On a rare sunny day, Li Da got up early to wash his clothes. He now lived in the employee dormitories——a name that Boss called it with. At first they felt awkward but after getting used to it, it became natural. He used a wooden basin to fill with water and brought it over to the balcony to wash his clothes. The balcony was hanged with a tough string that could hold a lot of clothes although it wasn’t as if they had many. Even the old cotton shirt they now wear was given by Boss. 

So what he was currently washing were under clothes, which were basically a couple of ragged pieces. 

“What are we eating this morning?” Next to him old Zhang asked. 

Li Da: “How do I know? I’ll go to the dining hall after I finish washing.” 

The dining hall was a grass shack but it was made sturdy. The women cooked the meals in the back where the stoves were. The food was cooked in large pots, the only good thing was that there was no lack of salt or oil. Just this was already extremely tasty for them. 

The women were all the female family members of Yang Zi’an’s friends. They were brought over after the autumn harvest and as a result escaped the disaster at Wu City. 

Old Zhang laughed at Li Da: “Look at how you wash, it is going to rip.” 

Li Da looked at the raggedy cloth in his hands and could not deny what old Zhang said. He looked at the forest not far away: “Boss is going out?”

He saw an ox cart. 

Old Zhang looked in the same direction and also discovered Lin Yuan getting into an ox cart. He thought a bit and said: “Maybe Boss is going to Wu City to have a look?”

Li Da startled: “Go to Wu City for what? To lose your life for nothing?” 

Old Zhang have Li Da a slap: “Quickly shut your crow’s beak (TN: expression for a person making unlucky remarks). Boss has boss’s own plans.”

Next to the forest Lin Yuan said to the others seeing him off: “You all go back, once I have finished I will come back.” 

The place where they would be heading was a bit far away. Wu City was affected by disaster and the nearby villages would not be much better off. He and Jiang Gui would be traveling lightly, bringing nothing else but money.

“No matter if it is of good or bad quality, as long as it is edible buy them all back.” Old father Lin advised repeatedly. 

Lin Yuan: “Dad, I know. This period that I am not here, if you have any problems ask big brother Li and second brother Yang.” 

Old father Lin also knew that Lin Yuan had three sworn brothers. He felt that his son was very smart, in a unfamiliar place having sworn brothers was a very good thing. His attitude toward Li, Yang and Jiang was therefore very warm, treating them as his sons. 

Li Congrong said: “Little brother, don’t worry about this side, as long as I am here I won’t let your heart’s blood (TN: expression for an expenditure or project that took a lot of effort) be wasted.” 

Lin Yuan: “Big brother, it is our heart’s blood.” 

Li Congrong laughed: “Yes, I said the wrong thing again.” 

Yang Zi’an on the other hand said: “Don’t take the main roads, make detours if you have to. Abandon the cart and hide if you sense something wrong.” 

Jiang Gui responded: “Second brother, don’t worry, we know the score.”

Lin Yuan knew that when the time came he must hire people or buy people in order to cart all of the food stuff back. Just relying on him and Jiang Gui, forget about carting the food back just walking on the road without being robbed or killed would be fortunate. 

The turbulent times would not easily end soon, at least there would be many years until then, in fact it would be about 10 years time.

If the man power was too little then it would be very difficult to be self-sufficient. Farming the land might be possible but other necessities would continue to be used up. Once the positive cycle he set up was broken and a vicious cycle took its place, then his small base would easily disintegrate from the inside.

Compared to hiring, Lin Yuan preferred buying people. Most of the ones not willing to become slaves or servants haf already fallen into becoming bandits.

And the ones willing to become slaves or servants, they had already brainwashed themselves and would not easily betray their master. 

He would have liked to bring people from the farmstead with him but the problem was that they only had one ox and one donkey. And because they wrre afraid the donkey would die on the way, they could only use the ox cart. 

Jiang Gui however had a lot of confidence. He had gone to the village that was their destination before. The people there were quite valiant and stalwart but also hospitable. Most of them were farmers but a few were hunters. 

He had heard that in the earlier days the entire village were experienced hunters, learning how to set traps and use the bow and arrow from a young age. They even knew how to blow poison arrows which were made from using the poison secreted from a toad specie common to the area. Only using just a bit and it could paralyze a full grown ox. 

Jiang Gui said: “The area on that side is fertile with few people and a lot of land so their old grains stock will definitely be abundant.” 

Lin Yuan did not know how to drive a cart, so the task was given to Jiang Gui. Lin Yuan sat on the cart and took a sip of water. He looked at the trees and bushes, if he was here to tread the green (TN: phrase that describes going for a walk in the spring when the grass has turned green especially during spring hike season around Qingming festival 清明, 4th-6th April), perhaps he would praise the scenery and the fresh air. But unfortunately he was not so instead he only felt fidgety. 

They traveled for five days on the road. During the time they only ate dried cake with water to wash it down and slept on the cart at night. They had the ox cart stop deep in the forest and set up a fire next to it. They dared not sleep too deeply and took turns keeping watch. 

After all, while with the fire wild animals would not come close but it could not scare away people. 

Only 5 days but Lin Yuan felt like he lived a month.  Jiang Gui’s beard even grew out a lot, looking more weather beaten than five days ago. Lin Yuan was much better off since his body was only 15 and had yet to secrete as much hormones as Jiang Gui. Only a few hairs popped up——which he pulled out. 

Growing a few whiskers on his chin…..was that any proper?! 

“Almost there!” Jiang Gui became excited, shaking Lin Yuan at his side. Lin Yuan rubbed at his sore behind, widening his eyes at the road which became open spaced and wide. 

On the side of the road he even saw a tea shop set up by the locals for passing travelers and merchants to use, of course, for a fee. 

It was as if the place had not been affected by refugees at all. They wrre living their self-sufficient days. No matter if they were men or women they all jad the ability to protect themselves, even young children who had yet to learn to walk must learn to hold a bow first. 

Lin Yuan also asked Jiang Gui in detail and found out that most of the people here were Han Chinese, only a small portion were Mongolian.

The Mongolians here were not officials, just common people who had intermarried with the Han Chinese, completely assimilating into the area. 

Da niang!” (TN: a friendly way to refer to an older lady) Jiang Gui stopped the cart just outside the tea shop on the side of the road. 

Da niang looked to be in her forties but her physique was strong and sturdy. Without looking at her face it would even be believable to say she was in her early thirties. 

“Feed it bean mash or hay?” Da niang looked at their ox.  

Jiang Gui looked towards Lin Yuan, Lin Yuan said: “Feed it some bean mash.” 

The beans here were actually used to feed cows, Lin Yuan felt as if he had discovered a treasure chest. 

Da niang served them tea, a dish of appetizers and two bowls of porridge. At this time there were no other customers so da niang held her grandson and sat on one side singing to him the local lullabies. 

Lin Yuan finished his porridge and finally felt alive again. He then asked: “Da niang, we are from another region, and want to buy some grains back.” 

He was not afraid that this was a black shop (TN: literally means an inn that kills and robs guests esp. in traditional fiction), no black shop proprietor was a woman, and not only was she a woman but she also had her grandson with her. 

Besides, the shop could even afford to use bean mash for cows and even provide white rice porridge, so they would not take risks for money. 

Da niang turned her head, her face with an expression of delight: “Are old grains alright?” 

Her family just harvested new grains and the granery could no longer fit. But old grains were unable to be sold without it being too cheap. Her husband in a fit of pique decided not to sell. Now they were stuck with grains no one wanted to eat. Old grains had a moldy taste so both adults and children disliked eating it. Their village was also remote, with the nearest village taking three days of travel by ox cart. There was no main road so it was difficult to cart the food elsewhere and there was the possibilty of bandits. Da niang had for quite a while a headache on what to do about that stock of old grains. 

Almost every family in the area has the same headache. 

Outside people wrre dying from hunger, but here they wdre fretting about having too much foodstuff. When Lin Yuan found out he didn’t know what kind of expression to put on. 

In a sense, this place could be considered a hidden utopia.

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