After waking up, Zhan Shaoning had already forgotten what he said the previous night.
When he learned that Yuan Li had entrusted him with a task, he was quite happy.
It allowed him to prove his abilities and stand tall when being taken in by others.

He was full of energy and eager to prove that he wasn’t just here to freeload and have a free meal.
On the same day, he took Xiao Ce and went out.

Liu Jixin and Wu Kai naturally accompanied them.

Zhan Shaoning was good at dealing with people.
In less than ten days, he had already established brotherly relationships with many influential landlords in Jixian.
With less money than Yuan Li had planned, he successfully purchased enough medicine and excellently fulfilled Yuan Li’s instructions.

At the same time, everything they did and said daily was reported to Yuan Li.

Just as Yuan Li’s worst suspicions suggested, while it seemed like Zhan Shaoning was the one in control, it was actually Xiao Ce who held the reins.

Whenever Zhan Shaoning made a decision, Xiao Ce would gently inquire, “Are you sure you want to do this, young master?”

As soon as he was asked this, Zhan Shaoning began to doubt himself, hesitating and seeking advice from Xiao Ce, “Uncle Xiao, if you were in my position, what would you do?”

A true chief advisor wouldn’t treat Zhan Shaoning like a puppet.

Zhao Ying also brought news obtained through bribes to Zhan Shaoning’s subordinates.

These remaining fifty or so subordinates were originally the private soldiers of the Zhan family.
However, during their escape, Xiao Ce’s ingenious plans helped them avoid crises time and time again, gradually gaining their loyalty.
Compared to following Zhan Shaoning’s orders, they found Xiao Ce’s words more convincing.

In the memories of the subordinates, during the initial escape, Xiao Ce had repeatedly questioned and dismissed Zhan Shaoning’s judgments, which made Zhan Shaoning indecisive.
After losing dozens of men in a crisis, Zhan Shaoning no longer made decisions alone and fully obeyed Xiao Ce’s words.

Upon learning of this, Yuan Li instantly made up his mind.

Xiao Ce was indeed dangerous.
It would be fine if he didn’t stay behind in Yuan Li’s territory, but now he intended to stay in Jixian with Zhan Shaoning.
Such an ambitious and extreme individual, who wanted to control the master and act in an extreme manner, could not be allowed to stay.

However, Yuan Li was about to leave Jixian and didn’t have time to neatly and quietly deal with Xiao Ce, nor was it appropriate to directly confront him through Zhan Shaoning.
He also didn’t have time to explain to Zhan Shaoning.
Zhan Shaoning had only been in Jixian for ten days and now trusted Xiao Ce, relying on him even more than on Yuan Li.
Expressing his concerns to Zhan Shaoning recklessly would not yield good results.

Therefore, before leaving Jixian, Yuan Li planned to warn Xiao Ce, preventing him from causing trouble in the rear.

The night before going to the battlefield, Yuan Li held a banquet at the Chu Wang Mansion to express gratitude to Zhan Shaoning for his arrival and for procuring the medicinal materials.

During the banquet, everyone sang and danced, enjoying themselves.

Midway through the banquet, Yuan Li suddenly raised his cup and loudly thanked Xiao Ce, “I thank Mr.
Xiao for escorting Zhan Shaoning to Youzhou.
It is thanks to your efforts that Zhan Shaoning, such a talented individual, was not lost to misfortune and came to assist me by my side.
This is my good fortune and Youzhou’s good fortune.”

Zhan Shaoning’s face turned red as he was praised, feeling a bit embarrassed as he scratched his head.

Xiao Ce raised his cup and stood up, speaking confidently, “Escorting the young master to avoid misfortune is indeed my duty.
Although the young master may be impulsive at times, he is talented and will surely become a great general in the future! I am grateful to Young Master Yuan for not abandoning him.
I ask Young Master Yuan to provide guidance to the young master.
Thank you, Young Master Yuan.”

After speaking, Xiao Ce lifted his cup and drank it all at once.

Upon hearing this, Zhan Shaoning’s recently flushed face turned pale again.

Yuan Li chuckled softly and said, “You, strategist, is quite peculiar.
Judging by your tone, it seems as though Zhan Shaoning is not your master, but rather your nephew.”

Zhan Shaoning nodded involuntarily and said, “Yuan Li, Xiao Ce and I have always had a good relationship.
I regard him as a family member.”

“That’s not good, not good,” Liu Jixin stood up, laughing heartily and shaking his head.
“Young Master Zhan Shaoning, you don’t understand! As advisors, we dare not position ourselves as the elders of the family.
Our greatest aspiration is not to be your seniors, but to be trusted subordinates who earn your respect.”

Liu Jixin looked at Xiao Ce beside him and said, “Brother Li Mou, am I right?”

A glimmer flashed in Xiao Ce’s eyes, and he replied, “Brother Chang Yue’s words resonate with my thoughts.”

Zhan Shaoning was stunned, then fell into contemplation.

Seizing the opportunity, Yuan Li asked, “Zhan Shaoning, how are you planning to arrange your subordinates?”

Zhan Shaoning instinctively looked towards Xiao Ce, but Yuan Li spoke up in time, saying, “These people have worked hard to escort you all the way.
Zhan Shaoning, as their lord, you should properly arrange for them.”

After being reminded, Zhan Shaoning couldn’t recall looking at Xiao Ce.
It had been a long time since he made decisions on his own, and he nervously licked his lips, tentatively saying, “Yuan Li, I want them to join your forces and train together with your troops.
What do you think?”

“Of course, that can be arranged,” Yuan Li nodded in agreement.
“Zhan Shaoning, if you want them to familiarize themselves with Jixian as soon as possible, can I disperse them and assign them to different positions? Otherwise, if they stick together for too long, it might lead to conflicts.”

Zhan Shaoning nodded repeatedly, grateful as he looked at Yuan Li.
“Yuan Li, you’re really kind.”

Yuan Li smiled faintly, his gaze shifting towards Xiao Ce.

Before Xiao Ce had a chance to say anything, Zhan Shaoning and Yuan Li had already made their decision.
Xiao Ce’s eyebrows furrowed briefly, but he quickly concealed any trace of emotion, making it difficult to tell whether he was pleased or upset.

During the rest of the banquet, Liu Jixin kept persuading Xiao Ce to drink, reciting various poems and literary allusions that were hard to resist.
After the banquet ended, Xiao Ce was already quite drunk, feeling a bit dizzy.

He bid farewell to Yuan Li and Zhan Shaoning with the others, rubbing his temple as he walked towards his room.
However, his vision became increasingly blurry, making it difficult for Xiao Ce to see the way.

Doubts flashed through Xiao Ce’s mind.

Could the wine really have such a strong aftereffect?

But before he could ponder further, his mind became even more muddled.
Xiao Ce stumbled and staggered, unknowingly walking onto a dilapidated bridge.
It felt as if he stepped on something under his foot or was pushed from behind, causing him to fall straight off the bridge.

Intense pain struck him, and Xiao Ce instantly lost consciousness.

The next day.

Zhan Shaoning bid farewell to Yuan Li outside the mansion, his eyes red.

Yuan Li patted his shoulder, sighed, and reassured him, “Don’t worry, Mr.
Xiao will recover.”

Last night, Xiao Ce, while drunk, passed by the dilapidated bridge on his way back to his room.
Unfortunately, he accidentally tripped and fell off the bridge into the dry mud below, breaking his leg.
He was only discovered by the servants who were sweeping in the early morning and was carried back into his room.

When Zhan Shaoning heard about this incident, apart from feeling saddened, he also found it somewhat amusing.

Zhan Shaoning had heard a few jokes in the past about people breaking their legs while drunk, but he never expected it to happen to the usually intelligent and alert Xiao Ce…

This kind of irony even diluted Zhan Shaoning’s worries, leaving him feeling both amused and helpless.

Yuan Li encouraged him, “Zhan Shaoning, now that Mr.
Xiao has broken his leg, you must take good care of him.
He is severely injured and needs rest.
It will be laborious for you to handle everything, so try not to disturb Mr.
Xiao during his recovery.”

Zhan Shaoning took a deep breath and patted his chest, saying, “Yuan Li, rest assured, I will take good care of Uncle Xiao and make sure not to bother him.
Even if Xiao Ce is not by my side, I will certainly take care of the Chu Wang Mansion for you.”

Yuan Li was extremely relieved and raised his hand to give him a fist bump.
“That’s settled then!”

With that, Yuan Li mounted his horse, waved to Zhan Shaoning with a smile, and gradually rode away with his five hundred-strong entourage.

A few days later, Yuan Li finally arrived in Zhuolu County of Shanggu Commandery.

The scouts had already detected their movements and reported back to Chu Hechao and the others.
When Yuan Li arrived at the military camp, he saw Yang Zhongfa and He Lang eagerly waiting outside the camp.

Seeing the figure of Yuan Li and his entourage, the two men’s eyes lit up, and they eagerly ran forward.
“Young Master Yuan, you’ve finally returned! We’ve missed you so much!”

Yuan Li dismounted from his horse, his robe fluttering with a handsome curve.
He joked, “Are you missing us, the people, or the things we brought back?”

Yang Zhongfa replied with certainty, “The people, of course! You have no idea how many times the General has mentioned you during the days you were away!”

Yuan Li feigned surprise and then looked around, pretending to be puzzled.
“Then why, now that I’m back, hasn’t the General come to greet me?”

Yang Zhongfa chuckled and said, “The General will come later, he’ll be here soon.”

After speaking, he cautiously asked, “Did anything unpleasant happen on your journey, Young Master Yuan? How is your mood today?”

Yuan Li was puzzled by the question.
“Nothing unpleasant happened, and I’m feeling quite good today.
Lord Yang, why do you ask?”

He Lang placed his hand on Yuan Li’s shoulder and said in a familiar tone, “No worries, Lord Yang was just curious about why you arrived so late.
He was concerned that you might have encountered something on the way.
By the way, Young Master Yuan, how is Jixian now? Since I arrived in the Northern Frontier, I haven’t had the chance to visit the General’s fiefdom, not even stepping foot inside the Chu Wang Mansion…”

While He Lang and Yuan Li were talking, Yang Zhongfa quickly beckoned a soldier over and whispered to him, “Go and tell the General that Young Master Yuan is in a very good mood today.”

The group of people surrounded Yuan Li and walked towards the camp.
He Lang smiled and said, “Seeing the figure of Young Master Yuan’s convoy from afar, I know you must be hungry after a day’s journey.
The army has prepared a meal for you.
Please enjoy it to your heart’s content.”

Yuan Li half-jokingly said, “Aren’t you all being too enthusiastic towards me today?”

Yang Zhongfa quickly replied, “It’s just a welcome gesture for you to relax and refresh.”

Yuan Li looked at Yang Zhongfa with suspicion, then glanced at He Lang.
“Lord He, what about you all…”

He Lang suddenly buried his head into Yuan Li’s shoulder and took a deep sniff, interrupting Yuan Li’s words.
“No wonder I’ve been smelling a fragrance since just now.
It must be the scent on Young Master Yuan’s clothes.
Did you wash your clothes with that scented soap, Young Master Yuan? I really love this scent.
Please, I beg you, Young Master Yuan, can you give me a bar of scented soap too?”

After speaking, He Lang lowered his head to take another sniff, wondering to himself, it’s really strange, how come Yuan Li smells so good even though we’ve been on the road together?

Yuan Li looked helpless.

In the hot summer, after a long journey, their whole group smelled terrible.
They managed to clean themselves roughly with water from a nearby resting place last night, and Yuan Li even changed into clean clothes.

If it weren’t for last night, Yuan Li would probably smell so bad that even He Lang couldn’t bear it.


Another familiar voice sounded coldly.

He Lang was startled and immediately lifted his head, releasing Yuan Li and adopting a righteous expression.
“General, I didn’t say anything.”

Yuan Li suppressed his laughter and turned to look at Chu Hechao.

Chu Hechao wasn’t wearing armor, probably because it was too hot.
He only had a dark-colored shirt on, with his long sleeves casually rolled up to his elbows, revealing his well-built, tanned forearms.
His handsome face was slightly damp with sweat and he looked somewhat displeased as he glanced at He Lang.

Yuan Li was also hot, but when he saw Chu Hechao, he could feel that Chu Hechao was even hotter than him.
Sweat had already soaked several areas of Chu Hechao’s clothes, creating darker patches.

Chu Hechao’s gaze quickly swept over Yuan Li’s body, and Yuan Li smiled at him.
With his rosy lips and white teeth, he stood out among the grimy generals and soldiers.

Seeing that Chu Hechao remained silent, He Lang awkwardly said, “General, I was just joking with Young Master Yuan.”

Chu Hechao didn’t dwell on it and turned around, saying, “Come here.”

As Chu Hechao turned around, Yuan Li noticed that the back of his clothes was even more soaked.
The fabric from his neck to his lower back was drenched with sweat, clinging to his body in wrinkles.
Below his waist were long legs and a firm buttock, with his boots tightly wrapped around his calves, exuding an intimidating force.
One kick from him could probably kill a person instantly.

Chu Hechao suddenly turned around, his gaze fixed on Yuan Li.
“What are you looking at?”

Yuan Li raised his head, unable to say it directly.
“Nothing, just looking.”

Chu Hechao stared at him for a while, then suddenly grinned.
He leisurely walked up to Yuan Li, lazily standing still.
His tall figure seemed sculpted, and a hint of rogue charm emerged.
“If Sister-in-law likes to look, just say so.
I’ll stand still, and you can freely gaze to your heart’s content.”

His jaw tightened, and sweat beads dripped from his neck, as he teased, “After all, I know that Sister-in-law can’t grow up to be as handsome as me, so it’s natural to feel a hint of envy.”

Yuan Li hesitated, then honestly said, “General, your boots have a rip.”

Chu Hechao: “…”

He instinctively looked down and indeed saw a hole in his boots.
Chu Hechao’s face darkened, and when he looked up again, he saw the corners of Yuan Li’s mouth curling up.

Chu Hechao: “…Is it amusing, Sister-in-law?”

“How could it be?” Yuan Li coughed and suppressed his laughter.
“General, you live a frugal life, devoting yourself to the country and the people.
Your humble state is only worthy of my admiration.
How could I find it amusing?”

Chu Hechao’s expression changed back and forth.
He probably felt a little embarrassed, and Yuan Li savored every moment of his changing facial expressions.
Suddenly, Chu Hechao’s expression softened, and his voice became gentler.
“It’s nothing.
If it makes Sister-in-law a little happier, then my embarrassment is worth it.”

After saying this, Yuan Li’s smile froze, feeling somewhat creepy, and he couldn’t laugh anymore.

The group arrived inside the tent.
As they entered, the sun was blocked outside, providing some relief from the scorching heat and restlessness.

The food was already prepared in the tent.
The meals in the military were rough and lacked refinement, but everyone there was accustomed to it.
They sat down and picked up their chopsticks to eat.

Yuan Li didn’t have much appetite and stopped eating after a few bites.

As soon as he stopped, Chu Hechao also stopped, and then everyone else put down their chopsticks.

Yuan Li’s eyelid twitched, sensing that something was not right.

“General, I’m feeling a bit tired and would like to rest…” Yuan Li began to push the table and get up.

“Sister-in-law,” Chu Hechao spoke in a low voice, promptly stopping him.
“There’s something I want to discuss with you.”

Yuan Li took a deep breath and sat back down, turning to look at him.
“What is it?”

Chu Hechao’s expression became subtle, as if he had trouble finding the right words.
He glanced at Yang Zhongfa and He Lang.

While Yang Zhongfa was contemplating how to speak, He Lang spoke up, “Young Master Yuan, we’re running out of provisions in our army.”

Yuan Li was greatly shocked.
“How is that possible? The food that was transported here earlier should be enough for our 20,000 troops for another two months!”

He Lang blurted out the whole story under Yuan Li’s stern gaze.
“The weather has become increasingly hot, and once soldiers are injured, their chances of survival are slim.
The General noticed that the stored rice in Zhuolu County was almost depleted, so he used the shortage of provisions as a reason to persuade the Zhuolu Army to surrender.
Some members of the Zhuolu Army couldn’t bear it and indeed opened the city gates for us.
However, the situation inside Zhuolu County is extremely dire.
Apart from the Zhuolu Army, the common people have already starved to death in large numbers.
The General used the army’s provisions to provide relief to these people.
At this moment, they are still distributing porridge in Zhuolu County.”

He Lang had been serving under Chu Hechao for two years.
They had witnessed not only the starvation of two-thirds of the population but also the complete annihilation of entire cities.
However, they had never taken a single grain of food for themselves.

The reason was simple—they didn’t have enough provisions for themselves.

Chu Hechao’s army had strict military regulations, unlike other armies.
Other armies would seize spoils of war and loot entire cities to sustain themselves.
But they had never looted cities or their people.
Their provisions for military operations were meager, relying solely on the imperial army’s funding, let alone providing relief to others.

However, this time, He Lang witnessed Chu Hechao confidently bring out large quantities of food to surrender to the enemy and provide relief to the people.
The sight of those carts of provisions being sent to Zhuolu County made He Lang’s heart tremble.

Oh my goodness, what drove the General to do something so irrational?

He only understood when he saw Yuan Li return.

Oh, it was because the General had a “God of Wealth” as his sister-in-law supporting him.

Yuan Li listened quietly, showing no emotion on his face, but he felt a huge sigh of relief in his heart.
Zhuolu County was in Youzhou, and its people were also people of Youzhou.
For the sake of stabilizing Youzhou, even if Chu Hechao hadn’t done this, Yuan Li would have taken care of the people who had suffered under the Zhuolu Army.

He thought it was something bad, but it turned out to be this.
This method, which both avoided casualties on their side and provided relief to the people, brought comfort to Yuan Li.
The attitude of these people almost startled him.

“So, how much food did the General distribute? How much is left?” Yuan Li relaxed, lifted his water cup, took a sip, and casually asked.

Chu Hechao’s expression remained unchanged, but his gaze flickered for a moment.
He concisely replied, “Half a month’s worth of provisions remaining.”

Yuan Li spurted out a mouthful of water with a “pfft.” 


Half a month?!

He looked at Chu Hechao in disbelief.

Chu Hechao, you truly are a “spendthrift”!

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