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    Chapter 263 - Establishing a Trading Caravan

    Would anyone be willing to do it?

    Absolutely!

    Isn't the Shi family busy with their farming? Isn't Shi Datou a capable worker? Why would Gan send her son to work at Sang Lao's shop in the East Market instead of doing it herself, who had experience in business? Besides Lu Dalang, who was not quite right in the head, everyone in the village knew about the Shen family's prospects and Sang Lao's abilities.

    Back then, when Sang Lao only sold tofu, they all followed closely. How much more so now? Looking at how prosperous their households had become, everyone knew that it was thanks to Shen Lie and Sang Lao.

    When Sang Lao returned to the village, she informed each household along the way, naturally excluding the Lu family's main branch. It wasn't that Shuzhu and the others were bad, but no one wanted to have a deep relationship with someone like Lu Dalang.

    After briefly explaining her intentions, upon hearing that Sang Lao planned to expand her business, every family started to consider it. Since most people were actually at home during the first month of the year, they eagerly gathered around for more details, asking how many workers she needed.

    "I really haven't had time to think about it yet," Sang Lao chuckled. "It just occurred to me yesterday when someone traveled all the way from the capital to buy things from us. How about this? After dinner tonight, come to my place and we can discuss it further. You can also talk it over with your families, and I'll think about the specifics."

    Of course, they all agreed without hesitation. Xu Wenying even told her mother as soon as Sang Lao left, "Mother, let's call Big Brother back. I think he would definitely want to go."

    Xu Wenqing was an outgoing person, and now he was assisting his father at Dongfu Building, learning accounting from him as well.

    Could a sister not know her own brother?

    No one knew their child better than their mother, and Wei Lingzhen was all too familiar with her son's character. She instinctively looked at her mother-in-law for guidance.

    Madam Xu didn't hesitate. "Go, this will be even more beneficial for him than working at the counter. Mention it to Yuanchang, he'll understand."

    After a moment of thought, she stopped her daughter-in-law who was about to leave. "Actually, there's no need for you to go. Wenbo should go instead. Don't make a scene in the restaurant; just pull your father aside for a private conversation."

    She was afraid that it would look bad if others at Dongfu Building saw it. It wouldn't be a big deal for a teenager to handle such a matter.

    Xu Wenbo acknowledged and rushed out.

    ...

    When Shen Lie returned home with the rental contract signed with the government, Sangluo was in the room soothing the children to sleep.

    The two kids had been awake for quite some time without seeing their mother. At first, everything was fine since Shen An and Shen Ning could keep them occupied. But as time passed, it became unbearable. After failing to find Sangluo for over half an hour, Yaoyao started crying.

    The little girl was usually lively and cheerful, but when she cried, it was with full force, her voice hoarse. Qianbao, on the other hand, wasn't one to cry easily. Perhaps due to the influence of being twins or simply their individual natures, he also pouted, tears shimmering in his eyes.

    When Shen Lie returned home, both children still had red eyes. He promptly took one into his arms, joining his wife in comforting them. After soothing them until they stopped crying and hiccupping, he shut the door and fed them. The four-month-old infants dozed off while nursing. Gently holding them upright to burp, he then laid them down to sleep.

    Once both children were sound asleep, the couple quietly left the room to converse outside.

    "How was it? What's the annual rent?"

    "The entire estate covers fifty-seven acres, and the buildings are relatively new. Given its proximity to the city, the local government initially asked for thirty taels a year. I negotiated, and we settled on twenty-five taels. It's hard to predict the future, so we signed a ten-year lease, with the rent to be paid annually."

    The image of Shen Lie haggling with Prefect Zeng popped into Sang Luo's mind, causing her to giggle. "Not bad, our earnings equal half a money collector's annual salary."

    A money collector could earn the government forty-eight thousand coins in profit per year. Their rental income was quite decent, converted into copper coins.

    Hearing his elder brother and sister-in-law's conversation, Shen Ning approached quietly. "You only rented the land?"

    Stunned, he asked.

    Sang Luo chuckled. "Yes, it's not too far from the estate. You can accompany Xiao Ya to take a look tomorrow."

    With the contract that Shen Lie brought back in hand, the family delved into discussing the matter of hiring merchants. Given their experience, they exchanged opinions until they agreed on a fixed wage with an additional commission for successful transactions. Of course, the same person would be responsible for delivery and settlement.

    Essentially, it was a modern-day combination of a base salary plus commission.

    Given the need to pay a base wage, they needed to carefully consider how many people to hire. Sang Luo took it in stride, suggesting, "Let's see how many are willing to go tonight. For a cargo escort, we'd need at least three or four people per team. If there are more, we can split them into two teams, each heading in a different direction."

    Just as she spoke, footsteps echoed outside the courtyard. Xu Wenqing peered out from the entrance of the second courtyard, his face lighting up when he saw Shen Lie and Sang Luo. He hurried into the main hall, mindful not to raise his voice too much since the younger ones were likely asleep. "Master, Mistress, count me in."

    Xu Wenying understood her older brother well. Upon hearing the news, she rushed back without even entering her own home, heading straight for the Shen residence.

    Shen Lie found it amusing. "You're eager to go without even knowing how much you'll be paid for a month's work?"

    Xu Wenyuan chuckled. "I'm an apprentice, so I don't get paid anyway. Besides, I'd work for my master and mistress even if there was no salary."

    Although Sang Luo knew he was being cheeky, his words were pleasing to hear. With such a way with words, he would make an excellent salesman. She laughed. "Your father has taught you personally for several years, and now you're coming to work for me—it's like I'm getting a bargain. As long as you don't mind the hustle and bustle."

    "Ma'am, you're agreeing then. What's there to fear about hard work? I wouldn't feel at ease staying in one place all the time. So it's settled—I'll come back later with the others."

    ...

    Today, every household in the village finished their evening meals earlier than usual. Before dusk, they started heading to the Chen residence in groups of three or five.

    As Old Lady Chen had mentioned, this year the villagers hadn't made little profit following the Chen family. Who wouldn't be delighted with such an opportunity? Almost every household sent multiple representatives.

    Xu Wenqing intended to go, and Wang Yunzheng, who usually resided at the Xu residence, decided not to rush back to his books, claiming he wanted to join in the fun. Xu Wenyin was a frequent guest at the Chen's, so Wei Qinghe took a look at his newly-wed wife and decided to bring her along as well. Wei Lingzhen, worried that her sister-in-law might feel awkward, accompanied them. Thus, five members of the Xu family attended.

    Other households were similar. It was evident that the Chen residence would be bustling with excitement this evening. When the Xu family arrived, the main hall was almost full, with numerous children gathered in the courtyard. Ao Yao's two little ones were giggling joyfully as Chen Tie pushed them back and forth in their cribs.

    Lady Lin had heard the name Sang Luo countless times, but this was her first visit to the Chen family. She felt slightly uneasy, but Sang Luo's warm reception made her feel at ease. The villagers kept addressing her as "Qinghe's wife," which was different from the atmosphere at her own home. Strangely, she quickly felt more comfortable.

    The other new bride was the cousin of Feng Liu's wife, who had married into Daxing Village at the end of last year and was now the wife of Lu Sanlang. These two were the ones the villagers would pay special attention to.

    Chen Ning had prepared a variety of snacks for the guests. Lady Lin glanced at them, recognizing some items from Daxing Village's specialty shops, while others were completely unfamiliar to her. Sang Luo repeatedly invited everyone to try them all, transforming the meeting into a casual gathering akin to a Lunar New Year's chat session.

    After some eating, drinking, and chatting, Sang Luo finally addressed the main purpose: "You all know why I've called you here, right?"

    Sanlang smiled and responded, "Of course, of course. How many people are you looking to hire? If there's a spot, count me in."

    Chen Lie quipped, "Another one who doesn't ask about wages."

    Everyone had seen Xu Wencheng rush to the Shen residence in the afternoon, and everyone burst into laughter. Zhou Cunzheng said, "When have the two of you ever made us suffer any losses? Sanlang is right. If someone is interested, they can work for you. We still have enough hands to work on the farm."

    Speaking of farm labor, Sang Luo said, "As long as there's no special situation, we'll try our best to keep people at home during peak farming seasons. During off-seasons, they can go out to sell, but don't just say you want to go without discussing the pay. Let me explain first."

    "We discussed this in the afternoon. Since we're just starting, we don't know how it will go. Running trade routes to other counties and states can be tough. There might be stretches of road where no one lives between them, and there's also some risk in transporting goods. So, the pay will consist of a fixed wage plus allowances for travel, accommodation, and meals, plus a commission from sales."

    "The fixed wage is eight hundred wen per month. For every day spent traveling, there's an additional twenty wen allowance for transportation, accommodation, and food. You'll receive a three percent commission on the price we sell the goods to dealers. That means for every hundred wen worth of goods sold, you get three wen. If a jar of pork jerky is sold to a dealer for seven taels of silver, your commission for delivering, selling, and collecting payment for the entire process would be twenty-one wen. Of course, there are requirements to become a dealer. We can't just give out jars one by one. We'll need to evaluate the reputation of the store and set a minimum order quantity."

    Xu Wencheng understood. "If a dealer orders a minimum of a hundred jars of pork jerky, and I complete the tasks of selling, delivering, and collecting payment, my commission would be 2100 wen?"

    Sang Luo nodded. "That's the idea. Additionally, the cost of delivery and the purchase price will be included in the payment made by the dealer. This can be negotiated at the beginning."

    In other words, that commission was their pure profit.

    What was there to hesitate about? They could earn more than two taels per transaction. Not to mention the fixed wage and allowances for travel, accommodation, and meals. The compensation was generous!

    But then, they thought it was too generous, and they suddenly didn't dare to confidently declare their willingness to join like before.

    Chen Dashan asked Sang Luo, "Sister-in-law, how many people are you planning to hire?"

    "Two teams, each with four members. That way, it'll be relatively safer."

    This single sentence left everyone in silence.

    "Your expenses are too high," Lu Erliang commented. "How much would that cost for wages and provisions alone each month?"

    He instinctively turned to look at his son.

    Ah Wu hadn't even finished calculating when two voices simultaneously announced the figure.

    "Eleven thousand and two hundred coins."

    "Eleven thousand and two hundred coins."

    It was Shen Ning and Shen Jin, who had been listening on the side.

    Old Lady Chen was astonished. "When did Little Jin become so quick with numbers?"

    Shen Ning had always been swift with calculations. Ever since he was nine and accompanied Sang Luo to set up their stall, she had taught him. After leaving the mountains, he managed the accounts of their two family shops and the financial transactions with the village households. While others might not have known, Old Lady Chen and the others had often entrusted money matters to Shen Ning, and they were well aware of his skills.

    But when had Shen Jin been so quick with calculations?

    Shen Jin scratched his head. "Isn't this for everyone's lessons? I'm teaching accounting, so I have to be proficient myself. I practice at home every day."

    Moreover, as the eldest son, he was also in charge of the family's petty accounts.

    Sang Luo was quite pleased. It was good that being a teacher could elevate one's skills. Praising Shen Jin, she then said to Lu ErLang, "There's no need for so many. A team consists of four people – two adults leading two half-grown boys. Like Little Jin, who has to hold up the family. If he's willing, I plan to let you take him out with you. If they encounter bandits, his strength will be enough. He can gain experience and learn something by tagging along, and we'll treat it as an apprenticeship. We'll pay him eight hundred cash coins a month, nothing extra. When he can handle things on his own, we'll give him a proper worker's wage and commission."

    Shen Jin froze, staring blankly at Sang Luo. "Big Sister-in-law, can I go?"

    He was only thirteen years old.

    Sang Luo nodded. "Yes, you have to grow up faster than others. As long as you're not afraid of hard work and don't mind the modest wage, you can go."

    Shen Jin hurriedly shook his head. "I'm not afraid of hardship, and the wage is decent. Big Sister-in-law, even if you don't pay me, that's fine."

    Jin Ning patted him on the back of his head with a smile. "Not paying at all would mean Little Yin and Little Tie would starve at home. Big Sister-in-law treats you well, so secretly be happy about it."

    Shen Jin scratched the back of his head and laughed. "I know Big Sister-in-law treats me well."

    In recent years, he had been greatly cared for by his elder brother and sister-in-law. It had been a long time since Shen Jin had experienced that fluctuating sensation of weakness and sorrow in his heart. But just now, when his sister-in-law had suddenly mentioned his responsibility to uphold the family's honor, that feeling resurfaced.

    This time, however, Shen Jin felt no trace of bitterness; only profound joy that warmed him deeply from within.

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