For one’s own family, it was fine no matter how you received them. However, it was rumored that Xiaocao’s maidservants had come from the imperial city and their usual conduct was even more elegant than most girls from wealthy families. Yu Jiang’s wife had been worried this entire time that these maids would not be used to their crude and simple fare. Now, from the looks of it, her worries were superfluous.
In the farming villages in the northeast, almost every family would slaughter a year end pig. The villagers there all got together to celebrate noisily. From the start of the twelfth month, these villagers ate pig banquet foods non-stop. Dongshan Village originally didn’t have this type of custom, but when her eldest grandaunt fled from the northeast, she and her family brought this event over. Now, many of the families here had also started slaughtering pigs for the pig banquet. However, the most authentic pig banquet still came from Eldest Grandaunt’s hands!
Yu Xiaocao rubbed her rotund little belly that was stuffed full of food and strolled around the foot of the West Mountain. She also checked the traps and snares that were set earlier to see if she had any game. Zhao Han silently walked along with her and cherished his previous memories they had together in their childhood.
Every snare that Xiaocao set always had a higher than usual chance to catch prey. This lass seemed to have been blessed by a god. Just look, they were clearly in an area where wild animals were not numerous but out of ten traps and snares, around six to seven of them had animals caught in them.
The four maidservants took off their reserved and composed demeanors and revealed their true natures. Every time they found a snare that had prey in it, they all exclaimed in excitement and rushed forward to be the first to grab it. Almost everyone by the end had their hands full with some game. In fact, Zhao Han even carried a dead dumb roe deer back on his shoulders!
The twelfth month seemed to pass faster than other months. In the blink of an eye, they were at the year’s end. The farmstead’s greenhouse pavilions had stopped business since the twenty-ninth and would only reopen on the fifth of the next year. Little Shitou had braved the winds and snow to go back home on the twenty-eighth and only then was the Yu Family all back together.
At their New Year’s Eve family dinner, other than the Yu Family, there were an additional two guests. Zhao Han had been invited by Xiaocao to celebrate the New Years with her family and the other was the orphan Zhuang Xiaomo. At the table, Zhuang Xiaomo exerted quite a bit of effort to be attentive to Xiaolian the entire time. Yu Hai didn’t have a good expression to any of his ‘sons-in-law’ who were trying to steal his daughters from him. He couldn’t do much to Royal Prince Yang, but he wouldn’t make it easy for the fellow surnamed Zhuang, that big wolf, to steal Xiaolian away.
Xiaolian, who would be turning fourteen at the start of the year, had experienced her first awakening to love. Apparently, she seemed to have a bit of a good impression of the tall and handsome looking Zhuang Xiaomo. As for his attempts to get closer to her, Xiaolian had a red blush on her face and didn't seem to reject them at all.
As for the so-called future mother-in-law, Madam Liu seemed to regard this future son-in-law with increasing appreciation. She had always had a decent impression of this orphaned fellow, who, despite his lack of family, had a sense of self-confidence and ambition to do better for himself. In addition, he had a polite and gentle demeanor, a kind heart, and understood gratitude. If it wasn’t for her husband stopping her, Madam Liu would have treated him as if he was her half-son.
During New Years Eve night, Yu Hang took his younger brother Little Shitou, along with Zhao Han and Zhuang Xiaomo, to set off fireworks in the courtyard. In the rooms, Yu Hai took out the account books and went over the past year in detail with his youngest daughter. He also went over his proposed plans for the following year.
“Right now, the corn and winter wheat seeds from our farmstead are selling very well. In addition, we’re by the ocean, so it’s very convenient to ship our goods around. There are plenty of shipping convoys that are traveling from south to the north that want to buy our seeds to bring it there. However, we have a limited amount of land on our farm, so we’re not able to supply all that they want.” Yu Hai felt his heart itch whenever he thought of all of that money in front of him that he couldn’t get.
“That being said, we are still employed by the court! Naturally, we have to provide high-yielding seeds to Tanggu Town and the nearby Zhou Prefecture. Based on that, the amount of seeds we can sell elsewhere goes down even more!”
Yu Hai had found out through his older sister that the climate in the northeast was harsh, so their crop yields were very poor. The peasants who lived there had to tighten their belts for half a year. During the harshest time of the year, the people there could only eat one bowl of the cheapest and most common type of coarse grain gruel a day. If a disaster befell them, then they had to pack all of their things and flee from their homes.
Corn had a high harvest yield and wasn’t picky about its growing environment. If this crop could be widely planted in the north, then the commoners' lives would improve considerably for they would at least be able to fill their stomachs. Thus, Yu Hai did his best to sell as much corn as he could to those ships going to the north, but his efforts were like trying to put out a forest fire using one cup of water at a time.
Yu Xiaocao bit her lip in thought and then smiled at her father, who was looking at her expectantly, “Father, what are you looking at me for? Are you that certain that I’ll be able to come up with an idea?”
Yu Hai chuckled and stated in a somewhat proud manner, “Of course, my daughter is so incredible, so how could such a small problem cause any problems for my Cao’er?”
“In our hearts, Younger Sister, you are the most resourceful of us all, our lucky little immortal girl. Quickly tell us, what do you think about this?” Xiaolian urged Xiaocao on as she ate roasted melon seeds.
“I truly have an idea!” Yu Xiaocao continued under the gleaming and excited looks of her family, “I want to make Tanggu into a giant agricultural center and become the country’s largest seed wholesaler!”
Yu Hai nodded his head and said, “In actuality, this is also in line with my thoughts. However, we don’t have that much land ah! I’ve asked around and none of the owners of the land or farms around us are willing to sell. However, in the area between Tanggu Town and the prefecture city, there’s a large stretch of fallow, empty land. Unfortunately, in order to transform such fallow land into good farming land, I’m afraid it’d take more than a couple of years to make that happen…”
Yu Xiaocao lightly frowned and said, “Tanggu is a part of Royal Prince Yang’s feudal lands. If he is willing to help, it absolutely wouldn’t be a problem to get more land. As for that fallow land ah, leaving it just sitting there would be such a pity...I think we can negotiate with Zhu Junyang and have him push out a few land reform policies that encourage people to develop new land. For example, if people want to clear an area for farming, they won’t need to pay any taxes for the first three years and the following five to ten years, they could have half taxes and other benefits...right now, most of the arable land is in the hands of a few. Many people end up becoming tenant farmers, renting land in order to make a living. I’m certain that the commoners would be very happy if they had the opportunity to own their own fields.”
His youngest daughter had mentioned Royal Prince Yang twice in a short period of time. Yu Hai hesitated for a moment but ultimately couldn’t restrain himself from asking, “Cao’er, you and Royal Prince Yang...you’re growing up and need to take mind of a few things, don’t let other people take advantage of you. That being said, men are fickle creatures and Royal Prince Yang has a high status and power. It’d be hard for him to not change in the future and have his eyes roam around. So…”
“Father, don’t worry! Your daughter knows very well! If Zhu Junyang decides to treat me poorly, I would rather be single for the rest of my life then marry myself out to someone who wasn’t suitable. He’s still in his probation period so he naturally wouldn’t dare to do anything to me!” Yu Xiaocao was well aware of her father’s worries so she couldn’t help but try to comfort him.
Their youngest daughter had been intelligent from a young age and almost all of their businesses their family had undertaken had come from her ideas. Her husband would always go find her whenever he couldn’t come up with an idea. Thus, Madam Liu became more confident in her youngest daughter’s abilities. However, her daughter would only be fourteen after the New Year and usually didn’t spend a lot of time by her side, so she couldn’t help but say a few words, “Cao’er, you don’t have to set your sights only Royal Prince Yang. If he’s unable to pass your tests, then Mother will find you an even better match——in actuality, if Royal Prince Yang didn't make his intentions obvious so early, I think that the fellow Zhao Han is not bad…” After she finished speaking, Madam Liu even glanced out the window.
“Mother,” Yu Xiaocao didn’t know whether she should laugh or cry, “I only see Older Brother Han as an older brother, so why are you putting us together now? Don’t worry ah, I know what I should and should not do!”
Old Yu, who was wearing a bright red traditional-style jacket, was sitting at the head of the kang bed with his legs crossed. He picked up a piece of soft and sticky pastry and addressed his son and son’s wife, “You two don’t need to fret so much! Royal Prince Yang is a royal prince but our Cao’er is no longer just an ordinary little farmer’s girl. Through her own efforts, she’s become a royal princess. Have you ever seen a royal princess anywhere have to worry about her marriage ah? There are so many talented men in the capital, as long as their eyes aren’t blind, they will be able to see our Cao’er’s strengths. Even if there isn’t a Royal Prince Yang, there’s still a Royal Prince Yin, and Royal Prince Yue!” 
“That's right, that’s right!” Yu Xiaocao was afraid that her parents would needlessly worry about this. Although her grandfather’s comparison was a bit crude, she restrained herself from laughing and said, “Father, Mother, don’t worry. Before I turn twenty, I promise I’ll get married and I’ll do so in a very grand way. Alright ah?”
Madam Liu tapped her head and laughed, “You, ah, don’t have the least bit of shame and are willing to say anything. In the future, be more careful. Otherwise other people will laugh at you.”
“We’re at home ah! It’s only in front of us that Cao’er would dare say such things. When those wealthy people from town came to flatter us, our Cao’er’s temperament and bearing was even more elegant and imposing than those princesses’ in the stories.” Yu Hai always thought that everything his youngest daughter did was good!
The whole family chatted about the prospective seed breeding business until it was past midnight. Following that, they cooked some dumplings and ate them together as a midnight snack before heading to their own rooms to rest.
Yu Xiaocao had a leisurely and joyful New Years celebration at Dongshan Village. On the first day of the New Year, she went along with her good friends to say their greetings to everyone in the village. The group of them managed to eat a bunch of special snacks that the other villagers made. On the second day, she went along with her parents to go visit her maternal grandparents and received quite a few thick red packets.
Currently, her maternal grandparents were one of the wealthiest families in their village. They had pushed down their previous house, which was made of sogon grass, and rebuilt it into a spacious and beautiful residence that had bright white walls and a pretty tiled roof. Small greenhouse pavilions had been constructed in the front and back courtyards and they grew some fruits and vegetables inside. Because of their relationship with the Yu Family, the other villagers in their village also reaped the benefits and were now planting high-yielding winter wheat in their fields. Thus, the Liu Family’s position and status within the village was second only to the village chief’s.
Since she didn’t have to worry about the market, Xiaocao’s eldest maternal aunt bought a piece of land from the village chief after the Wokou pirates struck and established her own piggery as the original one had been damaged. She began to raise pigs in earnest. Now, she had at least a few hundred pigs every year that were carefully fed and raised until they were ready to send to market. Xiaocao’s eldest maternal uncle then took those pigs to the prefectural city using his mule-drawn cart. When the greenhouse pavilions in Tanggu Town had their out of season vegetables ready for sale, Eldest Maternal Uncle and Second Maternal Uncle began to ship those vegetables to the prefectural city together. They were able to earn a few dozen taels from each trip there.
Xiaocao’s second maternal uncle bought a few dozen mu of good farming land. In the spring, he planted corn and in the autumn, he planted winter wheat. The crops he harvested were pooled in with the Yu Family’s grain business and he could make quite a bit of money every year. Xiaocao’s youngest maternal uncle also gave up his bricklaying career and entered the Yu Family’s business to help. The salary he earned now was a few times larger than what he used to earn. His wife also began to help Eldest Maternal Aunt with the piggery…
All in all, the Liu Family’s lives were getting better and better with each passing year. Even Second Maternal Aunt, who had a sharp tongue and a shrewish temper, had become more pleasant as her life got better. She no longer looked as harsh as before and her tongue had gentled considerably. The Liu Family’s patriarch and matriarch now had free and easy lives now.
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Sanguine’s thoughts: Glad the Liu Family is doing well.