The arrival of spring meant the warming of the earth, dead trees sprouting new leaves and the land thriving.
The corpses of beggars frozen to death had already been moved and vendors began to show up on the streets. It was as if the tragedies of the winter did not exist, now was still peaceful and prosperous times.
But there were fewer temporary laborers on the streets, instead there were more beggars.
Er Liang was currently packing their things as they must move to the farmstead. Although the dormitories for the workers had yet to be finished building, Lin Yuan’s private dwelling with a yard was already finished. Lin Yuan had thought it would still require some more time but the speed of the artisans was much faster than expected.
The oil plant business was already stabilized and on the right track. Basically, it was enough for Lin Yuan to check the accounts only once a month. Jiang Gui could also help in supervising.
Since the income coming from the oil plant increased and Jiang Gui’s dividend along with it, Jiang Gui began to regard the oil plant as a hen that could lay eggs. Everyday after work he would visit the place and afterwards happily go have a drink or two. He was often seen in a good mood the past few days.
Si Niang and Gou zi was also packing up, after all they had lived there for several months and accumulated quite a lot of things.
Jiang Gui showed up to speak with Lin Yuan. “You are leaving, us three, ah no, four brothers, the three of you are on that side leaving me here by myself.” Jiang Gui sighed, slightly depressed, “if not for my job at the government office, I will also come along.”
Lin Yuan: “Third brother don’t say that, the oil plant still requires gege’s care.”
Jiang Gui promised: “Of course, I won’t have fourth brother lose out even one bit, or else my name shall be written backwards.”
Jiang Gui was a clever person with a clear view of things. He was able to adapt to all kinds of situations and put on the right attitude when facing different types of people.
“You should find more people to be on hand.” Jiang Gui said quietly, “I can see that the world will fall into complete upheaval soon. With more people you can protect yourselves better. Later, I will have people bring more hoes over, when needed it can be used as weapons.”
Lin Yuan paused, that the world would fall into upheaval was something everyone could sense, but most people still clung to the thought that maybe it wouldn’t and continued living their days. So long as the fire didn’t burn to their doors they wouldn’t be able to truly feel afraid.
“Third brother, don’t worry.” Lin Yuan patted Jiang Gui’s shoulder, “by the end of next year, the granary will be full and third brother can also come over.”
Jiang Gui sighed: “We’ll see.”
Staying in Wu City, at least there was protection in the form of a city wall. Even if it was short and crumbling apart, but a broken down wall was still a wall. Besides, Wu City also had soldiers guarding it. If outside you were to encounter bandits or refugees who were just a bit more ruthless, then normal people wouldn’t be able to provide much of a fight.
But Jiang Gui also understood Lin Yuan’s thinking, his property was in a remote and desolate place without any people around. It was also surrounded by a river in the front and a mountain in the back. If anything did happen all they had to do to save their lives was to hide in the mountains.
But this was only as a last resort because Jiang Gui was unwilling to live that kind of life.
No one wanted to live the life of a vagrant.
Lin Yuan did not try to convince him, after all Jiang Gui was no fool. If that day truly came, Jiang Gui would seek shelter at his farmstead.
“Third brother, no need to send me off.” Lin Yuan climbed onto the ox cart as Wu City could not buy any horses. Ox was still an alright choice, slow but better than walking. Lin Yuan even hired a driver for his cart.
Jiang Gui stood just to the side of the city walls, watching as Lin Yuan’s cart left farther and farther.
A soldier that guarded the city gates recognized him and laughed: “You are like a wife sending her husband off. They have already gone and you are still watching.”
Jiang Gui swatted at the soldier: “Don’t talk nonsense! I will go complain to your superior so that you will spend the rest of your life guarding gates!”
The soldier was not intimidated, still smiling mischievously: “Brother Jiang, I’ve heard you became rich recently?”
Jiang Gui: “What rich, where did you hear such nonsense. If I was rich would I still be here talking to you? I would already be at a restaurant eating the best.”
The soldier thought about it and agreed. Sitting down he drank water from a bowl: “I heard that the north already has disturbances.”
Jiang Gui widened his eyes: “What?”
Soldier: “I heard from my cousin that a lot of people died and lead to a plague.”
Jiang Gui shocked: “A plague?”
Soldier: “It’s said that some cities already sealed themselves. A lot of people are fleeing south. Don’t know how many are going to arrive this time.”
Jiang Gui felt a bit scared. When leaving he muttered to himself, “We’ll see, we’ll see.”
If truly there were refugees coming in from the north, even if he didn’t want to seek shelter with Lin Yuan he would still have no choice but to.
Although an ox cart was not as fast as horse carriages but it was more stable. Lin Yuan sat in the cart and felt as if his organs would be thrown up. The ox cart might be stable but the road was rocky. These days there was no such thing as paved roads, no cement just plain dirt. If you don’t travel on official roads then the road would be even worse.
At noon the carriage stopped to rest. Lin Yuan ate a flat cake which was made by Si Niang and was both plentiful and tasty, not the least bit dry with the amount of oil used. Only one was enough to fill the stomach but the driver ate two. He was a middle-aged man, tall and skinny but not lacking in strength. Chewing on the savory flat cake he said: “Four more hours until we are there.”
Eight hours in total, Lin Yuan’s heart was full of despair.
The driver took a bite of the cake with a side of pickled vegetables and a drink of water, saying in contentment: “Boss, I have yet to meet a more generous person than you.” He had been a driver for many years but it was the first time a boss had given him two oil cakes to eat.
Driving a cart was hard work and also not many people could afford it. Most just relied on their legs to get anywhere.
Wealthy families had their own carriages and would not need to hire him.
Only merchants from other regions would rent a carriage. They migjt not treat him unwell but the most they would give him were two buns made of mixed grains. But today he not only got two oil cakes but also pickled vegetables. He decided, he would save the oil cakes given to him in the evening for his wife and children.
Lin Yuan sat resting under a tree while Er Liang and Gou zi went to pick wild berries. “These are snake berries, tastes good.” Gou zi picked some berries that were small and dark red, though some were already rotten.
Er Liang picked one up, after rubbing it he put it in his mouth but soon stuck his tongue out: “A bit sour.”
Gou zi laughed: “You have yet to get used to eating it.”
Si Niang watched with a smile. Compared to when Lin Yuan first met her she appeared much younger now.
It was on a whim that Lin Yuan asked her age and found out she was only 28. She married at 13 and gave birth at 15. If just by appearance, to say she was 48 Lin Yuan would believe it.
Si Niang was this time period’s microcosm of all farmer girls. Marry at an early age and have children early. If lucky they would survive childbirth, if unlucky both mother and child could lose their life. Their dream was to have plentiful harvest so that their families would not starve. If there were to be surplus then that would be the best thing ever. The landowner taking 10% less of the harvest was something to be content about.
Lin Yuan said to Si Niang: “Si Niang, once we arrive, if you like, find someone suitable and remarry.”
Si Niang paused, after awhile she said in a bitter tone: “Who will want me? Besides, I have Gou zi.”
For her, being alive was already a fortunate thing.
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