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    Chapter 261 - Arrivals from Chang'an

    The Shen household enjoyed several days of genuine festivity. In the Greater Prosperity Village, the other families remained unaffected. Their relationships were genuine, and they would not look down on someone for their misfortune or regard them with extra admiration for their success. They continued to interact as they always had. However, they were genuinely delighted for Sang Luo. Especially when they learned that she was now like an official, receiving an annual salary from the imperial court: forty taels of silver and forty bushels of grain. To women like Madam Chen and Madam Lu, this meant that the emperor would support her for life.

    Jin Lie's classmates were quite envious. Observing how Sang Luo had twice received imperial decrees of commendation within a year, and now even had a title, they knew the Shen brothers' future would be prosperous. Moreover, the literati of Greater Prosperity Village would likely receive some favor in the future.

    The schoolmaster understood this even more clearly. It wasn't just a matter of future favor; it was happening right now. There were things Jin Lie knew that they had never taught him, and that a few people from Greater Prosperity Village, along with Wang Yunzheng, who had close ties to the village, also understood!

    Where did they learn these things? Definitely not at the provincial exam preparation school.

    Everyone had their own judgments, and it was clear that Greater Prosperity Village's rise was imminent.

    The happiest person might have been Lady Lin, the third wife of the Lin family, who had heeded her father-in-law's advice and betrothed her daughter to Wei Qinghe.

    Sang Luo's days continued as usual. She visited Empress Fan to inquire about the details of her title and asked her to convey her gratitude to Zeng Zixuan. Empress Fan then advised her that if her formal attire didn't fit properly, she could make alterations, and what to pay attention to. After that, Sang Luo carried on with her daily tasks.

    In the last month of the lunar year, snow fell for a few days. By the twenty-eighth day of the twelfth lunar month, the snow had stopped. With the family's prosperous year, they decided to give generous New Year gifts to their seven helpers, including poultry, fish, eggs, meat, and two portions each of specialty items from the village store. Each helper received a large basket to carry home, ready to celebrate the New Year joyfully.

    On New Year's Eve, Shen Jin and his two brothers were also invited to celebrate together. They had their New Year's feast side by side and saw in the New Year as one. Sang Luo counted the time since her transmigration - it had already been six years in the blink of an eye.

    This year, Sang Luo was twenty, Shen Lie was twenty-three, and Yaoyao and Qianbao would be turning four months old in just a few days.

    Shen An and Shen Ning were fourteen, Shen Jin thirteen, while Shen Yin and Shen Tie were eleven and ten respectively. All of them had ascended to the ranks of uncles and aunts, despite the younger two being too young to call out their new titles properly. Nonetheless, it didn't hinder their newfound sense of adulthood.

    During this time, the atmosphere of the New Year was particularly festive. The tradition of staying up all night on New Year's Eve was an authentic gathering of family members, chatting and snacking together until dawn. As the sky began to lighten, it marked the dawn of the Wuding Wu year. On the first and second days, they remained at home, while from the third day onwards, they paid New Year greetings to relatives and friends. On the sixth day, Wei Qinghe married Lin Jiuniang from the Lin family.

    In the year since the villagers moved to Daxing Village, three new brides had been welcomed, along with four newborns, adding a lively bustle of new life to the community.

    In her bustling surroundings, she was unaware that at the entrance of Shezhou City, three consecutive mule-drawn carts had entered. Upon arrival, they inquired about the Da Xing Village specialty shop right there at the gate.

    By now, few in Shezhou were unfamiliar with Da Xing Village or Sang Luo. Upon hearing the inquiry about the village's specialty store, the guards promptly pointed them in the right direction. However, they still conducted a meticulous inspection of the passes. When the guard examined the pass handed over by the driver of the first carriage, he raised his eyebrows in surprise. "From Chang'an?"

    Stunned, the guard wondered if the driver had been on the road for over forty days to have come all the way from Chang'an?

    The driver took back the pass, nodded respectfully, and hurried his cart into the city.

    Two more carriages followed, and when they asked for directions, the city guards first requested to see their passes. Another glance revealed that they, too, were from Chang'an...

    How on earth did the Dahongzhao Specialty Shop gain such fame that it reached the capital city??

    When the carriage finally entered the city, the city guard suddenly remembered, "Which road was it? Many shops in the city might still be closed on the sixth day of the new year, right?"


    When the visitors arrived at Dahongzhao, Xu Wenqing, who lived relatively closer to the outskirts of the village, noticed them. After asking for details, he led them to the Shen residence and even sent Xu Wenhao ahead to inform his master of their arrival.

    "They're from Chang'an, with three carriages, and they came to buy fermented tofu?"

    Shen Ning was entertaining the two children when Sang Luo decided to join Shen Lie in greeting the visitors to assess the situation.

    Three carriages, each carrying six individuals, arrived with discrete crests identifying their respective households. The coachmen were decent, but the three men who appeared to be junior managers were dressed in clothes of finer quality than Xu Wenqing's.

    These three managers were astute. Upon entering the estate, they had already noticed the archway and had enquired about it from Xu Wenqing during their journey. Now, after paying respects to Shen Lie, they seemed puzzled as to who Sang Luo was, unable to place her for quite some time.

    One of them hesitantly asked, "May I ask who this lady is?"

    Shen Lie introduced her, "My wife's surname is Sang. The fermented bean curd that you gentlemen wish to purchase comes from her shop."

    The three managers were flabbergasted. "Madam Sang? Full name Sang Luo?"

    Xu Wenchang, seeing their reaction, chuckled. "Is there another Madam Sang in this Xizhou Daxing Village?"

    Regaining their composure, the managers hurriedly greeted them, now addressing her as Lady of the Town.

    As the Xu family was celebrating, Xu Wenchang and Xu Wenbo didn't stay long. After receiving the guests, they returned home. Shen Lie and Sang Luo invited the group to the first courtyard's hall for conversation.

    Among the three, two were managers, and one was a coachman. The managers followed them, while the coachmen went to park the carriage. As they walked away, one of the coachmen whispered to the other, "Didn't they say in the capital that this Lady of the Town is a middle-aged woman in her forties or fifties? How come she's such a young and beautiful maiden?"

    With his keen hearing, Shen Lie caught the word "middle-aged" just as he was leading the way inside, nearly tripping over the doorstep.

    Sang Luo looked at him in surprise. "What's wrong?"

    Shen Lie glanced at his wife, who had blossomed into an even more captivating beauty, and shook his head. "Nothing."

    Boiling water was heated in the house during winter. Shen An had already peered out to check on the visitors. As soon as they entered the hall, he promptly served tea.

    "Sirs, are you from Chang'an? It must have been a long journey, right? Did you spend the New Year on the road?" Since the business was Sang Luo's, Shen Lie was only accompanying her in hosting. Thus, it was Sang Luo who posed the question.

    The managers all nodded in agreement. One of them replied, "Indeed, it's not a short journey. We departed in mid-December, and due to frozen sections of the river, we had to travel half by water and half by land."

    Sang Luo was curious. "How did you all know about my little shop?"

    "One cannot jest, Lady. This is no small shop; your goods have made their way into the palace."

    As expected.

    Through her conversation with Shen Lie, they quickly learned that these three were minor officials from the capital and the households of royal relatives. On the day of the Laba Festival, families would exchange Laba porridge, and those who had favor with the emperor would also receive additional servings from the palace.

    This year, not just a few, but rather around twenty or thirty households received imperial gifts of Laba porridge. Of course, not all Laba porridges were the same. Five of them received not only the porridge but also two jars each of preserved meat, shredded meat, and fermented tofu, personally bestowed by the emperor.

    "The emperor's gifts must be tasted on the same day. After tasting...," the manager smiled at Sang Luo, "we discovered that your shop has excellent products, but they can't be found in the capital. Hence, a few of us made this trip to Shezhou."

    In truth, after enjoying the delicacies, the first person these families sought out was Elder Master Zeng.

    Who in Shezhou had the most imperial tributes besides the palace? It had to be Elder Master Zeng, Zeng Zixuan's grandfather.

    Elder Master Zeng indeed possessed such treasures – not only those brought back by Zeng Zixuan but also his share from the emperor's gift to the five fortunate households.

    A family sent two jars, just two jars; any more and he wouldn't have had any left for himself.

    All three households, with their sizeable populations, could hardly make do with just two jars, right? That's why, apart from the exceptionally frugal elder in their midst, the other three families have all dispatched representatives to Shezhou.

    Sangluo didn't expect this turn of events. She asked the trio, "How much do you plan to purchase?"

    Each of the three promptly pulled out their lists.

    Four offerings, each with a count in the hundreds, and two flavors of fermented tofu, for which he requested two hundred jars.

    Sang Luo had to interject, "Aside from the bean curd and fermented beans, the other two items can't be stored for long. Even if you alternate between water and land routes, it'll still take over twenty days, right? I'm afraid you won't be able to finish all of these."

    To her surprise, the three managers replied confidently, "Don't worry, there won't be enough for us."

    Of course, they wouldn't eat it all themselves; they could also give it away as gifts, couldn't they?

    The trio instinctively glanced at the orders from the other two households and asked, "Mistress, do you have the stock?"

    Sang Luo shook her head. "I do have some, but not that much dried meat or meat floss. They'll need to be made fresh today, and the earliest we can deliver is tomorrow noon."

    Fermented tofu and bean threads were enough; the jerky and meat floss wouldn't last long. Even if they reserved all their stock for the entire month of the first lunar month to supply these three families, it would only be enough for one of them.

    The three managers exchanged glances and didn't argue further. For the sake of having company on the journey, they inquired about the price. After putting down the deposit, they asked Shen Lie to write a receipt acknowledging the payment, agreeing to settle the balance when they came to collect the goods the following noon. Then, they returned to Shezhou City to find an inn.

    On the sixth day of the first lunar month, before the shop had even opened, they received a large order worth nearly seven hundred taels, with a deposit of three hundred taels.

    Yes, three hundred taels – solid silver ingots. Whether in Dazhi or Daqian, there were no banks or financial institutions. Copper coins, silver, and gold were the common currencies. Ordinary folk usually dealt with copper coins the most throughout their lives.

    As the three carriages left, Sangluo and Shen Lie carried the three boxes of silver into the main house and placed them on the table. When Shen Ning saw the three boxes of silver brought in within such a short time, she almost couldn't believe her eyes!

    Having managed the accounts for a while, the young girl glanced over the open boxes with a practiced eye. "Three hundred taels? For jerky?"

    In their shop, jerky and meat floss were the most expensive items.

    Before Sangluo could respond, Shen An, who had been listening quietly the whole time, spoke up. "Six hundred and seventy-two taels."

    He was stunned, as if he had spent six hundred and seventy-two copper coins instead. He asked Sangluo, dazed, "Big Sister, isn't the Emperor the wealthiest person in the world?"


    "Not quite what you expected?"

    Shen An nodded.

    Sang Luo chuckled. "Most officials nowadays come from influential families with centuries of wealth accumulation. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to call them generations of tycoons. As for the Emperor, he might have been wealthy before, but the costs of conquering territories, maintaining troops, and ensuring the welfare of citizens all require money. If the state treasury is empty, doesn't that mean the Emperor has to dip into his private coffers to make up for it?"

    Shen An whispered softly, "It should be better now, right?"

    Though not explicitly stated, the meaning was clear – with the mastery of papermaking, there would be a steady income.

    Sang Luo was unaware, but Shen Lie shook his head. "Not nearly."

    She looked at him questioningly.

    Shen Lie explained, "Do you know where the various government offices get their funding from?"

    "The officials' salaries come from their assigned farmlands, but I'm not sure about the other expenses."

    "Towards the end of last year, a new position emerged in the provincial administrative departments called Money Catcher Clerk. Nine people were appointed, and the court provided each with an initial capital of fifty taels. The Money Catcher Clerks were responsible for lending out this money to generate profit, and they had to pay back four taels of interest to the court every month."

    At first, Sangluo thought it was the rudimentary form of a bank, but then she heard the next sentence.

    "How much?"

    "Four taels per month."

    High-interest loan indeed.

    "Can these loans actually be given out?"

    The rich didn't need them, and the poor couldn't afford them.

    Shen Lie rubbed his nose. "Of course they can. Do you know who these Money Collecting Clerks are?"

    This one sentence drew the attention of the three people sitting at the table.

    "There are sons of officials from the capital as well as local wealthy merchants. If a Money Collecting Clerk performs well and pays the full interest on time for three consecutive years, they can participate in the examination by the Ministry of Personnel to receive an honorary official title."

    In other words, it was a foot in the door of the bureaucratic system.

    Sang Luo mused that the emperor was unexpectedly generous to confer her a title with an official salary at this time.

    Shen An said, "Being an emperor isn't an easy task either."

    As this was a matter concerning the imperial family, it was just right to discuss and gain some understanding about it. Looking at the three boxes of silver and then at her siblings, Sang Luo asked, "Do you think our family could open a branch in the capital?"

    The money earned from the high-ranking officials and wealthy aristocrats in the capital was simply too easy. It was hard to resist being envious when looking at these three boxes of silver.

    Jin Ning raised a surreal question, "What about the manpower?"


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