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Translator: Fan Translation Studio
During dinner, both Ye Xiaoxian and Tarico were somewhat absent-minded and feeling embarrassed. It was as if they were chewing on cotton rather than food. After the meal, Tarico insisted that he pay the bill and asked if Ye wanted to go shopping. She said she was tired and needed a rest in the inn. So, he could only follow her back.
When they left the restaurant, they didn’t walk side by side. Ye Xiaoxian slowed down her pace on purpose and walked behind him. Tarico thought she was angry and tried to give her some space. On the way back, he was mindful of her mood and protected her subconsciously.
When they had almost reached the inn, his patience finally snapped. He turned around to walk with her shoulder to shoulder and said, “Little Ye, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like me, but I hope we can be friends as usual and strengthen the camel team together. Please don’t avoid me because of this.”
“Sure,” she replied without hesitation. Then, she added, “But I hope you won’t mention this anymore, or we will feel embarrassed again. Only that way can I forget all this and still consider you as my friend.”
Tarico finally sighed with relief. “I can only promise that I won’t mention this again, but I won’t stop liking you. Now that you’ve said you don’t like me, we can get along as before. If you change your mind one day, please let me know. I’ll be always waiting for you!”
Ye Xiaoxian looked bashful and gave him a faint smile. Tarico was merely in his 20s. A man of his age was likely to break such a promise.
Back to the inn, she saw Xiao Baozhu doing accounts on the bed. Since Xiao Baozhu knew how to add up, she was the one to hold the account book. It would be handed over to Squire Liu to check after they went back.
With curiosity, she asked Ye Xiaoxian, “How was it? What did he say? Does he really like you?”
Ye Xiaoxian felt that Xiao Baozhu had grown up a lot and was no longer an ignorant girl, so she told her what had happened.
After hearing it, Xiao Baozhu gave her a look of pity. “Tarico is so pitiful and susceptible. Even though you rejected him, he still doesn’t give up.”
Ye Xiaoxian smiled. “Don’t worry. He will give up. No one can wait for someone else forever. Infatuated men only exist in the stories.”
A sudden mood of melancholy descended on Xiao Baozhu. Her previous life had been miserable because of such romantic stories. Perhaps Ye Xiaoxian was right — all these stories were deceptive.
But somehow, she was envious of Ye Xiaoxian. “Sister Ye, I really envy you. You have admirers and they are all particularly good and responsible men.”
Ye Xiaoxian took off her coat, lay down on the bed and stroked Xiao Baozhu’s hair. “Maybe I’m lucky. But you’re also a good woman, so I believe you can attract a good man. Trust me. One day, you will meet an excellent man who loves you.”
Xiao Baozhu smiled and sighed. “Let’s stop here and sleep. We have to discuss the price of beef jerky with Mr. Cai tomorrow.”
After loading the goods in Beihui city, they returned the same way. But when they came to the edge of the desert, they all became hesitant. Could they really cross the desert without Ji?
After a short while, Tarico, who led the way, turned around and shouted, “Follow me! I can take you home!”
The journey back was unexpectedly smooth. Since the price of beef jerky had increased, their incomes were also higher than before.
Ye Xiaoxian planned to collect fresh beef after getting back. Then, she would hire some locals to make beef jerky of her own brand. Mr. Cai had told her, if she could strengthen her brand, he would help her raise the price even more. Since she hadn’t found any qualified weavers, the cotton was still sold wholesale to Mr. Cai as semi-finished products.
The whole way back, Tarico kept his promise and didn’t mention his affection for her anymore. Ye Xiaoxian kept some distance from him on purpose. Noticing this, he also gave her enough space. When he allocated water to her, he didn’t stay longer with her like last time.
Li Chengru came to visit the tribe in the summer. Some time ago, he had gone back to the capital again to report his work in Baoning city. The emperor, Li Chengkun, had then given him a position in Baoning city lest he make any trouble in the capital. Li Chengkun had sent spies to investigate Baoning city. Li Chengyi was devoted to improving the locals’ living standards and economic development. But this was a hard project, especially when transportation was inconvenient and most people were poor. Without enough money, he couldn’t maintain a strong army.
After going there, Qian Qi’s troops had been largely demobilized and didn’t pose any threat to Li Chengkun’s authority. Now, Li Chengkun put his mind to handling the ministers who had opposed him before to sit tight on his throne.
Li Chengru came to the tribe for inspections and also to visit his one-time fellow sufferers. He had also been concerned about Ye Xiaoxian. When he arrived, the camel team had just arrived back. He also met Squire Liu who had happened to go out to purchase materials.
Squire Liu told him how everything had been recently. Li Chengru had thought they would get injured in the desert or lose one or two camels. But to his surprise, they were all safe and not a single camel had been lost. As he felt relieved, he believed they could do a lot of good business.
The summer in the tribe was pleasant with cool mountain breezes and rivers flowing with molten ice and snow. There was greenery everywhere in this fairy-tale landscape. It was in such scenery that Li Chengru found Ye Xiaoxian. She was working with a local butcher. The butcher cut the beef and she seasoned it. Near them were a few wooden racks covered with hanging seasoned beef. Usually, autumn was the best season to dry jerky. But it was arid with strong ultraviolet light here in all seasons, so they could also dry the meat in the summer. As the wind blew, the strips of beef swayed irregularly.
Seeing Li Chengru, Ye Xiaoxian greeted him with a smile. “Hey, Your Highness, are you here for inspections?”
He dismounted the horse and crossed his arms. “All the people bow and kowtow to me wherever I go. Only you don’t treat me as a king.”
She waved her hands that were covered in seasoning. “It’s not convenient for me. Please forgive me, Your Highness.”
“I can’t reason with you peasants.”
He should have felt disgusted at the sight of such hands. But their owner was Ye Xiaoxian who had the vigor of life that he lacked. “Is there any pre-prepared beef?” he asked.
She pointed at the yurt. “Right inside there. Just help yourself.”
He then walked inside to grab a handful of beef jerky and gave some to Fengsheng. He ate as he went out and said, “I met Squire Liu at the base of the mountain. He said you’re doing well with the transportation team and developing your own brand of beef jerky.”
Ye Xiaoxian said, “Yes. After this, we will make dairy products, dried fruit and so on. Since this place is rich in cotton, I also want to hire people to weave, but I haven’t found any skillful ones. If only we could make the cotton into beautiful cloth before selling it!”
Li Chengru didn’t answer, seemingly in deep thought.
“What are you thinking about?” She was curious.
He asked, “How many cows do you slaughter a day?”
“Can you manage it? Can other people do this?”
“Sure. I hold the formula in my head. I can make the seasoning by myself and teach a few people how to make the beef.”
“What about the dried fruit?”
“It’s the same.”
“So the only problem is weaving? You can’t make the cotton into pretty cloth?” he asked.
She nodded, not knowing what was on his mind.
He took a large bite of the beef and said, “I have a bold idea.”
“Oh?” She looked at him with interest. “What is it?”
He smiled. “I want you to follow me to meet my sixth brother!”
It was Ye Xiaoxian’s second time visiting Baoning city. It was much bigger and more prosperous than before. The palace had also been expanded, though it maintained its low-key style.
Li Chengyi was as gentle as before. With many things to worry about, he looked somewhat tired and had obvious smile lines on his face. This time, he exempted Ye Xiaoxian from kneeling. He entertained her with tea and snacks, and even called his wife out.
Ye Xiaoxian had thought the ancient concubines were all good-looking, but Li Chengyi’s wife had a plain face. However, she excelled in her grace and amiability.
The conversation started with Xiao Baofeng’s studies. “Your brother is indeed a talent in academia. He is not only gifted but also diligent. Several days ago, I met him and tested him. Then, I found that he could recite the Five Classics (five pre-Qin Chinese books that form part of the traditional Confucian canon). More importantly, he has his own way of thinking. As I see, he can be a cultivated talent within two years.”
“Your Highness, you give him too much praise. It’s thanks to the teacher,” Ye Xiaoxian said politely. She had been cautious since entering the palace. After all, she couldn’t treat the Sixth King with the same attitude as she did with Li Chengru.
Li Chengyi laughed and then talked about her business. “Chengru told me that your camel team is a great success. It’s not easy to carry so many goods across the desert. You’ve done such a good job!”
She was not used to such a compliment. Has he won his followers’ loyalty through such generous praising?
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