Ch104 - Coalesce
"Has estate’s Yellow Register been compiled?" Liang Feng asked, flipping through the thick, hefty book in front of him.
After restructuring the military system, Duan Qin had put all his efforts into tackling civil affairs. The first thing he had to do, of course, was to count and record the estate’s population and farm acreage. In a province or commandery, this would be known as "household registration." Most of the commoners in the Liang Estate weren’t the kind that could get on the official register, they were invisible households through and through. So, Liang Feng called it the Yellow Register instead.
"Yes." Though he seemed to have gotten paler and thinner, Duan Qin’s spirits were better than ever, "Last year, the estate took in a total of three hundred and ten refugee families, adding up to nine hundred and seventy-three people. Including the estate’s original serf population, there are more than four hundred households in total."
That was truly a daunting number. In fact, the population was dwindling in every province and commandery; a larger county only had about a thousand households, and a smaller one barely five hundred. The Liang Estate’s population was enough for it to become a county in itself. Thank goodness that the refugees had come gradually. Most of them had arrived in time for last year’s summer planting season and had reaped a plentiful harvest from the barren lands they’d cultivated. Without the profits gained from selling porcelain, paper, and books, and the spoils of war from the few large battles they’d fought, feeding so many people would’ve been impossible.
However, the situation now was different from last year. These refugees hadn’t a moment of idleness, for they were being used to plough out more farmland. The two villages that had given him their allegiance had fully restored their surrounding farmlands; all of which counted as the Liang Estate’s private property. The output of the fields alone was enough to support all the serfs and peasants.
"Still, the size of the militia is somewhat disproportionate. Presently, there are two hundred in the main forces and five hundred in the auxiliary forces. Most of the estate’s young workforce are among their numbers. The grain that the estate collects from the summer harvest will be significantly decreased," Duan Qin said.
That was an unavoidable consequence of awarding military merit with land. Just the main force’s military fields cost them a hundred households’ worth of tax revenue. The estate likely collected land tax on less than half of their farmlands. These taxes had to pay for the military and the craftsmen, and the future costs of expanding production – it wasn’t enough, no matter how you looked at it.
That was the military-first policy – the military came first in all things. That the commoners under his governance weren’t so miserable as when Cao Wei established military fields, given the current circumstances, was already a testament to how well he ran the estate. Liang Feng smiled wryly, "Rong-er and I couldn’t use that much anyway, so it’s better to prioritize the needs of the commoners and soldiers."
That was another quality that Duan Qin admired most about his lord. Though he was an archetypal noble, he was provident to a degree beyond the conception of most people. He used only enough food to eat, only enough clothes to wear, and used no luxury goods. He rarely touched the Scripture Paper the estate produced, using coarse hemp paper instead to keep records. His daily expenditures might be less than those of ignoble gentries.
Whereas, it was different when it came to the people he governed. Setting aside the estate’s militia, even the refugees they took in lived more comfortably than those in Gaodu. That was how everyone in the Liang Estate could be of one heart. His ascetic moderation and incredible generosity really were the sign of a wise ruler.
Though, while his lord was indeed a good lord, they really were hard up on money and grain. Duan Qin nodded, "You are benevolent, my lord. Although, this will make it difficult for the Liang Estate to make new acquisitions. Another fifty oxen are needed in order to continue reclaiming wasteland."
The mere mention of money made Liang Feng’s teeth ache, "As the summer harvest has yet to come, grain prices are at their peak. We won’t be able to trade for much grain, so we may as well trade for cows instead. The clayworks’ newest batch of porcelain will be exchanged for bronze and iron to supply the metalworks to hasten weapons manufacture."
Having the ability to produce equipment themselves was saving them a considerable amount already, but they still needed large amounts of raw materials. The mines nominally belonged to the country, though, in truth, they were controlled by the nobles and aristocrats. That, and the years of war, meant the black market was somewhat flourishing. Even so, obtaining them was quite a hassle. They had to first trade ceramic for silk, then trade silk for ore; it was safer that way.
Crlvf ogbw afjglcu vbkc atf fjra kjii ab qjamt atf kfra kjii, atfs tjv cb yfaafg bqalbcr. Gejc Hlc wjvf cbaf bo la lc tlr wlcv, jcv mbcalcefv, "Cirb, atf weiyfggs bgmtjgvr slfivfv j glmt tjgnfra atlr rqglcu, yea atf frajaf vbfrc’a tjnf jcs rlix ojgwfgr. P’w jogjlv kf’ii tjnf ab rfii atf weiyfggs ifjnfr obg rlix."
Textiles were a profitable business as well, and after taking in so many refugees, he had to find a way to utilize these human resources to their fullest extent. Liang Feng nodded, "I’ve ordered the woodworks to see if they can make improvements to the loom. If they succeed, that’ll be another massive source of income. After thinking it over, I still feel that things like waterwheels and looms must not be exposed. Making money won’t be easy…."
"Currently, luxury goods are most valuable; for example, wine, brocade, porcelain, lazuli, or spices. We can sell them to wealthy aristocrats, if not for grain, then for silver and silk; they are immensely profitable. The estate has white porcelain already. If we could produce another, it will be enough to support our expenses," Duan Qin answered.
The Jin people’s tendency towards extravagance was an example set at the top and followed by the bottom. Back in the day, after extinguishing Eastern Wu, Emperor Wu selected thousands of palace maids from the Wu royal palace to add to his harem, which, at one point, had more than ten thousand beauties. Then, he allowed relatives and favored subjects to frivolously waste money; decadence became all the rage. Now, although battles had raged for decades already, most of the aristocracy kept to their peacetime habits. Their liking for extravagance and entertainment surpassed all else.
"We can’t make grain alcohol, but we can try making fruit-based wine. There are quite a few fruit orchards in the mountains. Let us see if we can brew plum wine first. As for lazuli, that too is worth a try," Liang Feng said, after weighing his options.
Grain alcohol could be distilled into highly concentrated ethanol, and was rather profitable. But as the lands were wracked with chaos, everyone, everywhere, lacked grain. If brewing wine with grain caused a food shortage, they wouldn’t be able to make up for it. Fruit wine didn’t have that issue. With all the mountains here, he could simply open up a few more fruit orchards to see if they could brew a flavorful fruit wine.
As for lazuli, that was actually medieval glassware. Beginning from the Han Dynasty, China began importing lazuli from foreign kingdoms. Emperor Wu’s son-in-law, Wang Ji, had used lazuli-made dishware. And there was the King of Wu, Sun Liang; it was said that he had a folding screen made of lazuli. Lazuli was the very symbol of status and opulence, its price was even more exorbitant than that of jade and porcelain.
To others, lazuli was priceless; to Liang Feng, it was just some silicon dioxide. People in this era just hadn’t had the technological prowess. Now that they had bellows and high-temperature furnaces, they really could give it a shot.
Duan Qin startled at his words, he’d thought his lord’s order to improve the loom meant that he would branch out into textiles! Frankly, the brocade industry in the north was very advanced. Even Zuo Si had praised, "embroidered brocade in Xiangyi; silk gauze in Zhaoge; silk floss in houses; thick silk in Qinghe." There were many excellent weavers in the Si, Ji, and Yan provinces. Collecting them all in the midst of all this disorder and putting them to work would rake in money as well. Who could’ve thought that his lord would speak of lazuli first. That wasn’t something that just anyone could make!
But Liang Feng’s considerations weren’t so simple. The price of lazuli was secondary, most importantly, they could be made into lenses. If they could make military-use spyglasses, it would improve their chances of victory in battle. Know yourself and know thy enemy to win a hundred battles after all.
"Thus, the clayworks will be making more than just pottery. It seems time to divide them by their work. Woodworks for agriculture, ironworks for military equipment, clayworks for export trade. The workshops must be integrated, and the personnel reallocated, to straighten out the system." Liang Feng had a rough idea already in his mind. Aside from the paperworks and bookworks, the other workshops’ strategic importance was much greater now, than at their foundation. Of course he had to do some restructuring.
Seeing Liang Feng’s casual confidence, Duan Qin couldn’t help but sigh in his heart. Who could’ve thought a noble could have such a knack for business? But even these lowly trades might be part of a country’s bedrock. Without Guan Zhong, from whence comes Qi, first of the Five Hegemons? Without Fan Li, how could have the King of Yue restored his kingdom?
As long as it was used appropriately, it was an invaluable skill! Duan Qin bowed gladly, and said, "As you command, my lord!"
"General, rumors of hauntings have started coming from Jinyong City again. Commoner Yang begs the general to move her to another residence…"
His subordinate’s quiet report sent a cold shiver down the defender general of the right, Chen Zhen’s spine. Hauntings in Jinyong City? He didn’t doubt it at all. Beginning with Empress Dowager Yang, so many princes, dukes, and nobles had been relegated to prisoners, whereupon they would either die or be imprisoned in this cold palace. The one who’d only just died tragically, he’d been burned alive. As his screams echoed to the skies, even the soldiers under the culprit’s command shed tears for him.
How was it possible to not be afraid, staying in a forbidden city like this? Commoner Yang had once been the empress. She didn’t deserve this misfortune, even if she’d been deposed by the imperial brother-heir.
"I will write a memorial to the emperor, to plead for Commoner Yang to be moved to another palace," Chen Zhen finally agreed. As he was still a subject of the emperor, there was no cause for him to feel trepidation when he saw the former empress.
Luoyang was far from what it used to be. After Zhang Fang had looted the imperial palaces, the city that had already been ravaged by war and famine became even more desolate. The imperial brother-heir Sima Ying, long since sick of this imperial city, returned to Ye City. Left behind, were only the imperial court’s vicious hounds, and the worrisome aftermath.
Was someone so craven as Sima Ying really going to ascend the throne? Chen Zhen couldn’t convince himself, didn’t want to be a part of their wretched depravity. Of the "Fellowship of Twenty-Four of Gold Valley," back then, over half of them were dead now. Shi Chong, Pan Yue, the Lu brothers, all these elegant talents gone, like withered flowers, carried away by the river of time. While he was trapped within this broken city, with no release in sight.
If only someone could break the surface of these dead waters! At least, show Sima Ying that, in the court, there were still people who were truly loyal to this country!
But even Chen Zhen himself hadn’t expected that the opportunity would come so soon!
He disembarked the ox carriage, and was approached by a man, "General Chen, I trust you are well?"
Chen Zhen lurched, then hurriedly bowed, "I daren’t let you welcome me personally, Prince of Donghai…"
Before he could finish, Sima Yue supported him by the arm, "The Fellowship of Twenty-Four is famed throughout the world; I have long admired them. There’s no need for such courtesy, General."
Everyone knew that the Prince of Donghai admired famous scholars. And it had been so, so long since anyone had brought up the "Fellowship of Twenty-Four" in Chen Zhen’s presence. His eyes grew misty as he followed Sima Yue into the side hall.
Once inside, Chen Zhen realized there was another guest, his face gaunt and his expression gloomy, it was the Prince of Changsha’s general, Shangguan Si. Not expecting to meet him at the Prince of Donghai’s residence, Chen Zhen’s heart palpitated; he glanced towards the main seat.
Indeed, Sima Yue rested his hands on his knees and sighed, "I couldn’t have imagined that Shidu would die so unconscionably. That reprobate, Zhang Fang, is especially mad, no better than a beast! His name is appalling to the ear! To think that a jackal like him is one of the Prince of Hejian’s great generals, how terrible, how frightening! The Prince of Chengdu’s willfulness has already made a mess of order in the court. If this continues, the country will be no more! I summoned the two of you here to discuss this matter…"
Upon hearing his words, two trails of tears seeped from Shangguan Si’s eyes, "The General-in-Chief was persecuted by that Zhang-surnamed scoundrel, but to my shame, I could not avenge his death. I and all my commanders will heed your orders!"
Goodness, it really was so! Chen Zhen started, and knew what trouble he’d run into. This was the makings of a rebellion to wipe out the treacherous subjects!
Then Sima Yue said approvingly, "Seeking justice for Shidu is my wish as well. Furthermore, we should restore Empress Yang and Crown Prince Tan to their positions and do away with all the treacherous factions by the emperor’s side, to bring peace to the hearts of all people under heaven! Have you any opinions, General Chen?"
When Sima Yue addressed him, his eyes full of hopefulness and anticipation, a blaze of impulsiveness came over Chen Zhen, "I will serve the emperor!"
That’s right, so what if he’d once been allied with Jia Mi? He was still commander of the emperor’s guards, a loyal general whose whole heart was dedicated to this country! The moment the Prince of Donghai raised his banner, the Prince of Chengdu’s mutinous troops would surely be suppressed, and order would be restored to the world!
Sima Yue nodded gladly at Chen Zhen’s fire and indignation. This was exactly the result he’d wanted! He’d previously followed the emperor valet’s advice to not personally dispose of Sima Ai, and to use Zhang Fang as a sharpened knife to sever all his troubles; it had been an excellent move. Now, all of Sima Ai’s former subordinates hated Zhang Fang to the core. They only needed a bit of riling to become a powerful force. And with the defender general of the right, Chen Zhen, seizing Luoyang would be easy!
Plus, these weren’t the whole of his cards. As he silently schemed, Sima Yue put on a reminiscing smile, "With your aid, success is in sight! Once the preparations are complete, we shall do as so…"