“Royal Princess...I beg you, please give me some pointers!” Zheng Xiaocui knew that Yu Xiaocao had a smart mind. She would definitely be able to think of a plan for her to get out of this situation.
“I can offer two suggestions for you. For the first option, I can recommend some work for you. You can either work at the Zhou Family’s workshop or work as an assistant for the chefs at Zhenxiu Restaurant. After you choose a job, you will head home and tell your father everything honestly. You will tell him that all the money you earn before the age of eighteen will be handed over to him. Even after you get married, you will continue to honor him by giving him half of your wage. I think your father is smart enough to figure out whether it's better to have a reputation for selling his daughter off or earning more money in the long run!”
Yu Xiaocao paused for a moment as she silently glanced at Zheng Xiaocui’s thoughtful expression. She picked up a cup of tea and sipped gently, and continued, “The second option is for you to report this matter to the authorities, have a fallout with your family, and escape to the prefectural city to earn a living. I’m sure you know that Yu's Braised Food Shop is doing very well in the prefectural city. I can ask my oldest aunt to sell you some goods on credit. You can start selling braised food by setting up a stall in the beginning, and when you have the funds, you can rent a small shop… However, after you cut off all your ties, you will be all alone. Even if you’re bullied by other people, there will be no one there to support you anymore!”
Even though there was a slim chance that her father would protect and support her when she needed it since he always valued his son over his daughter, her parents had raised her for more than ten years. They should still have some affection for each other because they had the same blood flowing in their veins. Although Zheng Xiaocui was somewhat snobbish and had her own plans and ideas, she was still reluctant to report her father to the authorities. Even if her father’s sole purpose of raising her was to sell her off to save up money for her younger brother’s marriage.
“I choose the first option!” Zheng Xiaocui didn’t plan on choosing the second option unless she had no other choice.
Xiaocao didn’t pay much attention to what happened to Zheng Xiaocui afterward. Perhaps it was because Zheng Xiaocui’s filial piety had emotionally moved her father, or perhaps it was thanks to Yu Hai’s persuasion that Zheng Laojiu never mentioned selling his daughter to the rich old man anymore.
Before Xiaocao left Dongshan Village, Zheng Xiaocui packed up a small bundle of luggage and came to find Xiaocao. She asked Chunhua to take her appointment tablet to find Head Manager Xiaodou of Zhenxiu Restaurant and ask him to give Zheng Xiaocui a job washing dishes and picking vegetables in the back kitchen.
Sometime later, news arrived informing her that Zheng Xiaocui worked very hard in the back kitchen. Zheng Xiaocui had good eyesight, lively, and she looked pretty, so she was soon transferred to work as a server in the front hall of the restaurant. The people in charge of washing vegetables learned less than a tael of silver in a month, but servers earned nearly two taels of silver a month. Zheng Laojiu settled down after he received more than 20 taels of silver in a year.
Later, when Yu Xiaocao had already been married, she heard from her family members that Zheng Laojiu prevented her daughter from marrying until she was 20 years old because he wanted her salary. Later, Zheng Xiaocui begged Yu Hai, by then, he was already the owner of tens of thousands of acres of farm, to plead on her behalf. After she repeatedly emphasized that she will still give half of her wages to her family after getting married, Zheng Laojiu finally loosen his grasp and allowed her to get married. Zheng Xiaocui married one of the managers of the shop. Her life was plain, but she was very content. But these were all things that happened later.
After the 20th day of the twelfth month, everyone in Dongshan Village became busy. But Yu Xiaocao had nothing to do after she sent the Zhou Family, her eldest granduncle, and several families she had a good relationship within Dongshan Village, a generous and practical New Year gift. The family matters were all managed by her mother and four other maidservants. Erya was also extremely busy, but it was impossible for Xiaocao to intervene and help.
Every day, Yu Xiaocao would either chat with a few good friends or take a stroll around the mountain with two of her stronger maidservants. She hunted some wild game to add more dishes to their meals at home. She was not used to being so idle all of a sudden.
“Cao’er, your eldest granduncle will be killing a pig for New Year’s today. Let’s head to your eldest granduncle’s house at noon to have pork stew. Do you remember the time when you were a child and stuffed yourself with pork stew? You ate so much that you laid motionlessly on the bed because of a stomach ache. Your mother and I were so frightened! When I invited a doctor from town to check on your condition and he told me that you just ate too much. He prescribed a few hawthorn pills and left!” Yu Hai was talking about an incident that occurred before Xiaocao had transmigrated here. The young girl’s body was extremely weak, pork stew was a dish that was heavy on the oil. She was lucky that she only had a stomach ache from eating too much.
While the maidservants smiled at his story, Yu Xiaocao calmly said, “At that time, we didn’t have much oil at home. I would be a fool if I didn’t stuff myself full of that fragrant and savory pork stew! Speaking of which, it’s been two years since I last ate our village’s signature dish, the pork stew! Wutong and Chunhua, you should learn a little from me. Don’t eat anything in the morning, so you can stuff yourself with pork stew with an empty stomach!”
Wutong suppressed her smile and asked, “Young Miss, didn’t you say that it’s important not to have an uneven diet or overeat to maintain a healthy diet? Are you going to make an exception for today?”
“Of course, today will be an expectation! My eldest grandaunt’s hometown is from the northeast. The northeast region is most well known for its pork stew. In addition, she makes delicious simmered pig’s head, blood sausages, fatty pork with garlic sauce, and sliced pork diaphragm with garlic sauce...no, I can’t think about it, otherwise, I can’t stop drooling! You haven’t seen any of those dishes before, right? Come and gain some experience with me!” Yu Xiaocao headed back to the house and changed into some warm and more light-weight clothes. The four maids were dressed in coarse cotton-padded jackets to blind into the village as they followed their master out the door.
“Hey! Xiaocao, where are you going?” The villagers from the same village always greeted her warmly.
Xiaocao had a bright smile on her face when she replied, “My eldest granduncle had killed a pig for New Years. I’m planning to head over to have some pork stew!”
“Why are you heading over so early? Isn’t the pork stew usually prepared in the afternoon?”
Yu Xiaocao laughed mischievously. She had an odd expression on her face when she explained, “These young girls are from the city, so they never saw a pig being killed. I’m taking them there early, so they can see it for themselves. Auntie, you should attend to your business; I’ll be heading over there first!”
“Go, go!” When the four servants and their master walked away, the woman smacked her lips and said, “Did you see that? Xiaocao has really matured by now. Those beautiful-looking maidservants that looked like young ladies from a wealthy family are only worthy of being her maidservants! Xiaocao is like those princesses in the plays that I’ve watched. They would live in a large palace paved from gold bricks, wear satin and silk, eat exotic delicacies, and have gold, silver, and jewels piled up like mountains in her palace…”
Chunhua and Qiushi had excellent hearing. The master and the maidservants were all amused when they were informed about what Chunhua and Qiushi had just overheard. It seemed like Auntie Jinzhen had quite a rich imagination to imagine that she lived in a palace made with gold bricks.
“Huh? Brother Han? Did you just return from patrolling the sea?” Yu Xiaocao looked up and saw a burly figure approaching her. She greeted the healthy and handsome guy first.
Zhao Han heard the news that Xiaocao had returned, so he came to look for her on his first day of vacation. Even though she may already have someone she liked in her heart, he still wanted to see her, listen to her melodious laughter, and see her sweet smile.
“Yes! I just came back yesterday. I heard that you came back from the capital, so I came here to see you!” He greeted her warmly when he saw Xiaocao’s brilliant smile similar to that of a sunrise. The emotions hidden deep in his heart were slowly fermenting.
Yu Xiaocao pursed her lips and said with a smile, “Brother Han, did you know that Auntie Zhao has returned to the capital? I visited your house as a guest a few days ago. Grandpa Zhao and Uncle Zhao are both at the border, so Auntie Zhao will be spending the New Year in the capital. Do you guys get a vacation?”
Zhao Han forced himself to look away after he realized that he had been staring at her energetic little face for too long. He shook his head and said, “The sea has not been peaceful recently. The wokou are pretending to be pirates to loot the ships that are passing by. In two days, I will be heading back to the sea to train new soldiers…”
“Then…if you return before New Year, you can come over to my house to celebrate the holiday. Little Shitou wrote a letter informing me that he will be back before the New Year. He is still childish at heart. In his letter, he said he wanted you to take us up the mountain so we can catch a wild rabbit!” If his classmates witnessed how spoiled he acted and the childish ways he talked, would they see this earnest-looking and talent young boy in the way?
“Okay, then it’s settled...cough, cough, cough!” Zhao Han suddenly clutched his chest and coughed a few times.
The smile on Yu Xiaocao’s face faded as she asked with concern, “What happened? Did you get injured? Did you fight against pirates when you went out to sea this time? What about the medicine I asked someone to give you? Why is it ineffective?”
Xiaocao’s worried expression and caring tone warmed Zhao Han’s heart. His wound seemed less painful after seeing how much she cared about him. He finally responded after Xiaocao finished asking a series of questions, “We met with a large group of wokou pirates. They outnumbered us by having twice the number of crews. Fortunately, my troops trained very hard regularly and our ships were more advanced compared to the wokou’s ships. As a result, we managed to annihilate them and seized a large amount of their property. The medicine you gave me is very effective. If it weren’t for the medicine you gave me, I didn’t even know if I was able to make it ashore. Your medicine saved many of my brothers that were seriously injured. I want to thank you for that in their stead.”
She originally didn’t give him a lot of medicine, and yet he distributed the medicine to other soldiers for their own use. No wonder his injuries had not healed yet! Judging from his complexion, his injury must be quite serious. Yu Xiaocao sighed and said to Wutong, “Go to my medicine chest and bring me the gourd-shaped jade bottle and a few bottles of Wound Balm for me.”
After she finished speaking, she turned to Zhao Han and said, “Didn’t the court purchase a lot of Wound Balm? The soldiers should’ve received some. What happened?”
Zhao Han shook his head and said, “The northwestern border has been unstable recently. Although there were no large-scale wars, there had been a few small-scale battles and skirmishes from time to time. The effects of the Wound Balm produced by your workshop is more effective than other ordinary products. When the purchased medicines are distributed, it is first distributed to the border patrol soldiers. By the time the medicine reaches us, it would be considered good if each soldier can receive one bottle. I heard that the Wokou’s country had a severe snow disaster this winter. Many of the civilians who could no longer survive on their own were fooled into becoming wokou pirates. Soon after winter began, several minor skirmishes and wars broke out. We’re almost out of ordinary Wound Balms too.”
“Don’t worry. Once I return to the capital, I’ll have someone bring more Wound Balms over for you. As for this bottle of medicine, you can’t tell other people that I was the one who gave it to you. The materials needed to make this are too precious, and I don’t have many bottles of these.” Yu Xiaocao stuffed all the medicine that Wutong had fetched for her into Zhao Han’s hands.
“That’s right! You came just at the right time. My eldest granduncle’s family is planning on killing a pig today, so why don’t you come and enjoy the pork stew together tonight?” Yu Xiaocao invited him over for dinner. In the past, when Zhao Han was still in the village, he often ate pork stew made by her eldest granduncle.
Zhao Han seemed to be reminiscing his memories as he nodded, “Okay! It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten Grandpa Yu’s pork stew. Sometimes, I even dream of smelling the pork stew in my dreams! Let’s head over now to see if we can help.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter