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    "Due to the ease of transportation via the canal system, salt merchants from all over have been flocking to the salt fields in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Huai regions, causing a shortage here while creating an oversupply elsewhere. The imperial court has consistently encouraged salt merchants to fetch salt from Fujian and Liaodong to alleviate the shortage in Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Your uncle was one of the pioneers among these merchants, thus earning him much praise."

    Everything seemed so logical and reasonable, leaving no trace of suspicion.

    Rong Shu felt overwhelmed by doubts, her fingers clutching the oil paper bag until they turned white.

    Gu Changjin's half-lowered gaze lingered on her slender fingers for a moment before he lifted his eyes to look at her. "Indeed, the current leads don't reveal much. But don't worry, I'll continue the investigation."

    Rong Shu understood that haste would not yield results in this matter.

    There were still at least two years before the worst-case scenario might unfold for the Shen and Rong families. She had already prepared a fallback plan for herself and her mother.

    Considering Gu Changjin's efforts to investigate Shen Zhi amidst his busy schedule, Rong Shu felt both grateful and guilty. If Shen Zhi was indeed involved with Liao Rao, then investigating him would be a convenient task. However, if not, it would merely waste time.

    "Sir still has the case of Liao Rao and Pan Gongshi to attend to. Since the Shen family is unrelated to the matter involving Liao Rao, there's no need for you to continue the inquiry."

    She genuinely didn't want to distract him. Presently, the case of Liao Rao and the pirate attack on Yangzhou were more pressing matters.

    After some thought, she suggested, "Pirates typically come ashore in the fall to plunder and burn. Yangzhou is prosperous and has always been a target for these sea bandits. I hope, Sir, that you will work together with the commanders of the defense department to make adequate preparations. We must not underestimate the situation."

    This was the second time she had emphasized to him the need to guard against pirate attacks once autumn arrived.

    Gu Changjin paused slightly, gazing directly into her eyes. Her luminous, moonlit orbs revealed not the slightest hint of concealment, shimmering with blatant concern.

    He nodded gently, his voice soothing yet reassuring. "I've met with General Liang. Once the Mid-Autumn Festival passes, the commanders of the Board of Military Affairs will put the city on high alert. We will defend Yangzhou."

    At the mention of "Mid-Autumn Festival," Gu Changjin's heart stirred. He suddenly recalled that this young lady's birthday fell on that very day.

    "Rong Shu," he called her name, his deep voice flowing smoothly like a spring in the heated summer night, "How do you wish to celebrate your birthday this year?"

    Chapter 52

    "Rong Shu, how do you intend to celebrate your birthday this year?"

    The chirping of summer insects filled the air.

    As Gu Changjin's question hung in the courtyard, a hush fell upon it, even the rustling of insects in the trees seemed to subside momentarily.

    Luo Yan's expression shifted slightly, and the usually unreadable Heng Ping also betrayed a moment of surprise.

    Their eyes met, but they quickly averted their gazes again, each lost in their own thoughts.

    Rong Shu was even more perplexed, baffled by Gu Changjin's inexplicable remark.

    "Lord knows my birthdate?"

    "Mm, the 15th of July."

    In traditional betrothal procedures, both families would exchange information about the prospective couple, including their birthdates. However, at that time, Gu Changjin was unaware that their families were negotiating their union, hence he couldn't have known the specific day of her birth.

    It was only through subsequent investigations that he learned about her background.

    The young lady was born on the Mid-Autumn Festival of the second year of Jiaoyu. It was precisely because she was born on such an inauspicious day that she incurred Elder Lady Rong's dislike.

    Gu Changjin did not believe in ghosts or deities, nor did he give credence to the rumors that she was an ill-omened child.

    Their marriage had been too brief, and they had exchanged too few words. He didn't even know if she celebrated her birthdays before, or how she did so.

    Back at the Marquis Manor, with her mother around, she likely celebrated her birthday every year. But in Yangzhou, with Shen Zhi busy to the point of being unseen, did anyone bother to mark her birthday?

    He wondered how she celebrated her birthday.

    If possible, he wished to celebrate it with her personally.

    Indeed, the current situation was far from ideal for a peaceful and joyful birthday celebration.

    But if grand festivities were not feasible, at least they could share a bowl of longevity noodles together.

    Just like how his father used to celebrate his mother's birthday in the mountains.

    A simple bowl of noodles, a few side dishes, and a few cups of wine would suffice.

    He imagined celebrating her birthday just as his father did for his mother.

    The desire was so intense that after asking the question, his heart, which had long been settled, began to thump wildly.

    Rong Shu gave him a glance and nodded, "I do. Mother celebrates it with me in Shangjing, while Aunt Guo, Uncle Shi Yi, and my uncle never forget my birthday in Yangzhou. Aunt Guo even mentioned arranging a painted boat for me today, saying she'll celebrate on the Xiao Qinhuai River. As usual, if Uncle is home, he'll also hold a celebration for me at night."

    She paused and hesitantly added, "On the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, did you have any instructions, Your Excellency?"

    Aside from the fact that he needed her assistance on the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, Rong Shu truly couldn't fathom why he would suddenly inquire about her birthday.

    After all, he wasn't the type to proactively celebrate someone's birthday.

    Yet, in her previous life, he had indeed marked her birthday once.

    It happened in their second year of marriage when he returned early from the Board of Censors.

    Knowing it was her birthday, he coldly dispatched Chang Ji to buy two bowls of longevity noodles from outside.

    Despite it being just a bowl of longevity noodles, Rong Shu was genuinely delighted.

    For her, birthdays were always about who she spent them with, not how grand the celebration was. Sharing a single bowl of noodles with him was more than enough to make her happy.

    Of course, it would have been perfect if the noodles were more delicious.

    She had been a foodie since childhood, and there were many tasty noodle shops in Wutong Lane.

    One such shop, known for its plum blossom soup dumplings, also sold longevity noodles.

    Knowing that Chang Ji was the one who had gone to purchase it, Rong Shu felt rather reassured.

    This was because Chang Ji himself was quite the gourmand; a food enthusiast would naturally know where to find the most delectable longevity noodles.

    Rong Shu was filled with anticipation for the upcoming meal.

    But often, heightened expectations lead to greater disappointment.

    The longevity noodles that Chang Ji brought back were, without a doubt, the worst-tasting noodles Rong Shu had ever had in her life.

    The dough was poorly prepared, leaving the noodles stiff and unpalatable, akin to biting into pebbles. The broth was also disappointingly bland.

    When Rong Shu took a bite, she nearly spat it out.


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