techniques.

    She just lacked a secure space to conduct further experiments, yet never stopped generating ideas and calculations. Shen Lie had even witnessed Sangluo stacking the paper she made that day, pressing them together like tofu to make them smoother.

    A hint of tension flickered across his face, not because he was reluctant to part with the paper-making formula, but rather due to the sensitivity of the matter at hand.

    San Luo understood his concerns and shook her head. "Not necessarily, and not now either. Let's observe for a while longer. I have a plan in mind."

    Before today, such thoughts had never crossed her mind. But now... she needed more time to assess the situation.

    San Luo was well aware that one had to abide by the rules of their social class, especially in an era where human lives were deemed insignificant before power.

    Overstepping boundaries could sometimes invite trouble.

    Until Shen Lie and Shen An attained sufficient status, she could be a peasant woman, a small merchant, but she must not draw too much attention to herself, for she lacked the unyielding foundation to withstand storms.

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