As soon as they heard it, they were both taken aback but also somewhat unsurprised. Those individuals never gave off a good vibe from the start, so it seemed only natural that they had served time in prison.

Zhou Chengkang inquired once more, "What led to your imprisonment? Did you end up in the clink together?"

"No," the person saw the stick in Chengkang's hand and promptly replied, "Some of them were bandits that were captured, and they just stood aside to cheer. I just stole something and got in there, and happened to come out the same day as them. I heard from the Third Brother that there was a place to go where there would be food, so I followed him here."

The Third Brother he mentioned should be that guy named Sangou. "How did Sangou know to come to our village?" Zhou Chengkang asked.

"We met the father and son of the Yang family who happened to live next door, and they picked us up from the county."

The father and son from the Yang family?

Those who could be released shouldn't be the worst of the worst, like Zhao Tianfu, who was sentenced to over ten years for breaking into someone's house. These people were all quite young and should be petty thieves. Li Qinghe frowned, "You're used to stealing and committing petty crimes. Why would you be willing to help them with their work?"

"The narrative we were fed prior to our arrival here was quite different. Third Brother said that the Yang family's father and son had deceived him. They promised to pick us up and help us seek refuge, but we didn't expect the Xu family to trick us. They claimed that all they required was our assistance and discretion, but it turned out they were exploiting our labor. They're tightwads who wouldn't even deign to offer us meat for half a year, yet now they want us to work for them. The Third Brother pledged to liberate us, but once we arrived, we found ourselves trapped. The Xu kid threatened to accuse us of theft if we dared to flee. We've all been to jail, so if anyone accuses us of stealing, outsiders will believe it without question. It's a filthy business, and it's difficult to explain. He accused us of being thieves, so we couldn't let them accuse us falsely..."

"So, you came here to steal."

The Yang family was particularly fond of taking advantage of situations and was willing to do anything for free labor.

They're not afraid of backfire when threatening these people.

In fact, during their previous visit to Li Qingsong's house, it was evident that these people were not pleased with the Xu family. However, when it came to a real dispute, Sangou would compromise, seemingly apprehensive of something.

"Now you've really stolen something. If I don't take you to the mayor, I won't be able to sleep at night." Zhou Chengkang threw away his stick. "I'll take you there at dawn. By the way, how many people did you plan to steal last night?"

"Not many, just the Yu family behind us." The man seemed quite disappointed. "We've heard that your two families are wealthy, but the Yang family's wealth is only superficial. They look generous, but they're actually the most stingy... It's been so long, and they haven't even given us a piece of meat to eat."

He gritted his teeth and said, "If I ever come across the Yang's father and son again, I won't let them go. And Zhao Tianfu, that motherf***er definitely received some benefits. He testified that the Yang family was wealthy and benevolent, and deceived us miserably."

Li Qinghe kindly reminded him, "You guys are going back now, you will definitely run into them." When that happens, you have to give them a good beating.

The sky outside gradually brightened. When he heard that someone had gone to the Yu family, Zhou Chengkang was a little uneasy. He went to the back door to take a look and saw that two people were tied up in Min Rui's courtyard.

They were being escorted out of the village. The road to leave the village from the Yang family was blocked, so they had to go through the village. Many people were seen on the road. These people had indeed gone to monitor the households they had targeted last night. Sangou had robbed the Yang family, and he had succeeded. He not only took the money from the Yang family's fish selling, but also took the jewelry left by Yang's mother. He also beat up Xu Changjie and his brothers before running away.

After such a big incident, the village chief searched around the village and found that only three were caught. The others had fled. There were still three households that were robbed, ranging from five taels to one tael. It seemed, among the dozen or so who had fled, there were likely a few who hadn't participated in the debacle.

Anyway, five people came towards Li Qinghe's courtyard, and only one was caught. The others saw that the situation was not right and ran away.

The households in the village brought these three people to the mayor's house, and also brought people from the Yang and Xu families.

The Yang family's mother and daughter didn't need the villagers to lead them. They were going to the mayor's house to file a report themselves. The last bit of Yang’s mother's hidden jewelry was also gone, and she wanted to seek justice for herself.

With such a big incident happening in the village, the mayor couldn't treat it as just an ordinary theft case. Especially according to the confessions of the three thieves, there were still some who committed crimes and fled instead of being jailed. The yamen already had records and was waiting to catch them and put them in jail. The village was remote, and outsiders wouldn't know about it once they arrived, so they could hide for a long time without being suspected.

The Xu and Yang families intentionally sheltered the criminals, and their charges were not light.

The mayor sent all three of them and the Xu and Yang families to the county seat.

Li Qinghe and the others didn't suffer any losses, so they didn't follow.

Harboring more than a dozen criminals and causing harm to the villagers, not to mention in the town, even in the county seat, was a heinous crime.

On the fifth day of the lunar new year, the interrogating yamen officials sent from the county seat arrived. They visited almost every household in the village and took back a thick stack of evidence. All the incidents where the Xu family allowed those people to use force to demand things from villagers were recorded.

The most talked-about topic in the village recently was about these people, but there was something even more important, which was spring plowing.

The weather in the first month of the year was good, and every family was busy turning the soil, including Li Qinghe's family.

The verdict from the county didn't come down yet, but the village chief already issued a statement that no more people of dubious origin were allowed to settle in the village. Even Mr. Yu and his wife were sent away by the village chief and had to obtain a certificate of origin from their own village chief. Otherwise, the village could not keep them.

As the villagers were busy with spring plowing, working from dawn till dusk, they gradually stopped mentioning those people. However, Yang's land and the purchased wasteland were still left unplanted, looking desolate amidst the vibrant spring. Even their spacious brick and tile house looked bleak with grass growing in the yard, uninhabited for two months thanks to the good spring rain.

This year, Li Qinghe still hired people, but not all of the newly opened ten acres were planted with crops; some were reserved for medicinal herbs. If she really saved some seeds, it would be enough to fill all of her land in just one year.

But for now, she was slowly experimenting with the new crop.

While the village was busy planting, Hu Yanxi returned from town. He had failed the provincial examination last year and would have to wait another three years for the next chance.

It was not easy to pass even the county-level examination, let alone the provincial-level.

Failing was normal. Passing the provincial exam would make one a successful candidate, and with some money, one could easily find a decent official position.

Shortly after Hu Yanxi returned, Zhao Wanwan was kicked out by his mother because her health was not good and there had been no good news for years.

There are three unfilial acts, of which having no offspring is the greatest. After being childless for three years, she was divorced by her husband for this reason.

The scholar's wife from Wang Village was divorced and returned home.

Zhao Wanwan returned to the village and went straight to live with Mrs. Qian. Mrs. Qian was still taking care of Zhao Tianfu's child, and changed the child's surname to Qian. She also took over Zhao Tianfu's land, and recently she was worried about finding someone to plow the land in the spring.

She wanted to hire someone, but she had no money. She couldn't do it herself...she didn't know how!

It's not that she didn't know at all, but she needed someone to guide her. Unfortunately, her reputation was not good now. Although she was old, she was still beautiful, and no woman in the village would let her husband lead her to work in the fields. Moreover, she couldn't afford to pay wages, so no one was willing to lend a hand.

Li Qinghe knew about this from Lanhua. She was now pregnant and was due to give birth in five or six months. Zhao Dashan didn't let her work, so she came to chat with her sister out of boredom.

Li Qinghe quite liked this sister of hers. She was eloquent and hardworking, often making clothes for Xiyu. The money for buying fabric for the clothes was paid by Li Qinghe as her "wages". She really didn't mean to take advantage of her sister. When she said she was helping, she really meant it and didn't leave any payment. She might even have put some of her own money into it.

There were many people working on the mountain, and the two sisters were talking in the yard when they heard someone knocking on the door outside, sounding urgent. Lanhua, who was supporting her belly, went to open the door and saw Mrs. Zhou standing there, looking anxious. "Something happened to the eldest."

"What happened?" Li Qinghe asked curiously.

Mrs. Zhou was very anxious. "Mei Hua and him got into a fight for some reason. It was only yesterday that they said they wanted to make up."

She was worried, but Li Qinghe remained calm. "Do you want to go see them? I'll have Chengkang take you there."

Sending her to town was fine. She could consider it as sending her mother to town, but they would not interfere in the couple's affairs.

Mrs. Zhou didn't care about her indifferent attitude. After Zhou Chengkang returned, he fetched her and third brother Zhou in a carriage and took them there. It was actually the busiest time in the village, and it was unclear why they chose to make a scene now.

Later that afternoon, the mayor came to the village in person. It turned out that there was a result from the county.

Many people stood by the big tree at the village entrance, and the village chief and the mayor stood high up and said, "Most of the escaped people have been caught, and all have been sentenced according to the law. The one who broke into Li Qinghe's house was sentenced to ten years."

The money lost by the other three households in the village had also been recovered. To be precise, their families had put together the money to get them out earlier.

All things considered, aside from being scared out of their wits, the village didn't experience any tangible damages.

But even so, the Yang and Xu families had to pay the price for their actions.

Xu Changjie, who personally went to the county to pick up the fugitives and deliberately concealed them, was sentenced to eight years in prison. The entire Xu family was imprisoned for three years each for knowing but not reporting the crime. As for the Yang's mother and daughter who did not know, they were released.

Yang Lanrou didn't know?

Li Qinghe couldn't believe it. Those two were so close, and it was her father who came up with the idea to take in those people to work. How could she not know?

It was probably that everyone thought she didn't know, and those who did know, such as Xu Changjie, simply kept it to themselves.

Anyway, the mother and daughter had already returned.

After the matter was explained, the mayor left. The village chief also wanted to leave but was stopped by the villagers.

One bold person directly proposed, "Village chief, the Yang family is originally from outside the village, and they stole things and hid criminals after coming here. Can't we not let them live here?"

Translator's Note:

Dear readers, I hope you're doing well. I was recently asked to translate the chapters of this novel. Unfortunately, the usual translator was unable to do so due to her exams.

I admit that I haven't had a chance to read the previous chapters due to my busy schedule. But, I did my best to translate the chapters to the best of my ability.

If you notice any issues with the translation or have any concerns, please let me know.

Thank you for your patience and understanding during this time. I appreciate your support and hope you enjoy the chapters.

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