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    Chapter 234 - The Fan Family

    With the task of selecting oxen ahead, the first priority was to choose a village head. After inquiring about Chen Dashan and Shi Dalang's return, Sangluo put down her pen and went out with Shen Lie and Shen An.

    They gathered at the same open space as before, where quite a number of people were already present. The Zhou and Shi families, who lived nearby, had brought out many stools, so some were sitting while others stood. Even the Lin family was watching from a distance, drawn by the commotion.

    The selection of a village head in Daxing Village was quite an entertaining affair, akin to a group of grandmas, grandpas, men, women, and children basking in the sun and chatting idly. It was relaxed and carefree, as if everyone was just waiting for a handful of sunflower seeds to munch on.

    "Let's choose Lie. Honestly, if there were female village heads, Arou would be perfect for the role."

    Gan said this.

    In the mountains, strength mattered, but for those who had come out to live their lives, hadn't they all relied on Sangluo to improve their circumstances? She was the backbone of their community.

    Her words made everyone laugh. The elderly women and ladies agreed, while the men like Elder Chen, Elder Lu, and Village Head Zhou also chuckled. Shi Erlang chimed in, "My elder sister is right. Lie, you should be the village head, just for the title. Then, you can continue your studies. Your wife can take care of the village affairs, and you can handle the errands to the government office."

    The children burst into laughter, including Wei Qinghe and Wang Yunzheng, who had momentarily left their studies to join the fun.

    If this had happened a couple of days ago, Shen Lie might have dared to accept. He had already realized that women had limited opportunities, and this regret was particularly evident in Sangluo's case.

    To be honest, before entering the mountains, which household in the village didn't have business ties with Sangluo? When he first returned to the village, he realized that every family, including Village Chief Zhou, actually revolved around Sangluo in a subtle way.

    Considering Sangluo was with child, he dared not burden her with labor. He instinctively turned his head to gauge her intentions.

    Sang Luo smiled and responded to Shi Erlang's group, "What legs can he run in school every day? He shouldn't hinder everyone's business."

    Without any outward display of emotion, she gently pushed.

    "Well then, it would be the Great Mountain."

    This is Er-Lang Zhou. In these past few years, apart from Shen Lie, they all listened most to Chen Dashan among their group.

    Chen Dashan didn't expect that the position of village head would fall on him: "Don't joke, my wife knows more characters than I do."

    "In my opinion, there's no point considering those who read books, they're too busy. And we can't have Shopkeeper Xu always farming with us, right?"

    Shopkeeper Xu replied, "Chen Dashan has a point. Now that our Shexiu region has more people, life will gradually improve. A few days ago, when I went to pay respects to my employer for the New Year, the East Fortune Tower in the city was almost ready to open. I'll stick to my old profession and become a shopkeeper again."

    Chen Dashan said, "That's true. Shopkeeper Xu is also occupied. If we exclude those who can't read or those like me who don't know many characters, then in my view, there's no need to complicate things. Village Head Zhou should just continue; he's already familiar with the job."

    Old Man Chen endorsed the idea, "I think it's feasible. Nine Chapters is reliable in his actions."

    Sang Luo added her support, "I also vote for Uncle Zhou. He was once the village chief and is familiar with all matters. He would be the most suitable for the position."

    Sang Luo was capable of managing the Shen family, and Shen Lie also approved of Zhou Village Chief taking charge.

    With both the Shen and Chen families expressing their approval, the matter was practically settled. They had shared hardships over the years, forming deep bonds and mutual understanding. Given that neither Shen Lie nor Chen Dashan were willing to take the role, everyone's consensus was that Zhou Village Chief was the ideal candidate.

    The decision on the village chief was reached swiftly, and Zhou Village Chief rose with a smile, "If you all have faith in me, I'll take on the role. But Shi Er is right; for major matters, we'll consult A Luo. As for me, I'll be your errand runner."

    This elicited another round of laughter, and thus, amidst the bustle and excitement, the village chief of Daxing Village was chosen.

    Needless to say, we’ll head straight into the city and go to the government office to see the ox.

    Upon assuming the role of Village Chief Zhou, he immediately fell into the part, asking, "Did you bring both the silver and the household registration?"

    "I've got it, I've got it."

    A considerable number of families were planning to attend, treating it as a grand occasion to join in the fun.

    On the Shen family's side, Shen Lie and Shen Ning went, followed by Shen Jin. Gan Shi was surprised and asked, "A'luo, aren't you going to take a look?"

    San Luo shook her head. "There's no need for me to go. Our A'ning is an expert at choosing chickens, ducks, and geese."

    She said that Shen Ning was nervous, but in truth, after the old physician had mentioned that the fetus was unstable during the first three months, she herself was also anxious, being cautious with every step she took, never daring to push through crowded areas.

    Shen Ning agreed, "Yes, I can handle it."

    As everyone was about to leave, San Luo remembered something and said to Shen Lie, "I heard from the officials that they're selling grain seeds. Take a look and see if there's any wheat seed available. If there is, buy as much as possible. We'll plant some wheat this year."

    She then instructed Shen Jin, "Little Jin, you should plant some too."

    "Okay." Shen Jin promptly agreed.

    When the eldest sister-in-law gave orders, it was always best to follow them without question.

    In reality, it wasn't just Shen Jin who listened; those who overheard quickly turned their heads. Gan Shi asked San Luo, "A'luo, are you planning to start a business in the city?"

    San Luo was skilled in making flour-based foods, something that most people were aware of.

    Sang Luo shook her head. "We're not sure yet, but given our limited options for purchasing wheat seeds in the first year, we should buy as much as the government is willing to sell, regardless of whether or not we plan on reselling it. It's cheaper for personal use, and if we have any excess, the grain shops will likely purchase them at a fair price."

    "That makes sense," someone agreed.

    Gan said, "In that case, let's also check it out for ourselves. If we can get our hands on the seeds, we'll plant them too."

    ...

    When Shen Lie and his companions returned home late, their delay had caused a bit of a delay. A large group of officials split up to disseminate information in each village. By the end of the ninth hour of the day, a significant number of people had already gathered outside the granary compound of the state office. Unsurprisingly, they were all there to see the livestock and poultry.

    This was a matter of livelihood, so many families, like those from Daxing Village, didn't send just one family member with their household registration but came in full force.

    Although the officials claimed they would visit the villages, attendees weren't limited to rural dwellers; city residents also flocked there. They might not need cattle, but they certainly wanted to raise chickens and ducks.

    Many people in the city had been living in dire conditions, looking more like refugees than the mountain villagers who had just emerged from seclusion. It had been years since they'd tasted chicken or duck meat, and they had almost forgotten what eggs tasted like.

    The atmosphere outside the state office was bustling.

    Old Man Chen, upon seeing this scene, grew anxious. "What if all the good cows have been chosen?"

    After anxiously rushing to the cattle shed, he realized his worries were unfounded. The chickens and ducks were selling well, but the cows had yet to find buyers.

    The cows were only sold to farmers in villages outside the city who genuinely worked the land, with only one cow allocated per village. All the designated cows for each county had already been dispatched earlier, leaving twenty-five cows in the shed, corresponding to twenty-five villages of varying sizes around Xizhou City, some of which might not have secured their allocation yet.

    Was fifteen taels too expensive for a cow?

    Not really.

    After experiencing the skyrocketing food prices before the chaos, the former Great Kan Dynasty farmers now settled in various villages couldn't compare to the people of Daxing Village who quickly found ways to earn money. Most of them were practically penniless.

    The governor was genuinely concerned about the people's livelihood, and the cows were good quality. Apart from being weary from the long journey, they would recover with proper care. However, even if only one cow was allowed per village, most could not afford it.

    Not all villages were like Daxing Village or its neighboring villages that Juren led out, where families knew each other well, trusted each other, and could unite. Most of the farmers outside Xizhou City were originally refugees who had migrated from the city. They were strangers to one another. Even if a few managed to scrape together some silver, would they be willing to help their fellow villagers gather the funds as well?

    Thus, it was nowhere near as smooth as in Daxing Village.

    What could be done now?

    They could only come and look on helplessly.

    Elder Chen, Elder Lu, and Uncle Xu, the three more experienced men, were carefully selecting the cattle. Those who had arrived early were admiring and scrutinizing the animals, yet they only watched for a long while without making a move.

    ...

    On the other side of the wall was the government warehouse compound. There was a small gate that led to the backyard garden. Fan sat at a stone table in a pavilion at the corner of the garden, watching her personal maid rush in through the small door with a slightly straightened back. "How was it? Did anyone buy any?"

    The maid looked somewhat disheartened as she gazed at her mistress and then shook her head. "This servant stood outside for more than half an hour. Many people came to take a look, and the area outside the warehouse compound was packed. People were still registering their purchases of poultry with the clerks, but no village has claimed any of the oxen yet."

    These maids accompanying Fan were all trusted by her, and they knew that their mistress was most concerned about the oxen at this moment, as they were crucial for spring plowing.

    A strong laborer could cultivate thirty acres of farmland and ten acres of hillside land. For families with few members and no oxen, it would be challenging to manage such a workload.

    Neither neglecting the fields nor cultivating them roughly would please their lady and lord.

    Sure enough, Fan's shoulders drooped slightly.

    She propped her cheek on her left hand, tapping her right forefinger rhythmically on the stone table. After a moment, she got up without sitting down. "I'll go have a look."

    The two maidservants attending her grew anxious and hurried after her, pleading, "Madam, there are too many people outside. Be careful not to get jostled."

    "Fret not, I won't go outside," she assured them.

    They exited the small gate and turned into the warehouse courtyard.

    The State Office's warehouse was surrounded by tall, blue-brick walls. The entrance was tightly shut, with two gatekeepers standing guard. Upon seeing Fan, they bowed in greeting.

    Fan nodded but didn't approach the entrance. Instead, she headed for an octagonal, carved flower window on the wall, one of only two such decorative windows in the entire compound. She stood beside it and peered through the lattice work at the world beyond.

    From Taiyuan to Huainan, Fan had witnessed too much of the suffering of the common folk along the way. The sight of emaciated famine victims no longer had the same impact on her as it once did, especially considering that people's circumstances were now far better than they had been just two years prior.

    But from where she stood, the cattle shed was surrounded by a throng of people, mostly middle-aged and elderly farmers. Three layers deep, there must have been over a hundred, all gazing in wonder at the twenty-odd cows inside. In contrast, the cowherd and the registration officials standing beside the shed were left untouched by the crowd.

    After all the effort put into acquiring over two hundred cows and transporting them across a challenging journey to Huainan, this was not the scene she had envisaged.

    She murmured softly, "I underestimated the situation."

    She had consulted with the chief administrator and learned that villages ranged in size from ten to twenty households. Assuming each village could pool resources to buy one cow, with each household contributing roughly one tael of silver, she believed it would be manageable for the people.

    She believed she had a thorough understanding of the common folk beyond the influential clans.

    As it turned out, her knowledge was insufficient, far from enough.

    "You go and inform the local official that the cow can be purchased on credit."

    The maid exclaimed, "Mistress!"

    "Go ahead. No interest is required for a year, and the payment can be settled with grain during the autumn harvest. If it's still not paid off after a year, we'll calculate interest at twenty copper coins per tael of silver per month."

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