Chapter 316 - Gifts for the New Year
Imperial Prince Jing felt very touched . His youngest son had finally started speaking to him!! Eating locusts was not a big deal . In fact, even if his son was feeding him poison it would taste like the sweetest candy in the world to him . After his youngest son completed his seafaring journey, he had improved his character a lot and was not as temperamental as before . His son hadn’t caused any trouble despite being back for more than half a year and, instead, had caught the eye of the emperor . Imperial Prince Jing basked in the glory of his son every time he thought of the compliments that were traversing the capital .
Although he was very happy inwardly, Imperial Prince Jing still had his usual solemn and serious manner . He picked up his chopsticks and scooped up a generous amount of grasshopper sauce . He copied his son’s manner and spread it on top of a steamed bun . Right before he was about to take a large bite, Princess Consort Jing stopped him, “Lord Husband, that . . . that is made from insects, are you sure you want to eat it?”
“Not a problem! Imperial Father once said that the people living in the mountainous southwest area of the country all use insects as food for their honored guests . In fact, some insects are quite nutritious and are high in something like . . . protein? Our son has eaten this with no problem, so as his father, what could happen?” Despite his wife trying to stop him, Imperial Prince Jing took a giant bite and then carefully chewed as he tasted it . The flavor was really quite good and reminded him of the savoriness of small shrimp .
Zhu Junyang ate as he talked, “This grasshopper sauce has been fermented so most people won’t be allergic to it . Last time, the Head Steward Su, who is the personal steward of the emperor, ate some grasshopper sauce that hadn’t been fermented . He ended up having swelling all throughout his body and it was very itchy . Although grasshopper sauce is very delicious, not everyone is able to enjoy it . ”
Princess Consort Jing felt her appetite completely disappear as she continued to think about her husband and son eating food that was made of disgusting insects . The locust plague from the coastal areas had also spread into the capital’s area . All of the flowers in her garden had been eaten by the locusts . Luckily, the famous and valuable plants she had obtained from Tanggu Town had all been promptly moved into the glass greenhouse . Otherwise, they would have also been destroyed by the locusts .
When she thought about the camellia she brought back from Tanggu Town, Princess Consort Jing immediately felt pleased and proud . There were a lot of people who loved camellias in the capital . Out of those people, Princess Consort Jing and the wife of the imperial tutor, Lady Feng, were the ones who were the most obsessed . At first, these two ladies, who had the same likes, had a very close relationship and often spent time with each other exchanging techniques about raising flowers . Furthermore, they would set up camellia appreciation parties . These parties couldn’t be attended by just anybody . Only people with the appropriate rank and right reputation could be invited by Princess Consort Jing and Lady Feng .
All of the noble young ladies and matrons in the capital clamored after invitations for the camellia appreciation parties . Whoever received an invitation could not only raise their heads among the other ladies in the future, but even their clans also felt like they had gained prestige .
Everyone with some status in the capital knew about the camellia parties . However, good things don’t last forever . The two organizers of the events ended up having a falling out! Everyone in the capital knew that Imperial Prince Jing doted upon his wife, so he had people seek out famous and valuable camellias for her . This made Lady Feng happy and envious at the same time . She was happy because it meant that there were new camellias every year at the camellia appreciation party and envious because all of these camellias weren’t hers to own . She could only admire them from afar .
Lady Feng was someone who truly loved flora . She not only loved flowers but was also an expert at raising them . She even once personally cultivated a new breed of camellias . Princess Consort Jing envied her talents . Thus, Princess Consort Jing also imitated her friend and began to personally take care of her beloved camellias . However, her later nickname of the ‘slayer of flora’ wasn’t given to her without reason . Many of her precious camellias had been sent to their untimely deaths by her . Lady Feng tried to persuade her many times but Princess Consort Jing was now very interested in taking care of her own flowers, so she refused to listen to her friend . After Princess Consort Jing ended up killing a high quality eighteen scholar camellia, Lady Feng felt so heartbroken about it that she couldn’t sleep well for several days and ended up having a fight with her . The two people were no longer friends anymore and the camellia parties no longer happened . . .
“Lady Mother, what are you thinking about?” The heir of Prince Jing was currently being bullied by his father to try the grasshopper sauce . He looked towards his mother to ask for help but discovered that she was staring blankly into space .
When Princess Consort Jing came back from her thoughts, she sighed and said, “I don’t know whether the valuable plants and flowers in that mountain ravine that Yu Xiaocao talked about had been destroyed by the locusts . Last time, Xiaocao had brought along Lady Fang’s maidservant with her and they said that they had seen many valuable plants there just a few steps in . There were even some aged herbal medications . It’s truly a good place ah! If I wasn’t afraid that there would be vicious beasts in the area, I would also go there for a look!”
Zhu Junyang thought of that large gray wolf that had been given the name of ‘Big Gray’ and nodded, “I have also heard of this place . Apparently there’s a very large and fierce wolf that lives in the ravine . However, that wolf is quite intelligent and had once helped the Yu Family out!”
When he saw that his mother was very curious about this topic, Zhu Junyang very briefly summarized what had happened when they fought against the starving wolf pack . Princess Consort Jing exclaimed in admiration, “Xiaocao had previously helped that wolf, so the wolf ended up saving her father . I never would have expected an animal could also be affectionate and true . But, wouldn’t raising a wolf at home cause problems for the Yu Family?”
Zhu Junyang replied, “I told all of the villagers that the wolf was a pet I had raised from its infancy to adulthood and that it was inconvenient to bring back to the capital, so the Yu Family was taking care of it for me . That wolf can understand human language and as long as it doesn’t sense any malice, it wouldn’t attack people . Oh right, are we going into the palace this year to have the New Year’s Eve family dinner?”
“The emperor has already proclaimed that it is bitterly cold this year so there’s no point in making people suffer . So we’ll just eat the New Year’s Eve family dinner at home this year . ” Imperial Prince Jing was enjoying the taste of the grasshopper sauce . He took out another scoop and spread it on another steamed bun .
Over half of the jar of grasshopper sauce had already been eaten, so Zhu Junyang somewhat unhappily packed it up . When Prince Jing saw his son’s actions, he laughingly scolded his son, “Stinky brat, you’re the one who roused this man’s appetite, yet you’re trying to hoard the rest of the grasshopper sauce for yourself? No manners! Quickly, give your father a jar to show your filial respects…”
Zhu Junyang had only brought back four jars of grasshopper sauce this time and two of them were the jars he had stolen from General Fang . His royal father had a rascally expression on his face that said, ‘If you don’t give your father grasshopper sauce, then you’re unfilial . ’ Zhu Junyang tolerated the pain within his heart and begrudgingly gave the remaining half jar of sauce to his father with a stone-faced expression on his face .
Prince Jing let out a laugh in exasperation, “What sort of expression is that? It’s just some food yet you act like I’m cutting pieces of flesh off of you! If you like it, then just buy the recipe off of the person and have our chefs here make some for you ah!”
“How can they make it without the ingredients?” Zhu Junyang remembered that the Yu Family still had a few sacks of locusts in their ice-cellar and decided that when spring started, he was going back to Dongshan Village so he could properly ‘inspect the sowing and maintenance of the corn fields’ .
Zhu Junyang had already told County Magistrate Zhao to be on the lookout for some good land to buy in Tanggu Town . Tanggu Town had been hard-hit by the locust plague this year and not every family was as lucky as the Yu Family to survive without any losses . Many villages around the area had fields that didn’t even have a single grain left to be harvested . Thus, before the grain for the disaster relief came by, the vast majority of commoners had to buy highly priced grain to survive . There were very few people who would be able to afford the land tax after the winter and start of spring . At that time, there would be many people selling fields, land, and children .
Since he wanted to use Tanggu Town as the base for cultivating improved corn, then he needed vast amounts of farmland . The Yu Family’s a hundred and seventy or so mu was not even enough to start . Thus, Zhu Junyang had the County Magistrate Zhao start buying fields and land since autumn . The best pieces of land were the ones that all connected in one piece . However, even plots of land that weren't interconnected were not a big deal . When the time came, all he needed to do was to swap with other people . Since the imperial court was using this land, they would also compensate the owners with some extra money . Those who were prudent would definitely agree to the trade .
While Zhu Junyang was silently making his plans for next year, the Yu Family was already starting to happily start the New Year's preparations .
The final little wild boar that had been raised in the rear courtyard was just slaughtered a few days ago . They were planning on sending ten catties of wild boar meat, twenty catties of wheat flour, and a few bundles of bok choy to Xiaocao’s maternal grandparents from Xishan Village and Old Yu’s older brothers’ families .
Most families had more difficult circumstances now . Although grain prices had stabilized and gone down, the majority of villagers had slaughtered all of their animals at home because they ate precious grain during the disaster year . Furthermore, pork prices had shot up prior to the New Years and most of the pork had all been frantically bought out by those rich families in town well in advance . Thus, most commoners couldn’t buy any meat now .
Naturally, commoners were unable to afford to buy pork that was now a few hundred copper coins a catty . Thus, many families were using dried vegetables as the fillings for the dumplings needed for New Year’s Eve family dinner just so they could have them . In the past, those who were unable to afford meat still had cabbages and radishes to eat . This year, being able to have dried vegetables to eat was already considered quite good!
The gifts that the Yu Family sent out were like adding charcoal to the families in cold weather . Ironically, when they were sending them out, they managed to do it on a day after a big snowfall came . The snow came up to a person’s calf, so most carts had difficulty going through it . Yu Xiaocao excitedly took up the task of sending the family’s New Year’s gifts . Ever since they had finished constructing the snow sled, she didn’t really have a chance to use it other than running a few loops through the nearby forest . Now her sled that was pulled by a wolf could finally be put to good use .
Ever since Big Gray came to live at the Yu Family’s, he was able to drink water that had mystic-stone water added to it every day . His originally strong physique had become even more large and mighty . When he sat on the ground, Xiaocao wasn’t tall enough to reach the top of his head . Although Big Gray looked quite fierce, he was more gentle than the most docile dog in the world when he was in front of Xiaocao . As for other people, they only saw his indifferent side . If any of the other members of the Yu Family wanted to command him, they’d be out of luck! Thus, only Yu Xiaocao could go out to send the New Year’s gifts . After all, no one else was able to direct the wolf pulling the sled .
Yu Xiaocao sat at the front of the sled, which wasn’t very large, while the back was packed with pork and wheat flour . The back of the sled had slats so she didn’t have to worry about the goods sliding off halfway .
Yu Xiaocao was bundled up in her warmest set of clothing and had a hat made of rabbit fur that could cover her ears on her head . Her neck was wrapped in a rabbit fur muffler and the inside of her boots were lined with thick and soft rabbit fur as well . Yu Hai was afraid that his daughter might freeze so he also wrapped her up in his coat made of wolf fur . Only a pair of bright eyes could be seen in the end .
“Let’s go!” Yu Xiaocao waved her hand at her family and ordered Big Gray to leave . Big Gray slowly walked on the snow-covered ground . Once he exited the village, he gradually sped up until the trees on the sides of the road were whipping by .
At first, Little Black and Little White also wanted to follow along but their short legs were hampered by the thick snow, so they couldn’t run very fast . Before they exited the village, they had already been left behind by their father and could only resentfully turn back home .
In the middle of winter, it was bitterly cold, so there wasn’t a single soul to be seen as they traveled along the road . This meant that no one had to be frightened by the sight of Big Gray . Yu Xiaocao first went to her grandfather’s second older brother’s home . Yu Lixia lived in a large village that was even more west than Xishan Village . This village wasn’t near the mountain or the seas and had a larger abundance of good agricultural land . Yu Lixia’s family had more than a dozen mu of good farming land . After taxes, they only had enough grain remaining to survive the winter without starving . However, since this year was a disaster year, they still had to ration out every speck of grain carefully even though the court had waived taxes this year .
When Yu Xiaocao entered the village, she didn’t encounter a single person because most of the people were hunkered down for the winter . She directly drove the sled to the entrance of her second granduncle's residence and knocked on the door . The person who opened the door was her second granduncle's oldest son, Yu Yang . When he saw Yu Xiaocao, who had been wrapped up until she resembled a tiny ball, he was surprised for a moment before he said, “Is this . . . Xiaolian or Xiaocao?”