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    Chapter 248 - Housewarming

    Luo and Dou were indeed terrified, their faces ashen – a typical reaction for the younger generation. The head of the Luo family was stunned for a moment, his lips moving, but he couldn't utter the words "the Luo family is finished." Instead, he spat out a mouthful of old blood, collapsing backward in a stiff heap.

    The chaos that ensued went without saying.


    Regardless of the government's actions or the reactions of the Luo and Dou families, Sangluo had no way of knowing about them. By the end of May, the nearly three-acre mansion built by the Shen family, with the help of many local villagers, was finally completed after three months of work. Because of the imperial edict, an inscription pavilion was constructed by the authorities outside the house, naturally requiring some open space in front of the residence, which also took up additional area. Thus, the total land area exceeded three acres.

    In Great Qi, one mu was roughly equivalent to 500 square meters. Therefore, including the pavilion and the open space in front of the house, the Shen family's residence covered around 1,600 to 1,700 square meters. Of course, the living quarters themselves weren't extravagant; it mainly consisted of the main house and two wings, with the majority of the space taken up by the courtyards, especially the backyard and its row of buildings.

    While outsiders were puzzled as to why the Shen family, with its modest size, would build such a large house, the people of Daxing Village had some understanding. They knew that Sangluo was skilled in various trades, preparing for future business ventures, especially after hearing that she had already purchased a shop in the city.

    However, Sangluo underestimated the cost of constructing a brick and tile house. Even if the land and labor were free, using high-quality materials like bricks and tiles, and building in a simple style, still required a significant investment. The courtyard was even just a dirt yard. Nevertheless, the cost of the materials alone far exceeded her initial estimate.

    Bricks and stones were not cheap, and without cement in this era, the houses were bound together using a adhesive made from glutinous rice juice and egg whites, driving up the price. With her own savings of over twenty taels and the emperor's reward, plus the hundred and twenty taels spent on purchasing the shop, Sangluo believed that eighty taels would be enough for the house construction and basic furniture, leaving her with an extra twenty taels. In reality, she ended up spending ninety taels just on building the house, buying the bricks and stones, and providing meals for the helping villagers.

    This was only possible due to Sangluo's excellent reputation. When the owner of the brick and stone store learned that the bricks were for the house of the woman from Daxing Village who had invented the curved plow and received an imperial decree, he offered a considerable discount. Otherwise, the cost would have easily surpassed a hundred taels.

    However, she wasn't anxious. The purple clover could be harvested since April, and the Zhao brothers were diligent. They had planted vegetables and soybeans in the forty acres of mountain land and orchards, and many of them were ready for harvest. Apart from providing food for the workers, the surplus was sold by Shen Ning, Shen Jin, Qin Fangniang, and others at the eastern market. Each day, they earned around sixty to seventy copper coins. Thus, when the house was completed, Sang Luo still had seventeen taels of silver in her hands.

    She took it lightly. With seventeen taels, there were only four people in the family. At that time, they could buy essential furniture first, and there would still be some left. Once the house was built, she would have the time to manage the shop; why would she worry about money?

    What Sang Luo didn't know was that the furniture hadn't cost her a single penny. She had just planned to wait a few days until Shen Lie and Shen An took their vacation, so the whole family could go to the city's furniture store together. But before that, Fan Feiniang had already arranged for someone to deliver the furniture.

    To avoid suspicion, after Sang Luo secretly gave Fan Feiniang the recipe, they hadn't met privately. However, it wasn't a secret in the officialdom and prominent families of Shezhou that Fan Feiniang had funded the construction of the city on her own initiative, earning herself the title of Third Rank Lady. Such an achievement couldn't have been claimed as credit by Zeng Ziqian alone. It was likely that the imperial envoy who had conveyed the imperial edict to the Sang family in Great Prosperity Village upon hearing about the plow presentation might have reported it to the emperor. In addition to the plow, the Sang family deserved recognition, and it also boosted Zeng Shi's political achievements. Therefore, it was entirely normal for Fan Feiniang to present a generous gift to the Jia family when they moved into their new home.

    Not only Fan Feiniang but also families like the Wangs and the Chus had prepared gifts, waiting for the appropriate occasion to send them.

    Fan Feiniang's actions were entirely appropriate.

    When Sang Luo heard that Fan Feiniang was sending a housewarming gift, she was still surprised to see such a long line of men carrying furniture. "Why so much?"

    Fan Feiniang replied, "How can you say it's too much? I calculated based on the number of your family members and prepared furniture only for the main house and the east and west wings."

    Before Sang Luo could decline, Fan Feiniang held her hand and whispered, "Don't refuse. The water-powered mill received a reward from His Majesty, so let me spend some of it. If not for fear of drawing too much attention, I would have gotten you something made of yellow sandalwood."

    This made Sang Luo chuckle softly, but she didn't refuse anymore. Instead, she thanked Fan Feiniang.

    At this time, Sang Luo's pregnancy was already noticeable. Lady Fan had not seen her for nearly three months and was rather surprised when she saw her again. "Are you with child? You must be around four or five months along?"

    Sang Luo smiled. "I received the good news in January, so I should be almost six months pregnant now. I haven't gained much weight, and my belly doesn't look too big."

    If it weren't for the active movements of the baby inside her, Jin Lie would have been worried that the stress from overseeing the construction of their new home had affected her. He had already boiled three chickens for her nourishment in May, and she regularly drank goat's milk.

    Lady Fan was quite delighted to see Sang Luo pregnant. She got along well with Sang Luo and had shared a significant event together. Even if they had to avoid meeting due to propriety, they were still emotionally close. Lady Fan had children of her own, though they were not by her side. Her eyes sparkled as she shared her experience. "Not gaining too much weight is good. It makes childbirth easier, and recovery will be faster. Don't think that you need to overcompensate during pregnancy; a moderate diet is enough. You'll have to be more careful later on if you gain too much weight; otherwise, you'll suffer. I have an experienced nanny who's skilled in these matters. I'll ask her to visit you more frequently in the last two months of your pregnancy."

    "Is she skilled in delivering babies?" Sang Luo asked instinctively. In ancient times, there were no doctors to assist in childbirth, and Sang Luo was naturally nervous.

    Lady Fan's eyes held a gentle smile. "Yes, she delivered my son Heng'er. If you trust her, I can ask her to stay with you during that period."

    "That would be perfect. How could I not trust you?" Sang Luo was overjoyed and held Lady Fan's hand. "To be honest, I'm a bit anxious."

    Lady Fan knew that the Sang family might not have any surviving members left, and it was likely that only Sang Luo remained. She felt sorry that Sang Luo had no family to rely on and patted her hand comfortingly. "Don't worry. She's an old nanny from my family. My mother specifically arranged for her to accompany me."

    After exchanging a few words, they moved away from the doorway. Concerned about Sang Luo's condition and the possibility of her being accidentally bumped into by the moving furniture, they decided which sets of furniture would go to the main house, and which to the east and west wings. Then, Sang Luo entrusted the task of supervising the craftsmen to Jin Ning while she sat down with Lady Fan in a pavilion outside for a rest.

    Scanning the vast Xingxing Village, they could see numerous flower fields. Lady Fan had been curious about them since she arrived. Although she didn't recognize the purple clover, she recalled seeing similar flowers in rural areas, like wild grass in the fields. This was a good opportunity to ask Sang Luo about them.

    "The field of Purple Cloud Flowers." Explaining its purpose to Fan Feiniang, she continued, "It's both economically beneficial and suitable for the seventy out of a hundred acres of fertile land granted by the emperor that couldn't be cultivated in time. With this, my shop won't lack honey when it opens."

    In fact, not only Sangluo planted Purple Cloud Flowers. Due to Chen Dashan leading several skilled villagers into the mountains, each household in Daxing Village had obtained considerable mountain plots. Since Sangluo was pregnant, the construction of her house relied entirely on the help of the villagers. Every day, groups of elderly women and men from different households took turns to assist, fostering a sense of mutual support over the years. Thus, Sangluo didn't hide the beekeeping technique from her close friends in the village, resulting in every family planting a substantial amount. This was the scene Fan Feiniang witnessed upon entering Daxing Village.

    Fan Feiniang found Sangluo's approach to agriculture and livestock farming fascinating. However, she knew her limits and wouldn't pry into such lucrative methods, nor would she encourage Sangluo to share them with others. Instead, she laughed and said, "With your nature, it's only a matter of time before the whole Daxing Village prospers under your leadership."

    Despite bringing many gifts, Fan Feiniang's entourage was large, but Sangluo and her companions were already settled in the southern rooms, which were initially empty. Therefore, arranging the furniture was a quick process, taking no more than an hour.

    Informing Fan Feiniang about the housewarming feast on the tenth of June, Sangluo offered a continuous banquet. However, Fan Feiniang politely declined, fearing that her presence might make others uncomfortable. She then advised Sangluo to take it easy and rest more, bidding farewell and leading her group back home.

    Only after Fan Feiniang left did the other villagers dare to gather and admire the new house. After circling around the main house and the east and west wings, their envy was evident.

    Wei LIngzhen, known for her discerning taste, returned home and shared the story with her mother-in-law. "The furniture Madam Governor sent today probably cost more than what A Luo spent on building her house."

    Old Lady Xu wasn't surprised. "Could it be more precious than that box of annotated copies of 'The Book of Documents'? That's a family treasure, only taught within the clan and never disclosed outside. In my opinion, our family, along with these few households in Daxing Village, have truly been blessed. Even Yunzheng has benefited greatly."


    That afternoon, Chen Dashan and his crew returned, accompanied by a man in his thirties. Sangluo and Zhou Ge were sitting together, sewing clothes for their unborn child when they heard Chen Dashan, who had just arrived, announce that they had found Shi Erlang's wife's family.

    "They really know how to hide. The whole clan lives in a massive cave, not as secluded as Yun Valley, but deep within a mountain hollow. It's not a place where people usually venture."

    He was dirty from his travels and didn't approach where Zhou Ge and Sangluo were sitting. Instead, he fetched water to clean himself while saying, "We won't be going into the mountains anymore. We've searched most of it. There are quite a few people outside Xizhou City now. If there are still any left in hiding, they'll come out on their own once they see the situation outside, no need for anyone to persuade them. So, our work for the authorities ends today."

    "That's about right. Running around the mountains every day, where can we find good food or rest?" Zhou Ge wasn't disappointed at the loss of income; he was actually quite happy. Their family had earned over thirty taels of silver and obtained the right to use nearly a hundred acres of mountain land for twenty years. What more could they ask for?

    Sangluo laughed too, saying, "Don't worry, we won't be idle. Take a two-month break, then we'll enclose the yard. After that, you'll have plenty to keep you busy."

    The eyes of Chen Dashan and his wife lit up, understanding that Sang Luo was referring to the joint venture of opening a shop. Chen Dashan asked, "Isn't it still too early for yam planting?"

    Sang Luo chuckled. "There are other things we can do without delay."

    On the tenth day of June, the Shen family moved into their new home. Two days prior, Shen Lie and Shen An started visiting each household to extend their invitations. Apart from Chu Qichang and Shen Lie's classmates from the provincial school, who had already been informed earlier about the celebration, all the other guests were neighbors who had helped with the house construction over the past three months.

    Sang Luo and Shen Ning were also busy. They harvested rush grass and left it to dry for a few days. The women in the village who knew how to weave mats gathered at the Shen residence to assist in making three new mats. With no place to buy new bedding, they sought help from Madam Zhou, the village head's wife, to rejuvenate their old quilts by re-stuffing them with fluffy cotton for several mattress covers. They then replaced the linings and covers with brand new ones.

    On the eleventh day, they slaughtered chickens and rabbits early in the morning. Shen Lie, Chen Dashan, and their group even ventured into the mountains and managed to catch two wild boars. They set up a continuous feast with sixteen tables as a gesture of gratitude to the neighbors who had helped with the house building over the past few months.

    On this day, there was an abundance of meat and vegetables, enough to invite the entire village to join in the celebration.

    For the past three months, neighbors from surrounding villages had come to help with the construction, some lending their labor for over ten days. No wages were exchanged for this communal effort; thus, today's feast was their way of expressing gratitude.

    Wang Maolin asked his sixth brother, who was also a classmate of Shen Lie, to attend the celebration. Later, the steward led the servants with several loads of gifts, including fine fabrics, silk, and even hard-to-find silk floss. Chu Qichang also arrived with a young attendant, bearing a red envelope filled with ten taels of silver. Many acquaintances from the state school who had a good relationship with Shen Lie also came. Unlike the villagers who went straight to the banquet, these guests headed straight for the pavilion housing the imperial edict. Among the dozen scholars, Wei Qinghe, Wang Yunzheng, and Shen An, who were responsible for receiving them, spent over an hour in the pavilion before proceeding to the main hall for the banquet.

    If the imperial edict and the emperor's calligraphy were not displayed separately, they might have lingered to admire the emperor's handwriting, hoping to absorb some of the imperial aura.

    Of course, some were curious about Sangluo, eager to meet the woman Shen Lie had married. However, their wish was in vain. Sangluo, now pregnant, was cautious with the crowd constantly flowing in and out of the house, many of whom brought their children. She heeded Chen's advice and stayed quietly in her room.

    As the banquet began, the first few dishes were well-received. Most guests at the two tables were Shen Lie's classmates, and few of them came from impoverished backgrounds. Even the least fortunate among them had once been prosperous in Shexian City. Though they lacked high social status, they were financially comfortable. Therefore, dishes like chicken, fish, wild boar, which were once considered luxuries in the restored order of Shexian, did not impress them much. Dried rabbit, prepared by Shen Ning and Sangluo early in the morning, was praised for its appearance, aroma, and taste, bringing good fortune to the banquet. Up until this point, everything was quite normal.

    But when several unfamiliar dishes appeared, one of which was tofu, the mood changed.


    No, these people didn't know it as tofu. To those in the know, it was called Li Qi.

    Chu Qichang exclaimed, "Oh ho!"

    He cast his eyes down and swiftly recollected the events of that visit to the Shen family. Did he mention to Shen Lie that Li Qi was a unique possession of the Zheng family in Xizhou, a symbol of their status that they often displayed when entertaining guests?

    It seemed... he didn't?


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