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    Chapter 279 - To Stay or to Leave

    In Daxing Village, Sang Luo and Shen Lie returned home. Practically everyone in the village was present, except for those who were working at the workshops or shops, or had rushed back to the state school after watching the excitement. Even Shopkeeper Xu had come back upon hearing the news. Several families had gathered in Shen's courtyard, awaiting the couple's arrival.

    It had been more than an hour since the imperial edict was read out. Most of them had accepted the reality, but there was still a sense of uncertainty, even if they tried not to show it. Even though they considered this a joyful event, Sang Luo could easily tell that something was amiss.

    Especially Old Lady Chen.

    Sang Luo was closest to her. For so many years, whenever there was anything good in the family, whether it was silk from the emperor's gift or delicious food made at home, she would never forget to share with Old Lady Chen. The reluctance to part was palpable.

    Sang Luo gently squeezed the old lady's hand with a smile, trying to console her. But before she could say anything, Old Lady Chen spoke up, "It's alright. It's such a great thing. Moving to the capital is even better. Look at you, staying so far away. You've become a County Lady now, from a Lady of the Town. I asked Ninth Sister, and she said being a County Lady is impressive, just one rank lower than a Princess. A Princess can only be a relative of the emperor. In the future, my grandsons Da Shan and Er Shan can still run their businesses and visit the capital, where they can see you."

    Though she tried to reassure Sang Luo, as soon as she looked at her, Old Lady Chen felt her nose tingle, and her eyes reddened.

    Although her grandson had mentioned that they could still run their businesses and travel to the capital, the old lady knew in her heart that she was getting older each year. How could she possibly follow her grandsons on their trips? And how many times could she really make the journey? She feared that each subsequent meeting might truly be one less. Thinking about this, her tears flowed uncontrollably, no matter how hard she tried to wipe them away.

    Old Man Chen felt awkward. Clearing his throat, he whispered, "Why are you crying? This is a happy occasion."

    Seeing Old Lady Chen like this made Sang Luo shed tears too. Despite the passing of so many years, she still vividly remembered that moonlit night when she first arrived. Old Man Chen and Old Lady Chen had climbed up the mountain late at night with a bamboo stick to chase away snakes, bringing her some life-saving malt sugar and rice.

    The old lady was indeed blunt with her words, but her heart was soft.

    Sang Luo's eyes also teared up as she hugged Madam Chen. "Grandma, it's fine if you and Grandpa come to the capital with me. I'll take care of both of you in your old age."

    This comment amused Madam Chen. "You have such a sweet tongue, you've always been like this since I met you."

    Sang Luo smiled. "I'm serious. My life was saved by Grandpa and Grandma. How could I not take care of them in their old age? It's just that I'm afraid they don't value grandchildren anymore; they only dote on A-Rui now."

    Chen Dashan and Zhou Ge's son was named Chen Rui. Chen Dashan had specifically sought Shen Lie's help to choose a name, eventually settling on 'Rui' among the eight options he suggested.

    Widow Chen chuckled. "You got me there. Nowadays, I'm all about my great-grandchildren."

    The laughter dispelled the tears, and Sang Luo turned serious. "I'm being sincere. Wherever my home is, that's where Grandpa and Grandma's home will be too. You're comfortable in the Marquis's residence, but if you want to raise chickens, ducks, or grow some vegetables, listen up. The Emperor has granted me a manor of five hundred mu. There are several households here, so I'll build a few more courtyards over there. It's still in Daxing Village. If you miss your grandchildren and great-grandchildren, we can all move there together. Besides, when Ah Rui gets older, he can attend school in the capital."

    She then spoke to Zhou Cunzheng, Xu Manager, and the others. "Uncle Zhou, Uncle Xu, Uncle Shi, and Grandpa Lu, it's the same for you all."

    Everyone laughed. Chen Dashan said, "Ah Rui's still young. I'll definitely head there before him."

    This casual remark elicited another round of laughter, livening up the atmosphere significantly.

    Shopkeeper Xu said, "It'll depend on whether Wen Hong and Wen Bo prove themselves. If they pass the provincial exam and head to the capital for further studies, we'll definitely have to trouble you."

    Liu ErLang replied, "Our family's hopes rest solely on Ah Wei."

    Scholar Shi glanced at his son and nephew. Tsk, they might be good at commerce, but they didn't seem cut out for the scholarly exams.

    Although these words were said in jest, no one took them seriously. But it was true that they would now have a place to stay if they ever needed to visit the capital in the future.

    With such a joyful event in the Shen household, Sang Luo decided to invite everyone over for dinner that evening, setting up several tables to make it a lively affair.

    Of course, the women would be the ones preparing the meal together. The manor had everything they needed, so there was no worry about arranging several banquet tables.

    With all household matters settled, Shen Lie and Shen An hurried back to the state school.

    ...

    Inside the Xizhou guesthouse, Cen Xi opened the door and called for the young eunuch who followed him to fetch some hot water for him to wash away the dust from his journey. After closing the door, he turned around and noticed an extra person in the room.

    He let out a startled cry, but quickly calmed down when he recalled the secret signal he left outside Daxing Manor.

    Sure enough, the youth who had silently appeared in his room held out a token. It was a golden plaque with the character "QI" inscribed on it.

    It was Dark Seven.

    "Cen Eunuch, what has summoned me?"

    This was Cen Xi's first time seeing Dark Seven's true face. Of course, he couldn't be entirely certain if that face was genuine… after all, a secret agent would have some extraordinary means.

    He didn't dwell on it. All that mattered was verifying the identity token. After checking and confirming its authenticity, Cen Xi took out a letter from his sleeve and said, "His Majesty has a mission for you."

    After reading the letter, Dark Seven understood the task at hand. He gave a slight bow and was about to leave when something seemed to come to mind. Reaching into his chest pocket, he pulled out a small purse and handed it to Cen Xi, saying, "Eunuch Cen visited Great Prosperity Village today. You might as well make another trip there around sunset."

    The man left swiftly. Cen Xi rubbed the purse between his fingers but couldn't discern its contents. Upon opening it, he found five small, barely nail-sized white objects.

    Examining one of them closely, he couldn't see anything significant. However, when he placed it back into the purse, he noticed a faint white powder on his fingertips.

    He rubbed his fingers together, then carefully put the item back into the purse.

    "Sunset?"

    ...

    It was around 6 in the evening.

    At Daxing Village, the Shen family's courtyard was filled with people who had just finished their meal. They were sipping hot tea and engaging in conversation. Naturally, at this moment, the main speakers were Chen Youtian and Zhou Cunzheng, as they shared anecdotes about their experiences in the capital with the other families in the village.

    They spoke of the palace, the emperor, the court, the officials, and the imperial manors, leaving everyone in awe.

    Even an honest man like Chen Youtian could be seen laughing heartily, engaging in a lively exchange of stories with Zhou Cunzheng. They praised the emperor's kindness and generosity, although in truth, they had been too intimidated to even catch a glimpse of the emperor's appearance throughout their encounter.

    As the Shen family courtyard discussed the palace affairs, on the other side, the Grand Eunuch Cen Xi, dressed in casual attire, arrived at the Great Prosperity Manor discreetly with a few attendants, as advised by Dark Seven, at around sunset.

    Dark Seven didn't specify what he wanted to see, but the answer would be easily found once they entered Dahuxing Village.

    In the small village, there was a school run by Cen Xi, a man praised for his foresight. However, it seemed unnecessary to specially ask him to come and observe?

    Only when he approached the window, concealed behind the crowd, did Cen Xi raise his eyebrows slightly. He fingered the sachet that Dark Seven had given him, which was hidden in his sleeve.

    He gazed steadily for a good quarter of an hour, shifting positions several times to scrutinize every nook and cranny of the classroom. Only then did he comprehend why Dark Seven had asked him to make this trip.

    Accompanied by several attendants, he made his way directly to the Shen residence.

    The Shen family's courtyard gate was ajar. Before entering, the young eunuch who was with them knocked gently on the door of the second courtyard as a sign of courtesy to those inside.

    "Cen Eunuch?"

    Shen Lie and Sang Luo hurried out to greet them.

    ...

    Cen Xi and the officials from the Ministry of Agriculture stayed for two more days. On this trip to Xizhou, Cen Xi not only visited local villagers and inspected the progress of composting and crop rotation methods but also returned to the capital with a new item called chalk and its manufacturing molds.

    Of course, before leaving, he paid a visit to some newly established rural schools in the area.

    Sang Luo and Shen Lie accompanied Zeng Zixuan and his wife to see Cen Xi off. One reason was to inquire about the current state of their manor in the outskirts of the capital, and the other was to provide a generous supply of specialties from Datong Manor for Cen Xi to take back with him.

    It was Cen Xi's first time tasting bread, cakes, and egg tarts.

    He felt that the Shen family should have moved to the capital earlier. Otherwise, he would have loved to bring these delicacies to the Emperor.

    She had to rely on herself to fill her stomach.

    The officials from the Ministry of Agriculture also returned with ample provisions.

    ...

    After bidding farewell to the visitors from the capital, Sang Luo could finally focus on arranging the fields and industries in Shezhou.

    She entrusted the production of bean sprouts and tofu to the Chen family. The yam noodles, which she had always wanted to make but couldn't due to the government purchasing yams for distribution as seed potatoes, were now being taught to the Chens. These noodles could be produced alongside the bean sprout workshop, with male workers handling the additional production line.

    Of course, there were no yams available at the moment, but she could teach them how to make regular noodles, with slight modifications to the recipe to create yam noodles later.

    In Da Qi, there were no pre-made noodles, let alone dried ones that could be stored for long periods and transported easily for sale. Even the northern people, who mainly consumed wheat, mostly ate kneaded dough or soup noodles called "tang bing."

    Dried noodles and yam noodles could become unique specialties of Daxing Village after this year's harvest of wheat and yams.

    In fact, there was another particularly delicious item made from yams—yam vermicelli. Unfortunately, there were no sweet potatoes here, nor was there cassava, which could serve as a substitute, albeit not an ideal one. It was uncertain if yam vermicelli could be produced by combining it with other ingredients. Nonetheless, the process was similar to making mung bean vermicelli, so it was left to the Chen family to experiment and explore in the future.

    Pancakes, noodles, fermented tofu, spicy rabbit, jerky, meat floss, bread, cake, and egg tarts were all part of the list. Shen Ning was rather conflicted. These items were genuinely profitable, and she wasn't quite willing to simply hand over their recipes.

    Sang Luo, on the other hand, was more open-minded. "Even in the capital, we'll need to hire people to make these. Do you really plan on making them ourselves for the rest of our lives? How much can we produce by ourselves? Besides, wouldn't that bind us to money and push us to grind away forever? There's no point in that. After a certain point, money is just a number. Being content is good enough."

    She had even instructed the Chen family to gradually adopt industrial operations. It would be unreasonable to tie herself or others down for life over some so-called recipes. In modern times, there weren't many secrets left; if one wanted to learn something, they could. Wouldn't business still go on?

    As for huge profits, most of Sang Luo's pricing for many products was based on the cost of raw materials, followed by craftsmanship and secret formulas.

    Raw materials were expensive, so the products sold at a high price. With the government's emphasis on agriculture, her suggestions for castration and farming methods, once widely adopted, would soon stabilize grain and meat prices. Many products would naturally adjust downward within a year or two as the overall environment improved.

    ...

    When Chen Dashan and the others returned from delivering goods to their distribution counties, Sang Luo prepared to invite the Chen family to discuss matters.

    Upon hearing this, Shen Jin paused for a moment before intercepting Shen Tie before he could go invite them.

    "Big Sister, if you trust me, teach me. Whatever Ah Ning can do, Little Yin and Little Tie can handle. The recipe won't leak out."

    Sang Luo was taken aback. "You're not coming with us to the capital?"

    Her question left the three Jin brothers speechless for a moment. Shen Tie, the youngest, didn't think too much about the past feuds between the two branches of the family. He usually dared to get close to Sang Luo and Shen Ning. Upon hearing this, his eyes lit up. "Are we still part of this?"

    He knew that the first and third branch had separated and were considered separate households.

    However, they seemed to be spending most of their time living with their eldest brother and sister-in-law, especially since their own house had been lent out for a school. They had directly moved in with the eldest branch.

    "Sure, you're still young. You can't stay here by yourselves, can you?"

    Upon hearing this, Shen Tie's eyes curved into a smile, revealing his delight.

    Shen Yin's fingers twitched, and she asked subconsciously, "What about the land?"

    She was obviously tempted too.

    Shen Ning replied, "We could hire someone to tend to it. Two people should suffice. We can ask Uncle Zhao Si and Uncle Zhou for help in overseeing it. The annual harvest can either be transported or sold to local workshops or shops."

    The Zhao family was decent, and Zhao Si was resourceful. In the future, he would likely be in charge of managing any hired labor for the Shen family. As for Uncle Zhou, she referred to Village Chief Zhou.

    Shen Jin was deeply conflicted, especially after seeing his two younger brothers' reactions. But in the end, he shook his head. "Eldest Sister-in-law, with all your properties and fields here, it wouldn't do to leave no one behind at home. I can learn to be a merchant; I'll stay here."

    This sentence left Shen Tie and the somewhat tempted Shen Yin stunned. The two brothers turned to look at their older brother.

    Shen Yin said, "Then, then I'll stay here too."

    Shen Tie looked from his elder brother to Eldest Sister-in-law and Ah Jie, deeply conflicted. If this had happened when they were young, his mouth would have twisted into a pout.

    But they were no longer children, and things were different now. After a moment of struggle, he said, "I'll stay here too."

    Sang Luo: "…"

    Shen Ning: "…"

    One was thirteen, one eleven, and one ten years old.

    Sang Luo pointed at Shen Yin and Shen Tie, then looked at Shen Jin. "Are you sure? You're going to be out there as a merchant, and they're only eleven and ten."

    "For the sake of these fields and properties, it's not necessary. Everyone in the village is like family, and the few hired hands are all honest folk. There's no need to specially leave someone behind for this. Think it over carefully," she advised.

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