*Edited by LazyCat
Taizhou and Gaoyou were very busy throughout the winter. Many people felt that they and the outside seemed to be two different worlds. Many poor people outside were unable to eat much food or be properly clothed; their lives were like that of savages. In winter, they could only rely on tree bark and the plant roots underground for sustenance. Many people simply could not survive to see the next spring.
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After many people outside knew that Taizhou and Gaoyou could let them fill their stomachs, they embarked on a journey one after another, relying on their legs and feet to travel long distances. They didn’t even know the specific situation of Taizhou and Gaoyou, but they just felt that there would be hope for survival there.
“Be good, eat.” The sallow-faced and thin woman handed the bark to her short and thin son. She wanted to smile at her child, but she didn’t even have the strength to curve up her lips. She came out with her fellow villagers, and wanted to find a peaceful place where she and her son could settle down and survive. They wandered past many places like vagrants. She was a widow, and the child was the only blood left of his father. Her parents-in-law passed within a month after they left their hometown. They worked all their lives, and the aches and illness that had settled over time became exacerbated by the difficult conditions of a vagrant life, resulting in them passing away on the way.
There was nothing else the woman could do but to find support with a bachelor from her village in order to save herself and her son.
But she felt that she could barely hold on anymore. Maybe she would die here, and then go see her husband and in-laws who died early. But then what about her child?
She stroked the head of her son who was eating bark with her skinny hand, thinking in her heart that she could not leave her son alone in this world. If she were to die, she must first send him off, then the whole family could be reunited in the underworld.
The bachelor from the same town came to her. They were childhood sweethearts who grew up together, but the bachelor was too poor to marry a wife. Only after they had left their hometown did he finally know what a woman felt like. He was very good to the widow, otherwise he would not take care of this mother and child when he himself could barely eat enough.
“We will arrive there soon,” said the bachelor weakly.
The widow nodded. They had been comforting themselves that they would be there soon.
But this “soon” was too far away, as if they would never reach the destination.
The widow stretched out her hand, and the bachelor held it. The two sat quietly, watching the boy hungrily eating the bark, as if it was some delicacy.
The bachelor said again: “Soon.”
The widow forced a smile.
The sun rose, and they must continue on their way again. The boy took his mother’s hand. They walked in the snow, one step at a time. They were neither frozen to death nor starved to death. Of the hundreds of people who came out together, now only a dozen people were left.
After walking for a while, the boy couldn’t walk anymore. His nose was red. If one continued being exposed to the freezing air, they would soon turn purple, and then death would not be far off.
The bachelor carried the boy on his back and covered him with animal fur, which would ensure that the boy had a better chance of survival.
No one spoke, they were silent and walked quietly.
Silence could make people feel depressed and fall into despair.
But they had no strength to speak.
Just when they stopped to eat snow, someone suddenly shouted: “The city wall! I see the city wall! God! I see the city wall! We are here!”
The widow was stunned. She stood motionless, like an ice sculpture in the snow. In a panic, she went to hug the son who was still on the bachelor’s back. She lifted the thin layer of fur and reached out to touch her son’s face, to feel her son’s breathing.
The widow opened her mouth, and she could only make a gasping noise that resembled sobs. She squatted down holding her son and kept inhaling. She almost couldn’t breath. The bachelor hugged the two of them. There were already some people running wildly, using their last strength to run towards the city wall.
The hope of surviving had never been as clear as it was now.
The bachelor once again carried the boy, and with the widow they supported each other towards the city wall.
But before they even arrived under the city wall, they were startled by the scene in front of them. Outside the city wall, there was a small outer city. There were many people walking on the streets. They were wearing thick clothes because of the cold. Their cheeks were reddened, but they were all smiling, and many vendors were selling things at stalls.
There were also shops selling cooked food and they could smell the scent of dough, some vendors were selling noodles.
Others were also selling yellow dough buns.
It was the smell of food, not bark, not grass roots, not meatless insects, but real food that could fill the stomach and make one feel happy.
There was no snow on the ground in the outer city. They saw people shoveling snow onto wooden carts and pulling them aside to boil it into hot water. Many people went to fetch water.
The bachelor and the widow stood among their fellow villagers. They were afraid that these people would not accept them and drive them away. But even if they were afraid, they still would not leave.
“Manager Zhou! There are some refugees here!” A vendor shouted.
The manager sitting on the side of the road and warming himself stood up, wrapped his scarf around his neck, rubbed his hands and walked out of the stall.
Refugees were also ordinary people. They were afraid of officials. When they heard this, everyone’s face looked anxious.
Manager Zhou counted the number of people and then used a notebook to record down the date and then the number of people. He then said to the person next to him: “Give them hot water, bring them to the house, and buy some buns.”
The person next to him took the order, and manager Zhou said to the refugees: “Come with me.”
The refugees had no other choice. They dared not speak, and followed manager Zhou timidly.
Manager Zhou took them to a hut with a charcoal fire burning inside. Unlike the cold outside, the inside was warm like spring. The frozen bodies of the refugees warmed up, and feeling seemed to finally come back to their numb limbs.
Manager Zhou pointed to the bench in the house and said, “Sit down.”
These people followed the order and immediately sat down one by one.
Manager Zhou: “Report your names one by one, as well as where you came from, where you passed along the way, where is safer, and where is more dangerous. The more detailed the better.”
The refugees reported their names one after another, and manager Zhou wrote them down in a notebook, and then began to record their hometown and the places they passed by.
As manager Zhou recorded the information, the people sent to buy steamed buns returned and distributed it along with hot water to the refugees.
The refugees ate the buns hungrily. They couldn’t say a word, too focused on gorging until they ate up the three buns that each person had been allocated. It was only after they drank their bowl of hot water did they finally raise their heads again.
The steamed buns were warm, well made, very soft, and suitable for swallowing. Most of them barely chewed it in their hurry to eat.
Manager Zhou once again began to measure their heights, looked at their teeth and recorded their more obvious characteristics. Then each person was issued a small wooden sign: “You must keep this safe. You will need this for buying a house and registering work in the future. If it wears out, then come and have it replaced.”
He spoke in detail where they should be going to sign up for work. After signing up for work, they would then be allocated a house. But it was not that they did not charge money for the houses as the money would be deducted from their wages in the future.
Manager Zhou asked them: “Are there any questions?”
Everyone was taken away in a daze. The manager said, they should first sign up for work, and then they could be assigned to a house. They could rest for three days before going to work. They would be provided with food and hot water for these three days. After starting work, one month’s salary would be given in advance for daily expenses.
When registering, the bachelor said that the widow was his wife and the boy was his son.
After getting along for such a long time, the boy had already begun to call him father.
They were divided into a small house. A curtain separated the bedroom from the main room, which was enough for a family of three.
As for single people, they could only share the dormitory with others.
After seven days in Gaoyou, these people have quickly integrated. The officials never asked them for fees, nor did they come to them for anything but official business. The neighbors were also very friendly and no one looked down on them.
The widow now washed clothes with her neighbors every day. The workplace was in a large warm house full of hot water that wouldn’t freeze the hands or feet and cause frostbite. The children were kept in the day care where there were special staff to look after the children and even teach the children some simple numbers. These women were all very at ease leaving their children there.
“Use this to wash.” The person next to the widow said, “This will wash it clean.”
She had the widow go pick some plant ash and put it in the water. In this way, the clothes would be washed clean.
The widow smiled gratefully at the other woman.
When it was time for a break, the women would take out needles and threads to sew their own clothes.
The widow asked softly: “How long have you all been here?”
The women all answered eagerly.
“The outer city is full of outsiders. I have been here for half a year. I used to be in the inner city. Later, when the South Bodhisattva said that the outer city needed people, my family and I came out.”
The widow asked strangely: “Isn’t the inner city better?”
The women laughed: “The inner city is crowded!”
The widow said again: “But there are walls around the inner city……”
There was no wall around the outer city, what if there was danger?
The women also said: “There are guards patrolling every night, and the barracks are also outside. If something happens, the soldiers will be able to come out immediately. It is very safe!”
The widow was finally reassured.
The women then began to ask how she arrived at Gaoyou.
The widow said: “In my hometown, the village head was killed by bandits. We were afraid that the court would send someone to take over the village so we could only flee. There was also no more food at home. If we continued to stay there, we would still have to die.”
The women sighed for a while.
If there was no other choice who would want to travel far away from home to find a new life in a strange place?
The women began to comfort her.
“It’s good to be here. The big lords above never trouble us, nor ask us to pay fees.”
“As long as we work hard, we can find a living, and we women can also have private possessions! Be diligent and you won’t starve!”
“Yes, the benefits for our Laundry Bureau is very good, and we can even get meat during the holidays.”
“If we want anything we can buy it ourselves.”
“They don’t charge us money for sending our children to the daycare.”
After comforting, the women began to teach her:
“The South Bodhisattva is a living god, and you can’t do things that would wrong the South Bodhisattva.”
“Otherwise, the heavens will punish you.”
After working in the Laundry Bureau for seven days and being brainwashed for seven days, the widow became a faithful believer.
The same went for the bachelor, even the son.
The family of three even saved money to buy a small idol statue of the South Bodhisattva.
The carving of the idol was not very good, but for them, this was the best idol they had ever seen.
Lin Yuan was not only their ruler, but also their spiritual leader.
Every refugee who arrived at Gaoyou experienced this baptism.
In modern terms, this was called a personality cult.
Except for Lin Yuan, they did not accept any other leader.
Whatever Lin Yuan said was the truth and taken as divine speech.
When Lin Yuan found out about this, he was in a very complicated mood. He had thought that this phenomenon and people’s fanaticism would gradually fade over time, but now it seemed that there was not only no sign of a decline, but becoming stronger and stronger.
Song Shizhao thought this was a good sign.
“Boss, the time will be ripe next spring.” Song Shizhao was very excited. He had become more and more confident recently. He believed that it was only a matter of time before the great deed would be realized. Although the Red Turban Army was also developing rapidly, however as of now, in terms of scale and popularity they could not be compared with Lin Yuan.
Look at the people who have practically crossed most of the territory of Yuan to Gaoyou. Didn’t this represent the popular support?
Lin Yuan said to Song Shizhao: “Liu Ji, Song Lian, and Luo Guanzhong, have these three responded?”
Song Shizhao hurriedly said: “Song Lian and Luo Guanzhong have sent a letter and are on their way. As for Liu Ji……”
Lin Yuan sighed: “It seems that it is not the time yet.”
Liu Ji was much more proud than Song Lian and Luo Guanzhong, and Lin Yuan also understood this.
Song Shizhao said lowly: “Should I send someone to capture him and bring him over?”
Lin Yuan smiled: “Do you think it’s so easy to capture him? Besides, forced or sincere, which is more useful, you know in your heart.”
Song Shizhao sighed.
“How is the munition preparation?” Lin Yuan called Yang Zi’an over. Yang Zi’an had been in charge of the munition reserve during this time.
The munition included explosives, siege engines, trebuchets, swords, blades, and armour.
They still couldn’t replace all the armour with iron ones, but Lin Yuan had them make a batch of helmets. If the opponent’s weapons were relatively blunt, the attack on the body may not be fatal, but the attack on the unprotected head would be another story.
The helmet could save some people’s lives.
Yang Zi’an sat on the side. He was very tired. He barely slept for several days. He could only drink a sip of strong tea to keep awake. He said to Lin Yuan, “Enough. The food supply can last for two years and the people are re-polishing and refurbishing the weapons. It may not be completely perfect, but they are sharp enough. The production of explosives are also being rushed out these days, and the women haven’t closed their eyes for several days.”
Lin Yuan nodded: “It’s been a hard time for you all during this period.”
Yang Zian shook his head: “Not as hard as you have it, look at your eyes.”
Lin Yuan touched the bags under his eyes.
Sometimes Lin Yuan felt that the Emperor in ancient times was really pitiful. During the day, he was worked like a mule, and at night he had to deal with concubines. Being ridden by the courtiers in the outer court, and when he went back to the inner court he was slept by concubines. Perhaps they themselves were quite happy with their situation.
Sometimes it was much happier to be an incapable king than to be a sage king.
An incapable king could enjoy happiness.
A sage king must bring happiness to others.
Lin Yuan leaned on the chair, but did not dare to close his eyes, for fear that he would fall asleep when he closed them.
“It’ll be fine after this period of time. Next year, we put in a spurt of energy.” Lin Yuan smiled at Yang Zi’an.
Yang Zi’an exhaled a long breath.
“More than four hundred refugees have arrived in the outer city,” Song Shizhao said.
Lin Yuan nodded: “How many people have been arrested recently?”
There were still some people who did not appreciate the peace Lin Yuan bought and committed crimes. Now they were all thrown in prisons.
Song Shizhao: “More than a thousand people.”
Lin Yuan: “Pull them all out to build the city wall.”
Song Shizhao nodded: “The people are a bit few.”
Lin Yuan: “You can also recruit people. Raise the pay for building the city wall higher. Someone will go.”
There must be a city wall, otherwise the outer city would become a sitting duck.
Compared with Gaoyou and Taizhou, the winter in Changshu was not at all pleasant. Rich people could burn charcoal and have meat in all their meals, but ordinary people could barely make ends meet no matter how much work they did.
An Laosi, dressed in silk and pretending to be a merchant, managed to bribe his way in with the senior provincial government official. The prefectural magistrate’s name was Sukhbaru, a Mongolian. After seeing the grains brought by An Laosi he quickly had his servant bring An Laosi to him.
An Laosi pretended to be a merchant from Hangzhou. In addition to food, he also brought fine gold, silver and jade.
By his side he also brought with him a courtesan. This courtesan was Tian Xiang, but now Tian Xiang and An Laosi were working partners, and the two no longer had the same physical relationship as before.
Tian Xiang was responsible for dealing with the females in the inner court of the homes of the officials, and to try to find information from them. But because she was just a courtesan, all she could have contact with were concubines and not the legal wives.
But compared to the legal wife, these concubines knew more.
Because the lords would not bring their wives to certain venues, whereas with the conubines they didn’t have so many apprehensions.
And most of the concubines had no education. They didn’t know what they could say and what they couldn’t to outsiders. With just a little effort from Tian Xiang, they would reveal everything they knew.
On An Laosi’s side, however, it was not as easy prying information out of the lords and officials. In the end, he did not find much useful information.
The two of them would match their information in the room in the middle of the night. Since An Laosi knew how to write he became responsible for relaying the news back.
He had a book in his hand. Different words in this book corresponded to special symbols. He needed to write the letters with these symbols, so that even if the letter was intercepted, no information would be leaked.
If he sensed that something was wrong, all he had to do was just burn the book.
Tian Xiang told An Laosi of the news she had managed to learn that day. After An Laosi wrote the letter, he gave it to his servant. Then he said to Tian Xiang: “Did the South Bodhisattva say anything when he sent you?”
Tian Xiang drank the tea: “South Bodhisattva told me to watch you well, lest you do anything bad.”
An Laosi laughed dryly.
He asked again: “Whatever the result, we were like husband and wife once, can’t you be a little more polite to me?”
Tian Xiang curled her lip: “What is there to be polite to you for?”
An Laosi said lowly: “Then, do you want to be my concubine?”
Tian Xiang’s eyes widened: “In your fantasies. I think you are just a toad wanting to eat the flesh of a swan and don’t have any self-awareness!”
An Laosi quickly said: “It’s just a joke, just a joke, don’t be serious.”
Tian Xiang harrumphed: “Have you inquired into the matter that the South Bodhisattva asked you to inquire about?”
An Laosi sighed, with a troubled look on his face he said: “Those people’s mouths are too tight.”
Tian Xiang: “Useless man.”
Tian Xiang’s eyes wandered and she thought of something: “Next time you will take me with you.”
An Laosi asked strangely: “For what?”
Tian Xiang: “Men, it’s much easier to pry their mouths open on the bed.”
“My dear lady, please don’t mess with me.” An Laosi said helplessly, “If this is known by the South Bodhisattva, a layer of my skin will be flayed.”
Besides, if Tian Xiang managed to pry their mouths, wouldn’t he look like dirt in comparison?
That he was not as capable as a woman?
Unable to pry anything from the lords, An Laosi could only focus on the minor officials below.
Unlike the wealthy big lords, the small officials don’t have much monthly salary. They could only rely on the commoners paying them fees to maintain their dignity and lifestyle. But the commoners were already this poor, and they couldn’t squeeze much out of them even if they wanted to. If there were too many dead people, they still had to take responsibility. As a result, it was rather easy for An Laosi to bribe his way into their good graces.
But they didn’t know much, at least some confidential information could not be found from them.
But they did know the positions of the weapons armory and granary very well. It’s just that they weren’t clear on the distribution of troops that guard these locations.
In addition to this, the biggest gain was that they managed to gain a connection to the government sub-prefect of Changshu.
Unlike the prefectural magistrate, this sub-prefect was a Han Chinese named Jiang Zheng, a man of twenty-five years. He was one of the rare young men who managed to reach such a governmental position at such a young age. Young people were not so vigilant. When he knew that the minor officials under him had received benefits from An Laosi, he had An Laosi brought in front of him.
An Laosi might have difficulty dealing with Sukhbaru, but dealing with such a fellow, who practically had the desire for profit written on his face, it was much simpler. He took a pure gold tea set and another set of jewelry made of fake jade to visit.
When Jiang Zheng saw the pure gold tea set, he couldn’t look away at all.
The sub-prefect was only ranked 6B, and Changshu was one of the Zhongzhou provinces, so the prefectural magistrate in Changshu was ranked 5A (TN: 9 ranking system of officials in which officials are divided into principal (A) and lower (B) ranks, with 9 for both in total). The administrative division of the Yuan Dynasty and the ranking of local officials were divided according to Shangzhou, Zhongzhou, and Xiazhou (TN: provinces divided based on the number of households living in them, with Shangzhou having the most and Xiazhou the least).
Now in Changshu, the prefectural magistrate Sukhbaru was living an extravagant life that ordinary people couldn’t even imagine. Jiang Zheng, who worked under him, naturally saw it all personally, so developing greed and desire for a luxurious life was quite normal.
“Brother An is really capable.” Jiang Zheng gave the set of jade jewelry to his mother, while he kept the gold tea set for himself. Since he received the gift, he never used another tea set again.
An Laosi flattered: “As the saying goes, since ancient times, heroes have come out of youth and I think Sub-Prefect Jiang is a brilliant young man.”
Jiang Zheng smiled and said: “If I had known that we would be such kindred spirits, I would have invited brother An here earlier.”
The two chatted for a while. In the end, Jiang Zheng couldn’t restrain himself first and asked: “Brother An is so generous, don’t know what business you are doing?”
The eyes of An Laosi brightened: “Why? Is Sub-Prefect Jiang also interested? My business is simple. If the Sub-Prefect can help me out in Changshu, we……”
Jiang Zheng didn’t promise anything, but just asked: “The lord magistrate didn’t mention it to you?”
An Laosi: ”The lord magistrate is so busy, how can he be interested in my small business.”
Sukhbaru was smarter than Jiang Zheng. He didn’t take the bait at all. Besides, so long as An Laosi came to do business, he would inevitably send him gifts, so why bother and give himself extra trouble?
Jiang Zheng was different from Sukhbaru. He was not as powerful as Sukhbaru. If he wanted more money, it was of course impossible to seek fees and gifts directly from An Laosi.
Even if he did, could it even be comparable to what was given to Sukhbaru?
An Laosi said: “I do business for the nobles. There are always some nobles who have a hard time now and have to sell their possessions. I buy it for a low price and then……”
Jiang Zheng smiled: “Sell at a high price, but don’t those people know that they are selling at a low price?”
An Laosi blinked at Jiang Zheng and said: “Sub-Prefect doesn’t know it, but An has some face outside, and they have to sell it even if they don’t want to.”
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Jiang Zheng finally became convinced: “Brother An tell me more in detail, so that I can also learn more.”
An Laosi had a smile at the corners of his mouth.
The fish took the bait.
TN: Bonus chapter coming up!
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