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    Chapter 246 - Bounties for the World

    "Of course, I'm truly delighted that you trust me," Fan Feiniang said, her certainty unwavering despite her immense shock.

    She still couldn't quite believe how Sang Luo possessed the papermaking technique, let alone that she was so openly displaying it to her. Staring alternately at the paper in her hand and Sang Luo, she could only express her overwhelming emotions with that one statement. A mix of joy and excitement swirled within her heart – this was the bliss of finding a kindred spirit.

    She examined the two sheets of paper repeatedly, barely managing to suppress the urge to send someone to the front office to summon Third Master Zeng back. "Are you planning to present this formula through my husband, Third Master Zeng, to His Majesty?"

    Sang Luo's intentions were not difficult to guess, especially when combined with the questions she had asked a few days ago. At that time, Fan Feiniang had thought they were casual conversation, but now, she realized that Sang Luo must have already noticed the court's shortage of paper. However, she hadn't dared to take action due to the immense risks involved.

    Born into an influential family, Fan Feiniang understood all too well the machinations of such clans. The more she knew, the more she appreciated how challenging Sang Luo's decision was, as well as the tremendous trust she had placed in both her and her husband.

    "Yes," Sang Luo replied, her eyes softening with a smile. Shen Lie was right; she had actually chosen to trust Governor Zeng and his wife a long time ago.

    Madam Fan walked around the room with the formula and process chart in hand, then stopped two steps away from Sang Luo. "Since you trust me, follow my advice. This cannot be presented openly, and no one can know that it's connected to you."

    She looked at Sang Luo and continued, "Do you realize how many interests the examination system touches? At this crucial moment, if the Luos and Dous don't produce paper, many would be delighted."

    In noble families, there were people like her and Zeng Sanlang who shared the emperor's vision, but there were also traditionalists who wished for the nobles to forever reign above imperial power. That was the dominant mindset. Emperors came and went, but noble families stood firm. Even emperors had been replaced by noble coalitions in the past. Who would allow an examination system that could undermine the nobles' foundation to proceed smoothly? If not for the emperor's remarkable skills and strong will, others might not dare to even mention it.

    Sang Luo nodded. "I understand. So, I won't present the formula. Instead, it will be a gift to you and Governor Zeng for you to offer it."

    Mid-sentence, she thought of something and asked Madam Fan, "Will this have any impact on you?"

    Madam Fan hadn't expected such an arrangement. She waved her hand. "No need for that. The Fan and Zeng clans aren't afraid of anything, but what belongs to you should remain yours. It would be unjust for us to claim such a great credit. If I took it, I wouldn't deserve your couple's trust."

    Only now did she realize they had been standing. Patting her forehead, she invited Sang Luo to sit down. "I'm already grateful that you're willing to take risks for the emperor. This is your trust in our couple. Don't worry; I'll discuss it thoroughly with Sanlang and ensure your safety. No public or secret rewards will be given now, but the emperor never neglects those who contribute. Once the heat dies down, there will be opportunities to repay you."

    After a moment's thought, she added, "If there's anything you desire, feel free to tell me. If the emperor asks, Sanlang will certainly advocate for you when the time is right."

    Sang Luo shook her head. "No reward is needed. Initially, I experimented with making paper because it was too expensive to buy, and we have scholars in the family. What I produced isn't outstanding, but it meets the government's needs, and I happen to know how to make it."

    Sang Luo knew that the formula was currently only a half-finished, imperfect version. She had tried stacking multiple sheets to filter water but failed.

    In this era, she was clueless, but judging from the high paper prices, perhaps the technology wasn't that advanced. However, in her own time, the papermaking industry in the Song Dynasty had already been quite developed. With the prevalence of the imperial examinations and the widespread use of paper, Sangluo couldn't believe that paper was still made one sheet at a time back then. There must have been other methods, only she hadn't discovered them yet.

    "Only that?" Fan Feiniang was genuinely impressed. "Do you know how much benefit this could bring to your Shen family if you kept it, even if you don't use it now? It could fuel the rise of an entire clan, benefiting generations to come."

    Sangluo chuckled softly and nodded. "I know, but in my view, the country's well-being comes before the family's. Without a stable foundation, like in the turmoil of recent years, what good would all these formulas and wealth be? It's far more comforting to live simply in peaceful times. Besides, it's not as if we're living on thin air. The emperor has granted us land and silver, making it easy for me to manage our lives. Both my husband and his younger brother are studying, so there's still hope for our future."

    Pausing, she lowered her gaze and added, "If Lord Zeng really holds influence, I do have a wish. If possible, I hope that with this formula in the emperor's hands, the price of paper can be lower than if it were controlled by noble families. At least, more common folk would be able to afford paper and education."

    In truth, Sangluo knew from experience that making paper according to this formula was laborious and time-consuming. Even if the emperor earned less, not every commoner could support a scholar. But considering the costs and adding a reasonable profit, the price could indeed be reduced. A family like the Lus, with some determination, could manage to provide for Ah Wu's education.

    As for more, Sangluo didn't dare to ask for it. The emperor was currently facing financial difficulties, and if this formula could alleviate his burden, it would be a small act of kindness on her part.

    Fan Feiniang was truly won over by Sangluo. She felt like an outlier among her sisters-in-law, with her heart set on the world outside the household, but Sangluo saw things even more clearly and was willing to part with her wealth. Moreover, her focus seemed to lie with the common people. Fan Feiniang genuinely liked Sangluo and was delighted to have found a kindred spirit. She smiled and said, "Alright, I'll discuss this with Third Brother. If there's an opportunity, I'll convey your wishes."

    With that, the matter was settled. Sangluo picked up her teacup to moisten her throat. As she gazed at the water in the cup, something occurred to her. Closing her eyes, she put down the cup. "I almost forgot. Do you have writing supplies in this room – brushes, ink, paper, and an inkstone?"

    "Certainly."

    Despite the scarcity of paper in the government office, Fan Feiniang had brought some with her. Without summoning a maid, she fetched it herself and watched Sang Luo add water to the inkstone, sketching a picture for her on the spot.

    Sang Luo's painting skills might not be considered excellent from an artistic perspective, but they were practical. She drew with ease, completing a large image and several smaller ones in just over a quarter of an hour.

    "This is a water-powered mill. I have separate illustrations for the details, along with explanations written on them. The principle is also there. With a water-powered mill, the force of water can replace human labor in pounding processes. It's used in paper-making, but it can also be applied to tasks like grinding rice or preparing medicine. Anything that needs to be crushed can benefit from this."

    Actually, there was also a water-driven wheel, but that device was much more complex. Sang Luo had only seen pictures of it before and didn't have a clear understanding of its specifics. Therefore, she couldn't casually draw it, so she didn't mention it.

    Fan Feiniang had been watching Sang Luo draw from the beginning. Now, her gaze was glued to the drawing of the water-powered mill, unable to look away. After understanding its working principle, for the second time, she echoed Ceng Sanlang's earlier sentiment.

    "You're a woman, and that's truly a pity."

    Sang Luo gave Fan Feiniang a playful yet sincere smile. "It's not that regrettable. Hadn't I met someone as kind and righteous as you and Governor Zeng, who care about the people, I wouldn't have dared to present my inventions. And now, they've reached the emperor's ears. If the people find use in them, then it's not a waste at all."

    As for holding a public office, Sang Luo hadn't given it any thought. In this feudal society, changing the status of women was no simple matter. Even someone like Fan Feiniang, born into an aristocratic family, didn't dare to entertain such thoughts, did she?

    After chatting a while longer, Sang Luo reminded Fan Feiniang to shorten the soaking time in the manufacturing process and try three, seven, or ten days. She explained that she had soaked the materials for a longer time because she lacked a secure and hidden place to experiment. "The most obvious difference in the soaking time will be the color. Before submitting your product, you would have tested it, right? Since the emperor needs it urgently, as long as the paper can be made, the color isn't that crucial, just a confirmation of the formula."

    Indeed, testing would be conducted. This wasn't a matter to be taken lightly. Fan Feiniang noted down Sang Luo's words. As their discussion was drawing to a close, she took up the pen and ink to give Sang Luo the recipe for the wall whitewash she had mentioned earlier. "This is our family recipe. It makes walls white and smooth. It'll be perfect for your new house."

    Though they had known each other but briefly and met infrequently, both were remarkably open-handed: one daringly offered a recipe for papermaking, even sketching a water-driven pestle without hesitation, while the other readily copied out their family's formula upon request. As Shangluo took the recipes, their eyes met, and both burst into laughter.

    As a professional novel translator, I will provide you with an elegant and contextually coherent English translation for each line. Please provide the lines you would like me to translate.

    Shen Lie deliberately inquired about Chen Dashan and their group from Chu Qichang, lingering a bit longer. As a result, he timed his pickup of Sang Luo perfectly.

    In Censor Zeng's household, it wasn't until he returned to the inner chambers after dismissing his officials in the evening that Lady Fan, upon sending everyone else away, learned of Sang Luo's latest feats.

    Upon receiving the three blueprints, he shot to his feet and asked, "Where did these come from?"

    Upon comprehension, she was so delighted that she paced around the room repeatedly. "A blessing, truly a blessing!"

    To avoid attracting attention to Sangluo, she endured until the next day before using the pretense of inspecting spring plowing to leave the state capital with Lady Fan. It was common for the governor's wife to accompany her husband on official visits to counties and villages, so no one gave it a second thought.

    ...

    With Zhu Qichang's guidance, Shen Lie and Sangluo managed to purchase numerous green bricks and tiles. As soon as the bricks were delivered, everyone in the village knew that the Shens were preparing to build a house.

    Indeed, they had to build a proper house, for the Emperor had granted them a memorial archway and an imperial edict. It would be inappropriate to display such honors in a humble straw cottage.

    Before Shen Lie and Sang Luo could even think of inviting others, several hundred households from the nearby mountains each sent one or two able-bodied individuals to lend a hand at Daxing Village, voluntarily putting aside their own tasks.

    In those times, people relied on their neighbors' help when constructing houses, without needing to pay wages. However, they had to provide generous meals and refreshments. Chen Pozi knew about Sang Luo's pregnancy, so she and Qin Fangniang took charge of this matter. Lu Pozi, Gan Shi, Madam Xu, and even Feng Liu, who had recently given birth, all came to assist.

    The house was indeed vast, but the number of helpers was equally impressive. Thus, construction in Daxing Village began with great excitement.

    Within a few days, the spacious dirt road leading from the official route outside Xizhou City to Daxing Village echoed with the sounds of hammering and bustling activity early in the morning. Government officials, accompanied by craftsmen, arrived to erect an imperial archway and inscribe a holy edict for the Shen family.

    The edict was carved onto a large stone in the form of the imperial decree, replicating its contents precisely. It was placed in a designated spot within the ongoing construction site of the Shen family's new home. The craftsmen were even constructing a pavilion to shelter the holy edict from wind and rain.

    The archway, on the other hand, was erected outside Daxing Village, right beside the dirt road that led to the village from the main road. From either the city gates or the surrounding roads, this archway would be clearly visible from afar, standing out prominently.

    Erecting an archway, especially such a grand imperial one, was a massive undertaking in an era without machinery. However, the sheer number of skilled workers present made it possible. Though many spectators gathered to watch, they were kept at a distance. The characters on the archway were covered with red silk, which was only removed after half a morning's work, once the archway was fully erected. With drums and music playing, the responsible official went to invite Sang Luo out. By then, countless people from both inside and outside the city had gathered to witness the event.

    The villagers of Daxing and the helpers also emerged. Sang Luo and Shen Ning stood in the best spot. After the firecrackers sounded and the red silk was taken down, Sang Luo lifted her gaze to see the four bold, flowing characters on the archway. Upon reading what they spelled out, her pupils constricted, and her heart pounded fiercely against her eardrums.

    Beneficence to the Masses.

    Such high praise was used.

    With rapid breaths, Shen Ning's palms were so sweaty that they glistened. "Eldest Sister-in-law, may your grace benefit countless people!"

    The literate were left speechless, while the illiterate eagerly asked, "What does it say?"

    A group of literate enthusiasts replied eagerly, "It says 'Blessing the Masses'! It reads 'Blessing the Masses'!"

    These are the adolescent boys and girls of Dasheng Village, brimming with a sense of prideful excitement and sheer exhilaration.

    Wang Maolin gazed at the once-prosperous Daxing Village that had belonged to his Wang family. In his hands, it had merely been a productive farming estate. Now, as he stood by the grand archway erected at the entrance to the village, bearing the imperial grant, he commented to Manager Xu beside him, "This is a blessing to the masses. The fortunes of Daxing Village are on the rise."

    On either side of the main road, on the left were Governor Zeng and his wife, recently returned from their trip to the countryside. On the right, a carriage had just arrived, its curtains pushed aside as Li Yu and Cen Eunuch peered out. Both pairs of eyes, almost simultaneously, were drawn to the archway.

    Li Yu commented, "The Shen family must have scholars, then?"

    Cen Eunuch replied, "Indeed, both brothers are dressed in the attire of students from the provincial academy. If either of them can pass the provincial examination and enter the capital, the Shen family will rise."

    Favorable imperial favor, indeed.

    Zeng Sanlang also gazed up at the archway, a smile playing on his lips as he recalled the recent accomplishment of the day, "Benefiting ten thousand people with grace - that's an apt description."

    The couple exchanged a knowing smile but didn't approach Sang Luo. Instead, they continued on the main road as both groups headed towards Xizhou City. They eventually crossed paths at the central entrance, where Zeng Sanlang raised an eyebrow and stepped forward to greet them.

    Upon returning to the governor's mansion, where they could speak more freely, Zeng Sanlang inquired, "Governor Li, how did your mission go?"

    The mention of the assignment caused Li Yu's expression to darken. He waved his hand in embarrassment, declining to elaborate further.

    Zeng Sanlang chuckled and reassured, "Governor Li, don't worry. Perhaps your return to the capital will bring new hope."

    Li Yu's brows furrowed. "What do you mean?"

    Zeng Sanlang, however, didn't elaborate. He simply clasped his hands in salute and mentioned that he had a matter to attend to in the capital as well. "Governor Li, I'm leaving immediately. Would you like to accompany me and Sentinel Cen?"

    Years of partnership allowed Li Yu to sense that Zeng Sanlang's invitation was sincere. He didn't dwell on the prosperity of Daxing Village and promptly replied, "Yes!"

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