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    Chapter 281 - The End

    When Shen Lie returned home in the dead of night, he was delighted to find his little darling, Ayao, well-fed and rested. Not only did she crawl towards him eagerly, but she also smoothly plopped herself down on the bed closest to him, sitting steadily while waving her hands excitedly in baby talk.

    He was pleasantly surprised. "Ayao can sit up now?"

    Sang Luo nodded. "She learned how to do it at Chen's house this afternoon. It's still fresh to her, so she keeps pushing Qianbao around. But does she have quite a strong grip? She hit Ah Rui and made him cry this afternoon."

    Shen Lie scooped Ayao up into his arms. Seeing Qianbao looking up at him, he decided to hold one child in each arm. He chuckled as he heard Sang Luo's remark. "Maybe she takes after me?"

    What began as a jest, Shen Lie himself didn't take it seriously, little did he know it would eventually come true.

    Of course, at this moment, neither spouse was aware of this.

    Now, Sang Luo mentioned the matter of Shen Jin and his two brothers to Shen Lie. He didn't see any issue with it and said, "Everyone in the estate is familiar, letting Little Jin explore and having Little Silver manage the accounts is beneficial. It's also a form of training. Judging from Little Jin and An Ning, practical experience truly shapes a person."

    Speaking with a tinge of regret, he continued, "Both Xia An and I have taken the scholarly path, so we can't be much help with these matters. It's a burden for you and An Ning."

    "Spare me such talk, it's just different roles." She then turned her concern to Shen Lie, "Suddenly asking Qiuyi to go to the capital in autumn, it's rather hasty. Are you confident in the autumn examinations?"

    With Ah Yao hugging his face, Shen Lie allowed her to do so, responding to Sang Luo's words, "The Autumn Exam won't be difficult. It's not just me; a few of us in the village should have a good chance. If we can't pass, we would have failed to live up to Magistrate Zeng's teachings over the past year."

    The Zeng family of Taiyuan was renowned. If Elder Zeng could serve as the Director of the National Academy, how could Zeng Zixuan, personally tutored by the elder, be any less capable?

    Over the past year, Zeng Zixuan had bestowed numerous books upon Shen Lie, all part of the Zeng family's heritage. After consulting and obtaining Zeng Zixuan's consent, Shen Lie shared these with the other villagers studying at the provincial academy.

    In terms of resources, they even surpassed the Lin family's children whose grandfather was a doctoral scholar at the provincial academy.

    "Slightly more challenging will be the subsequent rounds in Beijing, where besides classical texts, we'll also be tested on current affairs. But lately, I've been spending my afternoons at the provincial government office, studying precisely these topics. Don't worry, I can't guarantee a full hundred percent chance, but seventy to eighty percent is attainable."

    Sang Luo was about to mention that there were still two spots available at the Imperial Academy, but she held back. Shen Lie rarely showed his ambitions, but she knew that initially, he took the exams for her and their family. However, now he had his own aspirations.

    Which man didn't desire to achieve greatness? During the years of turmoil, it was the perfect opportunity to rise, but Shen Lie and Chen Dashan chose their families first. Now, it was time for them to strive for themselves.

    Given Shen Lie's current situation, if he truly wished to make a mark, grasping this year's opportunity to advance through the exam would be far better than spending several more years studying at the Imperial Academy.

    Without further ado, he took the two playful children, saying, "I'll accompany the kids and put them to sleep soon. You go to the study and work, but don't stay up too late."

    Ever since Zeng Zixuan's nocturnal visit discussing composting methods, the Shen brothers, Lie and An, studied until midnight every night. Spending an extra half-hour with the children now might mean reading an additional half-hour later into the night.

    Shen Lie gently kissed Sang Luo on the cheek. "You've worked hard."

    He then squeezed Ah Yao and Qian Bao's hands before heading to the study.

    ...

    With the imperial edict issued, it seemed that everyone was bustling with activity.

    Shen Lie and Shen An were striving for their future, while Sang Luo and Shen Ning were making arrangements for their family business and affairs in Shezhou.

    Jin and Yin Shen aimed to be their elder sister's pillars of support in Xizhou, upholding the Shen family's standing not just in Xizhou, but across other provinces as well.

    Together, Chen Dashan and Shen Jin embarked on a journey of exploration to become competent business partners, while the women of the Chen family learned the craftsmanship of every food item produced in the workshop under Sang Luo's guidance.

    In this domain, it was surprisingly the oldest, Grandma Chen, and the youngest, Little Chen Ya, who possessed the greatest aptitude. The egg tarts, which were the most challenging to perfect, were precisely those that they handled with the most finesse.

    The Chen family members had picked it up, so there was no need for Sangluo to worry about teaching the Gans any further.

    As for the division of labor and assembly line production, there was no urgent need for it. Gan Shi, Feng Liuang, and others were trustworthy; Sang Luo treated them as core members and nurtured them. Should the scale truly expand, they would all be ready to take on production management roles.

    ...

    In mid-March, there was a delightful piece of news: Fan Feiniang was pregnant. She had lost her appetite in January, but it turned out that she was already with child at that time. However, the pregnancy was still too early for her to notice. By late February, her condition was confirmed, and by March, when the fetus had stabilized, she finally shared the joyous news.

    Amidst this flurry of happiness, Xinning and Lin Jiuniang also announced their pregnancies towards the end of March. Xinning, who worked as a female assistant in a specialty store, had specifically consulted Sangluo about whether she could continue working while expecting.

    The specialty store didn't involve much physically demanding work, so Sangluo readily agreed. "After your belly becomes more prominent, your mother-in-law or any of your sisters-in-law can take over for you. If you still want to work after your child is weaned, you can return to your position."

    Xinning was more than willing. "Of course, I'll keep working. Thank you, Sister. I was worried that my job would be gone once I became pregnant."

    Sangluo chuckled. "Not at all."

    Over at the Wei family, Wei Qinghe, who initially planned to study for another year to solidify his foundation before participating in the imperial examination next year, decided to give it a shot this year due to his sudden promotion to fatherhood.

    May arrived swiftly, and the state academy granted its students a month-long break from farming duties. Almost all the students from Daxing Village, including Shen Lie and Wei Qinghe, dove into their studies.

    Shen Lie and Wei Qinghe were preparing for the imperial examination, while Wang Yunzheng was determined to compete for the sole spot to represent the state academy in the national academy's entrance exam. Shen An, Xu Wenhong, and Xu Wenhao felt the urgency of the situation.

    Even Ah Wu and Zhou Changhe guessed that the state academy might hold admissions this year. Not wanting to disturb Shen Lie and the others, they diligently studied on their own at home.

    Not a single idle soul could be found in Daxing Village.

    As a professional translator of novels, I will provide an elegant and contextually appropriate translation for each line. Please provide the lines you would like translated, and I will ensure they are rendered into English with finesse and coherence.

    In May, grain prices fell again and stabilized at one hundred and twenty wen per dou. Following the decline in grain, the prices of vegetables and meat also decreased accordingly.

    In the past, the only grocery store in the East Market sold pork about once every ten days and limited quantities of rabbit, chicken, and duck meat every five days. Now, a new butcher's shop has recently opened its doors.

    The butcher shop owner was none other than Zhen the Butcher, now missing an arm. Though he himself could no longer slaughter pigs, his two able-bodied sons capably carried on the trade. Thus, Zhen resumed his former occupation and established a meat stall within the city of Shezhou.

    However, it is not an everyday occurrence; rather, approximately every seven or eight days, he secures the task of slaughtering a pig for the villagers residing beyond Daxing Village. On such occasions, he monopolizes the sale of the meat at his own shop.

    Like the Sanlao fresh meat shop, when they had pork, they would hang a sign outside the door a day in advance. They also sold fish, chicken, and mutton, whatever they could get their hands on, to keep their business going.

    For the people of Shezhou, purchasing meat has undeniably become somewhat easier than before. Chickens and ducks aside, whereas pork was available only once every ten days in times past, there are now two butcher shops from which to choose. Fortuitously, one can even expect to see vendors offering mutton and pork in the East Market every four or five days. Life is gradually assuming an aspect reminiscent of the era prior to the Great Chaos of the previous dynasty—indeed, with the absence of oppressive corvée and heavy taxation, and under the reign of a benevolent emperor who empathizes with his subjects, it is perhaps even more secure and tranquil than it was then.

    The prices of all commodities at the Dahong Village Specialty Shop also underwent a downward adjustment.

    Sanluo, having busied herself through May, made a visit to the provincial yamen to inquire from Lady Fan, the consort, whether the imperial examination candidates would be traveling to the capital by water or land. Among the myriad imperial gifts was a pair of horses, which she had been keeping tended in the cowshed beside the manor, allowing them to keep company with the manor's sole ox.

    Without any apparent reason, she was granted two horses; she assumed there must be a purpose behind it.

    Sure enough, Lady Fan proposed traveling by land.

    "The waterways have not been maintained for years. His Majesty has been focusing on allowing the people to thrive and prefers not to burden them with laborious tasks. Thus, when there are fewer people, goods, and lighter loads, one can take the water route. But with an abundance of tribute and a large entourage, we must travel by land. Besides, this year we have also assisted the court in purchasing substantial amounts of grain, which will be brought as part of the tribute."

    Sang Luo understood now. The gift of two horses was indeed deliberate. She inquired about Chang'an's climate from Lady Fan and engaged her in conversation before departing from the Governor's mansion. Once outside, she headed straight to a carriage house to order her carriages.

    She arranged for two carriages – one for passengers and one for luggage. Recalling Cen Xi's mention that the mansion in the capital would be fully equipped, she believed a simple and lightweight journey would suffice.

    The carriage was delivered to the manor after more than ten days. The owner of the carriage house recognized Sang Luo and was well aware that the lady would likely be moving her entire family to the capital in August. As such, he personally delivered the carriage and even took the opportunity to promote his establishment's services, offering the hire of experienced long-distance drivers.

    Indeed, this mulberry vine is needed. Just as she was about to agree, the three hired hands who worked around the house arrived.

    Unlike Zhao Si and the others, these three had always resided in the village. They worked diligently, but aside from the occasional need to carry items into the Shen residence, they seldom ventured over here. Their deliberate visit likely indicated some matter at hand.

    Before Sang Luo could inquire, the one named Li Jiulang asked, "Madam Sang, we have come to ask if you require any assistance with driving your carriage on your journey to the capital?"

    Car dealership owner: "..."

    How fortuitous your arrival is!

    Li Jiulang, alias Dark Nine, was not merely inquiring about the need for a coachman. He had been entrusted with finding assignments for himself, Dark Ten, and Dark Eleven, as the Emperor had ordered that they maintain a three-visible, two-covert security detail for the Lady upon their return to the capital. Thus, they had to find a way to accompany her, and this encounter with the carriage presented an opportunity.

    "All three of us are skilled in handling carts and oxen. We've heard that you have estates and farms in the capital. May I ask if you plan on bringing some help for the journey? For guarding the home, protecting the estate, driving the carriage, running errands—there will surely be a need for capable hands, won't there?"

    "..." Sangluo now believes in Shen Lie's erstwhile conjecture: these three individuals are likely not mere hired laborers.

    If it were truly as Shen Lie imagined - and chances were high that it was - she had been tending the fields, raising sheep, and feeding pigs here for such a long time. It was indeed a challenging endeavor...

    "Certainly, but aren't you worried about being too far from home?"

    Li Jiulang's smile was sincere. "What's there to fear about being far from home? The prospects in the capital are excellent. Does this mean you're willing to take us along, my lady?"

    Sang Luo nodded with a smile. "Of course."

    It would be much safer with them around.

    The carriage owner ultimately failed to sell his driver services. There was no need, as two of the carriages already had three capable helpers from their own household who were eager to join them on their journey to the capital for better opportunities.

    The carriage owner received the final payment for the carriage, exchanged some polite words, and then left with his assistants.

    ...

    Time flew by, and it was already the end of July. By now, Sang Luo had prepared thick clothes and socks for the whole family. The state examination for the academy had also begun. Of course, this exam was unrelated to Shen Lie; it was for Wang Yunzheng and others in his age group, between fourteen to eighteen, to compete.

    The results would be out by the end of July. Wang Yunzheng secured the sole spot to participate in the national academy entrance exam in the capital city.

    Shen An ranked third, while the second place went to the eldest legitimate grandson of the Lin family.

    At the same time, the county examinations were being held across the Xizhou districts. Students from the state academy were exempted from participating. After the county results were announced, the state examination would take place on the third day of August.

    Shen Lie and Wei Qinghe had left for the city early on. Back at home, Sang Luo, Shen Ning, Shen Yin, and Shen Tie were all rather nervous.

    Despite Shen An's assurance that his older brother would have no problem in the state examination.

    Where did this confidence come from?

    Well, recently, in the monthly exams at the state academy, his older brother, Wang Yunzheng, and the eldest legitimate grandson of the state academy's doctor had been taking turns topping the rankings.

    "Last year, Big Brother couldn't even make it into the top ten. This March, he ranked third and once second. Since June, he's consistently been in the top two, alternating with Yun Zheng for first place. We have some understanding of the situation in the other five county schools. The top five from each prefecture are chosen for the provincial examination. Rest assured, Big Brother will definitely be on the list."

    All those extra tutoring hours that Lord Zeng gave him every day were not in vain. And all those nights he spent studying until dawn over the past half-year weren't just for show.

    Shen Ning was surprised. "I've never heard Big Brother mention his monthly exams' results."

    Shen An replied, "Don't you know Big Brother? He would only talk about it if he was first or second. When he did achieve that in June, the provincial exam was right around the corner. Big Brother wouldn't have had the heart to bring it up."

    Indeed, he didn't think it was worth mentioning anymore.

    Shen Ning realized that her brother was indeed like that. Over the past few months, she might not have even seen her brother if she had gone to bed earlier or woken up later.

    ...

    The inaugural imperial examination of the Great Qi was still in its experimental phase, lacking the complicated procedures of later times. The test was held on the third day of the eighth lunar month, and the results were announced on the fifth. The villagers, putting aside their other work, crowded into the city to see the rankings.

    San Luo also entrusted her children to Shen Ning and accompanied Shen Lie to wait outside the prefectural government office for the postings. When the list was finally displayed, Shen Lie was at the very top.

    "Our teacher is first, and my uncle is fourth," Xu Wenbo quickly reported to the illiterate elders in the village after spotting the names of the two candidates from their village.

    The villagers cheered, and Sang Luo looked at Shen Lie with a smile, gently squeezing the hand they held together. Shen Lie returned her gaze, and the two of them exchanged a delighted glance, their eyebrows and eyes filled with joy.

    Wei Qinghe was ecstatic. Together with Shen Lie, he examined the list again. The second place was taken by a Lin family member, who could also be considered his relative. The third and fifth positions were occupied by scholars from two other counties.

    The Lin family member was actually a generation older than Wei Qinghe. If he followed Lady Lin Jiu's lead, he would have to address him as Uncle Qi.

    The three former classmates congratulated each other, and only dispersed after Historian He announced that the local banquet would take place on the sixth day of the lunar month, followed by their departure for the capital on the eighth.

    All along the way out of the city, Wei Qinghe repeatedly thanked Shen Lie.

    Both Wei Qinghe and the Xu family knew very well that the success of their fellow villagers, including Yun Zheng this time in securing the only spot for the national academy, was largely due to the annotations Shen Lie had provided to the Zeng family over the past year.

    After much contemplation, Wei Qinghe whispered to Shen Lie, "Back when we bought grain together, I didn't have the chance to privately thank Lord Zeng. This time, when I return, I would like to prepare a gift and ask for your help in introducing me, so that I can at least express my gratitude at the governor's residence."

    Shen Lie thought for a moment and replied, "Let's wait for a while. It's too soon after the provincial examination for such visits, it wouldn't be proper. There will be plenty of time in the future."

    Wei Qinghe realized his mistake and nodded repeatedly, his face radiant with joy. His pace quickened as he hurried back to report the good news to Lady Lin Jiu. He would then have to visit his in-laws to share the same joy, although they might already be aware of the results.

    The villagers who had accompanied them returned home in high spirits. Grandmother Xu, Shopkeeper Xu, and Wei Lingzhen were particularly delighted. They rejoiced for Wei Qinghe, and at the same time, contemplating how Shen Lie and Wei Qinghe had achieved their success, and envisioning a promising future for their own sons, Wen Hong and Wen Bo.

    The opportunity to enroll in the Four Gates Academy was worth a shot, and if that didn't work out, there was still the possibility of passing the provincial examinations.

    As for Feng Liu's mother and Zhou Cunzheng's wife, each with a son preparing for the provincial exam this year, they were both trembling with excitement and anticipation.

    They all saw a glimmer of hope for elevating their social status.

    ...

    After the announcement of the results, the village was bustling with excitement for half a day. Many came to offer their congratulations. However, since the eighth day of the month was already approaching and preparations were insufficient, Sang Luo instructed Shen Lie and Shen An to host a few banquets at the East Fortune Tower that evening to invite their teachers and fellow students, as a gesture of gratitude.

    She personally joined Shen Ning in packing their belongings, making preparations to depart for the capital on the eighth day of the first month.

    In the evening, two more visitors arrived at home — Zhen Butcher's wife and her daughter, Miss Zheng.

    The mother and daughter both carried a few packets of pastries, the oil-paper wrapping clearly indicating that they had been specially purchased from a confectionery shop in the city.

    "I should have come earlier to offer my congratulations. Da Niu only finished work late and made it just in time for this moment."

    In fact, they could have come early the next morning, but both mother and daughter were too anxious to wait.

    "Auntie, Sister Zheng, why are you being so formal?" Sang Luo invited them to sit in the parlor while Shen Ning went to prepare tea.

    The butcher's wife felt a bit awkward and was still pondering how to phrase her request when Zheng Dahu said, "My dear wife, I actually have a favor to ask. I wonder if there's a need for laborers in the capital when your whole family moves there?"

    Sang Luo was somewhat surprised. "Why do you ask that?"

    Zheng Dahu's expression turned grim, but she found it difficult to speak. The butcher's wife, noticing no one else around and Shen Ning still absent, lowered her voice. "We've really run out of options; that's why we've come to seek your help."

    Observing her daughter's pale complexion, the butcher's wife pulled Sang Luo aside to whisper the details of their situation.

    It turned out that for the past one or two months, some unflattering rumors had been circulating in the neighboring villages, regarding Dahuang's predicament in Qiyang County years ago.

    Uttering such defamatory words without a shred of evidence.

    Mrs. Zheng's account was somewhat vague, but Sang Luo inferred something and asked, "Do you have any idea who might be spreading these rumors?"

    Mrs. Zheng gritted her teeth. "We haven't offended anyone. I can guess who's behind this. We'll definitely get to the bottom of this."

    "Rumors are sharper than blades, and now even when Da Niu steps out, she feels whispers behind her back. I realized this wasn't a solution, so after a few days of contemplation, she came to us with the idea of seeking your guidance, Sister-in-law."

    Madam Zheng's eyes reddened as she spoke. How could a mother bear to send her daughter far away from home? But back then... she hadn't dared let her daughter listen to such words again and again. Now, this was the only path left.

    "Madam, if there's any need for help in the capital, be it laundry, cooking, cleaning, or even tending the fire and sweeping the courtyard, or raising chickens and ducks, farming on the estate, perhaps you could consider taking my eldest daughter with you?"

    Sang Luo turned her head to look at the somewhat nervous Zheng Dahu, and said, "There might not be a shortage of people for laundry, cooking, and cleaning, but if Sister Dahu is willing to give the capital a try, I'll have some business ventures in the future. There will always be work for her."

    Madam Zheng was overjoyed upon hearing this, and took Sang Luo's hand. "How can I thank you?"

    Zheng Dahu also stood up, filled with excitement.

    Shen Ning entered with a cup of tea in hand and, upon seeing the scene, cast a glance at her eldest sister-in-law. Sang Luo said, "Aren't we planning to open a shop in the capital? I've noticed that Big Sister Dahu is diligent and eager to learn. She attends night classes regularly and has even learned to read and calculate. I asked if she would like to come with us to the capital to work in the shop."

    The two Zheng women looked at Sang Luo with gratitude in their eyes.

    Upon hearing this, Shen Ning chuckled. "Yes, my eldest sister-in-law and I were indeed planning to search for a shop once we arrive in the capital. Big Sister Dahu, would you like to come along? We're just not sure how easy it will be to find a suitable shop, so there might be some waiting involved."

    "Dare I decline such a wonderful opportunity? I'm not afraid of waiting. Thank you, Madam, for looking out for me."

    "Alright then, inform Grandma Chen that we'll settle your wages from the noodle factory first. Go home and pack your things. Meet me early on the eighth day of the lunar month."

    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.

    On the eighth day of the eighth month, at dawn, the newly appointed coachmen of Dahong Village, Dark Nine, Dark Ten, and Dark Eleven, set out with two carriages towards the village's outskirts. Following them were the Shen family members heading for the capital, as well as the uncle-nephew pair of Wei Qinghe and Wang Yunzheng, each carrying their bundles. The entire village bade them farewell.

    Of course, there was Zheng Datou, carrying a bundle behind, along with the entire Zheng family, and, upon receiving the news, Feng Datou, Feng Erdatou, Gan Erdatou, Dong Ge and his brothers, as well as neighboring villagers who were on friendly terms with them, all making their way over.

    On this day, Old Lady Chen shed tears. San Luo embraced the elderly woman. "Granny, when it's time for Ah Rui to begin his education, you come to the capital. Really, I'll keep a courtyard for you, so Ah Rui can start his lessons alongside Ah Yao and Qian Bao."

    Widow Chen ignored all else, wiping away her tears as she nodded vigorously. "Alright, I'll definitely come to the capital to visit you."

    As the conversation proceeded, Shen Yin and Shen Tie walked together behind, frequently craning their necks to look beyond the village boundaries with worried expressions. "Why hasn't Elder Brother returned yet? He was supposed to be back yesterday."

    Shen An tried to reassure them, "Perhaps something delayed him. Don't worry, it won't be that quick. There will still be village elders seeing him off, as well as many grain carts."

    Despite his words, he too couldn't resist glancing outward.

    With the journey to the capital imminent, if they didn't see Shen Jin now, who knew when their next meeting would be.

    Shen An was correct. For the first tribute mission to the capital, there were quite a number of people seeing them off, coupled with the loading of tribute goods. It took almost an hour within the city before the convoy finally began its departure.

    With Lady Fan about to give birth, Zeng Zixuan dared not venture too far, so he delegated the task of leading the group to the capital to Historian He.

    At this moment, he was escorting the candidates out of the city, but in reality, he was strolling alongside Shen Lie at the head of the procession, passing him a visiting card as they walked.

    "I want you to visit my place first when you arrive in the capital. The spring examination is in February, so there's still plenty of time for preparation. My grandfather can give you some private tutoring. He knows about you. Don't be hesitant to go. Just ask your sister-in-law to make her signature dishes – I guarantee that my grandfather will be delighted to have you over every day."

    The old man had been wide awake the last time His Majesty mentioned Sang Luo's trip to the capital; he had barely maintained his composure in court, and the first question he asked after the session ended was, "Did you bring back any specialties from Great Prosperity Village?"

    Shen Lie thanked him with a smile and a bow.

    A little further back in the procession, Lady Fan, with her very pregnant belly, also came to see them off. She held onto Sang Luo affectionately, reluctant to part. "You go ahead to the capital first. With my condition, it's not convenient for me to travel anywhere. Third Brother should be able to return to the capital next year, and then we can get together again. I'll also let you meet my Heng'er."

    Since Shen Lie would definitely stay in the capital once Sang Luo arrived, the emperor wouldn't assign him elsewhere. As for Zeng Sanlang, thanks to Sang Luo, he had made great strides in recent years and had a good chance of returning to the capital next year. If the couple did return, their eldest son in their hometown of Taiyuan would naturally join them.

    Sang Luo had heard about Heng'er countless times from Lady Fan and replied with a smile, "That sounds great. I'll wait for you in the capital then. There are too many people outside the city, so you and Aunt Zhong should head back now."

    She didn't allow Lady Fan to accompany her any further.

    Indeed, many people had gathered outside Shezhou City. Many villagers who had heard that Sangluo was leaving today had put down their work and assembled along the official road at the city gates to bid her farewell.

    The greatest fortune of the people in Shezhou was, first and foremost, having an excellent local official, followed by being neighbors with Sangluo. They were the first to benefit from the various methods she had introduced, and among these villagers, there were those who owed their survival to Sangluo's teachings in the depths of the mountains and the assistance of Daxing Village.

    The farewell procession was a grand sight.

    Chen Dashan, Xu Wenqing, Shen Jin, and their group arrived just in time. Upon seeing them from afar, Shen An nearly jumped for joy. He waved excitedly, "Little Jin, over here!"

    Following closely behind was Shen Yin's voice, "Brother, this way, this way!"

    Shen Jin ran over. "Big Brother, Big Sister-in-law, Little An, Ah Ning, we were delayed on the road. I almost thought we wouldn't make it."

    Having matured greatly over the years, Little Jin, upon seeing the two fully-prepared carriages of the Shen family, couldn't help but feel his eyes well up with tears.

    Shen Lie patted Shen Jin's head. "Take good care of yourself, Little Silver, and Little Iron. Once the trading route is established, come to Chang'an as soon as you can."

    Shen Jin nodded. "Yes, next year, I'll bring Little Tie to visit you all."

    Aiao and Qianbao could now walk, and they recognized Shen Jin when they saw him. They squirmed in Sang Luo's and Shen An's arms, reaching out for Shen Jin, especially Aiao, whose kicks were so strong that Sang Luo had difficulty holding on. She could even mumble "Uncle" vaguely.

    Infant talk was indeed unclear, but Shen An, Shen Yin, Shen Jin, and Shen Tie all believed that she was calling him "Uncle." Shen Yin and Shen Tie taught her every day.

    For now, let's assume she was saying "Uncle."

    Shen Jin wanted to hold them but held back. "I'm covered in dust."

    His eyes had just been moist, but seeing his niece stretch out her arms for a hug made him shed tears. He quickly wiped them away. "Eldest Sister-in-law, I'll miss you."

    He Changshi had already organized the group and came over to inform Shen Lie and the other candidates who had their own carriages that they could depart.

    Shen Lie hastily bid farewell to Chen Dashan, Xu Wenqing, Feng Dalang, Feng Erlang, and Gan Erlang. When someone at the front boarded the carriage, his family finally climbed aboard.

    Zheng Datong didn't squeeze into the carriage, knowing that the Shen family had two carriages. Each could seat two or three people on the shaft. Seeing that two people were already seated on the one the Shen family was taking, she hesitated slightly before voluntarily sitting on the shaft of the luggage carriage. Fortunately, the shaft was wide enough, and it wasn't too crowded with her and the driver, Dark Eleventh.

    As everyone was about to leave, Shen Jin thought of something and told Shen An to wait. He rushed towards the city gate.

    Shen Ning asked Shen An, "Where's Little Jin?"

    "He said he's buying something."

    As the convoy started moving, Shen Jin hastily rushed out and caught up with his elder brother and sister-in-law's carriage. He handed them a few oil paper packages through the window. "Big Brother, Big Sister-in-law, when I came back last time, I saw they were selling these in the East Market. You can have them for the journey."

    Sang Luo was holding onto someone, and it was Shen An who took over, feeling the warmth of their body.

    The Shen Jin brothers chased after the carriage for quite a distance, conversing with Shen Lie and the others through the windows. They only stopped when Shen Lie waved them away after passing Daxing Village.

    Shen An and Shen Ning kept watching outside the carriage window. Yaoyao, in Shen Lie's arms, reached for Shen An's oil paper package. Concerned that she might get burned, Shen An avoided her touch. Sang Luo asked, "What did Little Jin buy?"

    Shen An opened one of the packages and was momentarily stunned.

    "Hu Bing."

    Shen Lie was clueless, but Sang Luo and Shen Ning's memories were suddenly transported back six years.

    "Hu Bing," Sang Luo peered out the window again. The convoy was long, and there were mountains by the roadside. After turning a bend, they could no longer see Shen Jin.

    "Are they already selling Hu bing in the Eastern Market?"

    San Luo recalled the time many years ago when she bought a few Hu bing to share with Brother Jin and the village children who had helped with the land clearing in Shili Village. On the other side, Shen Ning also shared this old memory from their time in Shili Village with her elder brother.

    The carriage rolled on, and San Luo held Qian Bao, who was bouncing with excitement on her lap, gazing at the passing scenery outside the window with a hint of a smile in her eyes. She murmured softly, "How wonderful."

    May this journey ahead lead us to an era of prosperity in Chang'an.

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    1. Car Marquez
      May 13, '24 at 3:03 am

      Is this really the end? I don’t want it to end heeeeere.