This time, there was no news from Royal Prince Yang for more than a month . When they had said their reluctant farewells, the prince had only stated that he was going to the north to suppress bandits and didn’t go into detail .
As midwinter came closer, Xiaocao started to feel more and more concerned . She could faintly feel that Royal Prince Yang had mentioned suppressing bandits for the sole purpose of hiding the true mission from her to prevent her from fretting this much . When he left the capital, he had taken with him a large portion of the Jinwei elite troops with him . If he only had to suppress some mountain bandits, he would have long come back victorious . Was it possible that the northern border had gotten invaded instead and that's why the emperor sent Royal Prince Yang there?
Argh! If the border truly had a crisis, then she was afraid that it would be impossible for the prince to return before the end of winter . Winter in the northern parts of the country was harsh and long . If the roaming nomads north of the border had lost any of their cows or sheep, then they would definitely attack the Great Ming Empire in an effort to steal food . At this time, protecting the borders was a vital task!
The first snowfall was falling in the capital and Yu Xiaocao was sure that Royal Prince Yang wouldn’t be able to get back before the end of the year . However, he suddenly returned triumphantly . On the day that had happened, Yu Xiaocao was at the Imperial Plantation, wearing a thick woolen robe that made her resemble a tiny fuzzy ball . She was inspecting the greenhouse pavilions with the hired farmers and having them sweep the snow off of the structures .
“The snow is falling harder with every passing second . You guys need to keep an eye on it . If too much snow accumulates on top of the pavilions, it might cause the whole thing to collapse . It’s slightly better while we still have daylight but you guys absolutely cannot neglect this when darkness falls!” Yu Xiaocao slipped out of one of the pavilions . Every structure had a heated wall inside, which guaranteed that the insides of these greenhouses were as warm as spring . She was quite satisfied with the farmers in charge of taking care of these pavilions . Every greenhouse was filled with lush green vegetables that were growing . The sight of these vegetables pleased people’s hearts and made them feel extremely refreshed .
One of the farmers, who was in his forties, was named Liu Shanshui and had been promoted to a foreman by Yu Xiaocao . He was honest and hardworking with a talent for taking care of vegetables . He was following closely behind Xiaocao and accompanying her as she inspected every greenhouse . He stated firmly, “Official Yu, don’t worry ah! At night, we’ll have a rotating watch of people on guard and we will make sure nothing bad happens to the greenhouse vegetables!”
“Alright, I’m relieved with you in charge! Tell the rest of the hired farmers that they’ll have to work a bit hard this winter but I’ll make sure to give every one of you a fat red packet as a bonus at year's end!” Yu Xiaocao was never stingy towards her subordinates who were hardworking .
A sincere smile spread across Liu Shanshui’s tanned face . He chuckled happily, “Official Yu, the monthly salary you give us is quite good! We’ve made more money in these past two months than we’ve made in a year from laboring hard! It is our fortune to be able to have such a generous employer like you!”
“We’ll be growing vegetables under these greenhouse pavilions until next March or April ah! When spring starts, I plan on splitting what we do on these lands . One section will continue to grow vegetables while we’ll grow watermelons on the other portion . At that time, if you guys would still like to stay, you guys can continue working for me! I won’t stint on your salaries!” These forty-or-so vegetable farmers all had years of experience under their belts . Whether it was the greenhouse vegetables on the Imperial Plantation or the neighboring greenhouse grown fruits on Royal Prince Yang’s farmstead, all of them were taken care of by these farmers . From the way things were going, other than a small percentage of them who had other motives, the rest she could continue using!
The smile on Liu Shanshui’s face became deeper and he repeatedly nodded his head, “Official Yu treats us with honesty and intimacy . Even if we made less, we would still feel the most comfortable working with you . If the prices of the vegetables decrease next spring, it wouldn’t bother us even if our wages decreased . ”
Liu Shanshui was originally a tenant farmer on one of the nearby farmsteads . His family had a few mu rented to them, and he always planted them with vegetables . Every day he would get up at the crack of dawn and work until late to care for his vegetable fields . When they were ripe, he was so busy that he rushed around every day . Before the sky had light, he needed to get up to pick his vegetables and then bring them into the capital to sell in a wheelbarrow .
The capital and its surrounding suburbs had a lot of farmers like him who relied on growing vegetables to make a living . Even if he spent the whole day at the vegetable market selling his vegetables, he wasn’t guaranteed to sell them all by the end of the day . He pretty much had no free time in the year and the amount of money he made was just enough for his family to eke by .
The other farmers’ circumstances were not much better than his . Some of them had even worse living situations . After the start of autumn, most of their vegetables had been harvested and sold . They usually didn’t have much to do in the winter . When they found out that the Imperial Plantation was looking for experienced vegetable farmers to cultivate vegetables in greenhouses in the winter, they decided to try their luck since they had the time anyway .
At first, Liu Shanshui was not very optimistic about the prospect of trying to grow vegetables in the winter . Regardless of whether they were planting grain or vegetables, they all needed to respect the seasons . It was a foolish dream to try to grow fresh green vegetables in the harsh cold of winter . Furthermore, the person looking to hire them was also a little lass just over the age of ten . He truly thought she was making a ruckus at the time!
If he didn’t have his innate awe and worship of imperial authority, Liu Shanshu would have long muttered within his heart, ‘Has the emperor become muddle-headed ah? He decided to promote a tiny, delicate little girl, who hasn’t even reached thirteen, to be an agricultural official and even gave her the authority to manage the Imperial Plantation . How much can a little lass know? Can she even tell the difference between a wheat sprout and a garlic sprout ah?’
He would have never expected that they were really able to cultivate vegetables in the middle of winter . In fact, many of the vegetables that were previously only grown in spring or summer were all thriving in the greenhouses even when it was the frost season or the snow season . Furthermore, even watermelon and cantaloupe vines were also able to bear fruit in the middle of winter . This was the first time he was able to see such an astounding sight in his forty years of living .
He had to wonder just how Official Yu’s head was screwed on to be able to come up with such a crazy method to build these magical greenhouse pavilions . They had a very good ability to retain heat and she even knew to build heated walls inside to keep the temperature up . Although snow was falling endlessly outside, when they entered the greenhouses, they didn’t even have to wear thick layers of clothing to feel warm .
Night watch also wasn’t a big deal . They just needed to erect a few simple beds in the corners of the greenhouses and have one person at all times keeping an eye on things . The rest of them slept in rotation . Sleeping inside the greenhouses, with their regulated temperature and humidity, was actually a lot more comfortable than sleeping on their kang beds at home!
Official Yu had stated that as long as they did their job meticulously, they were going to be able to get a fat red packet at year’s end as a bonus! If that bunch of stinky brats found out, they would definitely work their hearts out to receive such a thing!
Even if they didn't get a bonus, they needed to work hard to leave a good impression on Official Yu . The amount of money they made was not a joke . Even if they only worked for four to five months, they still made substantially more than they used to earn from selling their own vegetables! From what Official Yu was saying, she was planning on continuing to grow vegetables and fruits in the spring and summer and needed to pick some workers from their ranks then .
Liu Shanshui knew what he had to do now and decided to remind the fellows he had a good relationship with . He needed to tell them to not slack off like some of the other people . Otherwise, their gains would not make up for their losses and Official Yu would stop hiring them in the future .
After she was done inspecting the greenhouses on the Imperial Plantation, Yu Xiaocao braved the blustery snow and wind to arrive at the neighboring farmstead . The tenant farmers on those lands were currently busily removing snow from the pavilions .
When he saw Yu Xiaocao come over, the steward in charge of the farmstead, Jiang Youshun, hurriedly went over to greet her . After that, he followed her blindly from behind to listen to her every single order . Jiang Youshun was originally sent over as a steward with Princess Consort Jing when she got married . Since he was talented and hardworking, the princess consort had transferred him over to her youngest son to help manage her son’s newly bought farmstead and greenhouses .
Yu Xiaocao felt very pleased when she saw the tenant farmers working exactly as she ordered, so she complimented Jiang Youshun a few times .
As she was talking, a fast horse rushed over through the wind and snow . When the horse got closer, Yu Xiaocao finally recognized this steed . It was the one Head Steward Liu liked to use the most . Riding the horse was a thin and wiry figure with white hair that seemed to have fused with the falling flakes of snow .
“Head Steward Liu! You guys are back? How is Royal Prince Yang? Did the mission go well this time ah?” Yu Xiaocao went forward a few steps and asked a series of questions to Head Steward Liu, who had just jumped down from his horse .
Head Steward Liu puffed out a few breaths that fogged up the air . When he saw that Yu Xiaocao seemed very concerned about his master, a smile bloomed onto his aged face . It was clear that his master’s sacrifices had not been in vain . At the very least, Miss Yu cared about him in her heart .
Liu Fusheng used his somewhat shrill voice to slowly reply, “In reply to Miss Yu, my master has just entered the capital and the army should be following shortly . The master needs to report to the emperor first but he was afraid that you might be worried, so he sent this old servant to inform you . I first went to General Fang’s residence to find you and found out there that you were at the Imperial Plantation, so I spurred my horse over here!”
“You’ve worked hard, Head Steward Liu . Let’s go to the building so you can drink a cup of tea and warm yourself up!” Yu Xiaocao suddenly thought the sky full of falling snow had become cute after hearing the news that Zhu Junyang had come back safely . The rock that she had been holding in her heart was now released and she felt much more comfortable .
Head Steward Liu bowed in thanks and remained one step behind Yu Xiaocao as they headed towards the building . In other people’s eyes, he, Liu Fusheng, was a fierce and merciless castrate . Even though his master had always treated him well, no one else treated him like a normal person as Miss Yu did . In fact, Miss Yu always regarded him with clear and limpid eyes without any hint of disgust or fawning . It was as if in Miss Yu’s eyes, he was the same as other people . Thus, interacting with Miss Yu made him feel like he was a whole and true human being!
Some people said that his master had poor taste to fall in love with a small peasant girl . He, on the other hand, felt the exact opposite . His master’s taste was unique and perfect . Perhaps Miss Yu’s peculiarities were able to calm his master’s heart and soothe him . From that, his master was able to control his inner demon and go down a better road . . .
“Head Steward Liu, did you guys encounter any danger this time?” Yu Xiaocao had noticed that his complexion looked a bit dull as if he had just recovered from an injury, so she asked .
Steward Liu drank a sip of the warm tea and felt his insides slowly heat up . Even his just healed injury seemed to feel a lot more comfortable after that sip . He lightly sighed and said, “This mission went pretty well, all things considered . However, there were still a few difficulties . This old servant needs to thank Miss Yu! If you hadn’t given Master your medicine, this old servant might have lost my life in the north!”
“What? Are you telling me that those mountain bandits were so fierce that even you, Head Steward Liu, weren’t their opponents? Then . . . what about Royal Prince Yang? Is he okay?” Yu Xiaocao felt her heart skip a beat . Her heart, which had been relaxed, started to rise to her throat again .
Head Steward Liu thought for a bit and then sent all of the other people out of the building and quietly said, “To the outside, we only broadcast that we were suppressing bandits . In actuality, it was an armed rebellion instigated by the remnants of the previous dynasty . The northeast had encountered many disasters these past few years . First they had a drought that only comes once in a hundred years, and then there was the snow disaster . Following that, there was the locust plague from two years ago that also affected the northeast . In addition, the north has the Khitan people that come to raid them from time to time . It hasn’t been easy for the common people to survive there . Thus, the remnants of the previous dynasty seized this opportunity to incite the common people to rebel…”